Thursday, December 26, 2013

Vanagon Update: Bumpers!

Apparently you have to have bumpers on your car for it to be street legal. Did you know that? I didn't know that. I've seen plenty of bumpers along the highway shoulders, which leads me to believe there are lots of non-street legal cars out there...

So being mostly law-abiding citizens, Mike and I bought bumpers for the VW Vanagon. He wanted super manly bumpers so we got these really heavy metal matte black bumpers, and they look quite nice installed! Here is the front (you can also get a nice view of the newly installed headliner):

And here's the rear:
Hm, I just noticed the color of our van looks completely different in the daylight! It's a deep marsala red with a slightly off white top. We did realize in hindsight that it kind of looks like an ambulance, but hey, nothing we can do about it now. LOL.
We are SO CLOSE to having this thing completed. The last few weeks have been painful waiting for me. We have a trip planned in March to go up to Seattle and back. While I definitely think the Vanagon will be running by then, the interior might not be completed, but it won't be for lack of trying!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Canning Applesauce

Yesterday my lovely and talented friend S. taught me how to properly can fruit. We started with the simplest fruit to preserve: apples! The reason apples are a good starter fruit is because they contain a lot of pectin, which is what people add to jams, etc to get them to be thicker and properly gel. 

The ingredient list in our applesauce was extensive (sarcasm): Apples, Cinnamon, Cloves. And I guess a touch of water, if you count that. 

I started with apples. The best part is, you can get "seconds" from the farmer's market for $1.00/pound, which is crazy cheap, and they were organic! They don't even look that bad; they were just smaller, and a few had a bruise here and there. We checked with a few different vendors but Ha's apples were the best:

Wash them, cut them into eight pieces each, and toss them in a pot. You don't have to core them, peel them, or anything. In fact, you should leave all the peel and cores ON, because that's where the pectin is. The only thing you cut out is any really bruised part or wormholes or whatever. 

Then you cook them down with just a bit of water at the bottom of the pot to start (also we threw in 3 cinnamon sticks and 5 cloves per 10 pounds of apples), so they don't burn. Cooking time takes approximately 1.5-2 hours, and you must stir occasionally. No sugar needed!! Apples plus steam below:

Once they were soft, we cooled them and then ran them through a food mill, which is a machine that pushes it through a sieve. It would be an excellent way to make baby food. Anyways, all the stuff like cores, skins, and the spices get caught in the mill and don't go through, so all you get is the meat of the apple, with very little waste. I forgot to take a picture of S.'s which is a totally awesome old school antique Kitchen Aid attachment, but here's a pic of one so you can get the idea. Basically you crank the handle and it spins the food around and around over the sieve, where all the soft parts fall through. The bonus with the Kitchen Aid is that it does all the cranking. When you're dealing with tons of apples, that is a plus.  

Leftovers end up in the mill, which you can just pull out and compost, give to your chickens, or if you live in a loft like I do, just throw down the garbage disposal and make a resolution to get yourself a compost pile or chickens in the future. 

The picture above is from this blog, where the author makes her applesauce much the same way, except she cores her apples, which is an unnecessary step.

Then you reheat the applesauce to get it ready to jar - when preserving food it is extremely important that the stuff going in the jar is hot, the jar itself is hot and clean, and that the lids for the jar are hot. The reason is that the lid and the jar need to form a tight seal to lock out bacteria, and the contents need to be hot to help form that vacuum seal. So don't skip any steps on this one!

We stuck the jars in the oven (after cleaning them) on low (180 degrees), the lids in a pot of almost boiling water (you don't want it to boil and ruin the rubber seal), and brought the applesauce to boiling temp on the stove. Then we quickly pulled out 3-4 jars at a time, put the applesauce in carefully (don't let the outsides/top get dirty or it will mold later - ick!) to within 1/4 inch of the top, and put on the lids and rings. 

Once they were all filled, the jars got placed into a pot of boiling water (put the on a rack, not directly on the bottom of the pot, or they will crack), and boiled for 7-10 minutes. The water has to cover the jars entirely.

That's it! Once they cooled I used these super cute print-it-yourself labels and we will gift them next week! Mike couldn't believe how DELICIOUS the applesauce was with no sugar. Sweet and yummy (we love cinnamon, but you could totally fiddle with the spices). And the best part is, you know exactly what's in it and it's organic. We are totally planting an apple tree in our future yard!

Cost of the organic applesauce making endeavor:

$1.00/pound for apples. I bought 12 pounds. I have read other blogs where people got theirs for way cheaper by going to the orchard or the Amish! So shop around your neighborhood.
$11.50 for 12 jars, including lids/rings. If you had jars already, you could just buy the lids/rings, or just the lids. It's like $2.25 for 12 lids.
Spices were donated by S.! But they cost less than $1.00.

