Month: May 2015

the poor man’s (kind of) vanagon

Camping, parenting, travel May 15, 2015

The Euro Van is the most recent incarnation of the Westfalia (available in the U.S. atleast, there is a cruelly named ‘California’ available in Europe). And they are sweet. They represent freedom. They capture the spirit of the adventurous American, our grand National Parks, and long highways. You can picture one adorned with surfboards and bicycles and parked on a beach, I’m sure of it. If not, see Pinterest. My stepmother still speaks wistfully about the Westfalia she had when her boys were young, her eyes lose focus as they follow memories of rising early and driving off down empty roads to new adventures. She also remembers it as her mobile office, a private retreat reserved for her dissertation away from the hubbub of motherhood. The only problem with Westfalias is that they are old, some show their age better than others, and they are expensive because of the demand. She also tells me that they’ll break your heart when they break down as hers inevitably would. Eurovans went out of production more recently, and are in better shape but that comes with a price. Repairs can be costly, and for my family atleast, having a vehicle (expensive or not) expressly dedicated to camping is out of our budget. We are trying to make do as is with one family car and one work truck. There has to be another way.

And there is I think.

We went for it and bought a Toyota Sienna minivan. It is not hip like a Westfalia. Understatement, I know. It is reasonably fuel efficient, has all wheel drive, and has a spacious interior. As a daily driver with camper tendencies, is actually affordable. Ever since we got it I have been busy trying to transform it into my version of a camper van for some epic road trips that I have planned. We do face the issue of having two small children and therefore cannot remove all the seats (plus it being a daily driver is what makes it affordable). Additionally, we need to keep enough room to have two huge ass car seats as well as enough sleeping space for 4 people. I also must have the pull over and be asleep in minutes effect of the euro van/ Westfalia. No pitching tents. No leveling trailers, just sleep. So, while my plan isn’t exactly revolutionary, it is precise and I think I’ve worked out all of the details. Here they are:

Priority: ready made bedding for four and easy food prep.


1xToyota Sienna, 2011 and up has sliding captains seats which is crucial to my plan of keeping our car seats latched in at night. (I also considered the Chevy Astro, but didn’t find a suitable one in our area, consequently I am unsure as to how the measurements break down.)
***you may be questioning the expense of a relatively new Sienna vs. a Westfalia, but think of this: gas mileage, dependability, comfort of interior for long distances of travel (the Sienna seats are spacious and comfortable, the captains chairs even have retractable foot rests), AWD, and the fact that a Sienna is a daily driver. Also, the beds on this set up are more roomy than those in the Westfalia.

1 cooler

1 Camp Chef Sherpa containing camp kitchen supplies (including small camp stove)

1 Nemo Helio camp shower, and some sort of sink vessel (we have the fold up backpacking type). The Helio provides pressurized warm water. I will be writing a separate review of it in a camp kitchen post, because it is awesome.

1 roof top tent (James Baroud or Autohome due to fastest set up) I like the James Baroud Horizon as written up here by expedition portal. It is light, low profile, pretty large, and less expensive than the other quick set up tents. They are available on


It would be awesome to have a hitch mounted stow away cargo rack to hold the camp chef Sherpa and cooler (they fit perfectly, I measured) for an easy access kitchen and making room for the bedding the van. But, that may come in a couple of seasons. In the meantime we will move the Sherpa and cooler to front seat for nights. Also, you may want to reserve the hitch mount for a bike rack.

So, roof top tent goes on top of course with bedding. The captain seats remain in the car with the car seats. When they are pushed forward as far as they go, you have a full 72 inches in the back for sleeping (with bench seat folded down, obviously). The back holds one partially inflated sleeping pad and one cot already assembled (because that’s what we have, but a folded futon could work too) and bedding, folded in half, as well as the cooler, Sherpa, the water, our clothes and the toilet. Pull over, pop roof top tent, slide seats forward, flatten out the van bedding, throw the cooking stuff in the front seat, and sleep.
Here is the bedding, assembled for travel and with ample room for the rest of our gear as well as the full extension of leg room for passenger seating.

