the zen of pruning roses

It’s been a few years since I had a pruning job. I forgot how joyful the simple process can be. The weather has gotten colder and the leaves have fallen off the roses, the perfect time to break out the pruners. Note,”pruners,” if you think pruning roses is about breaking out the hedge trimmers, you’re wrong. It’s much more than that.

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It’s about sliding your hands down the stem to find buds you can’t see. Feeling for which direction the bump in the stem is pointing and either accepting the position or moving further down. You’ll mostly want to cut right above the buds facing outwards from the plants but I leave a few on the inside to fill the center so it’s not completely void of foliage.

Pruning roses is about peaking underneath the top leaves to find the stems breaking through the soil and underneath the graft, yelling “you chopped my head off!” These shoots that come from below the graft aren’t the rose you necessarily desire but they don’t know that. They just have a will to live but you must remove them or they will take over. You remove them to form the shape, to prevent overcrowding of stems and leaves that can cause poor airflow and disease.

You’ll want to take a step back from the beautiful specimen to examine it’s form. Often you can get so consumed in the pruning that you don’t know what it looks like from a regular viewing distance and not from the twelve inches your eyes are seeing it from. You may find a branch that you missed, a rose that wasn’t deadheaded, or a shape that just seems slightly off. I believe rose pruning has parallels to life. We can get so caught up in our day to day that we don’t take a step back to take a look at the larger picture. Maybe we need to trim something that is not serving us or change ever so slightly the direction of our life.

how to find the right sailboat to liveaboard

Now that I have your attention. Let me tell you that this isn’t professional’s take on buying a sailboat. This is an inexperienced person’s experience from chatting and talking with a few owners, experienced sailors and different surveyors. This is what I’ve learned so far in the process of buying a sailboat. To avoid bad boats, you’ll want to get the best surveyor in your area to view the boat you’re interested in. If the boat is floating, you like how it feels inside, you’re going to want to get a survey done. Yes, $600+ dollars plus can be quite expensive but when you know how much a boat can cost you in the long run, it pays for itself. In my area, one of the best surveyors charges $23 dollars a foot and that includes a sea-trial. Trust me, I want to skip it too but it’s not a smart decision to do that. The information below will go into what you can do to make sure you like the boat before you start contacting surveyors to haul the boat out.alberg

Now, we know the best thing you can do before purchasing a boat is getting the BEST surveyor in your area. This means looking at reviews, asking around, and asking for sample surveys. I would not get a surveyor who can’t supply a sample survey. You can really look into the thoroughness of a surveyor by viewing the report they provide. Well, enough about surveyors, let’s jump into what you can do before picking up the phone and breaking out your checkbook (do people still use those?).

Disclaimer: You’ll want to read up about what makes a good boat for your intended purposes. If day sailing, simplicity, and overnight camping is your objective maybe a dinghy will do. If you want to cruise around the world, a coastal cruiser or race boat might not be the best option. If you’re strictly just looking for a liveaboard that can float, you may not care what condition the sails are in. Research types of rudders, keels and fin systems, types of sailing configurations and more. There are a ton of books out there. Look at the bottom for a few suggestions.

What should I ask the seller to provide and what should I look at during the initial viewing?

  1. THE NUMBER 1 RULE – A good friend and an experienced sailor (thanks Laura!) told me that one of the most important things when buying a sailboat is getting a feel for the boat. How does it feel to you specifically? Is the inside too cramped? Does the cockpit seem small? Is the boat too large, too small? The boat could be a great buy but it may not feel right to you. Check out the boat, sit in the cockpit, sit in the head, take a number 2, wait, don’t do that last part, the boat owner probably won’t appreciate that but you get what I mean. Sit in the bed, make sure it’s big enough. Stand up in the kitchen and move around the boat. Especially if this is going to be a liveaboard.sailboatinside
  2. After you’ve checked out the boat or before you’ve checked out the boat, ask for the most recent survey. Typically the boat owner will have one but sometimes they don’t. If the boat has switched multiple hands in the past 10 years, I’m a little weary if they didn’t have a survey done. Maybe the seller doesn’t want to provide it or maybe they didn’t keep track of the paperwork, either way, I don’t like it.  In this survey you should be able to see recommendations for work that should be done on the boat and you can ask the seller if those issues were ever addressed. If it’s less than a year old, maybe you don’t need a survey but if it’s older than that, understand that a lot can happen in a few years.
  3. I thought this was a good question that was given to me buy another forum poster. If you were to keep the boat, what work would you perform? In my case, the seller said that he would address the teak issues as the wood is very dried out and hasn’t been addressed in at least a couple years.

