The Busby Family Whitefish Montana Yurt

Daily Journal: Alpenglow in Glacier National Park

Our evening light at the yurt can be spectacular. I love how the alpenglow lasts longer and longer each day as we move closer to winter. This shot was taken from inside the living room of our yurt looking directly at Glacier National Park’s Mount Stimson - the second highest peak and one of the most remote and isolated peaks in the park. Termed one of the hardest major summits in the continental United States to climb from a standpoint of remoteness, effort, and non-technical challenge, it is a true monster that towers over this part of NW Montana. Hard to be uninspired by such raw beauty of Alpenglow in Glacier National Park. So humbled and thankful for moments such as this and to be re-grounded each day from the simple sight of it.

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Daily Journal: Northern Lights in Montana

This has been my latest northern lights viewing setup on the south end of our yurt looking up to the northern sky. It is one of many locations to catch a good solar storm on the property. Though the northern lights in Montana can be frequent for this area, clear night skies can be few and far between through the dark winter nights. 

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Daily Journal: Yurt Living at its Best

From a few weeks ago…Staying up past 2 am for a strong solar storm because it was highly likely of viewing northern lights over our yurt. Instead, a layer of high clouds rolled in on a forecasted clear night, snuffing out any showing of the lights. Nonetheless, our dog Glacier and I enjoyed each other’s company in the cold Montana night listening to one of our local resident owls hoot in a tree surrounding our little round home.

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Daily Journal: Our Blaze King Off the Grid Yurt Wood Stove

You may be noticing something a little bit different in our yurt. For those that don’t — we replaced our Rocket Mass Heater with an extremely efficient wood stove by Blaze King. Our new stove also has a 30 hour burn time which is huge for yurt living! We switched stoves as we found that we needed a much larger mass for our Rocket Mass Heater and that it was not ideal for our current yurt setup. It would be great in another setting such as a greenhouse, shop, or a place that can provide a much larger mass (thus it is now for sale). Sad to see it go but stoked on our new heat source! 

Daily Journal: Prepping Yurt Life for Winter

With each trip home, we will fill our utility sled behind the snowmobile with our remaining firewood and transport it to our wood shed, allowing the wood to season for quality spring burning. We now have full winter conditions up at our yurt and can only access our round home with skis/splitboard or snowmobile until late spring. This now marks a new point to our life off the grid adventure as we learn to transition with the seasons.

Daily Journal: Share the Sun

Another fine ending to a day here in NW Montana with another beautiful crystal clear big sky which brought plenty of solar power to our Goal Zero solar panels and Yeti 1250 generators and batteries. We will now have enough power in our yurt for nearly two weeks as long as we remain conservative. Feeling refreshed - WooHoo!

 

Daily Journal: Montana Larch Trees

This photo is shown looking up to our yurt through the golden needles of our Larch trees (also known as Tamaracks). Last Sunday, we were completely fogged in as frigid arctic temperatures and heavy snow approached. That Sunday—November 9th—marked the last of our beautiful fall-colored Montana Larch trees until next year as our temperatures dipped into the teens and negatives. Winter has arrived in NW Montana.

I used to call the Aspen my favorite type of tree because of the brilliant colors their leaves produce in the fall - but not anymore. My new favorite tree is the Larch which is a conifer tree that goes through a similar cycle that the Aspen does each season with its leaves. However instead of leaves, the Larch has needles that change colors. Their needles fall off before winter and regrow into a brilliant bright green color each spring before transitioning into the beautiful yellow and gold color each autumn. Will surely miss this color, but it’s time for snow now. 

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Blades of Glory, Yurt Style

One by one, the blades of our heat-powered fan atop the rocket mass heater begin to turn. Once around, twice around, four times, eight times. Soon, it’s turning too many times to count, humming as it pushes heat from the stove into the room. This simple action is how we know the stove is warming up. The turning blades are how we know the heat has penetrated the system, and most importantly: We know it won’t be long before warmth is circulated throughout our yurt.
 
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I think a lot of people have had us in their thoughts the past week — mostly because they told us so. An abrupt polar vortex-like system descended on northwest Montana last week. Sean and I are getting a taste of yurt life mid-winter while it is still early November. 
 
