Simple Living

How We Do It

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Simple Living | 3 comments

How We Do It

Here are some truths about our family that make our current adventure living in a 300 sq ft bus possible for us, and might not make the same lifestyle possible for you: We have always slept with our kids. We co-slept with our babies, and we often let them come into our bed even when they got older and had transitioned to their own bed in their own room (or slept in their beds if they wanted us to). We realize that this musical beds and sharing sleep with our kids is only going to happen for a few years. We can live with that. We’ll have lots of time with our beds to ourselves in the future. As much as we can, if our children express a wish to be close to us, we try to say yes. And as for parental intimacy, you can always google cosleeping and sexto find out that there has been a lot said about this even in the context of house dwelling. For a little laugh, I’ve always liked the t-shirt that says “Cosleepers do it in the kitchen.” We rarely close doors to bedrooms or bathrooms even when we’ve lived in houses. We like being in the same space. I like being able to see and hear what the kids are watching while I make dinner – not because I love kids’ programming or watching the same show over and over, but because I can supervise what they are watching, can discuss content with them, and have a reference point if something comes up in play or at school that is coming from what they are watching. I like being able to sit side-by-side with my children as we are each involved in a project of our own. I like being in the same room with Aaron in the evening when he’s doing office work for our business. Sure, he’s working most evenings after the kids are in bed – but at least I still get to see him. We can chat, have tea together, discuss plans for the business and because he’s putting in the hours in the evening after the kids are in bed, he gets to come home a little earlier and he helps with dinner and bedtime so it helps us find balance between work and family. Our kids shared a room in every house we rented, and likely would have continued sharing rooms for a long time. It doesn’t hurt them to learn to share and get along. We had already developed methods of getting them to bed in the same room by staggering bedtimes and tackling the job together. We have prioritized having fewer toys. We’ve been making the switch to natural toys, with an emphasis on having a few good quality toys rather than on having a lot of cheap toys. I don’t wash my hair and shower daily. I have heard the argument that some people just have to wash their hair daily or it is impossibly oily. To me, this demonstrates an overdependence on shampoo and conditioner, which can disrupt the balance of natural oils in the hair. Many people who use No-Poo can attest to this. I weaned my hair from needing to be shampooed daily over  ten years ago (and for the first two weeks, it was hard). I was still showering before work every morning, but gradually dropped that habit too. Showering every couple of days is more than sufficient to keep clean and smelling nice. We are domestic adrenaline junkies. That is, we thrive on change. In the in-between times, between moves, new babies, new businesses, career changes, big projects, we often feel bored or stuck in a rut. Sure, we like structure and stability as much as the next guys, and we aren’t likely to make decisions solely for the purpose of not getting bored, but at the same time, we do like the excitement that comes with crafting a life less ordinary. We’ve done this before.We lived in this very bus for 5 years. This means:...

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Enough

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 21 comments

Enough

{Disclaimer: this post is meant to address specific comments regarding how we manage to live in a bus without what some people consider necessities. This is not meant in any way to come across Holier Than Thou. This post isn’t a judgment on how the majority of North Americans live, but rather a moment to consider that even with a family of five in 300 square feet, we are lucky.} I’m going to get a little heavy today and ask a big question: How do you know when you have enough? How much do you need? Where do you draw the line between necessity and excess? Two weeks ago, Tiny House Blog featured our bus and posted about it on their Facebook page. Overnight Eliza Brownhome got a lot of attention. It was heart-warming and encouraging to read all of the many, many positive comments. There were also some quite legitimate questions about our situation because I haven’t been posting often enough to give the full scoop. To address the specifics of those questions, I am creating an FAQ page, but here I want to address the idea of whether or not a 300 sq ft bus is adequate for a family of five. I’ll start by saying that in the months leading up to our move I was really anxious about that very question and I had dark moments in the middle of the night where I really thought that the answer was no. A month before we moved my stress level became physical when I broke out in eczema for the first time in my life. So, you know, I’m not crazy – I had the same concerns as some of you when I lay awake in bed in our 1900 sq ft 4 bedroom house and thought about what we were about to do. But this afternoon (and most moments in the last three months), I felt differently. Aaron was at work. Rain was at school. Silas was napping on the bed in the back. I was reading a book on the couch and Noa was sitting opposite me, doing a puzzle at the table. The bus was clean, dishes done, floor swept, and a fire was burning in the woodstove. I thought to myself: “This is enough.” Seriously, why do I need more? Then some reality hit me. Like we don’t have a proper bathroom at the moment, and this is my laundry room: Well, it’s my laundry room as long as the sun holds out – which it has until now, but usually it starts raining in September so I’m already on borrowed time. Of course, our current sleeping arrangements aren’t for everyone either, and they certainly aren’t for me in the long term as well. But then I took a minute to listen to myself, and I realized that all of these little things had come to mind prefaced by “It would be nice to _____________ (fill in the blank: have another bedroom, have a full bathroom, dry clothes on rainy days, etc.” Sure, a lot of things would be nice. Sure, it was nice to live in a 1900 sq ft house last year. It was. It would also be nice to have an infinity pool. But the truth is, none of those things are necessities. Even the bathroom. I’m serious. We’ve been culturally conditioned to think otherwise because we are lucky enough to live in North America, but it isn’t true. There are moments in here when it can get annoying. Try getting three little kids to sit up and eat dinner at a table where the seats are also a couch – just try it. Every kid who has ever eaten in here has tried to eat their dinner LYING DOWN – they can’t help it. Other than that, offhand I would say: I miss having a shower and proper laundry facilities. I miss having a decent size dining table (this is not a design flaw of the bus, just something we’ve never gotten to yet). I sometimes feel that...

