From #vanlife to #horselife

You’d probably think people who temporarily lived in a van for six months would be excited to get back to their house; eager for daily showers, using dishwashers instead of buckets and toilets instead of bushes. But what we lacked in plumbing we made up for in views. Our back yard was the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, the Pacific Ocean, Yellowstone, random canyons and creeks. You miss plumbing, you do. You really, really do. You even scream at the people you love when they drink water before bed, because water makes pee and pee makes for trips in the pitch black forest with the pitch black bears. So, put down that water, sweetheart. You know how mama likes everyone dehydrated before bed.

With the end of our adventure about a month in sight, we decided going home wasn’t best. We weren’t ready to drop our kid off at school at 8 a.m. and regroup as a family at dinner. That’ll work well when she’s a teenager who has NOTHING TO WEAR EVER, but now she’s pretty damn likable. She reaches for my hand on walks, convinces me “you don’t need makeup – no one cares about your zits!” and praises me for being the best cook when I pour a bowl of cereal. She’s pretty much the dream man, only way more forgivable when I find skid marks in her underwear.

These are the magic years.

So no. We chose not to go back to the reality we left behind, even though it was dreamy. We lived a few blocks from City Park, the Denver Zoo; rode her bike to school and the donut shop; took Ubers to see plays in the city. A crazy-good life, but a weekend life. We’d do these things on Saturdays and Sundays, then see her about 3 hours a day during the week.

Van life was about capitalizing on these magic years by taking calculated risks and making sacrifices so we could be with each as much as possible. Since pulling it off, we’ve been high from the thrill, pride, and life-changing experiences that come from taking chances. Like addicts, we craved more of that high.

Continuing van life wouldn’t work, though, because we needed more consistency for Nora and my business. So we’d need to plant our roots somewhere outside of the city. Having lived in and around National Parks for 6 months, we knew we wanted more land, so about a month from the end of our travels, we made an offer on a house sitting on 5 acres with a barn for 4 horses. And they accepted? They accepted.

Here’s the thing about risks. You gotta take them fast or your brain will get in the way. And you can trust me on this because I’m an expert at leaving my brain out of things.

This plan worked on many levels — our house in the city was renting very well, and the house on 5 acres had rent-able space in the basement with a separate entrance. My husband and I immediately shared a vision: We’d have people rent the basement who were REAL horse people so we could learn the ropes from them. Plus, this was our kid’s dream. If you asked her to choose between a horse and anything else – Disney? All-you-can-eat cotton candy?? Elsa’s ice powers??? She’d roll her eyes and choose a horse every damn time.

Could we pull this off? Should we take these calculated risks again?

I mean, Hell Yes Reason Number 1 is our 6 months on the road — the photographs above. And Hell Yes Reason Number 2 are the animal whisperer instincts our daughter has exhibited for years, instincts that need to be celebrated and developed lest we be idiots. . .

So we’re horse people now.

“Um, honey, can you fetch me that horse collar?”

“The horse collar?”

“The seat belt for the horse.”

“The seat belt?”

Correction: We are “horse people” now.

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Unexpected #vanlife challenges

If this finds you at work, grumpy and missing the camping you did over Labor Day weekend, allow me to share a few #vanliferealities that might help you appreciate some of the comforts of #houselife.


It never occurred to me that exercise would be harder on the road. I thought van life would be inherently more active, a natural workout on top of my regular morning runs. Don’t #vanlifers just frolic in fields of wildflowers and swim naked in lakes? Surely after a few months on the road, I’d sport a Jennifer Lawrence “Hunger Games” body.

Turns out cooking beans and rice on a propane stove is not in the same family as hunting, killing, and skinning game. I would argue it’s harder. Not only do you have to refrain from killing your husband who did not put the can opener back in the utensils bucket, but you have to find the can opener, and he is not as hungry as you are, so his sense of urgency doesn’t have much urgency, and it’s been, like, 1.5 hours since your last snack.

But it’s weird I don’t look like her yet.

Vanlife is more practically challenging than physically demanding. Sadly, it’s just not a more active lifestyle, not when you’re still working full time from coffee shops and libraries 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. Maybe it’s more active for that always-half-naked #vanlife couple sipping hot coffee on white sheets in a West Elm decorated airstream with the kid-less flexibility to climb and GoPro Class 4 mountains, making money through sponsorships who identify with their “brand.” Maybe for them. But we are married (so always-fully-clothed) with an 8-yr-old whose captain chair collects dog hair, gum wrappers and soggy goldfish. It’s a Class 4 hike when we make it to the bathroom without skid marks. We make our money sitting in front of a computer developing carpel tunnel. Quick, what company matches our brand? Advil? Pharmaceuticals, call a mama.

I probably got more “natural” exercise by running up and down my stairs at home looking for clean underwear.