We had enough applesauce for about 18 eight ounce jars, with some left over for eating. So that makes it around $0.80-$1.31/jar, depending on how many supplies you needed. And if you got your apples cheaper, you could really cut down the price. Either way, awesomely cheaper than purchasing it from the grocery store (well, at least MY grocery stores here in SoCal!).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Life Changes Pending!

Mike and I have decided to make a huge change next year and I will be quitting my job! We'll be selling the loft and using that money to fund a few adventures, and a career change for me. I can't wait, I'm so excited!

In the meantime, we have plans for a camping trip on New Year's Day and a HUGE yard sale in March to get rid of everything and anything we have that is beyond the basics. We want to be light and mobile, just in case.

Happy Holidays and stay tuned for camping pics and a Vanagon update!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Update on the Vanagon!

It's month 22 of owning our Vanagon and we are SO close to finishing it! Little things keep popping up that are super frustrating, though, like....the windshield. We found out it was cracked - I think it was a itty bitty crack at first, but after being removed and then set aside for awhile during the paint job, and moved around some more, the itty bitty crack turned into a big ol' crack.

Since it was Mike's birthday recently, I told him I was buying him (us) a new windshield as his bday present. He was super stoked and got a guy to come out ASAP and install the new one (sorry about the quality of the pic, it's from his phone):

Woohoo! One more piece of the puzzle is in and we are one step closer to completion.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Life Is Short

We were stunned and saddened this weekend when we found out about Paul Walker's death. Mike is very involved in the racing community with Subarus, and obviously the Fast and the Furious movies are a mainstay with car enthusiasts worldwide. Paul Walker was also an extremely likeable and humble person, and it was devastating to hear about his accident. It happened on Mike's birthday, and really reinforced the ideas we have for our life, and drove home the fact that we should do them immediately.

Lots of people have future plans, grandiose vacations they want to take, and dreams about what they should do with their life. But too often, they can't see a way to make them happen, and then they find excuses as to why they should just keep going as they're going - money, time, whatever. Excuses pile up and they start to feel like valid reasons. It becomes super easy to say "No" to change, when the daily routine provides security.

But Mike and I never want to wake up and feel regret that we didn't "try something when we were younger," or "do it when I had the chance." It's not easy to leave your old life behind and not know how you're going to make ends meet, or what you'll be doing next year. But once you do it, it's like learning any new thing - the new and scary becomes familiar and friendly, and before you know it, you're living a new life.

If Paul Walker's death has reminded us of anything, it's that life is short. You don't know what might happen tomorrow, so you need to do what you wanted to do today. Don't wait.

Friday, November 29, 2013


One of my favorite daydreams for our future life is to have a little house on a big lot, with chickens, fruit trees, and a huge garden. I'm apparently a very well paid writer in this daydream, so I have a lot of time to just putter around the house and make jams, jellies, pickles, and preserves. Right.

So in order for this to come true, one of the things I need to learn is how to pickle. In pursuit of this skill, I spent a morning with our friend and neighbor, S., who is experienced in pickling, canning, and also happens to be a trained chef. She gave me all sorts of tips, recipes, and spices, loaned me her processing pot, can lifters and other utensils, and sent me off with her best wishes. 

My good friend B. is always willing to join me in any sort of homesteading endeavor. She came over with her own pickling supplies, and we proceeded on our first pickling adventure. 

5 hours later, voila! We have homemade pickles. A couple pretty labels and decorations and these would make cute gifts. It was fun and easy. I can't wait til next summer, when cucumbers come back in season (we used some SoCal seasonal produce, like green beans and carrots, but cucumbers are out of season, even here). 

How much does this really save you? Well, I guess it depends how much you like pickles, and if you have produce you want to save. If you're saving your bounty from your garden, or taking advantage of seasonal produce at the market, then this is a great preserving alternative to freezing, canning, or dehydrating. Produce is cheap, in season. In theory, you could make a whole lot of side dishes and add a lot of variety to your diet this way, and it would cost you less than $1.00/jar, if you'd already invested in jars and spices and such.

For my costs: I got all my spices from my friend S., already had jars, and vinegar costs $3.50/gallon. I did have to buy new lids because you have to use new ones each time, but that was like $2.50/12 lids. Plus vegetables (which vary in cost, depending on where you live and where you get them). All in all, a very cheap enterprise, indeed!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Joshua Tree

A few weeks ago, we decided to up and head to Joshua Tree for a quick, two night camping trip. Because of our awesome work schedules, we could leave early Thursday morning and pretty much be guaranteed a spot at one of the prime, first come, first served, $10 spots in the middle of the park. 

Joshua Tree National Park is one of our favorite places to camp, and not just because it's super cheap. It's only a couple hours from Los Angeles, but it's far enough to allow for the most amazing stargazing, and they have lots of fun hikes - think rock scrambling and palm oases a la Arabian Nights. Also, cell phones don't work in the middle of the park, and sometimes, we just need to be forced to slow down.

