Tag Archives: camping

Mason Neck Park




Our week in Virginia was spent camping near my old stomping grounds of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. This area of the country was the place we called home during my pre-middle school years. I have so many sweet memories of this area.

Living so close to Washington DC meant that when relatives and friends would visit from out of town we would take advantage of the many historic and cultural sites to be seen in DC. Because of the abundance of things to see and do in the heart of Washington DC many visitors don’t realize all there is to see and do outside of the city limits.

Fairfax County was where we spent most of our week exploring and playing. Within a few miles of our campground we had a dozen different state and county parks just waiting to be explored…parks that offered boat rentals, bird watching, biking and hiking trails.

One evening, following Rusty’s day at technology camp, we decided to explore Mason Neck Park. We picked one of the trails that offered a view of both the river and the marshland and headed off.


It was a gorgeous evening and this particular trail offered a spectacular variety of scenery to enjoy.


The boys enjoyed collecting shells along the beach,


And searching for local fauna among the abundance of lush flora.


Snakes, frogs, fish and birds were abundant.


It was fun seeing this experience through my boys’ eyes… So different from how my girls would have navigated this same landscape.


While I took photos, trying to capture even a smidgen of the beauty before me through the flattened lens of a camera, the boys immersed themselves fully in the sensory wash of sights, smells, sounds and textures.



It was such a fun shared experience with my guys and I was glad that we postponed our visit to Mason Neck Park until Rusty could join us in the evening. It made it more fun that he was there. The setting sun brought cooler temperatures and a golden glow to an already magical vista as we finished our hike and headed back to camp for the evening.





“Envision” your Future



Last week the boys and I spent 6 days in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.

Six months prior Rusty approached us about a summer computer programing camp being offered at George Mason University. He expressed an interest in attending and presented his plan for earning the money to finance it. The camp was a 3D game design course for high school students. We were shocked and pleased to see Rusty choosing to step outside his comfort zone in the pursuit of learning more about a potential future path despite his anxiety of signing up to attend a camp where he knew no one and would be asked to do things like present projects before a large group of peers. This was HUGE for Rusty who is much more comfortable remaining quietly behind the scenes, so we wanted to encourage this courageous pursuit and made plans to sign him up. I was so thrilled to see him doing something that 10 years ago I thought would have been an impossibility when he was struggling with Selective Mutism, that I would have gladly given the go ahead regardless of what the theme of the week-long camp was. It could have been underwater basket weaving and I would have been just as thrilled. For this momma, this was a character/courage building endeavor that just happened to be labeled a technology camp.

Tyler and Ozzie tagged along for the week.

It has been a busy summer, filled with many life changing, character building, growing  experiences for all my kids. Most of those experiences revolved around the oldest three so I thought this trip would be a nice opportunity for some special one-on-one connection with my two youngest.

My plan was to use the hours during the day when Rusty was at camp to focus on connection between the littles and myself and connection between Ozzie and Tyler.

We decided to camp for the week. Initially the plan was to “tent it” but when I discovered that I could rent a rustic cabin at Pohick Bay campground for not much more than a tent site I thought it would be worth the additional expense…

Boy, what a good call that was!

Our week in Virginia was a wet one! A low pressure system settle over the area for days, and the rains came down and the floods came up, and I was grateful for a cabin to entertain my boys in rather than trying to keep everyone dry and happy in a six man tent!


It made a perfect home base for the week. It was small and simple but offered a bed for everyone, a table to sit at out of the rain, a small front porch with a swing, and a microwave/mini fridge…

And air conditioning!!


When the clouds would part we managed to fit in fun at the campground, including but not limited to:

Taking advantage of the playground to run off some pent up energy,


Playing a round of mini golf at the campground,


Hiking around the lake,


And spending time outside, around the campfire.


We  even had a evening when the rain cleared for a few hours and we were able to take advantage of Pirate’s Cove Water Park at the campground. This mini waterpark include a large pool and play area, two water slides, and a “beach” area.


For $4.00/person it was a great deal!


When the rains made it impossible to go outside we enjoyed hours of board games and puzzles in the cabin.


