Band-aid Fixes for Food Storage

This is kind of a behemoth post about how something as basic as food storage becomes ridiculously complicated in an unconventional living situation. I could probably break it up into two posts, but I figure it’s better to just get it all out of the way at once :)

One of the best and most frustrating aspects of this whole bus-dwelling endeavor is the fact that it’s temporary. And by “temporary” what I mean is… that I actually have no idea what I mean by that.

When we first moved in we anticipated being out here at least a year. As of now, it’s been over seven months and I am still telling people when they ask how long we expect to be in this situation “at least another year” (if I’m feeling optimistic).

Aside from the obvious reasons that it’s kind of a frustrating situation to be in, it mostly makes it difficult to plan for things or make longish-term decisions – especially when it comes to improving our personal comfort or saving money.

If we had made the decision to live in the bus permanently, there would be things that we could and would have done when we updated the interior to maximize space, to better suit our lifestyle and to generally make things a lot easier on ourselves. When issues arise currently, we would invest in long-term solutions instead of slapdash “good enough for now” band-aid fixes. This is, I think, a huge part of why we haven’t been able to fully embrace this lifestyle as some others have been able to.

We would replace the current sliding cupboards with something functional, fix our bedroom so we could actually sit up in bed and finish the porch so that the naked sheets of plywood aren’t  covered up with tarps and the roof isn’t just a (borrowed) easy-up tent. We would replace the kitchen faucet with it’s various drips and leaks, install a p-trap under the shower so that we don’t have to cover up the drain to avoid a bad small and fix the fluorescent overhead lights to keep them  from flickering for a solid minute whenever you turn on more than one at a time. Heck, while we were at it we’d install a septic system too!

(Noah read over that list and then looked at me and said “having a rough day?” And I laughed.)

That’s just to name a few. Everything competes for time and money and we have to ask ourselves “can we deal with this as is if it’s not FOREVER?” (Of course, then I start thinking ‘what if it IS forever???’ and I die a little inside, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Then there are the things that we ARE planning to invest money in in order to be able to continue to live out here through the winter – such as putting in a wind turbine in addition to our solar panel to boost our power output when the sun’s rays aren’t as prolific (currently, we try to keep all major electricity – the computer & overhead lights – off on cloudy mornings until the sun comes out again and the batteries recharge).

Anyway, all that to say that our whole food storage situation is a work in progress as we evaluate needs and costs, so don’t judge. I’ve mentioned this issue before (and got some awesome responses – I’ve added powdered milk into our pantry, at least for the kids) and it still continues to be a problem we’re trying to mitigate.

The main issue we have is that the fridge/freezer unit in the bus doesn’t work and we don’t have the foggiest idea what is wrong with it. I’ll go into why it hasn’t been fixed yet in a minute. Also, our solar set-up isn’t powerful enough to run our full-sized fridge.

Originally, when we first started out here we just piled all our food into a cooler for the few days that it took to get the fridge in the RV up and running (via propane). Then, once the RV fridge/freezer was working, we piled all our food in there. Unfortunately, the darn thing kept turning off randomly and without warning and sometimes during really HOT days which resulted in a lot of food spoilage which resulted in a LOT more spending on groceries!

After dealing with that for a few frustrating weeks we eventually decided to go back to using the cooler until we could either figure out what was wrong with the fridge in the RV OR the bus or have someone come out and look at it:

20140610_081121

Noah’s risk assessment of this method: “The only way that something can go wrong is if we forget to buy ice and then we’ll have only ourselves to blame.”

A cooler is obviously not a permanent fix, but we worked with it for quite a while. It was a mother having to buy ice every few days (not to mention that it’s not cheap) and, unless things were sealed PERFECTLY, water would leak into things and ruin them which resulted in a LOT more spending on groceries! (Are you seeing a theme here?)

It was supremely helpful when, a couple months ago, my dad remembered that he had an old mini-fridge sitting around that ran off propane and gave it to us (thanks Pop!). It goes through a 5-gallon propane tank over the course of about 2 weeks and we haven’t had any real issues with it (unless we don’t notice that the propane has gone out, which results in spoilage which results in a LOT more spending on groceries… etc).

It’s not the COLDEST unit in the world, so things like raw meat don’t keep for nearly as long as they do in a normal fridge (and I therefore don’t keep raw meat in there for more than a day before cooking it). It is also super tiny so I can’t store a ton of stuff, but as a TEMPORARY thing, it works. Ish.

