Are We Obligated to Make Sure our Kids are Happy?

This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. I touched on it after we first moved out here when I wrote about how our kids don’t like living in the bus, but the whole idea of what sort of obligation we have to make sure our children are “happy” while we’re intentionally in a difficult living situation is still something that we’re trying to figure out.

A few weeks ago I asked Lily if she wanted to write her own blog post about her feelings about living in the bus. Her reply was “Sure, but it would be really short: I don’t like it.” Neither of the the girls’ opinions seem to have changed in that regard, and since my own enthusiasm for this particular lifestyle has been waning, I can’t really blame them.

The things they don’t like, as far as I can tell, are pretty much the same things that we don’t – namely the inconveniences: climbing up a ladder to get upstairs, going outside to get something out of the fridge and the lack of air conditioning when it’s hot, among other things.

I should note that there are definitely things about living out here that they DO like. They like that they have a ton of a space to run around and take rides on Daddy’s quad. They like their play set, tree house and trampoline. They are enthralled by the chickens (this morning they both came running in THRILLED because they actually watched one of the hens lay an egg!) and they love the fact that there are kids around to play with.

It’s really just the bus that they object to. Fair enough.

I think that if we were ONLY dealing with that issue, it wouldn’t really be a big deal. Like many people have told us, eventually this will be a distant memory that we will all probably look back with fondly and tell stories about to our grandkids. For sure.

However, it’s not just the bus. They have also had to deal with me being pregnant almost the entire time that we’ve been out here, which, despite my best efforts, is not tons of fun for them. Or me. Or ANYONE at all, really. I can’t jump on the trampoline or run around or rough house and I’m tired and cranky and hormonal and in a decent amount of pain a lot of the time, which makes for lameness all around.

In addition, Noah is in a really busy season of work right now and has also been putting in extra hours to make sure everything is squared away for his upcoming paternity leave. He has also been working hard when at home dealing with everything from a broken generator (which means I can’t do laundry), to building the chicken coop, to repairing leaking pipes and helping out with the household stuff that I’m no longer able to do (crawling around on my hands and knees to clean the floors upstairs just ain’t happening).

Plus, we’re also trying to get this ding dang house built, which requires even MORE time dealing with the bank the builders, fund control, insurance, etc. (though, I have been able to use their dislike for the bus as leverage on occasion, as in: “If you ever want to live in a house, you will be quiet while I make this phone call.”)

Simply put: we’re in a season where neither of us feel like we have been super available to the kids lately and we both feel guilty about it.

Despite the fact that this is just a season – eventually we will be in a house and I won’t be pregnant – it’s causing us to want to do things to “make up” to the kids for things being not quite normal in their lives lately.

This manifests itself in little ways, such as letting them have macaroni and cheese two nights in a row for dinner, or sometimes in bigger ways -like,  we’re planning to take a field trip to Legoland this week with Lily’s school (justified by majorly discounted tickets and a hope that so much walking will induce labor). We want to give them stuff to be excited about and look forward to.

The struggle, I guess, is in not going too far. It was noted in the comments on the Halloween post (and rightly so) that the kids dressed up and got candy – no fails there. It’s just that the pressure we’ve been putting on ourselves lately to try and make family events EXTRA special (let’s go trick or treating AND to a party!), and the ensuing regret when we make poor choices as a result (tired, overstimulated, cranky kids) is kind of a crazy cycle.

I don’t think that we’re the only parents to ever experience this phenomena (right?), but it’s new for us and I don’t want it to have long-lasting, negative effects.

I don’t want the kids to always be expecting us to present them with “new and exciting” things to entertain them. I don’t want them to feel like they have a right to be overly coddled because they’re going through something not exactly comfortable. I want them to be resilient and creative and hardworking and to rely on themselves and each other instead of just mom and dad.

I think all those traits have enormous potential to be developed in our kids, but I also think that we could totally undermine it all by taking away the opportunities for them to grow. And that’s something that I think we’re going to try and be more mindful of… I just don’t quite know how yet.

Thoughts?

Chickens and Rainstorms

Halloween night we got a tremendous rainstorm.

Of course, we weren’t  expecting anything more than a bit of drizzle and so were completely unprepared.  I woke up at 4 am and heard the pounding on the roof of the bus (only a couple of feet overhead, which makes it even MORE intense) and was at once delighted and anxious. I love rainstorms, but I started imagining all the car windows unrolled and stacks of library books left outside.

Neither one of those fears turned into reality, but when I went to check on the kids’ room I discovered that their skylight had leaked quite a bit . Thankfully, the water was nowhere near their beds AND they had recently cleaned their room, so he only damage sustained was to a few books in their bookshelf (but we expect them to make a full recovery). I mopped up the water and slid the changing pad under the leak to catch whatever else came down.

The next morning Noah took a bigger tarp up there and covered it completely, so it shouldn’t happen again.