But really, a survey is the way to go.
Make sure you like the looks and make sure you’ve done your research on the best designs for your intended purpose. If you like the feel of the boat and there aren’t any huge red flags, go get that survey.

When creating a contract before the survey, there are plenty of examples out there. Make sure that it provides a way out depending on survey findings. You may have to make an offer before the survey but that offer is not locked in. The survey allows you to negotiate or back out of the deal.


Resources, DIY Surveys, and Checklists

A Great List of What to Bring and Buy to Complete Your Own Survey

BOATUS – Buyer’s Checklist (PDF)

DIY Survey Checklist from Practical Sailor

Marine Survey 101 – Port Credit Marine Surveys

Recommended Books

Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away

20 Small Sailboats That Will Take You Around the World by John Vigor


the sailboat idea

Things have taken a turn in the past six months in ways I could not imagine. Relationships have changed with not only people but locations. The past few months have been anything but easy. When it rains, it pours. While not always true, it was true this time as I got hit by a car on my commute home weeks after a big life event. I was laying in the street in pain thinking all of the bad thoughts. My one outlet, in a trying time, taken away from me for the time being. It really makes you think about what’s important.


In a relationship, you can seem so busy but the minute it’s gone, things seem empty. There is a void that needs filling. There are unhealthy ways that can fill that void. Although tempting, I had been down the easy path before and it is not pleasant nor productive. Riding my bike couldn’t be my outlet after getting hit by the car so I looked for something else. Finding a place to live and fill that space has lead me to my most recent quest, to find a sailboat and maybe even live on it.

Disclaimer: Filling a void with a material item is not what I consider healthy but I believe this could be a path to a different and simpler lifestyle. I won’t go too deep into the ways of processing emotions and material items as I’m no expert.

After 6 years as horticulturalist in the depths of Sonoma County, my job now involves a computer. Although not “tech” in a programmer sense, it for now contains me within the reach of the metropolitan areas, specifically Oakland. Finding a place that’s a reasonable cost or that doesn’t involve joining a commune and find my dog the devil is tough. The dreams of owning a regular house are beyond my reach and to be honest not what I want right now.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate the tiny house movement and minimalism that is so popular in our culture today. As you can read from past posts on this blog, I’ve made efforts to downsize and lose the extra weight that often comes when staying in one place too long. Tiny homes aren’t practical in the middle of the Bay Area. There are too many zoning ordinances preventing one from parking a tiny house in just any backyard. You are forced to the outskirts of the Bay and even then, it’s hard to find a spot to park your house. But what does the Bay Area have, water of course!


I’ve always had dreams of living on a boat. Since I was a 16 and could drive to the marina where our modest 23′ cabin cruiser was kept. There I met a woman on a boat called Shatoosh (a story for another post) that showed me it was possible to live on a tiny boat with minimal needs or material items. At this marina along the Delta and winding levee roads, I could spend the night on the water in a small cozy space with everything one would need. The two burner stove, the table, and the head all within reach. Instead of feeling limited and cramped, I felt free.

The past six months have been incredibly hard at moments. Getting hit by a car and proceeding to get sick was one of the low points in my life. Out of these times comes change and from past experiences, positive change. I’m up for a new challenge and that’s why I’m searching for a sailboat. Although a sailboat will never replace a great relationship, I have hope it will provide a more positive future for the time being. Did I mention I don’t know how to sail?

