About Mary Ames Mitchell

Writer, Graphic Designer, and Explorer.

Fire Update, Kitchen Garden, My Books, Bullies

Hey ya’ll

The latest on the fires here in Northern California

So far, my hometown, San Rafael, has only smokey skies, no fires. This is how it looked yesterday as I drove south from a Costco run.

Currently, the fires are north of me

and south of me.

My kitchen garden

On a cheerier note, my kitchen garden is doing great. I have a tower full of fresh lettuce, arugula, & sage. My basil died, I don’t know why.

I have zucchini, beans, cauliflower, and tomatoes in this skinny planter. And I got one more tiny artichoke.

I’m growing two kinds of kale, swiss chard, and green onions in my new raised planter. My creaky knees don’t like kneeling to harvest from the skinny planter, hence this tall one.

My books

Since we are supposed to stay indoors, and with all this time I’ve had being home, I’ve worked on my book marketing. My fiirst step was updating this website. (I got rid of my old website when GoDaddy tripled the price on me.)

You can view the ‘My Books’ page by clicking the above image or by clicking the ‘My Books’ tab on the navigation bar above.

Bullies

Lastly, I hope everyone is ready for a verbally abusive temper tantrum that will last four days on national television. One of the biggest lies we heard as kids was “words will never hurt you.” That is SO NOT TRUE. Verbal abuse is extremely hurtful. When my mom and my first husband didn’t get what they wanted from me, they told me I was stupid and selfish. Even though I’ve spent decades trying to prove they were wrong, it still hurts. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris know the barrage is coming, but it will be hurtful nonetheless. God bless them, and god bless you.

Preparing for Fire Evacuation

Featured

It is only the middle of August and California is already burning. I’ve packed my Promaster City campervan, which is also my regular car, for a quick escape. At night I pack up my computer and hard drives containing all my work and place them by the door. Anything else that I don’t want to keep in the van all the time, like valuables, family papers, and my clothes, I place by the door, too. As my very first boss, Rudy Medina, told me, “Stay flexible.”

Also, stay safe everybody, and healthy.

Entertainment at Home

Hey there, locked down world. I hope you will catch this great performance by my grandson and me of The Three Little Pigs. Then maybe you could send suggestions for what fairy tale we should do next. Chase thinks The Three Billy Goats Gruff is too scary. Oh Dear.

Visiting Pigs and Chickens at the Dump

Momma pig at the Flying Can Ranch

My three-year-old grandson is with me every morning during Lockdown. We’ve been exploring the community inside the safety of my campervan, Ramsey Jr. We watch the trains come into the San Rafael station, the ferries at the Larkspur Terminal, the small airplanes at Gnoss Field in Novato and, lately, a big favorite is following the garbage trucks to the dump. Little did I know what other surprises they had there. Pigs, chickens, and peacocks. Here’s my latest video. Please check the like button even if you don’t watch the whole thing. Thanks.

Marin Sanitary Service also has their own fun video if you have a three-year-old around who likes everything mechanical.

What is the history behind this ranch? Anyone know?

Fun Feedback from “The Man in the Purple Cow House”

One of the best parts about writing a book is getting feedback from readers. Since my books are about my family, I often receive family-related feedback, such as an email from an aunt I never knew I had. She lives in Australia. More later.

Edid and my dad, Tom Ames, on Dad’s balcony at 109 Chautauqua Blvd, Santa Monica, in the 1970s.

But, this week, I got an email from an unexpected source. Enid, now in her seventies, was a tenant in the apartment complex my father owned. Those of you who have read The Man in the Purple Cow House know that my father’s last ‘home’ was a 28-unit apartment building on the corner of Chautauqua Blvd. and Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. As my father’s mental health deteriorated, his ability to manage his apartment house turned weird. He alienated a lot of people. Yet, there were those who recognized my old Dad deep inside somewhere who liked to amuse. In the photo above, he wears his ‘hippie’ wig.

Here’s Enid’s letter.

