Cat scratch fever

OK, we’ve been off the road for a few weeks.  But is that any reason to be going to the cats?

I would say “going to the dogs” but we are admittedly cat people, and you know that Eleanor and Emma foster kittens from the local Humane Society in between trips.  It was not long after we landed in Tucson that the first batch arrived: six cute kittens needing two medications each in the morning, and three medications in the evening, plus a little of our patented kitty socialization school.

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Having a batch of kittens will turn anyone’s life upside down.  Kittens want to jump, claw, fight, eat, and sleep—all the time, and if they can figure it out, all at the same time.  Kittens have no respect for litter boxes, so twice-daily cleanups are just part of the routine.  They don’t know how to share, and if it suits them to tip over a bowl full of water in the middle of the night, well, you just have to get up and deal with it.

In short, kittens are born with the knowledge that humans exist to serve them.  But in this house they are also patients, so we don’t take much flack when it comes to medicine time.  Their claws get trimmed (by me usually), and then with their defenses lowered we deal with them assembly-line fashion: first a squirt of medicine in the mouth, then a dab of ointment in each eye, and finally the despised nose drops.

It’s not all grief for the little beasts, though.  We do our best to give them back to the shelter with a better opinion of human beings.  Lots of snuggling, playing, attention, belly-rubs, snacks, and general carting around seems to work well in convincing them that we are worth keeping in servitude forever. Some lucky person will get one of these kittens and find that it has been pre-programmed to encourage human bondage.  (We don’t feel guilty about it–these guys need homes.)

In anticipation of some of my Airstream projects, I moved the trailer over to Rob’s place to borrow his somewhat taller carport.  Working there gives me a little more room for jobs that require access to all sides of the trailer and the roof.  Not five minutes after I parked the trailer, his cat “Chester” jumped from the roof of the house to the roof of the Airstream.  “Mmmmm… ” I could hear him saying, “a new roof to sit on.  How nice of you to bring it over for me.”

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After a few minutes of exploration, Chester decided to depart the roof.  But jumping back to the house wasn’t appealing to him, so he decided to see if sliding down the front dome of the Airstream would be appropriate.  During the testing phase he stepped just a bit too far out,  and began to slide down the dome.  I watched, completely helpless to do anything, as Chester put out his claws and ever-so-slowly, excruciatingly, slid down the aluminum dome leaving a foot-long claw scratch in the clearcoat.

Anyone who owns an Airstream can feel my pain.

Fortunately for Chester, he’s a very friendly and fluffy cat.  I couldn’t bear to gut him on the spot, as was my initial instinct.  Also, Rob was there watching.  So I picked Chester up, rubbed his tummy, and told him if he ever did that again he’d become a small yellow bath mat.  Chester later redeemed himself by catching a pack rat beneath the trailer, and the scratch in the clearcoat was shallow enough to buff out. So Chester and I are friends again.

(But I’m going to get on those projects soon.  I don’t know how much I can trust Chester.)

Time to fix

We parked the Airstream back in the carport last Tuesday night, spent the night in it (because it was too late to start unpacking), and it has been go-go-go ever since. There’s just so much to do …

I think one of the problems with coming back to home base is that suddenly I have no excuse to avoid the projects waiting for me here.  I thought last winter season was busy, but already this one is looking like a record-breaker.

The Airstream Safari came back from its summer trip with many little things on the Squawk List, including:

  • belt line trim replacement needed
  • bathroom fan with broken handle
  • MaxxFan with loose motor/fan assembly
  • cabinet trim by refrigerator needing tweaks
  • loose attachment of the galley countertop
  • loose section above bathroom door
  • … and a few other things

As you can see, most of these items have to do with things working loose over time.  A rolling house tends to have such issues, and after six-figure mileage and eight years of heavy use I’m not surprised to have a few.  But these are generally not hard repairs.  Often it’s just a matter of a longer wood screw where an original one worked its way out, or a bit of glue or Loc-Tite.  I see a few hardware store trips in my future, along with a few hours of weekend puttering.

I plan to make a few of the jobs harder than they have to be, in the interest of preventing future problems.  For example, the loose galley countertop is just a matter of a few screws and brackets that could be fixed in a few minutes , but I want to remove the stove and thoroughly inspect the area under the counter to see if anything else is going on under there.  Instead of just re-attaching the loose under-counter brackets, I plan to install some of my homemade aluminum L-brackets (leftover from the cabinetry job of last spring) which are much lighter and offer more area to spread out the stress.  At the same time I will probably also install the countertop-mounted Nu-Tone Food Center that has been sitting in our storage room for a couple of years.

