Bus Life: Unedited

I’ve been meaning to make a video tour of the bus and the land for forever now. I know that pictures don’t fully capture the reality of our current lifestyle quite like a full-on tour could and obviously things have changed since I made the last video before the bus was finished and it was still sitting in the driveway of our rental  house.

I have to admit, it probably wouldn’t have happened without an impetus because do you know how often there comes a time when the bus is clean and all of us are home and awake and it’s not because people are coming over? Pretty much never.

 

The impetus in this instance was being contacted by a production company interested in putting our family on tv. We’ve been contacted before by a different company, but after an initial skype interview with producers nothing came of it (they were disappointed to find out that we are, after all, totally normal).

 

In this case, however, we’ve already gone through a skype interview and now the company has requested that we make a short video showing our family and the bus and the land and the house construction and all that jazz to see more of what we’re like. I’m thinking they’re going to take it in a “Real Housewives of San Diego” direction. (Noah says my dry humor does not come across clearly here – I am very much joking.)

So, yesterday evening while the kids were in the bath, Noah and I straightened up and then we tried to make a quick video in the fading light. They had specific things that they wanted to see on camera (like me actually going up the ladder with the baby in tow), but a lot of it we forgot and left out. We also only did one take and didn’t edit anything and so you get the full effect of my heavy breathing from behind the camera, the kids jumping around trying to be in the shots, me telling them not to get dirty and a lot of camera jiggles and swinging around. And the kids are in their pajamas.

It’s actually quite beautiful.

If I waited to post it until we made it look fancy and not-jiggly, you would never see it.

Even if nothing comes of sending it in to the production company and we don’t wind up the stars of our own reality tv show and make millions of dollars and have the bus turned into a museum/shrine dedicated to the time we’ve spent within its walls… I’m glad it finally spurred us to get a video made! Even as ridiculous a one as this.

I hope you enjoy it! Or, if you don’t enjoy it, at least don’t judge us too harshly by it!

On “Simple Living”

Crystal at Money Saving Mom is on kind of a small house kick. Recently, there was a guest post about a family of 9 living in about 1200 square feet. The author gave a tour of her house and detailed how they utilize their space and it’s great and you should totally go check it out.

At the end of the post she adds that their family was recently gifted several acres of land and they are planning on building a home the same size as ours – a two-story house with a main floor of approximately 1200 square feet.

One of her last comments is: “To be honest, we are all kind of looking forward to having more space! We go through seasons and we kind of want this small house living to be a season the Lord is bringing us out of.” I absolutely loved that sentiment, but it struck me as apologetic. I read it as “I know that we seem to be doing great and I am celebrating it because this is our home for now, but in reality, it’s kind of a tight squeeze and sometimes uncomfortable.”

Of course, I might totally be projecting my own feelings onto the author.

When Noah and I first moved into the bus, I was excited. I had been reading so much about “simple living” and minimalism and about people who were purging the majority of their possessions and downsizing into tiny houses and living fuller, happier, SIMPLER lives as a result. I was ready to run into this adventure full-throttle and was half convinced that this could possibly become a permanent lifestyle change for us. I literally asked Noah during our first weekend out here “what if we like living in the bus so much that we don’t even WANT to build a house?”

Living in a small space with minimal possessions had been totally glorified in my brain. It was a great example of reverse-snobbery – the thought that a lifestyle of less was inherently superior and that we would all be better to embrace it.

Over a year later, I have to admit that living in a two-story bus with six people is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. Alas.

Interestingly enough, we have found this lifestyle to be anything but simple. Living in such tight quarters is starting to feel cramped and stressful; the additional work that we have to do to make up for the lack of “stuff” in our life has taken away from time that we could be spending doing things we enjoy.

I still feel defensive about micro-living as an alternative living option. Most of the things I wrote about in my post about stigma and happiness still ring true to me: I believe that lots of people refuse to consider unusual living situations out of a fear of what others will think rather than focusing on what will allow them to live their lives more intentionally.

The purpose behind our move into the bus was to be able to save money while building our house and to that end it has, so far, been successful. But rather than instilling in me a love of ultra-minimalistic living, this experience has helped me develop a thankfulness for the fact that we will be moving into a larger space where I can once again have things that serve no real purpose aside from the fact that I like to look at them and own them (library books are all well and good, but I miss my own dog-eared copies of the Anne of Green Gables series).

Our homes should reflect our priorities, not what someone else is telling us our priorities ought to be.