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Here is all the bedding and tent that we will no longer need to pack:


Here is the assembled bed, after a couple of minutes setup.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetThe cot fits my 6’1” husband comfortably, and the slightly folded sleeping mat will be perfect for one of the boys for many years to come. Without car seats, this could comfortably accommodate two adults around 6 feet.

All we need now is the roof top tent and a road map.

a year of greenhouse gardening

Uncategorized May 10, 2015

It snowed yesterday, and I am grateful as ever that I have a couple of tomatoes plants, some squash, a leftover winter lettuce, a lemon tree, ridiculously happy perennial herbs and a grapevine with grapes on the vine. We have had the dome built for almost a year. It still isn’t up to its full potential, but I give myself a break on that because I did have a baby. It remains a pleasure and a challenge. We installed some drip irrigation and built beds around the perimeter to plant with mint and sunflowers and hops on the south side for shade.

Anyway, now that spring has fully sprung (sort of), we have the happily conflicting desires to spend the free days gardening and or adventuring. So I am partially grateful our weekend camping trip got interrupted by snow, because now my husband can make good on his Mother’s Day promise to plant me a tree. The boys and I will wander in and out of the greenhouse while he digs and we will still spend the day outside, just as cultivators rather than visitors. Happy Mother’s Day.

destination Ojo Caliente

travel May 9, 2015

I have been to the hot springs at Ojo Caliente (not far from Santa Fe, New Mexico) many times. They have changed much over the years but the different pools with different temperatures and minerals are lovely as always. When I was a child, the place consisted of some funky buildings and a series of pools separated by rock walls. People bathed nude together, man woman and child. The atmosphere was laid back and anything but pretentious. Since then it has burned down, been purchased and remodeled. It is landscaped, there are casitas and a restaurant and a yoga yurt and a gift shop. Though the old northern New Mexico funkiness is gone, the charm lent by the beauty of the surroundings and the essence of the soothing waters remains. The complex is nestled in a valley with cottonwoods and sandy bluffs overhead. There is hiking to be done here as well.

Camping is our preferred method of travel due to financial issues and a family love of the the out of doors, so I was excited to find campsites listed under accommodations on Ojo Caliente’s website. I pictured some cottonwood lined nook, perhaps a creek nearby. A day at the resort swimming and soaking sounded perfect, perhaps I could sneak a massage or a yoga class for Mother’s Day. The prices have gone up, but we decided to spring for a special treat.

At $40 a campsite, I figured the sites would be pretty nice. Our friends were going to meet us and the sites are supposed to accommodate two tents, so that took a little sting out of the cost. When we showed up with the boys in the evening, exhausted and ready to set up camp and go to bed, we found that it is very much an RV park. In fact, the “tent sites” are basically a parking lot with trees. We were tellingly, the only tent campers. And the sites are small. They won’t accommodate two cars and certainly not two tents.

Neighbors are very close by. I spent a good portion of the night in my tent not sleeping to the sounds of car doors and watching the shadows of people move across my tent as their bright lights illuminated my sleeping family. A car horn as they locked their car. Nice touch. Somebody appeared to have been watching TV or listening to the radio. Too close for my comfort. Again, the price.

Additionally, the ground is compacted and it was very difficult to drive stakes in, and difficult to pull them back out. I am now shopping for new tent stakes as mantid ours are now bent.

I have nothing against RV parks, I just choose not to stay in them because, you know, I don’t have an RV. So I think a little honesty on the part of Ojo Caliente as to what this ‘tent site’ actually is, would have been appreciated. $40 for a parking spot. This is all a shame, because the area really is stunning and there could be beautiful campsites if the resort had chosen quality over quantity.

On the upside, the sites have electricity and water. But we camp assuming these things are not available anyway. There is a bathroom available that I did not visit and pretty clean porta potties. Each site also has a nice picnic table.

