Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our Kitts Cabana

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, yeah, I stole that lead from Snoopy and others who went before him, but it really WAS dark and stormy last night, so I spent a couple of lazy hours on my iPad randomly cruising around the Internet.

For some reason, something triggered a memory of my days as a kid growing up at the Jersey shore. We actually lived about 10 miles inland from the beach, and we belonged to a club called Tradewinds in Sea Bright.

I decided to google Tradewinds just to see if it was still there, and I ended up learning all kinds of interesting things about not only that club but also the whole phenomenon of beach clubs in Monmouth County.

It turns out that Tradewinds was demolished in 2002 and replaced by some ugly but pricey housing. And I found a blogger who has an amazing collection of old photos from Tradewinds. One of her entries includes this photo taken right before the club closed. I think it was deliberately done in B&W to preserve the old-timey feeling of the place.

But what really captured my attention was the whole concept of beach clubs. The town of Sea Bright got itself in some trouble in the early 2000s when tax revenues were used to replenish the beaches at private clubs.

And that leads to the whole question of who do the beaches belong to?

Many have referred to the wall in the photo below as the Great Wall of Sea Bright. It was built to protect homes on the narrow peninsula from the ocean, but it ended up having a very exclusionary effect making people feel they weren't welcome unless they were part of a private club:

The approach to our beach at Kitts Hummock looks a lot friendlier.

I don't think anyone should be allowed to own beaches--they should belong to all of us.

I also stumbled on the "cabana phenomenon" at these beach clubs. Although we didn't have one at Tradewinds, I remember now that you could rent a cabana for the season, and the blogger I mentioned above has some vintage photos of her family in their cabana.

The Sea Bright beach clubs that haven't been razed to make way for expensive condos still have the cabana option, so just for the heck of it, I clicked on the pricing schedule for one of them.

What an eye-opener.

At one of the more exclusive clubs, seasonal rental of a cabana can run more than $25,000.

People equip them with kitchens and lighting, bathrooms and furniture, and there's quite a social life around these little "houses," with Sunday dinners cooked inside and served up poolside.

People hold on to them for decades, and many of the clubs have four-year waiting lists.

It's a way of life for many of New Jersey's wealthy families, but it's not a way of life I can relate to.

Our little place may be humble, but it's all ours, and it costs us only about $2500 a year to maintain--and that includes water, sewer, cable, electricity, internet, and taxes.

We can go there any time we want and stay as long as we want.

Our furry friends are welcome too, even when their behavior isn't the best:

And dogs are welcome on the beach to run free with us as we enjoy the sand and the water:

Last night's virtual tour back to my childhood at the beach was fun because those times laid the foundation for the beach lover that I am today. I learned to swim in the outdoor saltwater pool at Tradewinds, and that's where I got up the courage to jump off the high dive when I was nine. Just once...

But I'll take our little cabana at Kitts Hummock over a fancy one in Sea Bright any day.

It's a pretty cozy little place:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tiny House Nation

The tiny house movement started several years ago, so it was a just a matter of time before there was a TV show featuring tiny houses.  It's actually kind of a welcome change from episodes of House Hunters and Property Brothers, where the people couldn't possibly live in a house that doesn't have double sinks in the master bathroom, space for a 70-inch TV, and enough cabinets to store an entire aisle of oversized packages of food and paper products from BJs.

The other night, I watched the first two Tiny House Nation episodes sitting in the living room at our fairly tiny house. Our beach cottage is about 340 square feet, 450 if you count the screened porch.

And that's actually not as tiny as some of the houses featured on the show. One, built for a couple and their two-year-old daughter, was less than 200 square feet. I'm pretty sure I couldn't live in a house that small, especially with a toddler, but the people who design these houses have some really great ideas for maximizing space, including telescoping tables, Murphy beds that turn into couches, sleeping lofts, and even a smugglers cabinet built into a deck.

We don't have anything quite that creative at our beach cottage, but watching the show got me to thinking about all the ways we've worked to fit in everything we need. We do have built-in storage cabinets over the bed, where we store extra sheets and pillows:

A military trunk, purchased for $50 on Craigslist, serves as a coffee table in our living room while also storing a food processor, a waffle iron, and a crockpot:

The living room also features a vintage Coleman cooler that hides our supply of Mutt Mitts as well as some magazines, while a picnic basket and another cooler hold binoculars, board games, and puzzles:

In the kitchen, we have mostly open shelving that Doug built from repurposed doors.  Vintage wooden crates, bread boxes, and picnic tins are our pantry:

We also use lots of cup hooks and a magnetic knife holder, taking advantage of valuable vertical space:

Doug also fashioned a mini pot rack out of a turkey roaster and some hooks he bought at a kitchen store:

On the porch, a yard sale dresser holds placemats, dog towels, candles and barbeque tools:

In the dining room, a bar Doug made from a free crate holds all of our glasses, while a vintage cracker tin stores happy hour snacks.

