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special report
Couple trades home in Durham for a 33-foot school bus, bought in Greensboro

The late-afternoon sunlight trickles through the windows, bouncing off the colorful Spanish tiles lining the wall, filtering through the prayer flags hanging from a shelf with books on sustainable living before settling on the wooden floorboards.

Juby Maness looks up from the bell pepper she’s chopping to grab a mason jar filled with spices, lights the single burner and turns back to cutting the pepper, her long dreadlocks swinging behind her.

Her husband, Justin Maness, passes by carrying their 10-month-old baby, Azalea. In a move like two acrobats swapping positions on a tightrope, he slides around his wife, narrowly avoiding a collision with the counter on the other side of the kitchen. The top of his head is inches from the ceiling.

The baby squeals, and Justin throws his head back and laughs. Birds are chirping, the night is starting to cool down and another weekend of adventure is starting.

It’s a good night to be living in a school bus.

Two years ago, Justin and Juby, both age 29, decided to trade their home in Durham for a 33-foot school bus, joining an ever-growing community of traveling adventurers living a mobile lifestyle. The two are happier than ever.

“When you look back on your life, your memories and the people you know and the things you did, a huge bank account doesn’t matter,” Justin said. “I want to remember this time I get waking up next to my daughter every single day and seeing her laugh and smile.”

• • •

Anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million Americans live full-time in an RV, said Kevin Broom, director of media relations for the RV Industry Association. That doesn’t include the tens of thousands living out of school buses, vans, trailers and other portable homes.

Micah Pulleyn, founder and director of the Asheville Van Life Rally, sees more and more people turning away from a society based in consumerism and material goods to live or travel in alternative rigs.

“People have this primal craving for freedom and adventure and genuine connection with others,” Pulleyn said. “It’s something that’s found sitting around a campfire sharing stories with friends, fostering that authentic connection. Van life is creating a space for people to meet and share their kindness, curiosity and fears.”

The pervasiveness of the internet makes this possible, Broom said, as more and more people are able to work remotely from the road.

The 2008 housing crisis prompted many people to abandon traditional brick-and-mortar homes and opt into tiny homes or other alternative living solutions to cut down on costs, Justin said. Now, an entire industry has sprung up around the concept. Van conversion companies are booked months in advance, advice blogs are all over the internet and “Van Life” groups on social media platforms have thousands of members.

“A lot of people thought this would be a fad,” he said. “But now that the economy is actually growing and doing well, it’s still around and going strong, which I think is interesting and something I didn’t expect either.”

• • •

Meet Juby: an artist who grew up splitting her time between the United Kingdom and the United States. She attended the Savannah College of Art and Design to study fashion and painting before transferring to graduate from Parsons Paris in 2013, but she wasn’t ready to settle down. She moved to Hawaii to work on an organic orchid farm.

Enter Justin: a beekeeper who grew up with his grandparents in Fayetteville before attending N.C. State University to study horticulture. During college, he went to Hawaii to intern on a permaculture farm. There, he met Juby.

In 2015, the couple moved back to Durham. Juby was running a successful boutique, Moon Flower Child, and Justin worked at Buddha Bee Apiary, maintaining bee hives across the state. But even with steady work, they were still living paycheck to paycheck.

Juby — the creative, impulsive one, Justin jokes — bought a short school bus for her business, turning it into a mobile boutique. In 2017, she started traveling up and down the East Coast selling her items at markets and participating in pop-up events.

“That really triggered a desire to travel more, and we really liked the bus vibe,” Juby said. “We started falling into van life and looking into alternative ways to live because we were tired of trying to make ends meet in Durham.”

Buying a bus to live in full-time was the logical next step. Juby saw a posting on eBay for a former Salem Public Schools bus. The two went to Greensboro to check it out.

“I should have known, we were not leaving that place without the bus,” Justin said.

• • •

What does it take to transform a school bus into a functioning home for a family of three? A year and a half of intensive labor.

