The ten months between here and there

Well, Here I am, back again. A lot has changed since my last post here, now currently living in Canberra and ten weeks pregnant with our third (and last – I say, hopefully) child. We’ve never planned our kids. In fact, mostly, we’ve planned not to have kids, but each time they have surprised us and we are thankful.

Becoming pregnant sharply adjusts my worldview. I become more inward focused and I begin to want to do craft and create things. So, apart from the bags of wool surrounding my bed, this has turned my thoughts toward our dear bus. Oh bus, dear bus! Scrolling back through the archives of this blog has been rewarding me with remembrances of the hardest of times pushing through each build challenge and finally getting to the end of it to simply be faced with another. I guess in the end each relentless challenge was too much and we broke down a little there. Of course finance was an obvious hindrance. With Henry having to work more he found little energy for bus building. Gardening and chicken coop building projects also found their way to help us procrastinate, though the results were unsatisfying and should have served as a reprimand for not focusing on the main thing! Chickens were mauled or died from mysterious fits and diseases and veges died in Young’s wilting heat, though we did get some small harvest which was a joy.

So, all this to say, does anyone want to sponsor us to finish this goddam project!? We love our bus and with Henry’s engineering background it is proving a true work of art (see previous post – with the ceiling now painted it is looking better than ever, that is under the six months worth of dust!)

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With all the tiny house hype that is around our bus is a showcase for what can be achieved through the use of Sikaflex (the toughest glue on the market), Alucobond (Aluwell), aluminum framing and bog! No hefty plywood walls for us thank you very much. We have spared no detail: the roof painted with Thermoshield, each window tinted, the walls fully disassembled and insulated, new frame welded where necessary, total reconditioning of the water tanks, the interior design maximising room to move as well as storage space and a sense of openness, ceiling bogged and sanded to be ultra smooth and ‘invisible’, polished wood finishes next to slick Alucobond walls, door made to disappear into wall cavities and made as narrow as possible to maximise space, solar power installed, the back window painfully constructed to open wide up, trims where trims are needed, oh man, there is nothing that has not gone unnoticed or untouched on this bus!

If no sponsors arise we are, like the rest, forced to rely on our own ingenuity and juggling skills to figure out how we can finish the job with the resources available to us, as we will.

Meanwhile we are enjoying Canberra’s milder weather and abundant treescapes, looking forward to Autumn when I can take advantage of Canberra’s top mushrooming spots and now fitting a baby into a plan which was not.

Bus update

Once upon a time we thought this project would take us 3 months, no longer, and we would be on the road. Kind friends guesstimated 9 months, ‘what! Are you kidding!’ I cried in alarm. Time proved us all wrong and two years later we are still here. I can’t imagine this boat of a bus being finished at any stage, but looking back It would be safe to assume that we are over the half-way mark at least and while we have no immediate plans to leave this town which we are quite happily making a home in, it could yet happen…or we could at least be living in the bus while parked on some land, which is also a long term dream.

This building project has taught me a lot. Most importantly to let go of life a little. Ambition is a very temporal thing and the process of becoming is much more fun than the bore of achieving.

Here’s where we are up to so far. Some very kind and supportive and encouraging friends were up on the weekend (for the third time), helping us build. Doctor Carl (his actual title) will be deserving of a keg of the finest whisky when we finally celebrate the end of this bus-build! …that is going to be one hellavu party!!!

Bus Web (1 of 19)We stripped the apricot paint off the outside and the roof, painted the roof with a thermoshield paint for insulation (insulation has been a big consideration all round on this bus!) and matched the rest of the exterior with a similar colour. You can see the edges of our four solar panels on the front half of the roof….here are a couple of before pictures.

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Bus Web (3 of 19)This front area is still totally unfurnished. Still, there has been a lot done here. We stripped the interior, took off the old wall panels, pulled up the floor which has now been sanded and painted three times. Then we insulated (after removing old, itchy pink batts) and installed power cables under the roof panels. The walls are now clad with ‘Aluwell’ which is aluminium bonded to plastic, making it fairly flexible and also extremely durable. They are matt white walls, it’s hard to see it now in all it’s glory, but the walls are waiting to be unveiled under the plastic. We’ve kept as much window space as possible, but have had to build the walls up part of the way to make room for our kitchen benchtops. The red area at the back will become our pantry cupboard and also space for a water heater and plumbing into the shower. All the walls you see were put in ourselves.