And a vintage hamper hides a mattress cover for the futon:

The best thing about all of this is that we can justify our ever-growing collection of vintage containers because we use all of them.

I plan to keep on watching Tiny House Nation because it's fascinating to watch the host show people how much space they actually have for storage--and then watching the homeowners sort through their stuff. It makes you think about what you really need and what you have just because....

It's kind of funny though that the pendulum has swung so far from the McMansion direction.  I don't think most of us are ready for Tiny House Living, but we could probably get by pretty well in a lot less than 3,000 square feet.

And one nice side effect of little houses? At least in the two episodes aired so far, they brought the family members closer together.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Art of Racing in the Rain

I recently spent an afternoon on the porch at our beach house reading The Art of Racing in the Rain.

I admit that I wasn't sure I was going to like the book because it's told through the voice of a dog, and I tend not to like fantasy and other unrealistic types of stories.

But once I started, I couldn't put it down, and I ended up reading the 300-page book in about 4 hours.

The dog's voice is very convincing, and the message of the book is timeless and ageless.  Racing (cars) in the rain is an extended metaphor for life itself--it requires adjustments and compromises and different equipment, and to be successful, you have to make decisions about all of these things at the right time.

 But the one message that really struck me was the simplest of all: The car goes where you look.

The car goes where you look, and so for the most part do our lives.

And once again, I thought of our little beach place.

I had no reason to think that I would find anything we could afford when I looked at the realtor's website, but that didn't stop me from looking.

And once we bought the place, I kept on looking where I wanted to go, and the house came along with me.

Last weekend, we spent a wonderful July 4th weekend there.  I was feeling a little down before we went--our friends were all away for the weekend, so we knew it would just be the two of us. We were expecting a hurricane, so the weather didn't look promising. But by the morning of the 4th, the storm had moved on, leaving in its wake cool, sunny weather with low humidity. We packed up the pets and by noon, we were watching World Cup soccer in our living room with all the windows open and a breeze blowing through.

Our little place was decked out for the holiday:

In between games, we walked on the beach, and in the evening we went to Dover for concerts and a fireworks display.  We didn't know anyone, but we had a great time watching people, listening to music, and admiring a great fireworks display. Legislative Hall was decked out for the party:

And later, it was lit up with alternating red, white, and blue lights:

Doug took this selfie of us while we were waiting for the music to start:

The beautiful weather continued all weekend, and the next night we saw a beautiful sunset over the marsh:

We also hung a new stained glass window that we bought at our favorite antique store--I apologize for the terrible picture, but it really does look good in the pass-through between the living room and the kitchen:

A few days after the 4th, Doug and I left for what was supposed to be a two-night stay at a B&B on Chincoteague.

But unlike our glorious Independence Day weekend, the getaway didn't turn out so great.  The inn looked better online than it did in person, the beautiful post-hurricane weather gave way to unrelenting heat and humidity, and a planned sunset boat cruise was cancelled because of thunderstorms. We ate lunch in a pizza place with a kid video blaring through the entire dining room, and the breakfast at the inn was so bad that I raided our cooler for string cheese and cherries to stave off my hunger until lunchtime.

Although we had already paid for the second night, we decided to just pack up and come home. Staying because you've paid for the night when you're not having fun is a little like continuing to put money into a slot machine because you've already put a lot in. Our time and peace of mind are worth something, and staying under less than ideal conditions offers no further returns.

So we're home and planning a local outing to Strasburg, one of our favorite towns in nearby Pennsylvania.

The car goes where you look.

Monday, July 7, 2014

We've Been Featured!

"Some people have the coolest stuff."

That's how a blog entry on a website called Mobile and Manufactured Home Living begins.

And it's about OUR little beach house!

Doug and I were so surprised to learn that we had been featured in an extensive writeup on this site, which is run by a woman named Crystal Adkins.  We were also extremely flattered that Crystal took the time to gather so many of our before, during, and after photos and that she said such nice stuff about us.

