My Gypsy Wagon Childhood

November 28, 2012

It's What You Make Of It

My passion for cooking began when I was a little girl, living in our modest, yet homey cabin in the woods. Our cabin was built by my dad, completely by hand, and was a testament to his love of all things handmade and salvaged. Our home was filled with items found in old landfills or secondhand shops and treasures passed down within our family. I didn’t own toys, rather, my collections were the things that my grandmothers had used and cherished over the years. Their cookbooks, banded bowls, measuring cups, depression glass, and hand beaters. And what I loved most of all was to spend my days reading through their cookbooks spattered with the ingredients from their kitchens of long ago, deciding what I’d like to bake that day. And because I never got to meet either of them, it was my opportunity to be close to them in my own special way.

Dad grandma grandpa
My Grandpa, Grandma, and Dad

Our cabin in the woods was high in the mountains and had an old wood cookstove, but no refrigerator, electricity or running water. Teaching myself to cook at a high elevation with the fluctuating heat in the stove was a challenge, but not unlike the rest of my life, where improvising and making do was just the way it was.

Gypsy wagon interior
Our first kitchen, in our family gypsy wagon home.

When I was in sixth grade, our local newspaper, the Siskiyou Daily News, advertised a baking contest and I was overjoyed at the prospect of participating. I chose a complicated whipped cream and chocolate cake that required refrigeration. We made a special trip to town to buy huge ice blocks for the ice chest and the special ingredients for the cake. I spent all night working on the cake, which was so delicate and fluffy. I discovered a way to keep the whipped cream from separating and had all of the elements ready to assemble the next morning. When I awoke, my heart skipped a beat, thinking about the impending contest and I excitedly went to work, piecing everything together. And when I was finished, my fluffy little cake was a masterpiece I was so proud of. Time was of the essence. My cake had to get to town quickly, so the judges could see and taste if before it warmed up. So I wobbled my way to the front seat of our car and placed my masterpiece on my lap. And as we drove down our three mile long dirt road into town, I held onto that little cake with all my might. But as we rounded the bend in the road, our car hit a huge pothole which sent my cake straight onto the floor, where it landed, along with all of my hopes for the contest.

Summer 013

After I got over the initial disappointment of the cake crash, we were able so salvage much of the cake and enjoyed it as a breakfast treat at home that day. And my dad proclaimed it to be a real winner.

And it was delicious.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

You can read more about my childhood here.


July 27, 2012

The Originals

Something I have great admiration for are the originals. Those people who have original thoughts, are creative, and do what they do because it's just who they are. I love that about my family history and know it's why I'm not overly interested in trends or what's popular at the time. I want to blaze my own trail.

Years ago, my mom and dad were blazing a trail of their own and my dad's amazing ability to turn waste into our family Gypsy Wagon was documented by Lloyd Khan in his book, Shelter. All images and copy are from the book, with the exception of my comments directly below some of the images.


Some years ago Joaquin De La Luz traded his '48 Triumph motorcycle for this vintage Chevy flatbed, and with little money, much imagination, and found discards set about making one of the most unique homes ever to roll along America's roads. For the past five years, Joaquin, Gypsy and their three kids - Heather, Bear and Serena - have moved around the country and were last seen parked along California's Feather River. Following are some tips on mobile design, and living on the fringe prepared by the De La Luz family, and from the photos you can see it's true when Joaquin says: "I love trucks."


I have found more freedom in my building designs by not confining my ideas to a planned form. If you plan what you are going to build then you have to find materials to conform to that plan.

Every area has its own unique throw-aways.

If you build a house on wheels it is best to build the frame of good solid material, preferably all the same dimension.

Bending bolt shank works better than lock washers on house trucks (esp. metal framework). See sketch above.

Never use less than 5/16" nuts & bolts on house trucks. (When bolting studs together).

Make truck level before starting to build.

Use a square: it pays off in the long run.

Notch every corner you can when building with wood.

Junk building material does not mean junk workmanship.

A good solid frame is most important even if you have to buy the wood.

I have found it  much easier to find building materials to cover a building with than to build the framework with.

Build house trucks with as low a center of gravity as possible, It is better to have steps over wheels than to have floor too high from chassis. This is very important. It means you can have more space inside and lower clearance from ground to roof outside. 4" makes a big difference.

Lower center of gravity also means much better handling on the road.

Heavy leather makes good hinges for cupboard doors.

A chainsaw can even cut round shapes like archs for truck roof.

I have found the chainsaw the most useful tool for my style of building. I used my chainsaw to build the entire framework for my house. It was built with green Douglas fir rough cut 1 x 4 that I bought new from a mill. Every board was dripping wet as it was winter in Oregon at the time. The chainsaw cut smoothly thru every board, an unequaled feat for sawing wet wood. A mini chainsaw is best for building with.