This is the way I’ve always done it.  I see repairing things on the Airstream as a series of opportunities to improve the Airstream.  Not only do I learn more about how it’s put together, the eventual result is far better in many ways than a factory-original model, since it’s customized to our needs.  This builds confidence (assuming everything I’ve touched isn’t going to rattle apart again).  Someday, when we tow over miles of washboard road at Chaco Culture National Monument, or take a long gravel road in Alaska, I’ll appreciate the extra effort.

That means the eight or ten repairs the Safari needs will likely take through October to complete.  And there’s still the Caravel, waiting patiently in the carport to have its plumbing finalized.  That project has been on hold since April, and it’s high time I got back to it.  So already I’ve got Airstream work to keep me busy for a while.

But who needs an Airstream project when you’ve got an old Mercedes to fix?  The 1984 300D has been sitting here waiting for its share of attention.  Everything was working on it when we headed out in May, so I think over the summer it started to feel neglected.  Not seriously neglected —it still started up promptly even after sitting a month—but just the car apparently felt the need for some TLC because three things failed on it:  a climate control actuator, the trip odometer, and the clock.  All of those problems are at least tangentially related to the heat.

You can’t have an old car like this if you can’t fix most of the things yourself.  It would have killed me in repairs already if I had to take it to the local Der Deutscher specialist for every little thing.  So I got on the phone to Pierre, and read the Internet forums, and figured out how to fix the climate control actuator and the clock this week.  That took a few hours, while the Airstreams both looked sullenly on (I swear, you can tell that they are jealous, it’s like having three young children all vying for your attention).  The odometer fix will have to be done later because I’m just about out of time for repairs at the moment.

This week has to be mostly dedicated to “real” work, by which I mean the stuff that pays the bills.  (Isn’t it ironic that the “real” work generates money and the “fun” work costs money?  If only it were the other way around.)  Right now the Winter magazine is in layout and I’m collecting articles for Spring 2014.  At the same time, the R&B Events team (which includes me) is busy trying to get tentative programs for Alumaflamingo (Sarasota FL) and Alumafiesta (Tucson AZ) put together, and that’s a big effort.

And we’re working on a new iPad Newsstand app for Airstream Life, which I hope to have released sometime in the first quarter of next year.  When it comes out, you’ll be able to get most of the back issues (at least back to 2008) on your iPad and read them or refer to them anytime.  That way you can carry all the knowledge around in your Airstream without also carrying fifty pounds of paper.  I’ve been testing demo versions and it’s very cool, so this is an exciting project.

Finally, I’ll be presenting a slideshow at Tucson Modernism Week next Saturday, October 5, at 2:00 pm, about my favorite over-the-top vintage trailer customizations.  It’s basically the best of the interiors we’ve featured in the magazine over the past several years.  The pictures are beautiful and inspirational.  I had forgotten about how incredible they are, until I went through the old magazines and re-read the articles.  My talk is free and open to the public, if you happen to be in the Tucson area right now.  If you aren’t, I might present the slideshow again at Alumafiesta in February.

Kitten season

While the Airstream sits dormant, we completely switch gears and concentrate on the elements of a traditional suburban life.  Well, at least a few of them.  Because we come and go frequently, we can’t participate in many of the common preoccupations that require a continuing presence. I haven’t joined a gym or auditioned for a dramatic production, nor have I enrolled in any classes at the university or joined the board of the local home owners association.

To tell the truth, I’m glad for that.  A good friend just confessed that (being a good natured person who wants to make the world a better place) he recently accepted committee or leadership roles in three different organizations and now has little time for himself.  One of those commitments is for a three year sentence, um, I mean “term”.  I don’t mind getting involved in things, but I’ve got a business to run too.

Also, it bothers some locals when they discover our odd nomadic ways.  A local club co-opted me to their board of directors a couple of years ago, and my frequent & long absences quickly became the topic of some discussion.  I don’t want to be a distraction, so I resigned after a year. Even our neighbors who have known us for years still occasionally wrestle with the fact that we might at any moment vanish for weeks or months.  It seems to be unsettling.

