Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Our brand new dresser, via Ikea hacking

October 8, 2014
ikea hacking tarva dresser

We spent the past several weeks building ourselves a new dresser. We were in the mood for another woodworking project, but with our limited amount of woodworking space, we weren't sure whether building a whole dresser was feasible. Then we realized that IKEA sells a few pieces of unfinished furniture and decided to try "IKEA hacking."

IKEA has two types of unfinished wood dressers: the Rast and Tarva lines. There are lots of hacks online for Rast dressers, but we wanted something bigger. Most of the Tarva options were also on the small side for two people, so we settled on combining two Tarva 5-Drawer Chests (pictured above). They're made out of solid pine, so no particleboard or engineered wood. Miraculously, we even fit both dressers into a two-door electric BMW that we had rented for our trip to IKEA.

As you can see we made a number of modifications:
  • We bolted the two dressers together.
  • We routed the edges of each drawer.
  • We routed across the middle of the top drawers, to make each look like two drawers.
  • We replaced the two top boards with a single piece of 1" thick solid pine and routed the bottom edge.
  • We added molding around the bottom.
  • We shortened the legs.
  • We painted and stained.
finshed tarva dresser ikea

All of this (of course) turned out to be a lot more work than we expected.

The routing wasn't difficult, just tedious. First, we experimented with different bits and depths on a throwaway board. Then we mounted each board to the saw horse. We had to cut fast enough to not burn the wood but slow enough to be smooth, and routing all 10 drawers took almost an entire day.

Fitting the molding perfectly was a challenge. To cut the ends at 45˚ angles, we used a simple plastic miter box. (The next big tool on my wish list is an electric compound miter saw.) We cut the legs to be tall enough for the molding plus 1/2" (most of the gap sinks into the carpet). For the molding to be flush with the front of the drawers, we added 1/4 shims to offset the molding from the legs. Unfortunately, between the width of the saw, the thickness of the pencil marks, the imprecision of the ruler, and simple error, we cut the front piece of molding almost 1/4" too short. Cutting a tiny piece off the end of the spare molding, we created a shim that we spliced into the gap with wood glue, which after polishing with a little wood filler and painting, is barely noticeable.


You can see the molding we added on the left and the routing on the right.

Unlike our media cabinet, we didn't have to measure and saw most of the boards — they came pre-cut by IKEA, and the top board we had sawed at the lumber store. But there was still plenty of sanding and routing, which we did in the driveway under our apartment, producing a lot of sawdust. Despite vacuuming constantly, and cleaning the dust off the neighbor's cars, our neighbor complained (reasonably) about "blanketing everything" with dust. So we've probably burned our political capital on that front for a few months.

Choosing colors was the hardest part. We had a vague idea of wanting a dark stain on the top and a light paint on the rest, but went through dozens of paint swatches and stain samples before we settled on the combination. The stain is "espresso" by Varathane, and the paint is "indian muslin" from the Pittsburgh Paints palette (though we weren't impressed with their actual paint, so we got the equivalent color from Benjamin Moore). The paint wasn't exactly as we expected — on the swatch it was a little darker, more pink, less off-white — but it came out nicely enough. One pint was enough for two coats on the whole thing (with primer underneath).

We used "clear satin" finish, two coats of oil-based polyurethane on top (over the oil-based pre-stain and stain) and two coats of water-based polycrylic finish over the water-based paint. (The knobs we stained with the same espresso color, no finish.)

The funny thing with this dresser project was it was actually the second iteration. Several months earlier, we saw a large, very nice-looking dresser on the street corner, and carried it into our driveway. It was old and worn, but we thought it was made out of good wood and worth re-finishing. So we stripped the paint off the whole thing, and started to replace the rotted wood runners with new metal ones, when we realized it was all just particleboard. (The giveaway was when a little rainwater that got through the tarps caused the top to puff up significantly; real wood wouldn't have done that.) We decided the low-quality materials weren't worth the work. Despite feeling foolish at having spent so much time working on it, we sold it on Craigslist pretty quickly, defraying the cost of "v2".


Our first attempt. What it looked like when we found it (left) and what it looked like when we sold it (right).