Dear Mary

I was a tenant at 109 Chautauqua Bl. for most of the 1970’s. I moved back to R.I. in 1981 and from time to time, I thought about your dad and the unbelievable experiences I had living in his building. I wondered what happened to him. Unlike some of the Chautauqua tenants you mentioned in The Man in the Purple Cow House (I just finished Chapter 14), I liked your quirky dad and we got along very well.

I never knew that your dad lost the building to foreclosure. He told me that the police would be knocking on his door because of his garbage delivery to the Reagans, so he stuffed $800 in his sock for bail money.

I would have continued living there but after receiving his letter during his jail event I knew that it was time to leave. His stubbornness to abide by the new fire regulations after a massive fire in the Ponet Square Hotel in downtown LA was the last straw. Instead of putting in the fire doors, etc, he gave me a rope ladder that I could throw out the window if I had to evacuate. I had lived in a couple of apartments in the building and at that time I was on the top floor facing PCH, and he told me to move downstairs to the second floor and to stop paying rent. At that time there were only a very few remaining tenants and he told all of us to stop paying rent. The third floor would then be vacant and those remaining would be living there as his guests. In his mind those fire regulations would not apply to that building because it would have become a two-story building without rental units. It would become a private two-story residence. At that point I moved out.

He told me he had lived in a big house in Pasadena. I believed him when I saw a gigantic mirror that came from the house.

Every now and then I would think about those times in the 70’s and would check online for any information about your dad but never found anything. Because of the pandemic and spending so much time at home, I must have searched a little more diligently and found your story and ordered your book.

I am so sorry for the sad times you experienced with your dad, but happy that you had some loving memories, too.

I cried myself to sleep last night after finishing your book. . . 
 
I am so sorry for your dad, you and your brothers.  I know it’s a little late but please accept my condolences.  It doesn’t seem real that he could have fallen into such a state that he couldn’t or wouldn’t ask for help.

Thank you for reaching out with your letter, Enid, for being a friend of my ‘quirky’ dad, and for the above photo.

The Man in the Purple Cow House and Other Tales of Eccentricity is available on Amazon as an eBook and print book along with my other stories.

Self-Publishing Tips

Hi. I have shanghaied this website which was meant for my travel blogs, for placing some downloads for my self-publishing YouTube videos. GoDaddy, who hosted my website with all my writing stuff on it, quadrupled their prices. So I canceled the whole thing. Since I already pay for this website, I am using it. Please forgive me if all you want to see is information about traveling in Ramsey Jr (who is not going anywhere these days). If you are interested in self-publishing, then enjoy it.

Suggested Retail Price Worksheet

This graph goes with my video about preparing for downloading your self-published book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. One thing you need to do is figure out your suggested retail price. This worksheet gives you the formulas to do that.

Worksheet-for-Establishing-Retail-Price

To watch the YouTube video. Click here.

 

Layout Plans for Converting a ProMaster© City Cargo Van to a Mini-Campervan

Hi again,

In response to my last blog about my new campervan, Ramsey Jr, I received requests for specifics for the furniture I used and where I purchased it. Here is a list. I am also inserting my detailed plans and elevations to show you where I placed everything so far.

Note that I am 5′-7.” I barely fit lengthwise in the cargo section when the back seat is tumbled forward. If you are taller, you will need to purchase a cargo van without the back seat. Also, I have included things like lots of water bottles in preparation for boondocking for 7 days in one stretch.

List of essentials

TravelingPosition

This photo from the Ram ProMaster website shows how the van looks with the seats in place. This is how I need the van to be when I am hauling grandchildren around. Since the main purpose of this van is to visit my grandchildren 400 miles away, this was an important feature for me.

Promaster City w back seats up

The rest of the drawings illustrate how the furniture is arranged when the back seat is tumbled forward and I am actually camping. The layout allows for a nice open space in the middle, which I really like. It reminds me of the layout for VW Campers, just a wee bit smaller. The ceiling is high enough to walk around in the space hunched over.

CookingPosition

SleepingPosition

CookingLoungingPositionPassengerSideElevation

For the shelf, I used the IKEA Pinnig ‘bench with shoe storage.’ See my note about installing the middle shelf upside down to give the shelf a lip that holds in drawers/boxes.

