Category: getting ready

junk food

4 days left. I could stretch it to 5 if I had to, but I want to be out of my apartment on Sunday night.

Yesterday, on top of my regular (somewhat nutritional) daily meals, I ate the following:

  • 4 Peak Frean jelly cookies
  • 1 large bag Hard Bite potato chips
  • 1 full tub Mayan Chocolate Haagen Dasz
  • 1 bag Jelly Bellies
  • 1 McChicken

Not all at once of course, but still… that’s excessive, right? It was when I finished the bag of potato chips that I realized what felt so familiar about it. The last time I ate a whole large bag of chips at one sitting was when I was past-last-minute cramming for an exam at UBC. I think maybe it’s stress?

I’m not consciously worried anymore, in fact I think everything’s pretty much on track. And I think last night I might have even crossed a threshold, where so many of the essentials are gone from my apartment that now my van is the more comfortable place to be!

Well, now that the junk food’s all gone I can get back to sorting through stuff. There’s a pile to keep with me in the van, a pile to keep in storage (many thanks to all who are helping out with that… Jodi, Vero, Ocean, Erica, Kristie & Russ), a pile to take to Gather & GIve (they put together packages of household items for people with low incomes that are starting a new home from scratch), a pile that’s true garbage.


okay, okay, back to it…




Failed to sell my books today, apparently things are too slow for the used book stores to put money out just yet, they suggested I come back in a few weeks. Realized around dinner time that I’d frittered away most of the day, and that this day was one of only 7 remaining for me to be in the apartment, and that if the other six went the same way that I’d be fucked. Called everyone that’s helping me out with storing things and managed to create a schedule of what’s going where when, so I feel a lot calmer now. Actually looking forward to the quietness of being in the van… the coming week is going to be a frenzy!

test drive #2

Remember when I said peeing in a bottle is fun and easy? Well I can be more specific now: peeing in a gatorade bottle = fun and easy. Trying to pee in a little bar-sized water bottle = mistake!


The other day a friend expressed some concern about me getting rid of everything I own. She was definitely onboard with radical downsizing and had gone through a few rounds of it herself, so she was talking from experience: she said that you can get rid of so much that it destabilizes your identity. Years ago I had a terrifying acid trip during which I was completely unable to imagine who I was; now I’m quite clear on how vital a solid sense of identity is. Anyway, my friend recommended that I hold onto at least a few anchors. I love that word, and I absolutely agree with her advice, so since then I’ve been considering what my anchors are.

  1. Friends… Okay, so they’re not coming in the van with me, but I did make sure that the bed was big enough for sleepovers, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere my plan is to spend weekends inside, on various friends’ couches. I am blessed with a small number of extraordinary people who love and support me and who have helped me become who I am. I’m definitely, definitely keeping them.
  2. Direction… The space that I’m opening up in my life by leaving my 9-5 job is space that I am using to prepare for application to architecture schools. Without that goal I think I would feel very much adrift, but instead I’m actually feeling like I don’t have enough time to accomplish all that I have in mind! Once March rolls around and the applications are all in, my new goal will be to find projects to get involved with to gain practical building/construction experience.
  3. Music… My ipod has twenty years with of accumulated music on it. I don’t necessarily listen to The Cult or Metallica anymore, but they’re still with me. I love the fact that recorded sound and images are just information that can now be packed into such a little wee object!
  4. Blankets… Linus from Peanuts has been in my head a lot the last couple of days. I remember the day… I think I was five… when my mom had to perform surgery on my ‘friendly blanket’, and how much I cried! Today I have four thick wool blankets from various Latin American countries, and they’re coming with me, no question. A sleeping bag would be more practical, but doesn’t hold the same comfort factor. Flannel sheets and alpaca blankets will keep me warm and happy.
  5. This blog… What an interesting process writing this has been. I used to carry a bit of judgment towards people who wrote blogs. I thought it was pretty ballsy for them to assume that random strangers out in the interweb would care about what they thought. Well now of course I’ve discovered that it’s a great way to keep far-away friends and family connected with your life, that it’s a great way to work out ideas in ways you wouldn’t in a private journal, and that there really are some people out there that stumble across your writing and find it interesting, and that when they write something supportive back it makes a real difference. My challenge, I think, will be to see how honest I can be with writing the hard parts. I’m not here to bare my soul necessarily, but I would like this blog to truly document my vandwelling experience. And if I can do that then I think the blog just may support me back.
  6. Knives & cutlery… Fancy kitchenware may not make a whole lot of sense on a van journey, but these are the mementos I’ve chosen. Beautiful, good quality, purchased in the days when being an adult still felt new, and home was just about the only thing I devoted my income to. Most importantly, they’re small :)

