This is the part I love. I mean, I've loved many parts of this process, but this is pure fun. Rubbing natural wax into white oak wood--lots of wax and lots of wood. I have always loved working with wood, the feel of it under my hands, the grain, the texture, the color. I no longer tolerate the scent of conifers, no pine or fir, cedar or redwood, but this beautiful, smooth white oak doesn't trigger any reaction at all. I am using cotton diapers, my favorite dishcloth, to rub Bioshield's Patina Wax into the pale wood, watching it turn just a shade darker, in a way that makes the lines of the grain emerge and speak. It's poetry.
Each day when I stop by the trailer, I see new pieces of cabinetry assembled and mounted. The home I have been dreaming of for so long is coming to live before my eyes. More wax just came in. I can't wait to go back in the morning and go back to caressing wood.
I am amazed that this day has actually come! My Vehicle is ready to show the world. There will likely still be a few loose ends on the 24th, but today I spent the morning rubbing natural waxes into the white oak cabinets and elm wood tansu stairs, and we're solving a few problems that will allow us to finish the shower-entryway floor and the greenhouse.
At the open house I will be talking about how I came to build this house and some of the process. We'll also hear from architect Johnny Osband, Willa Crolius from the Institute for Human Centered Design, and others involved in the design and construction of the Vehicle.
While the site is wheelchair accessible, the Vehicle is not, but wheelchair users at ground level should be able to see into the entryway, which has a lot of interesting things happening, and I can do a walk through with my laptop and send it via Facetime to a second laptop outside.
Please spread the word. I'd love to have a lot of people see the Vehicle before I take off in it.
As the construction draws to a close I'm up against the hard limit of weight. My Vehicle is rated for a Gross Vehicle Weight of 16,800 lbs. The structure itself, the water tanks, and the necessary appliances will use up most of the allowance, and my belongings will have to be trimmed down, but we don't yet know what the finished weight of the trailer itself is.
So now I look at each book I'm packing not only in terms of how much I value the content, but also whether it's hardcover or paperback, and how thick it is. The Oxford English Dictionary is not going to make the cut!
I am hoping the all aluminum structure will have kept the weight low enough to let me have a good sized library. I don't own a tv, have no need for a sofa, and aside from the fridge and dishwasher, my appliances are small and light. I have a hand cranked Wonderwash clothes washer and a small spin dryer, a desk but no dining table, and my Kimberly wood stove is small and light. Finger crossed!
It's been a hard winter, and I'm not talking about cold, because Boston's winter was frighteningly mild this year. I spent a lot of the last few months running my IndieGoGo campaign, with various members of my team dealing with crises that led to their dropping out. In January, my beloved father died unexpectedly, which brought not only our own grief, but that of a worldwide network of friends, colleagues and admirers. It also means that I must vacate my family home very soon, so it can be sold to pay off various tax and medical debts. So it's been hard to keep my web presence up to date.
But my campaign raised $18,000, and individual donors and lenders contributed another $24,500, so I am able to buy supplies and pay my crew, which has kept the Vehicle construction process moving forward throughout this difficult time.
Our biggest challenge has been getting the help we need to design the solar power system that will allow me to live off grid and will reduce my carbon footprint. Local solar companies only work on residences or businesses that are tied to the grid, and several companies said they would help us and then didn't follow through. We finally connected with Real Goods, the pioneer solar company in Sebastopol, California, and they have been helping us design our system, but we still can't find a local installer.
We're putting a lot of attention on the details of my mobile internet access, choosing the water heater, and figuring out how to weigh the trailer so we can buy the right size truck.
The next few weeks will see a lot of changes at the Vehicle as we move toward the finish line.
There are so many water filters on the market, and a lot of them really do very little to protect us from the effects of massive water pollution. I spent a lot of time researching filters because I know my body does an inefficient job of getting rid of toxins, that I've already have heavy exposure, and that I'll be traveling in some highly polluted areas.
The filters that have impressed me the most are those made by a little company in Staten Island, Pureffect Water Filters. Their filters have multiple cartridges through which the water will pass, and they know exactly what each filter removes and how much. They also make different filters for different water situations and priorities. You can order filters for city water or well water, and emphasize fluouride filtration, add ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms, and choose whole house filters or drinking water filters depending on your needs.
These filters are also far better than reverse osmosis, gravity fed and simple faucet filters at removing volatile chemicals and radiation, and they preserve the mineral content of the water and actually make it more alkaline.
