We lived and traveled in a bus…

My new book on traveling in the bus is nearing completion, but I wanted to see what you all thought first. Here’s some of the first chapter. Let me know what you think! But only if it’s nice…

Life on the Bus: From Alaska to Hawaii and Everywhere in Between

I woke up chilled, but not because I was very cold but more because I could feel a push of cold on top of my head. For a moment, I thought I was still in our cozy Alaska cabin, so I couldn’t think why I would feel that. And then I popped my head up and, faced with a frosty window, I remembered: we are in the school bus and we are in the Yukon Territory. Hence the frosty window.

I scraped away some of the frost with my fingernail and peered out onto the snowy ground before me. It was the first week of October. We were exactly one week into our journey and it was already snowy and cold. We had hoped to get the bus out of the North before snow, but we had been fighting snowstorms all the way from Anchorage since Kiara’s birthday on October 3rd.

We had to stop at Eureka Pass our first day out because the snow was so thick we were worried the bus couldn’t handle the roads. We had winter tires on the bus, but not studded ones.

John lit the fire in the kerosene heater – the only heater we found that could fight the cold through the uninsulated walls of the bus without needing firewood. He opened the bus doors and went outside to make coffee. The quick breeze of the open doors hit me even way in the back in the lofted “master suite.” Anais, our littlest one, just a little over a year old, snuggled under the covers more.

I’m not known for being an “up and at ‘em” morning type. I’m usually slow to get up. I like to drink a cup of coffee or two, read the headlines, look at email and then maybe even type a bit before moving along. Fortunately, in the bus, all of this can be accomplished by just sitting up. Except for a bathroom run. Hopping off the bed, I picked my way around the three children sleeping in the fold out futon, jumped over the sleeping teenager on the air mattress in the front of the bus and found a shoe or two so I could go outside to pee.

We have an “inside” bathroom – essentially a camper potty that we empty once a day – but I like to leave that for the littles, emergencies and middle of the night usage. Having that inside potty is extremely useful when traveling on long stretches of road where dashing into the woods could mean an encounter with a bear! Although it’s a little embarrassing when nature calls too quickly in the middle of the night and you risk waking everyone up with the sounds of too many tacos the night before.

We’ve been on the road for about a week now – three if you count the two weeks we “practiced” living together in a bus in a county campground in Soldotna. We figured a trial run was necessary but we didn’t want to do it near our cabin – it would be too easy to go back and get things or just go home if things got rough.

The decision to leave the cabin had been a tough one for me. I loved Alaska. No, I mean LOVED. Well, LOVE. We had moved to a cabin in the woods so I could try and run the Iditarod. Unfortunately, having eight kids – six still at home – and training and running an Iditarod team became a financial burden almost impossible to overcome.

John and I almost lost our marriage over the finances of it all – the stress on him to provide for all of us had become too much and between homeschooling kids and training dogs, I didn’t have a lot of time left to help earn a living. There were times when our tiny cabin was filled with anxiety and his growing resentment of me and the dogs – and times when I just stayed outside in the dog yard because I didn’t want to go in and deal with it.

While it was my favorite time ever – it was no one else’s. I decided to give up my dream to take on an adventure we could all enjoy. We picked the bus. But leaving our homestead and sending the doggers to live with other families nearly killed me. I cried so hard when we left, but I knew it was the best thing for everyone else. Probably for me too. I’m still waiting to feel like that’s true.

Our first night in the bus was spent in the parking lot at the Walmart in Kenai. Kenai was about a two hour trip for us from our cabin in the Caribou Hills, so driving out there and back to the cabin wasn’t really practical. We decided to outfit the bus on the fly and we started there. We didn’t know we were allowed to stay there overnight, but someone said “go for it” and so we did. We had spent so much time there that day outfitting the bus with camping equipment, the futon, and the bed in the back, that it was awesome to not have to leave. We all settled in for the night – enjoying free Walmart WiFi even – when an alarming truth beheld us. We had not purchased curtains for the windows.

I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it. Perhaps living in a remote cabin for over a year and having only to worry about moose and bear seeing in the windows had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, the Walmart lights came on, the sky went dark, and we realized we had a problem. The trouble was – how were we going to outfit a school bus with curtains fast? It’s not like you can screw in those little curtain rods like you can in a regular window. If you’ve been in a school bus, you know that the tops are metal – in fact – it’s all metal.

That led me to my brilliant idea. Buy those magnetic cup hooks and cut small button-style holes in the tops of sheets. We went inside Walmart (on a sidenote, it’s handy to have a Walmart in your backyard on the first day of an expedition) and found the magnets and then some sheets. We figured we could cut the sheets in half lengthwise (since bus windows are short) and purchase about half as many. Unfortunately, Walmart didn’t have a lot of the magnet hook things, so we really had to stretch them across the bus. It worked though and with a little diligence and lot of adjusting, we got all of the windows covered.