In the mid May morning of our visit, the temperature was just below 40 degrees and we got a little rain during the night. We were up early before the rest of the lot, so our breakfast and coffee was pleasantly quiet. Just birds and the occasional breeze in the trees overhead. New Mexico after ang moisture is always lovely, and thus was no exception. However, once I was in the tent while the little one took his morning nap, the hubbub of sliding doors and the like could be heard amongst the quiet morning voices of my neighbors.

In the end, we got hailed out of our site and left. By then it was freezing outside and I was irritated that the $32 entrance to the pools didn’t get you more than an unreasonably small towel and that a stay at the RV park didn’t get you a discount to the pools. The place is not as I remembered it and the bottom line seems to have edged out concerns for guests’ overall experience. It is less original than it used to be, and is more like a resort you may expect to find anywhere. The staff though, was friendly and helpful. It is definitely worth a day trip, and rent one of the houses available if money is no object. I would stay away from the campsites though, unless you are an RV owner or don’t mind camping in a parking lot. The picture below is the camp site at its best, green with the moisture and the neighbors carefully cropped out of view of the empty spot.


camp coffee: biolite + aeropress

Gear, travel May 2, 2015

Camping is not just about being outside, it is about recapturing the joy in simplicity. To that end I present: coffee.

It is warm in your sleeping bag, chilly outside and the day is starting with sharp slants of sunlight through the shadows of trees on the tent. Nothing helps bring the sun up to warming heights like a good cup of coffee.

For us, my stepmother’s old aluminum percolator that I inherited has become a toy for our oldest child. We took our French press along last time and that is ok, it’s portable, easy to use, and produces decent coffee. But it is hard to clean and our glass carafe is just begging to be broken. So when our stove melted and we opted for a biolite replacement, we decided to try something new for coffee as well, an aeropress.

On the first go it took twenty minutes to get a cup of coffee. This involved leisurely setting up the stove on our porch, getting shoes, starting the fire, etc. It also took 5 extra minutes because my husband didn’t grind the coffee and get the aeropress set up until after I had the water heated up. I assume that we will get this time down and you can supposedly get water boiled in under 5 minutes with the biolite. I feel like 10 minutes or so is an acceptable wait for coffee.

A few thoughts on the setup:

1. The coffee is exceptionally smooth. The aeropress really reduces the acidity.

2. There is something very satisfying about using a wood fire to make your coffee. It is not for nothing that Prometheus was punished for eternity for stealing fire from the gods. Also, see above comment on recapturing joy in simplicity.

3. The whole setup is pretty compact. We have the biolite and the biolite kettle that you can store the stove inside. (Thanks again REI for your amazing return policy). The aeropress is tiny, way smaller than a French press or percolator.

4. The only fuel you need is some kindling. I really like the idea of not having to buy and pack fuel for the stove.

5. The biolite has been criticized as being merely a novelty item. But it is a very efficient rocket stove that streamlines a process that man has been using since Prometheus. I like it. I like simple good food and drink and I don’t need to be making soufflĂ© while in the woods. We will see how the food preparation works and I will do an update.

6. The aeropress is quite affordable at $25. The biolite and accessories however is not. Ours was essentially free, but if you want a small stove that can quickly boil water and save on fuel it seems to be a good choice. Taking time to prepare food has its own rewards. The grill attachment seems to be well liked as well. If you just want to be able turn the stove on, throw a kettle on it do other things, look elsewhere.

All in all, I am very satisfied with our new coffee procurement system. I think I’ll even take the aeropress along to use in hotel rooms on an upcoming trip.

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Have a good morning.

Day two:

Getting a cup of coffee still takes a bit of time, but it is evolving into a family event. We ate breakfast outside this morning. Birds singing, apple tree blooming, fire crackling. My husband declared that he wished it could be a daily event, moments later we realized that it could.

Also, we ran out of cream, but the coffee is so smooth that I’m considering drinking it black for the first time since I was in college drinking black americanos from Seattle coffee shops.

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