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. 




DIY Lip Balm
Save Recipe
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
  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
  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!
  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

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.


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.


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.


…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)


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:


My Version of Minimalism: How to Edit a Wardrobe

I remember reading books when I was the Style Editor of a women’s magazine about how to edit a wardrobe. In other words, how to minimize the clothes in your closet to be most efficient — quality, not quantity. The photo below was me, at a time in my life when I was NOT embracing the idea of editing my closet. I was more focused on how to emcee a fashion show in harem pants.

I was also the girl who’s closet bar collapsed under the weight of her wardrobe.

Then slowly, as I moved west and my lifestyle changed, I started shedding those pieces of clothing, one by one.

Then, this January, that process got another burst of momentum. Sean and I attended a TedX event in Whitefish, and heard Joshua and Ryan from The Minimalists speak. To sum it up, these guys (who hail from Missoula) talk about why they quit corporate America, gave away all their immaterial possessions and started living with minimal “things” and maximal “life.” I haven’t been able to shake how awesome their presentation was. I wanted that.

So “moving into a yurt” became a good excuse for me to actually find my own definition of minimalism. Editing my closet was exhilarating!

OK, it wasn’t quite like visiting Iceland (above). More like… feeling like weights are being lifted off my shoulders. My mom is a great role model for editing. Owning a women’s clothing store for 28 years in a small town can’t be easy… plus, she’s got to look the part every day. But I’ve always admired her for actually wearing the clothes in her closet, and maximizing what she has, and knowing exactly what works for her body type. She’s got a few years on me, but I feel like I’m finally getting there.

Here’s what helped me through the clothing purging process:

  1. Start with a Google Search: Unless you’re committed to trying eBay on your own, find a consignment store. Consigning made me feel awesome about offloading some of my more pricey stuff and getting a kickback.
  2. Google again: For the clothes that either don’t sell at the consignment store, or don’t get chosen for consignment, you’ll need a thrift shop to donate them to. I would recommend searching women’s shelters, where they’re in need of quality clothes for women who are entering the workforce after a hardship. After reading a bit about it, you might just feel better about bringing all of your clothes to a shelter like this. Good idea, and good for you.
  3. Get out some heavy duty trash bags. You’re going to need them. One bag for trash (underwear, socks, anything you can’t give away). One bag for consignment. One bag for the thrift shop. And then go to town. Really look at your stuff and decide what you love.
  4. Drop off your stuff. Just pull the band-aid off and do it.
  5. Repeat. Repeat this exercise once every few weeks. Once you get rid of the first load, the second, third, and fourth are easier. Your mind starts letting go easier, and you can see clearer when you look into the closet.
  6. Love your wardrobe as is, replenish with necessities and spend your money wisely. Travel! Pack light! Love how you look in every single piece of clothing you own.

Yurt Deck Framing Complete — How to build a yurt deck

About four years ago, I awoke on a Sunday night to a massive crash in my apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. Having lived with roommates my entire college career, I was used to noise… but this one really startled me. I blinked through the darkness in my room, trying to think through my drowsiness. I looked to my left and realized something was exploding through the doors of my closet. You see, that was the day my closet bar collapsed under the weight of my hanging wardrobe; my clothes literally exploded out of the closet doors in the wee hours of that fateful Sunday morning. Four years ago, I was that girl.

Today, I’m proud to be editing my wardrobe down to what must be at least an eighth of its former size… maybe less. When you move to the mountains and away from the city, things change (including what you wear). And when you then decide to move deeper into the mountains into a 30-foot yurt, things really change. Life becomes less about what you have and more about where and how you live it. While I can honestly say Sean and I are excited to move into the yurt full time, I’m grateful to have some time to process what this new chapter will look like while we’re in the building stages. When I say things like composting toilet, rainwater collection, and solar power, hauling jugs of potable water and groceries via snowmobile, it makes me a tiny bit nervous (OK, a LOT nervous). But then I remember all the practice we had on our Travel Queen adventure, with water conservation (living on a 40 gallon tank amongst 4 people), marine/RV toilets (OK, it wasn’t composting, but it definitely didn’t have a “flusher” or running water through it), and solar power (we ran the TQ on a solar-powered generator). That experience absolutely set us up for success with the yurt. Our other expeditions around the world, from the Yukon Territory to Kyrgyzstan have further broken down my barriers as well.

