The day an oncoming driver illegally turned left across our traffic lane, was the day we almost lost everything. Being involved in any kind of car crash is traumatizing and stressful. We were lucky no one was hurt in the collision, however, we were incredibly unlucky with the timing of the incident. We had just spent a lot of money and time working on our recently purchased Wander Wagon. She had good bones, but needed a lot of work and our goal was to completely remodel the inside. Project demolition was currently very much in progress, and the inside was basically gutted leaving an empty shell for us to build from scratch.

 

The insurance company agreed the other driver was completely at fault for the collision. The issue was with the current state of our van. It was gutted remember? The insurance company valued the van at it’s scrap metal worth of about $100 – even though she was still running and the mechanic had determined all damage done was purely cosmetic. Naturally, we were furious.

 

There was no way we were going to give up our dream and all the work we had put into it, especially when we were not even at fault for the collision. So began a long battle between us and the insurance company (the other driver had the same insurance company, so only one representative from the company was involved on the case – not sure how that’s ethical). For two weeks we searched the internet for a van like ours to prove her value, and we tried to explain we were in the process of remodeling the interior. But, we couldn’t find a van like ours anywhere, and we were informed it did not matter what our plans were for the van, the value is established by the van’s current state.

 

Corbin, my husband, was constantly on the phone arguing our case and refusing to accept their offer. If we accepted their offer, either way we lost. We either kept the van, now with a salvaged title and paid the mechanic out of our own pocket to fix the damage, or we accepted the $100 our insurance would have gotten for our van’s scrap metal, and lost everything. No way.

 

The battle was coming to an end, and it appeared we had lost. But, Corbin used his words a bit aggressively, and eventually refused to talk with anyone else except for a supervisor. His request was granted, and what happened next felt like witnessing a miracle. Corbin explained the situation as he had numerous times before. He shared our story and our plans and how much we had worked on this van, and he also explained we had documented everything on video. That last part is important.

 

As soon as Corbin mentioned our YouTube channel, the supervisor told him to hang on and he would call him back. Within a couple minutes, the supervisor called him back with the offer we were hoping for. Because, we had documented our entire experience searching for and working on our Wander Wagon, our van was more than just a vehicle, it was a brand. Branding our van made it significant to our lifestyle and online business of sharing our story. Realizing this, the insurance company agreed to cover the cost of the van’s repairs and the title to our van would remain intact. We would soon be able to put this whole experience behind us and we would have our Wander Wagon back!

 

The overall lessons I took away from this experience are ones I’ve continued to learn throughout this vanlife adventure and life in general. I’ve realized even the times when it feels like there is no way out and all is lost, eventually it will all work out and everything happens for a reason. I’ve realized control is an illusion, and life will always put roadblocks in front of you when you least expect it. I’ve realize it’s all part of the journey and you just need to trust in yourself and in life.

 

We made it through this obstacle, and after holding our breath for two weeks we could finally breathe again. With the Wander Wagon home again, safe and sound, we were ready to get back on track. We had lost valuable time, though, and it wasn’t long until we would be packing up our belongings, saying our goodbyes to Portland, OR, and heading to Idaho.

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We had just finished up a long, hard month trying to waterproof our van during the rainiest season of the Pacific Northwest. Time was up, however, as the lease to our sheltered rental space had come to an end. Since we were living in an apartment building, from now on, it would be us working on our van on the sidewalks of our neighborhood- we were prepared for some strange looks and lots of questions.

 

We got right to work, rain or shine, we started gutting the inside of the Wander Wagon. Our plan was to redo the entire interior- top to bottom. It was a slow and painful process, and like usual, we had no idea what we were doing. We couldn’t help but grimace as the Wander Wagon began to look worse and worse as we tore her apart. We kept telling each other that it would all be worth it in the end, that it would look so much better when she was completely finished.

