Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas: RV Style

While space and storage are limited in our 36' house-on-wheels, I love to decorate for the seasons, so we picked up some of the basics when we stopped by storage last month, to decorate our home for the holidays.

The older girls made these handprint wreath wallhangings in Prep-K when they attended HCS last year and the year before. Perfect for perking up a small, undecorated wall space!

The stockings were hung by the slide room with care...

Oh, Christmas tree, oh (2 foot) Christmas tree...

The shepherds appear to be making their way to Bethlehem in the kids' Playmobile Nativity scene tonight.

We have also brought along and incorporated our Advent house with activities to count down to Christmas, a hand-carved Nativity that my dad made for me years ago, our dining room window has window clings with a scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas stuck to it, and our outside awning has donned Christmas lights along it throughout our stay here on Hilton Head Island, SC. Most of all, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in all of our hearts. One thing that our family has learned over the past year is that it doesn't take much "stuff" to live big--even, and especially, at Christmas.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours. May the God of Peace fill your hearts and lives with joy this season as you reflect upon the hope that we have received by the grace of His coming to live among us. His presence was and still is the greatest gift at Christmastime and at all times.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Honey, let's eat on the floor for a few days

As it is with most RV remodel/modifications, it begins with a thought. A 'What if' or 'What do you think about this', and then the ball just picks up speed from there.

For this go around (admitting that it won't be the last), my wife brought up the idea of an L shaped dinette to replace the booth that came with the rig. The goal was to make it so that all 6 of us could sit at the table together. The booth was set up so that just the 4 kids fit. 

We first looked for something that was already made, checking local furniture stores, consignment shops, and even the thrift stores. We did not find anything. Not, we didn't find anything close. We just didn't find anything. So, time for a custom build.

Since it had been more that 2 days since I had last worked, I heard 'PROJECT' and took off with the idea. I soon had my sketch book out, drawing angles, taking measurements, creating a cut list, and making a material list.

This is the point that my wife chuckles on the outside, saying 'You're cute', but inside she is saying 'Yes!' and patting herself on the back.

After a preliminary run to the hardware store to confirm some materials were available and finishing up the plans, I was off. I do find it humorous that we didn't get back home until 3:30 with the first load of material, but I jumped right in until it was too dark to work.
The booth that came in the RV...
...quickly turned into this.
I jumped right back into the project the next morning, politely waiting a half hour after quiet hours was over so as not to disturb any neighbors. Soon I had the base put together and brought it inside for a dry fit.

It wasn't long before I had all of the wood cut and assembled, so it was time to stain and polyurethane.
Assembly and staining outside.
My timetable was thrown off some because of the humidity affecting drying times, so I had to move things inside once it got too dark and the temperature dropped some.
Let it sit overnight to fully cure and dry.
The next morning was final assembly and trimming out. To save a few inches, I only built a back on the portion against the couch. The wall can be leaned on, and we can use some cushions if someone needs better support. The kids are the ones sitting back there, but they sit forward and not against the wall.

My goal was to try to have a zero weight change. I didn't pull out a scale or anything, but after lifting each of the old benches and then the new ones, I came within a pound. We do have more storage under each bench than before, and it is easier to access thanks to a hinged lid instead of having to take the cushions and base off to get below. For the time, we are reusing the table that came with the RV. It is a close fit, but I wouldn't mind having something that is made for the space and matches the new furniture.

Stephanie found a few folding chairs and pillows from World Market to put on the finishing touches.
Finished product.
We now have a space where all 6 of us fit. We tried it out for dinner, and it fits perfectly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Washington, DC and Williamsburg, VA

We've taken most of December off to travel and explore the east coast a bit, working our way South for the winter. Our first week of December was spent in Washington, DC and Williamsburg, VA. We had a great time exploring our nation's capitol as well as the heart of revolutionary Virginia at Colonial Williamsburg. Here are a few of the highlights from the week.

At the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History the kids loved the Insect Petting Zoo. Here, Ian is holding a millipede to show to his sisters.

Posing for a quick photo in front of the Washington Monument on the National Mall.

Korean War Memorial. This was a surprise favorite spot along our tour of the monuments and memorials on the National Mall.