Like "the couple handled the entire remodel like champs, making the impossible possible time and again."

Crystal finished the writeup by saying, "This is such a great vintage mobile home remodeling story! Not only is the end result amazing, but it's a great example of the endless possibilities that a vintage mobile home has. Plus, this is about as close to a mobile home jackpot as one can find - fine home, great location, and bought at a great price."

Thanks, Crystal. We love our little place, but it's great to know others think it's cool too.  And it's really interesting to see some of the other makeovers on your site!

Monday, June 30, 2014

225 Steps

Last week I had lunch with my friend Gilda, who is one of the most thought-full people I know (she's also "thoughtful," but that's an entirely different trait). She just has a way of looking at life and getting right to the heart of the things that matter.

She was asking me about our beach cottage, and when I told her how much we were enjoying it now that it's mostly done, she said, "That place has been life changing for you."

I realized she was right.  That $38,000 trashed trailer on a little plot of reclaimed marshland in a sleepy place called Kitts Hummock has indeed been life changing for me in so many ways.

It's given me a front-row seat to sunrises like this:

It's given me a place to get away from my home in a vibrant, busy college town and just enjoy the sounds of the marsh birds.

It's given me a beautiful place to walk my dog any time I want:

It's given me a fun place to putter around and decorate:

Doug just bought this vintage wagon at Brandywine View Antiques, and I couldn't wait to get it down to the beach house and figure out where to use it:

Recently, I've been captivated by the work of Jane Coslick, who is an amazingly talented designer and decorator in Savannah, Georgia. Jane has saved more than 30 sad little cottages and fishing shacks on Tybee Island. I love Jane's style because, like us, she loves and respects old things, and she has a knack for repurposing things in quirky ways. I think Jane would like what we've done to our "beach shack."

Jane named the first house she renovated on Tybee "99 Steps" because that's how far it is to the beach.

That got me curious as to how far it is to the beach from our little cottage, so I counted the steps yesterday.


And it takes me less than two minutes to walk there.

That is truly life changing for a person who loves the beach, and I never dreamed I would be able to say I owned a place that's a two-minute walk to the beach.

225 life-changing steps.

One of the other ways our little cottage was life changing for me was the experience of getting it to the point where it could be called life changing. (Yeah, I know that sounds kind of circular.)

But it was such a mess when we bought it that we weren't anywhere near ready to count steps.  We were counting gallons of paint and numbers of 2x4s.

We were so busy digging out from under moldy carpet, filthy bedding, and bad plumbing that we hardly saw the beach that first year.

But Doug and I did see each other--in a way that we really hadn't before. Some of my fondest memories from two summers ago are of us jumping into Doug's pickup truck at 7:30 in the morning with a load of tools and supplies, stopping at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast sandwiches, and heading south for another day of mucking out and rebuilding. 

And it wasn't too long before Doug's thumbs-up to the Dumpster:

turned into a thumbs-up for comfy furniture, clean white walls, plumbing that works, and cable TV:

So I want to thank Doug for helping my dream come true and Gilda for reminding me that it doesn't take a million-dollar beach house to change your life.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Outdoor Shower

When I posted a picture of our new outdoor shower on Facebook yesterday, lots of people commented that they have always wanted an outdoor shower.

So have I.  When I mentioned it to Doug awhile ago, he researched the options and found a solar shower that he thought could work. Most people who buy this model use it on a pool deck with no enclosure so that people can rinse off before they swim. But we decided it would be perfect for outside at our beach house, where we get a fair amount of sun.

So Doug designed an enclosure and bought the lumber, and we were ready to build it this weekend. The ramp on our shed was the work table. Here is Doug just getting started.

He started by constructing a small deck:

Then he set up the shower itself, which is basically a black tube that holds four gallons of water, which comes in from a hose. A mixer enables you to get warm water by mixing the cold water in the hose with the water in the tube that has been heated by the sun:

Our trusty assistant was available to get in the way, including lying on the compressor hose:

Doug designed the walls with a shadow-box effect--alternating inner and outer planks with spaces between them:

There was just one problem.

When we did what Nicole Curtis calls the "naked test," we failed.

Doug went inside and asked me to check from outside.

Um, I saw a lot of blue shorts.

What we didn't realize is that the spaces have to be about half a board's width, not a full board, or you will be able to see in.