Well, at least for a little while. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night out of a dead sleep with the blare of a Walmart parking lot light in your face because one person rolled over and didn’t just take out one curtain, but the whole row of curtains on that side of the bus. By the time we got to British Columbia weeks and weeks later, falling curtains was pretty normal and lent to a ginormous, collective “UGH…” through the bus in the middle of the night.

We didn’t know about Walmarts allowing campers when we first got there, but I’m so glad we learned. Without Walmarts, though, we would not have had a place to stay many, many times throughout our journey. But on that first night, we didn’t quite know what to expect. As we were quickly learning, most of the RV parks and campgrounds in the Kenai-Soldotna area closed down after Labor Day. We ended up staying in the Walmart parking lot for three days. This was not nearly as bad as it sounds, especially since we were learning a lot of the nuance of living in a school bus. The Kenai Walmart also has a lot of grassy space around it and a little pond, so the kids played soccer and ran around a bit while we built in various features to the bus and figured out where we wanted everything and how it all should work.

If you can, picture a regular, old-time school bus in your head. You walk through the funky folding front doors (which I wanted to keep) and you are greeted with the driver’s seat and that pole that goes over the driver’s head. You turn left and follow that rubbery mat like walkway (which I also kept for a while), and head down through the seats to the back emergency door. Now, if you take all of the seats out (which we did), you have one big empty bus.

John bought some 2 x 4’s and plywood and fashioned a lofted master bed in the back. We didn’t have it up against the back door, however, because we want what we came to call our “garage space.” We basically leave about three feet between the back of the bed and the back door – which still sounds the alarm if you go through it while the bus is on. The garage space is where we keep essentials for bus maintenance. It’s like the utility room of the bus. We keep the generator there, John’s toolbox, spare bus parts, tire inner tubes, gas cans, water jugs and a spare bus tire. Of course, eventually other things would find their way back there – like spare puzzle pieces, paper (always with the paper with my kids), and those pesky curtain magnet hooks which no one thinks to look for until it’s getting dark and we need to put the curtains up.

I decide that the best way to keep all of our stuff together is to assign everyone a bin. Before we left the cabin, we donated or sold everything we no longer needed – including extra winter gear, dog stuff, kitchen gadgets and more. We were down to one bin for everyone and a few extra toy and homeschool bins. It was mid-September and already getting very chilly at night – even down on the Kenai – and so we made sure to keep our winter gear available.

I asked John to make some shelves over the wheel wells of the bus (the place where the tires pop up into the floor and are covered with bus flooring). That way, I can stack the bins on a flat surface and they will travel easier. He did and it works amazingly well. Everyone has their day-to-day clothes in a big, clear bin. And if you have anything very special that you like to keep — like Jack and his 32 different SLAM magazines and the hunting knife he made out of a moose antler and an old saw blade – then you better seal it up in your bin.

We realized that we would probably need a heater of some sort since we didn’t want to run the engine in the bus all night. I took the recommendation of a friend and purchased a propane “Mr. Buddy” heater. She claimed that it heated her small hunting cabin without a problem. WRONG. It was only September and the first morning in the bus found our children huddled like poor orphans around the heater, desperately trying to get warm before the sun came up and heated up the inside of the bus. This was one of many trials and errors.

We decided to return Mr. Buddy and instead purchased a large kerosene heater like the one my dad used to have in the barn when I was a kid. I was concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning, and so we always kept the window directly behind it cracked a bit. You can heat up a 200 square foot bus really fast with a big kerosene heater…but little did I know that ahead of us were days when we’d have it running all of the time and ice would still form on the windows and under the beds.

So that’s the back of the bus. In the middle, we placed a futon bed for the three middle kids. Jack, 9, Kiara, 6, and Seamus, 5, would all sleep together in a large futon that we could fold back into a couch in the middle of the day. Under that we kept board games and other books in bins. But the clearance wasn’t great, so not a lot could fit under the futon – especially since you have to fold it back out at night. It is a really great space for collecting one sock from each pair, random shoes and grunge in general, though.

Our kitchen is kind of an inside/outside affair. Because we have so many of us sleeping in what is really a glorified metal tent, we decided not to install a kitchen the way many tiny home school bussers do. Instead, we have a series of milk crates that we placed behind the driver seat of the bus. While we are “in camp,” the milk crates serve as kitchen cabinets. We put cereal, fruit, oatmeal, cans of whatever inside. On top we have a piece of shelving that we use as a “counter.” It is there that I can prepare small meals for the kids – sandwiches and the like, and we can keep our coffee fixings and other items.

