Tag Archives: sustainable living

Where have I been? What’s going on?

Where have I been?
It’s a good question! I’ve been really busy the past two months, but haven’t made a ton of progress on the COMET. Other vintage camper people out there, have you ever tried polishing the pitted, foggy aluminum back up to a mirror finish? It takes forever! It also requires a large angle grinder, which I’m embarrassed to say I can’t really lift up in the first place (so it becomes Matt’s job). We’ve been working on it little by little, but it takes many hours and is a crappy job. It’s the one thing standing in between me and a beautiful exterior paint job (also Matt’s forte because he used to do fancy pin striping and decals on cars).

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION ALERT:
www.planetqueenvintage.etsy.com
The reason I have been so busy is because I really need money to complete the COMET and I had to put a lot of time and energy into my Etsy shop, where I sell awesome vintage clothing. My shop is called Planet Queen Vintage (based on the T Rex song but also referencing awesome ladies that do cool stuff to positively impact the planet) and I would be so grateful if you guys took a minute to check out all the new stuff and hard work I’ve been putting into the shop the past few months. I added 100+ new items, took better photographs, and increased the overall awesomeness content. Bet you guys didn’t know I run a business on the side in addition to the COMET?! Vintage fashion is my secret weakness ( and vintage furniture, and sunglasses, and campers). All of the profits from the shop right now go DIRECTLY (like, every penny) into finishing the COMET. If you see something you like and decide to buy it, you will be helping me buy some non-toxic exterior paint, some photovoltaic components, and some other little things needed to complete this project. Take a look even if it’s just to give me a critique on the shop, I’d appreciate that too! If you see stuff you like, you can check back often because I add multiple new items every morning. Thank you nice readers!
www.planetqueenvintage.etsy.com

Over the summer, after the Tiny House Fair, I found myself really struggling to figure out where I fit in (me and the COMET both). What am I doing with this? Am I making a difference? I wasn’t really sure if I fit in with tiny house movement, after getting those discouraging comments (yes, I know the COMET isn’t a cedar sided 6-12 pitch roof home on wheels – who said it had to be? and yes, I know there are not yet solar panels on the top, its’ not finished!). I started getting frustrated and questioning my work and my whole life really (uh oh). Am I just another over privileged college kid doling out sermons about things I can’t possibly be know all the answers to (life lessons, how to be greener, how to be happy)? Do my blog posts and carefully curated photographs add to the fetishization of simple lifestyles that I’m finding make me more and more uncomfortable? Are tiny houses just becoming another commodity for consumers to purchase and own in addition to their “big” homes? It sounds kind of negative, but I just had to reflect on what I was doing and why, and how to be more honest with you guys and myself, and accept the limits to what myself and the COMET can accomplish. We’re not perfect, and that’s a hard thing to admit. I have to tow the camper with a gas guzzling truck, so is that trade off worth it? I want to educate people about sustainability in a fun, hands-on way with the COMET, but at the same time in order to spread the word and talk to all of these wonderful people I have to use a fossil fuel burning machine. There are lots of contradictions, I just have to be able to articulate them and then wait to see if a reconciliation can ever be reached.
On another note, I have been receiving lots of nice notes / messages from all of you, and I want to say that if I haven’t responded yet it is truthfully only because I want to give each and every response the time and energy it deserves. Sometimes that means it takes me a while to get back to your messages and emails, but I honestly appreciate and love each and every time someone takes a moment to email me. Let me know what you’re up to, ask a question, give me some feedback. I will respond, I just want to be able to give my full attention to all of your awesome inquiries. Keep ‘em coming! Thank you everyone for reading along with this journey that is WAY longer and WAY more complex than I thought it would be!! You all keep me going with every comment and email message I receive. You remind me why I have to stick out the difficult parts (angle grinding / polishing) so that I can do the awesome parts (meeting you all on the road, talking to you, and sharing camper stories!).

I also watched “Chasing Ice” the other day, and it filled me with urgency and purpose. It’s a very good documentary.

The past few months Matt’s been getting excited about survival techniques and survivalist skills – which is really awesome because we’ve been making lots of fires from scratch and improving our fire cooking cast-iron skillet skills. We’ve been talking a bit about the similarities and differences between “Survivalist” an “Sustainability” movements. I think after living out of the Honda Element car for two months in the spring we both just got into “survivalist” mode, and even though we’re back in the city currently we still like to do all the stuff we do when we’re camping for a long period of time.