Some youtube channels I’ve been getting into:
Art of Hookie – Minimalist Living on a Falmouth Cutter
Travel by Water – Micro sailboat camping
Roger Barnes – Dinghy Sailing/Camping


foldout bench seat that transforms into a bed

When designing this van I wanted to the ability to have a bench seat (i.e. couch) and not have the bed take up the whole van like so many designs. Although, it would require work to fold up and down, I like the ability to clear the space and sit up right. I thought this was necessary to work while on the road.

My brother found a design that didn’t involve any sliding or folding out legs. The only thing necessary was to flip what you’re sitting on. Once folded out, it provides a large enough space to sleep two.

Flaws of this design included:
1. The back rest can only be a certain height or else it will clip the ceiling.
2. The bench width needs to be under a certain length so it avoids clipping the sides of the van because the van is curved.
3. It makes storage a little harder to access.

The benefits:
1. Simple!

We built a frame around the wheel well and the back of the van.

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The frame around the wheel well.

We added a sheet of plywood to the top as one piece.

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Buster enjoying a place to sit.

Then it was time to attach the folding section. Note, there are spaces for storage in the back and the front of the design. You can see a cut out in the back where we installed a lid to access gear.


Here’s a shot from the back. You can see that the side facing out the back can be folded up and turned into a table. This is nice because it has protection from rain with the back hatch.

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Fold out table in the back of the van.

Here’s the bed folded out.

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The bed folded out. 

In the picture below you can see how the back rest was framed. 3×2″s were used to support the back. img_1873

Below is flip out storage underneath the legs but it also doubles as a coffee table. 56211149368__d47e37b8-e687-41cd-bc33-72d160622064

Next step is to make cushions for the seats out foam and fabric I have bought. The cushions should not cost more than 100 total to make. Although, it will take some time to stitch them together. I will post progress as I follow through with making the cushions.

on the bus

If I were to drive, I’d wait for the last possible moment before turning the keys on the ignition and driving off before the car gets warm and puts it coat on. Rushing to make it a second earlier only to realize I was racing myself.

Instead, time is an estimate, not a calculated affair. I start the hot water and soon pour a dark cup of coffee. I let my little dog soak up all the warmth before letting him down to do his duty. He is hesitant to wake up and his legs a little wobbly from his doggy dreams. He gives me a look, a look that says why go to work, we have all we need here, warmth and food!

As convincing as he is, he just doesn’t understand, or does he? I put him back inside with a few treats that say, thanks for not taking too long. I bundle up and head out the back door. The walk is cool in the winter but there are others doing the same. Their four legged friends are getting their daily exercise and trying not to freeze their paws off. Is it just me or are people more friendly when there is just a few of us on the streets? The ones willing (or forced) to wake up early and venture into the cold. I say hello to everyone I see and I get one back. As only a few words are said, a bystander might not think much of it. I on the other hand think of the hello as “nice to see you out here, I hope you have a wonderful day.”

I think to myself, more people must walk! The senses that awaken when you walk through town and the sights often unseen when you speed by with that huge hunk of metal. Oh, what’s that? Turkeys in the middle of the intersection. These feathered friends get the stink eye and the blaring horn as people in cars grow more agitated that they won’t move to the sound. They seem deaf. Deaf to your schedule, they don’t care if you’re late for that presentation. They’re more worried about impressing that lady turkey. I laugh, I stop, and welcome these decorated birds and enjoy their company as it’s a different scene than the day before.

