Progress Report (we actually picked some finishes!)

Hello there!

We have had a ton of stuff going on around here and have FINALLY been picking finishes. Which means I’ve just been closing my eyes and randomly pointing at paint and tile swatches.

Okay, not quite. But almost.

And we now have a driveway and siding on the front of the house! It’s all coming together! Want to see???


Okay, that has nothing to do with the house. I just wanted to share how this morning started with me scratching the heck out of the van on my neighbor’s gate. Because that’s what cool people do with their vehicles. And I am super cool. (I think most of it’s superficial and will just wipe away, but, darn it, this is why we can’t have nice things!)

For real now:


Finn was very excited about the dump trucks, asphalt machine and steamroller that arrived to create our driveway.


It is enormous.


The fire department specifications required it to be at least 16 feet wide with a turn around of at least 30 feet. Since we live in a very high fire danger area, I’m going to go ahead and not argue with them. Plus: all that extra parking will come in handy when we eventually invite everybody that we know over for a house warming party!


The siding on the front of the house is on! This isn’t the greatest picture, but IN REALITY it is exactly how I wanted it to look. I love how bright and friendly the yellow is and the white trim and how it looks with the roof and every time I see it I get very, very excited – eeeek!

The big decisions we’ve had to make this week are interior paint colors and tile for the bathrooms.


Did you know that there are approximately one trillion and fifty two shades of white? I have been hemming and hawing all week, waiting for the cabinets to get in (THIS AFTERNOON) so I can see the colors alongside them because I’m matching the trim color to the cabinets and I want to see what the wall color looks like with the trim color because that will make all the difference between my main three contenders which are (in order starting with the second sample from the left): Import Ivory, Spanish Lace and Calming Cream. It’s a big choice because it will be our main color for pretty much the entire house, aside from the bedrooms. I told our contractors that we would definitely know for sure by tomorrow.


The girls, on the other hand, had pretty much zero trouble falling in love with a bright aqua for their bedroom and bathroom.


We had to run to Home Depot the other day when the tile that I had originally specified on our finishes list turned out to be not quite what we had actually envisioned. Above, you can see the color for our bedroom and master bath, the dark grey tile for the shower, and the white tile for the shower and bathroom floor. The black and white will be for the kids’ bathroom and the downstairs powder room.

WHEW. Next choices to be made are a final decision on flooring and lighting. And trim. And door hardware. And probably a million other things that I didn’t even know could be chosen but are now imperative.

The biggest struggle that I have with making these kinds of decisions is that not only do I want to like it, I want EVERYBODY AROUND ME to like it as well. Which probably denotes a big heap of insecurity on my part because I’ve never done this before and am terribly afraid of making some huge faux pas that will make everybody who enters my home raise their eyebrows in shock and disgust. (Like choosing the wrong window treatments! Egads!)

Noah doesn’t suffer from this at all. He doesn’t care that maybe those faux wood tile planks that are so trendy right now will be passé in just a few years. Or that my entire family is voting for us to use the paint color Gourmet Mushroom (which is the first sample in that picture above).  He just knows what he likes and thinks looks cool (and Gourmet Mushroom seems too dark to him, sorry everyone!)

Thus far we haven’t hit an impasse that we haven’t managed to get around yet. He wanted to paint our bedroom walls red and grey until I pointed out that those are his company’s colors and we decided on that pretty shade of blue instead. Symmetry with ceiling fixtures and light switches and the like barely registers with me, but is very, very important to him so he got to make those kinds of decisions. I am typically the one using the kitchen the most, so my opinion had the biggest weight in that area. It’s been a lot of give and take and compromises.

There haven’t been any knock-down drag-out battles because there isn’t anything about the house that is so important to either one of us that it’s worth a fight. Both of us have to live here and both of our opinions are equally important. (Although, we’re not done yet, so you never know…)

In the end, we might wind up with some design picks that only appeal to us and that’s okay. We want our house to be warm and welcoming, but I don’t think that paint and flooring are the main elements that are going to make people feel that way when they come over. I think having a peaceful, loving atmosphere within the house itself will make the greatest impression

But the perfect shade of white will probably help.

On Freaking Out

Noah and I first met and started dating during the Winter of 2006.

Because it was football season, Noah had been growing his beard out to help the Chargers (I imagine that only makes sense to other die hard fans who believe that actions they take in their own personal lives actually affect the playing abilities of the teams they love). In January, the Chargers, despite Noah’s impressive amount of facial hair, lost their second game in the playoffs. It was a hard blow and Noah immediately shaved off the beard he had been sporting for over three months.

I happened to be there for that game and for the subsequent shearing (there have been eight more repeats of this ritual since then). When Noah came back downstairs after undergoing this rather drastic change I was immediately ambivalent, to put it kindly. To put it less kindly, my attraction to him plummeted and I thought I had made a huge mistake.