The really strange part, though, is that nowhere else in the bus leaked. That is, of course, a GOOD thing, but if you remember the time it rained before we even moved in, you might recall that there was a leak on our side of the upstairs as well. Several readers commented with great suggestions for ways to repair the leaks and Noah wound up swabbing that entire area on top of the bus with sealant or tar, or something of the sort. Whatever it was, it worked spectacularly and it hasn’t leaked in the rain ever since.

However, it DOES leak when it’s NOT raining.

It’s the strangest thing and we can’t figure it out for the life of us. The only sort-of correlation that we can make is that maybe it has something to do with the heavy, heavy amount of dew we sometimes get here. There is just one point, right past the foot of our bed, that drips dirty, brackish water down at random, unexpected intervals, not every time we have a lot of dew. There’s nothing in that area for the water to soak (unless the covers have fallen off) so it’s not a HUGE deal, but it’s still a perplexing annoyance. We’ve taken to keeping a bowl in the corner of our room to slide under the drips if we wake up and notice it at night.

In sum: Huge rainstorm = dry as a bone. Sunny morning = a large-sized mixing bowl half filled from drips…  sometimes. Any theories?!

In other news: we now have chickens of our own! Our neighbors offered them to us since they kept asking us to take care of them when they were traveling anyway. So, Noah spent the past few weekends building a coop out of scrap wood and chicken-wire to house our six hand-me-down hens (plus one rooster). It’s situated at the end of what will eventually become our lush, fruitful garden… or maybe a goat pen, we’ll see:

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We transferred them on Sunday and they seem to have made themselves right at home. At least I think they have… it can be hard to tell with chickens:

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The girls want to name them “Red”, “Reddy”, “Red Crest” and, interestingly enough, “Christmas”. (We’ve also had fishes named “Blacky” and “Whitey” and a cat named “Bitey” – our kids are big on literal names.)

On the baby front: Two weeks to go… and counting down the minutes… 

With regard to the car seat conundrum – we’ve decided to keep the kids as-is for now and I went ahead and ordered the Britax B-Safe Infant Car Seat (affiliate link) for the beeblet. We’ll re-evaluate in a year or two, which gives Lily a chance to put on some weight. (Fun fact: UPS delivered the seat right as I was typing that, which is neat.)

I am in the process of washing the baby clothes that I will put in one of these (affiliate link) three-drawer bins (sans wheels); the most convenient place to store said drawers is TBD.

The only to-do list items left are to pack my hospital bag and finally decide on a name in the 50-50 chance it’s a girl (I think it’s a boy, but I ALWAYS think it’s a boy and I’m rarely right). Names are hard!

Other than that, it’s just a waiting game at this point. Lily was induced (after my third trip to the hospital because I couldn’t figure out what real labor felt like), Emmaline was five days early (my water breaking was the tell-tale sign with that one) and Finn was five days late (also induced), so this one is kind of a crapshoot (but I DO know what real labor feels like now).

As for how I’m doing… without going into the gory details, let’s just say that I am very, very ready to be done being pregnant while living in a bus and that the general population at large will be much safer in a few weeks when this is all over with.

If you want to be first in-the-know as to when you can come out of your house without having to worry about this hormonal wreck on the loose, you can follow me on Twitter and I’ll probably remember to make the announcement there first, social-media-wise. Otherwise, I can make no promises about updates post-baby, because, you know… baby. Right?

Halloween Fails

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This is Noah’s jack-o-lantern from a few years back. We didn’t actually get around to carving our own this year.

I had high hopes.

Every year, around July or so, Noah and I sit down and say “we really need to start planning for the holidays NOW so that they’re not so stressful when they come and we can do awesome things with the kids.” And then every year around October we look at each other and ask “Where did we go wrong?!”

This year was pretty much been the same (only, you know, in a bus with a baby on the way). However,  we DID come up with a feasible, affordable and cute idea for costumes relatively early on. I was actually excited last weekend as the girls and I went from shop to shop looking for pieces of their outfits. I even MADE some parts of them, which I am inordinately proud of because any sort of craftiness or creativity in that regard happens so rarely with me.

This burst of craftiness was borne out of necessity, though, because APPARENTLY all they sell costume-wise for kids these days are movie characters and princesses and fairies. Or maybe all the other costumes got nabbed by people who actually did start their holiday planning in July – I don’t know. Last year the girls’ costumes were purchased the night before Halloween for half-off at TJ Maxx because we failed to plan so well (surprise! they were fairy princesses).

At any rate, our plan was to have the kids dress up as animals and then Noah and I would be zoo-keepers. Totes cute, right?

Problem number one: I overestimated the staying power of a full face of two-dollar costume makeup on a 6 year-old with eczema (even worse: her eczema has been so well under control lately that I actually didn’t even take it into account until right this minute while writing this and now I realize why her face has been a bit rashy – it’s not just the changing weather!)

