the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!

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Woodpiles and washing lines: Bulgaria photos 13

Things that make this picture so very much urban Bulgarian- it doesn’t matter that this photo was taken of an apartment in the middle of an industrial town, in a block of pre-fabs. Proof that people living in small urban spaces can manage their needs very well when necessary.

Washing line
Loops of unidentified electrical wires
Terrace with pipe to drain water on the garden below
Grapevine and trellis




Pimping my ride : Leo

The latest on Leo’s overhaul- Digger found both a flat battery and a leaky water connection when he wired Leo up to the mains, but all now resolved (we hope for good). I finally had my maiden voyage in The good ship Leo (only down to the petrol station and back) and then we carried on getting things ready.

Digger has tried out the sleeping accomodation, spending a night on the driveway while Tiddler and I were tucked up asleep in the house.

Verdict, comfy but cold. The second week of September and that is the UK weather, unless we wrap ourselves in tinfoil in there it is going to be cool at night. 9 degrees he said, at silly o’clock when he got up to christen the porta potty. Thank goodness we are going south, but we do need to get going, and note to self: hot water bottle. I also realised that all my white bedlinen is not the most practical thing to be heading off in a campervan with, but it is what we have got, and no point in buying new.

He has also finished Tiddler’s bunk, in the end without the ‘stolen’ chair legs.  It is more satisfy that it is all in wood, though now with a hinged support is is heavier, but still will sit flat under the side seat during the day.


We realised however that by the time the mattress (a sun lounger cushion borrowed from Granny (Hoarder) and Papa (Snoozer) inside an old sheet sewn up into a sort of giant pillowcase) is on the bunk, plus pillow, Tiddler, and duvet, she is fairly high up from the double bed below. As Tiddler is also ‘Wriggler’, we now needed a solution to keep her in the bunk.

In the end we came up with what I explained to the others as ‘the windbreak design’. This gave me the chance to make another thrifty item at no cost to us – a piece of old window blind fabric, an old broom handle (that Digger had brought with him from the island- goodness only knows what he was thinking he would use it for at the time!), and the chance to use my mother’s lovely old Singer sewing machine, complete with a random box of sewing paraphernalia as part of the hygge factor. The final picture show it before I sewed in the last baton, but hopefully you get the idea. The broom handle pieces can just be pushed down into the holes in the main bed board after she falls asleep, so we still can do goodnight stories, but she isn’t going to attempt to crowd surf us in the middle of the night.

While this was going on, Digger took a break to fashion something else out of wood. My parents have a bit of a seagull problem. The tealeaf-ing gulls get in through the chicken doors to the sheds, and peck and eat the hens eggs. Friends have suggested nets or awnings overhead but the seagulls will still land and walk in, a dead gull hanging up (!), and blowing eggs and filling the empty shells with mustard or chilli sauce as a decoy, which sounds pretty epic but fiddly. So Digger put together a little roosting box with a double slope so in theory the eggs should roll down and under a second board, so the gulls can’t get to them but we can. In place this evening, so will have to see whether it works, and whether even the hens will take to it as a place to sit.

My next job has been carpet fitting. Again using an old off cut we had, with Papa in the background back seat directing with ‘measure twice, cut once’, and Digger extolling the virtues of the correct way to cut with a stanley knife to avoid impaling myself,  I then had to get my head round the reverse maths of cutting on the back to then flip over to fit.Not exactly a perfect job, but given the wierd shape of the floor space I’m pretty darn chuffed with my attempt.


In non Leo related news, Tiddler and I have been playing playgroup roulette, trying out various groups in the neighbourhood to give her a bit of ‘other children’ time.  Tiddler has tried out the local pool, and managed full immersion for the first time, albeit while laying on her tummy underwater on a shallow step. She has learnt to say ‘ramsbottom’ and ‘bonzo’ and other random sayings of my father. I have had emails from work colleagues asking how we are doing and telling me that the start of the new term is pretty much like always. Digger and I hold hands on the sofa and smile a quiet smile at each other while we are watching TV with my parents. We are busy, but not tired. We are planning, but not stressed. I ask Tiddler in the morning what she dreamt of. ‘It was you Mama, dancing.’



[Motorhomers out there- still open to suggestions and ideas you may have of things we should take, or things we should know before we set off. Particularly any legal requirments for Europe we might not be aware of? Any comments welcome please- thank you!]




