Welcome to the very first Reader Profile on The Art of Doing Stuff. After 3 years of getting emails, comments and Facebook posts from readers I decided it might be a good idea to start introducing you to one another. You’re an interesting bunch. I actually think the suggestion to do this came from An Art of Doing Stuff reader, who I can’t remember at the moment. If it was you … thank you. Good idea.
Where do you live?
I live about ten miles outside of Hebo, Oregon, USA – in the wet and wonderful coastal foothills.
What do you do?
I work in a lumber mill in the maintenance department. I started out with an entry level clean up position over twelve years ago just because I wanted to see what the inside of a lumber mill looked like.
In my spare time I also run a locovore catering company, where I specialize in making delicious food for parties and weddings from the amazing diversity of food that can be sourced in our area. Most of my events use 80% ingredients that are organic and grown within a 100 mile radius. In fact, most of them are usually within a fifteen mile radius, and I did an amazing Farm to Fork dinner with my local CSA where we sourced 100% of the ingredients from under 100 miles – I even made the salt!
And then in my spare spare time we homeschool our kids!
Describe your home.
I am going to use the term “home” loosely, since most people define that as just their house, which usually has a bunch of connected rooms.
Not us! We live in a tree house, school bus, and two “shacks” (which are really quite nice!) for now.
(K.J. and her family own a piece of property they’re hoping to build an actual house on)
We bought our five acres about two years ago, and we definitely spread our living space out across the whole damn thing!
The first thing we built was a tree house, which is quite small (about 8’x6’) but it is two stories, so there’s room to sleep upstairs. It’s a debatable point that there is enough room for two adults, two children, and two cats to sleep upstairs, but we managed it for a little while! The tree house has a wood stove in it (from a yacht! It’s so cute!) and stairs that lead up to it, so it’s pretty accessible. We also still had a little cabin on a commune about fifteen miles away, so we didn’t live in a tree full time.
After about a year, Andrew cut in a driveway up to our house site, and we drove our school bus up and built the kitchen shack. Our sons live in the tree house and what we call “Kees’ Shack”, which is a cabin that gives them a little more room to spread out in than the tree house allows! Then we built the kitchen shack, which is really nice – the whole thing has a clear plastic PVC roof, which doesn’t really keep the heat in, but since it’s only 14’ x 14’ the wood stove we have in it keeps it hot enough that even on COLD days we’d have to open the dutch door or a window!
And the plus is that it has amazing natural light; I really love it at night from outside, because the lights shine up on the trees above and it looks like an awesome spaceship. Or just a house with a cool roof maybe?
The school bus is the school room (clever! I know!), and then the back 15’ of it is our bedroom for now. It’s very cozy and warm, and since there’s windows ALL the way round, it has a lot of natural light as well. Can you tell natural light is important to me? In the past month we realized that our “living spaces” were being crowed to the non-functioning point since we have to keep all the tools dry and safe, so we started building a tool shed as well, which will double as the guest bedroom. My decorating taste has always leaned towards Stihl chainsaws and drill bits, so it fits nicely. Anyway, since we’re definitely not rich and we didn’t want to get loans for anything, we have a fifty year plan to get everything we want done on the property – I’m kidding of course; it will probably take more time than that! But the school bus was the start, and we moved full time onto our property about a year ago. So that’s the house? Kind of? I guess?
Why do you live in a bus and how did that happen? (Like did you graduate from a Volkswagon to a bus? Or did you downsize from a airplane?)
Our friend Tristan gave us the bus after he drastically miscalculated how low an amount the seller would take for it on Ebay and accidentally won it – it was bright yellow and still full of seats when he brought it over to park in the field of the house we were living in six years ago. It sat in the field for a while, but we figured the only way we would be able to afford to send both our kids to the amazing private school they attended for their first couple years of schooling was not to pay rent, so we gutted it out and put in a bed and bookshelves, (which is all you really need in life to live) and headed up fourteen miles of gravel logging roads into the hills to live on BLM land (which is publicly owned). Any American can camp for 14 days in one spot and then they have to move one mile and they can camp another 14 days, and so on.