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Home Again

Posted on Sep 11, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured | 11 comments

Home Again

The last time I slept in our bus was four years ago. I was 37 weeks pregnant. It was a Thursday, and we had no idea it would be our last night in the home we had crafted and lived in for five years. We had no idea that the next day our daughter Noa would make her appearance three weeks early, throwing a wee little 6Lb 14oz monkey wrench in our moving plans which had involved a couple more nights before beginning a new life as house people. Four years minus one week later (to the day – Thursday), we spent our first night back in Eliza Brownhome, this time as a family of five (rather than three). Within two days, I had us all unpacked, every nook, cranny, and carefully planned storage space filled to capacity. It was neat and tidy and familiar. Somehow, despite the two extra children (and all the STUFF that entails), despite the stress of the move, despite the stress of downsizing after 4 years of house-dwelling (and all the stuff THAT entails)–somehow, it felt like we had come home. It felt a little like we had never left, which was odd, given how much had happened to us in the intervening years. Our third night home, I lay in bed in the dark with a baby snuggled beside me, listening to a summer downpour pounding the steel roof only four feet above my head. I was reminded of all the other nights just like that one, except that those nights back then, it had been a different baby, and that baby was now an almost seven year old. It felt so good to be home and yet there was something jangly, and slightly jarring about it. Something in the periphery of the memory that made the whole experience seem surreal too. Perhaps it was connected to the utterly bizarre experience I had every time I looked out the window–which happens every minute when you live in a 300 square foot house with 26 windows. Everything about Eliza felt normal and right except the view out the windows which was completely wrong, of course, given that we had moved her 250 km. Imagine picking up the house you live in right now, and plopping it down somewhere else. Imagine looking out the window and seeing a forest of salal, huckleberries and Douglas fir instead of your yard, your garden, your garage, your patio lanterns. After five years living in the same spot in Vancouver, I knew the view out of every single one of our 26 windows so intimately that my memory was superimposing those views over the much more real information that was streaming into my mind via my fully functioning optic nerves, blending the two images in a slightly unnerving way. This being home business was good and all, but Eliza wasn’t all that she’d been before, right? She’d sat alone and empty for four years and was now a farm bus instead of a big city bus. This was going to take some getting used to. But then again, listening to the rain on roof at night brought to mind the sensory deprivation we had first experienced when we moved into the duplex we rented the first year of Noa’s life. I remember lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, 8 feet up. We had bought a King size bed and the room was huge. Everything felt cavernous and empty. And quiet. We couldn’t hear the rain. We couldn’t feel the cold on the window panes. We couldn’t feel the wind shake our home. We would wake in the morning and have no idea what the weather was like, what we’d missed while we slept. We were truly disconnected from the natural world, from our community, living in a well-insulated, private, box. I remember how wrong that had felt, for most of that first year, and now, I was shocked to realize that I couldn’t remember when that feeling had ebbed away. When had living in a house become...