I’ll admit — I was nervous last Sunday night. I watched the temperature drop from 52 to 30 in a matter of an hour. It plummeted from there. As if I’d never even considered the idea of battling freezing temperatures, I asked Sean, “What are we going to do? I’m not ready for this yet.”
 
It was a mild panic attack, if there ever was one. All through this process, I’ve been pushing to try winter in this yurt. And all through the process, I convinced Sean of the same. Of course, when I began to have these doubts, Sean was my rock. His conviction amazes me.
 
“We make a fire. We layer up. And we see how things go,” he said. And then he reminded me that we’re not in the middle of the Alaskan bush. We’re going to be fine.
 
So each morning as the sun is rising, and in the evening well after the sun has set, we settle in in front of the stove and fire up BaseCamp Outdoor Systems reusable fire starter (these are a lifesaver for all fire-starting situations—check them out) and add wood to the stove. Our Moroccan souvenir—a bellows made of camel hide—provides oxygen to the flames as they start to lick their way into the back of the chamber. It usually takes 10-15 minutes for this small fire to start drafting ferociously through the system. We must provide fuel and oxygen throughout this time to keep the temperature rising. And then, once those heat-powered blades of glory begin turning, we know we’re home free.
 

Daily Journal: Deep sleep and yurt dreams

I can’t get over how deep of a sleep Mollie and I have staying in a yurt. It’s absolutely incredible. There is something about a circular space and the energy and love that flows within. A while back, we picked up this dream catcher from our local Native American reservation to filter the bad from the good and keep the inspiration and stoke flowing.

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Why our yurt was a marriage booster

When Sean and I set out to build a house together, we got a lot of raised eyebrows from friends and family. Neither of us had any building experience; Sean knew how to use a power drill and I had taken wood shop approximately 18 years ago. Who needs experience, right?

To everyone’s surprise (especially ours!) we found our Shelter Designs Yurt to be the ideal 7-month team building exercise for our marriage. Let me unpack: Sean and I are both very competitive people. And stubborn. With unending amounts of pride for what we do. When we set out to teach each other something (like Sean trying to teach me to ski when we first met, or me trying to bring out the non-existent inner-road cyclist in Sean), one of us inevitably ends up feeling like the A-team and the other is benched on the C-team. Then you start looking at activities like Scrabble, where we both know what’s up, and it’s straight up chaos. (Note: Scrabble is temporarily banned in our home unless we have a third party to play with.)

With building a home - or in our case, a yurt - neither of us had any past experience… We were both starting as beginners, together. On the same team! For us, that fact was both humbling and motivating, as our work ethic became stronger. Through every phase - from take down, to building the deck, building the yurt, raising interior walls and the loft, and finally adding in our systems and the finishing touches - we were there, working through it together. And while we both had a lot to gain, skill wise, I think the greatest gift the yurt has given us is mutual purpose and a chance to grow and build together. This, my friends, is why our yurt is so special. 

And I’m proud to reveal a virtual tour of our Shelter Designs yurt interior! Have a great week.

Here’s the yurt main hallway, right after you walk in. You can go left into the bedroom, or right into the bathroom… or straight into the living room/kitchen.

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The bathroom is the smallest room in the house (thus, I crammed myself in there to take a photo — evidenced in the mirror!). The patterned curtain on the left shields a full size shower. 

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The bedroom is light and airy — and our Kyrgyzstan wall art hangs on the north wall. 

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Walking down the hallway, you have the kitchen on the right and the living room on the left (and a small opening into the bedroom, which you can barely see on the far left):

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Looking into the kitchen from the living room:

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Looking into the living room/bedroom from the kitchen:

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Our solar-powered fridge and 55-gallon water drum sit in the pantry, next to our Goal Zero yetis that provide the power for the entire home:

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The stove that keeps on giving. [And taking.]

If you follow Two Sticks on Instagram or Facebook, it’s likely that you saw this:

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It’s no joke — Sean got carbon monoxide poisoning. While I was out of town, per usual. The universe must decide each day that all things dramatic need to happen when I’m gone. That one time the brakes went out in the Travel Queen? Yep — I was gone. Every time Sean gets the flu? Yep — I’m gone. 