Every evening when Rusty returned home after a fun day of game development he would fill us in on all that he did and all that he learned that day. We would also receive daily emails from Envision with an update of what happened at camp that day and photos of Rusty’s adventures:


“The Envision Game & Technology Academy, powered by George Mason University, is about to kick off, and we couldn’t be more excited to have Rusty with us. It’s going to be an amazing five days of experience, leadership development, and self-discovery for Rusty and his peers!


Over the course of the week, Rusty will work with George Mason University faculty and students to produce a project, work with his peers to design and test their work, and share their creations with others for feedback. They will learn in-depth skills to help them plan their path in the game design field, and make connections with others with similar interests.


To kick off the program, Rusty and his fellow students will meet with their primary instructors from George Mason University, who will guide them through the intensive curriculum. Patrick will meet his team of peers and gain insight into the week’s projects.”


“Rusty will waste no time getting immersed in the exciting Envision Game & Technology Academy curriculum! In his Multi-Platform 3D Game Design course, Rusty will learn about the principles that go into the development of 3D tabletop games. Today’s work will focus on game engines, as well as what is involved in developing characters and environments for 3D games.”


Today’s Multi-Platform 3D Game Design course activities will focus on game production, and Rusty will spend the day getting hands-on with the Unity 2 and Unreal game engines. He and the other students will also get an insider’s look at the computer game design industry, including how to build an effective, connected team—skills that will serve Rusty well in the future!”


“Rusty will continue his exploration into the exciting world of Multi-Platform 3D Game Design by working on his game, including designing levels, building terrains and character skins, and creating lighting and shadow effects. By the end of the day, his project should really be coming together—be sure to ask him about the work he is doing!”


Rusty had a wonderful week. He returned home to the cabin each evening eager to share all that he learned that day. His days were filled with team building projects, presentations by guest speakers who are employed by various gaming companies, and hands on work as the students  learned how to navigate various programs and learned how to develop and create their own 3D computer game from the ground up.


Meanwhile, Tyler, Ozzie and I created our own memories as we explored the area around Washington D.C. with local daytrips while Rusty was at camp.

Stay tuned for those adventures…

Our mock “Camping Trip”


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For the past six or seven years we have been vacationing annually with our best buds, the Hudaks. Some years this involves a big trip like our houseboat vacations or renting a cabin for the week. Other years it is simply a weekend camping trip at Pymatuning State Park. This year, however, life has been extra busy and it seemed the annual camping trip was not going to happen (unless we want to try our hand at winter tent camping in January) so we came up with Plan B- a Sunday evening marshmallow roast at the Hudaks. It had all the same fun elements of a weekend camping trip…



Playing with friends:

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Delicious food, like hot dogs on the grill:

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And yummy side dishes:

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Time spent with dear friends:

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Grace is now a redhead!


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Best friends or sisters?!



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Lots of laughs:

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And marshmallows over the fire:


It was a perfect evening! It was so nice to sit outside, enjoy the company of good friends, and smell the familiar camping scents of wood burning and marshmallows roasting.

Sure, it wasn’t the camping trip we planned. But it was an awesome Plan B. And sometimes Plan B is the best plan…

After all, at the end of the evening we then got to shower in our own homes and climb into our own soft beds, instead of climbing into sleeping bags sweaty and dirty.

There is something to be said for “Mock Camping!”

Fun at Jellystone Campground


While the three older kids were pulling handcarts across the rolling hills of Virginia in the 97 degree heat, we were enjoying some more relaxing and cooler activities 30 minutes away in Luray, Virginia.

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Rather than make two 9 hour drives in 52 hours, we opted to stay close and enjoy a mini camping excursion at the world’s best campground! We had stayed here once before but it had been four years since our last visit. Tyler didn’t remember it and Ozzie had never been there before.

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In the days leading up to our trip I went back and forth as to whether I felt brave enough to take these two kiddos camping without a husband or older kids to help. I took a leap of faith, banking on the fact that at Jellystone they would be too busy having fun to fight.

We arrived and set up camp. The boys were motivated to work quickly so that they could start enjoying all the amenities that come free with our campground stay. We love Jellystone campgrounds for that very reason. They are always so clean, so well run, and filled with kid friendly fun which is free to their campers.