 

During this destruction period, we had to learn some hard lessons. A lot of the work we had done waterproofing our van just wasn’t adequate. She was still leaking everywhere. Almost all of the skylights we had replaced were still leaking, the big seam connecting the cab to the coach was pouring in water, and one of the side windows needed to be resealed as well. The worst part was, we no longer had any cover to keep our van under. Everytime it rained, neither of us could sleep as we knew that meant more water was pouring into our van creating even more water damage. There were many desperate nights where we ran down to check on the van to see just how bad it was, bringing bowls to catch the worst leaks, and using duct tape to try our best to limit the amount of water coming in.

 

Throughout it all, we just had to believe that it would all work out eventually. It was a test in patience and perseverance, redoing the work we had struggled so hard to get done in the first place. But, we tried different tactics, and eventually we really did get the Wander Wagon fully waterproof. Although, we still suffer from insomnia whenever it rains really hard, I think we’re still a bit traumatized.

 

Van destruction continued for a good three months. We ripped out the dinette, the sofa, the carpet, the wall paneling, the headliner, and basically everything besides the bathroom, closet, and kitchen. Everytime we ripped something out we would discover just how bad it really was. From the apparent years of water damage, our van was a container of trapped moisture brewing mold and filth. On our free days, we would work all day removing as much material as we could, ending the day just covered in sweat and dirt. We filled trash bag after trash bag with the rotting, damp materials, and slowly, the van’s interior turned into a basically empty fiberglass shell.

 

It just so happened that during these three months our commuter car broke down. It was an old car, and had served us well for a long time, but now our van was our commuter vehicle. This is not exactly the ideal vehicle to commute around Portland, OR in. Luckily, there is great public transportation that got us both to and from work, but we always ended up needing the van to run errands somewhere.

 

It was a normal afternoon, and we had just finished running our errands and were on our way home. We were driving on a main busy road and about to drive through an intersection, when out of nowhere an oncoming car illegally turned left, completely cutting us off with no time for us to stop. WHAM! We rammed right into her.

 

Everyone involved in the crash was okay, thank goodness. However, the van was a different story. Her front bumper was smashed on the passenger side, to the point that the door would no longer open, there was fluid leaking from under the cab, and she made an awful noise when we tried to drive her. “Well, shit! There goes the van trip!” my husband said. I snapped at him that he was wrong, but I couldn’t help but cry realizing that he could be right. All of that work we had put into this dream, and it may have just literally crashed and burned.

 

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It was the beginning of January 2016, and we had just purchased our van with no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. Project Wander Wagon had begun! The day after we drove her home to Portland, OR from Astoria she wouldn’t start. The panic set in. We just spent about half of our budget on a van that may or may not start again. She was towed to a mechanic, and we wrung our hands as we waited anxiously to hear the list of things that needed to be fixed.

 

“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” the lady asked us when she called with the mechanic’s update. Good news was, our gut was right, the van was in great shape mechanically. The mechanic couldn’t believe the condition the engine was in considering the van’s age. The bad news was, we still needed to fork out about a grand to replace one of the fuel pumps, the rear brake pads, and a couple minor things.

 

A few days later the van was all fixed up and ready to be driven back home. First step of the renovation was done, and we were pumped to get to work on the outside. But, it was probably only a couple days later when the rain began.

 

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we are no strangers to rain, and we usually enjoy the wet weather. However, it soon became clear that this van was by no means waterproof. Leaks were everywhere! So, with the forecast of rain everyday for the next month or two, we had to rent a covered storage area to get back to work and to prevent further water damage. We got lucky and found a place that allowed us to rent out a space for only a month.

 

With only a month to waterproof this van, every hour of our available free time had to be spent working on it. We had no idea what we were doing, so every project required hours of previous research to learn how to deal with the leaks we encountered. We learned about butyl tape, and quickly became best friends with it. We also learned about silicon, because it was EVERYWHERE on the van from a previous owner, and we quickly became worst enemies with it.