Here’s a before pic from the day we bought the beast. We took out everything you see in this pic! The decaying and terribly itchy, yellow acrylic carpet on the roof, every single wall panel, the white ceiling, the lights, the grills, the walls, all the cupboards, the passenger seat, the table. We stripped it right back to an empty shell.

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The boys moved the stove into the bus on the weekend. Starting to feel more like a home! You can see here how we’ve built the wall up so that the bench is not sitting right up against the window, however, so that we didn’t lose that little bit of window above the bench, Henry custom made a panel which slides up out of that wall and covers the top window section. Like I said…bespoke everything!Bus Web (4 of 19)

This is the cupboard in our bedroom, which they started on this weekend. In another moment of designing genius Henry constructed part of the cupboard under the kids bed which will hold shoes etc. The rail for hanging clothes (currently sitting on the floor) sits just under the aluminum tube about halfway up the cupboard and there will be shelving above.

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This is our bedroom. Another thing which looks minor, but was major, is that back opening window. Initially this window was fixed, but we realised that in such a small space there really needed to be a way for the breeze to come through and so Henry designed and made this window you see here, using the same panel of glass but building the sill so that it was waterproof and also fit the newly clad window. These small things take the longest of time, but will be so necessary for when we are actually living in the thing. Not if…when! Also, you can’t see the ceiling here, but Henry took a very, very long time, panelling, bogging and sanding the ceiling so that it is actually seamless and ultra smooth. Many bus-homes keep the rivets or attach lights to the roof, but we wanted a seamless, vast feeling roof, as in actual fact it is really quite low.

The aluminum frame is the box for the drawers which will hold our clothes, the drawers are push to open, which means no handles to catch yourself on. These have all been made, but not installed yet. Bedhead and bed base are yet to come. The base will sit on the drawers and on top of the step you can see behind the drawers. Henry is making this room modular so that it can be turned into a man-cave once we’ve finished traveling. We will actually have quite a bit of floor space in this bedroom, enough for me to do yoga! All the doors (all three: bedroom, bathroom and the little corridor) all have sliding doors which push to latch and push to open and hide inside the walls which are as thin as we could possibly make them by using aluminum framing and ‘Aluwell’.

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Below is the other corner of our room, opposite to the cupboard corner, and a spare wall! This kind of thing is a miracle to find in a bus-home and it’s only because of Henry’s excellent design that we managed to do it!

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This next picture is from our bedroom looking out to the back of the bus. Between the large living/kitchen area and our bedroom is a bunk for the kids and a bathroom.

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Here’s the top bunk, again, thanks to Dr Carl for helping us with this one! We’d never have been able to do it without you!!! I wish you could see the lights on this thing. Strip lighting hides along the top, internal, wooden edge and glows beautiful along the slope of the ceiling. There are no shadows. It will be the perfect reading environment for Soph.Bus Web (9 of 19)

The bottom bunk here, which will be Gunther’s cave. He too has strip lighting along the top, internal edge of his bunk, but it doesn’t quite glow as beautifully as the top bunk. Below the bunks will be covered with a door and baskets for toys and clothes will be under the bed.

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From our bedroom now, looking in through the bathroom door. The sliding door is not yet attached for this one, but it’s very easily done and all ready to go, so no problems there. You can also see in the top middle section of the picture the corner edge of the hatch which leads up to the roof. We climb up the bunk bed ladder to get up there. The dream is too put a deck up there…but first things first!Bus Web (11 of 19)

A confusing photo, perhaps, but this is me standing in our bathroom, reflected in our mirror wall. The room is white with a mirror wall on one side (the toilet and sink side) and a red wall on the other (shower) side. Planning on a composting toilet which is currently half built, but not installed.Bus Web (12 of 19)

This red square will have a red back and become our shampoo/conditioner/soap holder. Taps have been installed for the shower.Bus Web (13 of 19)

We have sunk the shower floor down to give us some extra head space and also to allow for a bit of a bathing area for the kids. This is an earlier photo:

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Looking from the bathroom into the corridor:

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And here we are at the front of the bus again:Bus Web (15 of 19)

You can see here the Aluminum angle which separates the wall and ceiling. This runs on both sides along the length of the front of the bus (and is also in the main bedroom) and will have LED strip lighting as uplights and downlights, these will be dimmable.Bus Web (16 of 19)

Our most recent achievement (and when I say ‘our’ I mean Henry with a little bit of help from me…he is the real brains and brawn behind this. I often just feel like a cheerleader…but apparently I am absolutely crucial in that role! So he says. :)…anyhoo. Solar power. Solar power has long been a dream of ours as environmentally conscious human beings and so installing this on our bus has been a great feeling…now just to get on the thing and use it!

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A story about a trip to the snow.

We intended to go to the snow. The goal was set. The time was to be a 7am departure.

We left at 8am. Tried not to make too much noise so we wouldn’t wake my parents and managed to evacuate the house with a bag stuffed full of random clothes – hopefully a match would be made, a few snacks and my camera. Very important.

The drive down to Corin Forest is one of Canberra’s wonderful hidden treasures. The ‘mountains’ of Canberra. We could see snow in the distance. That was Mt Franklin, the mountain of bottled water fame.

Around corners we twisted with frantic instructions not to brake (from Henry to me), as deceleration is an anathema to Henry, and braking around corners is a sign of a novice driver…or a girl driver. Generalising freely and with an absence of philosophical discussion, which is a sign that we are not on speaking terms (just a phase), we still managed to keep things amiable until we reached the Corin Forest encampment where we spotted distinct signs of snow, but only on the southern side of the hills.

The gate was closed so on we went to view the dam.

A dam is a wonderous thing. Is there anything more of a testament to mankind’s dominance over the earth than such schemes as the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme and, say, Hoover dam? A dam is violating the natural order of things and stamping evidence of civilisation all over the landscape, though the end result can be spectacular in and of itself. All that concrete.

Henry took the kids on a little adventure, climbing down escarpments, while I, ever the reluctant rule-breaker (even if the lines are blurry), took a different path. One child got stuck.

“Stay there”, I said (though Henry would say I screeched), “I’ll come and get you.”

I climb back around  and look down to where she was. There is no sign.

“Sophia. Where are you?!” I say (screech) again.

“I’m here!”

“I told you to stay where you were!”

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Okay. Stay there, I’m coming down!”

I step over the balancing rocks and when I am almost at the bottom I slip. I put my hand out and it grazes over gravel. Part of my skin has come off. The pain (it is more annoying than painful) runs up my arm and into my brain where it turns into the most frustrating of angers. I am annoyed.

“Argh. Henry! Can we please just go to the snow! Come on, we’re going! Sophia! Come up here!”

“Mum, c h i l l  o u t!” Gunther calls back though I barely hear his small voice.

“Okay I’m coming.” I spot movement in the bushes as Soph inches her way back.

When she reaches me I take her hand and we walk back up to the car. It is slightly cold.

Sophia cries as I buckle her in. “I just wanted to be with dad!”

“Daddy shouldn’t have taken you down there. Don’t you want to see the snow?”

“Yes, but I wanted to see the water with Daddy.”

“Don’t worry about it. He is coming back now.”

I see them slowly coming back up the hill, clambering over rocks. Gunther looks happy. He has a stick.

Finally they reach the car. I have bandaged my hand.

“Gee Tul, can’t we just have an adventure?”

I’ve let go of the frustration. I don’t feel it any more. I can kind of tell that they’ve had a fun adventure and I’m glad about that, but I am always aware of the time and the plan, and climbing over rocks down a steep hill was not part of this morning’s plan. Sometimes I’ve gotta let the plan go, but this morning I’ve been put out and my hand hurts, but I’m being a wuss, but I’m going to put it behind me now, because we still have to go see the snow and it’s going to be fun (dammit).

“Yes, okay Henry, but I just want to go see the snow. We don’t have much time.”

Gunther pipes up, “Mum, I just wanted to climb down rocks and then we saw some water and I found an exploring stick.”

“That’s great, babe. Mummy hurt her hand.”

“You just need an esplorin’ stick.”