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This particular Jellystone however, takes the cake! It is the nicest campground we have EVER stayed at!

The location is breathtaking!

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Check out these views!

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It also offered a huge amount of fun for kids of all ages. We kept very busy boating, bouncing, golfing, swimming and sliding while the big kids were trekking.

Here is some of the fun we enjoyed at Luray’s Jellystone Campground:

The water area was awesome. There were two pools and a fun splash playground to keep us cool…which was a blessing because it was HOT!

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There was also a fun water slide that the boys each slid down about 100 times.

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Located next to the pool was a lake that offered fishing and paddle boats. They were thrilled to find out they were old enough to take the paddle boats out alone, without a grown up.

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Behind the pool was a play area for kids. There were basketball hoops, Gaga ball courts, playground equipment and two huge bouncing pads.


We spent A LOT of time at the bouncing pads.

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There was also a mini golf course where we enjoyed a competitive game of golf… which this Momma won.

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In addition to all this built in fun, the campground also offered fun/free hourly activities like games, crafts, scavenger hunts, hayrides, Yogi Bear meet and greets, and outdoor movies.

While we were there we walked over to meet the animals at the petting zoo that was brought in for the day,

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As well as attend a reptile class one evening.

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Then there was the simple fun that comes with camping…things like playing with fire, roasting s’mores, cooking outside and sleeping in a tent. Both boys were in heaven!

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Really the only activity we paid extra for was a one hour session of laser tag for $5.00. It was a hit! Well worth the $5.00.

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It was a fun mini vacation with my two youngest kiddos.

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You really can’t beat Jellystone Campgrounds when it comes to an all-inclusive, family focused, budget friendly vacation.

A few days ago I worried that I was crazy for trying to camp alone with the little boys… 5 hours away from reinforcements…especially given their current struggles.


The experience wasn’t without incident.

We had a few meltdowns and explosions along the way,

But I did it!

And everyone is alive.

And we even managed to have some fun.


 I must say I’m feeling a bit like Wonder Woman.  🙂

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“Be Still and know that I am God”



On Tuesday morning I woke to the sound of the birds greeting the rising sun and the trickle of water running off the eves of my cabin,

warm and content beneath the heaviness of my sleeping bag,

feeling embraced by the sweet spirit that permeates Girls’ Camp.

Girls’ Camp is a place of refuge and rest for this weary traveler.

For those who have never served as a Girls’ Camp leader, that statement may sound contradictory…especially if you had walked into my dining room three days ago and saw the piles and piles of packing, shopping, wrapping, writing, creating and organizing that go into being a level leader at camp.

It is a lot of work that is months in the making,

And the process of bringing the vision of camp to life is laborious,

So, what do I mean?

 I mean camp is my port in the storm.

I feel this way every year,

But it has never been more needed than it is this year.

It is a place where I can be still.

Not physically, mind you…but emotionally.

Away from the frantic pace of everyday life. Away from the feelings of worry, hopelessness and the weariness of everyday trials, I find rest.

There is something special about the camp atmosphere.

Something special about the people who return year after year.

Something special about these sweet 12-18 year old young ladies who, too, discover a special spirit found intermingled within the lessons on fire starting and first aid.

Something special about the contagious displays of good works and kind words that makes one feel as though they have stepped away from the world for the week and have elevated to a higher plane.

It is a place that has become my annual sanctuary and retreat from the hustle/bustle of life and the place where I can drink deep from the well of renewal. It is my place to reorient my compass and take note if I’ve gone off track. It is my place to talk to my Heavenly Father, pour out the burdens of my heart at His feet, and hear His answers to my struggles.

It is my place to answer His challenge:

“Be Still and Know That I am God.”

I am empty.

I came to camp weary to the marrow of my bones,

With a dry, empty well…

Hungry for His peace,

Desperate for His strengthening power.

I came to commune with my God.

I came to be fed.

And I have been.

It was a wonderful week.

Oh, how I love Girls’ Camp!


Fun with Jellystone and Chocolate


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We survived the first two week stretch with Toby, Molly and Rusty out of town. The days were long and sometimes difficult but the experience made me appreciate Toby all the more and gave me new found respect for all the women who do it alone. This single parenting stuff is tough!