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Eliza Brownhome 2.0

Posted on Jun 27, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome | 37 comments

Eliza Brownhome 2.0

This past weekend, after six months of preparation including writing a detailed lease, we moved our family of five back into Eliza Brownhome, our 40′ Bluebird school bus. For those of you who don’t know the back story, we bought this bus ten years ago as a yellow school bus full of seats. We parked it in East Vancouver in my sister’s backyard and undertook the very lengthy conversion process. We lived there for five years and developed an amazing community of friends and neighbours. We had a view of a lake out our windows, we grew a prolific garden and our oldest son was born in the bed in that bus. There were challenges and joys and through it all, the abiding mutually supportive relationship of two families growing together. It was a transformative experience. When I got pregnant with our daughter, we felt it was time to move on, both from the big city and from life in a bus. We moved to a small town and rented a house. That was four years ago. Over the last winter, we developed a friendship with some local farmers and we’ve come up with an agreement where we will live on their farm at reduced rent and will help them with the farm. It’s been a dream of ours to live a more rural, self-sufficient life for some time and this is an amazing opportunity, a giant leap in that direction. But after four years and the addition of two children to the family, the thought of returning to Eliza Brownhome has often felt extremely daunting. I would like to write more about how it felt to move out of the bus as well as how I feel now that we are back in the coming weeks so stay tuned for that. In the mean time, I thought you’d like a tour. I’m sure a lot of you are wondering how we can fit a family of five into 300 square feet so a portion of the tour will be devoted to our storage solutions. Welcome. I am pleased to introduce Eliza Brownhome, our beloved 1974 Bluebird schoolbus. First up, for your enjoyment, the scene on Friday morning, when despite a lot of downsizing and sending boxes and furniture to a rented storage locker, we were still a little hard pressed to fit all of our belongings from a 4 bedroom house into our 7.5′ x 40′  new home. The scene on Sunday afternoon was considerably calmer as I remembered where we used to keep everything and re-discovered how much storage space there really is in here. From the front door, looking toward the back, our main living area with woodstove, kitchen and through the curtain at the back, a peek into our bedroom. The couch on the left can sleep one and the table can be removed so that the couch on the right can sleep two, not comfortably long term, but well-enough for a couple of nights. Here we have the kitchen, with cabinets my dad made us. The layout of this kitchen continues to amaze us, despite being tiny, it’s well-thought out and very easy to work in, everything is handy and within reach. In the past, we’ve had 3 people working in relative comfort at the same time. Also, wonder of wonders, I managed to fit almost everything we had in our last kitchen into these remarkably spacious cabinets. (The only things I sent to storage were our turkey roaster and our canner). Here is the tile backsplash and spice rack. I love having the little strip of tile beside the stove for putting a hot pot or kettle on when we’re feeling a little pinched by the lack of a 4th burner. We call this the pantry. It sits above our propane furnace, between our dual propane/electric fridge and our bedroom closet.  We did downsize some of our dishes and glassware but we didn’t have to get rid of any of our dry goods. That bottom shelf houses: flour white sugar brown sugar icing...

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Project Energize Progress

Posted on Apr 11, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 0 comments

Project Energize Progress

Here we are: already the second week of April. I had intended to do monthly updates on our progress on our new farm plan, and on our word of the year, energize…but the weeks have slipped away in a sleep deprived fog as Silas continues to be an incredibly crappy sleeper. Yeah, I know he’s a baby, but this is crappy sleep even for a baby. Really. Jumping straight in then, since this will have to be a big update: January Progress – Getting Organized: I joined pinterest as a place to start saving inspiration for our Farm Plan. You can follow me there at abluebirdmama. My boards that are relevant to our Farm Plan are: Cabinspiration, Farm Plan, and Shelter: Handmade & Tiny Homes. I started my planned computer clean up by migrating most of my bookmarks to pinterest. Unfortunately, the purge is stalled there because the rest (sorting docs, downloads, emails) is too boring compared to playing on pinterest. I have our household binder 90% complete. Unfortunately, I only use it 15% of the time. We got a new (to us) van and we vowed 1) to keep up with the maintenance and 2) to keep it clean. February Progress – She’s Crafty: We finally completed and signed our Lease with the farmers where we are moving! This was a big deal for all of us. The process of writing the lease was lengthy and filled with yummy dinner meetings, and screaming-baby-filled-conference calls. It was a good beginning exercise in getting to know each other and learning to be vocal about needs, wants, hopes, expectations, and boundaries. Signing those pages was also very scary – no going back now!! I had a few nights of panic. Might as well lay there awake panicking while you wait for the baby to wake up again right? We celebrated our last baby’s first birthday. I got crafty. I made a birthday banner. I made a birthday crown. I also stayed up until the wee hours of the morning making wee mice in wee tins for the wee ones’ Valentine’s Day gifts. I made a cloth tote to keep stuff organized in the van. It holds snacks, spare diapers, a few baby toys, books. In the summer, it will also hold a spare towel, bug dope and sun screen. You can also follow Things to Make & Do on pinterest. March Progress – First Things First: We cleared and leveled the (formerly forested) lot where our bus (Eliza Brownhome) and cabin (the Annex, the Panic Room, or the Pannex, whichever you prefer) will be sitting. We sent trees from the lot to the mill to be milled into the beams that will become our cabin. We dug a trench from the barn to our site to begin running our electrical, phone and water services to our site. By we, I mean Aaron. He did a lot of organizing, tree work,  and got to drive a bobcat. I put in extra hours at the midwifery clinic. I neglected to do any work at all on the kids’ baby books which was my assigned project for the month of March. I celebrated my birthday by: 1) going for “breakfast” with a friend and accidentally staying for 3 hours of catching up on adult conversation that was totally free of kid-interruptions and included a delicious eggs benny AND dessert, and 2) getting my hair cut for the first time in 1 year and highlights for the first time in 7 years. That’s the part where some self-care energized me so that I would be able to energize our projects. Except I also got the worst flu I’ve had in years and took my first real sick day since my oldest child was born. He came from school and found me in bed. Ordered me to get up and when I wouldn’t, he cried and asked, “who is going to take care of me?’ Hmm. Good question. So much more to do before June 1. Stay tuned to my PEP (Project Energize Progress) talks to...