So there are only three local activities we maintain long-term:  orthodontia (just me now, as Emma got her braces off a month ago), karate class for our future black belt, and volunteering at the local Humane Society.

Eleanor and Emma volunteer because Emma has long wanted a pet.  We haven’t been able to find one that could keep up with our travels, and not die of heat stroke when we are boondocking in a national park somewhere that doesn’t have hookups and doesn’t allow pets on the trails. Dog, cat, rat, snake, various birds and reptiles—all have been evaluated and found wanting.  So in compensation for being such terrible parents, we came up with the idea of volunteering to foster kittens for the local Humane Society.

This is ideal, because we only have to commit to a pet for a few weeks at most, and then it goes back to be adopted.  It’s a great opportunity to teach Emma the rewards of volunteerism and also to experience the responsibility of taking care of a fellow creature.  We’ve fattened up and socialized kittens so that they are adoptable, we’ve visited quarantined cats so they don’t go crazy waiting to be let out of their cage, and most recently Eleanor and Emma took on four very young kittens that required bottle feeding.

four unnamed kittens bottle feeding, from Humane Society of Southern Arizona
The 11 p.m. feeding

You see, this is “kitten season” in Tucson.  It’s the time when litter after litter of kittens is  dropped off at the Humane Society, often without mothers.  When they are very young, they have to be fed by syringe or bottle every two hours, around the clock.  As you might guess, there is a very limited pool of people who are willing to do this, and so the staff is stretched to find foster homes for all those kittens.

Last Friday we got a call from a desperate staffer who had run down the list of volunteers and was on her penultimate phone number when she reached Eleanor.  By that evening we had four little mewlers in the house, each requiring feeding, burping, and assistance with bodily functions.  Those of you who had colicky babies can easily recall the sleep-deprivation that results.  It’s the same with kittens, except they cry quietly enough that Daddy can sleep through it.

Kitten bottle feeding, from Humane Society of Southern Arizona
Hey, this is good! What’s in this stuff?

The feeding process for all four kittens, including clean-up, took about 45 minutes, which means you have just 1 hour 15 minutes before the timer goes off and it’s time to get out of bed and do it all over again.  I helped with one or two of the feedings and realized that motherhood is not for me.  But I think I knew that already from the experience when Emma was a sleepless creature herself.

Roaring kitten
I am kitten, hear me roar!

I thought by the end of the weekend we’d thoroughly hate the little buggers, but I underestimated the cute factor.  This is nature’s way of preventing us from eating our children, I think.  When they really got a rhythm going on that bottle of milk, their little ears would start to flap in time with swallowing, making the grey kittens look like cute fuzzy Dumbos with tiger faces.  Then, with a big beard of milk on their faces, they’d collapse gratefully into a “milk coma,” lying atop their litter mates in the box.

Emma’s technique was praised by the local Society volunteer coordinator and I’m told a picture of her “perfect” bottle-feeding position will be part of the training program for future bottle-feeding volunteers.

We couldn’t keep the kittens as long as we’d like, because homeschooling and other critical daily functions were just not feasible around the kittens’ schedule, but at least we had them for three days and bought the staff a little time to find them a longer-term home.  I would like to think that Emma learned something about the realities of babies, too.

We have about a month before we need to saddle up again.  In those weeks, if we can snag a few kittens who aren’t bottle-feeding, we will.  It feels like having furry foster children is now a fundamental part of our “home base” experience, and we may as want get the full benefit of it while we have the opportunity.  Soon the Airstream will be rolling and when it does, this aspect of our life will go back on hold until next fall.

A 34-foot parking problem

Our friends Kyle and Mary and Kathryn arrived on Sunday as we had expected, and I was all set.  The plan was to park their Airstream in the carport, as we’ve done many times before with other guests.  In the morning before they arrived I cleared out all the remainders of the Airstream re-flooring project, and removed a few things from the Safari that would be difficult to get out once there were two Airstreams packed in tightly side-by-side.  Mike came over with a blower and blew all the dust out, too.

And then they arrived, resplendent in 34 feet of aluminum goodness.  Kyle looked suspiciously at the space I was asking him to back into, but I assured him we’d parked a 28-foot with slide-out in there previously, so he’d fit.  He gamely took a crack at it, which I have to give him credit for, but soon a problem emerged.  Their 34-footer has a rear air conditioner (an unusual option) and it wouldn’t clear the carport roof.