At least, I felt that way for a couple hours until I realized I was an idiot and he was still quite handsome and now we’re married with four kids and living in a bus. I told him about how I nearly broke up with him when he shaved a long time ago and it still stands in my mind as a testament to my huge aversion to change.

I was reminded of it yet again this week as the dry wall installation has been begun (and nearly completed!) in the house. After months of seeing the house as a skeleton of bare, see-through framing, having it suddenly closed in was very alarming for me. It just looked so… different.


Living/Dining Room

I was afraid, yet again, that we had made a big mistake. The rooms seemed too small, the doorways seemed too high or too low, the upstairs hallway seemed too long. Everything was just all wrong!


Upstairs Hallway

However, because I know that I have this tendency to immediately hate all things new and different (even if they’re actually BETTER), instead of telling our contractors to start knocking down walls and redo everything (ahahahahaha), I gave myself a couple days of walking around in the spaces and going in and out of rooms and trying to imagine them with furniture and paint and all the good stuff.



The kids’ rooms are small (each is about 11×10′), there’s no getting around that, but Noah reminded me that we planned it that way on purpose to make more common living space, because we want the kids out and about in the house rather than holed up in their rooms. We could have turned the upstairs Reading Nook into more bedroom space, but we wanted a place to sit around and read bedtime stories in the evening.



And if, for whatever reason, we decide that things aren’t quite working for us, we left ourselves a lot of options to change  or expand if we choose to.

For example: the three small bedrooms are all in a row on one side of the house, so we could knock down the walls of the middle one and just have two larger rooms. We also had the footings of the garage dug as deep as the rest of the house in case we decide to build out over it as well. We also have a closet in the downstairs library/office/homeschool room, with a bathroom right next to it with additional pipes put into the foundation to add a shower if we want, so we could eventually turn that into a bedroom. So, there are options for the future if we decide to utilize them.

Regardless, I realized that we are going to be just fine. Maybe we’ll even be MORE than fine. Maybe we can actually marry this handsome house!

Or, you know, just live in it for a long time. Whatever.

Doors, Inspections and Relating to the Ingalls

Guys! We have doors!

Front door:


Back doors:


They’re so preeeeetty!

Thank you all so much for your encouragement after my last post. It’s hard sometimes to admit when things aren’t going perfectly and I really appreciate the kind responses.

Of course, after that post our big inspection was delayed and the cleaning lady I had scheduled totally flaked.

BUT I hired another cleaning lady who came the following week. It was super helpful to have somebody come in and do the dirty work that I simply don’t have the time or, quite frankly, really WANT to do. It was really nice to know that things were getting done while I focused on doing school work with the girls. I wasn’t trying to set them up with something that they could do independently while I ran around trying to do chores in between reading questions out loud and explaining math problems.

Definitely worth the fifty dollars to have that time be a little calmer and also wind up with a clean toilet and sinks.

On the other hand, the big inspection that was supposed to be three weeks ago JUST wound up getting passed this morning. First, it got pushed back a week because things weren’t quite ready, then we had a short correction list to take care of after the initial inspection and then our contractors missed the inspector’s arrival by literally 5 minutes. Twice. They felt so horrible about it that Noah and I didn’t really say anything… but we also didn’t feel bad asking them to use the extra time making a few last-minute changes that had been nagging at us (well, mostly Noah since we’ve discovered that I am not “details oriented” when it comes to house construction and would probably not notice if they had nailed the roof on backwards).

This morning they got here at 7:30 am in time to meet the inspector when he showed up at 8 and we passed with flying colors. WHEW! So, tomorrow the insulators are scheduled to come and Friday they should be able to start bringing in the dry wall and once that’s in we’re officially in FINISHES stage and it should be downhill from there!

Being past that inspection has taken a big load off my mind and I’m feeling a lot better. I mean, it would be great to have electricity finally… but THAT would just put me over the moon at this point :)

Another thing that also helped lift my spirits a bit is that we just finished listening to the Little House on the Prairie audio book (we’ve been on a big audio book kick lately – we’ve also recently listened to The Magic Tree House, My Father’s Dragon, Clementine, Peter and the Wolf and A to Z Mysteries). It had been a couple years since we last read it, but a lot has changed since then and I found myself relating to the story so much more than I ever have before. It also helped to reignite the feeling of this experience being an adventure a little!

This blog is called “Little Bus on the Prairie” (my awesome brother Spencer is actually the one who came up with the name when we were first tossing around the idea of starting one), but I honestly had no idea how appropriate it would turn out to be until now. Obviously, there are some very big differences, but many of the sentiments echoed very close to home.

The main places where I was struck by my sense of empathy were:

-At the beginning of the book, when the Ingalls are leaving their little house in the big woods of Wisconsin and saying goodbye to the home and life that they’ve known to start out on a completely new and unfamiliar adventure, I started to tear up (which wasn’t fun while driving). I was reminded of the little rental that we’d lived in before now and how sad it was to say goodbye to a place that held such happy memories only to head toward a lot of trials and difficulties trying to get to where we want to be.