I’m almost there now, I see the people under the small roofed bus stop and I say hi. Again,. is it something about there being just a few of us? Does it make us just a little more friendly? I saw the same people the day before who were once strangers. They introduce themselves and over a few weeks we become friends who share the most intimate detail. All because of this bus. This bus where we congregate and take a method of transportation often thought too slow and too old. Well today, it’s just right.

installing vinyl floor in camper van

It was time to create the base for which would be building our masterpiece. Everything starts with the floor and from there you build up. Since there were slats that ran down the van we needed to install some planks in between.
This way we could lay a piece of plywood on top and lay it in. This also helped us not put screws into metal. Anytime I’m cutting or putting screws into metal it makes me nervous. Not to say that it can’t be done but sometimes I just don’t want to do it if I don’t have to. 

We installed the slats by using construction grade adhesive. Don’t be shy! Smother that stuff on there like you would pour syrup on a waffle. This stuff takes some time to dry and become strong. I think we waited 24 hours before trying to install the piece of plywood. We pre-tapped the holes and my brother had this handy drill that would flip from drill to screwdriver. It had the ability to set a countersink which made the screws fit flush. Real nice!

We had to do the floor in two separate pieces because of the size plywood comes in. My brother is the measure so I followed his lead and we cut each piece one at a time. There are all sorts of weird bends and things to cut around so I was really impressed when our pieces came out and fit so well.

Here’s a pic of both plywood pieces installed.

Next, it was time to lay the vinyl floor that looks like fake wood. Yeah, it’s a little overplayed but so what, I think it will look classy with the white bench. Maybe not but you only live one life. We needed to cut it before applying it to the ply wood so before we installed the plywood pieces, we created an outline on the vinyl.

After it was cut, it was time to apply. The guy at Home Depot, yeah, that’s right, I found someone who would actually help me there. He said that this double sided tape would work just fine when attaching vinyl to wood. So, that’s what we went with. I bet the floor would have had less bubbles if we used a puddy but overall, it was really easy to apply and it sticks very well.

Look at that beautiful floor!

why i chose a toyota van for my camper van

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Toyota Van Wagon Camper Conversion Part 1

Since the last time I posted, I bought a van. A 1985 Toyota Van, yes, that’s the model name, Van. Oh, the simpler times. The purpose of this van is a camper, a weekend getaway machine. Will I live in it? Probably not long term, maybe short term but this is more of a weekend machine. Sorry #vanlife Nazis, if this isn’t hardcore enough, move on.

Vehicle: 1985 Toyota Van 2WD
Odometer Reading: 195,xxx

This post will be broken into three sections.

  1. Why I chose an 80’s Toyota Van.
  2. What mechanical work I’ve done on it.
  3. An update on where the conversion is at the moment.

Why the heck did I choose a 1985 Toyota Van? 
1. Looks like a spaceship, number one reason, yup.
2. Toyota’s are known to be reliable. You see many Toyota’s with 200-300k miles.
3. Widely available in stick, the only way to go in my opinion on these older cars with 4 cylinder engines.
4. Good space inside the van.
5. Pretty cheap to buy, got mine for 1500. Beats blowing  a ton of cash on a sprinter.
6. Parts are widely available, great when hopefully traveling to Baja!
7. Pretty good clearance for 2WD, I can give it an oil change without putting it on a jack stand.
8. Rain gutters for easy rack installation.

Some of the cons I’ve noticed.
1. To access the engine, you have to lift the drivers seat up and access in general to certain parts is restricted. It limits what you can do behind the seat and the seats can’t be made to swivel towards the back.
2. Depending on the previous owner, you may need to replace some parts initially.
3. Stock temp gauge can be inaccurate.
4. Obviously not as much headspace or space in general as a Sprinter or pop top.
6. limited power

What mechanical work have I got done on the van since purchasing it?
1. Clutch was toast, if the person won’t let you test drive it, there may very well be a reason. Replaced the clutch, always go OEM with these Toyota Vans. This was done by a mechanic in a shop.
2. I thought the van was running hot and I didn’t know if the fan clutch and water pump were fully functioning (turns out they were fine, the temp gauge wasn’t reading accurately). So, I replaced the water pump and fan clutch, got that out of the way and at least I know that’s new. Thought about doing this myself but just had a mechanic install the parts for me.
3. New aftermarket digital temp gauge that told me my van was running at a perfectly normal temperature. I installed this myself.
4. Replaced the spark plugs with iridium plugs.
5. Gave it an oil change right away, full synthetic.
6. Coming soon – Needs a new brake master cylinder, just need to pull the plug on this one before I do any extended driving.

check my post on upgrades I’ve made to the van. (click here and here!)