My parents, after raising five kids in relatively large houses, recently had an opportunity to purchase a home on three acres in a rural area they love. It required them to downsize their living space by several hundred square feet, which was made easier by the fact that three of us kids are no longer living at home, but it was still a point that they balked at initially. However, they prioritized outdoor space and privacy over living in a larger house and they haven’t regretted their decision.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of Noah’s sisters lives close by with her husband and two kids in a house that is close to three-thousand square feet. They make great use of it by hosting often: they throw parties, their kids’ friends are always over, and Noah and I actually had our wedding there! They have a space that allows them to be very social and hospitable, which is something they enjoy.

Ultimately, the idea of simple living is different for each one of us and it’s rather  foolish to idealize one lifestyle over another. Likewise, it’s equally silly to think of the idea of living in a small house, or a large one, as something we need to apologize for.

Give Me a Break

Broken Ground

Remember how last week I said it was difficult to believe that we were ever actually going to have a house built?

Well, it’s a bit easier to imagine this week:

chalklines

tractordig

 

So far, we’ve gotten our septic system installed and approved, the driveway graded and the footings are almost finished being dug. We’ll probably get our final grading inspection done this Friday and then, if we have finally learned the lesson in patience that God was trying hammer into our brains, we should be able to get our building permit. Which will be glorious.

This is what a septic tank looks like, in case you were curious:

septictank

Broken Leg?

In other news, we had a little mishap that might have involved a wet trampoline:

finnleg

The x-rays didn’t show an obvious fracture, but the Urgent Care doc said that in small kids sometimes a break might not show up. Since he still can’t put any weight on his left leg they splinted it and we’re scheduled to see an orthopedic specialist this week. So I now have two little boys who can’t walk, but only one lap. Sigh.

Broken Sink

On the bright side, maybe this will keep Finn out of trouble for a while. Last week, amongst other miscellaneous toddler acts of destruction activities, he managed to snap our kitchen faucet in half trying to climb up on the counter. Noah happened to have an extra, somewhat defective one on hand. Unfortunately, it’s not quite a perfect fit:

newsink

Just another temporary solution for this temporary situation.

Breaking Into Social Media

I know that’s kind of a stretch with the whole “break” theme, but, you guys, I’ve just discovered this new app – not sure if you’ve heard of it – called Instagram. You can follow me @UsWithTheBus and see what our life looks like… with filters!

From IG:

lilybox

“Lily is so tired of living in the bus, she’s decided to upgrade.”

I’d love to see you guys on there as well! :)

Right Now

Guys, I have to say it:

Right now, I am very, very tired of living in an old, broken down bus.

It feels like ever since we started looking for a place to buy over three years ago our family life has been in a sort of holding pattern. Everything has been in a weird, transitional limbo because we knew we were going to be making a major change soon with regard to where we lived. Of course, we didn’t know just how relative the term “soon” would prove to be.

In that space of time we’ve added two babies, started homeschooling, and moved into a bus. It’s hard to separate what kind of stress is just the average amount from this stage of life having four kids, including an infant, and what is specifically from living in a bus and trying to get a house built.

Right now, I am longing for permanence and comfort and stability.

In my head I think I’ve built up having a house into some sort of all-encompassing state of perfect being. Everything that’s not happening now will magically occur “once we’re in a house.” I’ll get an exercise routine in place once we’re in a house. We’ll do more exciting home school stuff once we’re in a house. I’ll cook better meals once we’re in a house. I’ll quit being being snappy with the kids so often once we’re in a house. I will be a better wife/mother/person once we’re in a house, you’ll see!

After the kids were in bed last night, Noah and I were playing badminton on the pad and I had to admit to myself that I don’t really, truly, actually believe that we are ever going to have a house. It has been such a long time coming and there have been so many twists and turns in the road that it seems like the journey is never going to end.

And yet, right now, I am listening to the sound of a tractor outside churning up dirt to get things moving along. Somehow, this morning I watched from our bedroom window as a crane dropped our septic tank into place underground.

This isn’t necessarily a guarantee that things are going to go smoothly from here on out – it’s the last steps before we can actually, FINALLY, get a building permit. When we were looking at land a few years ago we found many vacant plots that had already had septic installed, so we’re not jumping for joy yet. Lots could still go wrong.

But it’s a start.

finnontractor girlsontractor

septic drop

Update and Guest Post at Six Figures Under

There has FINALLY been some progress in the permit department which means that next week we should actually be breaking some sort of ground (getting septic put in, a driveway graded and possibly footings dug!). I will be updating on that as soon as there is something more concrete to announce.