We began with the windows. It was terrifying removing that first big side window, there was suddenly a huge hole in our van and who knew if we would be able to put the window back in. But, two hours later, after scraping away the old gunk we finally replaced the window with new butyl tape and we felt pretty dang proud of ourselves. Only eight more windows to go.

 

It was a long month. Most days we were freezing, with the cold wind constantly biting at our faces and fingers. We had a couple emotional breakdowns where we were exhausted, but we had to continue or it would never get done in time. But, we had our good days too. Days when the weather broke and the sun came out. Days when everything actually worked out as planned and we got a lot done. These were the days that kept up motivated as we stumbled our way through everything that needed to be done on the outside.

 

By the end of the month we had resealed both side windows, all seven skylight windows, the seam between the cab and the coach, and all necessary vents. We had removed the old generator box cover (you don’t even want to know what it used to look like), installed a vent fan, and washed away the dirt and mold from the roof. We still had work to do on the outside, but we thought we had done well and we were sure it was pretty close to being waterproof. Unfortunately, this would turn out to be not quite true.

 

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Vanlife. It started as an impossible idea. But, the idea began to spread through my husband and I, as we realized this is the one life we have, so we damn well better make it what we want it to be. Many people are perfectly content with a more traditional lifestyle, and that’s great, but we knew we wanted to live our lives a little differently. We needed, and continue to need, to travel and explore this incredible world we live in. We need to meet new people, experience different cultures, try different foods, heal our souls in the mountains, bathe in glacier lakes, and gaze at the stars to remember how small we really are.

Leaving our apartment in Portland, OR and moving into our van to travel around North America seemed to offer us the solution to fulfill these needs and allow us to live the life we wanted to live. A life where we make the most of each day and are present in every moment. A life where we are wherever our feet are. So, over the next year we slowly worked out a way we could make this idea, this dream, become reality.

We began saving as much as we could, Corbin transitioned out of his career into more flexible work and we began researching what type of van would work best for us. I remember going to look at the first van we were interested in. All three of were there, including our little Maltese, Sir Paris, who is basically our baby. Corbin hopped up into the driver’s seat while I climbed into the passenger seat with Paris on my lap. That first start of the ignition sent a bolt of excitement down my spine, and as we drove around town the biggest smiles were plastered to our faces. I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this going to be our life soon!”

We didn’t end up getting that van, and in fact, the whole process of finding the right van took us months. It was financially and emotionally draining. We would search every day until we found one close to what we were looking for, then sometimes drive over 100 miles to go check it out, pay the fee to have a mechanic look it over, and then drive home bummed when it didn’t work out for us. Every time this happened it dampened our spirits just a little bit more. It felt like maybe we would never find the right van for us at a price we could afford, maybe this lifestyle was still just out of reach.

But, then in January 2016, we found her. Nestled along the Oregon coast, she sat waiting for us to take her home. We went to check her out and it just felt right. We knew the seller had another person interested, so we took a big risk. We bypassed our normal safety check of having a mechanic look her over, and instead we bought her outright and drove her home that day. That was the day we bought our van , our Wander Wagon, and oh boy we had no idea what we had just gotten ourselves into. The adventure had just begun.

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It’s that time of year again. Time for family, friends, and lots and lots of food.

In honor of Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite recipes that have been a tradition in my family’s Thanksgiving meal while growing up, which I plan to make a tradition with Corbin and our future family. Cornbread stuffing and pecan pie. YUM.

 

My Mother’s Pie Crust Recipe

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 cup Crisco (no substitutes)

1 egg

1 tsp lemon juice

¼ cup water

Add salt to flour and mix, cut Crisco into flour until crumbly.  In separate cup mix egg, lemon juice and water.  Add all at once to flour mixture.  Mix as little as possible until all combined.  ½ of crust recipe will make one bottom crust and other ½ can make top or another bottom. Divide dough in half and shape into two balls. On a lightly floured surface, flatten dough one at a time into a flattened round and then roll out until a bit larger than pie pan. Using rolling pin, gently roll edge of dough onto pin, carefully lifting dough into pan. Press dough into pan, fold over hanging edges under and then press edge into desired shape. Refrigerate while making filling.