Our rough estimate for what this all cost:
  • 2 Tarva dressers: $218
  • Stain: $14 (including one can we didn't use)
  • Primer: $11
  • Paint: $8
  • Top board: $37
  • Hardware: $20
  • Assorted materials (drop clothes, miter box): $21
Total: $329
And the reason we went through all this trouble in the first place? Steph has been using a bookcase as a dresser for the past two years. We thought it was time for an upgrade.

- Ben

Tomatoes all year round

October 4, 2014
We didn't go quite as crazy with our canning extravaganza as last year, though I did buy a 20-pound box of early girl tomatoes. Ben's company, Good Eggs, sells delicious, local produce, and one of their producers was selling a box of tomatoes that "didn't quite meet their standards of perfection." At $1.15 per pound, it sounded perfect for canning. I used half for tomato sauce and half for gazpacho.



Tomato sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

10 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 cup of olive oil
20 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups white wine
2.5 tablespoons sugar
3.75 tablespoons salt

For the gazpacho, I couldn't fit everything in one blender batch, which gave me a perfect excuse to experiment. Each batch featured slightly different ingredients.

Gazpacho #1
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Chopped basil
Salt

Gazpacho #2
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1/4 white onion
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
Dash of cumin
Salt

Gazpacho #3
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1 thick slice of stale white bread, cubed
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T lemon juice
1 T lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
Chopped basil
Dash of cumin
Pepper
Salt

- Steph

Road trip: Portland

September 29, 2014
Walking along the Willamette River
Start from the beginning of our Oregon trip.

For our three days in Portland, we reveled in our hedonistic sides. Basically, we ate and drank and then ate some more, with some music and urban exploring thrown in.

We were staying in a residential neighborhood on the east side of the river, about a 20-minute walk from the historic Mississippi district. European ship-workers dominated the area in the 1800s, before it evolved into a primarily black neighborhood after a 1948 flood. The construction of I-5 and the Memorial Coliseum in the 1950s and 1960s cut off part of the neighborhood and by the 1980s, it was a center for drugs, gangs, street crime and general urban decay. The city declared it a historic district in 1999, helping spark a still-ongoing revitalization. It's now home to a number of bars, restaurants and shops. Our first night, we wandered into a newly opened bar called the Interurban, with a nice back patio. Ben tried and enjoyed a new type of beer, an India Golden Ale double IPA from Breakside Brewery. [1]

My chosen food truck. The options were overwhelming.
The next day we explored Portland on foot. We ate at the (in)famous food trucks, though Ben chose better than I did with his falafel from Wolf and Bear's. After lunch, we found Powell's Books, which claims to be the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world. It takes up an entire city block. And not only did they have a ton of books, but they also seemed to put a lot of care into curation. The staff highlighted their favorites, including this one that Ben wants to read about America's forgotten naval expedition to the Dead Sea. Their store map was also pretty awesome:

Continuing our cultural afternoon, we toured the Oregon History Museum's exhibit on the history of the state. As a bonus, we also got to see a special exhibit on Abraham Lincoln's legacy. We had strategically planned our day to take advantage of happy hour, which we always miss in San Francisco, so we walked along the waterfront up to Deschutes Brewery. The brewery was founded in Bend, Oregon, and opened a brewpub in Portland in 2008. Deschutes is one of the larger craft breweries in the U.S. and its Mirror Pond Pale Ale is pretty easy to find (it's not our favorite though). More in another post on our favorite beers of the trip. Post-drinks it was time for ... dinner, of course, at Bamboo Sushi, which claims to be the first certified, sustainable sushi restaurant in the world.


Ben has a tradition of taking photos with Honest Abe.
The next day we didn't have much of a plan, until our AirBnB told us we absolutely had to eat at the Peruvian restaurant Andina, which someone at a party had also recommended to us. (We basically spent our time in Portland following the recommendations of people who used to live there, which is almost always a wonderful strategy for planning a trip). It didn't hurt that the food in Portland is really good and much cheaper than in San Francisco. Of course, Portland's median income is $51,000, compared to $73,000 for San Francisco, so we imagine the city feels more expensive for people who live there. I guess that's one upside of living in the most expensive city in the country, you start seeing everything else as "cheap."