In the meantime, I’m over at Six Figures Under today with a guest post about the financial pros and cons of our living in arrangement.

You can read the whole post HERE!

Distractions

There is no house news. Don’t even ask about the house. What house? Who said we were building a house? There is no house!

We are still held up in the permitting process and when I think about how long this all is taking it evokes a visceral reaction in me which requires deep breathing and immediate distraction to alleviate.

Distractions include, but are not limited to:

1. Haunting Pinterest and Houzz for finish ideas. This comes in bits and spurts because I am very easily overwhelmed, but I think I have a general idea of what I want in the kitchen at least. My inspiration images include open shelving around the kitchen window, white cabinets, light flooring and butcher block countertops. A little like this:

kitchen inspo

Only, you know, different. Aside from that, my main qualifications are that everything in the house has to be really, really easy to clean and take care of because I am terrified that we are going to build a brand new house and then our four children are going to destroy it. This is kind of a real concern.

2. Books. Always. This month I’ve read The Opposite of Spoiled (which has convinced me to start giving the girls an allowance and that we aren’t permanently damaging them by making them live in a bus during some of their formative years), Persuasion (I should read more classics – I always wind up loving them), Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (if you had told me what it was about beforehand I never would have picked it up, but I wound up really enjoying it) and The Old Man and the Sea (I absolutely detested TOMATS in high school, but Noah loved it so we both reread it and discussed. I like it more at 28 than I did at 15, especially after reading Hemingway’s words about it: “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is the old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are sharks, no better, no worse.” I can get on board with literalism.)

Sidenote: I get a terrible lot of my book recommendations from Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy and am planning to read the titles I haven’t yet from her post 11 Books That are Better in the Spring.

3. Gardening. I finally managed to clear the garden of the remaining eight heads of red cabbage (and disperse them among our neighbors because who can eat that much cabbage?!) and get all the weeds out during a particularly angsty morning with a hoe and a rake. Now we just need to dump in some compost and plant delicious things.

4. Snakes. It’s like Snakeopolis over here. We’ve caught or seen at least four in the past few weeks (although Noah’s theory is that it might be only one snake who is really, really bad at hiding). So far they’ve been the harmless, rattle-less kind, but we’ve been warning the kids to make lots of noise outside so they don’t come upon one by surprise. Not that kids really need a lot of encouragement to be noisy, it’s pretty much in their nature. Lily encountered one yesterday on her way to the van and I was able to get a quick picture of it slithering under one of the bus tires:

Hopefully it will get after some of the gophers that ate the majority of our garden this winter *evil cackle*.

5. Potty Training. We’re on day 5 of almost no accidents with Finn (even during nap time!) and I’m ready to call it a success. He’s kind of a rockstar and now he has the big boy underpants to prove it.

6. Egg watching. I almost hesitate to write about this because it’s just so… cannibalistic. Remember how we wanted to let the chickens hatch some eggs and I was all “whatever” about doing things the way the internet recommended? Well, I will never ignore the internet AGAIN. I have learned my lesson. Soon after the photo from that post was taken all the eggs pictured were gone. Because the chickens ATE THEM. And now they won’t stop! They eat their own eggs every day unless I can get out there fast enough and grab them.

This time I’ve tried all the tips the internet has had to offer. I have put golf balls in the nest so the chickens would try to peck them and hurt their beaks. I’ve put mustard into empty egg shells because supposedly chickens hate it. I’ve increased the protein and calcium in their feed. I have no idea what else to do.

The only thing that actually helps is letting them out of the coop during the day, but the rooster is getting aggressive and chases the kids and we need to get rid of him somehow before that’s a viable option.

For now, I just have to try to get out there as early and as often as I can to try and get the eggs before they do, the monsters.

So that’s what’s going down on this side of town. As soon as we have any progress on the house everybody will know because I will be shouting it from the rooftops and dancing in the street and generally not making a secret of it. At all. Really. Just you wait and see.

Spring Cleaning

I have been spending the past week or so cleaning out and reorganizing all the cupboards in the bus and so my brain is on spring cleaning.

I read once in an organization book (because sometimes reading about cleaning leaves me feeling just as satisfied as actually cleaning and requires much less effort) that a well-organized home is never truly messy.