-When they finally reach the place that they plan to settle, Pa takes the horses and wagon and leaves Ma and the girls in the tent that he’s made out of the wagon cover. They’re left alone in the middle of the prairie wilderness and Laura feels how very small and alone they are.Again, not the same exact thing, but the first week or so we were out here with just us and the bus while Noah was working on getting things more “settled” there was definitely a big feeling of being exposed and insecure. I was very aware of how much privacy and comfort even a small house offered now that we were competely without one. This feeling has mostly gone away over the past 18 months and settled into a resigned mundanity – we can adjust to just about anything!

-How Laura gets TIRED of traveling by covered wagon and waiting for the house to be built and how much she wants to complain, even though she usually manages not to. It was so reassuring to be reminded that lots of change, temporary living situations and just plain WAITING can be really hard on even the best people  and especially difficult for children. That it’s okay that my kids don’t like living in the bus, because Laura Ingalls Wilder was tired of living in a covered wagon and impatient for their house to be built too!

In relation to this last point, we also have to take into account that amidst the change of moving, living in a bus, building a house and the regular changes of the school year, we’ve also added another baby into the mix. Most of these are BIG DEALS for kids just on their own, but our kids (and ourselves) have been touseled by one wave of change after another for a solid 18 months now. It’s taken it’s effect in different ways.

We have been trying to be proactive  in spending one-on-one time, especially with the older two. We’ve instituted weekly “date nights” with each parent that they can look forward to. And we have a trip to Legoland planned for just the girls so they can ride rides with both of us (the past four times we’ve gone I’ve either been pregnant or had a newborn with me).

But overall, we mostly just have to listen to them, acknowledge that it IS hard (living in a bus, having two small brothers who wreck your stuff all the time, just growing up in general) and reassure them that it’s not going to be like this forever and that we are doing the very best we can during this season. I think and hope that listening is the best thing that we can do, because I can’t think of many other options right now. Can you?

Anyway, the book’s description of the actual construction of the house made Noah and I laugh and sigh and wish that it was just that easy anymore. Not that I would necessarily want to be helping heft giant log walls and worrying about the chimney catching on fire or someone nearly dying in the well that’s being dug… but it might be preferable to the bureaucratic nonsense that we’ve had to go through during this process.


Hello Again

Fancy meeting you here!

I know it’s been a while and I wish I was coming back with some really exciting updates… but I’m not. Womp womp.

The posting break has been for several reasons:

1. It’s been REALLY, REALLY HOT. Like, so hot that sitting in front of the computer inside the bus is pretty much unbearable and I just start dripping sweat. It’s pretty gross and not really conducive to any sort of creative mental energy. I like to avoid it.

It got so hot here this past month that we actually lost a chicken (and felt suitably horrible about it – especially my five year old who found it). Apparently, when it gets as hot as it’s been here, chickens can get stressed and die if proper measures aren’t taken to cool them down such as putting ice in their water or setting up misters around their coop. We now have a mist system set up for them, so there shouldn’t be any other casualties.

The point is: it has been REALLY HOT.

2.  School has started. You might recall that our kids are part of a local charter homeschool hybrid where they  attend “workshop” two days per week and we homeschool the other three. I wrote a little about it here. This year, my second daughter entered Kindergarten and it’s been interesting trying to figure out the logistics of schooling two kids with a toddler and a mobile baby in a bus.

We’re still trying to find our rhythm, but so far it mostly entails doing the work during Sawyer’s nap time and lots of screen time for Finn. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’ve been in full on school-mode for the past five weeks, tweaking curriculum and trying to find a good fit between what the school suggests we do, versus what I think we should do versus what my kids actually find engaging and interesting. It’s a bit tricky.

3. Not a lot of interesting things have been going on with the house. Now that the framing is complete, all the focus has been on the really necessary stuff that is extremely boring to photograph. Things like plumbing, electrical wiring, HVAC and fire sprinklers. There are a few things that need to get finished up this weekend and then we should have our rough-in inspection on Monday and pray to the Good Lord that we pass. After that point we can start insulation, drywall and siding.

I am having very, very strong doubts at this point that we are going to be done by December 17th, which is when our loan matures. If we aren’t move-in ready by that date, the bank requires that we pay for a 3-month extension (about $1000). We will also be responsible for paying for the interest on the loan for those additional months, which will likely be at the full cost of the entire loan, since it will be so close to the end.

It’s somewhat comforting to me that our contractors don’t seem very concerned about it and have reassured us that we’ll make it on time… but I will continue to not count on it. Because, as we already know by now, I like to keep my expectations really low.

4. My mindset hasn’t really been spectacular. The final, and perhaps main reason I haven’t been writing is simply because I haven’t really been in a great place mentally. I am white-knuckling it over here. The heat, the cramped space, the stress of caring for four children in these conditions… it’s starting to take it’s toll on me and to be quite honest I am fighting an off and on mild depression.