Progress on the van

Okay, I can’t contain myself any longer. I was going to wait and post pictures of the van once I had truly finished with everything, but I’m so utterly pleased with myself today that I have to jump the gun and tell you about the components now!

So here are some photos of the van, showing it empty, then with the bed frame installed, then with the platform in bench mode. Support doors swing out and the platform unfolds to go to bed mode, which currently also locks the shelving in place (I haven’t thought of a better way to secure the shelf, so for now I can only drive in bed mode).

I’ve made panels for the windows out of polystyrene insulation covered in shaggy burgundy fabric… I’ll leave most of these in place; the side mirrors on the van are quite convex, allowing the same kind of visibility as a delivery truck.

And today I finished the cover for one of the mattresses… this is what I’m so pleased about. After sewing twenty little squares of reinforcing fabric onto the back of a big piece of faux fur, I put twenty snap pieces in place such that the whole thing wraps up and covers the mattress, but can still be unfolded and used as a blanket! The snaps are almost invisible, they disappear under the fur. The mattress gets narrower towards one end, that’s to match the contours of the side of the van.

For me this is further proof of how constraints feed creativity. I only thought of using snaps because I didn’t want to have to learn to use a sewing machine, and now I have a product that makes me even happier than a plain old sewn furry mattress cover would!

Okay, so now I just need to make one more cover like that (ugh, that means sewing another twenty little squares), then I’ll post pics of what it looks like with all the components together.

I usually avoid the word ‘homeless’ when I’m talking about this project. I use words like ‘nomadic’ instead because I want to convey my excitement about it, and the fact that it’s a choice, not a necessity. And when I talk to people they get it, but I can almost always sense a little bit of concern as well: that word ‘homeless’ is lurking around the corner. So I want to reassure everyone.

For the last 11 years I’ve been working with an organization that provides a range of housing options to people who have a history of homelessness, so I’m very aware of the vast differences between my kind of homelessness and the real thing: I have the power to make this end if or when I want to; people won’t be able to tell from looking at me that I’m homeless and treat me poorly because of it; the shelter that I do have is very comfortable  and safe compared to, say, a piece of cardboard under a viaduct; my life is not going to be a daily fight for survival; my childhood will never contain the kind of horrors that most people who are homeless have survived. So it’s not just that I want to avoid the stigma of the word homeless; it’s also that I have no right to claim it.

The project is about home, definitely. It takes away the traditional walls of home and asks me where the new walls will be. Is my home shrinking to the size of a van, or is it growing to the size of a city? Can it be a network of invisible lines connecting the couches of all my friends? This city feels full of people who love and support me, but what will it feel like if I leave the city? Could home really be everywhere?

In short, don’t worry, folks! My guess is that what I’ll feel at the end of all this is a deep sense of homefullness.

test drive

Yesterday I finished the window coverings for the van. They’re panels of insulation covered in shaggy burgundy fabric that fit tight against the windows. On the inside it feels warm and womby, and on the outside it looks kinda pimpin’. So with the bed frame built, the foamy sized properly, privacy, and lots of blankets, I was ready to try my first night outside!

One advantage of vandwelling (I should start compiling a list of them) is that you can drive to a party and drink yourself into a stupour, and you don’t have to worry about how you’re getting home because you’re already there. So the timing was perfect, because that’s exactly what I did, and I slept like a baby.

I did notice my head got cold, which reminded me of the advice of one former vandweller that I’ve talked to who told me to get a warm hat. Otherwise my bed was warm and soft and lovely, and I slept til about 9:30. The struggle was getting up and leaving my little cocoon, but soon my body forced me to. All in all a successful test run.

Just kidding about the bid; this one isn’t up for auction, however if you know of any indigenous peruvian people living in town I’d consider giving it to them.