Normally rooftop A/C units slide into the carport easily, but in this case the trailer was so long that the truck was still in the street when the A/C unit was entering the carport.  This meant that the trailer was nose-down, and tail-high, which would be just enough (with that long 34-foot lever) to allow the A/C to hit the ceiling.  So the Airstream ended up in the street instead.

IMG_1934Well, we’ve parked an Airstream or two (and a Bowlus) here in front before, so it’s not a big deal.  The 34-footer even fits with room for the mail carrier to slip her little truck in front of the mailbox and deliver the mail.

The camping in front is not as good as the premium space (carport).  The wifi is spotty out there, we can’t hook up a sewer line, and the electricity is only 15-amp, not 30. Fortunately, this week it’s cool enough that air conditioning isn’t necessary.  We’re getting upper 70s and low 80s here, a hint of things to come in a few weeks.

I am still working on the Safari, but much more slowly right now.  I’ve still got some caulking to do in the bathroom, and I’m noodling how to build the new cabinetry we want, using only scraps of material scavenged from the cabinetry we removed.  It’s an interesting problem, and I’ll write more about that later.

The Caravel project is completely on hold.  The plumbing will have to get completed in a few weeks, after our upcoming trip.  There’s no rush on that one anyway, as we have no plans to use the little trailer.

For the rest of this week, my major goal is to get work buttoned up enough that we can take a few days next week to be out of touch.  That’s a long shot but always worth striving for.  It looks like our route will take us from here to southern California, and then up to Las Vegas, and back—but we reserve the right to alter the plan on the fly.  That’s one of the reasons we travel by Airstream, after all.

Project Season

I did say this was “project season,” didn’t I?  Between the house, the Caravel, the Safari, and the 300D the list of jobs seems endless, so I’ve resolved to just tackle one item every single day without fail.  It’s like chipping away at a mountain, but chipping a little at a time is the only way the mountain will disappear.

The 300D project has gotten the most attention.  On Tuesday we replaced the bumper rub strip.  On Wednesday I replaced the rear sway bar links and inspected the rear brakes.  On Thursday Eleanor and I installed a new hood pad.  On Saturday I removed the instrument cluster and fixed the dim lighting, along with the inaccurate temperature gauge.  I used two T-10 LED lights from LED4RV, which really helped to reduce heat in the cluster.  (The plastic was beginning to melt from the hot old bulbs.)  On Sunday I very carefully removed an old decal from the defroster glass, a tricky job without breaking the silkscreened defroster elements.  In between 300D jobs I continued plotting the rest of the car’s resurrection, researching parts and repairs.

On Friday I got brave enough to remove the heaps of flagstone and slate that were pressing down the Caravel’s damaged Marmoleum floor.  It had been baking in the heat for the last week or so.  It appears that the silicone caulk is working well as floor adhesive.  As I feared, the floor is not lying perfectly flat —there’s a small lifted spot— but it’s good enough.

Eleanor came up with the idea of fabricating a trim strip to hold the Marmoleum in place, and so I cut a piece of flat aluminum to size, cleaned it up with a Scotchbrite pad and orange cleaner, drilled three countersunk holes for stainless screws, and then sprayed it with clearcoat.  Beneath the trim I sealed the edges of the Marmoleum with tan silicone caulk.  The dimensions of the aluminum were chosen to match the trim already in the trailer, and I think it looks great.  The three screws are pinning the floor in place.

The next job on the Caravel is to get the new water tank installed.  I got a start on this Saturday, but decided to take a break in favor of other projects.  I think, barring unforeseen problems, that we’ll have this wrapped up in the next couple of days.  The tank is mostly plumbed in, and the rest of it is just reinstalling the furniture, testing for water-tightness, and sanitizing the system.

The Safari hasn’t gotten much love lately. I bought the rest of the flooring material but we really can’t get on that project until the Safari’s little sister gets out of the way.  That should be an interesting one though, as we’ll be removing most of the bedroom, the dinette, and other stuff.

The house always gets the shortest stick.  All it got this week was a repainted exterior light yesterday, and a new dryer vent on the roof this morning.  The many other house projects are just going to have to wait.  For some reason it’s more gratifying to work on the vehicles!

Tomorrow—who knows?  Every day is different.  I just know that something will get done.  One chip at a time …

By the way, the new Alumafiesta site is up …