“Yeah, Tuli, you just need an esploorin’ stick.” joins in Henry.

“Okay, okay. Next time I’ll get an esploorin’ stick then.”

We are back on the road and heading toward Corin while Henry tells me how much I sound like a parrot when I’m cross and screeching. Well. I can handle that. It’s probably fair.

At Corin there are people. Where have they come from? The free, natural snow is cordoned off. The man made snow costs money, but our lifestyle does not involve living for money at the moment and so we can’t just throw it around, especially when a free option is available.

So we drive down the road and park just out of the mud to find our own patch. And we do. This sub-alpine Australian bush is beautiful. Gunther wades through a stream and his feet get wet, but we keep going. We find snow to throw at each other. I dive right into one of Henry’s shots. We climb higher. Henry finds a ready made snowman, Gunther loves this and bashes it up. Henry throws snow at Sophia and that sets her off, the cold starts to get to her. She puts on a brave face and stands under Henry’s snow throws. Meanwhile Gunther is now past it. His feet are cold. He is cold. His legs are hurting. He cries in the background.

“Alright, time to go home.”

I have to carry Gunther back over the stream and up to the car. Sophia walks, but is in tears. Our entire foray from car to snow and back again has taken up 30mins. But we did it. We saw the snow. That may be all we see of it this Winter. Perhaps.

This is life.

Thankfully the car ride back is fairly silent with kids munching bikkies and carrots, and we just cruise through this beautiful scenery.

“So, did you enjoy yourself?” Henry asks

“Yes, I did. I’m glad we did that.”

“And you took lots of photos. That’s good. You can blog about it.”

“Yes, I’ll make it look super ideal and pretty and cut all the bad ones out so that people will think we live the most charming life and want to live our lives.”

“Great.”

Oh. The irony. Oh. Blogging. Oh. Internetland. You are a fanciful place.

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Scenes from around here

Bus etc001 Bus etc002 bus March 14003 bus March 14004 bus March 14005 bus March 14006 bus March 14007 bus March 14008 bus March 14009 bus March 14010 bus March 14012 bus March 14013 bus March 14014 bus March 14015 bus March 14016 bus March 14017 bus March 14018 bus March 14019 bus March 14020We have been working on getting the bus painted and sealed before Winter sets in, but it seems every time we go to do something we end up completely detoured and working on something else. We knew this side would be a problem and it has been. Henry has had to cut out a lot of the steel frame, which has been bent up and bashed a bit, he will have to weld in some new steel. Meanwhile, while we had the frame ripped out, he decided to refurb the fuel tank and retro fit the grey water tank and so we have been doing that all week. The fuel tank is red for speed…or danger.

The grey water tank is not finished yet. It was fitted out beautifully, but then we realised there was no drop between the inlet hole and the shower drain hole…and water doesn’t really flow uphill – according to the laws of physics…or so Henry tells me (not really, I’m not that dumb, promise!). So we will have to redo that.

Meanwhile, instead of getting depressed about it all, we installed the drain holes in the shower and basically one-third of all our plumbing. (When I say ‘we’ I mean Henry does about 85% of the work and I just pass him the drill.)

On the homefront (mostly only mornings and nights are spent at ‘home’) it’s funny learning more about your children as they change and grow over the days/months/years. Gunther has learnt that he really likes snuggling and so a few times Soph helps him bring his bed into the living area and he snuggles on the floor. Yes, I know, cute.

And Sophia is picking up photography, as no doubt all of her generation will, this was only the second attempt and, sure thing, I am in focus! However she asked me to do it one more time as my hand was ‘in the way’ (she’s already considering composition), but that third attempt – definitely not in focus.

Camping with the Ladies

I am part of a great group of buddies, the male half of which get an annual itching to go hiking for a few days.  The itch occurs around January of each year and all at once a hike is planned, Henry dehydrates his famous spaghetti bolognaise and the women and children are left to figure out what to do. Alas, hiking for a bunch of ladies with tiny tots does not really figure into any equation and while we talk about ‘one day’ doing our own little hike, that probably won’t happen for a few more years at least.  In the past the guys have hiked in and around the ACTs own Namadgi National Park and the Snowy Mountains, this time they decided to do a hike from the top of Clyde Mountain down to the Coast and so this was a perfect opening for mums and children to do their own little camping trip.

