Tag Archive: vandwelling

Spring in Vancouver

IMG_3675I came out west on April 4, trading winter for cherry blossoms. As per tradition I was coming home flat broke, so I couldn’t insure  the van right away; I visited my mom (the pic is at her house on Vancouver Island, where the van was hunkered down all winter), I couch surfed in Vancouver for a few weeks, I worked and got back on financial track, and about a week ago I moved back into my baby. So good to be home!!



Fall in Toronto

My first week working in an architectural office was stressful: immersion in AutoCAD made me want to tear my hair out, I had to give a presentation about myself to the firm, and on the Thursday I was supposed to meet one of the architects at an address on King Street, but I neglected to put “west” into Google maps, and followed my phone’s directions for half an hour in the wrong direction on transit… not a good impression! I did settle in and become more comfortable with the software and the tasks, and my coworkers were totally adorable, but I can’t say that it felt like I’d found my calling. It’d taken me 15-20 years of being an adult to really feel like I knew what I was doing in the world, but now I was moving into a field where I was starting pretty much from scratch. On many days I felt lost, and on some days I actually started to think I was developmentally disabled.

There were also great days: I wasn’t fast at producing drawings, but once I finished one I was generally pretty pleased with it. And I had lots of opportunities to visit and measure and draw old heritage properties. I also loved living in Toronto, wandering the little neighbourhood villages and ravines, trying out all the cafes and cheap restaurants I could. I even enjoyed the short little commute to work every morning, somehow romanticizing the forced intimacy of the packed subway. Once or twice a week I played chess with my dear old friend Danielle, and I connected with some other friends, past present and future, who happened to be living in Canada’s gravitational centre. BC will always be my home, but I could imagine making a second home in Toronto.

Living inside was pretty good. Having a closet was nice. And a fridge. And my room-mates were pretty nice too. But talking to people it seemed they all expected that I’d be overwhelmed with relief, and it certainly wasn’t like that either. I think it’s hard for people to believe, but van life truly isn’t a hardship, it’s a joy. It takes some work and some creativity and some going through rough patches to learn the routine that works for you, but once you’ve got it down, it truly is home.

Staying Nomadic

Holy overdue blog post. Coming back from my road trip last year there was so much to write about, then all those van repairs busted up my flow, and since then I just haven’t had the heart to try to get caught up. But I’ve been concerned about the misimpression people were getting when they stumbled onto the site and saw the trouble I was in last winter and the lack of entries since then. And my concern became acute when I got asked about the blog during a job interview over Skype! I didn’t get to update it in time for my employers, but that put it on my to-do list for sure, and now here I am ready to fill you in with a quick point-form update…

  • The van got fixed, at great expense, thanks to a small but very timely little windfall and some help from relatives… thank you Kayla, and Dixie, and even Roscoe!
  • I spent the winter working overnights at a cold-weather shelter, back with my old employer. It was my first time working in 2 years; also my first time working as a vandweller. I have to say, it was pretty great. I was saving up money for my next round of school, and with the combined effects of not paying rent and my much better developed budgeting skills (compared to when I was working before, making twice as much money) I was astonished at how much I was able to put away.
  • I continued to work on various little architecture-related side projects, trying to become better prepared for the work term position I would have to find, come summertime. I learned autocad and brushed up on other design software, I volunteered on a shed project with a community garden, and I did some work with a company that installs and maintains living roofs.
  • I spent a lot of time at the beach!
  • I got a bike, and I have to say that was really wonderful. In two and a half years of living in a van, my only complaints were 1) that I missed cooking, and 2) I really missed having a bike. I suppose I could have strapped one onto the outside of the van somehow, but with risks of weather and theft and with general annoyance and ugliness of things strapped onto the roof, I never bothered. Instead I stored it in my friend’s shed, and for much of the summer I parked near her house and rode around Vancouver happy as a clam.
  • One day I got a note on my windshield from that very same friend’s neighbours asking me not to park in front of their house. That’s only the second time it’s ever happened to me, because I usually don’t park twice in the same spot, and I usually choose spots that aren’t associated with one house. No one has ever approached me in person to say that I shouldn’t be there. Granted, I don’t think people often stop to wonder if there’s someone in the van: no light gets out, and it’s only on rare occasions that anyone would see it rocking. But it’s not exactly inconspicuous either, the windows are still covered in maroon shag, after all.
  • I spent most of the month of August house-sitting for friends, and that was a real blessing. I can handle almost any temperature at night, but by then I was working more overnight shifts, and sleeping in a van in the daytime in summer is just not possible. Hot hot hot!!!
  • I applied to various positions at architectural offices, and late in August I got word that one of them (the very one that I desperately wanted) wanted me! It’s called ERA Architects in Toronto, they specialize in heritage conservation, and they do amazing work. I think it was the van that got me the job; during the interview that was most of what we talked about!
  • I decided I didn’t want to put my van through another cross-Canada trip just yet, so I packed some things, parked the van in my mom’s yard, covered it up to protect it from the pine needles and the bird poo, and I flew out to a new life in Toronto.