To maximize the space in the mini-fridge we are also still using the cooler just to store beverages (mostly milk, because it’s so much better icy cold!). Because we’re only storing tightly sealed things in it we started buying blocks of ice rather than bags, which are cheaper and last longer. Now nothing gets spoiled so it’s not nearly as expensive, plus it allows us to store more than one gallon of milk at a time, which results in LESS trips to the store and LESS spending on groceries! Hooray!

Another thing that we’re in process of doing is storing our full-sized fridge in a neighbor’s garage (we’ve offered to pay them to off-set the additional electricity costs). However, we’re still figuring out how that would work out in practice. It would require a bit more advance planning and inconvenience, plus intrusion into their space whenever we want to fetch something out of the fridge. But it could save us more money on groceries if we’re able to stock up on good deals that need to be frozen or refrigerated.

Of course, another question is why don’t we just fix the fridge in the bus?

For one thing, it’s not THAT much bigger than the mini-fridge we’re using now (although it does have a small freezer as well) and it also runs off propane, so it wouldn’t exactly save us money. Also, it’s a couple hundred dollars to even have someone experienced in RV fridge repairs come out and so much as LOOK at it (not to mention that when I called around every repairman that I spoke with was rude to the point where I thought it must have been some kind of joke, which was very strange).

It all comes back to what’s more effective in this situation for the (if there is grace in heaven above) SHORT-term.

SO. That was a huge amount of words to describe what would normally be a simple problem, and yet, for us, in this situation, is NOT so simple.

Seven Years and Counting

If someone had taken me aside on the morning of my wedding and told me that they’d had a premonition that seven years from that day I would be expecting my fourth child and living in a school bus I probably would have laughed my way down the aisle (as it was, I cried because that’s my natural reaction to pretty much every intense emotion I experience).

There was precious  little that anybody could have told me that day that would have stopped me from marrying Noah. I was absolutely intent on making that commitment, come what may.

Looking back, there are a plethora of reasons that our marriage shouldn’t have lasted  – not the least of which include the fact that we were terrifically young and I was about 5 months pregnant with our oldest. We were different from each other in many ways that we had yet to even scratch the surface of discovering, masked as they were by sheer, unmitigated adoration.

In short, we pretty much had a recipe for disaster.

And we have definitely dealt with our fair share of challenges. On top of  the initial ways in which the deck was supposedly stacked against us, we’ve moved 5 times and I’ve been pregnant 4 times. We’ve racked up tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt, gone through a period of unemployment and then paid off tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. A few years ago things looked pretty grim and we separated for a short time. Soon, we’ll be able to add to that list:  lived in a school bus with four kids while trying to build a house.

Before we moved into the bus, I was telling someone about our plans and their reaction was “you guys are going to kill each other!” I really think that if that was going to happen, it would have already.

I know that seven years isn’t a huge amount of time for many people (my parents just celebrated their 39th anniversary!), but looking back over how far we’ve come I am incredibly proud of us.

We have had to navigate a land-mine-filled field of personality differences and figure out how to balance our strong points with our weak ones. We have learned how to fight fair and make up, when to stand our ground and when to let things go (there’s a LOT of letting go on both sides) and how to apologize. We have been absolutely blessed with a huge amount of family support and encouragement, and for that I am incredibly grateful, but nobody else could do the heavy-lifting of making this marriage work except for us.

 

Every day we are faced with the choice to be a team, to do the things that build each other up instead of tearing each other down, to speak kindness and show love. (Of course, it goes without saying that often enough one or both of us makes a DIFFERENT choice out of thoughtlessness or carelessness or busy-ness or preoccupation or what have you. Those days are not the best, but even then we have to choose not to allow the bad things to build up and become resentment, or to speak up about it if it is.)

We recognize that this whole thing we have going wouldn’t work nearly as well without both of us here to fill in each other’s gaps.

All that to say: when I take a good look at our life today and how we got here, there truly isn’t anything  that I would change or take back. We’re right in the thick of raising a beautiful family, working toward a worthy goal and still figuring out how to navigate the challenges and stresses that life throws at us on a daily basis.

We’re in this together and there is no place I would rather be.

Celebrating Fall with No-Peel Applesauce (because I’m pregnant and lazy)

I just can’t express how much I’m looking forward to Fall – even though it will present it’s own set of challenges for our little tribe.