It’s been 18 months now and we still don’t even have electricity (although the GCs just laid the conduit, so that should be coming SOON). I’m still having to rely on neighbors to keep our fridge for us, I’m running a generator to do laundry or doing it at someone else’s house and everything is dirty all the time from having the general, living mess of six people (including a two year old boy) condensed into what is essentially a hallway.

I think I’ve written about this before, but it’s hard to tell what is normal stress from this stage of life – four small kids, homeschooling, Noah busy at work – and what is specific to living in the bus. Would I still be sleep deprived from being up with a baby several times a night if we didn’t live in a bus? Very likely. Would Finn have wedged an opaque, purple craft bead so far up his nose he needed to be taken to urgent care to have it removed even if we weren’t living in a bus? I could see that happening regardless. Would I still have to cook and clean and divide every last morsel of my attention between all these small humans if we were living in a house? Of course.

It’s just that there’s all the normal stressful stuff going on AND we live in a bus.

I just… I’m really, really over it at this point, guys. It’s been a rough journey and I want a home. Noah and I have questioned our judgement and sanity so many times lately. We might very well have made a grave mistake to have given up almost two years of our lives to a lot of stress and difficulty for something that might not even turn out to be worth it.

BUT we’re still hanging in here. The bad times come and they go. We can look out the window and see the house standing there, waiting for us. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and all that jazz.

Plus, I went ahead and gave myself the grace of hiring someone to come and clean the bus on Monday morning which sounds totally ridulous and you are FREE TO JUDGE ME, but made me feel better as soon as I made the appointment.

So, that’s where things stand as of now. I update a bit more often on Instagram because I can do it from my phone from anywhere instead of inside the hot, hot bus. I would love to connect with you there, but I will also be writing here when there are more exciting, POSITIVE updates to give. We’re not giving up yet.

Let’s Talk Unexpected Costs and Change Orders

A quick note to those of you who emailed and left comments interested in buying the bus: thanks so much for your interest! I don’t have any specific information for you all yet with regard to when it will be available and how much we want for it. We’re still a ways off from that point, BUT I will keep you posted as soon as we know.

Things are coming together, slowly but surely.

Noah has been hanging the ductwork for our HVAC system:


It’s a family trade – Noah learned how to work with sheet metal and ductwork from his dad growing up.

Our windows have been delivered and are almost finished being installed and our roof is halfway on:


Next up comes rough electrical and siding.

So, there’s all the fun progress stuff. Hooray!

I wanted to touch a little bit on the financial side of things, because I’m always curious about that kind of stuff and I imagine some of you are as well. A lot of time with remodeling or construction blogs all you get are the before and afters with none of the nitty gritty details about what happened in between. I’m all about the nitty gritty.

In some ways we’ve been extremely fortunate that we haven’t YET run into any major complications with regard to the actual construction of the house. A few windows and doors have had to be moved inches for various reasons and there have been a couple face palm moments where we realized we should have added or changed something on paper (i.e. adding a drain in the garage or making the closet under the stairs a kitchen pantry instead of a closet in the library – doh!), but on the whole, things have gone relatively smoothly and we’ve been really happy with how things are turning out. Again, lot of that credit goes to the simplicity of the design and our realistic expectations (we’re not expecting an exotic, Architectural Digest-worthy bungalow, here).

I think one of the best things that we have going for us on this project with respect to finances is the fact that we trust our contractors. We have had some bumps along the way with regard to our budget line items (which I’ll go a bit more into below), but the fact that we don’t feel as though they are trying to cheat us or rip us off or get rich off of our lack of experience makes all the difference in the world in how we feel about our build.

In retrospect, it was actually a really, really fantastic thing that our old contractor got nixed by the bank because I do NOT think I would have felt the same way about him at this point. At all. In fact, a lot of the issues that we’ve had with our new contractors are as a result of our old contractor’s mistakes (or deliberate attempts to take advantage of us, if you’re coming from that viewpoint).

Anyway, I wanted to give you guys a look into what sorts of things have cost us extra money (things we have paid for outside of the loan) on this build. We are very grateful for the fact that we have had this opportunity to save up a nice chunk of change to pay for all of it, even if some of the things aren’t really what we would have preferred the money to go toward.

If things had gone differently, these costs would have been included in the loan, however I like to remind myself that even though it’s cash coming out of our pockets, it’s also money that we’re not going to have to pay 30 years worth of interest on, so that makes it a bit more palatable in my brain.

The biggest and most costly item, by far, has been the permit fees. Our county requires an enormous amount of money out of every new build to go toward permits (grading, septic, building) and fees (for parks, school, traffic impact, etc.) On our budget with the original contractor, he had allotted $7k for them. The actual cost? $25k. Our new contractors were able to wiggle some stuff around in the budget to cover about half of them, but that still left us with $13k to pay for ourselves. Ouch. So far we have put $9k back into the budget to cover those costs and are keeping the last $4k in reserve, but we’re working with our GCs to possibly make up the costs with labor instead.