And the regular workouts? The running I used to do? That sitch is worse. Here’s why:

  • On the road, your daily and weekly routines vary wildly, so planning for a run is much harder than in the city where you throw on your shoes and hit familiar pavement or trails. You don’t know where you’ll be or what time you’ll be there or if bears will be waiting for you when you arrive.
  • It’s less of a priority. Work, school, and simply knowing where you will sleep next are the priorities. JK, planning for your next snack always takes precedence.
  • You don’t know when you’ll shower next, so running for an hour means sitting and sleeping in your own sweaty B.O. for who knows how long, and you were once told by a sage and reliable 8-year-old that bears are attracted to B.O. So, safety first.
  • Seriously, safety. I will run alone in the city on familiar trails with my dog. But I’m not so hot about running alone in foreign places. The fear is less murder-by-creepy-white-guy-with-a-molestache and more bear phobic. Let’s call it, “A healthy respect for wildlife.” That makes me sound like I’m taking on a sedentary lifestyle for the animals. #SaveTheBears #DontRun

I’ve been a runner for so long it has never occurred to me to get exercise in other forms. But I give. I’m assembling some non-running workouts (yoga, squats, jump rope, bear wrestling) that are conducive to van life and I’d love your recommendations/favorites. Write me on Instagram. @hobomom.

Catching up with friends and family/talking on the phone.

You live in a van! How hard can it be to talk on the phone?!

Hard. The most obvious reason here is cell service. If I don’t have it, I can’t call you. But it’s imperative for business. So what typically happens is we find a cool place to camp, it doesn’t have service, so we spend our days in a nearby town where reception is great and work/school is productive. I would normally call you on my commute to work, but I now commute through a forest. And I can’t call you when I finally get to civilization because I have limited time to work. I never realized how much talking I did while commuting between activities until that wasn’t possible.

Food costs and eating healthy.

I don’t need to write much here, right? You’ve camped before and know it’s full of bad habits. We are conditioned to crave and feel very much entitled to beer and hot dogs and marshmallows in the forest. Americans are classy that way. But this is a lifestyle, not Labor Day weekend, so it takes recalibrating my brain every time we set up camp to not reach for the graham crackers.

Then, there’s the challenge of buying/cooking healthy and we haven’t nailed this yet. There are so many other moving parts and costs that we haven’t quite figured out how to buy kale salads that feed the family and save well in the cooler without making the van smell like, well, kale.

Campsite costs.

Here’s how this should work. If you let me sleep on your land, outside, in the forest, with bears and bugs and monsters, but don’t have running water or plumbing, you don’t get to charge $30+ per night. Mmk?

Camping is expensive. Yes, National Forests maintained by the Bureau of Land Management are free, but it’s not always practical for us since we work/school/Instagram a lot and require cell service, wifi, and kid-friendly activities. We’ve joined the #KOA cult and will write more about that soon.



There’s your sobering glimpse into van life. It can be hard. And by “hard” I mean slightly less 1st world but still comfortably and ridiculously 1st world. These problems are not inclusive of ALL of our problems, so please do not limit us to only these hardships. We reserve the right to complain of many other problems in the near future. Your continued use of this blog is an expressed agreement that our hardships are hard hardships and you will nod sympathetically when reading.


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Dear Chris,

When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
Well, there’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

Well, I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up

And when you’re needing your space
To do some navigating
I’ll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find

-Jason Mraz, “I won’t give up on us”

Editor’s Note: Hey Cris, if you could pretend I wrote this, instead of a man, that would be super helpful to our love story. Thanks much.

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Mommy’s ‘Ami’

[Written in 2014 a few days before my husband (then boyfriend) was moving to Miami, Florida.]

We are all doing our own thing getting ready for the day. Nora’s at the table eating pancakes with syrup and sprinkles. Layla hovers over my feet expectantly as I lace up my tennis shoes. Chris is trying to open the front door while balancing a basket full of laundry on his hip. Just as he yanks it open, Nora puts down her fork.


He stops in the doorway. “Yes Nora?”

“Are you going to Mommy’s ‘Ami’?”

A week earlier she overheard Chris and I talking about his new job in Miami. She stopped us with authority. “No, no, no. It’s not YOUR ‘Ami’ it’s MOMMY’S ‘Ami.'”

We meet eyes, re-live that moment, and smile. He turns back to Nora. “Yes. I’m going to Mommy’s ‘ami,’ but I’m not leaving right now. I’m leaving in a few days.”

“Right.” She looks back to the pancakes she abandoned and begins shoveling another bite on her fork. Before she levels it into her mouth, she says, “You leave because you have a little job to do there like I have my chores to do here.”

Chris looks both smitten and devastated. “That’s right, Nora.”

“We’re going to show you how to Skype so you can talk to him on the computer,” I explain, wondering what she’ll ask next.

“I love you, Chris.” She blows a kiss.

“I love you, Nora.” He blows a kiss back.

She returns to her pancakes, satisfied with their conversation.

Chris and I meet eyes, 4 years of story between us. We both want to say something but know there is nothing to say. He turns around and shuts the door.

“Mommy?” Nora asks as soon as the door is closed.

I leave the kitchen and walk toward her. “Yes, Nora?”

“I miss, Chris.”

She says it while watching him walk to his truck. She understands that while he’s still in view, he is leaving.

“I miss him, too,” I tell her while rubbing her back. She wiggles out of her chair and skips to my bedroom to watch TV. I take a bite of her pancakes. Layla begins thumping her tail at my feet.

“No girl,” I tell her. “This is MY pancake. Not yours.”

Nora shouts from my bedroom, “NO IT’S *MY* PANCAKE!”

“Well that’s fine,” I tell her, “Because it’s MYami.”


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