I want to share some cool links with you all that I’ve been collecting the last few weeks, check them out if you have a moment:

This first one is a really awesome interview from the Etsy blog from a while ago. The interviewee is Frankie Moore Lappe, author of “Diet for a Small Planet”. She hits the nail on the head in talking about the problem with how we currently frame sustainability with language and diction like “reduce”, “avoid”, “limits”, “minimalize”. I’ll let you guys read the article then maybe I’ll post the essay I wrote two years ago about the problematic language of the sustainability movement so you can see the similarities + differences.

https://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2013/an-interview-with-frances-moore-lappe/#comment-880359

The next link is to a video of a guy’s conversion van (Sprinter) that I think is pretty neat. The one thing I don’t understand is having a toilet. I lived out of a car for months and I never once missed a toilet (THANK YOU P-STYLE FEMININE DIVERTER!) and I think it would make your living space more unpleasant than pleasant. Other than that, it has some neat ideas. Theoretically, I am sort of getting over the “squeeze as much into the tiny mobile thing as you possibly can” idea, but it’s cool nonetheless. I’m really into the mint green paint job.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR0-Y5nHvQ8

Also, the amazing Robin Hayes from Build Tiny (http://build-tiny.com/) is hosting a workshop soon (October 10-13) in VA and you all should check it out. Robin is a really inspiring lady who I have met at multiple workshops all over the place. She is a carpenter, plumber, doer, maker, and all around amazing person to learn from. Everyone loves her and her skill and energy are sure to give you the start you need to get your tiny house or other building project on track. Also, dear friends Dee Williams and Lee Pera (Boneyard Studios) will be there helping out, and you need to meet these incredible, smart, (dare I day gorgeous?!) ladies. You won’t regret it!

http://build-tiny.com/ for more details.

Last thing:
I’m writing a book.
There. I said it out loud. Now I really have to do it.

I seriously wanted to steal this sign from Steve Harrell's house (tiny house listings, tiny house vacations). I'll have to paint one myself!

I seriously wanted to steal this sign from Steve Harrell’s house (tiny house listings, tiny house vacations). I’ll have to paint one myself!

love you all, keep me updated with your cool projects and thank you for reading as always

<3 Mariah

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A New Year, and a Winter Small Space Experiment

I can’t believe it’s been one year since I first launched cometcamper.wordpress.com, and since the COMET began to come to life after years of imagineering prior. I’m so grateful for all the help I’ve had along the way (yay, sponsors!) and all of the amazing people I have met as a result of the many places the COMET takes me.

Image

Now that it’s January, winter has officially arrived in Massachusetts. There’s a  few feet of snow on the ground, and it’s not going anywhere for a while. Confession time: I really wanted to live in the COMET over the winter this year, but I couldn’t get her weatherproofed in time. The hole in the wall where the fridge will end up going has a large vent, and without the fridge installed it was like sleeping outside! It ended up getting too chilly, and until I seal up the cracks and insulate the vents and install the fridge (and find an acceptable heat source) sadly I will not be sleeping in the COMET this winter. However, I took this opportunity to try on another tiny space living situation for fun and to see what I can learn from it.

While I’m not living in the COMET, I’ll be living in a tiny closet under the stairs in a collective house. The “room” is about the size of a twin bed, but the previous dweller made such good use of the space that it feels cozy, not cramped. There’s a bed on a platform so I can store things underneath. There are two drawers installed directly into the wall as built-ins at the foot of the bed. There is a desk that nests in the wall and unfolds when you need it, and the bed becomes your desk seat. She even installed a nifty bookcase tower. There’s also a tiny window on an exterior wall, so you can see outside and get some fresh air. I will have to post some pictures!

I enjoy living collectively and am looking forward to seeing how effective collective  and shared space can be. When you live in the closet, you spend time in the shared space more than someone in their own larger room. I anticipate making good use of the shared library and other common spaces. I wonder how a collective house of many tiny closet-sized rooms would function, if the collective space was ample? Something to think about! Anyway, it’s interesting to see how multi-functional a single room can be, and how comfortable a closet can be when it’s so efficiently and elegantly designed.

 

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Fermenting Foods

For me, sustainable living and self-sufficiency are very closely linked. Self sufficiency usually means growing at least a portion of your own food, which sometimes means preserving your harvest! From another perspective, buying real sauerkraut can be real expensive (and sometimes the sauerkraut from the store isn’t even actually fermented, it’s just cooked in vinegar). $8 for a pint of kraut is too much to spend on my habit. And since you know I wholeheartedly believe in DIY for a million reasons, I wanted to point out a cool DIY tool I found a while ago that I want to try out. It’s a sauerkraut/pickle making jar system. It’s called the “Picklemeister”.

The Picklemeister fermentation jar

The Picklemeister comes in 1/2 gallon and 1 gallon sizes. It’s basically a big glass jar with a seal and an airlock. You cut up your cabbage (for sauerkraut), add salt, a plastic bag of brine, and let the jar sit for 3 days. Then you have a gallon of sauerkraut!

Here’s a video that I love about making sauerkraut (with a really tasty recipe at the end!) with Mark Frauenfelder. Check it out here. He swears by the Picklemeister.

I found the Picklemeister for sale at a few different websites. It’s about $20 + $10 shipping. I feel like it’s definitely worth it and will pay for itself after just one 1-gallon batch.