The weather is FINALLY starting to cool down (kind of). The early mornings are so foggy here that we can’t even see the pad where the house will go from the bus windows. Even though it warms up toward the afternoon, the high 80 to low 90 degree temperatures are a cakewalk compared to the 100+ degree heat wave we were having. I actually put on pants today – PANTS! Can you believe it?

Along with appreciating the cooler weather, I am really, really, really looking forward to the end of this pregnancy. Just five more weeks and I will be able to walk and breathe and not have to clamber down a ladder three times a night. I get a little giddy just thinking about it.

Additionally, we should have our new contractor picked out by the end of this week, so things will also be able to start moving along with the building process… but I’ve been saying that last bit for about two years now, so we’ll see how it goes.

Of course, like I said, it’s a tradeoff of challenges.

With the cooler weather comes less sun and more rain (in theory), and although California desperately needs to end this drought we’re in, as someone trying to build a house and running completely off solar power I’m of two minds about the whole thing.

Plus, of course, the end of this pregnancy also means the arrival of a newborn. Given the choice I will take the challenges of a baby over being pregnant with relish, but it’s still kind of an unknown as to how things will work out in the bus. I don’t foresee any humongous problems to overcome… but you never know.

With the new baby AND the holidays AND the beginning of the building process coming up, we’re also looking at a whole slew of potential expenses as well. So. There’s that.

REGARDLESS, I am choosing to welcome the coming months with open arms and what better way to celebrate than by making applesauce? Our neighbor’s tree was overwhelmed with fruit and they passed a couple of bushels onto us. Actually, I don’t know exactly how much a “bushel” is, so it probably wasn’t quite that much… or maybe it was more… either way, this was just one batch:

apples

Our neighbors also offered the use of their applesauce maker, which is a lot like THIS one.

They raved about how easy it was to use because you don’t have to peel or core the apples, you just cut them up a bit, cook them until they’re soft and then process them through the machine. It spits out all the undesirables and leaves you with the smooth, delicious pulp.

I took them up on their offer and made about a quart of sauce that way. It was definitely smooth and delicious: you could have slapped a Mott’s sticker on it and nobody would have known the difference.

However, I had a couple of qualms with that system.

For one thing (and this is probably just because I have the coordination and upper body strength of  a drunk squirrel), it was not super, crazy easy to process the apples through the machine. The whole ensemble was bolted on with a vice to a thick cutting board, but the board kept sliding all over the counter and I couldn’t figure out how to hold the whole things still and simultaneously turn the handle. I’m sure there was an easier way… I just never found it.

Secondly, it was kind of a hassle to clean up afterwards. That sucker has a LOT of parts, and not all of them were easy to clean (I’m looking at you, conical-shaped sieve… thingy). 35 weeks along comes with a whole new level of laziness than just my normal brand, so that just wasn’t going to fly.

Thirdly, one of the healthiest parts of an apple is the fiber in the peel and it just seems shameful to discard it with those cyanide-laden seeds.

I remembered that I had read a post about No-Peel Applesauce at Amy’s Finer Things a while ago and I always though that it sounded right up my alley (see above re: lazy). So, I gave it a go.

After washing the apples in the sink (see above photo), I cut them into smallish chunks .

Note: This was the second batch of no-peel sauce that I made – the first time I simply quartered them around the core, but the chunks of peel were bigger than Noah and the kids found palatable, so this time  I just made the chunks smaller. I believe in Amy’s tutorial, she uses a hand blender to make the peels disappear completely into the sauce, but I don’t have one.

finnemapples

 

For whatever reason, peeling a million apples is akin to the seventh circle of hell for me, but dicing a million apples is, meh, not so much. Finn and Em helped by putting the chunks into the pot for about ten minutes until they got bored and ran outside to play.

diced apples

I will have you know that the pumpkin the background was actually NOT placed there for aesthetic purposes (it was given to us from another neighbor’s garden months ago)… but look how harvest-y we are!

I added a couple of inches of water to the pot (I made the mistake my first try of adding too much water and had to drain some out… which is difficult to do with a large, steaming stew-pot and a big, pregnant belly) and cooked it on high with the lid on for about twenty minutes until the apple chunks were super soft.

Then the kids and I took turns mashing it all up with a potato masher, and this was the consistency of the final product:

applesauce

I added a little cinnamon and brown sugar (some lemon juice probably wouldn’t have been amiss, but all we grow are limes) and then afterwards all I had to do was clean out the pot.

And, of course, sit in the kitchen alone eating an entire pot of full applesauce by the spoonful.

