Vacation Rental Review | Sea Ranch 41075 Tallgrass

We’ve stayed in a lot of houses at The Sea Ranch over the years. Every time we go to choose a rental, we’re confronted with “where was that place, you know, the one with the …” so I’m going to start keeping track here.

This house, at 41075 Tallgrass is one of the nicer ones. We went over Memorial Day weekend. The cottage name is “Pacific View” (https://www.vrbo.com/916713).

Highlights:

  • Good location on seaward side of freeway
  • Hot tub on deck with great view
  • Secret hiding place under window seat
  • Really well stocked kitchen… could have cooked almost anything
  • Two master suites, so different groups can be separated

Cons (all minor)

  • Short on towels… next time would bring some from home
  • BBQ is charcoal, which is always a pain to clean up before leaving

Backyard thoughts

As we think about making the house bigger, that requires pushing the structure into the backyard. The problem is that the yard is already pretty small to begin with, and we use it, a lot.

What we’d like: space to garden, space for large groups to gather. Outdoor cooking area would be great (more than just grill, we’d like to have a pizza oven, as well).

Here’s a model of the yard.



And some shots from different angles. We had a plan to add planters and patios and lawn, but put them on hold as we started thinking about the renovation. We dumped wood chips in to make in not a muddy mess.

The garden beds are probably re-thinkable, though the back one has citrus trees that we are espaliering across the back fence.

Here’s an example of 30 people in the yard watching a movie on the side of the treehouse


Camping Review | Arroyo Seco, CA (b)

Campground: Arroyo Seco
Date:March 18-21, 2016
Reservations Info:http://www.rockymountainrec.com/camp/padres/arroyoseco.htm

Campground Amenities
Bathrooms: Hot Water
Fire Pit: Yes, but very deep. Bring lots of kindling
BBQ: Yes
Picnic Table: Yes
Size of Campsite: Very large
How many tents can fit: 2-3 easily
Firewood Available: For sale, $7/bundle

Absurd Campsite Amenities
Proximity to parking: Very close
Nearest store: 20 miles
Place to hang hammock: At some sites
Showers: Yes
Electrical Outlets: No
Cell Service: No
Pay Phone: yes-ish (didn’t work)

Things To Do
Hiking: Excellent, very near, or drive to Pinnacles
Biking: Excellent
Swimming: Yes, river nearby
Beach: Yes, river nearby
Climbing trees: Some
Wildlife: Frogs galore. Lots of wildflowers
Inner Tubing: Yes

Watch Out For
Poison Oak: Oodles
Ticks: Almost certainly. Didn’t see any in March, but they are probably legion by May.
Snakes: probably
Racoons: No!
Bears: No

NotesNotes: Site 27 had lots of trees and not much sun… perfect in the summer, but a bit cold in the spring. Site 29 was at the corner and had more open space. This corner of the campground was great because it’s away from most sites; right next to the road, but there is so little traffic that it doesn’t matter much (might change in the summer when a lot of people are heading to the day-use area).

The fire rings are really deep, so they don’t burn well with a small fire. Bring a lot of wood.

Nice bathrooms with showers and warm water in the sinks for doing dishes. Bikes were great to have along; really nice fire trail for riding up the gorge. The other campers were very mello in the spring, though there were a lot of Christmas lights and some generators.

It’s faster to get there than Google Maps suggests; the road up from 101 is pretty fast when there is no traffic. About 25 minutes from Soledad. Could also drive through Carmel Valley, but it would add at least 45 minutes to the drive. No cell service. There is a pay phone, but it doesn’t work well.

Less than an hour to Pinnacles National Park for hiking.

Hiking / Biking up the gorge ride is a bit steep, but nice out and back to a bridge where you can access the river for a picnic. On the flat portion, we went out about 2 miles, which was beautiful and flat, but above the river. For kids, the ride to the bridge would probably be an all day event.

Kids highlights — Eliza: bike riding loops through camp, riding out through the gorge. Tessa: Beautiful wildflowers at the gorge and on the hike to the Pinnacles.

Campsite Review | Arroyo Seco, CA

Dates: March 18-20, 2016
Sites: 27-28

Notes: Site 27 had lots of trees and not much sun… perfect in the summer, but a bit cold in the spring. Site 29 was at the corner and had more open space. This corner of the campground was great because it’s away from most sites; right next to the road, but there is so little traffic that it doesn’t matter much (might change in the summer when a lot of people are heading to the day-use area).

The fire rings are really deep, so they don’t burn well with a small fire. Bring a lot of wood.

