...and crafting a purposeful recovery

Month: May 2020


I am happy to report I finally got my Excell on-demand water heater working. Sometime between a year ago when I first installed it (it worked perfectly) and earlier this month when we moved in, it decided not to ignite. I did everything – checked water pressure, replaced the batteries twice, cleaned the cold water filter, replaced the drain bulb screw (which I broke whilst tinkering), and finally called the Excell company in desperation. After walking me through all the possible causes for malfunction, they finally suggested I remove and clean the igniter magnet. It worked! Phew! Cristina and I finally took hot showers yesterday evening. Heaven.

I had to pull the unit out from under the sink to do the work.
At one point I feared this minor damage to the heat sink might be at fault. Nope.
Pure joy
Yesterday my landlord’s landscaping crew came and whacked all the weeds for fire control. I now have a denuded perimeter. I liked my weeds :o(

Beat the Heat

Here’s another quickie to mention the heat. Until yesterday, I really had no use for the A/C. But, by 3:00pm when the indoor temp hit 86 degrees it was time to fire her up. Unfortunately I was too late. I was behind the curve. All I could do was turn the A/C towards the bedroom and make that our escape. Today I am prepared. First, a 7:00am trip to Home Depot to buy silver-sided 1/4″ foam (8×4′). Second, I closed all of Sparta’s windows to seal in the cool air. Then, I covered the windows, shiny-side out, on those most exposed. It is 9:10am and 70 degrees in here. Let’s see how it goes before turning on the A/C.

I actually cut these from memory at HD to fit them in the car.
Not a bad fit, considering.

Heat update: It’s going to take some trial and error on this heat management challenge. Unlike a house, which these days has doubled-paned windows and gobs of insulation, Sparta is a metal box with thin insulation and 27 single-paned windows. While it would be nice to seal her up in the morning and trap the cool night air like one does in a conventional home, it does not work here. I have found the best approach is lots of venting. I have to keep the air moving through Sparta, otherwise she heats up like a toaster. The reflective foam paneling is fine, but I have to leave the top louvered windows open and run my powerful ceiling fan.

This is a temporary install to get me through this heatwave. It will ultimately be recessed and less conspicuous.

Yesterday it was more comfortable. I just ran the air conditioner in the early evening to get the bedroom down to a perfect sleeping temp.

Light Show

It’s been fun to repurpose Sparta’s old light fixtures, some of which didn’t seem to offer much potential. But a little sanding, painting, glue and new 12v hardware and I’m lighting things up around here.

Cone lights, both metal and fiberglass are usable. OK, maybe not the white kitchen light with floral etching.
Bummer! This pendant light arrived broken March 2016.
Gorilla glue to the rescue. Still debating whether to paint.
I took these apart, painted the hardware copper and rewired 12v.
They look nice on the ceiling of the OL.
This metal one I just sanded to give it a worn look.
While this fiberglass unit needed paint.
It looks great above my bed.
Cristina reads beneath a spectacle of lights.
Of course, I couldn’t forget the porch. The art deco originals cost about $200 so I’m going with the $3.99 IKEA for now.

I am glad I wired so many light receptacles way back when. Next, I have to finish the five can lights.

Fairer Creature Comforts

When I set out on this mission to resurrect a trailer and, to some degree, my life I was single. My goals for the project were to immerse myself in constructive activity, create something of value out of almost nothing and have a dwelling for some then undetermined time and place. A side benefit was that it might help keep me sober. This stuff is covered in my blog’s “Bio” and “Welcome” sections. Surprisingly, it all came to pass pretty much as I’d hoped, albeit with a much longer duration and a little twist.

I’m pretty sure my siblings thought I’d lost it when I announced my new acquisition and plans four years ago. Admittedly, when a 60 year old alcoholic buys a forlorn vintage trailer with lofty expectations, it reeks of impending disappointment. The Internet is rife with stories about time and money wasted on such projects, with the sad, half-finished results jettisoned like a toxic relationship.

They say if you want to make God laugh, tell him/her your plans. Sometimes the same applies to friends and family. But, as time went by, I did get encouragement from them. My brother even went so far as to coax me into creating timelines and spreadsheets for marking progress. The doubters became champions.

Their mounting optimism was, I’m sure, taken aback when I got a girlfriend one year into the project. Relationships have a way of undermining, even supplanting, things that were once important. The fact that my love interest lived in Miami and offered the complexity of a bi-coastal romance only worsened their expectations for this project’s completion. When Cristina moved west a year later, I could almost hear the chuckling from the peanut gallery. Picture this: a Rio-bred Brazillian comes to California from a Miami penthouse. She is blond with a pronounced accent and a decidedly urban style. All I was missing was a pig named Albert. So this Green Acres redux, 50 years hence, had to appear comically mismatched. Admittedly, the smart money was on Cristina bailing once she realized my trailer was her new nest.

Well, bringing her onboard wasn’t as simple as all that. I had to make some refinements – call them romance retrofits. Originally, Sparta was to be offgrid – solar, propane and maybe a generator in a pinch. Comfortable luxuries were not high priorities as they generally involve more power than I imagined having access to. But here on my Sonoma County hilltop I am plugged in. And it gets hot here – high 90’s possible – and dusty. That made two things non-negotiable – air conditioning and a washing machine. I wasn’t about to put a swamp cooler on top of my beautifully restored rig, thereby placing it solidly in the “trash” category. So I had to find a portable A/C that could fit inside. Same with the washing machine.