Ahem.

Have you ever made No-Peel Applesauce before? Did you know that such a thing existed?! Or do you think it sounds pulpy and gross? Do tell.

 

Interview with Joshua Sheats of Radical Personal Finance

We were recently invited to be interviewed by Joshua Sheats for his podcast Radical Personal Finance about our experience in the bus so far. It was totally fun and Josh is a great guy – definitely a like-minded individual.

If you’re NEW HERE, welcome! I would love point you THIS POST that links to a lot of the milestones in our journey so far.

If you’ve ever done anything that’s been recorded – a play or performance or radio interview – you really should know better than to watch or listen to it afterwards because you will probably just wind up kind of embarrassed when you notice all the flaws and mistakes and how high your voice sounds. Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, I have all these disclaimers I want to give about how this was recorded at the end of a long day at around 9 PM after Noah had been at work and I had been, you know, pregnant with three kids in a bus all day, and on and on. So, there’s that.

Nevertheless, some highlights include:

-A bit about other bus conversions in my family

-Details about the alternative building materials we looked into and why we didn’t wind up using any of them (including how we’re saving money by not having to bribe county officials…)

- A discussion of the philosophy of homeschooling and why we’ve chosen to go that route with our kids

You can listen to the interview HERE so long as you promise not to judge the fact that I sound like I’m 12 and say “um” “like” “you know” and/or giggle  just about every other sentence and that I pretend like I actually know what I’m talking about when sometimes words are just spilling out of my mouth.

As soon as the interview was over I immediately thought of all these things I wish I had said or to qualify about statements I made. Noah was less concerned with this – probably because he just knows he’s awesome. Whatever – we can’t ALL be cool and calm and collected ALWAYS.

Mostly, despite the fact that it’s discussed in the interview that the downside of micro-space living isn’t represented a lot online, I do wish that we had touched a bit more on the positives and the fact that it IS a viable lifestyle for some (if not all) despite the stigma.

I also wish that we had talked more about the specifics of our lifestyle, like how we live off of just one solar panel (because there has yet to be a post on that, ahem) and even how living in a bus isn’t saving us quite as much money as we thought it would and why.

Something else that would have been worth noting – that we actually did discuss with Josh (but only after we weren’t being recorded) – was how it’s a completely different experience for me than it is for Noah simply due to the different amount of time each one of us actually spends HERE (as opposed to at work in an air conditioned building).

While we’re at it, I would just kind of edit all my rambling down a bit in general.

Oh well, there’s always next time (Good Morning America, perhaps?)

Dream-crushing Contractors

I’ve mentioned before that each day there is only one specific time period in which I can sit and write (or sit and do just about ANYthing) and that’s during Finn’s nap. So, if just about anything else occurs during that brief one to two hour interval I simply don’t get the chance – especially when there are any number of important things that I could accomplish within that much anticipated period of calm and quiet, like make phone calls, plan out the homeschool week or take my own nap (ahahahaha).

In any case,  we have been calling, emailing and meeting with contractors this week to try and find a replacement for our GC who was denied by the bank. (Note: Noah did speak with him and got some details about what exactly happened there – it wasn’t anything eye-widening or gasp-inducing – basically just some payments that were owed from back in 2007/8 when the economy crashed that he had been paying diligently, but hadn’t completely paid off).

We basically need someone to slide right into the same spot with the same plans for the same price so we can get a move on with all this and not have to go back to the bank with a new number for them to approve.

You would think that this would be pretty simple: the plans are there, the bank is there, we are READY.

However, we’ve discovered an interesting dynamic amongst the plethora of contractors that we’ve dealt with over the past couple of years trying to get this project going. This is our second go around now trying to hire someone to build our house and we were reminded almost immediately why it was such a stinking relief to finally find someone the first time.

The thing is, our budget is tight. We know this. When Noah was planning the design of the house he deliberately made it as simple as possible – it’s pretty much a big box. Noah is planning to do some of the finish work himself to cut costs and we’re also banking on being able to get most of our appliances (and, hopefully, lots of other stuff) off Craigslist. We’re taking on a significant amount of debt for this project, but we’re not willing to take on more than is absolutely necessary.

What we have found in contractors is that they tend to fall into either of two categories (with some exceptions): those who are willing to work with us and those who want to convince us that anybody who is willing to work with us at that price point is probably a crook.

This wouldn’t be quite SO obnoxious if it weren’t for the fact that those in the latter category seem absolutely bound and determined to waste our time. It’s really incomprehensible.