In short, we had a Rocket Mass Heater/Russian stove hybrid custom-made and installed in our yurt a few weeks ago. (More on how that works later.) We have spent more money than we’d like to admit — I’m sure you can all relate… you start a project with a budget, you go for it, and then forget the SIX other pieces of the puzzle that all cost money. Three times your budget later, you have a product that you think you’re happy with… but you’ll be happier once your savings replenish. Yeah. That type of project.

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Here’s Sean, installing the “chimney.” I don’t even want to talk about the price of insulated stove piping — moving on…

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We had tested the stove for a few days, little by little, while spending our nights down at the house on the lower property [a 15 minute walk/less than 5 minute drive from the yurt]. While I was gone, Sean decided to let ‘er rip and stay in the yurt overnight with the full functioning stove. He’d even had conversations with friends the night before about carbon monoxide. He made sure all the detectors were on and in the proper areas of the structure before dozing off for the night. Nothing seemed to be leaking… but as we all know, CO is an odorless, silent killer. 

Sean awoke the next morning to our pup, Glacier, pacing back and forth in the yurt — likely the only reason he woke up that morning. [That part gives me chills.] In his text message to me, he was short: “Woke up spinning. May be carbon monoxide poisoning from wood stove.” Literally, that’s it. And then he didn’t text me back for 20 minutes (likely while he was figuring out how to get himself from A to B without being able to drive) and then confirmed he was at Urgent Care and our neighbor had given him a lift. From this point on, all I could do was read the updates as they came through via text, amazed at how awesome our friends are. Throughout the day, they shuttled Sean from Urgent Care, to the ER, to their homes to feed him, to a warm bed at Andrew and Louise’s place where they could make sure he slept through the night. Louise even took care of our dogs. It’s situations like this that prove there’s no reason to forge through life alone. Friends keep us honest and they watch our back. And our friends here in Whitefish? I’ll just say we’re extremely lucky.

And I just want to acknowledge Glacier, too. Thank God for dogs:

 

Flash forward to today. We are the proud owners of every professional-grade carbon monoxide detector (including leak detector), reader, alarm that Amazon sells. And funny thing; when we were returning a few things to Lowe’s last weekend, Sean was reading the postings on a nearby bulletin board (you know, the ones that NO ONE reads), and he happened to notice that our carbon monoxide detector… the thing that was SUPPOSED TO SAVE HIS LIFE had been recalled. [Did your jaw drop? Mine did.] Mystery solved. If it can happen to us, I guess it could happen to anyone.

How is the stove, you ask? Hm. Well. I’ll be totally candid here and say we are working out a few kinks. Here’s Sean, using high temperature RTV sealant last week:


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Since temperatures in NW Montana warrant the use of a heat source at night now, we’ve been running the stove during the day and sleeping in the house at night to be safe as we test everything to make sure it is all running as it should be. Better safe than sorry. We’re thankful to have warm beds down at the house to use as we finish up our final testing on our new stove up at the yurt. It’s hard to have setbacks like this when all we want to do is commit to yurt life. I know, I know. #YurtProblems.

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The daily reading from Melody Beattie’s “Journey to the Heart” today — as always — is spot on. I’ll end with this:

Trust the rhythm of the universe. You are right where you need to be. You’ll get where you need to go. You have all the time you need. 

Homesteading Win: DIY Lip Balm

When Sean started using the adjective “homesteader” to describe what we want to be someday, it made me feel nervous. Who are we to call ourselves homesteaders compared to people who have bees and chickens and trap their own meat and maintain entire farms supporting their family with veggies and all of life’s growable things? We’re just a pair of fresh, materialistic converts living in a used yurt and driving vegetable oil powered cars and — yeah. Ok. Nevermind.

But seriously, homesteading in the traditional, full-blown sense seems far away—so, I’m taking baby steps. My herb garden (with three herbs in it!) has taken a beating with all the recent frosts we’ve had, so in lieu of tending to that, I decided to tackle one of my HUNDREDS of Pinterest crafts. Seriously — how many times do we pin something and caption it, “Great idea. Why didn’t I think of that?” and then never actually make it? In my case, hundreds. So last week, I attempted to make the one, small thing that I use a ton of, and can never seem to have enough of. 