Pinnig-shelf-on-IKEA

As you can see from the next elevation, I can sit on the folded mattress, which serves as a ‘couch.’ The sleeping bag is converted to a back cushion for the ‘couch.’

CookingLoungingPosition-elevation

SleepingPosition-Elevation

LoungingPositionBedExtended

Working Position

Here is the listing for the table that I have. I bought it for my Class B. I love it because it can be a coffee table or a dining table, and there are no cross-bars, allowing my knees to fit under the table easily. But the price has gone up considerably on new ones. Sorry about that. Look up Beckworth & Co. They may make a less expensive version now.

Folding-Table

Last but not least, something that is very important to us old folks. I double up the plastic bags and bring along a container of hamster shavings to sprinkle on top. The shavings prevent bad smells. During the day, the toilet becomes another convenient surface to place things at a workable height. I know, it sounds gross to use your toilet as a work surface but really….

ToiletPosition

This last photo, which was in my last post, shows you where I place the canvas bags filled with my clothes. I use a bungee cord to attach them to hooks on the seat belts. A black-out curtain hangs across the front area from a tension rod so that you can’t see in from the front windows.

Meet Ramsey Jr Thumbnail

 

 

 

Meet Ramsey Junior

Hi

I haven’t posted for a while because my van life has been in transition. I traded Ramsey, my fully-stocked 21-foot Class B that got 14 miles per gallon, for a small cargo van that fits in my garage and (supposedly) gets 28 miles per gallon on the open road.

I made the decision to make the swap after taking a trip around the Northwest last August. As you can see from this map, I visited many National Park sites. What a treat that was!

2019-Aug-Map-NorthwestNatParks

But on my way home I was wishing I didn’t burn so much fossil fuel while enjoying the scenery. I was coveting smaller vans. Driving Ramsey around for two years taught me what I need and what I don’t.

  • I never used Ramsey’s shower.
  • I only need one burner on the stove.
  • I don’t need a generator and air conditioner.
  • I don’t need a sink and complicated plumbing.
  • It is just as easy to use a bucket as it is to use the toilet that requires black tanks.
  • Since I have a wonderful home where I can entertain, I don’t need my RV to be a place to cook elaborate meals. Besides, one of the fun things about traveling is trying out local restaurants.
  • I don’t need a whale beached on my driveway when I’m not using it. It blocked access to my garage.

I suddenly knew I was done with my Class B, even though the PleasureWay Lexor is an absolutely beautiful mini-RV.

Fortunately, a cute couple in Oregon was ready to start where I’d left off and purchased Ramsey from me. I put 2/3 of the cash back in the bank and used the rest to purchase Ramsey Junior, a ProMaster City cargo van – the passenger wagon version.

I did a lot of planning before making that purchase.

  • I took all the items that I had had in Ramsey that I thought I would need in a small campervan and placed them in a pile in the middle of my garage.
  • I put the smallest items in 11″ x 17″ plastic tubs that I could stack.
  • I obtained measurements for self-inflating mattresses from the Internet.
  • I got measurements for the cargo spaces in Ram ProMasters, Ford Transits, and Nissan cargo vans.
  • I marked the spaces out in my garage and made mock-ups of how everything would be placed in that space.
  • I measured myself sitting to see how high a chair could be and not cause my head to bump the ceiling.
  • I drew plans using Adobe Illustrator.
  • I test drove the ProMaster and the Transit and lay down in the backs of both to see how well I fit.

Promaster-City-Wagon-Layout

I took a few practice trips in my much-more-cramped BMW X1. That helped me eliminate more stuff I didn’t need. I watched countless videos about van conversions to see what other people found important. (It is amazing how some couples actually live full time in tiny vans. One couple packs a water heater and a stove in the ProMaster City!) I do not live full time in my van, and I place elbow room high on my priority list.

RamseyDrivewayFacingDown

My goal is to be able to live off the grid for a week at one time. I’ve made the decision to stay with a cooler instead of a 12-volt fridge, which would need some sort of power. I can charge my phone, my computer, and my LED lantern while driving. But what if I am in one place for a week? Do I need to buy one of those self-contained batteries, like the Jackery, and a solar panel? I’m still working that out.