They painted the bus red and installed an air-conditioning unit. Solar panels. A bathroom, complete with a composting toilet; a walk-through shower that doubles as Azalea’s play area; a kitchen sink, stove and full-sized fridge. Every aspect of their bus was designed and built in a way that would work for their family, Justin said.

Small touches, like cabinet doors wood-burned with Juby’s designs or Polaroid pictures of friends and family on the wall make the bus feel like home.

The renovations cost nearly $11,500, Justin said. Add that to the $3,500 they paid for the bus, and the entire project rang in around $15,000.

As they began renovations, the couple wanted to document the process from start to finish. Armed with their trusty GoPro camera, they started a YouTube channel with weekly videos describing the construction process and day-to-day life on the bus. They also launched an Instagram account with over 11,000 followers and counting.

Juby credits the actor Jason Momoa of “Aquaman” with their explosion of online popularity. Justin frequently gets mistaken for the famous actor, and one of their “Week in the Life” videos featured a thumbnail photo that viewers thought was Momoa and his wife, Lisa Bonet. Fans flocked to their YouTube channel thinking Momoa had moved into a bus, only to become hooked on Justin and Juby’s content.

Last summer, the family took their first extended road trip up the East Coast. This winter, they’ll venture south, spending a few months exploring Florida. Eventually, Justin dreams of spending a winter in Baja California and exploring out west.

These moments — the days spent practicing yoga on the rocks of a mountain range in Connecticut, dancing at a music festival or sitting outside sharing a meal while visiting a friend’s farm — make their unconventional life worth the sacrifice.

• • •

Justin still misses air conditioning, and the two agree it would be nice to one day have some “real” furniture, but for now, their bus is everything they hoped it would be.

Environmentally, they’re able to live a more sustainable life. Yes, it takes lots of diesel fuel to fill the bus, which gets 8 miles per gallon, but no one is perfect, Justin said. When you only have 100 gallons of water or run all appliances off a single solar-powered battery, you quickly learn to conserve resources.

Financially, they’re in a good place. They’re no longer paying for housing, and their utility bills have dropped dramatically. Their earned income is slowly starting to rise.

From their school bus, Juby creates items for her boutique, which she then sells through her online store. Justin’s work is slightly harder to make mobile: once a month, he travels back to North Carolina to check on the bee hives he’s set up across the state. Their YouTube and Instagram accounts also help.

To be successful in van life, Justin said, you must know why you want to live an unconventional life.

“We realized our ‘why’ and started to manifest the type of life that we wanted,” Justin said. “Figure out that ‘why,’ what’s going to drive you when your wife is pregnant and it’s about to be winter and you’re about to lose your mind with all the renovations. If it’s a strong ‘why,’ you’ll make it through to this time where you’re doing it and loving it.”

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Shorter shopping season leads retailers to kickoff sales earlier than usual

GREENSBORO — With just 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this year’s holiday shopping season is shorter than usual.

It might not seem like it, though, with so many stores kicking off sales in early November.

“I think retailers are preparing for that rather than waiting to try and draw customers ... because they know they’ve got a much shorter window to get people into their stores,” said Andy Ellen, president of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.

Early sales have become a staple of the holiday shopping season. Each year, retailers offer deals several days before Black Friday

However, with this year’s shorter holiday season, some retailers rolled out deals the day after Halloween.

“There was a need to try to push some of the sales early and shoppers responded to that,” said Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University.

In a survey by the National Retail Federation, over half of consumers questioned during the first week of November said they had already begun their holiday shopping.

Still, the traditional shopping season begins on the day after Thanksgiving, better known as Black Friday. And while many big-box retailers now open their doors on Thursday evening, Friday remains king.

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For many, it’s a five-day marathon that runs through Cyber Monday, the biggest holiday shopping day for ecommerce.

“It’s the most intense period in the holidays when people will be doing most of their shopping,” Beahm said.

And shoppers are feeling the pressure.

“Where they usually have an extra week in November, in this case, they are going to be right into December,” Ellen said. “I think you will see much more traffic throughout the weekend than you normally do.”

Despite early sales, over a quarter of shoppers surveyed said they still enjoy the tradition of Thanksgiving weekend shopping.

Young adults are among those who can’t wait to head out to the stores this weekend. According to the National Retail Federation, over three-quarters of those 18 to 24 surveyed said they are likely to shop. For many, it’s the social aspect.

Still not convinced to get off the couch? You’re not alone. However, about half of those couch potatoes would get up and shop if there is a sale on an item they want or if someone simply invites them along, the retail group said.

And shoppers are spending a little more this year.

The National Retail Federation predicts holiday retail sales in November and December will be up about 4% over last year.

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Where’s some of that extra money going? Apparently to the dogs (and cats and other pets).

A 2019 shopping outlook by business consulting firm Price Waterhouse said people will spend an average $76 on their pets this holiday season.

“It highlights the fact that pets have become much more a part of the family than ever,” Beahm said.

Still, what we spend on our pets pales compared to the average $720 spent on a family, according to Price Waterhouse.

While the big retailers take in most of consumer dollars during the holidays, shoppers are turning to small merchants for that special gift, particularly on Small Business Saturday, which falls the day after Black Friday.

After snagging deals on televisions and video game consoles, shoppers head out the next day for more personal gifts.

“With holiday sales making up about 20% of a retailer’s annual sales, a successful holiday season is a necessity for most retailers, but especially independent retailers,” Ellen said.

Meanwhile, online shopping continues to grow.

Beahm said a Deloitte study shows that more than 70% of shoppers this weekend will make purchases online.

“The smartphone is becoming the new mall,” he said. “People are shopping on their mobile devices more than ever.”

Convenience of ordering aside, Ellen said there is one reason shopping online is not necessarily an advantage over “brick and mortar” stores.

“With online retailers now collecting sales tax, consumers can be assured they aren’t at a financial disadvantage by shopping at their favorite local retailer,” he said.

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Where there's smoke, there's ... dinner? Readers share their holiday cooking mishaps

The image of a perfect Thanksgiving dinner is etched in our minds.

Happy, congenial loved ones seated around a large table.

The turkey is succulent and golden.

The many delicious side dishes — at least one favorite per guest — are all ready at the same time, precisely at the designated meal time.

But that’s not a reality for most of us.

The pressure of fixing a holiday meal is intense, especially if it’s your first time.

Or your first time hosting.

Or your first time using a turkey fryer.

Or your first scratch-made pumpkin pie.

You get the idea. Holidays might not be the best time to try something new.

I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey with the plastic bag of giblets and the neck inside, and my family still ribs me about it.

The next year, my husband and I proudly and meticulously removed the bag, only to discover — after the turkey was done — that there was a second bag.

But let’s face it: Mishaps make memories.

As you sit down to enjoy your “perfect” meal, we hope you’ll enjoy these cooking mishaps, shared by our readers.

Next time, cook on the driveway

One Thanksgiving, I was excited to use my brand-new turkey fryer.

I set it up following all of the directions and heated the oil. The time came to put the turkey in.

Apparently it hadn’t thawed all the way, and as soon as the ice crystals hit the oil, most of it splashed out on my deck and started a grease fire!

The only thing I had that would put it out was baking flour. So, there I was with a flour-covered deck and a turkey that I still needed to cook! (It turned out great by the way.)

From now on, the fryer gets set up on the driveway! Lessons learned, memories made and laughs for years to come!

— Kim Dance, McLeansville

Up in flames

I was happy to host my extended family in our new home for Thanksgiving in 2013.

Preparations were underway as my cousins and their families began to arrive.

My sister was carefully watching the sweet potatoes under the broiler (marshmallows need to be toasty, you know) when one of my cousins arrived. She left her post to hug the newly arrived family and promptly forgot about the sweet potatoes.

Smoke alarm goes off, smoke fanning, window opening and chaos ensues.

That crisis averted, we were settling in for wine and appetizers when my uncle backs up and falls over the coffee table, breaking a wine glass and scaring us half to death.

He’s OK, and we proceed with the meal.

I put the second tray of angel biscuits in the oven, and we sit down to eat. You guessed it.

They are in flames, but it’s caught before the smoke alarm. I have not hosted Thanksgiving for my extended family since.

— Libba Genova, Whitsett

Best pumpkin pie ever?

Up until this year, I have hosted my family for Thanksgiving at my house.

One year, I decided to make the best pumpkin pie ever. I even went to a local farmers pumpkin patch and selected what he called “an old-timey pie pumpkin.” He assured me it was better than anything I could buy in the stores, and since he’s been in the farming business most of his 82 years, I believed him.

Closer to Thanksgiving, I slow-cooked the pumpkin, strained it, did the whole laborious process of turning a whole pumpkin into the puree needed for the pie. I selected a recipe that had 5 stars from over 1,000 reviews and promised me it would be the best pie is ever tasted.

How could I go wrong?

We sat down ready to dig in to dessert, and everyone was oohing and aahing over my pie, impressed with the lengths I went to for the world’s best pumpkin pie.

All pie was dished out, and we dug in, only to discover that I had completely forgotten to add the sugar! So we had the world’s best sugarless pumpkin pie. My dad kept saying he preferred it because he didn’t need the calories, but he’s a good liar.

I have been nervous about the pie situation ever since.

— Alice Owens, High Point

Rain date for the rain date

Last year, our Thanksgiving was ruined on account of norovirus.

We rescheduled for a Saturday in December, since we already had all the fixings. That afternoon, the turkey was taking a little longer than expected, so we reached out to family members to warn them they might want to have an afternoon snack before they came to dinner.

They were extremely confused — as we had actually invited them to SUNDAY dinner. Good news: everything reheated beautifully.

— Amanda Lehmert, Greensboro

Forgetting a classic family recipe

My holiday cooking mishap may not be super funny to everyone else, but it was to our family! As it involves a family recipe that everyone knew how to make!

My Aunt Terri was making one of our all-time favorite recipes, sausage balls! Not a Christmas has ever passed that they are not on the table. The recipe calls for sausage, cheese, bisquick and few drops of water. The sausage is to remain uncooked.

Well, last Christmas, Aunt Terri forgot about that part of the recipe and cooked the sausage. The problem with this is that when you do that, it doesn’t stick together to form the balls. So when Aunt Terri makes the sausage balls, we now call them “Sausage Cheese Biscuits.”

The part to this that’s extra funny, is that while making the recipe, Aunt Terri lost her glasses and still to this day has not found them!

— Erin Wilburn, Greensboro

Edible tree decorations?

It was cold and rainy on Thanksgiving Day, 1980. I think the high was around 35. I didn’t care. My wife and I and our West Highland white terrier, Mac, were warm and cozy, cuddled by the fire. Dinner would be around 5 during the Detroit Lions game.

I don’t know why, but you could always count on the Lions playing (and losing) on Thanksgiving Day. There would be no cooking mishaps that Thanksgiving Day; at least not like the one that happened on Thanksgiving Day 1979, when we cooked the turkey upside down.

This year, the turkey was pre-sliced from the grocery store, the green beans were in a can, as was the cranberry sauce. The mashed potatoes were instant. The pumpkin pie was from the store’s bakery department.

So what could go wrong?


For some reason that year, I wanted to go au naturale with the Christmas tree. I decided to get a live tree. There are two kinds of “live.” One is a freshly cut Fraser fir. The other is an uncut Fraser fir, meaning you buy it rootball and all and plant it after Christmas.

I also wanted natural decorations that year, meaning gingerbread men (are they still men, or people?) and strands of popcorn.

Once I dragged the tree into the house — it must have weighed 200 pounds — I popped the popcorn and put the gingerbread men in the oven (350 degrees for 15 minutes). I finally got the tree into a bucket and soaked its burlap-wrapped rootball.