I have explained to each and every contractor our exact situation. Each one has received a copy of our budget, specs and an explanation of the lot, including details about other necessary site work to be completed.

Between this time and last time we have had several contractors who have received this information, made an appointment to meet with us anyway and proceeded immediately upon arrival to explain to us, in various order:

1. That our budget is tight. (Yes, thank you, we are aware).

2. That they have done/are doing/have bids in for many other jobs with HIGHER budgets. (We are not impressed by your ability to spend more of other peoples’ money.)

3. That if we find anybody that says they can do this job without any problems in the budget we’d better be VERY, VERY CAREFUL. (Because if we had more money on the line we would want to be less careful?)

4. They’ll take a look at everything again and let us know if there’s anything that they can do to “help us out.” (We are looking to hire a capable contractor, not asking for whatever favors you can potentially grace us with.)

5. If we wind up going with someone else they’ll be happy to be on call for any problems that might arise. (Unlikely, since your business card is going in the trash as soon as you drive away.)

It’s not that they’re necessarily being unreasonable, because our budget IS tight and we ARE going to be careful with who we hire and make sure that the full scope of the project is completely understood by everyone involved. We are also making it very clear that we are not looking for high-end finish work (which is a reasonable concern that arises with pretty much every contractor we speak with) – because that all can be upgraded at a later date without 30 years worth of interest tacked onto it.

(Honestly, we would probably move into a house without floors or drywall at this point.)

If every single contractor that we met said exactly the same thing, we would likely start to believe it and reassess our budget or some other aspect of the project. However, it’s NOT all of them. We have met several who have looked everything over, met with us at the property, discussed our plans as far as doing things ourselves and what we want our finishes to be and have responded positively and encouragingly. I spoke with a builder yesterday who had looked everything over, loved the simple design and thought it would be an exciting project. THAT’S the kind of enthusiasm we’re looking for!

Additionally, these are contractors that have been pre-approved by the bank and are probably NOT shady, fly-by-night characters.

Before we moved into the bus on the land and were living all the way across town, we had one guy arrange to meet with us, drive out from who knows where, get out of his car and immediately tell us he couldn’t do it. Another contractor met with us only to say that he didn’t do jobs for less than $400/sq ft. Which, okay, whatever, that’s fine, but it would have been much less irritating to hear him brag about his profit margin OVER THE PHONE.

So, basically, the frustration is with the gentlemen (and every single time it has been an older, white male) who insist upon intruding on the busy schedule of our family to sit us down and lecture us on why we can’t do what we’re trying to do. Why they couldn’t just send their thoughts via email, I cannot fathom. I imagine that it must be a waste of their professional time as well, so my only conclusion is that they must get some sort of personal satisfaction in crushing the dreams of young people.

Or maybe they just want to see the bus, I don’t know.

I’m starting to think that I should save the contact information for the dream-crushers just so that when this is all finished we can send them photos with some kind of snarky caption. Something like: “Turns out, we DO need your help… what color drapes do you think we should hang in the living room?”

Hiccup

Unfortunate news yesterday morning.

Just a few days from closing and we got word from the lender that our General Contractor has been denied due to to poor credit.

The details of why he was denied are confidential, so we don’t have any specifics in that regard. Apparently, though, according to anyone who knows anything about construction financing, this NEVER HAPPENS.

Everyone is pretty flabbergasted, including our GC. We received an email from him this morning saying that he’s going to try to work something out with the bank, but that seems unlikely. In the meantime we don’t really seem to have any other choice than to look for another builder to fill his spot.

The bank isn’t putting any pressure on us time-wise, which is nice, so I have a notice up on Thumbtack and have received a few responses. I also have a list from the bank of pre-approved builders and have contacted them as well, so there are about ten local contractors currently looking over our specs and budget sheet to see if they can meet or beat our previous price. We have meetings already set up with two or three of them this week.

It just feels like starting from scratch, even though I know it isn’t. Ideally, we’ll find another builder who can match the bid to just slide right into place and carry on from there.

Noah pointed out that every other seeming pitfall that we’ve encountered so far has resulted in a marked improvement of our situation: the modular didn’t work out, so now we’re planning a stick-built house that will eventually be worth a lot more. The original lender didn’t work out, and now we’re saving thousands of dollars with our new lender.

We’re expecting that this will turn out a similar positive result (at the very least we could be dodging a potential financial disaster), but, as with most hiccups in the road, right now it just feels like a setback.