I’ve been staying with my dear friend Danielle, who lives about a block from my work, but on October 1 I move into my new place. The last time I paid rent was 34 months ago, can you believe it??? Feels weird. People ask me if it’s a relief, having a bed and a shower inside. The answer is “it’s alright.”

Van Kinbaku

Vandwelling NYC (1)

Day 1 was just driving. Beautiful fall colours all through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Had a bit of a scare watching the mileage, but that was after hours of facing a headwind, and uphill; on flatter terrain the mileage was slightly better than I had planned for. On a 9000km trip with very slim financial margins, these things make a difference! Crossed the border after dark and made it to Portland, Maine, where I found a comfortable place to park for the night in about 5 minutes.

Day 2 was just driving too. Freeway and trees, with the odd tollbooth. Paul Simon in my head: “so when I reached my prime, I left my home in the maritimes, headed down the turnpike for New England, sweet New England…” I’m relying on the signs, having completely used up my $25 roaming data by early morning, just from using my phone’s map feature a few times.

Just as it’s starting to get dark I arrive, mapless, in the largest city I’ve ever visited. I take a random exit, turn a bunch of times trying to avoid all the potholes and taxis, and find myself lost in a neighbourhood that’s all latino autobody shops. The Bronx, I learn later. I love that it feels just like non-touristy Mexico, but it takes me a few minutes to adjust. I stop and park, collect my thoughts, and go for a walk. Try to look tough. Can’t find a place to use internet. Definitely no Starbucks. Find a store, buy a paper map. Get back to the van, relieved. After studying the map for about half an hour I go for a drive, manage to find my way to Manhattan, and park around 80th and Lexington. I think I’m allowed to park here this time of night? Go for another walk, find a Starbucks: internet, thank god! I have a horror of fussing with my huge, already torn paper map, so I download an offline one that can use the phone’s gps to tell me where I am, yay! Research a few likely YMCA’s for a shower and a swim, tomorrow. I’m guessing daytime parking anywhere on the island will be impossible, so I drive back to the Bronx for the night. Settle in, sleep like a baby.

Easy winter

Yeah, school’s been keeping me away from the blog, but there’s another reason I haven’t written anything about sleeping in the cold yet… I was waiting for a night that felt like a real accomplishment, a real Canadian winter night spent in a van. But global warming seems to be working in my favour: -16 is about the coldest it got for me. There were two nights that it got down to -19, but one was the night I was locked out (see last entry), and the other I was up all night at school finishing a project.

All in all I was pretty comfortable this winter, and the key to it all was my beautiful, sweet, dear hot water bottle. Instead of trying to heat up the bed with my body, I’d boil water at school before I left, and toss it in bed about foot level. By the time I got home it’d be nice and toasty (in one spot at least). Many, many thanks to Shirley for that idea.

I only had one vandwelling adventure, when my usual spot at Horseshoe Island got buried in snow and I had to find a new one that wasn’t in the way of the snow plows. I backed the car onto a quiet little corner off the road near the yacht club, and got stuck halfway with two feet of compacted snow under the van. After about 45 minutes of digging it all out and tramping down the snow behind, I was able to back all the way in. I used that spot for the next two or three weeks, it was lovely. Sometimes it even had internet!

This photo was last week… I always leave the front windows open a crack for fresh air, and on that night there was a fine dusty snow getting blown all around… by morning it was winter wonderland in the front seat!