By the end of the second week of solo flying I was counting down the hours until Toby arrived home.

He and the kids were coming home for two days. We wanted to fit in one more short camping trip with the bus before our 6 week, cross country trip. This mini vacation provided us the opportunity to work out the final kinks of bus living and helped us make a final “to do” list of tasks we would like to complete before we leave.

We decided to camp 1 1/2 hours away near Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, the closest national park to home. In 10 days we will be leaving on an epic adventure to visit many of our country’s national parks. This visit to a local national park allowed us the opportunity to purchase our America the Beautiful park pass. This National Park pass will allow us entrance into all the National Parks for a cost of $80.00. A definite money saver for our trip!

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We decided to camp at the Akron/Canton Jellystone Park. We love Jellystone Parks. The cost is a bit higher than other campgrounds ($60.00/night) but what you get for that added cost is well worth the investment! This Jellystone park offered a gorgeous swimming pool, water slides, playgrounds, mini golf, as well as so many fun activities…all free to campers.

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We arrived on Friday evening. We made quite the entrance in our Rolling Gnomes bus and ended up giving many tours to curious campers throughout the weekend. 🙂

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It was a wonderful weekend. The campground was beautiful and we had so much fun. It was wonderful having Toby, Molly and Rusty back home. The weekend was just what we needed to recharge our batteries for the next two week stretch without Toby. Here is a look into some of the fun we enjoyed at Jellystone Park!

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I may have to get one of these for home! 😉


Much of our weekend was spent at the pool. It was a hot weekend and the pool felt delicious! I loved the fact that all sides of the pool were sloped for easy entrance and exits. It felt for like a beach than a pool.

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The kids loved the water slides.

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And everyone had fun with the diving board. The diving board was a novelty for my crew since none of the places we usually swim have a diving board. They all had fun bouncing and splashing into the water.

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Tyler spent hours perfecting his dive.

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The campground offered lots of fun DRY playing areas as well. The boys had lots of places to run and play.

There were playgrounds:

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Fun with nuts and bolts.

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Teaching Molly the daring sport of tetherball!


A 100 foot slide:

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A really fun cyclone swing that everyone had fun with:

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One evening we played a round of mini golf. We split our group into two smaller groups. Toby, Grace and Tyler played against each other with Toby winning in their group, while the rest of us made team #2 with Rusty winning in our group.

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Throughout the weekend the campground offered fun hourly activities that the kids could participate in.

Ozzie LOVED the firetruck rides in the evening!

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On Saturday morning there was an animal show that we all enjoyed. Outback Ray came with his mobile petting zoo. He was wonderful. The show was informative and entertaining. The kids had the opportunity to pet all the animals and some of my kids even got to help with the show.

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Molly spotting the chinchilla.

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Chinchilla kisses!

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Ozzie sporting a stylish and slithery new necktie.

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Rusty holding a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

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Meet Yoda, the Armadillo.

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The campground theme for the weekend was CHOCOLATE! Many of the fun hourly activities revolved around chocolate fun. The kids had fun with the chocolate games, including “pudding plop”

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And the chocolate slip n slide:

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After rolling in chocolate the kids were craving something sweet so after everyone scrubbed the chocolate out of their hair Toby treated them to ice cream at the “Pic-a-nic Basket” ice cream shop.

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The little boys loved the unexpected visitors that stopped by our campsite!

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When we weren’t taking part in all the fun that Jellystone Park had to offer we were enjoying traditional camping fun like s’mores around the campfire.

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On Sunday we drove over to Cuyahoga National Park to do some hiking. It was a beautiful park!

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On Monday Toby, Molly, and Rusty were on the road again… back to Michigan. It was wonderful having them home. Thank you Akron/Canton Jellystone Park! We had a wonderful visit!!

Drumroll Please….


Of all the decisions that had to made during our school bus conversion none created more debate than the question of what colors to paint the bus.

Everyone had a different vision of what they thought our home on wheels should look like. Some wanted to keep it subtle (namely Toby) while others wanted to embrace the uniqueness of living in a school bus with a unique paint job.

For a year we have talked, sketched, weighed and debated everyone’s suggestions. We made a list of twenty possible names, knowing that until we decided on a name we couldn’t decide on the paint job… since they go hand in hand.