Another thing that is going to cost us money out of pocket is the fact that we really wanted siding on our house instead of stucco, which we communicated to our original GC and is detailed on the plans, but he neglected to include a line item for painting the siding. So the exterior paint job will be paid for by us to the tune of about $4k.

The only other things that we have changed so far (that have cost us money out of pocket) include digging deeper footings around the garage in case we ever decide to build on it, adding a little bit of plumbing in a couple spots for additional showers in case we decide to turn the library into a downstairs master bedroom in our golden years, adding a couple of floor outlets and upgrading some of the upstairs windows to double-hung (so they tilt back for cleaning). All of those changes added up to a measly (by comparison) $1300.

A few other changes that we’ve made include nixing the tub in the master bath in favor of a large, walk-in shower, and moving the island in the kitchen to a peninsula. Neither of those changes have affected our cost, however, because we’ve made other changes to offset any potential overage. Taking out a large bath tub helps cover the cost of the extra tiling for the shower and to cover the rest we took some of the tile budget from the kids’ bathroom and put a tub/shower insert in there instead.

And there you have it. Makes this:


look a little less glamorous, huh?

So, now that that’s out of the way, the next post will be about finishes and I will show you our Ikea kitchen plan and the book of preferred finishes that we’re making for our GCs. And you guys can help me figure out whether our dark, narrow stairwell should be carpeted for safety reasons. Oy.

Why I am Unprepared for our Dream to Come True and What to do With the Bus When it Does

We have one shell of a house! Here it is in all of it’s framed glory (fascia is starting to be painted):

We also have most of our rough-in plumbing (this is going to be the double sink in the kids’ upstairs bathroom):


We’re starting to get to that point where we actually have to make final decisions that are not going to be changeable later on (e.g., we picked all the shower and bath trim this weekend because the plumber has to put the valves in the wall this week and the valves correspond to the trim). We’re coming OFF the paper now and seeing choices being made into reality and I have to admit that I am not quite ready for this yet.

Pretty much one of the best things that you can do when you’re preparing to build a house is to have everything that you possibly can chosen ahead of time – paint color, fixtures, outlets, tile, doorknobs – down to the model number where applicable. Or you can put it all off until absolutely the last minute, try to stay a step ahead on your decisions and hope you don’t cause any delays. Which is, you know… a different way to do it. Ahem. (E.g., we found some shower trim that we liked online but it turned out to not be available in stores and would have to be special ordered and wouldn’t be here in time for the valves to be put in the wall, so we had to go with something similar off the shelf instead. Lesson learned.)

Because of the way my brain works, I have not been at all interested in that aspect of things until now (even going so far as to throw away all the paint swatches and idea books that Noah brought home from Home Depot). Before now I couldn’t picture how any of this was going to actually look and feel and BE and so to try to pick out finishes was an exercise in overwhelm. Which, don’t get me wrong, it still is, but it’s a lot different trying to imagine flooring and wall color inside a space I can actually walk around in than trying to conjure the whole thing up in my mind based on some flat lines on a piece of paper.

Another reason, though, is that before now I can’t honestly say that I truly BELIEVED that this was actually going to happen. I knew that the IDEA was to come out here and build a house. But beyond that, in my head, it was just a reason to give people to legitimize why we moved into a bus with four kids: “We’re not crazy, we’re pursuing a goal.”

I held back from fully vesting myself in the idea because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I didn’t want to pick out doorknobs and cabinet hardware that I loved only to find out it wasn’t going to happen. I protected myself from disappointment, but now that the dream is becoming reality, I am unprepared.

I guess it’s not one of the worst complaints for a person to have (“Oh no! This wonderful thing that I didn’t think was going to happen is actually happening!”), but it does remind me why Noah and I make such a great team. He kept his eyes on the end goal the whole time and is seeing the results of his perseverance to that end. I like to think that I have helped keep us grounded in the reality of today and make the practical choices that have enabled us to get this far. Like living in a bus to save money!

Speaking of the bus, Noah and I have been talking about what we want to do with it once we actually move out of it. Several ideas have been tossed around: keeping it for guests to stay in, renting it out on AirBnB, letting the kids use it as a giant play house, etc.

However, the more we think about it, the more we think we should sell it. There are lots of reasons (including the fact that the legality of someone living in it on the property is somewhat questionable). But I think the main reason is that once we are not living in the bus, it is still going to require maintenance to keep it from falling into neglect and disrepair like it was when we first got it. It would make me really sad for that to happen because we didn’t have the time to take care of it properly.

In addition, I would really like to pass it on so that someone else can have the same opportunity that it’s afforded us – a place to live to save a ton of money for a dream – and continue the legacy.

Soooo… if your lease is ending around mid-December of this year and you’re looking for an adventure, let me know… I have just the thing for you!

The Advantages of Low Budget Building (or It’s All In How You Frame It)

(I started this post over a week ago. Can I get an A for effort at least?)