I understand the idea behind this: if everything has a place to go, it’s just a matter of putting it there; “a place for everything and everything in its place,” and all that. So often the messes that are the most overwhelming for me consist of new things being brought into our home that require figuring out a place for them, or things that never really had a home to begin with and have just been floating around, undealt with, for so long I want to throw them away simply because I’m tired of looking at them.

When space is tight this sense of overwhelm is heightened; throw a few children into the mix it and gets exponentially greater. They (well, mine at least) have little to no respect for established organizational systems, but are great at developing their own that make no sense to me and that change all the time and, funnily enough, look a lot like unmitigated chaos.

It is a fine line between allowing my kids the autonomy and responsibility of organizing their own spaces and going in and making things over so they look the way I think they should. There are certain structures they have to adhere to (their room must be picked up daily and messes in common areas get cleaned by whoever made the mess, which is usually everybody, etc.) but there are a lot of variables within those structures that I’m always trying to figure out.

Do I give them their own allotted area in the cupboard for arts and craft stuff and let them shove their paper and crayons in however they please so long as the door closes, or do I enforce structure and get after them to put things back exactly where they belong? Is it okay that part of their room cleaning involves creating little totems to certain books and toys along the walls or should I insist on having everything put away out of sight? One set of options involves a lot more effort on my part and usually results in nagging and consequences, the other requires me to frequently second-guess myself and have faith that they will eventually learn to take care of their things without my voice always ringing in their ears. I think allowing them a certain creative license is a part of the process to helping them figure out a real system that works for them.

For now, a lot of my decisions depend on what will keep me the sanest in the immediate future. If their creative organization of their room means that time will be wasted trying to find cuppies at bedtime or slippers in the morning, it’s a no, but if they want to keep a conglomeration of treasures in a box near their bed or line up the books they’re currently reading on the windowsill, fine by me. It makes sense to them because those are the things they want to have easy access to, which is the heart of organization, really.

Likewise, I have been trying to find a balance when it comes to maintaining the rest of the bus. When we first moved in I had a vision of perfectly organized simplicity with lots of clear spaces and cupboards filled with neatly-packed bins of useful items.

The reality, however, is that with six people in about 200 square feet downstairs (not including the porch) in which to live and work and play, every inch of wall and counter and cupboard and floor space matters. While I do want things to look nice, it is ultimately more important that our space is useful – function over form, in this case.

So, I am trying to look at our space with new eyes and figure out what’s working, what’s not and what doesn’t matter.

What works: We moved our (mine and Noah’s) clothes from upstairs in our bedroom to the closet in the bathroom downstairs. These pocket organizers from Ikea that I originally tried to use in the kids’ room are now hanging on the back of the bathroom door to hold socks, pajamas and what have you. This has made a huge difference when getting dressed and putting laundry away.

bathroom org

What doesn’t: In the kitchen, it’s difficult for me to see and access our most-used spices that are in a high cupboard without a stool. I’m thinking a small rack on the wall next to the stove would solve that problem, even though it means less white-space. It would also leave more room in the cupboard for food.

spice cupboard

Where the heck is the salt? spicerack

Perfectly useful space being underutilized!

What doesn’t matter: the coat hooks. I have tried a million times to find some kind of system so that our coat rack doesn’t seem so… overwhelmed. The fact of the matter is, this is one of the most highly-used areas of our home for storing things. Jackets, library bags, my purse, head-lamps for going outside at night, keys and hats – tons of day-to-day necessities call this spot home. As long as we know that this is where they live and can find them with relative ease, it’s not super important to me that it doesn’t look exactly pretty.

coathook

I’m awfully curious to know if you have the same kinds of issues trying to figure out how to organize your kids’ spaces and your own and how you deal with them. Do tell.

A Little More Room to Breathe

Remember how excited I was a few weeks ago when it looked like something was happening?

Right, well, pretty much nothing concrete has happened since then.

Initially the hang up was because there were some county-required corrections that needed to be made to the plans, which is pretty standard. Because our former contractor was the one who engineered the blueprints (and we had already paid him in full for this aspect of the job) we had to wait for his team to complete said changes.

A process that should have taken a week or two stretched out into an entire month. The former contractor then said that the plans were ready, but he wouldn’t release them to us until we paid an additional fee of $700.

And that’s when I kind of lost it. In an over-the-phone display of impatience, frustration and post-partum-hormone-fueled rage I succeeded in embarrassing myself enough to convince the contractor to let us have the corrected plans without paying the additional fee beforehand. I don’t know if he was fully able to understand every word out of my mouth because I burst into tears halfway through, but obviously he got the gist of it.