Tidy house, tidy mind?

Seven days left until we leave the island- myself, Digger, Tiddler and a loaded up car of our final possessions. The house is currently deceptively full of things, because we have no cupboards, chests of drawers or storage units to put things in any more, and so our personal effects are like a shifting mass of tumbleweed that Tiddler moves from one room to another as the whim takes her. In reality, there is not much left here at all. The house is pleasantly empty.
‘Tidy house; tidy mind’ I tell Digger. ‘Do you feel an sort of unburdening because we don’t have stuff any more?’
‘We have stuff in abundance’ he says ‘it’s just all at your parent’s house’.
‘True’ I muse, ‘but this little taste of minimalism may be a good thing. To get us thinking about what we “actually” need? To get used to living with less before actually jettisoning off everything?’.
‘Maybe “empty house; empty mind” is also true then?’ he chuckles. ‘let me look in your earhole and see if I can see out the other side’.


Once Digger had recovered from the withering look I sent him, we talked about how even with the worry and fraught feelings of this move, in reality we felt so much more stress free than a few weeks before. The removal of ourselves from the working environments in recent weeks (though Digger is still eking out every hour this week to bring in the last pennies either of us my earn for a while- but this time working for someone else so the responsibility and organisation is no longer his) has made a remarkable difference. I felt I had been a bit like Atlas, labouring under a heavy load for so long, it was only once it was gone I realised what it felt like to be without it.


On top of that, despite my initial worries, we have sold over the last few days most of the remaining bits of furniture we own. I may even have to ask the village church if they can lend me a few chairs so we can sit round the 1930’s oak table (the one thing that steadfastly will not sell) in order that we are not eating off the floor.
My little desk has gone to a lady who wants to use it for a sewing machine, and keep all her threads and buttons in the little secret compartments.
The tumble dryer has been picked up by two Sri Lankan brothers who have just moved to the island.
The swivel chair is being picked up by someone who gets out of hospital tomorrow, and thinks it will help her with her movements.
The storage units, a wicker basket and a christmas cactus I gave away for free to an ex-student of mine who has just moving into her own little flat and starts her first accounting job the day we leave the island.

All of our little items, that we either didn’t need or couldn’t take with us, are going on to be part of someone else’s story.
I kind of like that feeling.



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Sails, gales and sales

So turns out Digger had a very bumpy sea crossing yesterday, and then after arriving at my parent’s at ten minutes before 1am after driving all evening, couldn’t get my mother to hear her mobile which she had taken up to bed (and actually switched on for a change) in order to come down and let him in. Problem eventually resolved once she’d worked out how to answer it. My mother and technology is a bit water and oil-  she would likely be thrown off a ‘silver surfer’ course as bringing it a bad name.
All of which meant Digger was quite happy to have a lie in this morning and no rush with the unloading. It was raining heavily anyway. Then the rain continued. Then continued a bit more. He started twiddling his thumbs. He started to worry that he wouldn’t be able to get it unloaded in the torrential downpours, that were gushing down my parent’s steep driveway. He started calculating the silly-o’clock time he would have to get up tomorrow morning to unload before setting off on the journey back up to the ferry. Thankfully, matter all now resolved, weather cleared, boxes and behemoths unloaded and stored, and now down the pub for a well earned pint with my dad.

I have been busy too- Tiddler and I swam and then went to play with her best friend E. He had a whole houseful of toys to share after the very sparse conditions in our house at the moment on the toy front.
In between this gadding about, I managed to sell online today the following items that didn’t meet the grade to fit on the van yesterday (i.e. were not a power tool or an unidentified metal item), and the first set of pictures below have already been paid for and collected! Not their real monetary value mind you, but enough to buy the roof bars for Digger’s ladders.


Also in the pipeline are sales on these, which are due to be collected at the weekend.


No interest as yet in these below though 😦

So what is value? The financial value of an item is surely in the eye of the beholder, whether for a artwork masterpiece or a second hand furniture-selling Thrifter. Better a pound or two in my pocket right now is my logic, than me having to dump these at the tip and get nothing for them at all. Things I love, and have put up for a crazily low price for what it is, such as my desk and the leather chair, and the 1930’s oak dining table, simply have not garnered any comment. Other items of tat, such as the used kitchen red plastic dustbin, have sold for not much less than their price brand new.
Each to their own I suppose.