Coffee – and all of the other meals – are made on a small two-burner Coleman camp stove that we keep in the back of the Yukon (my truck). We have a camp style percolator that we heat up and then move to the kerosene heater in the bus to keep warm. We can drink coffee while kids wake up and have breakfast. Depending on the weather, John either sits outside in a lawn chair or inside near the heater to do his job as a computer programmer. We have a cellular MiFi device for when we are “off grid” and we try to use free WiFi services when we are in town. Of course, we make sure we are customers of any place that offers free WiFi.

Here in the Yukon Territory, on this particularly cold morning, it appears John will not be using a lot of WiFi. But we knew that he probably wouldn’t be working during these couple of travel days as we move down to Whitehorse. We plan to stay in Whitehorse for a couple of weeks and allow John to catch up on his work while the kids and I explore the town and take a break from traveling. We love to travel, but we don’t always love to keep driving.

So, instead of just driving all of the time, we have worked out a schedule that allows us to travel to a new town over the weekend – driving maybe 300-500 miles at a time, and then stopping for a week or maybe two, depending on how much we like where we are.

As we entered the Yukon Territory, we had to cross the border between Alaska and Canada. We made a silly error that we didn’t think was a big deal, but when you’re at a border crossing, becomes – well, a moderately big deal.

 

Can’t wait to read more? Let me know on Facebook!

Or email me at misha dot hogan at gmail dot com

 

How to Make Money Right Now

Have you ever been in the place where you need to make $20 for gas or $100 for food, right now? How about the rent? Is it looming and you don’t have a dime to spare because your car broke down and you couldn’t get to work, so you had to pay for a tow truck and you missed a day’s worth of pay? Yup. Been there too.

I have hovered above and below the poverty line many times in my life. And I’m still here. Clearly, you are too. But I know a lot of times it’s hard to come up with that extra few bucks.

Or maybe you just don’t want to go into that cubicle anymore. Or you’re tired of standing up behind the register – or at the assembly line — or wherever you are making your daily dollar. Are you sick of being away from your kids all day? Are you tired of getting up early, every morning, and shuffling everyone out the door, only to rush home and shuffle out the door again to sports practices, take out food, and no free time ever?

Are you tired of waiting for the weekend and then having the weekend fly by without having a chance to do the things you wanted to do?

Yeah. I know. We were there too.

Everywhere you look, too, people are telling you how to make money from home by doing online surveys, investing in penny stocks, making crafts, or whatever else. And lot of it is crap. Really. I know because I’ve tried it all. As the mother of 8 children, I know that I can’t make a million dollars by knitting bookmarks. Not going to happen.

So…how can you make money, stay home with your kids, and actually pay for all of the things you have to pay for?

Let me help. Why should you pay attention to me? Because I’ve made more financial mistakes than anyone else on the planet. Because I’ve had a credit report that looks like Charles Manson’s rap sheet. Because I have been as poor as poor can be. Because I have used the last $5 in my wallet to purchase flour to make bread to sell at a farmers’ market to feed my kids. And you know what? I make really good bread and did a dang good job.

Why should you pay attention to me, of all people? Because my life isn’t like that anymore. I have made $10,000 in one month on Amazon.com selling stuff that was easily obtained. I have lived in Hawaii, Alaska, and roadtripped around the country for the last five years and have had only taken on “regular” jobs when I thought they were interesting or that the experience would, in some way, benefit me or my family. In most cases, I did learn a lot from these positions, even if I didn’t wish to keep them for very long.

I am a really terrible employee. Not because I’m bad at working, but because I don’t like working for someone else. I am a very hard worker. But I’d rather be home, unschooling my kids, going on field trips with them and enjoying my life with my husband. I don’t want to work for you, or Elon Musk, or anyone else. I want to spend my time with them.

I am also, apparently, not like other people. I do not wish to work for 30 years in the same place and wait for retirement. I want to live my life now! And so I’ve devised ways to do just that.

Guess what? You can do this too. I am not a huckster or a salesperson trying to get you to buy my report telling you how to string beads or “find your passion.” I am, truthfully, just a regular mom of eight kids, who would like to spend her time with them, but also buy food, and electricity, and all that other fun stuff.

I have spent most of my adult life gaining the skills needed to accomplish this.

This book, Make Money Right Now, is on Amazon, is only 99 cents and can show you how to make money fast with very little investment.

If you’d like the free report on how to make money, live at home (not work from home), and enjoy your life more, then fill out this form. I really can help. I know it sounds a little crazy, but if I can do it, so can you!

Why Your Kids Need to Quit School

Because who wants to go to school? No one. Really. Well, me…but I’m weird that way.

