We love our house. People can say what they want about living in a small home, but my husband and I both grew up in small houses and didn’t imagine anything different when we bought our first house. We love it so much, we decided to gut and remodel it in 2018. “It’s a solid structure, use what you have and make it yours,” said our contractor.

When we went to him with the concept, he took a few weeks to build up a plan, and a budget, and it was time to get started.“There’s one catch. You need to move out.” Two adults, two kids, and two dogs deep, we started researching other means of living during this large undertaking—rentals, corporate housing, hotel and residence inn stays—and finally, we found our “garden home” on Facebook Marketplace. We decided that it wasn’t necessary to go very far. After all, it was May and it would be a fun summer adventure to live in a pop-up camper in our backyard. It was an adventure that we would never forget. And guess what? It. was. an. adventure. we. would. never. forget. Ever. No, really, ever.

Summer was officially around the corner, so it felt like we were camping every night. My husband, who is incredibly talented and functions with an “I’ll make it work” attitude made it comfortable. He purchased foam topper mattresses for the beds, installed a standing air conditioner and a flat-screen television with Apple TV and cable. We moved our refrigerator to the garage and used the side door with access to the downstairs, which has a bathroom, shower, washer, and dryer.

Since we are training for a marathon in the fall, there was no better time for early morning runs. June: Things are coming along. The walls are removed, the structure is being built and things are starting to look like they are coming together quickly. Each night, we sit by the fire outside and talk and laugh. We wake up early and take turns running so we can train. I packed a small bin with clothes and bathing suits out for the summer. Less laundry.

July: They opened a wall and “uh oh.” Now we need to reconfigure the electric and the plumbing. New estimates on cost and time are proposed. Nights by the fire are replaced by our two kids fighting inside the camper and we can no longer agree on what to watch as a family. Waking up early to run is tiring and painful from sleeping on the camper mattress. And what is that smell outside? Skunks keep the dogs pacing night after night. I wish I kept more clothes out of storage, I’m so sick of laundry!

August: It’s over 90 degrees outside, day after day. We go on daily drives and bike rides. We try to wake up even earlier during the week and on weekends to train because by 8 a.m., it’s too hot to run. The kids are bored and miserable. The contractors are here, but not every day. On certain days they are waiting on supplies to show up and some days they are on vacation or taking a day off. I will puke if I have to grill one more chicken breast or eat another hot dog. Also, that skunky smell? That would be from the woman on the next block who has been feeding the skunks!

September: First day of school pictures take place in front of the camper. Good news! Our contractor said this could be the month we move back in! Hopefully, the temperatures start to drop now that it’s September. I purchased an electric skillet so we are making more pasta and one-pot meals and grilling less. Pasta is good for running. I’m pretty sure these added pounds are muscle. It’s definitely not the wine, beer, or carbs. I’m confident that running the marathon will be easy compared to the past months we’ve endured in the camper.

October: Was it just me, or was that the hottest September? The temperatures are so uncomfortable. Fixtures are being installed, walls are being painted. Our fall wardrobe is packed in storage and so I make a trip to Target to purchase a few replacement pieces until we move back in…which should be any day now. The marathon day has arrived and we stay in a hotel the night before the race. Heaven. I’m certain that the extra weight or lack of sleep had no effect whatsoever on my unfavorable finish time.

November 11: It’s finished. My husband and I stand quietly in the new house. There isn’t a scratch on the floor, the floorboards are white and crisp, no scuff marks on the doors, and the faucets are without fingerprints. The project went well over budget and the timeline was constantly pushed back. There were days that felt like we were moving forward and days that felt like we were taking many steps back. There were days of fighting and quiet days where none of us wanted to speak to each other. But as we stood there in the quiet, looking around, we knew it was all worth it. Our marriage, our family—we had an appreciation for each other and anything that was thrown at us in the future, we know we can always say “We lived in a camper for five months. We’ve got this!”

November 12: Goodbye floors, cabinets, and newly painted walls, the Dawkins are moving back in.

Looking back, this was a prelude for what was to come in 2020. I am confident that the camper experience allowed us to band together as a family and take on these challenges headfirst. This year, I remain grateful for my home and my family. Much like our experience in 2018, we are taking this experience—the good, the bad, and the really bad—one day at a time.