Nice bathrooms with showers and warm water in the sinks for doing dishes. Bikes were great to have along; really nice fire trail for riding up the gorge. The other campers were very mello in the spring, though there were a lot of Christmas lights and some generators.

It’s faster to get there than Google Maps suggests; the road up from 101 is pretty fast when there is no traffic. About 25 minutes from Soledad. Could also drive through Carmel Valley, but it would add at least 45 minutes to the drive. No cell service. There is a pay phone, but it doesn’t work well.

Less than an hour to Pinnacles National Park for hiking.

Hiking / Biking up the gorge ride is a bit steep, but nice out and back to a bridge where you can access the river for a picnic. On the flat portion, we went out about 2 miles, which was beautiful and flat, but above the river. For kids, the ride to the bridge would probably be an all day event.

Kids highlights — Eliza: bike riding loops through camp, riding out through the gorge. Tessa: Beautiful wildflowers at the gorge and on the hike to the Pinnacles.

Holiday Card Revolution

This is more of a rant than a craft, really. Have you ever looked at the holiday card sites like Shutterfly and their ilk?

Pi Day Card

They’ve got a million different holiday cards with different levels of customization, etc. What I don’t get is why they don’t just let you design whatever the hell you want on the site, press a button, and have 30 of them delivered. It’s not like they have any cost savings for only having a few designs. Costco is the worst: they have the cheapest prices, but their designs are just heinous. And it matters, because I’m not organized enough to get cards out for any of those millions of holidays they’re peddling. So what do I do?

Read about it on BonBonBreak

Shed under the stilt house

As much as I’d like to have the stilt house floating in the air above the back yard, I really can’t afford the dead space in a yard so small. Every square foot has to pull it’s weight, really. Plus, there’s this ugly-ass metal shed in the yard that is pretty much an eyesore.

So, I’m tucking a little shed under the stilt house. In one iteration, I envisioned enclosing in the whole bottom story of the stilt house, but I’m glad I didn’t. Eliza even pointed out that it wouldn’t feel like a tree house if it was all filled in underneath. Hence, the shed is tucked in, filling less than half the area underneath, which hopefully keeps up the illusion of the house floating in air.

When you get right down to it, we’re talking about a 3′ x 7′ box. One thing I wanted, though, was a lot of doors… like 3 walls worth. I hate black holes where shit just lives because it’s too much trouble to drag it out and toss it, or worse, to bother getting it out to use it. I had a storage unit like that once… way in the back was an inflatable boat without a motor that I didn’t think I was going to use when I packed the storage. Then someone offered me a 9hp motor that would have made it a crab-catching machine… except I couldn’t actually get the boat without unloading an entire 1015′ storage unit, so the crabs remained uneaten. Bummer (n.b. that same inflatable is living in the metal shed… I’ve moved it 3 times, I’ve stored it for 12 years. I’ve never once put it in the water. This has got to stop). But back to the shed… lots of doors, natch.

I decided I wanted this done, so I started looking for a handyman to build it instead of having to listen to myself dither. I found one, JR’s Handyman service in El Cerrito. He was great. He came by and we talked for an hour or so… at the end of that, I actually felt like I should just do it. He gave me great ideas about how to do it, and we agreed that I’d prep the site, frame it in, and then he’d do the rest. But by the time I was building it, I didn’t feel like I needed him for any of it… still, those couple of hours were worth the money because he gave me a lot of confidence that I was doing stuff right.

My plan had been to just set some concrete piers on the ground, but JR convinced me to sink some posts in the ground. I even had some nice scraps of the same 66’s that support the stilt house, so that’s all good. He gave me a great suggestion for setting up a frame off the main house supports to hold the little posts while I poured concrete. At the end of the day, it worked mostly awesome, though one of them ended up 1/4″ off…

wpid-20151003_174025.jpg

Once the posts were set, I framed in the base with pressure treated. I made a lot of compromises, such as using 24 as floor supports and putting the joists really close to the ground. I know they’ll rot sooner, but I can’t afford 4 more inches to use 26 and giving them good clearance. We’ll see how it goes.

framed floor

Once the floor was framed in, I put in one special stud. Because I used 24 for the base, JR suggested that I tie a stud from the house framing above into the middle of the 24 to keep it from sagging. I then decked it with 3/4″ plywood. I splurged and got the smooth, sanded stuff. It’s not really necessary, but when I’m sliding boxes around in the shed, it’ll be nice to not have splinters tearing into things.

shed floor

I put a header on the bottom of the floor joists for the house to tie the studs into the floor. I used the laser level to make sure it was lined up perfectly with the bottom of the frame. Then I put a sill on top of the shed floor. I made some mistakes here since I hadn’t worked out all the details of the wall framing. The upshot was that I later had to cut the header and sill to avoid some pieces that would be in the way of the doors.