Portland is supposed to have a good craft distillery scene, and not knowing anything about distelleries, we were eager to explore. Unfortunately, Distillery Row was out of the way, but we found nearby Clear Creek Distillery, which specializes in eau de vie. We still don't know much about distilleries, though we did figure out that neither of us much enjoys eau de vie. After all this eating and drinking, we were ready for a break, so we headed for a cool public park with a fountain, where we enjoyed ice cream and read our books.


Ben loves to recount the story of the wonderful night he spent at the McMenamon's in Portland on his 2006 motorcycle trip. Of course we had to go back, so that's where we headed on our second night. Unfortunately, the vibe wasn't quite as transcendental as the first time Ben visited (possibly because the musicians were somewhat mediocre and told overly long stories about their songs). We followed that up with one more drink at a bar on Mississippi Street, before retiring back to our rental, refreshed for our return to the wilderness. Also, we had washed our clothes, always a plus.







- Steph

Sources:
[1] Guide to the Boise Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon

A Yosemite anniversary

September 27, 2014
Yosemite Valley, with Ben's head bandaged
It's been a whole year since our wedding, and to celebrate our anniversary, we went to Yosemite National Park for a long weekend. Campsite reservations go on sale online months in advance, at 7 a.m. on specific days, and sell out in seconds; we booked a site at North Pines Campground (in Yosemite Valley) at 7:00:15 sharp back in April, in a mad rush to click anything available and check out.

We decided to go in style and rent a car for the four-hour ride each way (it being a rather boring freeway drive most of the way) instead of taking the motorcycle. (This allowed for luxuries like real coffee instead of instant espresso.)

We drove up Thursday and set up camp. On Friday, we hiked to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, taking the Mist Trail up and the John Muir trail down. On Saturday, we hiked up to Dewey Point. About halfway up, though, I tried to cut a fallen branch into walking sticks by kicking it in the middle (while it was propped up on a log), but I miscalculated the angles and it snapped up and hit me in the head, knocking me down and causing a nice gash right over my eyebrow. Steph patched me up with our first aid kit (and later with butterfly bandages bought at the general store) and we decided to head back down. We were surprised by the lack of any medical services in the park on weekends. (Fortunately it seems to have healed well.)

Injury aside, it was a very fun weekend, with perfect weather, and obviously beautiful scenery everywhere.

We're thinking next time we go, rather than stay in the tourist-heavy areas like this time, we'll do a backpacking trip through the wilderness further north and at higher elevation. (We haven't done real backpacking since Patagonia.)

Liberty Cap, view from top of Nevada Falls

Vernal Falls (with a rainbow) on left, Nevada Falls on right
Vernal Falls



Driving to Yosemite

Panoramas: the view from the top of Nevada Falls and our campsite at North Pines Campground. Scroll to the right to see the whole photo.

panorama yosemite national park

panorama campsite yosemite national park

Boo-boo
- Ben

Road trip: Oregon coast

August 23, 2014


Start from the beginning of our Oregon trip.

We made it to Oregon! Next we spent three days exploring the coast before heading inland to Portland.

Day 3: Crescent City to Oregon Dunes (170 miles)

Goodbye California, hello Oregon! If I had to pick one disappointing day of the trip, this would probably be it, though I don't want to speak too badly of it, it just had a lot of amazing days to compete with. I had read all sorts of good things about the southern Oregon coast, particularly the stretch between Brookings and Gold Beach, which includes Samuel H. Boardman State Park. The problem was that I hadn't realized how different the riding is between Route 1 on the California coast and Route 101 on the Oregon coast. Route 1 literally hugs the coast. It's one lane in each direction with lots of sharp curves that freak cars out and scare away most RVs. You could never get off your bike and you'd still have a beautiful view all day long. In contrast, Route 101 is set slightly inland. It's a multi-lane highway with an average speed of at least 60 mph and the only curves are long sweeping ones. If you don't get off your bike, your view mostly consists of a lot of trees. You're rewarded with stunning vistas if you stop at the many turnouts, but this isn't ideal on a bike. Each time we stop, we have to take off our gear and either lock it up or carry it with us. We had a beautiful view at one of the few turnouts we stopped at, but we had a lot of miles to cover and couldn't afford to stop every few miles. The RVs on the other hand seemed to be in RV heaven.