It’s kind of a family tradition anyway, since my parents were migrant farm workers in the seventies, and traveled the Pacific Northwest in a series of school buses that they lived in. My older sister was born in an apple orchard in northern Washington, but they decided to settle down once I was due and moved into a house a couple of months before I was born under the St. John’s Bridge. Once we moved out to the middle of nowhere and my brothers were born, we downsized to traveling in Volkswagen busses.
Yes, my parents were hippies.
ANYWAY, to make a long story short which is now impossible; I grew up living close to the land and producing the majority of the food that we ate, and it’s very important to my husband and I that we keep on doing that. We are poor and custom homes and land are expensive, but we finally managed to find a piece of property that met our list of requirements (room for livestock, a huge garden, southern exposure, gravity fed spring water, a creek, and secluded) and everything worked out for us to finally buy! We’re just going to build our own dream house because that’s the only way we could ever make it work anyway. And to live on the cheap we have assembled this motley crew of buildings and busses to tide us over as we slowly assemble THE MOST AMAZING HOUSE IN THE WORLD. Or group of houses. Whatever works out in the end.
What are the hardest parts about living where you live?
I wouldn’t say there are necessarily hard parts, but there are definitely some days when you’re really tired and wish that it wasn’t such a long walk to the outhouse in the rain, or when you’re sick and you don’t want to wait an hour after the fire is lit to be warm, or you need drinking water and the bottle is empty and you need to haul water up the hill. But in reality everyone has days like that, they’re just tailored to whatever lifestyle you happen to be living – ours are just a little bit more third world problems than first world problems!
What are the greatest parts about living where you live?
Right now all the wild violets are blooming, and every walk to the outhouse is lined with trilliums and violets and ferns set in emerald moss – it looks like the fanciest hipster magazine centerfold you’ve ever seen. I love the amount of food that is available around us, from the gardens to the wild plants and mushrooms (we harvested almost a hundred pounds of chanterelles!) and elk and deer, and most of all I love the amazing mixed community of people that live near us, from artist and loggers, rednecks and hippies, survivalists and techies, and a rainbow of religious beliefs from Wiccan to Baptist. It’s a pretty accepting place, and you’re always welcome to drop in for a visit or dinner at pretty much any house in the area.
Aside from living in a bus / tree how is your life different from most other people?
Well, I think everyone’s life is somewhat unique. We’re all our own brand of crazy, and it’s just a matter of what your priorities are. Beauty and function is important to me for the things that surround me, so we’ve made it a priority! And because the pairing of beauty and function often times is pretty expensive, we tend to have to make most of our stuff ourselves. Which is what drew me to your website originally, a couple of years ago! And although I love technology and the virtual community that it forms, I’m really more a “lurker” in the online places I visit, and of course since we live in an off grid home WAY out of cell phone range, we don’t use it at home at all. In fact, we don’t own a phone of any kind. If people need to get a hold of use they have to drive up here! Or wait till I’m back at work on a weekday.
And how are you the same as everyone else?
Um…….piles of laundry, weeknight dinners, dishes, schoolwork, you know, stuff like that. The more we’re different the more we’re that same!
Why did you decide to homeschool your kids? It seems to be a trend now. A lot of people are home schooling but I have friends that have mild breakdowns just anticipating summer vacation. Or even March break. They only thing that keeps them sane and the house clean for more than an hour is those little kids tromping off to school.
I was homeschooled by my parents, so I wasn’t very intimidated at the thought of homeschooling our children. Even though I have a full time job, my husband has been a stay at home father since our first son was born (although one could definitely argue that being a full time parent is a full time job!) plus he fills his spare time by BUILDING OUR HOUSE. We started the boys in a small private hippie school on the coast when they were in kindergarten all the way through fifth grade (third for the younger one), and it was a great experience for them. However, it was really expensive, and when we moved to our property it was a little too far to travel. Plus, it just felt right to start homeschooling.
I don’t care if my sons are super genius; I want them to be confident in their ability to solve whatever problems or questioned they come across in life with passion and creativity and the knowledge that they can figure out a solution not because they HAVE to, but because it is FUN.