A long time ago, I read a book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. Some of my response is still here: http://audsandens.blogspot.com/2011/02/all-above-average.html

I’ve always loved the idea of school. I wanted to go to a school like Anne of Green Gables did. I wanted my teacher to be Miss Stacey. And I did have a few Miss Stacey’s in my life – just not enough of them. When I first started homeschooling my kids, I wanted their homeschool to be like what I thought school should be like.

I stood at the head of the dining room table. We said pledge. We pulled out our books. I taught lessons. It felt like playing school. And it felt kind of dumb and posed. After a while, we all started to dread “doing” school as much as well used to dread going there. If you’re home, why pretend you’re in a school? What’s the fun of being home then?

So I read a little. I met Sandra Dodd and other great unschool advocates (online – not in person). I started to ask the kids what they wanted to learn. We went to the library and found books on those things. Then we went to the store and bought supplies to make those things.

I didn’t help much. I’m a great guide. I would make a great guidance counselor. I excel at helping people find and use resources. As the mother of unschoolers, this is my greatest strength. Well, that and I like to do crazy things like drive around the country in a school bus, run dogsleds, and take flying lessons.

In this article, a teacher asked students if they thought their school was like a prison.

ONE YOUNG MAN STARTED THE DISCUSSION WITH SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF, “WHY IS SCHOOL LIKE PRISON? WE DON’T HAVE ANY FREEDOM HERE. THE TEACHERS JUST ORDER US AROUND, AND TELL US WHAT TO DO, AND IF WE DO ANYTHING THEY DON’T LIKE, WE GET PUNISHED FOR IT.”

Alfie Kohn said: “One is repeatedly struck by the absurd spectacle of adults insisting that children need to become self-disciplined or lamenting that ‘kids just don’t take responsibility for their own behavior’—while spending their days ordering children around. The truth is that, if we want children to take responsibility for their own behavior, we must first give them responsibility, and plenty of it. The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”

We unschool not because I don’t think children should be educated. I unschool because I don’t think education is something you can force on a person. How much of your high school history do you remember? I loved history and reading and literature, but I only remember well the things I learned by snagging interesting looking books off the bookshelf at school and then hiding them under my desk to read while the actual class was going on.

 

I remember distinctly, though, the feeling of being locked up for days at a time. I know my kids will be bored sometimes. And they should be – we all get bored and have to sort ourselves out. But I don’t want them to be forced to be bored with no way to unbored themselves. I LOVE that my kids search YouTube for projects to do – or come up with all sorts of things completely on their own. Like forts and puzzles and games. I frequently come home from work and see that they’ve made up their own board game or have invented a new device for something or another.

Sometimes, they just spend all day hanging out and reading books from the library. We recently saw dolphins on a trip and Kiara is now marine animal obsessed – learning biology and animal behavior while Seamus loves to build with Legos and create everything from tablet holders to robots or whatever.

And yes – we do math. I also email the kids writing prompts and come home to wonderful stories and drawings. Their dad takes them on field trips and to homeschool group and let’s them bake or earn money by working in the yard.

I want them to learn responsibility by being responsible for things, not being told what responsibility is and then getting ordered to be responsible. I want them to take charge of their learning not inform them of what they should learn. But I also help. My kids aren’t just left to their own devices, floundering around, directionless. We suggest. We share. We buy books and show them things. We buy telescopes and robotics kits and snap circuits and art supplies and say “Here. Try this.” Or don’t.

We drive around. We go to new places. We ask a lot of questions. We watch TV. We watch movies. Then we ask more questions.

We hang out together.

We learn to resolve conflict by hanging out together.

We play games.

We sit.

We gripe.

We fight.

We argue.

We laugh.

We eat – a lot.

And we are almost always together. And when we’re not, we can’t wait to hear about the adventures of those who were away.

We unschool because we want to live our lives not constantly be looking forward to them.

Hawaii Con Fun

We spent some time on the Kohala Coast last weekend playing at Hawaii Con! What a fun event. If you are geeky like us and into Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica or anime or anything similar – check it out. We really had a fun time and were sad we could only spend one day there. We hope to volunteer next year – or come for the whole thing. Also, the Mauna Lani resort is AMAZING. Definitely worth the trip!

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

 

The Trouble with Tribbles

The Trouble with Tribbles

 

Seamus enjoying a Hawaii Five-O hot dog - Portuguese sausage, wrapped in bacon, covered in pineapple salsa and cole slaw. Mega-yum!

Seamus enjoying a Hawaii Five-O hot dog – Portuguese sausage, wrapped in bacon, covered in pineapple salsa and cole slaw. Mega-yum!

 

Commander Riker at HawaiiCon 2016. Such a funny man!

Commander Riker at HawaiiCon 2016. Such a funny man!

 

Cylons attacked Seamus!

Cylons attacked Seamus!

 

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

Beautiful Mauna Lani Hotel beach.

 

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