Which brings me to a few thoughts on the differences between the California and Oregon coasts. When we planned the trip, I debated how much time it was worth spending on the Oregon coast, because I didn't know how it differed from the California coast. Overall, we decided we prefer the California coast, but that's largely because we travel by motorcycle. As I said, the California coastal road has tighter turns, with slower speeds and beautiful views. The Oregon road is faster, with long sweeping turns and minimal views. Oregon definitely wins for having the best beaches. California's coast is much craggier, so the beaches are usually small enclaves tucked between rock-faces. These beaches are often difficult to access and sometimes dangerous because of the risk of a sudden large wave. In contrast, Oregon boasts long, wide open beaches. And finally, the two states seemed to have come to different conclusions about how to regulate public vs private access to the coastline. California has protected thousands of acres of land along the coast from any further development. This means the coast is less inhabited. And there aren't many oceanside houses (at least in northern California, I imagine southern California is another story). Oregon declared that all beaches are public, which is a lot of land. But the land beyond the beach is private, and thus usually occupied by private homes. The road is more of a way to access all these communities, than it is a way to see the coastline, which is what it is in California.

None of which is to say that the roads in Oregon aren't fun for motorcycling. Ben liked one stretch so much he drove it twice. I, on the other hand, had clung on tightly the first time and preferred to be left on the side of the road rather than drive it a second time.

Passing through Coos Bay


And if the morning had been a bit disappointing, the evening definitely wasn't. We were set to camp at the Oregon Dunes that night, which was one of the destinations on the trip I was most looking forward to visiting. What can I say, wide open expanses appeal to me. I had carefully chosen among the many available campgrounds — the dunes stretch 40 miles along the coast — to avoid those popular with ATVs. Our campsite turned out to be both private and quiet. We picked up some steak and corn at a local supermarket, where we were amazed at the ginormous shopping carts.

Most campgrounds have hosts, who live at the campground for the summer and help tend to the area. The host at this campground was a retired couple from Texas who come up for the summer in their RV. The husband also rides so he came over with his boxer to chat with us for a while. He was telling us about the riding in Texas, where they sometimes ride 600 miles in a day through west Texas because it's boring and flat and they don't want to spend any more time there than necessary.

Eel Creek Campground in the Oregon Dunes






This camp host was at least the third person on the trip to come over and strike up a conversation with us because of our motorcycle. Earlier that day, a elderly vet had started talking to me about how he used to ride a motorcycle all over the country. He'd just drive with no destination in mind, stopping wherever he pleased. And he would bring along his small dog, who would sit in front of him, without a harness or anything. Throughout the trip, whenever we stopped somewhere, other riders would come up to ask where we were headed and inquire about our bike (which isn't a model you see very often). Before I started riding, I hadn't realized how much of a sub-culture there is around riding that extends far beyond the stereotype of leather, Harleys and bad boys.

Day 4: Oregon Dunes to Yachats (56 miles)


When we pared down our trip itinerary, we added in a few extra days in the places we were already going. We upped our stay in Portland from two days to three and we gave ourselves five days to make it up the coast, rather than three. With 56 miles to cover, day 4 was one of those days that got added in, which gave us lots of time to enjoy ourselves. We started out with a hike along the dunes. I had been envisioning a nice hike to the ocean, but the ocean turned out to be three miles away. So instead, we hiked the John Dellenback Dunes Trail until we saw the ocean, which was good enough.

See a panorama view from the dunes.

These are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, with some dunes reaching 500 feet above sea level. Says the U.S. Department of Agriculture: "The sand comes from sedimentary rock uplifted 12 million years ago in Oregon’s Coast Range Mountains. Rivers moved the rock downstream, tumbling and grinding it into sand. The present shoreline stabilized about 6,000 years ago. The strong elemental forces of tides, waves and winds have been constantly moving the sand for centuries—up to two and a half miles inland in places!" It was drizzling when we started hiking, which we think actually made it easier, as it made the sand a bit firmer. And we were the only people crazy enough to be out there.