DIY Lip balm.

And can I just tell you? I had a homesteading win — so much so, I’d like to share the DIY Lip Balm recipe I used here. Before you know it, we will be trapping our own meat for dinner and tending to the chickens daily. 

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DIY Lip Balm
Save Recipe
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 ounce beeswax (around 3 tablespoons)
  2. 1 ounce coconut oil (around 2 tablespoons)
  3. 1/2 ounce Shea butter (around 1 tablespoon)
  4. 1/2 ounce cocoa butter (around 1 tablespoon)
  5. 20 drops Peppermint essential oil
  6. 10 drops Lavender essential oil
  7. Large skillet/saucepan with water
  8. Glass jar
  9. Scale
  10. Lip balm containers
Instructions
  1. Set out your containers so they're ready when you need them.
  2. Heat the skillet of water.
  3. While it's heating, add all ingredients except the essential oils and the makeup.
  4. Once everything is totally melted, remove from heat and let sit for 3 minutes.
  5. Add Essential Oils and stir. (Suggested combo shown above... feel free to mix and match your own!)
  6. Pour into containers.
  7. Let harden (this part happens really fast!) and voila!
Notes
  1. I suggest cleaning out current lip balm containers in your house and using those. They're super easy to clean and fill! Also, containers like old hotel shampoo jars, cleaned out food jars, and small canning jars do the trick, too. The dōTERRA Blog suggests using a popsicle stick to stir for easy clean-up, and if you want tinted balm, reserve some of the melted mixture and add a pinch of colored mineral makeup till you have the desired color. Actual color of the hardened balm will be slightly lighter than the liquid version.
Adapted from The dōTERRA Blog
Adapted from The dōTERRA Blog
Two Sticks and a Board http://www.twosticksandaboard.com/

Our Yurt DIY Plywood Floors

“DIY” has never felt so amazing. Without being modest, I’ll just say our yurt DIY plywood floors look amazing; they are the perfect fit. Handcrafted by us (and a few talented friends), the floors began as many sheets of plywood, which we cut, sanded, drilled, stained and sealed.

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But before I get into the details of how, I want to reference why. Why exactly did we choose — quite possibly — the most difficult flooring route for our first flooring experience?

Hm, that’s funny — on a whim!

Our friend, Russ (super handy guy—mastermind behind the Travel Queen / Our Greasecar / etc.), came out to Montana in mid-July, and having spent the last year in China (and about to spend one more year there after his summer break), he was looking to help with a yurt project. He knew we needed to decide on flooring, and from my understanding, he confronted Sean one day. The whole thing happened so fast — here’s a dramatic reenactment:

Russ: Sean, what are you going to do for a floor in the yurt?
Sean: I have no idea.
Russ: What do you want to do?
Sean: I want to make plywood floors.
Russ: Plywood it is.
Sean: [Calls me.] Hi Mollie.
Mollie: Hi Sean.
Sean: We’re doing plywood floors. I’m with Russ and we decided.

And then things got real. By the time I got home from work, there was a plywood bench outside our house, a skil saw humming to and fro, extension cords running left and right as the plywood was being cut into strips, cut again, sanded, beveled, and drilled.

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The first few sheets of plywood moved fast. Spirits were high, the beer was still refreshing (as opposed to sustaining), and there was plenty of daylight left.

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By the time nightfall came, we transitioned up to the yurt, where a borrowed generator fueled the sander, and boards were drilled as fast as we could manage before bringing them into the yurt where Russ would drill them into place. Board by board… piece by piece.

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We called it at 11pm — exhausted and ready for the project to be done. This went on for a few more days — taking half days and evenings to pick at the project.

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At one point, Sean and I broke down and bought a second sander because that part took forever. By the time Russ was leaving, there were still a few boards left to place, but in general, the project (for the living room/kitchen/hallway rooms of the yurt) was complete. Sort of.