Movin’ on up

The proverbial ‘they’ do say that the three most stressful things are weddings, a new baby and moving house. We are nearly-sort-of-not-quite hitting all three this week- so you can see why it has taken me a bit of jiggery pokery to get sat down in front of this keyboard at all recently.
Let me clarify- no new baby, though Tiddler still requires oodles of attention that means it is quite hard to pack up and move off an island while simultaneously playing ‘the monster game’ (don’t ask, please!) and taking back all the pet snails out of the house. Again.
Wedding bells are also on the horizon this weekend, when Tiddler will make her flower girl debut, and Digger and I are to be the witnesses for the signing of the register. Tiddler of course thinks she is dressing up as a King for the ceremony, as it is the only way we could persuade her to don the outfit. Well, purple is a regal colour I tell myself to dispel the guilt. And some of them did wear some glittery flowery footwear too you know- I did take in a little bit of Versailles on the good old BBC. I’m just hoping Tiddler doesn’t think her snails need to accompany this particular flower girl outing.

But all this clearly pales into comparison in the stress stakes with the ‘van pack’.  Our long convoluted getting-of-the-island has been going on so long with a box packed here, a car boot there, another long telephone call with a government worker who can’t understand why our island doesn’t have the same rules as the rest of the UK (or heaven forbid, hasn’t actually heard of us! Quelle horreur). However, D-day for us today, in terms of decision day. Turns out Digger has far more ‘essential’ tools, boxes of small metal items, and general mahoosive machinery than I could shake a stick at. What is this monstrosity that appeared like a behemoth on my lawn last night and is apparently coming with us?

Photo on 31-07-2017 at 19.37 #2
Hang on wait, there’s another part to it?

Photo on 01-08-2017 at 09.14 #2
Folks, I’m not going to lie, there have been a few tears today. The self drive option- while cost-efficient compared to the extortionate charge that the ferry and freight were wanting to stitch us up with- sounds good in thrifty principle, but has it’s own stresses. All three of us were at the hire place at 8am, to drop off Digger. Digger returns with van. Digger loads said behemoth. Digger fits everything around it like a precarious wedged balancing act. I have seen more air space in a Jenga game. My mother telephones to advise us she has cleared out a shed but doesn’t have much storage room at the moment so she hopes we are packing light. I don’t tell her about what he is putting in there, though observe a fully fledged petrol lawn mower and what must be a tonne of metal toolage if the suspension on the van is anything to go by. I ponder where the tumble drier will go. And the bookcases that Digger made. And the quirky wooden desk I’m in the middle of restoring. And some other things…..

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We double check the ticket for the last check-in time for the ferry. We take some things out and attempt to repack, but as aforementioned, he has things rammed in there tighter than a gnat’s proverbial. There is a grim realisation that not everything will fit. It is too late to unload and take out the few things I could do without. Instead I am going to have to leave behind the furniture that I wanted.

Because of our friend’s wedding, we had always intended to stay another fortnight on the island. We had been advertising- and successfully sold- the beds and some other large pieces of furniture in advance, and folks were kind enough to pay in advance and then pick them up a couple of days before we go. Now I have a fortnight to try and sell everything else too. If it doesn’t sell, I have to dump it. Hence the tears. Not a bawling lamentation on the driveway, but rather a sorrow that these things that have been a part of our home will soon be gone, and possibly gone for nothing or just a tiny fraction that is their true and useful value to us. Digger as is his want, philosophises that with his tools he can make replacement furniture for us when we need it. That is not helpful when I’ve just seen him load up another crate of undistinguishable wiring and pointy bits while my desk stands forlornly in the yard.

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So now, by the time I sit down to write this, Digger has done his three hour ferry crossing, and faced the crazy rush hour docks, and hopefully is halfway down to the Westcountry where I am crossing my fingers my mother has underestimated how much storage space she has (she hasn’t seen his van packing skills after all). Digger’s aluminium ladders sit just as forlornly behind the shed as they too were jettisoned in the final cull. I am under instructions to google roof bars to see if we can bring the ladders down on the car when we all travel on the 15th. I’m also posting pictures and descriptions of my furniture on facebook selling sites. It is mostly old and battered, well-loved pieces. I’m not holding out much hope.