However.

It was the Australia Day long weekend and I think it is perhaps the busiest day for camping on the South Coast for the whole year, so good luck booking a place. We had to take our chances with one of the ‘first in best served’ campsites.  I settled on one we have been to before. I arrived on Friday night in the middle of a steady drizzle, found a great secluded campsite (quite hidden, so it was one of the few remaining campsites left) and set up two tents on my own with wet kids to deal with.  It was a bit of a saga, but nothing you can’t laugh about, KerenM had her baby to feed, KerenN got lost (actually we all got lost) and went all the way to Ulladulla and Julie arrived at about 9pm but in the end we all were fed with kids in bed by 10pm. Fiona and Jen arrived the next day and with kids we made 13.  Girls, if you’ve never gone camping without the guys don’t let it phase you, it’s actually very easy, especially when you are all together helping eachother, which we were. Together we celebrated ‘Little Hannah’s’ birthday with a treasure hunt and cake before all the kids sort of caved to tiredness and had some meltdowns! We discovered ‘Mermaid Cove’ and even found an Octopus and a few fish together.  We went to the beach often, the mums taking turns to have a dip, and the kids hardly able to be torn from either the sand or the water.

I was very impressed that we managed to pull it together and have a relaxing camping holiday without any men to chop our firewood and pitch our tents, though of course we were all pretty happy when they dragged themselves out of the bush a few days later to the comfort of our very pretty campsite. It was a great last hurrah to the Summer holidays and I’m so glad we all made the effort to get down to the beach together.

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This is how dirty children can get when camping…not all of them do, I’m sure.Low Res Camping Hike029 Low Res Camping Hike030 Low Res Camping Hike032 Low Res Camping Hike033 Low Res Camping Hike034 Low Res Camping Hike035 Low Res Camping Hike036 Low Res Camping Hike037 Low Res Camping Hike038

Just for fun, here are the boys pre and post hike. It changed their lives.

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Persistence

Let me share and record here some words of Kevin McCloud which could easily apply to us:

“I did think that (So & So) wouldn’t get this far. I thought they were far too inexperienced and far too reckless with their money. But then inexperience and recklessness are the two main requirements for the classic, Eccentric Adventurer…and that’s who they are. They have that single-mindedness. They have the stamina to continually redefine what it is exactly that they want and they are always willing to have a go. Of course they’ll finish this place. Of course they’ll live here happily. It’s a beautiful house and it reflects the quirky, curvy people they are.”

I am finding new encouragement in Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs. I see people there pursuing similar goals to ours. I see people undecided on the details because they respect their building enough to try to get those details absolutely right, there is a kind of love investment in their work. Sometimes the money and the time it takes to get those things right does not matter because the alternative is to either do it shoddily or give up and neither of those are options.

The ethos of these people inspires me. One guy: “It was never built as a money making scheme. It was built to be a sort of experiment in, you know, life.”

And that is one side of the coin. It is playing around with the options life offers us, it is also creating and investing something into this world that, hopefully, will prove worthwhile on some level. I like the fact that we are doing something different. I hate that it is taking so long, but all that disappears when we are on our bus, building it or discussing the details and redefining our objective.

Our living arrangements have recently changed, but our focus is still centered around our bus and getting it finished and finishing it well. Juggling parenting with this project is a major challenge, but we are hoping our new move into a rental in Young will enable more routine and some family time away from the bus. We are aiming for more structure in 2014 and embracing new beginnings.

I won’t pretend this last 10months hasn’t been difficult. It’s been bloody hard. I have felt (at varying times) trapped, frustrated, angry, irritated, controlled, disrespected and all sorts of things like that. At the same time Henry and I have drawn closer than we ever have before and even though I was often frustrated at him (and he at me) we have worked through every instance of that, communicated and moved on. We have held fast to each other as no one else was around to take our loads, so supporting each other through this tricky time has been incredibly good for our relationship.

I would not recommend living with other people (especially with young children) for such an extended period.  Kids can be confronting and tiring, particularly to older people. Most people do need space, I’ve learnt that, at least!