 

Betty Crocker’s Decadent Pecan Pie Filling Recipe

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 cup corn syrup*
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup pecan halves or broken pecans

Heat oven to 375°F. In a  medium bowl, beat all filling ingredients except pecans with wire whisk or hand beater until well blended. Stir in pecans. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate. Cover edge of pastry with 2- to 3-inch-wide strip of foil to prevent excessive browning. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until center is set, removing foil for last 15 minutes of baking. Refrigerate at least 2 hours until chilled before serving. Store in refrigerator.

*I substituted the corn syrup with 1 1/2 c. sugar dissolved in 1/2 c hot water.

My Mother’s Cornbread Stuffing Recipe

1 c. finely chopped celery ( My mom usually chopped a whole pkg of celery, I opted for none. Celery=not my favorite)

½ c. chopped onion ( l typically use a whole onion)

½ c. butter ( I typically use 1 ½ sticks)

1 tsp sage

½ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

8 cups dry bread crumbs ( you can buy these in the store )

1-2 cans chicken broth

1 pkg jiffy cornbread – made earlier

In pan melt butter and cook celery and onion till tender, not brown. Remove from heat, add sage, salt, pepper and bread crumbs.  At this time also add corn bread that has been crumbled. Add broth as needed to moisten to your liking and more sage as needed to taste.  (I typically use lots more sage than the recipe calls for).  Stuff bird and put leftovers in baking pan.  Bake at 350 ° for 30 minutes.

There you have it! If you decide to try out any of these recipes, please let me know what you think in the comments below. Also, I’m always on the look out for new recipes to try (especially during the holidays) so if you’re willing to share one of your favorites, please do!

Finally, if you’re more of a visual person, I made a video of how to make the recipes above. Check it out!

Happy Thanksgiving

xoxoxo

 

 

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Corbin and I have always lived in fairly small, modest spaces. The first place we ever lived in by ourselves was a tiny converted garage studio in Orange, California.

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Complete with an orange tree

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and a rainbow painted fence

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Since then, we’ve lived in another converted garage, a couple mobile homes, and even a tent (if only for a weekend). I’ve loved each of the places we’ve called home temporarily and the memories each one has painted in our lives: The massive sleepovers when family was in town, playing music on the porch, making our own orange juice, exploring our backyard forest, bike rides, walks into town, miserably failed gardens, nights out with friends, lazy summer days in the inflatable pool, midnight dances under the stars…

I guess it’s never really mattered what housing structure we have lived in. What has mattered is the people we’ve been able to share our time with while living in these spaces and the locations we’ve been able to explore.

Right now, Corbin and I are lucky enough to be living in a beautiful apartment in Portland, Oregon.

It is small, and I love it so.

 

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On October 10th of last year, Corbin and I said our vows to spend the rest of our lives together. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and when I look back through the pictures and think about that day of love, family, friends, music, dancing, good food, and wine, I feel so grateful and happy.15517_10152781810554865_2551293568968015144_n

A lot has changed since that day. I finally graduated and got my BS in Anthropology and celebrated by dying my hair red, Corbin got a new job, and we moved to our dream city of Portland. But besides the obvious big life changes, there are all of the big and little changes that go unseen by most people. Like changes in relationships, changes in how you feel about yourself, and changes in how you see and perceive the world.  These are the changes that I believe are most significant. Even in just one year, Corbin and I have been through so many challenges together. But these challenges are what I am most grateful for, because even after knowing this man for the last decade of my life, we continue to learn and grow together.

To celebrate our first wedding anniversary we decided to run away into the forest of our beautiful Pacific Wanderland to sleep under the stars, drink wine by the campfire, explore beautiful waterfalls, make fairy houses by a pond,  indulge in large portions of campfire breakfasts, and most importantly, be unreachable by the modern world. It was perfect.

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I wonder what this next year will bring.

 

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