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Then came the whitewashing. Even though the cans of pickling stain said “don’t use on floors,” we decided to live on the wild side and break those rules. You can see here there is a jagged edge against the lattice walls; the reasoning is that those spaces between the snow legs against the lattice will be filled in with pink panther insulation to prep for winter, followed by drywall. Thus, the jagged edges won’t be seen when our yurt construction is complete.

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Then came the sealing. Instead of a standard polyurethane, we opted for the “best of the best” on the market, called Bona. Ringing up at $115 a gallon (yep — let that sink in for a minute) we wanted to make sure that nothing would penetrate this floor, especially now that we’d been into the project for over 10 days, and literally poured our hearts and souls (and stress and tears) into this floor. Plus, with two dogs in a small space, we’re not taking chances.

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After staying completely out of the yurt (and in our house) for 7 days while the floor sealed, we were so excited to come back and move furniture back into the main room. I have to say, it looks pretty sharp.

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Then while I was in New Zealand for 10 days, Sean surprised me and completed the same flooring process in our bedroom. That just leaves the bathroom without a finished floor at this point. Not sure what we’ll do in there yet, so stay tuned. We’re pretty much carpenters at this point, so the possibilities are endless!

Editor’s Note: Since the completion of this post last weekend, we decided to put these same floors in the bathroom. To our delight, we literally had JUST enough plywood left to make that happen. We are sealing them this week, so that by next week, we’ll be 100% ready to finally move up to the yurt as our shower situation will be worked out by then, as well as the painting on the drywall will be complete, too. Hooray for a finished yurt!

Soaking up simplicity — One of the best hikes in Whitefish

One of the things that worried me most about moving into an off-the-grid yurt in Montana was time. It would take us more time to access our home. It would take us more time to do dishes by hand. It would take us more time to bring up water and transfer it into various buckets and bins for usage every week.

But as I sit here, savoring a cup of french press coffee that I put time and care into making, I realize that through this yurt, I’m learning to slow down and embrace the pauses — to embrace the moments of extra effort and extra time spent in nature.

In mid-July, our friend Brit came out to visit and we took her for a hike up the Danny On trail at Whitefish Mountain Resort. So simple and close to home, and yet long enough to make a day of it with the dogs. Whether for exercise, to refresh our stash of huckleberries, or for some impromptu yoga on the trail, this hike is what we consider one of the best hikes in Whitefish as an “Intro” to the town when friends come to visit.

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These big white flowering stalks are called Bear Grass. Their beautiful bulbs are seeing flowering all over Big Mountain throughout the summer, and I’ve read that their flowering cycle is every 5-7 years. Historically, Native Americans used the sturdy stalks of Bear Grass for basket weaving.

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Here is Sean, stopping for a water break with our herd of dogs: Daisy, Glaicer and Brit’s dog—who you might remember from last summer when we had her for a few months—Ava. This spot on the hike is one of our favorites. A little more than halfway to the summit, there are expansive views of the Flathead Valley and a nice bench to sit on.

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…or, do yoga on. Brit is an incredibly talented yogi, practicing in Denver. She found solace in and a bit of yoga bliss at our favorite spot on the hike. (Find her online here)

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And when it comes to simplicity, there’s nothing more pure than picking berries. I love seeing Sean — like a kid, so excited about such a simple task of picking huckleberries. As evidenced below, the huckleberries were MASSIVE this season:

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“How do you ________ in your yurt?” Our off the grid yurt living systems.

So lets get right down to the details. We’ve been hard at work on prepping our yurt for winter and get tons of questions about off the grid yurt living systems. Food, bears, water, toilet, power, etc. So lets play a short game of: How do you __________________ in your yurt?

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Stay warm: For now, the Montana summer weather is keeping us toasty. In preparation for the winter months, we’ve got a guy in Somers, MT who makes Rocket Mass Heaters, and we’ve employed him to make a sleek one for the yurt. It’s not complete yet, nor even close to being installed, so it will be a while yet before we’re ready to post more about it.