Good News on the Loan Front

Please note: Although it is my understanding that this blog is not inherently useful to anyone in any real capacity,  I still harbor a small spark of hope that some day, someone in our exact situation will stumble upon it and read through and somehow benefit from this trove of details about our process and benefit from our experience. Somehow. Which is why I continue to post about things like the details of our loan and whatnot, even though I know that it is probably merely skim-worthy for the average reader. I just want YOU to know that I know that.

Carrying on then. 

The last time I mentioned our loan we had just switched from a lender that was expensive and kind of pushy to another, less expensive, much easier to work with option. I guess I can tell you now that we’re working with US Bank.

We are now just a couple short weeks from closing and things have, for the most part, gone very, very smoothly. Assuming nothing horrific happens (aside: I have come to the realization since I started writing here that I tend to qualify pretty much any good thing that happens or is in the process of happening with a similar phrase. Part of my realist nature??) we are looking at getting our first fund disbursement around two weeks from now.

Which means that after THAT we will be able to start the permit process (which, in my professional estimation, should take anywhere from one month to a hundred years) and once that is all handled we should start seeing the first tractors roll onto the land! Actually, I don’t know at what stage the tractors come. It might not be for a while after that, but the thought of it is nice.

The point is: we’re probably still about a year out from move-in day, best case scenario (worst-case scenario: a hundred and one years).

Anyway, that’s not even the good stuff. Before I get to the good stuff though, I wanted to elaborate on why the loan we got is SO MUCH BETTER than the loan we were originally pursuing. Let’s compare, shall we?

Original loan ridiculous requirement

Noah’s step-dad as a co-signor

US Bank ridiculous requirement

N/A

Original loan interest rate

7.9% APR for six months – 8.9% after that

(Since our contract with the builder is for 8 months we asked if we could at least stretch out the 7.9% rate for that long. They said no.)

US Bank interest rate

4% APR (with a 7/1 ARM with no-prepayment penalty so we can refinance as soon as construction is through)

Original loan draw fee

Wanted to charge us $300 per draw (our builder estimated at least 12 draws)

US Bank draw fee

$400 per 8 draws

Original loan added points (which is a very misleading term that you would THINK means something positive, like “brownie points” or “points for living in a bus”, but NO – it really means that you have to pay them MORE MONEY. Seriously.)

2.75% which equalled out to $8,575. Jeez louise.

US Bank added points

0

That last one was really the kicker – even if everything else had been equal and even if I hadn’t felt like we were being bullied by the original lender with the co-signor requirement and all that jazz, the savings in the loan fee itself would have had us making the switch anyway.

So, that’s why we are with US Bank now and so far have been very satisfied.

As for the Good Stuff: we got our appraisal back a couple days ago and, according to our project plans and comps in the area and whatever other criteria they use to determine property value these days, the estimated value of our home upon completion is about 160% of the amount of the loan. Which, as I understand it, means we will have quite a bit of instant equity.

This is seriously awesome since we had been trying to be super conservative on our estimates and have just been sticking with the idea that we would get back at least what we were putting in and trying not to expect a whole lot more. Or, at least, that’s the stance that I’VE been taking – Noah has probably been fantasizing about mountains of equity since the idea of building first took hold in his brain :)

So, okay, I have no idea how seriously to really take an appraisal that’s done before something’s actually BUILT, but still makes the whole “living in a hot bus while pregnant and taking care of three kids while we build our dream house” scenario seem a lot less terrible in the long run.

And that’s really all I have to say about that.

6 Months In – All the Thoughts

Hello again!

For those of you who emailed and commented to ask: no, the baby hasn’t come yet. I’m actually not due until mid-November, so there’s still a little ways to go. Thank you all so much for checking in, though. The actual reason I haven’t been writing is because we have been in HIDING from the triple-digit heat wave that hit Southern California over the past week.

Our saving grace has been the fact that some of our neighbors are out of town for a few weeks and they asked us to house-sit for them while they’re away. I honestly don’t know quite what we would have done if we hadn’t been able to hole up in their (air conditioned) house in the afternoons. Between that and our new van, things have been bearable.

It seems that somehow we have chosen one of the hottest summers on record here to move into a bus and possibly one of the wettest winters during which to build a house. It’s rather mind-boggling.

At any rate, here we are: 6 months of bus-dwelling under our belts and there are lots of thoughts. I have been trying to write this post for weeks now and I just can’t seem to get the words out to explain the conflicting ideas that are battling in my head.