We definitely didn't want to rip off all the boards we had so carefully nailed up, so Doug decided that since this was already a rustic structure, we would just wing it.  He "ripped" several boards (a technical term for cutting them lengthwise), and nailed them up to cover some of the space.

A second naked test revealed no blue shorts, so we were in business.

But now we had another problem.  We were going to run out of lumber if we continued with Doug's original design, which was to make a shadow box door and have a partial wall in the front.

I suggested we just build a gate-type door that spanned the entire front.

OK, fine, but what are we going to build it from?

Um, about that piece of T-111 that the previous owners left?

Doug was a little skeptical, but he wanted the job done, and the material was free.

Here's the piece--all dirty from lying in the yard for years. We chose the cleanest part to cut:

By this time, our assistant was exhausted, so she decided to take a much-needed nap:

The door turned out perfect, and it faces the shed behind our house, so it's very private, with just the marsh beyond the shed:

And because this is a beach post, it wouldn't be complete without a beach pic or two.

This was the sunrise on Sunday morning:

And I found this great sign out on the beach in the afternoon:

Maybe I should have brought it home and propped it up by our fabulous new shower.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

You Don't Need it But I Do

For a junker living in a college town, the end of May and the beginning of June are like Christmas. Trash cans  and Dumpsters are overflowing--sometimes with junk, sometimes with discarded treasures.

The best thing, though, is the UDon't Need it Sale, which is a University/City collaboration to keep junk off the streets and stuff out of landfills.  Students bring all of their unwanted goods, from towels and tables to bed frames and basketball hoops, to a big tent on campus, and it either goes to charity or gets sold to the public for ridiculously low prices. And those of us who volunteer at the sale can take an item for free for every shift we work.

We get some very interesting things like this couch, which is most definitely NOT my style, but as they say, one person's trash is another's treasure:

The day I worked this year was cold and rainy, and we weren't very busy. The sale wasn't open to the public yet, and we were just taking in odd lots of stuff from people who weren't turned off by the rain.

I kept wandering around, not really seeing anything that spoke to me. I grabbed a couple of towels for the beach house and two vintage Pyrex bowls... and kept looking. 

One little piece was kind of calling to me, but I fell into the "but I don't know what I'd do with it" trap. I texted Doug a picture, and he responded with a resounding "yes"!

Here it is in the tent. None of us realized at the time that it was upside down:

We eventually figured it out and flipped it over (the drawers go on the bottom because this is a small cabinet that probably hung on a wall at one point):

After I got it home, I cleaned it up and wandered around the house looking for a home for it.

Then I had an epiphany. When we redid the kitchen at the beach house, Doug built one base cabinet, but I talked him out of making a piece that would go all the way to the ceiling because I knew it would dwarf the kitchen. So we bought a little spice rack and put a vintage bread box on top of the cabinet:

But all of a sudden I could see the little cabinet on top of the base cabinet, with the whole thing looking like a hutch.  So we took it to the beach with us last weekend, along with a free sample pot of paint I got from Lowes. It's not a perfect match for the SW sea salt, but it's close enough (the colors are actually more similar in person than they are in this picture--besides, this is a funky little beach cottage, and I long ago abandoned any dreams of perfection):

Doug had to do a little fix to make it work--because the sizes didn't match up perfectly, he had to cut a piece of plywood to serve as a platform for the top of the base cabinet, so the little cabinet would be stable. I painted that too, and when the paint was dry (well, maybe it wasn't quite dry--I'm not known for my patience), he screwed it together. I couldn't be happier with the results.  And it was all free!

And to end on a note of pride... My daughter, who now has a master's degree but is at the moment unemployed, wanted to give her boyfriend something for his birthday, but he was adamant that she not spend money on him. So she went pallet hunting yesterday and called Doug when she found a nice pile of pallets for free at a store just a couple of miles away. One of the pieces was a fairly small frame, and, with a little help from Doug, she made this flag for Brian's birthday. It has 15 stars, which is the type of flag flown at Ft. McHenry--perfect for someone who lives in Baltimore:

Doug walked her through all of the steps from pulling nails (I didn't get a photo of that) to gluing:

and using the power stapler:

She's already a master painter, so she needed no help there:

She made her own stencil for the stars by printing one out on the computer and cutting it with an exacto knife.

Total project cost: $8.97 for three pots of paint, and she used only a small amount of each color. Maybe some more flags are in her future. They would make great gifts....


She gave Brian the flag a week early because she couldn't stand to wait (his birthday is next weekend). Here it is on the brick wall in his bedroom: