Sunday, February 2, 2014

Time Flies When a House Gets Built, Loved, and Sold

I love how life unfolds in sometimes planned and sometimes unplanned ways.  It was in 2007, that the boarding school we were working for began offering a housing stipend for faculty not living in campus housing.  Russ and I thought, "Why not make the most of this and buy a house???"

At the time, Russ had spent a lot of time fixing up our first rebuilt grease truck.  There were LOTS of things that he didn't see upon first inspection that came to the surface over the course of a couple of years.  

What you don't see on a used car is one thing....but what you don't see on a used house felt like quite another!  So we decided that we wouldn't buy, we would build.

There happened to be a piece of property for sale between two campus houses (the one we lived in and the one at the other end of the block).  We then thought to ourselves, "This is perfect!  We'll still be super close to work...and if ever we decide move on, surely the school would want to buy it!"  So we took out a loan and became legally bound together (10 months before our wedding) via this piece of property in August of 2008.  

Then came the months of planning.  First deciding what kind of house to build- a straw bale, then deciding to do the construction ourselves, then trying to get a construction loan, and then being turned down over and over and over again because of the type of house we decided to build.  

It was 9 months of leg work.  We had excellent credit and we had literally done everything.  In addition to the physical planning, paperwork, and phone calls, I even mapped out the house in stones on the property.  I stood where I would stand to do dishes, sat where I would sit to enjoy the view and drink my morning tea, etc.  It was such a beautiful and love filled idea that we had taken every human footstep necessary to bring to fruition.  Yet, according to many banks, it didn't seem like it would happen.  

Finally that May, 1 month before our wedding, my mom and I were making my wedding veil while waiting for a phone call from the last bank.  If that bank said no, then we wouldn't be able to build the house.  That morning I surrendered physically and emotionally.  I let go peacefully into the simple truth that if it wasn't meant to be... then it wasn't meant to be and I was finally truly okay with that.  I still remember that feeling clearly.  Sooooo, when the phone rang and the banker on the other end said that we were approved for the construction loan, you can only imagine the pure joy!  I jumped up and down like a 7 year old kid!  And then I cried!

We were married June 6th, 2009.  We went on our honeymoon for 2 weeks in Italy.  Then a week after our return, the foundation was laid and the longest and most intense 6 months of our lives began.  

That previous spring I sat next to a building contractor on a flight.  When I told him that I was getting married and that we were about to build a house he said, "Well that's a good way to get a divorce! Most couples can't handle picking out paint colors and door knobs, let alone actual construction." 

I laughed then and I laugh about it now, but I was not laughing in the midst of it!

Everyday of construction we were making critical decisions that neither of us, especially me, knew for sure the best answer.  I can only imagine the stress that Russ was feeling thru it all, because I was just a helper.  On top of it all I was dealing with the first real grief I'd felt in my life.  On July 4th, 2009 my stepdad of 25 years, Casey, suddenly passed away.

In spite of all of the challenges, it was really an incredible process and labor of love.  Our friends and family surrounded us and lifted us up with their physical and emotional support. I giggle thinking about how crazy they must have thought we were! 

On December 21st, 2009, two days shy of 6 months of construction, we received our certificate of occupancy!

It was like a cloud was lifted from over our relationship and our hearts.  We spent 4 incredible years in that house.  Every day I would look around in awe!  It definitely has flaws and I still think it's hilarious that it accidentally ended up orange.  But we made it and it is amazing!

Almost a year ago now, an opportunity for us to teach for a year in China came up and we knew we had to take it.  We decided we rent the house while we were gone and boy was that emotional!  The thought of letting a stranger live in the space that was built with our sweat, blood, and tears was hard. 

When we moved out in August, I cried a lot.  I didn't comprehend why at the time.  But our last night in the house, really felt like it was going to be our last night in the house.

Within two months of being in Beijing it became clear why that last night felt like the last.  We contacted our former boss to let him know that we were so grateful for the 8 years of employment and all that we learned and shared with the academy, but that we would be staying in China for more than the one year. 

The school immediately said that they were interested in purchasing our house and thus the next lesson on patience and trust began.  In praying about the situation.  I thought to myself, "It was a 9 month challenge to get a construction loan for the house.  And it was a 6 month challenge to physically build it.  Neither of those things did we know how to do before we did them.  But we learned.  That being said, selling a house could also be difficult.  But I am open to the possibility of it being easy!"  I prayed that the right buyer would purchase the house for a price that worked for both parties. 

It was under contract with the school for two and a half months.  We purchased plane tickets to fly home over this 2014 Chinese Spring Festival Holiday before it had officially sold.  It was a little scary but the Universe was working it all out perfectly!  

We landed in Utah on Saturday night.  Sold most of our furniture and belongings on Sunday.  Signed papers to close on the house, moved our remaining items to storage, and received the bank transfer on Monday.  Enjoyed time with friends and family on Tuesday/Wednesday.  Flew back to China on Thursday.  Whew!!!!

At no moment in that trip did we feel sad.  It all just felt right.  Exhausting....but right!  Time with our friends and family and dog were perfect and like no time had passed.  We couldn't be more grateful for how harmoniously it all unfolded.

While this may seem like the last post on this's not!  We still own a grease car and we plan to build another straw bale home sometime down the road.  Thanks for reading and following.  In the meantime you can find us at:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Furniture sale!

It seems so dramatic to sell just about everything, but I think it is healthy that we be willing to let things go so that we can make room for new.  Right now the new that we want to make room for is world travel and adventure.  I know that one day we will be back in the States and we will need to furnish a house again, but I am going to trust that the resources and furnishings that we need will be there when we need them.  

This home that we built is a place where we really put into action reusing/repurposing things.  Now we want most of the furnishings that we brought into the home and loved dearly to find new homes so that we can continue our adventure around the world with freedom.  

Since we will only be in town for a few days at the end of January I'm hoping to get much of the selling leg work out of the way before we get there.  I will do my best to point out the things in each picture that are for sale with a price. Some things will be listed more than once if they are in more than one picture. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Solid wood Restoration Hardware couch table $500
Couch/Chair/Automan Set $600
Black leather chair $75
Beige patent leather chair $15
Black metal ikea table $10
Standing floor lamp (on the left) $15
Table lamp (on the Ikea table) $20
Wood round table lamp- Pottery Barn with shade $35
Antique game table (the table with the typewriter on it has a top that swivels and opens up) $100
Throw pillows $5-10 each
Wicker basket with hinging lid $10
Flat screen TV $200
Couch/Chair/Automan $600
Black leather chair $75
Beige patent leather chair $15
Black metal ikea table $10
Standing floor lamp $15
Table lamp (on the Ikea table) 
Wood round table lamp- Pottery Barn with shade $35
Antique game table $100 (the table with the typewriter on it has a top that swivels and opens up)
Antique metal bar stool with orange cushion $20
Flat screen TV $200
Floor rug approx. 2'-6' $20
Solid wood Restoration Hardware 3 compartment entertainment cabinet (behind the chair in the alcove) $600 
Couch/Chair/Automan $600
Antique Fireplace tools $50
Wood round table lamp- Pottery Barn with shade $40
Antique game table $100 (the table with the typewriter on it has a top that swivels and opens up)
Antique Fireplace Tool Set $50
Antique metal cooler $30
Antique metal plant rack $40
New queen size mattress, spilt box spring, headboard and frame $550
Antique lofted dresser $50
Table lamp $20 
Vintage fabric chair $20

Full size pillow-top mattress and box spring $75
Silver lamp with orange shade $10

Other things for sale that I don't have photos of are:

Solid wood table/desk approx 2'x3.5' $40
Wooden 5 shelf leaning shelf (the kind that are wide at the bottom and narrower at the top) $35
grey metal shop stool $15
Metal rolling welding bench 1/4 inch plate steel approx. 6'x2' (500lbs) $100
5 gallon stainless steel construction shop vacuum $100
16 or 18 foot (can't remember from China) fiberglass A frame ladder $250

Hammock chair swing $50
2 man tent MSR Hubba Hubba with new poles and footprint $250
Fixed Gear Road Bike $200
Vintage Cruiser Bike $75

The actual garage sale/pickup date will be January 26th.  There will be many many more things for sale on that day.  If you know for sure that you want something, you can do a 20% deposit thru PayPall to reserve the item but it must be picked up and paid for in full before 12:00 PM on Sunday, January 26th or the deposit will be lost.  Everything will be on a first come first serve basis.

*Ava, the dog, is not for sale!  She'll be moving to China with us in August. :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

7 Green(Washed) Things You Should Never Buy Again

I just  received this email from Green America that I thought was worth sharing.  Seven short and sweet summaries of how we can be more informed consumers.

7 Green(Washed) Things You Should Never Buy Again
1. Biodegradable Bags

What do they cost? $5 – $20
Smile SkullWhat’s wrong with them?
Unless you know these bags are ending up in a compost bin, they’re not doing the planet or your wallet any good. There’s a good chance they’ll end up in a landfill where they will fail to decompose due to the anaerobic state of compacted trash.
Buy this instead: Reusable bags made of cotton or with high recycled plastic content are a great choice ($10 – $20). Also, remember to reuse the many plastic bags that may package your food ($0).

2. Conventional Granola Bars 

What do they cost? $4 – $6 for a box of 18 to 24 bars.
What’s wrong with them? Conventional wisdom says that granola bars are a quick and healthy way to start your day, but most of them are filled with sugar, carbohydrates, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with little of the beneficial protein and fiber they like to tout on their labels. Some have artificial flavors and preservatives. Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars (owned by General Mills), for example, contain soy protein, soy flour, canola oil, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar syrup, and soy lecithin, all of which are highly likely to contain GMOs.

Buy this instead: Certified organic energy bars with high protein and low sugar content. Foods bearing the certified organic label cannot contain GMOs. A handful of organic nuts makes a healthy snack, as well.

3. "Green" or "Ethical" Bottled Water
What does it cost? $1.75 – $4.50
What’s wrong with it? Bottled water sends approximately two million tons of plastic to landfills each year. Even if all the plastic was recycled, it still represents a huge carbon footprint, especially when you consider how far much of this water must be trucked before it reaches its destination. Plus, plastic downcycles, meaning that you can recycle it once or twice, and then it becomes an unusable mess — which ends up as waste in landfills or the ocean.
Buy this instead: Tap water ($0). If you’re concerned about your local water quality, consider buying a water filter ($30 and up).

4. Cell Phone Radiation Screen 

What does it cost? $17 – $30
What’s wrong with it? Manufacturers of these screens claim they mitigate the harmful effects of cell phone radiation, but their effectiveness is highly suspect and not at all regulated.
Buy this instead: Use a plug-in headset ($5 – $30), or put your cell on speaker phone and hold it at least two inches away from your body ($0) to minimize radiation exposure. Even a Bluetooth headset will help.
5. Recyclable Plastic Products

What do they cost? $3 – $20
What’s wrong with them? “Recyclable” plastic sounds green, but this phrase is a classic example of greenwashing. Just because plastic is recyclable doesn’t mean there will be facilities available for you to recycle it in your state. It also does not mean that the item contains any recycled content. In addition, as noted in #3, plastic downcycles, rather than recycles, into waste that invariably ends up in landfills or the ocean.
Buy this instead: Replace plastics with reusable glass or metal containers such as a stainless steel water bottle ($12 – $40).

6. Greenwashed Cleaning Products

What does they cost? 22 oz. for $5

What’s wrong with them? Many of these greenwashed products claim to be “nontoxic”—a term that is unregulated on product labels and is basically meaningless—yet include toxins in their ingredient list.
Buy this instead: Truly green cleaners certified by Green America’s Green Business Network®. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps m (16 oz. for $10.50), for example, are not only certified Fair Trade and organic but are also nontoxic. Their concentrated formula means that once you dilute their soaps, you’ll be getting the same amount of cleaning for a comparable amount of money. Another option is to make your own cleaning products.

7. Ethanol Fuel

What does it cost? New cars that can run on E85 are of comparable cost to new gasoline-powered vehicles.
What’s wrong it? Ethanol, which is mainly produced from corn in the United States, takes a vast amount of fossil fuels to grow and should not be considered green. In addition, the mostly genetically modified corn that the fuel is made from contributes to problems with GM cross-contamination and Monsanto’s hold on American seeds.
Buy this instead: Biodiesel made from waste products such as used cooking oil is a more environmentally friendly alternative. Kits for converting used cooking oil into biodiesel run from $1,000 to $2,000.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Russ' Dream VW Truck Totalled- Sadness!!!!

What do you do when your antique/fully rebuilt truck is totaled and insurance doesn't want to give you the money for the parts and time you have into to it? The back story: It all began because I, Brittany, bought a 2002 to VW Jetta that was converted to run on waste vegetable oil (WVO). The WVO oil was part of the car was great, the 2002 Jetta part of the car was a lemon. If we were going to continue with the WVO thing Russ said we needed a different vehicle... something older... something without a computer in it. (He was a bike mechanic, so he understood moving parts, computers were a whole different game that he would later figure out). After lots of research he said to me, "What we need is a 1980 VW Rabbit Pickup." This was in 2008. So he began looking for a truck the same age as us!  What?!?! Okay. 
He came across a beautifully restored golden brown 1980 Rabbit caddy in California for $6900. He flew out there, barely knowing how to operate a manual/"stick shift" and drove it back to Utah. We puttzed (literally) around in that truck for several years. One thing at a time would fail on it. And one thing at a time he would fix on it. As frustrated as he was about all of the work he had to do on this "restored" vehicle, all of those lessons led him to the 25+ trucks he has saved from the junk yard.

In 2010 we sold the little brown truck and upgraded to a 1996 VW Passat TDI, with AC and airbags. But his love for the early 80s caddy rebuilds continued.

With each vehicle that would come into our driveway he would say, "This is in the one. This is the one I will fix up and keep." And the day would come that it was finished and he would look at a truck/car and his eyes would see "$$$$$ $$$$$$" and he'd post it on the Vortex or Ebay or KSL and it would sell in a matter of days.

Then one day, after about 10 months of work and some slime green paint with black trim and interior and a rebuilt TDI engine. He had found "the one". There was no puttzing along in this one. It had a TDI (turbo diesel engine) in it. He was pulled over several times for speeding in the green truck! He had to admit, as much as he loved this truck and with our pending move to China, this truck also had a price tag. He had it insured for $7000, but if someone wanted to give him $8000 for it, he would let it go. He had a guy on the line for it for that amount.... until I was rear-ended by a guy that caused a four car pileup four weeks back. The green truck is totaled.

So now to the point of this whole post and to hopefully help someone in a similar situation in the future. What do you do when your antique/fully rebuilt truck is totaled and insurance doesn't want to give you the money for the parts and time you have into to it? The guy who rear-ended the woman behind me, causing her to hit me, causing me to hit the car in front of me was fully at fault for the accident. His insurance, we will call "Insurance P", valued the truck at $3900. That is quite the kick in the pants to a guy who had more than that into it in parts alone. Not counting the $3000 in labor. So we called our insurance to see what we could do about it. We thought it would be easy cheesy, since we had it insured for $7000. Little did we know that that would only be the case if we had it appraised within 2-3 months of an insurance claim. Never the less, we filed a claim through our insurance knowing that we would still have to pay the deductible. The adjustor that came out didn't seem too optimistic that we'd see $7000. After some feeling bad for ourselves for a bit, we reflected on what the fundamental concern for an insurance company was. It is not making sure that people are protected or that their things are valued. Their fundamental concern is the bottom line. MONEY. They only want to pay out what they can prove is the value of something. So Russ and I went to work to dig up receipts for all of the parts in the truck, the rebuild of the engine and injection pump, we even submitted a bill of sale of a similar truck that Russ had sold a few months back.