While my wife tied the red ribbons through holes in the gingerbread men’s heads, I started stringing the popcorn together, bleeding profusely from my right forefinger.

We wrapped the popcorn around the tree and then added the gingerbread men. The tree was beautiful. The dog was asleep. And all was well — until we returned from putting candles in the upstairs bedroom windows.

Our mishap was hanging the popcorn and gingerbread men too low on the tree; low enough for Mac to have a field day devouring all the popcorn and gingerbread men he could reach; for which he soon became as sick as … well, a dog.

Of course he recovered by dinnertime. My biggest mishap that year was buying the live tree and then planting it. I don’t think it lived to see New Year’s!

— Raymond Reid, Kernersville

‘We’ll just go out to eat’

This was not a holiday cooking mishap but a holiday non-cooking debacle. A few years ago, when both parents were living at home, before my dad died, they decided to have Thanksgiving at their house, but they didn’t want to cook, so they said, “We’ll just go out to eat.”

I had usually had a Thanksgiving lunch at home for my stepdaughters and their families, but since we moved to High Point, plans had changed and they couldn’t come.

I had never “gone out” for Thanksgiving, but it sounded like a good idea to me since we would be driving an hour and a half to get there. I didn’t want to bring anything.

We got there and had some conversation for a while. Then we picked out the restaurant and went, only to find it closed. We drove around, and all the other ones were, too, including the fast- food ones. While we were driving around, the grocery stores also closed, so we went home to see what was in the freezer.

We ended up having hotdogs with no buns, a couple cans of green beans and some French fries that were completely encased in a ball of ice, probably from the last ice age. Lesson learned.

— Leah Murdoch, High Point

Biscuits are easy, right?

Having been born and raised in Greensboro, I am familiar with Southern traditions!

So for a family Thanksgiving in the mid-’70s, since bringing bread was one of my assignments, I decided to treat everyone to homemade biscuits.

This was a first for me, and, in hindsight, not the time to wade into uncharted waters! Obviously, I felt somewhat secure in producing light, flaky, multi layered, buttery biscuits.

Surely, this wasn’t rocket science! I proceeded to make and bake! DISASTER!

It was too late to dash to the store, so I managed to wedge the embarrassing hockey pucks into the bountiful holiday spread! When the pies, cakes, puddings, etc., were served, I was not the least bit offended to discover my mishaps were all still there!

Eager to master this skill, I mailed one of the failures to my aunt in Virginia, since, by all accounts, she was considered THE Queen of Biscuits!

I enclosed a note asking, “Where did I go wrong?”

Her kind reply was that on her next visit, I would get hands-on — no recipe needed — instructions on turning out perfect beauties that would be welcomed at any future gathering! Finally, success!

Now, the family is truly thankful to see and enjoy my tasty, homemade biscuits on the buffet! Thank you, Aunt Mae!

— Emma Keith Olson, Greensboro

Is this a bathroom or a pantry?

“Did you see the turkey in the fridge I bought for Thanksgiving?” I asked my husband.

“Yes , but what’s the olive oil doing in the bathroom sink?” he asked.

“I use the oil for my cuticles,” I replied. “According to the beauty tips listed in my magazine, olive oil is good for cuticles.”

“OK, but why is the sugar in the bathroom?”

“Another tip was to mix sugar and olive oil together and use to exfoliate lips. See, look how soft and supple my lips are.”

“I get it, but why are the potatoes in the bathroom?”

“They’re for the dark circles under my eyes.”

“But you don’t have dark circles under your eyes.”

“Now I don’t, but one day … one day.”

“Gotcha … and the cucumber?” he asked.

“For puffy eyes, of course. Would you want a wife who has puffy eyes with dark circles?”

“I shudder at the thought.”

“Why’s the cornstarch in the bathroom?” he said.