The name of our bus was inspired by our dashboard figurines.


Once we decided on the name of our bus then we need to make decisions about paint colors and design. On one Sunday evening we made the decision once and for all with a design contest. Knowing the theme for the bus, we gave every family member an outline of a school bus and a pile of colored pencils and instructed everyone create their vision on paper. Once everyone’s drawings were completed we voted on our favorite.

The winner was…


with his “Rolling Gnomes” design.


Once we had decided on the design, the bus was prepped and the paint was purchased, and  it was time to paint!

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We chose a day last week when everyone’s schedules were wide open because this was an “all hands on deck” project. Matt came over and helped as well.

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The first task was to tape off the bus. The little boys helped Toby and I with this job…

which can be interpreted as: Toby and I followed the little boys around the bus re-taping over their tape. 😉

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While we did that the big kids and Matt scrubbed down the roof and prepared it for the blue paint that would cover the top half of the bus.

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Rusty designed the paint job around three primary colors: blue for the sky, green for the grass, and brown for the ground.

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It took us 8 hours to get the bus painted.


We painted from top to bottom using brushes and rollers.

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It was a hot day but everyone pushed through and worked so hard. At the end of the day our big, yellow school bus was transformed into this:


We let the paint set up for a few days and then Grace and I had the job of adding the details…those touches of whimsy that would transform the bus into “The Rolling Gnomes.”

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Grace took on task of hand painting gnome silhouettes on the panels where Toby had covered the windows with metal, while I hand painted blades of grass. Then we worked together to add mushrooms to finish the design.

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We are proud to present our converted school bus:

“The Rolling Gnomes”

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The BUS is done!


One year ago we did it.

In July of 2015 we walked onto the 422 auction lot,

and we bought ourselves a school bus.

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The project began as a seed of an idea in my creative husband’s mind.

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For two years we had been planning a once in a lifetime road trip and were pricing out our different housing options. As we considered the varying costs of hotel rooms verses renting an RV Toby came up with the idea of creating our own RV.

When he brought up the idea of buying a used school bus and transforming it into an RV I was a bit hesitant, but when he pointed out all of the selling points, namely:

  1. The fact it was significantly cheaper than renting an RV.
  2. We could customize it to meet the exact needs for our family of seven.
  3. At the end of our big road trip we would have a family RV to enjoy for many years.
  4. We could work on it as a family and the kids could learn some valuable skills and take ownership in the project….

I was sold!

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The kids were SO EXCITED!


This past week was spent finishing the inside of the bus. Tomorrow Toby leaves for Michigan and will be gone until two days before we leave on our cross country road trip, so this week was the last opportunity we had  to complete the bus. Here are some of the projects we were working on:

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Rusty and I learned how to make screens for the windows.

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One of Toby’s big projects was to replace the gas tank on the bus. It was in good shape but the 38 gallon capacity made him uncomfortable with some of the longer stretches of road out west. So, being Toby, he headed to the local junk yard and found a 115 gallon tank off a junked vehicle and brought it home to replace the original tank.

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The girls sewed curtains for all the windows this week.

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Toby’s big “inside” project this week was building all the cabinet doors for the kitchen, master bedroom and front of the bus. When he was done I stained and polyurethaned them.

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And then he hung them.

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Didn’t he do a beautiful job?!

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The outside of the bus was also prepped for paint. The kids scrubbed the whole thing down, rough spots were sanded, all the stickers were removed, and exposed metal was primed before the first coat of paint went on.


It has been a labor of love. For 12 months we have worked to transform our home on wheels from a 72 passenger school bus into an RV.

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Toby led the family through the process and the end results are magical.

We are happy to say:


Here is a look at the inside of our school bus conversion.

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A look into the master bedroom that is located at the back of the bus.

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Isn’t it charming?!

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A view towards the front at our travel seats.

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Our bathroom consists of a toilet and small sink. On the wall is a framed map of our trip route.

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The view from the master bedroom looking forward. We decided to use a car play mat as our kitchen rug. We felt it tied into the license plates we hung on the cabinet fronts, but more importantly it was placed there as a therapy tool for the boys. They both use matchbox cars as a tool for cooling down when they get anxious.