There was no way for insurance to find a comparable on a 1982 body, with a custom European front end put on it, with a rebuilt turbo diesel engine with only 3,000 miles on it, and a brand new paint job and restored interior.

But we did the best we could to provide all of the information the insurance companies could possibly want and then we anxiously waited for a phone call from each insurance company. Insurance P called back saying that none of that info made a difference and they were sticking with the $3900 value. So I braced myself with pen and paper when our insurance called....they valued the truck at $7440!!!!!! It wasn't the $8000 that Russ was expecting to sell the truck for, but it was so much more than we were expecting the insurance company to be willing to give us!!! And Russ was able to buy the truck back with a salvage title for $350 and he can part it out. The engine is still great and all of the other valuable 1982 rabbit specific parts are salvageable, so in the end Russ will come out ahead. So the moral of the story is... save your receipts, be willing to stand up for yourself, do some leg work for the insurance company, and be Russ (because you can do something with all of the leftover parts!).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Home for Rent

We are moving overseas for a year and are looking to rent our home to loving hands while we are gone.  We are hoping to leave it furnished, but can move furniture out if needed.  10-12 month lease option.  We are flexible on move in and out dates. We feel strongly about having no pets, smoking or small children.

2 Bedroom/1 Bathroom Eco Friendly 1200 sq/ft
Built in 2009
-Full/Partially/Not furnished (whatever is needed)
-All energy star appliances
-Front loading Washer/Dryer
-Concrete Countertops
-Vaulted Ceiling
-Attic Storage
-Radiant Floor Heat
-Wood Burning Stove
-On demand hot water
-Yard Care Provided!!!!
-East and West Porches (comfortable for any time of day or year)
-Outdoor fire/chiminea
-Incredible view of Horseshoe Mountain
-Across the street from a soccer field 
-1 block from tennis courts

Rent- $750
Deposit $2000 The deposit is high do to the unique nature of our home.  

For information about what a straw bale house is click: HERE
To view interior photos click: HERE
A summary of utilities click: HERE

Note- Shop space at rear of lot is not for rent and will be used for our storage while we are gone.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Our Home in a Magazine!

A couple of months ago an editor at SHEKNOWS magazine contacted us about highlighting our home in their sustainable living section.  It was a little funny to us because we just do what we do because it's how we want to do things.  We realize that building your home, insulated by straw, with your own hands and driving a car that runs on waste vegetable oil are definitely not for everyone.  But it is quite the compliment to have a total stranger recognize it as something other people might be interested in, too.

Click the links below to see/read the two little photo stories about our home. 
"Brittany and Russ Hopkins began construction on their home just one week after their honeymoon. The process was trial by fire but the result is a one-of-a-kind, beautiful straw bale home, leading the way for sustainable practices and stellar style." Constructing the Straw Bale Home

"Sustainable living doesn't have to skimp on style. Need proof? Take a walk through the Hopkins' straw bale home, a true testament to functionality and fun, chic ..." Straw Bale Style

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hopkins' Straw Bale Home Interior Photos

Big news that I haven't shared via the blog yet is that Russ and I are moving to Beijing for a year to teach dance and photography at a high school!!!! We are looking for a loving and kind person to rent and care for our home while we are gone. We are hoping to leave it furnished for whomever that person may be. If not we will pack away the un-needed furniture and things into the garage while we're gone. I've been meaning to take some better interior shots for awhile now. So here is what our straw bale home looks like after three years of love! I would show the guest room- but it is currently packed with things we are hoping to sell at our HUGE garage sale this weekend. It is funny how even in such a small home one can squirrel away all kinds of things that don't get used. It feels good to have spring in the air for cleaning and purging! Enjoy the photos!