“One tip was to lightly dust cornstarch over face after applying makeup for a matte finish. Since my T-zone is prone to being shiny, I figured it makes sense to try it. Doesn’t it?”

“Perfect sense. And the white vinegar?”

“It’s part of a solution to clean the shower head.”

“What about the baking soda?”

“It’s the other half of the solution. You just can’t clean a shower head with vinegar alone, you know.”

“I know now.”

“Why’s a bottle of grapefruit-scented spray in the bathroom? Are we going to use that now instead of matches to remove what you call ‘the stench?’ ”

“No, wise guy, the scent will make me appear six years younger.”

“It may also make anyone standing next to you hungry for grapefruit. I don’t understand why you’d want to smell like a grapefruit when you don’t like grapefruit.”

“One thing has nothing to do with the other. I may not like the way grapefruit taste, but I love the way it smells; lucky me, smelling my way to a younger me.”

“You know, I could buy a grapefruit, squirt you with it and then eat it. It would be like a two-for-one special. I’d get pleasure from eating it and squirting you, and you’ll walk around smelling fruity and believing you’re six years younger. If I squirt you with two grapefruits, will you believe you’re 12 years younger?”

“Right now, I believe you’re getting on my nerves. Here, take this lettuce downstairs and put it in the fridge.”

“In the fridge? You mean you’re not going to give yourself a facial with it … or soak in a tub with it?”

“No. The lettuce belongs in the fridge. I’ll make a salad to have on Thanksgiving. I can’t believe you thought I was going to perform some bizarre beauty ritual with it. I honestly don’t know where you get such crazy ideas.”

— Cindy Argiento, Greensboro

A cooking mishap — in rhyme

A holiday mishap, boo-boo or blunder, causes more raucous than lightning and thunder.

Add two, active, crumb-snatchers that won’t stay still, and you’re exhausted like Jack & Jill going up the hill.

Thicken the challenge with folks you love quite a lot; in-laws in this holiday scenario, easily thicken the plot.

Our perfect folks were like Better Homes & Gardens magazine; Mama Margaret created, canned, and cooked Bon Appetite’ cuisine.

Hubby prayed I could creatively coordinate the best, for our special, No. 1, Tennessee house guests.

Way before Google, I got a step-by-step cookbook, Followed every instruction to become an instant cook.

Planned, shopped, prepped, kissed the boys in bed; cooked dinner all night; put my soiree’ way ahead.

Napped a few, showered, completed breakfast in a snap, taking care of business, without a guide, or an app.

Our sons always nudged me from start to stop; they thought their Wonder Woman could fly, fight and hop!

Wonder Woman finished dinner and breakfast for her crew; does that feat sound super-duper simple, for many of you?

Bacon, sausage, fruit, scrambled eggs, cheese N’ grits; burning y’all like Don Cornelius’ Soul Train Greatest Hits!

Everyone loved breakfast cuz dinner was ready too; I asked, “we got biscuits, don’t y’all want a few?”

Kids nodded, munched, rubbed their bellies; homemade, scratch biscuits, with jams and jellies?

I was transformed into a connoisseur, ready for HGTV; till my face changed colors, opening my oven, what did I see?

12-round biscuits, hard as rocks, colored Easter-egg green! I was embarrassed, unnerved, crying, like a deposed Scott Queen!

Hitting a hole-in-one; green, golf balls fell in the garbage can; like Tiger Woods, I just needed one stroke, from that greasy, baking pan.

Mama Margaret consoled, “We’ve had much more than enough to eat;” as she removed my cute apron, and ordered, “take a seat!”

She said, “Baby, you work hard all day, helping pay bills with money. Don’t you dare worry yourself over those green, hard, biscuits, honey!”

“We’ll go get the quick, frozen biscuits that you just bake and serve; they’ll fit better in your schedule, and put you ahead of the curve!”

So Dr. Seuss, I love you, and your Green Eggs and Ham! But now I avoid letting green, hard, biscuits, put me in a jam!

— Mable Springfield Scott, aka Able Mable, Greensboro