We built it. We moved it. Now what?

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Hello and welcome to my tiny home!

We bought this beast of a bus over two years ago, and spent so many hours and long nights tearing it apart and then putting it back together again, in a way that we dreamed up and designed and built.  Did we finish it?  Not quite.  So many loose ends were flapping in the breeze when we pulled out of that tiny side-yard she’d been parked in for so long.  There is trim missing, a tiny half-wall still to build so no one scoots their chair back and falls into the entry stairs, a door on the girls’ room, the tiny magnets that hold the pantry doors shut, drawer pulls on all the drawers that had been custom-made (some of which could still stand some tinkering).  The plumbing wasn’t done (we installed the steel cages that hold the tanks under the bus the DAY before we moved – nothing like waiting til the last possible minute…), and the propane lines weren’t installed.  But we packed the bus to the gills (didn’t realize just how much stuff we were taking!!), put the canoe and bikes and a plastic slide on the roof rack (also installed days before departure), said so many goodbyes and shed tears, and then took off, because it was time to go.

The drive north was so much smoother than I dared hope for.  Slow – YES.  SO SLOW.  We averaged 45 miles an hour.  But dang, that bus was so heavily loaded, but that Turtle just kept on going.  There was not a single hitch in the drive up.

And so now we are here, and what is it like?  Well, at first it was more like vacation – we parked at the second-home of dear friends, who generously offered up their driveway.  It is the property that we came to first, and where we first looked at each other and said, “Well, this feels like home.  How weird that we’ve never been here before.”  And so we slowly unloaded the bus into a storage unit.  I drove the bus to work for TWO DAYS – not exactly the ideal commuter vehicle.  Then we slowly started working on the propane and the plumbing.  And I mean S-L-O-W-L-Y.  Heck, we STILL haven’t finished the plumbing. Between starting a job and getting to know the area, and visiting with friends who came to the valley, and trying to make new friends, there has been shockingly little time for finishing our new home.  This fact in itself has been very frustrating for us – already it is August and we don’t have the sink plumbed or the tiny trailer bathroom even CLOSE to completion!  In mid-July we moved from our friends driveway – the bus was parked in full sun and was getting ridiculously hot during the day.  We are parked about one mile down the road, on the property of friends of friends of friends.  It’s that kind of place.  We are calling our new spot “Wolf Creek Woods” – we are in Ponderosa pines and keeping much cooler in general.  One great thing about dry heat – the shade is so refreshingly cool.  At our new parking spot we do not currently have electricity.  These is power on the property, but it hasn’t been hooked up in years and the process of getting it connected is taking awhile.  So, even if the sink was plumbed, our water pump wouldn’t work anyway, so we don’t have running water at present.  Instead we use a big 5 gallon rubbermaid on the counter and a bucket under the sink to catch water.  Rudimentary, but functional for the moment.

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Some of the really joyful parts of living in the bus so far… the girls LOVE IT and are so excited to be there.  On days when it was in the 90s inside the bus (parked at our friend’s house we were in full sun), those girls would be in there playing in their underwear!  Their enthusiasm is quite a marvel to behold.  At Wolf Creek Woods, amongst the pines, we are woken EVERY morning by the shockingly loud chitterings (how do you describe their sounds??) of red squirrels.  We were actually woken the first two mornings by a red squirrel INSIDE the bus – we finally realized the driver’s window had been left wide open!  Ah ha!  Living in the bus feels very similar to camping.  There are so many windows, and so many of them are open, the separation between inside and outside is very thin.  We can hear so much of what is happening outside, and the wind blows through the whole bus.  While we like this aspect of bus living, it is also making us think about all the ways we can make the separation greater in the winter months.  We will have to make insulated curtains to cover the windows and the driving area.  We will put plywood around the perimeter of the bus to stop wind from blowing underneath.  We are about a day away from ordering our wood stove – the propane heater is installed already!  Lots to think about.  And one last thing about the joys of tiny bus life – it is much quicker to clean!!  Although, as you can see from the photos, the girls desk is pretty much a cluttered mess (you can’t actually SEE the desk), but one can only spend so much of the summer days cleaning up after kids.

 

All in all, we are excited to be finally living in the bus – we’ve set up an outdoor kitchen, and the hammock and canoe often act as the outdoor living room.  Whether we will stay in the Wolf Creek Woods through the winter or find a different place to park remains to be seen – we’ll keep you posted!

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Written by Kristin LaFever

The Driver

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I’ll tell you about the driver, who lives inside my head. Starts me and stops me and puts me into bed. Opens up my mouth when he wants me to talk and fires up my legs when he wants me to walk.
~Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall

 

My experience has been that its impossible to know when something begins and ends, which leads me to believe that there are no endings and beginnings, although we tell ourselves it is so. It also seems true that it is not possible to say who is the driver, who is the driven and who is the driven-upon. This was my experience driving our tiny home school bus, which we have name the Cozy Turtle, from northern California to our new home in the North Cascades. Sure I turned the key to fire her up and I pushed hard on the accelerator, but once she got going she had a mind of her own and went where she wanted to. I coaxed her this way and that way to avoid old-growth trees, precipitous Pacific cliffs, guardrails and other automobiles but really I was encouraging rather than driving her.