On the one hand, I still feel very defensive and positive about the IDEA of what we are doing. I have been asked several times via the blog and friends in person about whether or not I would recommend a similar lifestyle to others, and I immediately say “yes, if you can find a way to make it work for your situation.” I still believe that many people initially balk at the idea of living in a bus simple due to social stigma.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend living in a 45-year-old bus in 107 degree heat while pregnant and taking care of three children to anybody in the whole entire world EVER.

The other thing that keeps picking at me is the fact that quite honestly, even the rough parts wouldn’t actually be so bad if there were more people in the same boat. It seems like such a silly thing to say: of COURSE an uncomfortable situation is easier to bear if you’re not the only one going through it, but I think there’s something bigger there.

I think it has to do with how we allow comparison to set our expectations of what our lifestyle should be.

-Being hot isn’t fun, but it’s the sound of all the A/C units clicking on around us that makes the temperature outside seem to rise.

-Having a small indoor space poses challenges, but it feels workable until I realize how much easier it would be to homeschool if we had a huge kitchen table to work at like the neighbors.

-I am satisfied with my necessarily minimalist (maternity) wardrobe until I start noticing all the cute clothes that others are wearing.

It can definitely be harder to find contentment when you’re in a situation that nobody else around you shares. I try to remind myself often of the things we don’t miss about living in a house, but have lately been barraged by the many, many things that I realize that I DO miss about it.

I remember right before we moved in six months ago I asked Noah: “What if we love this lifestyle so much that we decide we don’t even WANT to live in a house?” Now, I feel like I am betraying the spirit of adventure that we embarked on this journey with by admitting that I REALLY, REALLY want a house!

It is very probable that a lot of this feeling is due to being 8 months pregnant in hot weather. I highly suspect that once things cool down and the baby comes I will have a whole different outlook, but I do want to be able to honestly record my shifting perspectives as we go through this.

Please note that I am very aware that It is ridiculous to feel bad for admitting that I want the very thing we set out to achieve by living in a bus, but strangely enough, I do. I will have to wrestle through THAT whole mental conflict another time.

And the winner is….

It has been very extremely delusionally hot and our entire family simultaneously came down with a nasty cold this week that has wreaked havoc on all the kids’ respiratory systems – thus the lack of posts. I actually did sit down and pound one out the other day, but after reading it Noah recommended that I not post it because it MIGHT have just been one big fat stream of consciousness complaint. The internet will not suffer for lack of another whinefest, right?

At any rate, we did have at least ONE bright spot this week – we solved our vehicle dilemma.

If you’ll recall, the need for a new family car was brought on first by the news of my surprise pregnancy. It was then compounded when our Murano broke down and for the past two and a half months I’ve been driving the kids around in our 25 year old, 2-door Pathfinder while Noah has been taking our gas-hog of a Dodge truck for his daily commute.

The Pathfinder has been a lifesaver in the fact that it runs pretty well, is reasonably okay on gas, is relatively easy for Noah to repair himself (which has, admittedly, been necessary on more than a few occasions) and makes me feel pretty awesome for being able to drive a stick shift like a boss (meaning: I didn’t completely kill the clutch in the process!)

However, the two biggest problems with the Pathfinder include it’s inability to carry an additional child and it’s severe lack of air conditioning. The latter is what mainly prompted us to speed up our hunt rather than waiting until we sold the RV and had additional funds. (Incidentally, this has also spurred a train of thought in my brain concerning what constitutes a “first-world problem” in today’s culture – such as a lack of air conditioning and more than 400 square feet of living space –  that I would like to eventually expound upon at some point).

So. After scouring Craigslist, Ebay Motors and the Autotrader websites for weeks and debating over the pros and cons of  SUVs and Minivans Noah and I narrowed our selection of vehicles down based on distance, price, and condition.

We wanted something close by (which didn’t make that big of a difference in our selection than if we had included Riverside or LA and made it much less of a hassle to look at our choices with the kids in tow), under $3000 and in decent shape. Within that criteria, Noah narrowed it further to either the Ford Expedition (SUV) or the Ford Windstar (Minivan) both within the ’98-’03 models.

We set up appointments around town to see our online favorites of each type of vehicle and went and checked them out in person.

I read each and every single comment that was left on our debate post and I think that our conclusions match up with the majority of what everyone said.