Lydia and Ian reflecting upon the Truth that "Freedom is not free".

No visit to the National Mall is complete without a stop at the Lincoln Memorial.

Smithsonian National Sculpture Gardens. This exhibit was entitled "Girls". 
It looked an awful lot like headless zombies to me.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Ian and Lydia were intently looking at the vast number of names of soldiers lost in the war, and we had an opportunity to share with them about their grandfather who served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

Governor's Palace at Colonial Williamsburg. Everything was decorated for Christmas.

A favorite Colonial Christmas decoration. "Hey Diddle, Diddle". Can you find all of the pieces to this nursery rhyme in this window dressing?

We had a great time exploring our country's history and heritage in this region. We can't wait to go back, but have been spoiled by the mild weather and low crowds that we experienced by visiting in December. We would highly recommend visiting the area in late fall to anyone that is averse to heat and crowds.

We have traveled further south and have been on Hilton Head Island, SC for the past week. Stay tuned for more adventures, such as what "rest" and an island vacation means for our family. Hint: We don't sit still and do nothing very well, so our beach vacation has been a little more unconventional than most!

Friday, December 7, 2012

100% Mobile!

We're ready to shout it from the rooftops...


On Wednesday December 5, the Simpson Six closed our chapter of life in Indianapolis and became 100% mobile with the closing of the sale of our house. As with every other detail in this journey toward living more intentionally, flexibly, and increasing our mobility and ability to live life more fully, it comes with a great story.

Back in March of this year, we met with a realtor who was recommended to us by friends who had sold a couple of homes with her, including one just on the other side of the neighborhood. They also sold their Indianapolis home to relocate their family across the country, so we felt like she might be a good fit for us as a realtor. We listed our home with her April 2 and for the next 6 months had a constant string of showings, averaging 1/week over the course of the spring/summer/early fall. However, feedback from our realtor after each of these showings trickled to a halt upon our launch into full-time travel, and communication became more and more of a challenge with this real estate agent. By mid-October and the end of this first contract we decided to re-evaluate our options and try something different.

I contacted a college friend who I've become re-acquainted with over the last year or so that we lived in Indy that happens to be a realtor specializing in the North side of Indy, and also knows our neighborhood well. She has a great track record with selling homes, and most of all we were so impressed with how easy she was to get in touch with and communicate with while we were discussing our options for our home. We discussed rental options and how, unfortunately, we were heading into the slowest point in the year for real estate sales in Indianapolis. 

Against conventional wisdom, we decided to re-list with our friend, Christy, as our realtor and give the house a few more months on the market before we considered crossing over to the world of being long-distance landlords. We really didn't want to lease the home, and knew that if anyone could help us sell our home before spring, Christy could do it!

We listed the house October 17 and within three weeks we had 6 showings, 2 second showings and on November 5 we received our first offer! Over the next few days we negotiated with the buyer and both parties agreed upon a contract on November 7.

Now, here's where the story gets exciting.

If you'll recall, when we bought our truck in Moab, UT, we were called back to Colorado for Jason to work an extra week or two to complete the job in Snowmass. Because we needed to register our new truck in Indiana within 30 days, we decided to head east toward Indiana before the next snowfall. Well, the next snowstorm was forecasted to make its way into the Rockies around November 9/10, so we started traveling east toward Indiana on November 7. Therefore, when we got the call that the house was under contract, we were already in Denver, CO for the night, planning to be in Indiana within a few days.

Ordinarily, it wouldn't be that big of a deal if we were back in Indy before the house closed, since we had already completed our final cleaning back in June when we hit the road and it was in turn-key condition for new owners. However, one awesome surprise that we never expected was thrown our way. The buyer had waived their option to have the home professionally inspected, but instead requested only that our vegetable garden be removed. Well, since we were already planning to swing through town and the weather promised to be amazing for the few days that we were there, we gladly agreed to a few hours of manual labor to pull up the weeds, rake up the thatch and offered the garden fencing to a neighbor who will put it to good use.