Tiddler has not yet noticed the absence of toys, and has enjoying playing with empty cardboard boxes and bubble wrap. She sleeps now, tired out by the different rhythms of the day. The house without Digger, and all those boxes we have lived cheek by jowl with for weeks, is echoing. There is a lonely melancholy here tonight.

So I am searching for some meaningful quotes and this pops up courtesy of pinterest.

Digger, Tiddler and I are very fortunate, in that we could be the little green bubble ourselves. It would, and no doubt will be hard, as we venture off into unchartered territories for us, but as I shed a small tear over my tumble drier, I have to take the bigger picture into account.
Digger has worked hard to amass his tools of the trade, and there is of course comfort and security in that, but he can take his skills in his hands and his brain wherever he goes. My profession is my knowledge and interaction with students.
Right now we are healthy, with savings, and family in three countries who will support us if needed wherever we choose as a permanent base in the future. We have a lot to grateful for.

And if I’m feeling really miserable, I know for sure one thing I definitely don’t need any more to cheer myself up. Snails.


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Notice of termination of life as we know it

Formal notice to end my employment handed in today at work. No going back now!

Latest plans:

Busy selling some of Digger’s power tool collection on line, and sorting other things for potential car boots when the weather improves.

Investigating options how best to get our possessions off the island and down to the Westcountry where we hope to store them in two shepherds huts in my parent’s back garden. Space is limited.

Beginning to make queries into various necessary admin tasks- Tax? Citizenship? Pensions? Child benefit? Car insurance? Will Tiddler need any other vaccinations or checks? (she was given a TB jab at less than 24 hours old, given the ‘risk’ of Digger’s country of origin. I mourn immensely over the scar she still carries as a result)

Digger still chasing up potential leads for people to buy the business. Lots of interest, though no-one willing to pay for ‘goodwill’.

Considering going overland to Bulgaria, so we can take more things with us. Digger pouring over European road maps and plotting routes and campsites, when he is not online finding little houses for sale, tucked away in the mountains, with a stream, and fruit trees, and a veranda, and a log burner.

The plot thickens……







20 penny pinching purchases

As you know, our general policy is one of ‘not spending’ (on our crusade to both stop working this summer for a year or two for our grown up ‘gap year’), so I don’t often get to celebrate the frugal purchases I’ve made, as on the whole, I haven’t actually brought anything new into the house.

I spend regularly (I’ve checked my bank statement to be sure I’m not missing anything) on rent, electricity, gas, wifi, phone credit, childcare, car and petrol, union membership, food/drink, and swimming, and anything else is a bit of a treat. A few pound here and there for activities out for Tiddler, this month a posh tea and cake out with the other mums for some ‘me-time’, a couple of birthday gifts and the rest goes into the savings pot.

So sorry if the title of this post is a little misleading, as I’ve not bought 20 things, but rather I bought some things this week for 20p (or less). For my dear readers across the pond, that’s roughly 33 cents.

Here goes:


I’m pretty sure this is my first item of clothing I have purchased for myself since I was buying maternity clothes (approx 3 years ago). This photo doesn’t do it justice- it is the most beautiful vivid peacock blue. I feel I’ve jumped into some surreal Mediterranean alternative life when I put it on. Second hand and a cost to me of 20p, as it was purchased at a ‘pop-up’ shop in our village raising funds for a cancer charity.


Also from the pop-up shop and so 20p each, the beginnings of Tiddler’s rock star lifestyle- an inflatable chair and guitar. Ironically I was hoping the guitar was broken and for my 20p it wouldn’t actually work and she could just use it for dressing up, but turns out with a couple of batteries it is as good as new and we have now been introduced to all manner of random rhythm and beat tracks while she waltzes around the front room.  This has therefore been added to her rather eclectic basket of musical toys that have found their way to us.


Neither Digger or I can claim to be particularly musical, but the benefits of song and sound, music and rhythm on children is well documented,whether you believe in the specific ‘ Mozart effect’ or not, and therefore definitely money well spent (or not spent very much at all in our case). Be it relaxation, social skills, or even balance, agility and the fine wirings of the brain, I’ll be sure to remember that as I listen to the high volume dulcet tones being hammered out from that pink plastic guitar. Those little old-ladies at the pop-up shop saw me coming that was for sure. They looked so innocent.