Problem number two: we were rushing around and didn’t wind up taking any decent pictures of us as a family early on. We snapped one of the kids right before trick-or-treating, complete with the RV in the background – totally classy. Emmaline is a fox, Lily is a panda, Finn is a lion… our neighbor back there is a zombie rockstar, I think?:

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Noah: “It kind of looks like an album cover.”

After a bout of trick or treating around our neighborhood – that wound up being much more lucrative candy-wise than I would have anticipated – the plan was to pop over to Noah’s sister’s Halloween party.

Problem number three: Even though it was getting late and we knew it wasn’t going to be geared towards kids, we decided to stop by anyway. She had put a ton of effort into it (for the record, it did turn out AMAZING) and we apparently needed to cram some more Holiday Fun And Memories into the day.

So, here we are with our overtired and cranky children who don’t understand why they’re not allowed to go through the blood-spattered haunted house set up in the garage. They each look unique, special kinds of miserable. By this point I was also over-tired and cranky, though slightly better at hiding it in front of a camera (but look at how well the guest-room decor goes with our costume theme!):

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Lily: “You know… I kind of MEANT to look like a zombie panda.” Yes dear, I know.

We are seriously better parents than this on a daily basis, I promise. At this rate, I am setting my expectations very, very low for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In the end, I think we learned that we really just need to plan better… like starting in July.

Building and Baby Update (Plus A Carseat Conundrum)

The other night we signed papers with our new builder and so, like a train starting up from a dead stop, we are chugging along again.

The company we chose is a husband and wife team with four kids. Ten years ago they built their own home and lived in a small trailer with their three children during the process. When they saw the bus they were actually quite impressed – apparently when they were building they had a lot less room and didn’t have a full bath like we do and the youngest children bathed in a large sink. (It’s all about perspective, right?!)

So, they have an idea of what we’re going through and have been very willing to work with us (unlike some others…) Plus, they’re already approved by the bank, so that should avoid any further hiccups in that area. I’m thinking they’ll do just fine.

According to the lender, after we obtain builder’s risk insurance (which is like home insurance during construction) and file paperwork with the company who handles fund control (to make sure all of the money is allocated properly and that we stay on budget during the project), we should be good to go. He’s estimating about two more weeks before we close on the loan, get the first funds released and can start the permit process.

Which means that we will be starting to pay the interest on the loan and the risk insurance, bringing a baby home, plus trying to prep the bus-stead for winter all right around the holidays.

Whew.

In the meantime, the weather is cooling down deliciously and we are making our final preparations for bringing the baby home in about three more weeks. My mom took me out shopping for some staples the other day (PJs, onesies, receiving blankets, diapers, etc.) and I realized just how hard it is to pick things out when you don’t know the gender of the baby! So we picked out a few things in grey and yellow for now and we’ll get more off Craigslist or from hand-me-downs once the little darlin’ arrives.

We have the port-a-crib that Finn was sleeping in packed away for now and he is in one of the big kid beds (the transition went much smoother than I thought it would). A friend gave us an awesome portable bassinet that I’m thinking the beeb will use for at least the first few months, so hopefully by the time the crib is pulled out again he will have completely forgotten about it.

My biggest concern is the ladder to the upper story. As troublesome as it is to have to trek up and down it pregnant, I’m thinking it will be even LESS fun during postpartum recovery. We have the futon that folds out downstairs that we could sleep on, worst case scenario, but it’s not super comfortable and would be a big hassle to take down and remake every day.

As far as carrying the baby up and down the ladder, I don’t think that will be a big deal if s/he is strapped to me in a carrier. As my old carrier is packed away in the very, very, very back of the storage container (in a box inside a bookshelf facing the wall, if I remember correctly) Noah’s mom has kindly ordered me a new one (thank you Claudia!).

I feel like I’ve been saying this about everything for months, but… we’ll just have to see how it goes.

We are also trying to figure out what to do with the car seat situation. All our kids so far are still in five-point harnasses – even Lily at 6 years old. Originally, the plan was to just get a booster for Lily, put Finn in one of the bigger seats and turn his around for the baby. However, the more we look into it, the more convinced we are that switching to a booster at this point would be a pretty big step down in safety – especially since Lily is only 37 lbs (just shy of the “recommended” 40 lb mark) and a backless booster is pretty much just a glorified phone book.

I’ve asked around to the other moms at Lily’s school and pretty much all the other kids are in boosters already (which, whatever, Lily doesn’t know that), so I’m wondering if we’re just over thinking this whole thing. Lily takes after me as far as being petite – in fact, there are definitely times I wish I had a booster seat for my five-foot-nothing self while driving – she might not reach the safety guidelines for height and weight until she’s 12 or something.

Soooo, there are still things that need to be worked out, and some things we’ll just have to wait and see about.