An added bonus on our end to skipping over the home inspection step before closing was that we had very, very little to do on our end prior to the week of closing and once we had a contract, we had a contract without any contingencies! Seriously, how much easier could this home-selling process possibly be?!

Because we were continuing on toward the east coast, Jason and I were able to complete our end of the closing process remotely. Although a little complicated with having to rent a van for a few days and find a notary public to witness our signatures on the documents, it was really simple, easy and painless on our part.

Finally, 8 weeks after re-listing with a new realtor, 30 days after receiving the offer and just 4 weeks after going under contract, our house-on-dirt was sold and closed!

It was a great little house for our family and provided a home for us when all that we wanted was a spot of dirt to call our own. It was, in its time, our own little piece of heaven, and I hope that it is a dream come true for its new owner as well.

Now, for the icing on the cake, and yet another example of God's hand in the story of our lives...

When we purchased our new truck in Utah, the only hesitation that we faced was taking on a vehicle payment, which had never been part of our family's budget, when we were still paying a mortgage and other expenses related to owning a house-on-dirt. We knew that we could swing the extra expense, but that it would definitely put a limit on our family's freedom while we had both a mortgage and a truck payment to make.

Well, last week, before we knew when our house would close, we scheduled the first payment on the truck to draft from our account on Wednesday December 5. Our house closed on Wednesday December 5, so not only did we not have to make a final December mortgage payment on our home, the funds from the sale of the house were disbursed prior to the truck payment being drafted from our account. 

We did not make the first payment on our truck until after the house was off of our family's books.

When I checked our bank accounts and saw this, I had to sit down. Every small detail was ordained and "just so". God continues to make His presence known in our story, and we continue to acknowledge and express both our awe and thankfulness for these little confirmations that we're right where we are supposed to be.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Harpers Ferry, Antietam Battlefield and history come to life

This week we've taken the opportunity to explore the area of West Virginia and Maryland where we've found ourselves for two weeks. The area is rich with American history, namely American Civil War history. I am an unashamed history lover. For as long as I can recall, I have adored history, simply because history tells the story of people. People from recent years and people from long ago. I love to hear people's stories, and history is a perfect outlet to get my fill of stories. I've yet to run out of new stories to hear, or old stories told anew, and there is always more history to uncover.

On Monday, my cousin Tiona and her family came down from the Hagerstown, MD area to join us for a walk through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Besides myself, Tiona, her husband Carvey and nephew Trent, we also had our collective 9 children ranging in age from age 7 to 3 weeks with us on our outing. We totally looked like a preschool field trip, only without the rope for the kids to hold onto! As chaotic as it sounds, we all had a great time and really enjoyed getting the cousins all together for the evening.

Mid-week, I loaded up our four kids into the van that I rented for a few days and we ventured north about 20 minutes to Antietam National Battlefield. I allowed only 3 hours for our visit, expecting that to be more than enough time for the kids to have their fill of Civil War battlefield excitement. I underestimated these kids who not only sat through the 27-minute preview film depicting the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, they were on the edge of their seats and pulled me along through every exhibit in the Visitor Center museum. They talked to a park ranger and we found out about the Junior Ranger Program that the National Park System has, where kids fill out workbooks and answer questions about the national park that they are visiting, and once completed they return it to be checked by a ranger and the kids can earn a Junior Ranger certificate, badge, and special surprise. In this case, after visiting each of the stops on the driving tour of the Antietam Battlefield, the kids were gifted a set of Civil War trading cards with photos and facts about key aspects of the Battle of Antietam. Let's just say that we've had a lot of play surrounding battles around our home the past few days!

The next day the kids and I traveled to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Center in Harpers Ferry, WV to learn about the Appalachian Trail and what it is like for hikers who undertake the journey along the trail. This is at almost the mid-point of the 2,179 mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. We even looked up and found a photo of some college friends of mine and Jason's who hiked the A.T. from end to end a few years back. The kids loved seeing that we knew a couple of famous people whose photographs were in a museum! We then proceeded to walk 1/4 of the stretch of the Appalachian Trail that runs through West Virginia. It was pretty cool, but no need to be too impressed. The full length of the A.T. that runs through West Virginia is about 4 miles.