Since we officially moved all the pieces to our land, Sean has been hard at work, learning how to build a yurt deck — the foundation/structure. We reused all the pieces of the original yurt, aside from a few of the structural beams that were too short for it’s current location that we replaced. The deck has been nearly 100% reused with the new build in its new location. It has been fun to watch Sean troubleshoot through various issues… and the day he finished, the smile on his face as he stood atop our framed structure looking out into the valley was priceless. From here, we fasten on the structured insulated panels, and then it won’t be long before our “yurt-raising!”

The strings helped us make all the concrete footings align just perfectly:

Sean quickly realized that he needed to go through and take care of all the bushes:


Then we used a laser leveler to assist with marking all the new posts so we could cut them to be level for the deck:

We’ve been blessed with incredible views of our valley lately:

Me assisting Sean:IMG_2458


Things are coming together up front while the back was still being worked on:IMG_2466

Sean digging holes for the front footings:


Me mixing concrete to pour into said holes:photo-4

Done! Not such a bad view looking into Glacier National Park, over Whitefish, Whitefish Lake and surrounding wilderness:IMG_2656

Time to enjoy the view!


It was a hard decision on how high we wanted to have the yurt off the ground. We had to keep in mind our bear highway issue that we see on our property during non winter in addition to storage for firewood and being able to put in future systems for the yurt (being able to work under the deck). By being closer to the earth we would probably feel more connected to the Earth. However, this raised elevation was more practical in terms of long term use, snowfall amounts, and a little extra protection against some hazardous wildlife. Since our yurt is at the top of a hill, it is at the canopy level of many trees below - thus we will still feel connected to our local environment and ecosystem with a sense of floating in the trees. Already the bald eagles that fly around and perch in our trees have proven to us that this was a good idea.


The dogs have been loving all the time spent walking up the property to the yurt site… time to run and sniff in the forest is time well spent for these two:


Sean has been loving his time in the evenings, too… perched in his Kammok:


And after we head down to the house, we have a ton of reading material to keep us busy:


Life in the Round: Building a Yurt in Montana

After three months of relatively constant travel, life has finally slowed down enough for Sean and I to breathe, ski our local mountain, walk our property with Daisy in tow, and reflect on the next journey we’re about to take. So it’s with great pride that we announce our next adventure: We’re building a yurt!

I’m willing to bet you have some questions. Like, what the heck is a yurt and how did you decide to build one? Well. The answer is two-fold. This story starts at the end of 2012. Sean and I had just begun our journey as Greasecar owners with our 1977 Dodge Travel Queen motorhome that we purchased from our co-owners, Russ and Brittany. We’d gotten a taste of living simply on our drive to Alaska and back. Not only did we utilize a waste product (waste veggie oil) for our motorhome’s fuel and a natural product (Goal Zero solar power) for our electricity, but I think we learned a lot about using less in general. Living in small places, making do with what you have, and using the earth in ways it was intended to be used. (Editor’s Note: I wouldn’t recommend driving to Alaska with 4 people and a dog to figure these things out.)

The second phase of our yurt journey was a trip to Central Asia in December of that year. We visited a small, mountainous country called Kyrgyzstan near the birthplace of yurts (Mongolia) where being a yurt-craftsman is a highly respected, lucrative trade. Families depend on the sale of these structures to support themselves. A yurt — simply defined — is a round structure traditionally used by nomadic tribes in Central Asia. defines it a bit further: “A yurt consists of a round wall and a roof system that is free standing using a tension ring at the wall and a compression ring where the roof rafters tie together.” Some would call it a glorified tent:


While in Kyrgyzstan, Sean and I fell in love with the symmetry and balance we found in traditional yurts. As opposed to the jagged, 90-degree angles of a traditional house, we felt more at ease in these structures where energy can travel with easy throughout the space. Keep in mind, these photos are of very traditional yurts — not quite the same structure we’re putting on our land (we’ll get to that in a minute). For now, I love this photo of Sean — it captures true happiness:


If this family could sell three yurts a year (which they do — sometimes more), they will have enough income to not only survive, but fare extremely well in comparison to families of other trades in the village.