We were finally able to resubmit to the county, but now we’ve hit a snag with the grading permit. The original owners of our property graded the pad that the house is going to be built on without a permit. This resulted in a code-enforcement violation. We paid the fee that was due ages ago, but now the county is requiring that we have the original grading engineer re-certify the grading plan that he created almost a decade ago for a completely different owner and a completely different house and it’s just taking up more and more time.

Our loan is for one year, which means that we have to have the house fully finished before mid-December otherwise we have to pay extra money for an extension, which I would very much like to avoid.

TL;DR – We are hitting time-wasting snags with the permit process and I am not wearing my impatience very gracefully.

Meanwhile, Noah has been venting his own frustration in much more productive ways than yelling at contractors. He took a couple of weekends and used the leftover laminate from the bus remodel to semi-finish the porch!

porch

It’s been fantastic having the room to spread out. The kids have been able to play board games and we can put Sawyer down on a blanket on the floor for tummy-time. It’s nice to have a place to stretch our limbs if we want to, or rough-house and turn somersaults and cartwheels, should the impulse grab us.

familyonporch

In sum: Boo to construction delays! Hooray for extra space!

 

Interview with Off the Grid Radio

This past week has been pretty miserable for the Springfields since most of us have been battling the flu. We’ve been quarantined in our tiny abode for five days, but thankfully, Noah has improved things around here a significant way that made that slightly more bearable than it normally would have been.

I’ll be sharing more about that next post, because it’s been very exciting for us, but I thought you might enjoy a link to a short interview I gave for Off the Grid Radio.

It’s just me this time as it was scheduled during the day while Noah was at work. Please forgive me, I refer to our family at one point as “an inspiration” to our friends and family (when Noah heard that he just laughed and laughed) and then give some advice toward the end that is definitely much more practical than inspirational.

If you’re interested in the entire 24-minute interview the link is HERE.

One Year!

Jumping Jehosephat. Can you believe that it’s been almost A WHOLE YEAR since we moved into the bus?!

Sheer insanity, I tell you.

When we were first discussing this half-baked plan of ours, Noah and I decided that we would stick with it for at least a year. We told ourselves we could do anything for just a year and we would keep a minimum amount in our savings account to afford to put a down payment on an apartment or something if worse came to worst.

A year ago this week the five of us moved out of our small rental and into a bus with no running water or gas to cook food. We had to unpack in the dark with only the aid of one electric lantern (loaned to us by a neighbor) because we had no electricity yet:

moving

A year ago this week I thought my cycle was late due to the stress of the move, but I took a pregnancy test “just in case”:

pregtest

A year ago this week my guest post at Money Saving Mom was published and I didn’t know it because we didn’t have the computer up yet and I was checking in from the library and my stats had magically skyrocketed into oblivion. That’s where a lot of you heard about this blog, so it’s kind of like our one year anniversary too! Happy Anniversary, friends!

losing our home

It’s amazing what a difference a year can make. A lot of my thoughts and feelings about living in the bus have changed and morphed with time and circumstance.

When we first moved in I was excited and optimistic, although I was worried about the stigma associated with not living in a brick and mortar house and I was keenly aware of the kids not being thrilled with the experience. I was secretly terrified that it was all going to be a waste of time and effort because we weren’t saving any money and were just barely hovering above that bare minimum amount that we had agreed on. We had a sketch of a house plan, a contractor willing to take on the project of building our very simple house on a limited budget and the courage to just go for it.

Six months later we were in the middle of Summer with record high heat. I was enormously pregnant and miserable and our contractor was declined by the bank. I was feeling very disillusioned by tiny space living and Noah was sending me posts about places for rent nearby. I’m not gonna lie: we very nearly caved.

Now, though… now the end is in sight. Sawyer is here, Spring is coming (and with it, our Saturn peaches!), our savings account is healthy and we should be breaking ground within the month. I don’t really have “All the Thoughts” about living in the bus anymore because it’s just become normal for us. It’s where we are right now.

I can’t say that living in a bus has been an amazing experience all the time. I can’t say that I’ve loved every minute of it and that I would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t know that I would recommend it for everyone.

I CAN say, though, that I don’t think that I’ll ever regret it and I CAN say that I think the people who immediately dismiss this living style as “impossible” or just “not for them” as a way to save money to accomplish a goal or a dream should maybe think about giving it a shot.

Even if it’s just for a year.