Simply Natural

Wisemen Trading (and on their Etsy, which seems to have run out of Picklemeister’s today…check back)

Glass jar, with screw-on plastic lid

However, if you’re super thrifty like me, and like the fun and satisfaction of making things yourself, you might just make your own Picklemeister type tool. I’m on the look out for a big glass jar with a screw-on plastic lid. It’ll probably be one of those old fashioned glass juice/sun tea jars with the funny fruit/flower screen prints on the outside. I have seen them at the second hand store for about $2 (of course not since I’ve been seeking them out – but I’ll find one!). Then I’ll just need to buy the airlock ($1.50) and drill a little whole in the lid of the jar for it (and put some sort of gasket around the opening). Total estimated cost? My budget is $5.00! Not too bad!! I’ll do a post about my DIY picklemeister experiment when I find the jar!

Looking out for something like this!

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Natural deodorants, ancient drinks, and home-made toothpaste!

As promised, I spent some time with a few of the new books I got in the mail the other day. Actually, I ended up pouring over them for many hours because they were both better than I had expected! I always LOVE DIY books, and how-to’s, and make-your-own, but sometimes the DIY is too time intensive or asks for ingredients I’ve never heard of, which can be a turn-off. Both Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, and Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills are straightforward and made for real people, not just DIY gurus. I was so excited too find really useful, practical recipes and DIY how-to’s in both books. Every page I read I felt like I could do the project easy, no problem, with re-used stuff I already have lying around my house. Both of these books are wonderful.

Also as promised, I picked out a few things to try out form each book. Both of these books suggest picking one project, starting small, and expanding from there. I think that’s a good idea.

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post Consumer World, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

From Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, I picked out 2 recipes: one practical and one fun. The first was for home-made stick deodorant. As I mentioned in the last post, I hate store-bought deodorant (and would never use anti-perspirant) and have wanted to make my own for a while. This recipe re-uses an empty deodorant applicator, which means it’s still going to be easy to apply and use. I also picked out another recipe for an ancient vinegar-based drink – like a substitute for soda (which I don’t drink anyway). Last winter I made “Sbiten”, a hot, traditional Russian drink, and since then I’ve wanted to try making more liquid treats like that. I really like vinegar-y drinks like kombucha, so this sounds like a delicious treat. There are a few different sweet + vinegar drinks in the book: oxymel, sekanjabin, and switchel. They all incorporate things like honey, ginger, molasses, and vinegar of course. I haven’t picked which one, but I’ll probably end up trying all 3. I’ll let you know how it tastes!

Make Your Place, by Raleigh Briggs

From Make Your Place I chose a recipe for home-made toothpaste. I like the idea of home-made toothpaste, but usually recipes for home-made tooth care come in the form of a powder and I’ve tried that: it is not easy or fun to brush your teeth like that (in my opinion). This recipe is for an actual paste, and it only calls for a few ingredients. That’s the best thing about both of these books, you begin to realize that with about 5 or 6 basic ingredients (in addition to whatever flavors or scents you’d like to add) you can make basically anything for your home and body. Everything is so simple! It makes you wonder why the ingredients list on what you’re using now to clean your countertops and wash your hair is a mile long and you can’t pronounce half of it…

Anyway, those are my first projects from my new DIY homesteading books. Deodorant stick, traditional vinegar soda, and toothpaste. I’ve always been a DIY builder, maker, and doer – but these homesteading tricks are new to me! I’m really looking forward to trying them out.

Stay tuned for pictures and posts about how they turn out!

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Books in the mail!

I just ordered a couple of books that come highly  recommended. They aren’t specifically about tiny houses or campers, but I think the information I will find in these books will be applicable to The COMET project and any other small space/sustainable living endeavor!

When I get them, I’ll do a book review, so stay tuned!

Dwelling Portably 2000-2008, by Bert and Holly Davis ($8)

This book is the third edition in a series of zine-like books detailing the mobile, portable lives of Bert and Holly Davis. They’ve been living as nomads for over 30 years (the other 2 books discuss their travels in the ’80s and ’90s respectively). It talks about cooking, bathing, traveling, and living with no permanent residence. I first saw this book on a shelf at tiny house guy Deek Diedricksen’s house when I was there for a workshop last summer. I’m really excited to see what it’s all about!

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, by Kelley Coyne and Erik Knutzen ($13)

I’m a DIY kind of person, so this book really caught my eye. I love to make anything and everything, so it seems like the natural progression would be to start making my own shampoo and cleaning products! This book got great reviews and if it’s going to give me tips on how to save money and have a healthier home and environment, all while doing fun projects, then I’m all about that!

Make Your Place: Affordable and Sustainable Nesting Skills, Raleigh Briggs ($10)

This is an illustrated and handwritten guide to taking care of your home and body in a cost-efficient, sustainable way. I’m into anything that focuses on affordability without sacrificing quality. This book is supposed to be really funny and cute, with great illustrations. I’m looking forward to trying out all of these recipes!

As a side note, totally by chance, both “Dwelling Portably” and “Make Your Place” are published by punk/DIY publishing company Microcosm Publishing. If you like DIY zines, movies, books, etc you should DEFINITELY check out what Microcosm has to offer. http://microcosmpublishing.com/

When I get these goodies in the mail, I’ll let you know what I think of them!

XO

Mariah

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