In a yurt-focused family, everyone gets involved in the construction in various ways. The man of the house likely had the craft passed down to him through generations, and thus he takes on the construction of the exterior parts.


Here he is coaxing the beams to bend ever-so-slightly to support the curved shape of the dome.


Our friend, Azamat, is shown here translating with Sean about the whole process.



The women are involved with creating the critical components of the exterior weather shield and the interior carpets and wall panels.


These tassels (or “earrings” as they called them) hang in the yurt as a symbol of protection, when coming from one world (outside) to another (inside).


This woman was showing us the woven mats that she and the other women in the family handmade:


Here’s a close up of the woven pieces of the mat — can you imagine the depth of precision that goes into pattern-making?

Outside, I found the device they use to weave the mats:


So as you can imagine, we first strategized how we were going to get a yurt shipped from Kyrgyzstan so we could help support this family… until we discovered that shipping (and the energy output that goes with making that happen) was an absurd use of energy — just to get a yurt from A to B. So, we started squirreling away money wherever we could to buy a yurt in the states — waiting until the time was right. Once we had our land in Whitefish, we knew the time was coming. Plus, we knew that by investing our savings in a yurt and simplifying our lives, we will be able to rent out our current home to Whitefish visitors — creating additional income for our family. Win-win.

Then a few weeks ago — the time arrived. Sean had gone back and forth, up and down and in-between to determine what sort of “tiny structure” we were going to build on our land — tiny house, yurts, fire towers, tee-pees, etc. After months of research, hemming and hawing, he made it a full 360 degrees and landed back on a yurt… officially. As if the universe had been waiting for us to decide, Sean came across a pre-assembled yurt for sale on 20 minutes from our home manufactured by Montana’s Shelter Designs. A Montana-made yurt available LOCALLY… and technically, we would be buying second-hand. It was perfect.

Then we met Beth (you can read the Daily Interlake story about HER yurt journey here). Oddly enough, Beth downsized that same year (2012) from her 3800-square foot home in Massachusetts for a 30-foot yurt that she built with the help of friends on property in Kalispell. Beth’s background is in sustainable design and she’s extremely passionate about this 2-year old structure — she is organized, smart and she built the yurt with all the “bells and whistles” that we would have wanted to use ourselves to assure it would be livable through Northwest Montana’s harsh winter months. A few life changes meant she needed to sell the yurt, and we couldn’t imagine a better match for us.


We’ll show photos of the yurt interior in the coming months, but for now we can tell you some hard facts. The yurt is roughly 700 square feet of living space, plus a loft (300 additional square feet). It’s 1 bedroom (plus sleeping space in the loft) and 1 bathroom, fully wired and plumbed, although we’ll be looking into alternative methods such as solar power, a composting toilet, and rainwater collection. Here are a few photos we snapped on the top of our property, scouting out the location for our yurt with views of Glacier National Park to the east, Whitefish Lake to the northeast and the expanse of the Flathead Valley to the south.

Walking up (and keeping warm with my new favorite skirt, compliments of Skhoop):


Here is the view captured in the warmer months:


Sean, stomping a perimeter in the snow:


Daisy doesn’t really know what a yurt is yet… but she says as long as it’s as warm as her Ruffwear Quinzee jacket, she’s into it:





This quote I read recently from Melody Beattie sums up our yurt journey to a tee:

“While it’s fun to go on a trip, and trips often coincide with going to new places in our personal lives, we don’t have to load up the car and hit the road to find what we’re looking for. The places of power we seek are within us. Places of comfort, joy, wisdom, silence, healing, peace. The places we visit often reflect those qualities, reinforce them, remind us that they’re there. But the places, the locations we visit, are only mirrors, extensions of ourselves. The healing and magic we seek are not someplace else. They are within each of us.”

Cheers to the next adventure!