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Because of her size, mass and numerous blind spots (we all have numerous blind spots, don’t we?), she encouraged me to really pay attention. The radio didn’t work and the noise of the engine prevented hearing much of anything else anyway, so I really paid attention. There was a meditative quality to driving – the seat forced me to sit straight (no slouching) and my eyes were constantly scanning mirrors, looking up ahead and to the sides. There wasn’t anything else to do nor was it safe to be distracted. I felt driven to be a better driver by the Cozy Turtle.

And really where were we going. Yes we were heading north to the Methow Valley but we didn’t know how far we would get any given day, which started late and ended early. We had enough time so that we did not have to hurry, which took a lot of stress out of the experience. The Cozy Turtle, or “Old Bessie” as I called her while on the road, went slow which is really the only way to travel. Going slow and paying attention is the only way to ride.

So we went slowly, paying attention and without an agenda, on an unknown journey to a place we had been dreaming about for a long time.

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Trundling along

The girls have beds!  This is my last BIG construction project inside the bus.  The drawers were, of course, the trickiest part of this, but they are in, they all slide (some easier than others…), and there is LOTS of space for all the girl’s clothes, and hopefully some space for Dave’s and my clothes as well….

I should probably clarify here – This is not a bunk bed!  I am not expecting my daughter to sleep in a one-foot crawlspace!  The lower bed pulls out (trundle bed-style) and will be next to the taller bed.  My 6-year-old’s friend asked me this question and I thought others might wonder as well.  🙂

One of my favorite things about finishing the beds was the reaction by the girls – it was instantly a super fun thing to play on, under, around, and gave me a little glimpse of how playing in the bus is going to feel.

This week I took the bus to the mechanic to have everything looked at – and I’m guessing there is a fair amount to look at, based on the 11 mile drive from Arcata to Eureka.  Namely, the lack of power.  I literally drove down Highway 101 South at 26 miles per hour for quite a few miles before the bus picked up speed – to a whopping 40 miles per hour.  Hoping that we can get the old girl to go a tad faster on our northward journey!!


Written by Kristin LaFever

The shape of the kitchen!

You may be wondering if we took the winter off, if we’ve been busy sleeping through all the rainstorms and long dark nights.  The bus progress part of the blog has been quiet now for months it seems… But the truth is, we have NOT been hibernating, and we have NOT been curled up by the fire through all the storms.  Instead I have been busier than ever with bus work, and busy with all the other things happening in our life right now, and putting up photos on the blog has been shuffled to the very bottom (or close to the bottom) of my priority list.  But at long last, here are some photos of what has been happening – namely, kitchen cabinets!  I had never made cabinets, so there has been a steep learning curve!  There’s a reason cabinets cost SO MUCH to have made – they take a TON of time and lots of precision work that is very unforgiving.  It’s also really fun, and great to see the shape of the kitchen coming together.  We wanted to avoid plywood as much as possible in the bus, so I designed and built the cabinet frames using 1×2 poplar.  After lots of drawing, measuring, cutting, dado-blade groove cutting, gluing and nailing, the frames were finally finished!  Here are a couple photos of the first cabinet frame we made, with Maddie modeling how to meditate in a cupboard.

And here is another cabinet that has some of the sides attached.  We used some pine for the sides, and also some salvaged wood from pallets.

After all the frames had been built (I built four separate cabinet frames) came the very painstaking and at times frustrating task of building drawers.  I love drawers!  They are a pain to make, but so amazing to have in a kitchen!!  So, I made boxes.  And often had to tear the box apart in order to make it 1/16 of an inch narrower so it would fit into the drawer slides.  But hurrah, at long last I got them all to fit!

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And the final and of course most fun step – putting on the beautiful doors and drawer fronts!  We used the same juniper wood we used on the pantry.  Full of knotholes and lots of character.

More to come as soon as I can finish it up!


By Kristin LaFever

A door that shuts!

We finally found a door to replace the completely broken, shattered, and non-functioning door that has been on the bus since we bought it – you can see the old door in this photo:

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We found a solid wood door with lots of windows that was totally unfinished at Home Depot (for less that $200, amazing!).  It was a little too wide, but luckily we have a friend who is a woodworker, and he cut the door to size and made the notches to the existing hinges to fit in.  Then we learned how to install a doorknob and make a door jamb – we still have to fix the threshold, but for now we are just glad to have a door that closes all the way (it even locks!).

 

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Written by Kristin LaFever

Wild (Bus) Ideas of a 5 and 1/2 Year Old

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While lying in bed as Madeleine tries to go to sleep, she is suddenly very awake and full of ideas.  Bus ideas.  Certain topics seem to just be a way to prolong the going-to-bed process, but when she’s got “good ideas” I like to let them flow. 