On the ‘free’ list of new things this week is a changeable calendar for Tiddler, to start thinking about weeks, months, weather (basically rain and wind every day so far- not sure quite when I’m going to be able to use the sunshine logo) which was a free print off  from the internet. We then put together some yesterday/today/tomorrow cards for points relevant to us. Again, I’m not so great in the ‘crafting’ area, so please look away if you are easily shocked all you real art and crafters out there, but it does the trick for us.

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Tiddler themed again I’m afraid, but an old sheet and a clothes stand have become a major asset in the sense of general well-being for the entire family. Let me introduce you to Tiddler’s fantastically floral toilet tent. A little bit of privacy, the ability to sit and read a book with the ‘door’ pegged closed if she wishes, her selection of marbles to drop into her ‘rattle’ tin every time she is successful- this freebie creation has done wonders.

Anyone else had some real bargain or free things this month?

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All full of frolics and fiddle-de-dees

A few days in and I’ve been dosed up to the eyeballs with various fb shares, memes and blog posts itemising exactly how everybody (and their dog) plan to make 2017 the very best they possibly can. Home on the ranch, we are in a slight hiatus wth potty training, so beyond the immediate necessity of asking Tiddler every fifteen minutes whether a bodily function is required, (please note she is indeed living up to the alternative meaning of her nom de guerre, and it is a good job Santa brought her plenty of pairs of knickers, say no more) I haven’t had much time to get my head round ‘improving’ things for myself.

My beekeepers course starts tomorrow evening, so I think that counts as something new and possibly challenging, although the new term also starts tomorrow and I must confess I am looking forwards to that with a downward exponential curve of enthusiasm. Suffice to say, now we have made a decision to leave our jobs this summer in search of the good life (or at least the good gap year if it doesn’t pan out) it is difficult to drum up the same level of motivation for something you know you are going to leave behind. So of course our ‘steps to happiness’ or ’17 challenges for 2017′, or however else you want to parcel up and buzz phrase the notion of change for the better, has to take into account all of that going on behind the scenes.

Interestingly enough, though modern day resolutions are usually to either get rid of bad habits (smoking and similar ilk) or to take on beneficial habits, the original resolutions from the Babylonians prove they were skinflinters (or at the very least minimalists) at heart as their focus was to pay off debts and return borrowed goods to the rightful owners. Medieval knights resolved to stick to their moral and ethical code of chivalry, and perhaps even Lent and Yom Kippur have some links to these ideas too. Makes our western world resolution to join the gym which we then give up on before February seem a little bit petty.

So my take on the best way forwards for the new year has come inspired from Tiddler’s choice of bedtime reading.


Julia Donaldson’s ‘A squash and a squeeze’ documents (in rhyming couplets of course, for toddler satisfaction) the sorry tale of a little old lady complaining her house is too small, and on taking the advice of a wise old man (dressed rather like a 1930’s Jesuit for some reason), introduces the hen, then the goat, a pig and finally a cow into her doily-laden house, and as you can imagine, this farmyard menagerie play merry havoc till she implores the wise man to help her again. His advice this time is to take all the animals out, and lo and behold, she discovers her house that was ‘weeny for five, was gigantic for one’. So happy is she in this new state of enlightenment that she is ‘full of frolics and fiddle-de-dees, it isn’t a squash or a squeeze’.


Reading this on a grown-up level, my thoughts are:

  1. Be happy with what you have in the first place. This reminds me of that (probably terribly misquoted proverb) “I cried because I didn’t have any shoes, and then I met a girl who didn’t have any feet”.
  2. Small is beautiful.
  3. Less is more.
  4. Do we make our own lives a squash and a squeeze, and if so, why?
  5. Are our stresses of our own making?
  6. Bring on the frolics and fiddle-de-dees!




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How to live in a barn and other stories

Thrifter’s birthday was a month or so ago, but blogging today because these two just arrived as gifts in the post, a little belated as as they were coming across from the States. Well worth the wait though, and so a big thank you for my good friend Taster who clearly knows me well.