Finally, today Jason and I returned to Harpers Ferry to explore the town more thoroughly. The National Parks Service was also hosting a Yuletide Celebration within the park this weekend, so we had the opportunity to share in some of the mid-19th century holiday traditions such as strolling carolers and seeing the town decorated for Christmas with natural, historically accurate decorations. In the blacksmith shop, one of the blacksmiths struck a pair of iron leaves for our kids, which we are planning to add to our home decor to remember this stop on our journey. Stay tuned for photos as they find their place in our home.

One of my favorite spots in this entire area is in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, along the Appalachian Trail, where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac. Granted, this unique place, geographically, lended itself to being the site of the Federal Armory that was the target of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, which was a spark that helped ignite the American Civil War. (I warned you that I'm a history nerd!) However, it's a beautiful convergence of these two rivers that continues east as the Potomac River toward Washington, D.C.

"The Point"
Where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge along the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Tomorrow, we'll be following the Potomac River into our nation's capital. With Washington, D.C. being just over an hour away, we simply could not leave the region without a taste of this city that I love. We cannot wait to share in the beauty, the history and the wonder of Washington together as a family.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An Update on the Single (Vehicle) Life

This week, for the first time in 7 months, we rented a van to have a second vehicle. We had some business to attend to that required both Jason and I to have transportation during the day and public transportation was not going to be a viable option in this situation. So, I rented a van for a few days to complete our business and extended the rental by a couple of days to take advantage of visiting several National Parks and Historical Sites with the kids while Jason completes the final days of his current job assignment.

While I enjoyed re-learning how to drive (I haven't driven since we sold our van at the end of June), it soon became apparent that we are nowhere near the point of needing or wanting a second vehicle on any kind of regular basis. There are so many benefits that we have received from making this one choice to live simpler and more intentionally. For our family, this means choosing to own just one vehicle.

Financially, this has been a huge savings! The total cost of secondary transportation for our family from May-November has been $434.72 (I think...unless I missed a $1-2 bus fare somewhere). This includes a 4-day van rental, a tank of gasoline (to drive 300+ miles this week) and 3.5 months of bus fare for the 4 kids and me. The insurance cost alone for a secondary vehicle would have been nearly this number. Add in the cost of 1-2 oil changes and fuel for at least 5,000 miles and the cost for simply maintaining a second vehicle for our family would be $1,500+ before even factoring in additional routine maintenance and repairs or the unseen cost of vehicle depreciation. Additionally, with limited transportation availability there are fewer "I'm bored" trips to Target, home improvement stores, or the mall which can nickel and dime a family budget quickly. Not to mention, where would we put the crap that we don't need from these stores? Our single-vehicle lives have successfully put an end to any of those trips that we had been in the habit of making.

We've seen massive changes in communication within our family. We discuss daily where we need or want to go and arrange our schedules accordingly. Jason knows that I will most likely be home when he returns from work in the evening and can consistently have dinner planned for our family because there are fewer I-got-distracted-and-didn't-get-home-in-time-to-plan-dinner days. Also, we have all but eliminated the occurrence of him working late and wondering when he will be home, unsure of how to plan our evening. Jason has become excellent at communicating his work schedule--as random as his hours may be at times--so that we can coordinate all of our evening plans around when he will be home.

Finally, we have learned to slow down and savor life. The kids and I walk to a lot of places. We find the hidden gems around where we are staying or near the places to which we take public transportation. We spend a lot of time with the people immediately around us at the campgrounds where we stay, because we're rarely in a rush to get somewhere. While waiting at bus stops and riding public transportation, we have had the opportunity to engage in rich conversations with strangers and one another that we would otherwise miss out on by riding in our private vehicles. We truly *see* the beauty around us and realize that there is a lot to miss in life when you move through it at a rapid pace, and we're never at a loss for finding opportunities for exercise.

While the single-vehicle life will not work for every family, I'm grateful that we critically evaluated our family's needs and made this choice. For now, it's a good move for our family. Will it remain that way forever? Most likely not, but as long as the benefits continue to outweigh the costs, having one vehicle is part of the life that we choose.

(For more information on how we chose to become a single-vehicle family, click on the link here.)