In 1991 in Cuzco Peru I met a man named Walter, who made a living as a travel agent, taxi driver, and middleman connecting tourists with hotels and with hiking guides for the Inca Trail. Near the end of my stay there he told me that a relative of his had been building a foundation for a house and came across something special: an artifact. I didn’t believe him, but I said I’d look at it. In South America there are lots of crafts that replicate things from the past, and when I saw this I assumed it was a reproduction. I did like it though, so I traded him my tent for it, and  also paid him 200 somethings… I forget what the money was called. Anyway it felt exorbitant, for a reproduction. It survived several plane trips in my luggage, made it home okay, and it’s been living on my bookshelf ever since.

Today I figured I’d put it up for auction with all the other stuff: I’d make the LVB $20, tell the story and play with the possibility that it might be real. I thought I’d better do a little bit of research first, so I poked around online, and um… guys, I think it might actually be a real Chimú vessel! For one thing these artifacts seem to be surprisingly common; you can buy one from a dealer for a few hundred dollars. For another it’s definitely hand-made, and matches the colour and texture of real ones perfectly. I’ve sent an email to the Museum of Anthropology to see what they think I should do.

The Chimu people lived on the North coast in Peru from 900AD until 1470AD when they were conquered by the Incas. So my bric-a-brac might be anywhere between 500 and a thousand years old!!!

Getting rid of ‘everything’ is such an interesting process. I go through layers of feeling attached to objects because of memories they evoke, the monetary value they should have (or the replacement value), what they say about me. Each time I let go I feel light, and then along comes another challenge. Of course, if this thing turns out to actually be a Chimú vessel then it probably doesn’t belong to me, so I still need to let it go. It’s enough, I think, that I’ve played a part in its story, and that it’s played a part in mine.

To be totally honest though, I’m not letting go 100%; this auction is serving to disburse all these objects, but the blog is also serving to capture their memory. This winter when what’s with me in the van will be all I possess, or even years from now when I’m all wrinkly, thinking back on my former lives, I’ll still be able to come here and see their images. In that sense they’ll always be mine.

chimu vessel

UPDATE: The MOA never got back to me, but an antique restorer did… he said he couldn’t be sure from the photograph but thought that it certainly could be real. He had nothing to say about the fact that I may have smuggled a (perhaps stolen) historical artifact from its country of origin or how best to rectify that.

“What will you do if you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, J?”

An excellent question, and while I’m not always that excited about telling people the answer, at least I have it sorted out in my head. The answer is of course in two parts.

Number one: On my van journey this summer I discovered that peeing in a bottle is not only fun, it’s better than a toilet. You don’t have to get out of bed, and if you’re careful you don’t even have to lift the covers! Seriously, problem solved.

Number poo: This is where developing mutually advantageous relationships with staff at 24 hours services like 7-11 and adult video stores will come in handy… okay maybe I haven’t thought that one through enough. I’m pretty regular though, I figured it’d be part of my morning ritual at the pool. Not in the pool of course; in the change rooms.

What really worries me is, where am I going to use my Neti pot??? For those who don’t know, Neti is the ayurvedic practice of pouring salt water in one nostril and out the other. A Neti pot is designed to help with this rather messy task. I was pretty dubious when a dear friend gave one to me a few months back. “Keep your nose clean,” she said. As H1N1 loomed I gave it a try: the idea is it flushes out the very cavities where that virus and others like to party. I don’t know for sure that it’s working, but it feels great, so now I’m doing it everyday… but that’s one thing I can’t see myself doing at the community centre. Or on the street. Or in the van.

Where will I do it, Sam I Am?

This weekend I went and bought faux fur. I figured if I couldn’t have real heating in the van I should line the whole thing with fur. Right? Plus it would make me happy to look at.

Well it’s expensive stuff, so I couldn’t get enough to line everything, but I got enough to make my cushion covers (seats by day, mattress by night), and I got something a little coarser to cover the panels of insulation that’ll cover the windows.

The fur is AWESOME, and now I have a dilemma. For the last two nights I’ve slept in my hammock, wrapped up smiling in 4 meters of the stuff. It’s like being hugged to sleep by a giant rabbit. How can I waste this on my cushions???