Her first idea was about the desk we are going to have in the girls’ bus bedroom – she wants it to be a board that comes out of the wall, without sides, just the supports it needs.  Then she wants drawers to be attached under it.  Which I hadn’t thought of doing, and I think it’s a great idea!  Check!

Second idea: about the bathroom for the bus (our current idea is to have a separate tiny trailer that has a bathroom…) – first thing she wants is a hanger in the bathroom for hanging towels on, and another for hanging bathrobes on.  This seems easy enough.  Her other idea is to have drains in the floor under the hangers so that if we hang up wet swimsuits or wet towels the water that drips out will go down the drains.  This one seems challenging, but I love the creativity!

Third idea: build a room connecting the bus to the bathroom.  I said something about having a roof so that we don’t get wet if it’s raining, and she clarified “With walls.  That we would insulate.  And cut some windows in the walls and put in glass windows.”  This is getting very elaborate, but also kindof a cool idea for when the bus is permanently parked… maybe a breezeway?  Or a screened in porch that also has access to the bathroom?  Hmm…

Fourth idea: She wants a round wooden room INSIDE her room on the bus that is “really big” (have we been reading too much Alice in Wonderland?), and it’ll have a door, and then we’ll make a loop of beads on a string “with no clasp, just a circle of beads” that will go through two holes in the door and the beaded circle will be the handle for the door.  We’ll pull it open by grabbing the beaded circle… and at this point she paused, and was in deep thought, and then talked about how we would push the door from the other side to get out of the room, also using the beaded circle… I felt like I could almost hear the gears spinning in her head as she was visualizing the door and how she’d pull it from one side and push from the other, and how that would work with the handle she was creating in her head.  The room, she says, would be for typing on computers and going into when you are mad and need to calm down.

 The ideas she comes up with are sometimes totally impossible or totally impractical, and often they are totally brilliant and totally creative and ALL of them are totally awesome, because she is so uninhibited by the rules of practicality and feasibility that the rest of us usually operate under.  I love seeing her mind develop and delve into figuring out ways to solve a problem or create something she wants to have around.  A couple weeks ago she said something about wanting to be a builder – I told her she’s lucky to have a family that also wants to learn about building, so we can do it together.  And I think we’re pretty darn lucky to have her with us, too – she brings in fresh ideas and inspiration that we wouldn’t have had on our own!

 

Here are some photos of recent work in the bus:

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Here is the most recent addition to the bus – a wall!  Almost done separating the girls room from the rest of the bus!  (And the gap at the top of the wall will be filled in, I just ran out of wood bits – got one today from a neighbor!).

Here’s a view of the open shelving on the other side of the wall:

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And we’re working on pantry doors – beautiful juniper wood that smells great.  Between roadtrips and reducing our chicken flock, progress has been slow lately.  Soon I’ll be back at it!!

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written by Kristin

 

The Advent of Electricity – almost there!

After a long hiatus, mostly due to my own mental stumblings over working with electricity, work on the bus has begun rolling forward again, and I feel my motivation and enthusiasm building.  Hard to say if that feeling comes from getting over the mental roadblock or is more to do with the changing weather – I tend to be much more motivated on a sunny day!  So with the sunshine comes progress on the bus.  While figuring out how to begin the electrical installation, I worked on a couple of the built-in shelves   – one behind the driver’s seat, and another that forms part of the wall between the girls room and the rest of the bus.  They are not 100% finished, but here are the bare bones:

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While I figured out our electrical diagram, I started working on the boards that will cover up the wires, make the bus a little “prettier”, and also to make extra shelving possible that will nearly encircle the bus.  We are running the wiring (12 gauge, the kind in the bendy conduit) above the windows, and the outlets and switches will be attached to a 12″ cedar board that will be attached to the bus walls.

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Our vision for the wiring is to set up a simple system that can be plugged into the grid with an extension cord or be upgraded to solar when/if the need arises.  We are building in storage for the batteries, converter, charger, etc., that will be in the same area where the extension cord will come into the bus.

I find that each task seems fairly simple and straightforward, but then I realize that working on these things with two small kiddos in tow can really stretch out the amount of time needed.  It’s taken me weeks to get boards sanded, cut just right, attach the shelves, and build little boxes that will house the outlets.  But as of today, I have half of the boards ready, and I’m excited to get them up on the walls and have outlet boxes with wires coming through!!  Here’s a photo of the board while it’s laying on the floor of the bus.

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And here’s a photo of one of the outlet boxes – kindof confusing to see while laying on the floor, but hopefully soon it’ll be on the wall and more obvious how the outlet will fit.

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The final thing that I’ve been finishing up is the baseboards!  Hooray!  No more gap around the edge of the bus!  We used the same redwood paneling we had for the walls, just cut at an angle.

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Those are the updates – now I can hope for more sunshine so I can be outside sanding, sawing, and varnishing!


Written by Kristin