Half of the shed will have shelves, so I put in a stud aligned with the front special stud. This will support the shelves. I then used the laser level to pencil in the shelves. I wanted the bottom one to have enough clearance for the table saw rails (so I can store it without removing the rails), so that was a design consideration. I used 2x4s and Simpson connectors to make the shelf brackets. This wastes some space, but it’s easy. I finally got the shelves in, though after a few hiccups of cutting out spaces where I didn’t need them. There is a 40″ span on the shelf that I know will sag, but I’m going to put a front piece of 1″ steel L… someday, when I get around to it… hopefully before I load the thing up!

shelves installed

Finally, sheathed it in T1-11… cheap and cheerful!

shed with back wall

Next up, doors…

Simple garden survey

Trying to restructure a small yard is harder than it seems like it should be. One of the biggest challenges is how hard it is to look away from the stuff that’s already there. We actually hired a designer and she did an amazing job at drawing in plants where a concrete path currently runs, or a patio in the middle of a camellia bush. Like I say, it shouldn’t be that hard to mentally rip out the camellia bush that’s falling over anyway, but somehow it is. Sadly, the designer, while good at seeing what could be there, had an annoying habit of putting plants that sounded great on paper, but turned out to be not what we wanted. Some used too much water, some were impossible to actually find in retail nurseries, and some were ugly. We tried to implement her design in the front yard and quickly gave up. Maybe if we had $20K to hand to someone and have it done it a week, it would have been OK, but we don’t, so we’ve ended up revisiting most everything.

I’ve been making a lot of use of Sketchup for this purpose. It’s pretty amazing for letting you drop a planter box here, a fence there and see how it might look. Surprisingly lifelike, as it happens.

One trick, though, is the need to get the base layout in. I did it the first time with some casual measuring off a the plan that aforementioned designer gave us, but eventually realized that some accuracy was lost in the translation, so I started from scratch.

Legal disclaimer: I’m not a professional surveyor. I’m not even an amateur surveyor. There is no reason to suspect that I know what I’m talking about. In point of absolute fact, I don’t. But this is kind of working for me. Oh yeah, some other challenges: I don’t have a theodolite with a laser range finder. In fact, I only have a 25′ tape measure. And I mostly have to do it by myself because it is more trouble to ask Suzanne to help when I’m muttering geometry to myself.

I started by drawing a rough sketch with no scale, just so I had something to write measurements on.

As the first step to getting it to scale, I chose is a baseline for my map. In the past. I’d been working from the back wall, which was near where I was building the tree house. The yard has 3 fenced edges, 2 of which are in advanced stages of falling over. That makes for a bad baseline. I chose the house, because if it falls over I won’t give a damn about the backyard anymore. I very carefully crawled along the foundation of the house and measured the distance from each point to every other point.

Next, I needed to get some points out in the yard. In some cases, like the path next to the house, I simply measured from the nearest measured point on the house itself. I didn’t worry about the angle much, because the distances were short and the sine of a small angle is a small number. For distances farther away, I needed some well known points out in the yard.

I started by choosing a corner of a concrete block in the path. I took measurements from 3 points along the house as far apart as I could. Then I took measurements from any solid object I could find to any other two points that were also solid. I ended up with a complete mess of lines and numbers. Then it was time to sit down at Sketchup.

What I really wish Sketchup had is a circular guide line With my measurement system, I end up with distances, but not the angle. Getting the angle would take a fancy theodolite or something that I don’t have. Instead, I went into Sketchup and drew circles around the points I had measured from. Where 3 circles overlap, that yields a point. In general, they seem pretty accurate; the “points” were really triangles, mostly 1-2 inches across, which is an estimate of the accuracy of the technique.

Backyard Layout v6

With this whole grid of points laid out, I was ready to start designing.

Tree house fire pole

I’ve spend a lot of time thinking about building a tree house without a tree, and tried to think of cool stuff to make it awesome. I considered a zip-line to make a dramatic exit, but my yard just isn’t right for one. One thing that’s always been in my head is a fire pole.

fire pole test slide

After a lot of looking, it turns out that there just isn’t a good turnkey solution. The play-set people all sell some variant on this:

Which is nice and powder coated, but also pretty locked in to a specific deck height that they use for little play structures. They just seemed wheezy. My brother suggested I look on Amazon for stripper poles (which they do, in fact, sell), and I read a great description of using a flagpole for exactly the same application. All of these poles are sectional, though, so they’ll be wiggly. If I went that route, I’d probably fill it with sand to stabilize it.