Found fretwork adorns the handmade dutch door, the dishrack finds a home on the door, an old found animal horn tip works as a latch. ~Serena

Utilize beer cans by cutting them into pleasing shapes for shingles - light weight - no rust.

Use bailing wire for "ground wire" cutting electrical installation costs in half.

After cutting out rear wall in cab of truck, join house with cab with an old inner-tube, cut & tacked to keep air tight. (Rubber allows for movement between house & truck.)

The waste of America is the richest in the world.

Building with cast-out wood you are sometimes faced with cracked pieces - cut different shapes out of whatever metal is available & tack over crack to strengthen.

Old produce crates make great spice shelves etc., many uses!

Old cans that have been discarded such as anti-freeze cans of 1 gal. size cans, can be cut and used for punched tin cupboard, making holes with a nail.

My affinity for calico was born with the curtains seen here. My mom's necklace doubles as a work of art in the window. A found tobacco tin holds pens. The treadle sewing machine I learned to sew on. ~Serena

July 18, 2012

Life's A Dance You Learn As You Go

42 years ago today I came into this world. Born in a little dirt-floored cabin in the woods where my parents had temporarily parked the gypsy wagon.


Delivered by my father, with my five year old sister playing nurse. They named me Serena Melegra Ume De La Luz. Melegra meaning miracle and Ume meaning part you, part me - something that came into my dad's mind when he held me for the first time. "She's part you, part me!", he exclaimed to my mom. And so it was.

Joaquin and Gypsy (9 months pregnant), my parents.

Today, as with every day of my life, I wonder at how I came to be. At what a miracle life is, no matter what we have or don't. And it's those thoughts that define me. That make me grateful for my roots that made me the person that I am today.

Life's a dance we learn as we go. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. Don't worry about what you don't know. Life's a dance we learn as we go... ~John Michael Montgomery

April 17, 2012

Happy Trails to You

The day after I graduated from high school I caught a plane to Alaska to work for the summer. Turned out that summer would turn into seven years.

I needed to put my little town in the rear-view mirror. Our family had always struggled to get by and the feeling that I could never get ahead felt claustrophobic to me. I didn't understand it at the time, but that feeling was much like what my parents felt when they set out on their journey as hippies, long before there was a me.

After I'd been living in Alaska for about two years, my parents sent me a video tape - a documentary about the sixties - which was their way of explaining why they'd chosen to live the way we did - first in the Gypsy Wagon, and then eventually off the grid, in the mountains of Siskiyou County. And after watching it, I understood we'd all been seeking freedom from the lives we'd been living. It made more sense to me.

Gypsy wagon family photo
My family and our Gypsy Wagon

My parents journey was one of peace and happiness as we traveled about North America. They named it Happy Trails. And everywhere we went, that was their message: "Happy Trails to You!" They had found their peace and love and wanted to spread it around the world.

We made our income from donations people would give us for getting a tour of our little home on wheels and by selling postcards with the image of our Gypsy Wagon and the happy trails message that my brother, sister, and I would handstamp on each one.

Book images_0003

When I grew up, it was a message that stuck with me and that I try and pass along whenever I can. My happy trails message is be happy! Spread joy in what you do. Lift up others whenever you can. Shine a light on the good that exists in the world. And we will all be better because of it.

Happy Trails to You!

P.S. Now you know why this Happy Trails to You message bids you farewell as you leave The Farm Chicks Show each year. ♥

December 20, 2011

Taking a Drive

When I was a girl, one of my parent's favorite things to do was to take a drive. We'd all pile into the Crummy and set out on an adventure. Inevitably, we'd end up on the steep and twisty roads of the Salmon River, where my mom would hunt for river rocks to bring home. Once the Crummy was full of rocks, we'd stop at the little country store for an It's It (a chocolate chip cookie ice-cream sandwich).

The ice-cream was a really big deal for us, as our mom wasn't big into sugary treats, so we'd make them last for as much of the ride home as we could.

Now that I'm a mom, I love family drives too. And I especially enjoy packing treats for us to enjoy.

Packing is half the fun because you can make it all pretty - which makes everything taste even better.


Vessels like old enamelware (as seen below), wooden pop crates, and wire baskets work really well for holding the goodies.

Vintage thermoses are perfect for keeping cocoa hot.

Mugs can be stacked with little cloth cocktail napkins in between each one, which not only provide cushioning for the glasses, but also can be passed out to your family members once you pour the cocoa.

Caramel corn, nuts, or trail mix packaged in handy little paper bags are a simple, tasty, toteable treat.


P.S. Did you know that "Crummy" was the name of the vehicle that would haul the logging crews around on the job? My dad was a logger and during fire season, my mom would oftentimes become the driver for the fire crews. And since we were a family big on nick-names, our family car was always called the Crummy.

Image by John Granen.