As I have said before, everything you could possibly ever want can be found on the Net. And if it exists, the Chinese make sure it’s affordable. My Danby 12,000 btu A/C and Black and Decker .9 cubic ft. W/M fit the task, both around $300. Of course I had to sacrifice space in my study for the A/C and a large area in the kitchen cabinet gave way to the washer but, what the hell. A little cut here, a new hole in the floor, some pipe and we are now ready for a hot and dusty summer on our hilltop.

Every picture tells a story.

Some power, water and a waste pipe.
Bye-bye dust and grime
Say “Hello” to your friends Shower Scum and Dishwater.
In goes the washer. But I had to shave 1/2″ off the trim on both sides to fit it.
Snug as a bug.
Ouch! I hate cutting up my new floor.
But the hot air has to go somewhere.
Not sure where my legs will fit as I sit at my desk, however.
Not all the comforts are found inside. This is as close as I will get to a man cave.
And on the seventh day…


At the risk of sounding sexist, this is the point where my female cohabitant exercises her right to decorate. Sorry, but this nesting thing is real and chromosomal. There’s just no fighting it.

It’s OK. Cristina has good taste.

An inviting, albeit, cramped sleeping quarters.
Cristina’s bedside nook.
A beautifully polished copper sink.
A spot for every spice.
Nestled bamboo tools.
Even the washing-machine has found a home.
Colorful, vintage things.
A coaster awaiting that morning coffee.
A piece of Cristina’s well-traveled art.
The sconce’s amber glow.
…more Brazilian art.
The view from the potty.
An impossibly clean window…not.

We’re still debating the whole couch thing. And my daughter is still at work on our hand-crafted dining table. But it is definitely feeling like home.

So more to come.

The Folly of Ownership

As a lapsed materialist, I thought I might take some pleasure from divesting myself of possessions – some accumulated over a lifetime. The process of shedding was necessary as the move to Sparta was a drastic reduction in square footage – 900 down to 300 +/-. I grew up in a house of 7,500 sq. ft. and have owned dwellings upward of 3,000 but since then my domaciles have steadily shrunk as I trudge onward to the inevitable pine box (or urn).

“Damn, this stuff didn’t seem so big in the apartment.”
At least there’s lots of room outside.

My attachment to things varies. I still can’t bring myself to dispose of my 20 year old, analog stereo system – even the cassette deck. Music is deeply etched in memories and I suppose that is behind my refusal to part with components which weigh a combined 500+ pounds. I keep lugging them around the planet, trying to cram them into my shrinking world.

The worst thing about owning stuff is how to unload it once you are done with it. It’s a sort of payback proportionate to one’s carbon footprint. “OK, you have enjoyed these things you just ‘had’ to have long enough” says karma. “Now what?”.

The easiest thing these days is a phone call, 1 800 got-junk. The T.V. ad makes it look so simple. Snap your fingers and “poof”, it is gone. But that’s criminally expensive and an insult to one’s good taste exercised over a lifetime of buying. “Surely my stuff isn’t junk. How about a yard-sale?”.

Few of life’s punishments can rival that of the laundress picking over your valuables with disdain. Just ask Scrooge. The process of selling your things to people bent on bargains and who feign indifference is tortuous.

Who will buy this wonderful cherry-wood…

When the face-masked prospect finally deigns to make an offer it is pitiful and seemingly designed to insult. After a wasted weekend when the jackals have finished, you total up the proceeds and there’s enough for Mexican take-out (one of our few covid-19 dining options).

Once the failed yard-sale experiment is over, you’re left with three choices. Well, four really but it barely registers on the realism meter. “Maybe my kids will want it?”. Hah!!! One’s halfway around the world and the other’s rustic taste in decor eschews my 1980-era pieces. “What!? You don’t want my waterbed?”

So having been insulted by junk-haulers, masked men bent on legal theft and even my own children, my natural and terribly stupid reaction is to say, “I’ll show you how good my things are!”. And then I will now choose to store them.

“Self-storage: How warehouses for personal junk became a $38 billion industry

One in 11 Americans pays for space to store the material overflow of the American dream”

The above quote was the very first thing that came up on a Google search of “Storage industry”. One of my more perverse forms of self-justification is the storage unit. My personal storage decisions include a half-dozen units over the years (two at the moment, not including the garage of my rental home.) With my help, the storage industry has leapfrogged over laudromats and trailer parks and has become the better real estate bet. Their strategy is not unlike gyms. Sign ’em up. Then wait for them to forget about it. Then auction the shit off. What a concept.

My storage unit
My son’s storage unit

After I’ve filled the storage units floor to ceiling there remain either charity or the dump. Since even the former have become picky the latter is inevitable. Since I had amassed a serious amount of garbage at Sparta and needed a dump run anyway, a few picked over items had to come along.

Note my t.v. table acquired from Dad in left foreground. Bye-bye.

As I weary of writing this particular blog entry (the whole process has been soul-sucking), I would be remiss in not mentioning the final form of asset divestiture. Criminal theft. This past week my Spartanette was stolen right off the street, not 12 hours after parking it there. They say that in this mortal life we really own nothing, that everything belongs to God and we are simply beneficiaries of his temporary largesse. Well, if that is the case, the big guy has definitely called in his markers.


F-it. That’s enough outa me.


For all of you who doubted Thomas, it’s time to admit that your pessimism – while well founded in my past procrastinations and unmet objectives – was misplaced. I’ve finished!! Thanks to Bill, Jim, Leslie, Saylor for their advice and guidance AND to Carolee/Jeff, Betsy and all those who offered on-site encouragement. The day has arrived when Sparta becomes a home, an occasion formally marked by Cristina’s hanging of clothes.

..and the making of bed.

And the completion of wiring…

Still much to do…including figuring out the hot shower issue.