If you’re on Instagram you’ve seen some of these, but here are pictures from the build:

 Floor joists for the second story: trusses

Downstairs living room/dining area (the area that looks like a closet is eventually going to be our fireplace, the opening on the right is for french doors going to the back yard):


Unfinished stairwell:


First second-story wall going up:


All the second story exterior walls up:


And then it rained on everything:


Crane pick for the roof trusses:

crane2 crane1

What the house looks like this morning (they’re starting on the porches!):


Right now our house kind of looks like a too-tall teenager with an awkward haircut (our roof overhang seems too short!), but we’re hoping that the porches will help balance things out a bit.

It has simply flown together. I am told that after the framing is complete things slow down to a snail’s pace, so let’s all be prepared for a dearth of such amazing progress pictures. On the whole though, we are just so, so, so EXCITED.

I’ve been spending some time on builder forums lately (you know, for people who are building houses to all come together and talk about their projects because everybody around them in real life is tired of hearing about it). It’s been pretty helpful with regard to giving me ideas about things that would be useful to add into the house that we might have otherwise forgotten. For example, it never would have occurred to me to make sure that there is a recess for our dryer vent tube so that the dryer doesn’t have to be placed six inches away from the wall, but now it’s on my list! Hooray!

It has also helped me to realize that our tight budgetary constraints are actually a huge blessing in some ways. There are a lot of people building custom homes who have the money to add in all the bells and whistles that today’s modern design has to offer and agonize over every fixture and door panel. I don’t even understand half the words they are using in their posts to describe their options (although I HAVE learned a lot more than I thought I would ever know about such things over the past few weeks).

Rather than feeling disappointed that we can’t afford to do the same, I am relieved that a huge swath of choices has been effectively eliminated from my consciousness. I don’t have to worry about special ordering real hardwood flooring and letting it acclimate to the temperature and humidity of my home because we only have a budget for basic laminate. My brain isn’t occupied with weighing the pros and cons between high end custom window brands because we are going with Jeld Wen from Home Depot. Boom.

Noah designed our home with efficiency and cost-effectiveness in mind. It is basically a big box (otherwise known as the American Foursquare) with a simple roofline to save on materials. We built a two-story to save on foundation costs. Most of our plumbing is even lined up between the stories so that there isn’t very much waste there either (e.g. our master bathroom is right over the kitchen and the upstairs hall bath is right next to it). A simpler design means less materials, less time and less opportunity for mistakes.

It might sound boring or even cringe-worthy to some that we have this opportunity to build whatever we want and we’re choosing to make choices with function and saving money in mind rather than form and gorgeous architecture. But the best thing about our house, the thing I love the most, isn’t something that can be special ordered. Noah took into account the placement and angle of the house precisely with the views in mind and I think he got it exactly right.

The views from our master bedroom:



The view from the kids’ rooms:


Those pictures are moderately awful because I had a 7 month old in my arms while taking them (I blame him for a lot of my mistakes in life lately) but you get the idea, right?

Noah was figuring this all out long before I even really believed that a house was ever going to be built. I have a really hard time picturing things when they’re just on paper, but when I went upstairs for the first time and looked around, it nearly took my breath away. Those views are worth a lot more to me than Kohler faucets or custom cabinetry.

Speaking of cabinetry and budgets: I think we’re going with Ikea. We can put butcher block in our entire kitchen and get cabinets with high-quality Blum hardware and a lot of options for functionality at a fraction of our budget. I’ve done a bit of research, but does anybody have any experience with Ikea kitchen cabinets or their butcher block? I’d love to hear first-hand opinions.

Despite all the difficulties that living in the bus has presented, I have to say that it is SO COOL that we are right on site and can go through the house and look at the work that’s been done each day and be here in person for things like pouring the foundation and crane-picking the trusses. Noah and I go up to the house every evening and walk around and talk about the ideas that we have or changes we want to make.

It’s definitely a highlight in this longer-than-we-anticipated journey.

Framing Progress and a Hurt Chicken

Things are moving along at an amazing pace. The framing is simply flying up and we can see the house taking shape before our very eyes.

Ready for another Instagram time lapse? Here we go:




(That’s me walking in the front door!)


Isn’t it just so exciting you can’t even stand it?!

It’s totally different seeing the house in REAL LIFE instead of just on a piece of paper. We’ve been kind of taken by surprise by a few things the engineer included that we didn’t realize just from seeing the plans. For example, we didn’t know that he had specified TEN FOOT CEILINGS on both stories. That is… tall. And it winds up making things like doors and windows cost more because they have to be bigger than the usual size, so that’s a bummer. But on the plus side, we have huge windows facing beautiful views and I love them so much I want to squeeze them.

The future kitchen (what you can’t tell from the picture is that the window, which is going to be in front of the sink, is 6 feet wide and 5 feet tall – just in case I want to stand up straight inside the window frame or something):


On the down side, we realized almost as soon as the concrete was poured that we should have included a drain in the garage and the laundry/mud room. We also forgot to include a side entry door into the garage and we’re debating whether to pay the extra cost to have one put in. We did request to have our front door scooched over a bit because it was so close to one of the windows that we wouldn’t have been able to trim either of them out.