Plaid: The Official Uniform of Outdoor-minded Folk

My first memory of my wife (Mollie) before we started dating was the outfit she wore on our first official meet up. We met at a funeral of a young boy named Jesse (full story here); I had flown out to Wisconsin mid-winter to give his eulogy. A day after the funeral, I had a run in with Mollie while I was still in Wisconsin. She was wearing a red plaid shirt that instantly caught my attention. (She tells me now that the pattern is called “gingham.”) I took keen interest to this shirt and of course to Mollie. A few thoughts went through my mind:

  1. Cheap Italian pizza tablecloth cover
  2. Lumberjacks
  3. Pizza sounds good, we should eat some
  4. The outdoors

Many of my close friends know me as reserved and shy in front of new people, unless we share a common interest. As I was caught off guard by this beauty in plaid, I was left scrambling for things to talk about without making a fool out of myself. Luckily, of those thoughts that shot across my mind, plaid reminded me of the outdoors and I was able to start a conversation to seek common interests with Mollie—which thankfully, she had.

Following my return to Utah a few days later, Mollie and I stayed in touch via phone and quirky text messages daily. I wasn’t sure where any of it would lead, and neither was she. I wasn’t making any plans to move to the flat vastness of Wisconsin and she knew that. I am severely horizontally challenged, I needed mountains and Wisconsin did not have those.

But what it did have was Mollie and she had plaid, the official uniform of like-minded outdoors people. That was just the bait I needed. She had told me she spent many years as a backcountry camp leader/backpacker/adventurer in the far northern parts of Wisconsin before becoming a professional “fashionista” in the city of Madison. She loved the adventure life but had since lost her way in the hipness of city life that followed her UW-Madison college career. I also couldn’t blame her for making such drastic life changes as that is what college is all about: trying new things, exploring, etc. And she did just that—she turned away from a rural, summer camp life, ditched her Wisconsin accent, and adopted the lights and glory of fashion life. She was living the dream that many city girls wish they could have as a style editor of a women’s magazine. She had become accustomed to life’s little luxuries such as eating fine dining instead of cooking Ramen in backcountry tents. Why would anyone want to leave that?

Mollie and I on a ski expedition in northern Norway. Polarmax’s antimicrobial scent free Maxride PMX Team Shirt keeps my wife happy and loving me even on the longest of expeditions and lack of showering;
Photo: Andrew Meehan

Fortunately, I connected all the dots and recognized her hidden cry for help. Her damn plaid shirt was shouting to me, “take me out – get me back outside and into the vertical world! Let me fly again.” After months of debating the rescue of Mollie’s inner spirit, I mustered up the courage to invite her out west. She flew out to visit my (at the time) pathetically furnished dirtbag bachelor pad that included a giant bean bag, lawn furniture for chairs, dining table, mattress, dog kennel, and my year-round fake Christmas tree with ornaments still hung.

As I nervously waited at the baggage claim at the Salt Lake City airport, I finally saw Mollie once again after so many months. She was rocking a plaid shirt and I knew then and there my life was about to change drastically.

Now a few years later we are very happily married and living in the resort town of Whitefish, Montana sharing a home mortgage on 10 acres of land. Far from the big cities, Mollie’s plaid shirt enjoys the night’s stars and a faint fireside scent. Mollie has since adopted many more plaid outfits into her life, while selling off the last of her deemed, “girly girl clothes” on E-Bay to the many girls remaining in the big cities. Lawn furniture no longer fills an empty house, but instead a back porch where it properly belongs. The Christmas tree was packed up and ornaments wrapped in bubble wrap long ago. Our house is filled with shabby-chic mountain cottage décor and the rooms are organized with boxes upon boxes of our combined dirtbag gear. Her high heel shoes have been replaced with sandals, ski boots, hiking, biking, and climbing shoes. And our only child thus far is our sweet dog, Daisy. Life has become much simpler and we openly share common goals to keep our lives as adventurous as we can while also reaching into what we believe is our own personal human spirit. We are a husband and wife team embracing the plaid life together in order to experience the real world.

The plaid life. Mollie: Mountain Khakis - Women’s Peaks Flannel Shirt, Women’s Canyon Cord Pant, SOLE’s Women’s Sigh custom footwear; Sean: Mountain Khakis - Men’s Peaks Flannel Shirt, Men’s Teton Twill Pant - Broadway Fit, SOLE’s Men’s Exhale custom footwear. Photo: Andrew Meehan


When the plaid is on - its time to work. Our expedition filmer/photographer, Andrew Meehan, is all business in the arctic circle of northern Norway; Sean: Mountain Khaki’s Men’s Alpine Utility Pant. Camera recharged and powered in the backcountry by Goal Zero Sherpa 50 with Inverter Solar Recharger Kit. Photo: Chloe Vance