Meanwhile, here is a video showing Ramsey Junior so far. I have taken several weekend trips in him and been very comfortable. Let me know your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Barbara, Rincon, Santa Paula, the Sisters on the Fly

God, I love my state. I count my blessings every time I drive south along Highway 101 to Santa Barbara. One thing I was struck by this time, that I hadn’t noticed before, is how many Camino Real bells there are between King City and San Luis Obispo — one every five minutes or so. Does that mean there were once that many here at the northern end of the Royal Road between San Francisco and Sonoma?

Camino-Real-Sign-Bradley-CA

Let’s hope the ignorant general public continues to ignore them.

After leaving super early on a Wednesday, so I could clear the South Bay before rush hour, I made it to Santa Barbara by 2:00ish. I visited two places. The first was a retirement village named Samarkand after the hotel of that name that my great-grandmother Mary Hopkins established in the building that her son, my maternal grandfather, Prynce Hopkins, had built in Persian style for the Montesorri-like school he founded in 1913 called Boyland. (Long sentence, sorry. Sometimes it is difficult trying to be factually and historically correct.)

Samarkand

The blue urns, now planters, are remnants from the hotel. My great-grandmother probably imported them from the Middle-East where they were created to store olive oil. See the koi pond at the left? Grandpa built that for the school. Here is a photo from the history exhibit the complex displays. My aunt Jennifer Hopkins provided the old photo for the exhibit.

BoylandII-Pools

The round pool beyond the koi pond was a swimming pool for the school children. It was shaped like a globe to help teach the children geography.

The second place I visited was the Santa Barbara History Museum.

SantaBarbaraHistoryMuseum

Even though I have been visiting Santa Barbara since I was in my Mommy’s belly (to visit  her father [d. 1970] and grandmother Mary [d. 1955]), I had never been to the museum — at least that I remember. Here are some of the highlights for me.

First, I noticed upon entering the museum that the stone with the brass plaque to the left of the door is exactly like the gravestone for my great-grandfather Charles Harris Hopkins’ in the nearby Santa Barbara Cemetery (the photo below).

HopkinsCharlesGrave

Next, it was fun to see photos of Santa Barbara back when my great-grandparents moved there. They built their home on the corner of Pedregosa and Garden Streets back in 1897. Their son, Grandpa, who would have been twelve in 1897, later wrote about the horse-drawn trollies running down State Street. He mentioned that sometimes the trolly drivers waited outside a store for a rider to do her shopping, then continued on after she reboarded.

Old-Santa-Barbara

I also liked seeing this old embroidered silk shawl. I have one just like it that used to belong to my great-grandmother Mary. Maybe she used to wear it for the annual Santa Barbara Fiesta?

Shawl

I spent the night at the Rincon Parkway Campground, a strip of parking spaces along the highway between the ocean and the cliffs.

Next morning I headed to Santa Paula for a Sisters on the Fly weekend event. The Sisters on the Fly is a group of about 14,000 women around the US and Europe who like to camp and have fun. They have four rules for joining their events. 1) No men. 2) No children. 3) Be nice. 4) Have fun. The fun activitiy planned for this weekend was paddling kayaks along the coast of Anacapa Island.

That was Friday. On Saturday, we hung about the KOA campground, did some crafts, got to know each other over coffee, and then, following Sisters on the Fly tradition, toured the women’s camper trailers, or, as in my case, campervans. I only filmed the fun vintage trailers.

On Sunday, before heading to Pasadena to visit my grandchildren, I took advantage of Family Day in Santa Paula. All the museums were open for free. There is an Agricultural Museum,

SantaPaulaAgriculturalMuseum

an oil industry museum,

OilMuseum1

OIlMuseum2-OilRigs

and two art museums. The drive from Santa Paula to Pasadena through orange and avocado groves was very pretty, but the weather was cloudy. So I’m not going to include my photos.

That’s it for now.

Otis, Massachusetts

Hi there.

My ukulele and I have been in Massachusetts, where we performed Henry’s Big Kaboom for the children of Otis, population 1549. Otis is one of the 56± towns along the Henry Knox Trail. Ramsey and Annie stayed at home for this one. Here is a short video.