Easy Solar Panel Set-Up for your Van, Truck or Homestead for Less than 400 Dollars!

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So, you’re looking to go energy independent. You want to power that Macbook and recharge your headlights so you can blog and explore the night. It’s not as hard as you think. Let me say that again, it’s as hard as you think. There is plenty of sun power to charge all your devices. Powering your vitamix and microwave at the same time may not work but for most of your basic needs, setting up one solar panel and deep cycle battery will be enough to run lights and charge cell phones. Disclaimer: I’m not a professional electrician. This how-to is more of a story of how I’ve set up my basic solar panel installs. You do not need to follow my steps 1 by 1 and I suggest maybe you don’t. I want to give you an idea on how easy it is to get running off solar energy. I can’t perform the complex mathematic calculations, all I tried to do was get enough power to charge most of my devices and power my lights. I can tell you right now that I never ran out of power in California but I was always mineful to not leave the big screen tv on all night. 😉

The three things you will need.

  1. Solar Panel
  2. Solar Charger Controller
  3. Deep Cycle Battery

Optional : Extension cables for your solar panel.

Ohhh ahhh! Those solar panels are shiny. They’re getting more efficient each year. You’ll need to determine what size you’ll need.

100 watt solar panels are cheap, you can get them with a controller and extension cables for less than 200 dollars. Here is one on Amazon for sale.

What does the charge controller do? It limits the rate at which electic current is added to or drawn from electric batteries. It prevents overcharging and may protect against overvoltage. Some people will add a fuse box for an extra level of protection but I was fine without a fuse box.

For the deep cycle battery: Get as many amp hours as you can get for the price. You want a deep cycle battery, not a standard car battery. Deep cycle batteries are built to withstand the constant drain and fill associated with a solar panel system. There are plenty of 12v deep cycle batteries on ebay and amazon for a cheap price.


Here is one with 100Ah for 159.99 and free shipping. I have used this brand of battery and have had success.

What to think about when installing?
Don’t put it in a place that will be shaded. Try not to have surfboards covering any part of the solar panel. You don’t have to mount it, you can store it inside and bring it out during the day, just make sure you have long enough cables from the controller to the solar panel. If installing on a van, cabover, or RV, make sure to be careful about having a water tight seal. RV putty will help with that. I’ve installed solar panels on a cabover camper as well as a regular camper shell.
That’s the basics, each install will be a little different. Please leave any questions or comments below and I will attempt to answer them. Thanks for reading!


Here are some panels I installed on my roof rack of my van. I ran the wires down the rain gutter through the back door.


I’m Back!

I have not written in a long long time. I’m trying to change that and maybe even start vlogging. Over the past couple years I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve switched jobs, and started new hobbies. I’m still trying to be a minimalist but it’s hard when you have settled down in an apartment rather than mobile living. I’ll be documenting my life a little more frequently. I’ll be documenting starting a vlog and ramblings. I haven’t decided the direction of this blog just yet. Is it minimalism? Is it travel? Is it DIY? Is it environmentalism? Maybe it’s all of the above. I think I’ll figure it out as I continue to write more often. It will be tough writing more as I’ve started a Fantasy Baseball podcast with one of my best friend’s Rick, where we record twice a week. You can find that here. I’m also working full time at a GIS job in Downtown Oakland. But! I will make time, I will make time to write because I’m making it a priority. They may be short posts sometimes. The posts may not make sense, they may not fit within a certain box. The posts will be… “all over the map.”