Noah has been working a bajillion hours the past few weeks getting ready for a full dose of paternity leave and I’ve been waddling around with the kidlets doing whatever it is we do all day – mostly schooling and chores and errands and visits to the park it seems like (and yet it’s utterly exhausting).

I’ll have some other updates coming soon – Noah has been building a chicken coop for some chickens our neighbors are giving us, plus some “glamour shots” that he took of the inside of the bus the other night that I thought you all might enjoy once he gussies them up a bit. Also, some pictures of the kids in their costumes tomorrow – we’re dressing them up like passengers on a bus!

Just kidding :)

PS – For those of you who are new here, I updated the FAQ page. For those of you who are not new here, sorry it took me 7 months to do so :/ Any ideas for other questions?!

On Choice

Do you ever think something over in your head and then have to say it out loud to see if it sounds true? I do it to Noah all the time. It’s a good way of testing the waters to see if I’m on the right track with a particular train of thought or if I just sound like an idiot. Usually, I run it by him before potentially embarrassing myself, but in this case I’m trusting you all to let me know if I’m totally off base or if there’s something that I’m missing.

The other day a friend and I were talking and she made a complaint about something pertaining to her house. Jokingly, I compared her situation to ours, something like: “Do you have dispose of your own waste every week? Then count yourself lucky!”

Her response: “Yeah, but you guys are CHOOSING to live like that.”

That pretty much shut me up.

Her comment has stayed with me over the past couple of weeks and I’ve been mulling over what exactly I should take away from it.

At the crux, it implies:

1. We have no right to complain about any of the difficulties about this lifestyle because we could call it quits at any time – sell the land, the bus, etc, and go back to renting a house or an apartment.

2. We shouldn’t compare the inconveniences that we’re voluntarily experiencing to anybody else’s, because they aren’t making the CHOICE to go through theirs.

On the one hand, I agree. I think it would be pretty ridiculous to say that we have it just as hard as someone who is forced into an unconventional living situation due to poverty or hardship. I absolutely think that my whole outlook would be much, much different if it weren’t for the fact that there is an end in sight.

On the other hand, however, I also don’t think there’s any reason NOT to point out the simple conveniences that so many take for granted on a daily basis. My patience for people bemoaning the size of their closet or wishing they could update their perfectly functional kitchen has (understandably, I think) shrunk to an imperceptible amount. Simply because most people, if given the opportunity, would choose to live with MORE conveniences than are already afforded to them doesn’t negate the fact that they are already living with a  LOT of conveniences.

I don’t mean this in a holier-than-thou, martyr-ish sort of way, and I certainly hope to never develop that kind of complex. I’m also NOT trying to justify our “right to complain”, because that would be kind of silly.

I guess all I’m saying is that throughout this whole experience we are cultivating heaps of gratitude for simple things that most other people have without even thinking of them as a luxury, such as abundant electricity, a room with a floor big enough to rough house with the kids on and a regular-sized fridge and freezer.

Yes, we are choosing to go without these things for the sake of pursuing a larger goal - and a big part of that larger goal includes being able to have those exact things and then some – but I don’t see that as taking away from the lessons that we’re currently learning.

Noah pointed out that our choice, essentially, was to build a home for ourselves and that all the rest is because of that. We’re accepting of the fact that if we want the end result, we have to go through the trials to get there. The trials also serve the purpose of building up gratitude, resilience and resourcefulness and have given us a completely different perspective on how we live our lives day-to-day.

There are always tradeoffs. Your family chooses to go into the ministry and so you live in a small apartment off a pastor’s earnings. You choose to cut cable so you can save up to take an awesome vacation. You choose paying cash for an older vehicle over going into debt for a nicer, newer one.

If you get right down to it, the biggest convenience of all is the ability to choose the path we want to take and that’s not something anyone should take for granted.

Quick Clicks

After emails, phone calls, spec reviews, meetings and various other miscellany, we have finally picked a replacement contractor! I’ll post more details next week, but things should FINALLY be getting back on track.

In the meantime, here are some links I think you might enjoy:

-Everything About the Way We Teach Math is Wrong @ Business Insider – “Lockhart begins with a vivid parable in which a musician has a nightmare in which music is taught to children by rote memorization of sheet music and formal rules for manipulating notes. In the nightmare, students never actually listen to music, at least not until advanced college classes or graduate school.”

-Remember Your Reasons @ The Art of Simple – a great reminder for just about anyone on a journey towards a dream or goal who is experiencing a bit of burnout (not that we know ANYTHING about what that is like….)

-This Couple Spent Six Months Eating Garbage @ Good – this made me want to buy every bruised apple and brown banana in the grocery store.

-It’s Like They Know Us @ Tumblr – I just laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed…. and laughed.

Have a mah-vellous weekend!

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:

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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?)