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We look forward to collecting more magnets for the fridge as we travel the country.

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One of the decorative touches added with the completion of the bus…A good reminder for all of us! 😉

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We found these trays at IKEA. They made me smile. We super glued magnets to the back so that they can hang on the fridge and be pulled down to be used as serving trays when needed.

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We also labeled the birds that we felt matched each family member with their name.


This week was also spent purchasing paint for the outside of the bus.

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Oh, decisions…decisions…decisions!

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Because we needed special paint that would adhere to the metal of the bus we were more limited in our color choices. This is what we could pick from.

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Choices were made…

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The boys LOVED watching the process.


The outside of the bus is almost complete.

Stay tuned for pictures!

A Happy Camper


I’m back!

I have been off-grid for a week and a half and now find myself with the arduous task of trying to catch up with many long overdue blog posts.

The girls and I spent the last week in the woods with 120 other teenage girls and leaders from church, at our annual Girls’ Camp week. (More on that in a future post)

But prior to leaving last Monday for Girls’ Camp we went camping as a family for the weekend on our skoolie’s maiden voyage.

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The start date of our cross country adventure in our converted school bus is quickly approaching and the goal is to get a few practice trips under our belt before we leave. The weekend before we left for Girls’ Camp happened to be free so we joined up with the Holt family and the Hudak family for a weekend camping trip to Pymatuning State Park.

The kids eagerly pitched in to help pack and prepare the bus for take-off.

The bulk of the work inside the bus is completed (with the exception of a few more cabinet doors that need hung.) Painting the outside of the bus is the next big project on the to-do list, but everything that was needed to be completed prior to taking it out on the road was done so we were clear to roll!

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The littles were vibrating with excited energy as we headed down the driveway on our first skoolie adventure!

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The ride there was a lot of fun with this as my view:

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The girls even bravely took turns at the wheel:

When we arrived we quickly got set up. It is crazy how much easier it is to “set up camp” this way than our traditional means of tent camping. Camp chairs were set up while the bus was hooked up to electric, sewer and water.

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I was able to get dinner cooking in the crock pot while Toby got us set up for the weekend. I must admit that after a weekend of camping with air conditioning, a fridge, running water, and my own toilet I can see how easy it would be to get soft and lose our camping edge. I felt a bit guilty and spoiled by the ease of the weekend!

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We had a wonderful weekend getaway. It was fun camping with friends and the kids loved having buddies around to go off exploring with.

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Our days were spent swimming:

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The only catch of the day 🙂


Going on walks around the campground:

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Making memories around the fire:

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And relaxing with family and friends.

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It was a lovely break from a busy June and a perfect lead-in to a week of camping with all my favorite young women! We all went home feeling rested and renewed…

Thanks in part to luxurious sleeping conditions 😉

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As we were leaving camp we made a quick stop at the Spillway to feed the carp. The Spillway is one of those traditions that has gone hand in hand with Pymatuning camping from our very first camping trip there with friends years ago.

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The carp there are so abundant and condensed that the ducks literally walk across their backs.

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The kids all got a kick out of tossing our leftover bread into the water and watching the fish flop and wrestle over the falling pieces of stale bread.

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I can’t decided if I am more fascinated or grossed out by the experience…

but either way,

it is an experience!!

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It was a lovely weekend with the people I love most,

and a perfect kickoff for many future adventures in our home-grown,  skoolie bungalow!


Some final touches…


We are just about to head out on our first overnighter in our converted school bus. The morning was spent packing the bus, removing all Toby’s tools, and decorating it. This is the task I have been waiting 12 months for. I’ve been itching to get my hands on this blank slate and add my creative vision to our home on wheels.

Here’s a peek of what we have been up to this morning:

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We found many organizing treasures at Ikea including these adorable dog tail hooks for everyone’s towels.

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The master bedroom

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The kids covered the fridge in magnets from previous trips and adventures.

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Our HAPPY place!

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Our kitchen/living/dining room.

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Boys bunks are completed and ready for bedtime.

IMG_4081 (2)On the wall of our bathroom hangs a framed map of the USA with our bus trip route highlighted.


We are so excited for our first weekend in our tiny home!

small houses