Joshua Tree has these amazing rock formations from a bazillion years ago (that's an official term) when the whole area was covered in water. They're stunning, to say the least. 

They also provide perfect platforms to lie back and just stare at the night sky. Just grab a yoga mat, a blanket, and you'll be so comfortable you could sleep out there. We always see shooting stars, which really, everyone should have an opportunity to experience. There is something really breathtaking and humbling about how large the sky is, and how small the earth is. And then something from space falls into our atmosphere and flares for just a brief second, sometimes longer if you're lucky, and is gone. We always shout out. You can't help it - it's something you want to share.

I wish that was my picture but I'm too lazy and inexperienced to set up my camera to take an awesome shot like that. But I can definitely vouch that it's just that beautiful!

We did a great little hike to this slot canyon, which opened up to a secret little spot with an old, gnarled tree. To geek out for a minute, it felt like something out of Lord of the Rings. The sun was winding down and the light in the canyon was cool and filtered. It was a quiet little space with an expansive blue sky overhead, guarded by ancient rocks. It's little moments like this that make you so happy to just be

We headed home on Saturday and got back to Los Angeles by noon. We had the whole afternoon and evening, plus all of Sunday, left to enjoy. A wonderfully relaxing weekend. And how much did it cost?

$20.00 - two nights at Jumbo Rock campground
$40.00 - one tank of gas (it actually took less than one tank to get there and back)
$25.00 - sandwich fixings, homemade soup and tamales for dinners
$40.00 - breakfasts Friday and Saturday mornings at diners
= $125.00 total for two people, two nights and 3 days

Pretty cheap vacay if I do say so myself!

Friday, November 22, 2013

In the Beginning

Every time I tell someone about my new three day work week and my goal of "figuring it out," they tell me I should keep a blog. I actually LOVE writing, but keeping up a blog is a huge commitment. 

I do think it's important, however, to document this journey because it seems like so many others are struggling with the same things I am. I was tired of the corporate world, tired of customer service and asshole customers, sick of my commute, and sick of feeling like the weekend was just too short. 

I would keep telling myself to look around and be grateful for the things I had - that I should appreciate every moment. I tried taking yoga classes. I tried working out. I tried doing the things I loved, like cooking, and hanging out with friends, and going to concerts. But in the end, all I really wanted was more time - more time to do the things I loved and more time for yoga and working out and all sorts of other things, like learning a new language or crocheting, or even just watching TV and hanging out with our pets. 

But money! We needed money to pay bills, and feed our pets, and feed ourselves, and damn, I loved nice restaurants and good food, and my cute work outfits and decorating our home. But somewhere, somehow, I had to find a compromise. I spent eight years in an office, getting more and more miserable, until finally, I just said, let's try it. Let's try to cut back, live on less, and have more time.

The process really took a few years. First thing we did was, we got rid of cable TV. Just like quitting any habit, the first few weeks were devastating and really hard. I felt out of the loop, couldn't contribute any longer to TV show discussions at work, and even though we could watch the shows online, we were weeks behind everyone since they don't post shows right away. But you know what? We got over it. We filled our days with other things and other shows (we still watch TV online, for free). And now it's been 6 years without cable.

The next major things we cut out were vacations and eating out. Now, everyone still needs vacations, but we stopped planning huge trips to far flung destinations. We started going to local spots, hiking, and checking out national parks, cute cities like Santa Barbara and Morro Bay, and going camping. 


Not going out to eat was another major way to cut back on costs, but it was a big sacrifice. Luckily, I love to cook, so I just started cooking more and prepping weekly meals on Sundays. We eat a lot less meat, since it's expensive. We go to the farmer's market for veggies and fruit, and buy in season. I've discovered the wonderful world of whole grains and legumes - cheap and nutritious! It's amazing what you can do when you have some extra time. Mike cooks on other days or we just eat sandwiches. 

We stopped buying clothes and furniture on a whim, and stopped purchasing toys for the pets. It turns out I actually have a lot of clothes in my closet. And since I was working less, I didn't really need as many clothes as I had. Furniture? Sure, we want a new couch. But it's been a couple years and we're still using the hand me down couch, which no one holds against us. And the cats seem to prefer free toys, like boxes or a shoelace. They're actually just glad to see us 2 extra days a week, and anyone who has cats knows they just sleep most of the time, anyway.

It's been a long slow road, but now we enjoy a life that is, more than half the time, composed of doing what we love and what we want. We work less than half the week, and we're not suffering. We still eat organic, watch TV, and take vacations. We just do it differently. And I can't help thinking, isn't this how it's supposed to be? At this point, we can't imagine going back to a traditional 9-5 (or 8-6, as it is in most cases). 

So welcome to our life - our new life - and our adventures. We hope you are inspired to find what type of life *you* want to live, as others have inspired us!