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2012 in a word

Posted on Jan 5, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 2 comments

2012 in a word

Yesterday, I looked back. Today, I’m looking ahead. And there are big. HUGE. things staring back at me. In addition to the revelation of my word for the year, I guess I have an announcement to make: I’m excited and terrified to announce that Aaron and I have made arrangements to move back into our bus, Eliza Brownhome, this coming summer. We converted and lived in her in the middle of Vancouver for 5 years, part of the time with a baby and a black lab. She’s pretty comfortable and we’re intimately acquainted with life in a small space like that. However, we’ve never done it with 3 very loud kids before. With these kids in the middle of a rainy Wet Coast winter, I often feel that our 1900 square foot rental is too small so I’m really not sure what it will feel like to squish everyone back into Eliza. On that front, I’m feeling some, um, trepidation. However, I’m so excited about how this fits in with our bigger dreams to eventually live rurally, build a house, garden, support local agriculture, create community, reconnect with my sister’s family and centralize home life – that is to say, live, work, learn and play all on the same site. I realize that I haven’t publicly described this vision before so some of this may seem fuzzy to you…but suffice to say, that moving back into Eliza for the summer is the first tangible step in the direction of making our dreams a reality. The initial plan is to do this for the summer and reassess in the fall. The hope is that some of the considerable money we pay in rent will be freed up for investing in our dreams. It will be fun, and exciting, but we’re also facing a lot of hard work to make this happen which brings me to my word for 2012: ENERGIZE. en·er·gize verb /en&#601r j&#299z/ Give vitality and enthusiasm to Supply energy, typically kinetic or electrical energy, to (something) This word came to me late at night on New Year’s Eve, as I lay in bed tossing ideas around. I had considered DO, ACT, ACTION, COMMIT but they all seemed a little heavy, a little bossy. You see, I was looking for a word that would mean just do it, don’t be afraid, quit procrastinating, you can do it, you have it in you, go for it. Even without this bus plan, I have a handful of projects that have been hanging over my head for quite some time: finish the kid’s baby books deal with the clutter spots (closet floor, top of dressers, junk drawers) clean up computer (sort 5 years of digital photos, clear out inbox, purge favourites/bookmarks) back up computer make slideshow/video for Silas’ first birthday finish making a useful household notebook organize all the loose paper recipes laying around And now, on top of those, I have to sort, store and declutter so that we can fit the five of us in 500 square feet. These projects will be very freeing, but they take time and require action and commitment. They can be boring, easy to start dreading and easy to put off. My plan is to assign one project to each month and do it, no more excuses. I like the word energize because: It’s a verb so it suggests action. It reminds me to be enthusiastic about my projects. It encourages me to put in the energy, not to procrastinate. I love the bit about vitality and enthusiasm – it means that with our energy we can bring life to our dreams. There is room for me to prioritize self-care so that I feel energized too. The flip side of our plan to live in the bus again this summer is that we’ve also agreed to help a local farming family with some of their projects, to help make their dreams more attainable and I look forward to bringing our energy, vitality and enthusiasm to their farm. It’s going to be big year. I can’t...

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