Fresh out of a skittles package - Mollie and I work to match the midnight sun’s everlasting sunset in Norway’s northern reaches with Sessions Outerwear and a fresh layer of Aloe Up. Mollie: Icelantic’s Oracle Ski, Osprey’s Aura 65 Pack, G3 Alpinist High Traction Climbing Skins, Wigwam’s Snow Force, Outdoor Technology Crackalope Yowie headband Sean: Icelantic’s Gemini Splitboard, Spark R&D Splitboard Bindings, Anarchy Heist Goggle, Osprey’s Atmos 65 Pack, G3 Alpinist High Traction Splitboard Climbing Skins, Wigwam’s Snow Xenon Pro. Photo: Chloe Vance

Fueling Up with Waste Vegetable Oil

For 28 days, I’ve accepted the challenge to write every day. Find more on my motives here. See how far I’ve come here. I’ve been writing every day, but apparently the action of “blog posting” takes a bit more time than I have to spare! Thanks for bearing with me.

Well, we finally made it to Waupaca! After about 24 hours drive time across 1450 miles in our trusty VW Golf TDI, we used about 35 gallons of waste vegetable oil and 3/4 of a tank of diesel fuel (which we only used because we ran out of veggie oil on the last leg of the trip). If you think about it in terms of miles per gallon from the traditional pump, before we had to switch to diesel fuel at the end of our journey, we averaged about 327 miles per gallon on diesel via our waste veggie oil. #WIN

Yesterday, we dragged my dad on a WVO (waste veggie oil) run, and I know a lot of folks are curious about how our system works. There was a more primitive system with a hand-crank pump that we used last summer in the Travel Queen, but recently, our friend, Russ hooked us up with something much more slick. (You may remember Russ as Brittany’s counterpart, the “mechanic” of the group… they are our friends from Utah who got me hooked on rock climbing and yoga… who got us hooked on veggie-fueled cars, etc.)

Here’s how it works…

First, we find waste veggie oil (with no hydrogenated oil or heavy particulate, that’s not burned and heavily reused) that a restaurant owner says we can take. This step can be the most difficult when you have huge, major corporations paying restaurants for their WVO to make BioDiesel. Remember, BioDiesel is NOT what we use. We use straight veggie oil.

After we get approval (thanks to those businesses that believe in what we are doing), we put our hose into the WVO tank, and turn on the motorized device (2nd photo) which pulls it into the silver device (3rd photo) which has a filter in it which force-filters the grease down to 10 microns (pretty darn clean). There are other systems with more checkpoints that can get grease down to less than 1 micron (CLICK HERE to read about how Russ and Brittany did it in Utah), but for now this system suits us. And, it’s portable!

Gloves are a must when dealing with WVO:


This is the motor the pulls the grease out of the bin and into the filtering device.

This is the filtering device.


Here’s Sean, with the device at the end of the system which is essentially like the gas pump you grab at the gas station to fuel up your car. He pulls the trigger and the clean WVO goes into our bucket.


Pretty maids, all in a row… cleaned and set for fueling our car. No chemicals necessary. We dump this directly into our WVO tank, which sits in the trunk of the Golf.

And that, folks, is how it’s done!

Of course, there are a few other things to consider. The true cost of “free fuel” isn’t really all “free.” There are supplies, fuel filters, the filters for the filtering device, gas used getting to and from the dumpsters, etc. that must be taken into account. Also, living in Montana we have to take into account keeping black bears and grizzlies away from our home storage facility. Brittany does a great summary on their blog on the true cost of “free fuel.” CLICK HERE TO READ.

Artistic Expressions in Kyrgyzstan

Every so often, it’s nice to get a good dose of culture shock. It’s a way to ground my views on life. In the winter sports realm, it’s a way to see mountains with a new perspective. A recent expedition to Kyrgyzstan did just that—and after seeing the country’s newly found/remote skiing subculture firsthand, this trip conjured a few new realizations as Mollie and I immersed ourselves in the Central Asian culture.