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‘The children who lived in a barn’ is a whimsical, but often harsh children’s tale of five children whose parents go missing, and they are forced to camp out in a kindly (stereotypically ruddy-faced) farmer’s barn till their parents return. It isn’t all ginger beer and sandwiches as Enid Blyton would have us believe. Oh no, these children get accused of theft and ‘sluttish’ (in the original sense of the word) behaviour. Written in 1938, it really marks a time when rules seemed illogical, where it was perfectly normally for primary age children to be home alone without running water or hot food for weeks on end, but heavens forbid they turned up to church in a dirty pinny.
‘How to build a log cabin’, is a 1939 DIY bible for the backwoodsman. With the author’s own experience of living and constructing an authentic pioneer cabin, furnished with not only the ‘forefathers’ necessities but also Native American skilled craft furniture, and all delivered with a lot more practicality and a little less poetry than Walden. With some ingenuity (probably referenced on p35 for practical timber haulage)  I had to prise this book out of Digger’s hands when he spotted it, and may need to take further action before long and lock the tool shed so he can’t get out and be tinkering away just yet.

The link between the two of course, is our desire to, before too long, pack up our troubles in our kit bag (p124). We don’t know yet if that adventure will see us in a barn or a log cabin, but at least we have the reading matter to hand, so we’ll be able to smile, smile, smile.

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Creeeeyeeeyeeak-thud (is it the sound of falling trees?)

We all have heard, contemplated or indeed scoffed at the famous philosophical question as to whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if there is no-one there to hear it. Now the details to explain the ins-and-outs of that old chestnut (pun intended, I chuckle to myself) are far better explained elsewhere on the web, for example here at the OUPblog, so read through that to your heart’s content if you need a refresher course.
The Skinflint philosopher has been dwelling on this lately when considering the ideas of noise, sounds and silence. With Tiddler on constant yabber-dabber-doo overdrive, learning new words every day, our waking hours are filled with a whole range of sounds and words, and there is of course a true joy in witnessing this. But sometimes Thrifter longs for a few minutes of sound minimalism, aka, the sound of silence. Paul and Art clearly knew what they were singing about: in our multi-communication society do we really ever switch off? For so many of us our working days are all about talk and interaction, followed by ‘relaxation time’ where we continue to pipe music, noise and all-around-sound into our heads as well.
We tend to think of ‘Eastern cultures’ being aware of the consequences of this, and hence have perfected ways to listen to the silence and in essence act as noise minimalists. Tai-chi, yoga, and Japanese tea ceremonies are amongst many examples, but you could argue the sharing a smoking pipe by Native americans, or the Australian aborigines walkabout has exactly the same concept. It is not therefore about location, but perhaps about time. Down time, quiet time and think time. In a typical rat-race society, so many of us no longer designate time to do nothing, and therefore we are never able to hear nothing. Perhaps we would all benefit therefore from going back to our roots (slipped another tree reference in again there in case you were wondering) and think about giving ourselves some sound head-space.
Now those of you who want to go and live as a solitary hermit in a cave, or join a silent community, you may have the opportunity to reduce your personal soundscape. I can’t go to that extreme, but I will consider the vibrancy of sound, with those crashing creaking timbers of the tree twisting and falling, the disrupted fluttering sputter and calls as roosting birds take to the air, and the soft whump as it returns to the earth.  And I’ll enjoy the silence that follows it even more as a result. Yin and yang, my friends.

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Escape to the woods

View some of the images here, just because. Who doesn’t need a little log cabin tucked away in the forest?
Unfortunately for most of us we only have a Hansel and Gretel trail to get there, and so never reach our destination.
Solution? Stepping stones, rather than breadcrumbs.

Because it is a cutesy slice of Americana for those of us across the pond, this converted yellow school bus creates a space that looks the business, and if in any doubt of the location please notice the homespun patchwork quilt in there for good measure- now forever fixed in our mind by Whitney Otto in the 90’s as conjuring up images of tradition, family relationships and good old fashioned yarning (both embroidery based and natter).
I like the point the article makes “Contentment is the key to tiny living”- you have to be happy within your self, your possessions, and namely those you live with. Familiarity breeds contempt if you are none too careful, so my advice with this sort of thing is go park your bus somewhere where a warm/dry climate and let the Outdoors becomes your additional rooms. Potential rent free square footage under the sky, and if you get good enough ‘dark skies’ , free spotlights!