Stay cool: You might be thinking canvas + hot sun = sauna. Not so. We’re proud that Beth (the former owner) opted to install 4 real windows in our Shelter Designs yurt, in addition to two canvas windows that roll up and down from the outside (in the bedroom and in the bathroom), french doors and a regular door that has a screen door. All windows — for the most part — stay open all day when we’re at the yurt, and they have blinds on them (thanks to Tom and Mary Lou Busby) and thanks to Brit for helping install. We keep the dome on the top popped open when we’re around, too. The loft has a tendency to get a bit hot during the day with the heat rising. Eventually, once we’ve got our electric nailed down, we’ll look into an energy efficient ceiling fan to keep the air moving a bit more.

Cook: Our 100-pound propane tank is officially up on the side of the yurt, filled and functioning so that we have a working stove top. That’s currently all that the propane tank does. To start the stove top, we have a Goal Zero Sherpa 100 (plus inverter - pictured below, beneath our stove top in the kitchen island) that we start, plug the stove into the inverter to get the spark for the gas, and then once it’s lit, we turn the Sherpa 100 off — super simple. We also have a propane-fueled Weber grill, which does its job for BBQ’ing.

Have light and power: As we’re not hooked into the grid, we don’t use conventional lights at night. Thankfully right now, it’s light out till after 10pm in Montana, so the time when we actually need light is very small. But, we rely on Goal Zero’s ultra-low watt Light-A-Life chain-able lanterns and some LED rope lighting, which all plugs into our Goal Zero Yeti 1250 solar generator. They’re strung around the yurt and we find that they provide TONS of light. We brought our solar panels up to the yurt (four Boulder 90 panels from Goal Zero). That Yeti — in addition to a Sherpa 100 — is also how we charge phones, computers, etc. We’re working on the details for the battery bank, AC power, an additional Yeti 1250 etc. in the coming weeks.

Make Coffee: No plug-in drip coffee in this yurt. With a stovetop, I’ve been trying percolator coffee, and french press… and although I think the percolator is admirable, french press is by far my favorite. The flavor is so strong and it’s not complicated.

Keep food cool: We have a SunDanzer solar powered (DC) chest-style fridge.

#1 and #2: Yep, I know you were thinking that. We have a composting toilet. It’s like an RV toilet that separates #1 from #2. It’s not a complicated separation process — your body and the way it’s shaped/pointed does the separation naturally into two different holes in the toilet. (Yep, this paragraph is totally happening right now.) There are holes in front for #1, and a larger hole in back for #2. When you need to go #2, you open the big hatch and follow up your duty with a scoop or two of peat moss. Then you crank a handle on the side of the toilet to mix things up a bit (after you’ve closed the hatch). By keeping #1 and #2 separated, things don’t smell like they would in a conventional toilet. It’s the MIXING of the two that creates the long lasting smell. Eventually, the box with the #2 will get taken off the toilet when it’s full and we will replace it with a second empty box. While the new box will serve it’s purpose back on the toilet, the original full box will be allowed to compost naturally (no, it won’t smell like fecal matter by the time its done), and we will be able to use it on non-edible plants in our eventual garden. By the time the original box is fully composted, we can empty it into a composting pile and switch it when necessary with the box on the toilet and repeat the whole process.

Water: Because it would cost us a pretty penny (up to $25,000—ouch!) to dig a well up here, we opted for bringing our own water up, following in the footsteps of people who live in dry cabin/housing communities in the Yukon and Alaska. We will have a clean, food grade BPA free 55-gallon drum that will be filled with potable water. In addition, we will store 12, 7-gallon jugs in our pantry and in the loft. We currently use about a gallon a day (without showers), so this will be more than enough for a more full time system. To get water from here to there, we’ll have a siphon pump and all sorts of other fancy non mechanical things. The water we will access is right down the road at our house (which ideally, will be rented out).

Shower: We are still piecing together our shower situation will share further details on that once we have that going. For now its a solar powered bag shower.

Keep the bears away: GREAT question. Thanks to Sean’s handy work (and a really nice man at North Valley Ag in Columbia Falls), we have a bear fence with a solar powered unit that can deliver over 10,000 + volts straight to a curious bear’s face. Yes, we turn it off when the dogs go outside. No, it won’t kill them or us if they/we ever accidentally knock it when it’s on. It just won’t feel that great.

Access internet: iPhone hotspot!

Sleep: In a bed, on a frame, with a mattress and pillows. Just like you.

What else do you wonder about Yurt Life?