Living in a Van Down by the River

Back Home for the Summer

When we moved to Costa Rica, the original plan was for one year- experience a different culture, learn the language, etc. We didn’t count on falling head over heels in love with the place and making some of the best friends of our lives. We decided to stay another year, and the kids have signed on. But nothing beats a northern Michigan summer, and we were dying to see family and friends, so we got our plane tickets to head home.

Where Will We Live?

The only snag in our plan? The renters in our house want to stay for another year. We didn’t have a place to live. Rentals in northern Michigan in the summer are insanely expensive, especially for a family of our size. Mike suggested living on the boat for the summer, but that was waaaaaaay too small. His next idea? A camper. I wasn’t on board at first, I had images of living in a van down by the river.


But the idea was intriguing, and I warmed up to it. While I was looking at boring RV’s Mike scoured the internet for our next cool vehicle. And…he found a bus.

The Bluebird

Here it is: our summer home. a 40-foot schoolbus that sleeps six.

He got the bus on eBay, and we picked it up in Brighton. Every day four or five people stop by to tell us how cool it is, and some ask for a tour. We have a generator and air conditioning. The inside isn’t nearly as cool as the outside. I hope to redo it, but not this summer. My favorite thing about it is where we get to stay. We’re living on million dollar lots on Lake Leelanau, Lake Michigan, Torch Lake, and everything in between.

The Good

There is a place for everyone to sleep. The kids are snug as bugs in their bunks…

Mike and I have a queen bed and zero privacy.

The kitchen and bathroom are spacious and have everything we need.

Don’t mind the dirty dishes

The Bad

I don’t know exactly where to put the clothes for six people, they end up in heaps on the floor or in storage baskets. The bus has country decor, beadboard and wallpaper borders abound. There is a fan in the kitchen roof that is broken and lets rain in. Did I mention there is ZERO privacy? Wifi is spotty in campgrounds so it’s hard for me to work. And, it’s HUGE. I won’t be driving this beast this summer.

bus driver

The Ugly

There’s a plumbing issue, and we haven’t gotten the water to work yet, so the toilet gets a little stinky. Sometimes it gets a little bickery because we’re all on top of each other. But mostly we’re outside.

The Great

This is another chapter in our big adventure, and I love going wherever the wind takes us. We’ll be back in Costa Rica in the Fall, but for the summer? You’ll find us in a bus, down by the lake.




Everyday Miracles: Turtles


There are some things, that when you witness them, there’s a shift in your perception of the world. You’re an observer of everyday miracles, and it touches something inside of you that is otherwise inaccessible. It’s nature’s magic. It fills you with wonder. It touches your heart.  It happened when I saw the giant redwoods in California. When I saw the sun come up over the clouds on Mt. Haleakala on Maui. When I kayaked at night in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where the water lights up like a million fireflies when you touch it. And now, when I saw an arribada of sea turtles.

Over the course of a week, hundreds of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles come up to shore at Playa Ostional, in Costa Rica. It happens a week before the new moon from August to December.


Our friends heard that it was happening and we decided to take our families on the two hour trip over the weekend. She booked a tour with the local guides. It’s a beautiful drive to get there, but there is a river you have to drive through to get to Ostional. Another friend of mine went to see the turtles last month and on the way back, her 4wheel drive SUV was swept away in the river. They had no time to back out, there was a rain in the mountains that caused it, and once the front tires were in the whole car was pulled in. She had to break her window and swim out, and hike an hour through the jungle barefoot until they found a farm. They lost their car, camera, phones, and they’re lucky they didn’t lose their lives. When we got to this river, our friend got out of the car and walked into the river to make sure it wasn’t too deep or flowing too swiftly. Once we knew it was safe we headed across, and into Ostional.

We found our guides and walked to the beach. They split everyone up into groups of no more than six people. We smelled the turtles before we saw them, and it’s not pleasant, but once we saw this beautiful mass of turtles, the smell was all but forgotten. At first glance it’s almost like the beach is covered in small boulders. Then you see the boulders move. We were surrounded by them and they were in all different stages of nesting. Some were making the awkward journey from the water to above high tide line. Some were digging their one to two foot deep holes. It felt voyeuristic when we got to see the actual eggs coming out- they lay 80-100 in every nest. There were some flipping sand onto us as they covered their nest. Then, exhausted but mission complete, we got to see them clamber their way back to the waves. We were not allowed to get in front of any of the turtles, but they seemed to be in somewhat of a trance. They really didn’t care what got in their way; I saw them crawling over each other, driftwood, anything. My words can’t do justice to the beauty of it: the awkward struggle of perpetuating their species, then the way they gracefully swam out into the vastness of the ocean. 

The locals here are allowed to harvest 3% of the eggs. These turtles are endangered, so at first it upset me, but there is only so much beach, and the turtles on the second and third days are digging up the eggs from the previous days. These are the eggs they take, they would never have survived.

“For sale: Turtle eggs by the dozen and in sauce”  Photo credit Vanessa Verzanvort


We were able to wander around for about an hour before our guide told us it was time to go. As we were being walked out, we all looked around to secure the day in our memories one last time. The best part? We get to volunteer to keep the babies safe when they hatch! Our guide promised to call us, so we can usher the little guys to the ocean without being snatched up by dogs, cats, or the giant birds lurking everywhere.

Maya holding an egg that the guide gave her- it had been kicked up by another turtle.


I feel so lucky that my kids got to experience this- it amplified the amazement.

“I feel so great, in here mom, that I got to see those turtles,” Gigi said, holding her chest.

Me too kid. Me too.


What about you? What has touched your heart? Or where are you dying to go? Let’s make a list and a pact: we’ll see everyday miracles as often as possible. Whenever we can, we’ll be filled with wonder.