I recognize, though, that my daughter will probably climb it almost as much as she slides down. And the last thing I want to worry about it the pole breaking. I finally settled on a chain link fence post. They are galvanized steel, so any slivers would be a bit of a bummer, but if it gets slid enough, it could polish up OK. The challenge was finding one 13′ long. I finally located a supplier who would cut a chunk off a 20′ section for me, but I had to get there during business hours.

Just on a lark, I swung in to Alco metals, one of my favorite spots. This is a serious industrial sales facility who still let you bring your kids in to paw through their scrap heap. I found a section of 2 1/2″ stainless steel tubing with a 1/16″ wall thickness. This was overkill in a big way, but it was so beautiful. I went to the sales counter and we talked a bit and she ended up selling me 13.5′ for $96. This was an deal made everyone’s day.pole on car

I got it home and realized I had some serious work to do. There was a brick step leftover from the original patio. I assumed this would be a simple matter to bust out, but it turned out the bricks were in 6″ of concrete. I levered it up a bit at a time and whacked it with the sledge (n.b., buy the damn sledge hammer. I tried for a while to do this with a pick and breaker bar, and that was just dumb)… eventually got it into small enough pieces.breaking step

Next I spent a bunch of time clamping it in place to find the right spacing off the platform. The description on this site is about right. Close enough so the littlest can reach it, so it feels a little tight for a grown up. It ended up about 14″ away.wpid-20141228_162339.jpg

Dug about 18″ down with a post-hole digger and put a couple of inches of gravel in the bottom. I screwed a board up at the eves and used a Simpson bracket for chain link fences to secure it. The bracket was about 1/8″ too small, but I had a sledge hammer, so we reached an agreement.    hole for pole

Mixed up some concrete and filled the hole. Really, I don’t think this bad boy is going anywhere any time soon.wpid-20141228_162734.jpg

At the end, it turned out exactly like I’d envisioned. It even looked a lot like the drawing I’d done in sketchup. And the pole is really fun. It’s only a 5′ drop, but it feels like a long slide. For grown ups, it’s a tight fit between the pole and the platform, but it’s a cinch to swing yourself way out so you go down facing the house. tree house with firepole

Let there be light

So the stilt house is done, It warms my heart that the first thing the girls wanted for it was a garbage can. And while we were at the store, they asked for a dustpan, too. I splurged and got them the set with a little whisk broom. We’ll see how often it gets used.

wpid-20141220_170240.jpgSince it’s just in time for the winter solstice, if we’re going to use this thing, it needs light. in fact, Eliza put a good lantern on her Christmas list. But seriously, we can do better. Especially since they have ropes of LEDs for $20 at Costco. I bought a set and a big-ass battery. I think this one mostly gets used for electric lawnmowers. 12V, 18 aH.

I tested the lights and they draw 1 amp at full brightness, and it drops with color, etc. Should get several days out of a charge. I’ll eventually get solar for it. I thought I had a little solar panel that could trickle charge it, but it got cracked in the move. I figure that a pretty small one should keep it up since they’ll probably only run the lights every few days.

redLEDwpid-20141220_170309.jpgwpid-20141220_170311.jpg

The effect is pretty damn cool.Though when the kids are in high school, I’m going to be a little worried that there really is a rave going on out there.

Stilt house gets done

stilt house mostly doneThe stilt house has really come together over the last couple of weeks, and today it wrapped up (but too late in the evening for good pictures). Billy, our contractor, made this thing fly up in no time. It made me really glad I didn’t try it myself, watching how quickly he’d just offhandedly cut pieces to fit where I would have had to spend hours measuring twice and all that. Plus, his fit better. He also could do things like frame in windows and throw on a roof without having to spend half a day on the internet reading about how to do it.

Hiring him meant the difference between 1st and 4th grade kids excited about their tree house and middle school kids wondering why their crazy dad was still trying to build them one. It’s interesting to note that the first thing the girls did when it was declared “finished” was to sweep and mop.sanding deck

The house feels seriously sturdy: the door fits tightly, the windows go up and down. The deck could hold a bunch of kids jumping up and down (nb: must test this).

It’s also funny that, while I declared it done, the girls insisted that it wasn’t finished until the doorknob was installed. Finally done at 20:00. Took this as an opportunity to finally get a new lock for our front door (we didn’t actually have a key to the deadbolt since we bought the house a year and a half ago), and put the old front door knob on the tree house.

There are still a few things left to do… Pain, stain the deck, add a solar lighting system. And, of course, the fire pole. Still working on finding this one!