12th century Karakhanid Mausoleum

Viewpoints of the west/America

In the past, my expeditions were focused solely on discovering new lines and riding them in a unique and aesthetic nature. Experiencing the culture was merely an afterthought. And while I’ve learned that culture—for me—has become a big piece in getting the most from an expedition, I always return to my foundation of riding. Since I don’t consider myself an artist with a paintbrush, I do consider myself an artist when it comes to snowboarding. It’s cliché to say that snowboarding is art, but for me it really is. The mountain’s face is my white canvas, and a unique and/or aesthetic line helps the viewer capture the emotion of my art.

Horse access deep into the backcountry of the Tian Shan Range

These unique lines take place among Walnut trees in the Khrebet Babash-Ata Mountains. Utah blower-like snow in the heart of Asia.

I remember working on this shot with Mollie - capturing the last remaining light on the village. In this region, there are no TVs, iPads, or reliable Internet to plague their simple life. Are the people in the village below in a warm room drinking hot tea and sitting by a fire? Perhaps, exchanging stories of ancestors and their culture to their children/grandchildren? Are some frantically working away avoiding the cast of the mountains shadow before darkness? Who below is at ease with a blank mind after the cold wintry day? On my mind— bliss, rhythm, smoothness, flow…

I love how you feel the warmth of the village in the sunset alpenglow light. At this point in time, Facebook friend requests, blog posts, and the general culture we succumb to in the west doesn’t matter. The powder engulfs my body and provides a protective barrier from the modern outside world.

Living Vertical: Diabetes on the rocks

We all know this: I love rock climbing. A lot. I credit the fit of my wedding dress to a strict regimen of yoga and rock climbing during the month prior to September 24, 2011. But here’s the question: Would I be interested in climbing 365 days of the year? Probably, but lets be honest: I’ve got a motor home to work on.

For Steve and Stefanie Richert, rock climbing 365 days of the year is reality. About a month ago, Sean and I were e-introduced to the couple, who together is “Living Vertical,” meaning for one entire year, they will climb every day. They define climbing as simply, “going up.” Some days, it’s more low key—other days he’s climbing things that are taller than the Chrysler Building. After selling all their possessions that wouldn’t fit into their car, they embarked on a journey to show the world that anything is possible…

…even with diabetes.

You knew there would be a kicker, didn’t you? Steve has had type 1 diabetes for 13 years, and Stefanie recently dealt with her grandfather’s passing, and how difficult it was for him to live with type 2 diabetes leading up to his death. These personal experiences with diabetes and a mutual love for climbing inspired the two to live simply for a year in a project they call “Project 365.” In other news: They might be one of the cutest couples ever. This photo makes me smile:

Climbing every single day—how crazy does that sound? I guess considering the things Sean and I do, it shouldn’t be crazy to me at all… in fact, more than anything, I admire this couple for their strength, courage and physical stamina. I can’t imagine how physically fit I would be if I did something like that. It’s surely a different sort of “fit” than skiing or snowboarding requires. Lots of bumps and bruises—I know that from personal experience. Couple that with Steve’s diabetes, and it’s like a whole new ballgame.

A shot of insulin on the rocks (see what I did there??)…

I think the best part about their project is the blogging and photos. They’re filming a documentary, but in the meantime leave blog posts and short videos for the public to follow. Steve has a way with words, and his honestly is palpable. He had a revelation after climbing Moonlight Buttress a while back. (That’s the climb that was taller than the Chrysler Building.) He said:

The past several days marked not only the passage of the first 25% of Project 365 but also a shift in my mindset in terms of what I believe is possible for myself as a person of average athletic talent. Do you know what it’s like when you can feel something is changing and you know it’s big, but it’s so big that you can’t really wrap your head around it? I think that’s where I am right now and while it is exciting, it is somewhat disorienting too.

He goes on to comment on how diabetes comes into the mix after reading other people’s Facebook posts about how life is hard with diabetes, and woe is me sort of banter. His mindset in this next quote is so similar to how Sean and I feel that I just want to hug him. Go Steve.
Having diabetes is hard. Yup. So? What, you want a low carb cookie? There isn’t a cure, just effective treatments that can enable you to live an amazing life if you’re willing to step away from the computer, quit complaining and go get after it. Life is suffering, hardship. Accept this and you can deal with life. Embrace it and you can create something beautiful. Few things provoke my ire like hearing people complain about having this condition as though it is the end of life itself, or a curse. No one gets out of here alive. Death and suffering are not optional. What you do with your time and what you make out of your hardships are choices that you get to make again and again and that is a huge privilege–a gift.
Whether we have diabetes or not, I think we can all learn a little something from that gem. For more, visit (they’re a nonprofit too!).