We enjoyed just letting go and running/falling down the dunes (recorded as snapshots in continuous-shooting mode):


After the dunes, we pulled into the very cute oceanside town of Florence for lunch. Then we went in search of the Hobbit Trail, which had been recommended by our friends. The problem was we didn't quite know where it was. This is what we were going off of for directions: "Six miles north of Florence on the left side of 101 just south of the sign for Carl G. Washburne State Park." And: "About two miles from Washburne, you'll find an easy-to-miss parking lot on the east side of the highway, with signs pointing to different trails, including the Hobbit Trail." Left side of the highway is hardly helpful as left is a relative direction. And while the parking lot is on the east side of the road, the sign is on the west side. So we actually pulled into the correct parking lot without realizing, then backtracked to a state park to ask a ranger. As a reward for not knowing where we were going, we got to witness this view:

The ranger gave us clearer directions and we eventually located the Hobbit Trail, so named because of the twisty trees and overhanging canopy that make you feel small like a hobbit? Or something? I'll have to rewatch Lord of Rings to give you any better explanation than that, but it was a easy hike with nice scenery. At a few points you had to limbo under branches blocking the trail.

Hobbit Trail. Same photo here, in brighter colors.



After not too long, the trail deposits you on a secluded beach that was empty when we arrived. We sat and read a bit and enjoyed the scenery. California is beautiful too, but the best spots near San Francisco are usually crowded. The beautiful spots in Oregon were much more deserted.

No other people on Hobbit Trail beach

The Pacific Ocean is cold.


Along the way, we stopped for ice cream in Yachats, which seems to be everyone's favorite coastal Oregon town. Absolutely everyone we asked for Oregon recommendations mentioned Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots). The local ice cream shop carried Tillamook ice cream, made farther up the Oregon coast in the town of Tillamook. I enjoyed black cherry and Ben ate something that was probably equally yummy but more chocolate-y, all of which reminds me that we need to find Tillamook in San Francisco, because it was seriously delicious.



We planned to camp that night at Beachside Recreation Area, which I had also been looking forward to because you can camp right next to the beach (I have a thing for beaches). But when we arrived, we learned the only remaining campsites were not next to the beach, but next to the highway. To make things worse, as we were touring the campground, it started raining. Now we're not idiots. We know it rains a lot in Oregon and we had waterproofed all our stuff. But it had been sunny all day and at that very moment we weren't wearing our rain gear. So we were getting wet and we had to decide whether to camp next to a highway or continue in the rain in search of a better option. We opted to try Tillicum Beach, just a few miles away. And again, most of the remaining campsites were near the highway. Except for one. I saw its potential right away but Ben was skeptical. It was right next to the walkway to the beach and he thought we'd have no privacy. I apparently sounded so sad at the prospect of not getting to camp next to the ocean that I won out, luckily for both us because this is where we got to spend the night.


We had plenty of privacy and after slicing some onions in the tent, the rain even let up for long enough to eat dinner and sit by our campfire. The next morning, we walked the beach without the storm clouds.

Day 5: Tillicum Beach to Portland (150 miles)

We had been planning to grab some breakfast on the way to Portland. I was texting with our AirBnB host in Portland to coordinate our arrival and mentioned we were near Yachats, to which I received this reply: "Yachats is my favorite town. Hope you're having breakfast at the Green Salmon!" Good enough for us, off to the Green Salmon Diner we went. Ben is still talking about how good his lox sandwich was. And our latte was big enough to caffeinate several giants.

Espresso and lox at the Green Salmon Diner


We detoured along a scenic byway to a lookout with some nice views, which you can see in the photos below. Then we headed inland and didn't see much along the way, except for a bunch of trees. The Willamette Valley (pronounced wil-LAM-it) outside of Portland is famous for its wine, but we arrived too late to do any tastings. We did pop into a coffee shop in McMinnville, where we shared a Mexican hot chocolate and played Uno. By late afternoon, we pulled into our AirBnB place in Portland, more than ready for a real bed, some clean clothes and a break from riding.
 


Keep reading to follow along as we explore Portland.

- Steph

I tried to include only the very best photos in these posts, but we took many more. I included a few more favorites in the slideshow below.