But other than that, everything looks great! The framing should be done in another couple weeks – they’re already starting on the second floor. We spent this week looking at windows and doors and I realized that building a house requires having opinions on things like door panel patterns.  Which I don’t. Not yet, at least – I’m sure I will develop some very definite ones before long and I will go around judging the panel patterns on everyone else’s doors with a keen eye.

On the whole, though, being able to walk around in the space has really helped me to be able to envision how I’d like it to be when it’s all done. I’ve been heading up to the house once the framers have finished and walking around with Pinterest pulled up on my phone (if you’re interested in seeing some of my inspiration, you’re welcome to follow me here).

In other news, we have an injured chicken that we’re taking care of. I found her the other morning straggling around on the ground with a big gaping wound in her tail:


Apparently, injured hens need to be separated while they recover because otherwise the rest of the flock, attracted by the sight of the blood (and then discovering that chicken is delicious), will peck at her until she dies. BUT if you keep them separated too long, the rest of the birds will forget who she is and attack her when she’s reintroduced. A perfect catch-22

Upon researching all this, I also discovered that our rooster to hen ratio is far too low. The ideal number should be around thirty hens to one rooster and we only have five! A lower ratio can lead to him getting too aggressive with them, indicated by bald spots on their backs and heads (check) and possible injuries which the other chickens will then attack and make worse (check) .  If we had any doubts about keeping the rooster, they are gone. Now we just need to figure out how to get rid of it. (Anybody want a rooster?)

So, there is your lesson on how to not turn chickens into cannibals. You’re welcome.

When Living in a Bus is a Privilege

The foundation is finished!


We are very excited:


The cement needs a week to dry before framing begins and in the meantime we’ve had to keep it damp to help prevent cracking since it’s been so hot and dry here. (While he was outside spraying it with the hose, Noah said he felt like he was watering the ground so that a house would grow. Ha!)

It is AMAZING how quickly it dried, but we were able to put down some handprints (and footprints) along the side of our front porch. From Instagram:


Having the foundation in place makes it all seem a lot more real to me. The fact that it is becoming real has also put a few things into perspective that have been percolating inside my brain for some time, because in some ways I’ve really taken our situation for granted.

A while ago, I wrote a post “On Choice” where I addressed the point that even though we’re choosing to live in a bus without a lot of amenities, it’s still a hard situation to be in and everybody should be grateful for the modern conveniences that they have and I talked about how we all have choices to make to achieve the goals we aim for. In the post I wrote: “I’m NOT trying to justify our ‘right to complain,’ because that would be kind of silly.”

Can we revisit that for a minute? Although I believe the points I made are still valid to an extent, in retrospect, I think I probably wrote all that exactly out of defensiveness of my right to complain about not having a lot of conveniences even though we are making the choice to live the way we are. Sorry about that.

Over the past few months I have come to realize just how extremely privileged we are to be able to do what we’re doing: live on our own land and build a house from the ground up. Especially considering the fact that just five years ago we were over twenty thousand dollars in debt and Noah was unemployed. That’s a pretty big leap to have made in that amount of time.

There are a lot of factors at play that have led to us being in the position that we’re in now. I feel like in that post I made it seem like it was mostly our choices and hard work that got us where we are, but there’s definitely been some amazing good fortune as well. We had to learn to actually manage our money and pay off our debts, but first Noah was able to get a great job offer. We have the extreme blessing of help from family to purchase the land, but even such a generous financial gift wouldn’t have taken us this far if we hadn’t been willing to make sacrifices.

It is true the past year and three months has developed a lot of gratitude in our hearts. Air conditioning, a working fridge, room to rough-house – these are all things that we’ve been living without and have missed a lot. But the privilege is in the fact that even to get to the point where we are living in a broken down old bus has required a lot of resources that not everybody has. I’m not only talking about financial resources, although that’s definitely a huge part of it, but we also have a social network that has helped us on numerous occasions.

I do laundry at my parents’ house (since our generator stopped working), we keep a fridge in our neighbor’s garage, we’ve stayed in other peoples’ homes when the weather has been either too hot or too cold. Without those options, living like this would be a lot less viable for a long period of time without pouring more money into keeping things afloat. (For example: we went to the local laundromat a couple months ago: three loads of laundry cost almost $30. It was $6.50 per wash and about a dollar to dry plus $3 for a plastic card that you needed to load with money to use the machines. Is that not an enormous rip-off? Does that sound pretty on par for laundromat costs or was this place just really, really expensive? Because HOLY SMOKES.)

Now that things are becoming more tangible – I can go out and walk  and jump and do cartwheels on the foundation – I realize that I’ve probably been kind of a spoiled whiner at times. Maybe it hasn’t really come across here (I try to stay off the internet when I’m in a bad mood), but I know it’s been there.