23 Feet: Banff Film Festival Review

On Friday night, Sean and I attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Sun Valley. Given the impression I’ve gotten from Sundance Film Festival (crazy, weird, artistic movies that I might not understand), I was a bit skeptical as we grabbed seats in the theater.

Then, an amazing thing happened: From the moment the screening began, I could relate to every film, simply because all the films are centered around travel + action sports + mountains.

That’s our life. Those are our people.

The last time I felt like this was my first day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I remember being at a party, and thinking to myself about how awesome all my new friends were… I thought, “These are my people.” Same concept applied in these films.

One movie that really inspired me was 23 Feet. The premise behind the film is simple. Their website explains, “23 Feet is film about a community of people who make the conscious choice to live simply to do what they love in the great outdoors. Three women set out across the west in their 23 foot, 1970 Airstream to search for the stories of people who have turned their backs on the creature comforts of society to live in school buses, vans, and other small spaces.” I’ll paste the trailer at the bottom of this post.

Photo Credit:

For obvious reasons, I relate to the idea of living out of a motor home for an extended period of time. (WE’RE DOING THAT IN JUNE.) Secondly, I was intrigued by the concept of living simply.

The film interviews various folks across the US who have made a conscious decision to live simply. Whether they currently live in a bus-converted-to-a-home behind their workplace, on the bank of a river in Moab, or in the tall forests of California spending their days climbing and slack-lining, these people—what some would call the quintessential hippie—are truly living what they believe is a simple life. They align themselves with nature; they don’t use more than they need; and they are happy living a life in the outdoors that doesn’t include the daily grind. They are following their passions, doing the things that they love most, every day of their lives. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that sounds like the path Sean and I are on.

That got me thinking about recent messages I’ve received from readers about our Alaska trip, wondering how we do all the crazy things we do (and how we afford it). The truth is? Anyone can do it. There is just a level of assumed “risk” to be taken. You have to give up those creature comforts that you may be used to… namely steady income and disposable income. And the thing about “living simply” is that its all relative. While I may be living simply in Utah as a tutor, someone else may be working that daily grind in NYC, but still living an incredibly full and simple life. In other words, you don’t have to have a van-down-by-the-river mentality to live simple.

To be clear about how Sean and I live, here a few steps we took to get here.

First things first: Get a job in education. Being a high school coach/tutor is a way to free up some of your time, especially at a boarding school where the holidays are long (summers off), free food is at your disposal, and the need for tutors is abundant. Plus as a tutor, all that hard work as the Waupaca High School Salutatorian is FINALLY paying off. (Ha!) That’s how we get all the spare time we have… we’re not just twiddling our thumbs out here in Utah; I swear we actually do have good jobs that make money for our family. After all, someone has to pay for Daisy and Dexter’s expensive, hoity-toity allergy-free dog food…

Secondly, contract yourself out for what you do best. When I’m not tutoring (or running Riding On Insulin…or writing this blog), I’m writing for various publications, bringing in an additional income as a freelancer.

Third, to live a more simple life takes stamina of the money-spending variety. If you look at a credit card statement from my lifestyle in Madison, and one now, I guarantee the percentage spent on haircuts, clothing, shoes, jewelry, internet, cable TV, booze, and eating out went from massive to next-to-nothing. While Sean is careful to point out that I still have a closet bulging with clothes in this “simple life,” I can’t remember the last time I bought new outfit… all those clothes moved with me from Madison to Utah—WAHBAM!

This film really gave me an appreciation for the life Sean and I live. We spend most days outside, being active, planning trips to the places we’ve always dreamed of. I realize it’s not practical for every family—heck, I’m pretty certain a lot of people wouldn’t want to live life the way we do. But you know what? It’s all relative… if you get to see this film, I hope it inspires you to live more simply in a way that’s meaningful for you.

For more on 23 Feet or to purchase the DVD for $20, visit their website, here. I’ll paste the trailer here to give you a little bit more insight into the movie, itself.