July 28, 2011

Croy Gulch

When I started Kindergarten, my family had temporarily settled into a tiny shack on the Klamath River in California. The house was just off the road, so there was always a lot of action going on beyond our doors. This was Croy Gulch.

My parents made their bedroom in the garden, in part to enjoy the cool that the evening would bring and in part to guard the tomatoes from the deer. An old clawfoot tub was in the garden as well, filled with water to be warmed by the sun and where we'd take our occasional baths. We'd wash our clothes by hand and then run them through the wringer, that sat just on the other side of the garden. My brother and sister slept in the main house and the gypsy wagon was my bedroom, which meant I was closest to the road.


One summer night as we all lay sleeping, a commotion arose in the driveway. Bright lights, scuffling, car doors, banging, and then a booming voice: THIS IS THE POLICE! YOU ARE SURROUNDED! COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP!

My mom came flying out from the garden with her hands in the air and was met by a police squadron with their guns drawn. "I SURRENDER! I SURRENDER!", she screamed.

What ensued was a standoff between a man who had robbed a store down the river and the police, following a chase that had ended in our driveway. In the end, we were safe and the robber taken away, but it was the beginning of a long string of high drama summer incidents that marked our stay at Croy Gulch.

Living just off the road was a sort of entertainment for us kids and oftentimes, we'd stand at the edge of the driveway watching the cars go by. "Flatlanders!", we'd say about the people in each car that'd pass, imagining they were from the city. The flatlands, as we called it.

They weren't tough like us, we imagined. Because we were adventurers. Tenders of the goats, hunters of rattlesnakes, and always covered in poison oak and big white dots of Milk of Magnesia, applied to dry out the sores.

Our favorite days were the ones when the road crew would come through. When my mom saw them coming, she'd pull out my grandma's old dough bowls and make her famous homemade bread. We'd take the hot, steaming thick slices out, covered in big slabs of butter and feast with the crew. They always made sure to set up their base at our driveway whenever they were nearby.

Eventually, the BLM who owned the land we were renting, informed my parents that they needed to remove the shack from their property. So they threw a huge house tearing down party and then, just like that, we moved on.

Because that's what adventurers do.

Footnote: The 67 Truckin Co. seen on my family car (above) is what my parents sort of named our life. 1967 is the year my parents met and my dad painted 67 on many of our vehicles and gypsy wagon.

June 16, 2011

On Suffering, Kindness, and Perspective


The year our fourth boy was born threw me for a loop.

The three youngest were all in diapers, one had colic, and I had mastitis. I remember the day I made it in to the Doctor's office for the baby's first checkup and being berated by the receptionist for being a few weeks late. And I distinctly remember the way that made me feel. A bad mom. Irresponsible. Overwhelmed.

I wanted to cry.

Instead, I choked this out: That she didn't know my story. That she had no idea why I couldn't make it in until that day. And requested that the next time she wanted to cast judgement on someone or speak unkind words, that she first remember that she didn't know that person's story and perhaps a few words of kindness could go much further.

And then something happened that shocked me.

She apologized.

Not a shallow apology, but one that I could really feel. I knew she meant it. 

Today I was thinking about the winter of my childhood where I'm pretty sure we nearly starved to death, surviving on not much more than potatoes and powdered milk. The winter where my sister and I invented potato cereal (no... it's not tasty), I was stricken with scabies, dug through dumpsters for food, and I learned to dig deep within myself to survive. To make it through to the next day. And the next.

I became the strongest person I knew.

And it's a good thing for me to remember. Because sometimes, I need perspective, just like that receptionist needed some too.

But don't we all sometimes?

I think everyone suffers at some point in their lives. What can we do to make a difference?

We can be kind, because it's really easy to do.

            Just a smile

   or a wave..

                        a compliment

...or two.

                                      just because.


                .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

I've been gone from here for a bit, but I'm looking forward to returning soon.

Here are some things I'm loving and am thankful for lately...

                             hearts of palm

       fresh mushrooms

           the farmer who works our fields

               my freshly planted garden

                .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

I'll be back soon.



May 08, 2011

My Giving Tree

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April 08, 2011

The Homecoming Queen

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March 15, 2011


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February 04, 2011

Collecting: Lockets

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January 13, 2011

A Short Novel About Fashion

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December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas, Team!

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December 06, 2010

Finding Inspiration

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November 23, 2010

The Luckiest Girl

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April 08, 2010

My Gypsy Wagon

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March 19, 2010


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March 01, 2010


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February 17, 2010

On Aging and Beet Sandwiches

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January 06, 2010

My Print, AD FC

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December 15, 2009


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October 28, 2009

Princess Leia

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October 07, 2009


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September 27, 2009

Finding My Way

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August 20, 2009

Mt. Hood

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December 01, 2008


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October 23, 2008

Hi Friends! It's me, Serena.

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