The fact of the matter is that this has always been a temporary situation. Even when it felt like it wasn’t, we have always had the option of pulling up stakes and moving out whenever we wanted. I definitely don’t think that if this were a situation we were in without that option and without the idea of doing it to pursue a goal my attitude would have been as positive.

I just wanted to set the record straight and acknowledge that, for us, living in this old, broken down bus, on our own land is a huge privilege and we are extremely fortunate to be doing so.

Good News, A Time Lapse and Why My Brain Wants To Explode

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, so there is lots of news. The biggest piece of noteworthy information on the house-front is that we FINALLY got our building permit!

Can I just say that it is unbelievable to me that it took us SIX MONTHS to get to this point? I die a little death inside just thinking about it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering that it took us nine months just to get a loan sorted out. At this rate we can expect our house to be finished some time in the next decade or so. (I find that I keep making that joke with the frenzied hope that it really IS a joke).

Our contractors have been busy throughout all this though, and we already have our footings dug and our underground plumbing in. They are laying rebar right now in preparation for an inspection tomorrow and then, if all goes to plan (HA!) we should be able to pour our foundation on Monday! That’s in addition to the septic that is already in place, plus some minor grading and trenching that was done for the electrical.

Let me sum it up for you with a time-lapse:

House outline chalked out, footings begun:



Footings dug, electrical trench completed, irrigation added to slope for erosion control wildflowers:


Forms erected for the concrete:


Underground plumbing installed, plumbing trenches refilled and compacted, sand and visqueen (plastic sheets) covering the dirt:


Rebar installed, ready for inspection tomorrow and pour on Monday:


I never would have thought that I’d be so happy to wake up at 6 am to the sound of a generator roaring outside my window. It’s simply music to my ears.

One small hiccup, however, came in the form of a persnickety septic inspector who “red-flagged” our property because of the porch that Noah put up. Apparently, building a 400 square foot structure on your own property without a permit from the county is FROWNED UPON in this establishment.


Thankfully, it’s not going to hold up our building progress – they just want us to take care of it before they’ll issue an occupancy permit so we can move into the house when it’s done. We’re taking that to mean that we can keep it up during construction and then tear it down right before everything is finished. I’m sure we’ll be able to repurpose the materials SOMEhow… I’m thinking a gazebo? A giant playhouse for the kids? Properly inspected and permitted, of course.

The goal is to be finished by December, because that’s the term of our loan and would make an amazing Christmas present for everybody. We have the ability to get a 3-month extension if necessary, but it costs something in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars extra, plus the additional months of interest that we would wind up paying. We’d like to avoid that, so the crunch is on.

That means that we need to be getting our finishes dialed in here pretty quick. Which makes my brain want to explode. Last week I had to make a choice about where a couple of outlets were going to go and all I could think about was living in a house for 30 years just wishing the entire time that I had moved an outlet three feet to the right when I had the chance. I’m not so afraid of making big mistakes, it’s all the little niggling ones that are going to drive me insane.

We have the opportunity here to make everything exactly the way we think we want it to be, but it’s for a house that we’ve never even been inside or moved around in. We are also attempting to plan for multiple stages of life with four children and, hopefully, our own golden years. How can we figure all that out without actually going through it? How am I supposed to know at 28 what I’m going to need when I’m 60? Or what my kids will need when they’re all in their thirties and still haven’t left the nest?

Noah’s solution is to simply put everything in that we might ever want to have. This includes things like digging the footings of the garage as deep as the rest of the house in case we ever want to build over it and having additional plumbing in places we might want to add showers later on. It means outlets and hosebibs EVERYWHERE (including outside on the porches and in the eaves of the house for things like Christmas lights (outlets, not hosebibs)).

There’s just so much PRESSURE! When you buy a house, you can blame any idiosyncrasies or inconvenient things about it on the original builder or designer. They either add to the home’s charm or you spend money and change them. When you build a house, any problems with the design are your own darn fault and they’re there FOREVER because you just spent a bajillion dollars putting them there, so you can’t spend even MORE to go back and change them right away.

I just need to come to terms with the fact that maybe not everything is going to come out the way we envision it. Once we’re moved in and actually functioning inside the space, I have no doubt that there are going to be things that I wish we had changed or added when it was A MILLION TIMES EASIER to do so (like when it was a drawing and only required a couple of pencil lines). I would simply like to mitigate that as much as possible.

But really, is perfection SO much to ask for?

(I guess as long as the house winds up being wider than 8 feet I’ll probably be thrilled for the first dozen years or so.)

Anyway, right now I’m thankful that the internet exists to scour for other peoples’ construction mistakes and regrets so that we can, hopefully, make fewer of our own.

On that note, what things do you love and hate about your house?

PS: I am having too much fun with Instagram – I’d love to connect with you guys over there as well. You can find me @UsWithTheBus and see cool things like this laptop projector that Noah made for our summer movie nights:


and less cool things, like how potty training is going (about like this):