My journey will take me to many of the waterways of North America. I will visit the lower Mississippi, and the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary, heavily damaged by oil industry contamination, and plan to travel the perimeter of the Great Lakes to visit people who are part of the Great Lakes Commons Charter initiative, working to protect one of our few remaining precious reservoirs of fresh water, one fifth of all the fresh water in the world, from industrial and agricultural poisoning.
I'll be visiting communities with water issues from Puerto Rico to California, and while the bigger issue is stopping the waters from dying, we need to learn to protect our bodies while we do it. So I'm relieved to have found a filter I feel really good about, than protect me as I do this work.
Full disclosure: I like this filter enough, that I've decided to become an affiliate. If you choose to buy a filter from Pureffect, and use my name, I will get a commission. However, it's entirely up to you whether you decide to credit me or not.
I've been struggling to figure out how to heat water without propane, and knowing that heating is the most inefficient use of electricity I thought it might be hard to get enough power from my solar array, but this week I finally caught up with Zachary Dusseau, my solar guy, and he says we can probably get 2000 watts from my roof, enough to easily run an on-demand water heater!
It makes the plumbing plan WAY simpler.
I want to introduce you all to the people I'm working most closely with right now.
George Smichinski is our landlord at U-Haul of Somerville. Not only has he donated the space for us to build in, he's endlessly helpful, using his forklift to unload materials for us, sharing cleaning supplies and generally being the best landlord ever for a project like this.
Our landlord George, making sure the door mechanism doesn't scrape the roof as the trailer is backed in.
Dave Halloran and Paul Breneman from Community Builders Cooperative are the lead builders and do most of the hands on work. Right now that means grinding down welds that stuck up from the floor, sealing gaps that could let water and dirt in from below, placing brackets to hold the insulation in place from below . Very soon it will mean installing the metal plate that is our subfloor, and we won't have to balance on bits of plywood anymore.
One of the most pleasurable parts of this project is solving problems with other people. I love thinking things through with these guys, and will always remember the afternoon we spent figuring out how to structure my ceiling.
Johnny Osband is an architect and also works as a crew member. Johnny has been invaluable in translating my ideas into precise measurements and drawings that the builders can work from.
Gary Ainsworth of Metal Supermarkets has gone above and beyond as a supplier, even joining the search for a site before we found George. Gary has been incredibly helpful with making choices about materials, and answering a slew of questions.
And although his part is technically over, Jim Groveau of Advantage Trailers is only a text message away, answering questions and asking for updates.
Last but most definitely not least is Brittany Rode, my intrepid assistant, who tracks down suppliers, researchers everything from corporate giving programs that might help me, to sources for materials I need, to the best price for my IndieGoGo premium mugs, places orders, reminds me of appointments, and keeps a flowchart of all the things that need to be done, and makes sure I don't lose track of them.
None of what I'm doing would be possible without them.
On Thursday I went to Newton to buy Safecoat non-toxic caulk at Terrene, a "healthy interiors" store that supplies all kinds of materials, from counter tops to...caulk.
Much of my early inspiration for materials came from browsing a similar, though much bigger, business in Berkeley, California: Ecohome Improvement.
Insulating the floor:
The Triangle of Fire is what I'm calling my three needs for heat: heating the house, cooking and heating water. The Kimberly wood stove will at least partially meet all three needs, with some backup.
A few weeks ago I spent an hour talking with Roger Lehet, inventor of the amazing Kimberly stove, about how best to install it in my home. The Kimberly is different from other stoves in all sorts of fascinating ways. It's little, powerful, captures and burns the gasses that burning wood releases, making it hyper-efficient and virtually smokeless, and less is more, meaning that a few sticks burn a nice hot fire better than a big load of wood. And it can do tricks, too! There's a thermo-electric generator on the way that will charge batteries and heat water. It won't be ready til sometime next year, but I have other options in the meantime.
Today I got these pictures from Jim Groveau at Advantage Trailers. They have been putting the windows into the walls today. Those white boxes are the external access storage units. You can see the doors to them in the exterior image below.
The cables along the walls are the wiring for the trailer lights and brakes.
In the very back you can see the framing for the windows that will be beside my bed, in the bunker area.
Of course all this good news makes it even more urgent to find a site where I can build the interior.
Aurora Levins Morales is a chronically ill and disabled writer, historian, visual artist, and activist