It can still be pretty chilly (yesterday morning when I woke up it was -7 inside the van), but most nights are fine, and last night marked the lifting of the ban on overnight street parking, so in my world, winter is officially over. Wahoo!!

Well now I feel dumb. I woke up at 5am to the sound of the largest snowplow in the world coming to a grinding halt in front of my van. See, where I’m from when there’s a big snowfall the city’s plows are totally overwhelmed, and if the snow doesn’t immediately melt then it takes a week just to get the streets clear… it never even occurred to me that here they would ever get around to plowing my little boat launch!

The driver was actually really nice, he told me I didn’t have to move since his machine was too big to manoeuvre in the little lot anyway. But the law here is really about obstructing snow removal, so if they plow my parking lot then it follows that the parking ban applies there. My waterfront property isn’t so perfect after all…

Update Sep 24: I found another spot that I used on nights when the plows were out, but found I was in their way there too, so in the end I went back to my perfect spot and just stopped worrying about it. (shrug) What can you do?

Beach House

Beautiful big dump of snow today, yayyyyy!!! But this means I have to shovel my driveway. No really, I have a driveway now. With the overnight parking ban there are only a few places I can go at night, but one of those places is so utterly perfect that I’ve decided to make it my permanent winter home. It’s a little boat launch with a few parking spots right on the water, private and quiet, and as far as I can tell it’s totally legal to park there overnight. I share it with a squadron of ducks, and every so often I hear them squawking at each other. They sound exactly like Daffy Duck, it cracks me up. Anyway my one concern about this place is that there’s a bit of a slope to the entrance that could be tough to navigate when it’s icy, so the other day I bought a snow shovel and some de-icer. So I can take care of the driveway leading to my new waterfront property, ba ha!

Vandwelling and school

Hello! Been a long time; I’ll do my best to give a concise little update.

Well, Monday night around 7pm I temporarily lost my mind. It was time to pin up the term’s biggest project, “the pavilion”; I wasn’t ready, and even though I only had a little bit left to do, at that moment it felt completely hopeless and I became non-functional. After stumbling around in circles for a while I went out to the the van, curled up in bed, and had a little fantasy about taking my winter student loan money, driving south to the desert (Arcosanti!!), and never coming back. When I realized that wouldn’t work I called a friend, and she talked me down. I went back to the studio and did whatever, and of course it all turned out okay. I guess that was the climax of the term. Two other memorable events: the time I stayed up for 40 hours working on an assignment that I got a C on, and the group project that went horribly wrong and traumatized all of us.

The good news is, those intense experiences are only moments, and they’re vastly outnumbered by the moments of pure joy. I’ve become really fond of all my classmates, and I have lots of ideas about how to be more organized with my time next term. And when it comes down to it, all we do here is draw and make models; I still feel incredibly lucky to be doing this. I’m not one of the super-stars, and that’s fine; I can see how far I’ve come in just a few months, and that makes me think that one day I really will make it through.

Vandwelling and architecture school go surprisingly well together. One of the major problems of vandwelling is having a place to go, and architecture school takes care of that handily: each of us gets our own studio space that we have access to 24 hours a day, and our workload is so big it’s entirely normal for folks to be there all day and well into the wee hours, even on Friday and Saturday nights. School is also where I store all my food since I’m there all the time, and my diet has actually expanded now that I have regular use of a fridge and microwave. Being a student means I get to use the pool for free, and I hang my towel and swimsuit at studio, since with the fall weather here they wouldn’t ever dry in the van. And architecture students seem to find the idea of living in a van kinda cool… in fact they’re really sweet; on the first few nights that the temperature dropped below zero there were a few people that approached me and offered a place to stay if I needed it. Also you may remember Halifax has a winter ban on overnight street parking; that comes into effect Dec 12, and one of my kind studio-mates has offered his yard as a place to avoid the ticket-weasels. Overall I have to say, everything seems to be working out.

Tuesday I fly home for the holidays… I’m going to see all my Vancouver peeps and get nice and fat on my mom’s cooking, so my vandwelling adventures will be on hold til I get back in early January. Talk to you then… happy holidays, y’all!