Our first-hand conclusions of the Ford Expedition:

The Expeditions we saw within our price range were not in great shape. Even those with leather interior were pretty wrecked and stained and had some minor body damage.

While the kids were able to get in and out, it wasn’t necessarily easy for them to climb up the step and get to the spots where their carseats would be.

I thought the option of having the seat fold down on the passenger side to allow access to the third row would make a big difference, but it mostly seemed heavy and cumbersome to have to do multiple times per day getting the kids in and out. I probably would have wound up just leaving it down all the time, which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, or letting the kids climb over (which might have something to do with why the interiors of the ones we saw were already so thrashed).

The storage in the rear was pretty miniscule. We like to keep a blanket, a couple gallons of water and jumper cables in the car, but in an Expedition, I wouldn’t have been able to have those and adequate room for a full grocery trip.

First-hand conclusions of the Ford Windstar:

All those things we didn’t really like about the Excursions? Completely the opposite in the Windstar.

The kids could open the doors, climb in and get buckled in about half the time. The storage in the back was bigger (not expansive, but bigger) and had bag-hooks for added convenience.

Also, after a mini-test drive, I was able to easily back into a narrow parking spot when we were done.

One of my favorite features is the little mini-rearview-mirror that comes down so I can see the kids in the back without having to adjust the main rearview-mirror. Very cool.

The one down-side was that apparently it’s difficult to find a mini-van with leather interior and to compound on top of that issue, all the interiors seem to be light colored. Noah commented at one point that it’s like the manufacturers WANT them to be destroyed by families with small children. (we tend to be a black, leather interior type of family, with good cause).

After dealing with both in person, I found myself agreeing with a comment left by Busy Mama: “I always look at mini-vans as movers of people, and SUV’s as movers of things.” This rings very true – and since we already have the truck and the Pathfinder for moving things, a people-hauler is really what we needed!

In the end, we wound up going with a 2002 Windstar with 134k miles in great shape – even with light-colored cloth interior! That’s the trusty dusty Pathfinder in the background, there:

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The owners even let us keep it overnight (with a small deposit) before buying it so I could take it into our local Ford dealership and have them look it over.

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There are a few minor things that need fixing that we were aware of prior to taking it in. For example, it needs new tires and there’s a “thwapping” sound coming from one of the air conditioning vent doors (which doesn’t impair the AC, thank goodness, but is kind of annoying to listen to). The dealership fixed a sensor that was recalled free of charge and found no other major mechanical issues. Huzzah!

The sellers dropped the price $600 and we were out the door for $2400.

I feel like we got a fair price on a vehicle that will hopefully last us some time and, importantly, we were able to pay cash on semi-short notice and not dip below our set emergency fund amount.

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I’m calling it a Good Thing.

Are you a realist or a fantasizer?

Noah and I are very different people in how we think, act and view the world.

There’s a quote that says basically, “If two people are too much alike, one of them is probably unnecessary.” It’s been pretty much the catchphrase of our entire marriage.

Something we were discussing recently is the different ways in which we are processing our current living situation – especially the hard parts. It’s been hot and crowded and dirty and one of us is pregnant, which means that all of us are dealing with the hormonal fallout. Ahem.

We are working toward a goal, slowly but surely, which makes it a bit more bearable, but we have different ways of approaching it.

The way that Noah processes this time is by fantasizing about the future. He pictures the house being built and all the space we’ll have and the fun it will be make it our own. He looks forward to working on the land and has a vivid image of what everything will look like once we’re all settled in. He reminds himself of the ultimate reason WHY we are doing what we’re doing to get himself through the rougher aspects of our current situation.

I, on the other hand, prefer to dwell primarily in the here and now. Although I consider myself a primarily optimistic and generally happy person, I find that my attitude is mostly a result of making the best of what is right in front of me.

Noah is constantly lamenting my utter lack of imagination, but I argue that it’s not that it’s not THERE, it’s just that when I think too much of the possibilities that the future holds – especially when there are big prospects on the horizon, I get both overwhelmed and discouraged. I start to imagine all the things that could go wrong between now and then and absolutely can’t stand the idea of disappointment.

I find it difficult to get myself worked up and excited about potential positive events until they are actually HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. In the current situation, I much prefer to think more about the positive aspects of living in a bus,  and when and if we wind up living comfortably in our dream house I will be magnificently surprised and grateful.

I’m curious to know where others fall on this spectrum of perception. Do you look forward to the future to get you through today? Or do you focus on the here and now and make the best of it? Some combination thereof?