Our Yurt Raising, Unpacked.

Well that was one crazy weekend. My knuckles are swollen, I wake up nightly to myself unconsciously scratching the mosquito bites on my legs, and I’ve got a handful of cuts and bruises that will last me a few weeks. But at the end of the day, you know what? We have a yurt! (See our progress as it happened on my Instagram account, here.)

I will say the whole experience was, for the most part, smooth. It was hard — yes. It was time consuming. But it was fun! And SO AMAZING that we had friends come out and help with various parts of the raising. Mikey, Dad, Brandon, Andrew and Louise, Chris… we could not have done it without you. Diaun, the homemade mojitos and jalapeño poppers might have been our saving grace on Saturday afternoon. To Sonny, your generosity is so appreciated, letting us borrow your tools and trailer… Ron, your circular saw helped us right when we needed it. Beth—your responses to our frantic text messages (what screws do we use on this part?!) were critical. All the kindness from our support network here in Montana is slightly overwhelming… we can’t wait to return those favors.

I have a few observations about this weekend that got me thinking about how I can adapt to yurt life.

First — and foremost, planning ahead. We ran into this a few times concerning the need for electricity for the chop saw and the circular saw… imagine, you have to drive from our house all the way up to the yurt (about a 5 minute drive, depending on how slow you go with the trailer) and back down every time you need electricity. After making that trip twice because you forgot something at the house, you start thinking ahead and planning things out. Plus, we try to be conscious that even that small drive, back and forth with our Durango sucks gasoline. We may have a Greasecar, but our little VW Golf doesn’t pull a heavy trailer/hold walls and tools and lumber as well as our Durango (which is an automatic gas guzzler) can.

Another thing — yurts are totally beginner friendly. With a little common sense and again, planning ahead, I really think anyone can do it. OK, I feel that we had a bit of an advantage… not because we bought a used yurt that had everything cut to exact proportions for us already (I actually think in some ways that made it harder to force the puzzle pieces together). Our advantage came from first disassembling the yurt from Beth’s property, and then being able to build it within a month of that time. The pieces were still fresh in our minds. But even if we hadn’t done that, we would still have been fine.

Initially, we called Hayes, the owner of Shelter Designs in Missoula, and asked him if we could hire him for the yurt raising. There are a lot of moving parts, and Hayes is a great crowd organizer… he knows what needs to get done (obviously, he does this for a living). When Sean asked him, Hayes basically said (paraphrasing here), “I’m pretty busy this summer, but I think you guys can handle it. I’ll send you a DVD.”

I thought… A DVD. Really? What are we doing here, baking a cake or raising a yurt? But when we actually watched the DVD, we knew Hayes was right. It explained everything from start to finish, with super detailed instructions… exactly the things Hayes would have been telling us had he been here. So we would do a few steps on the yurt, and then watch some DVD on a laptop… go back to yurt stuff, have lunch, and watch a little more DVD. That got us through it. That DVD was the key to building our yurt. Welcome to the YouTube generation, people.

I’ll post a few photos here that I didn’t post on Instagram this weekend.

Mikey, placing the cable through the tops of the lattice walls:

The cable is made to fit our 30-foot yurt EXACTLY. Thus, it takes a bit of time to wiggle it through the lattice walls perfectly enough for this hook to actually lock.

Brandon, Sean and Mikey, prepping to lift that ring (at their feet) above their heads and start placing the beams, which connect to the outter lattice walls. This is the most dangerous part of a yurt raising… those beams are heavy!

A nervous smile from me on the ground. My job was to run around the yurt like a crazy woman, handing the guys one end of a beam, and placing the other end of the beam on the cable in the precise spot. Luckily, we only had a few tense moments, one of which involved a beam nailing me in the arm. I’ve got a massive bruise to show for that one.

Until the first five (maybe six) beams are up, it’s super tense because someone always has to be holding that ring up (which weighs a ton). It was a lot of arms-over-the-head action for those guys.

Remember what I said about things being difficult when everything is already trimmed for you with a used yurt? Yeah… things get a bit dicey when you’re trying to fit the last pieces of the puzzle into the mix. We used a pulley system (thanks, Brandon!) to pull the center ring westward so that we had room on the east side to ease the last few beams into place. After all was said and done, IT WAS LEVEL!

Once the beams are in, it’s fun to put on the white lining (1st layer) and the insulation (2nd layer). Although, we were pretty lucky the sun was behind a cloud during this part… that insulation is like one big sun screen!

Here was the HARDEST part of the day. Even harder than putting in the beams. That crescent roll up there is the outer canvas of the yurt and it weighs a million pounds. Maybe not a million, but it sure seemed like it. It took 4 of us to hoist it up to the scaffolding, and then a lot of grunting and groaning to get it out of the center ring and onto the roof. I won’t even go into the madness involved with trying to spread that thing out around the yurt. Again, if you’re building a NEW yurt, your canvas comes nice and folded — presumably ready for you to flop it out on top. With ours? It was a bit of a jumble to get it looking good. It took us HOURS. Just on this part.

And after getting the top on, we had to then put on the side insulation panels and the side canvas panels. They were heavy, but nowhere near as heavy as the top. This part was also difficult because our yurt is so high off the ground, and we had to use lean-to ladders (as opposed to the A-frame ladders) to get as high as the top.

Then there was a dome, being pulled up the outside to the top:

And then, behold the yurt in all her glory. Still a few things to be done on the exterior like trim, etc. (and we’re adding the skirting asap this week), but on the whole she’s looking good.

Daisy is looking forward to the day the yurt has either carpeting or a soft bed for her to lay in. Other than that, she enjoyed her weekend. (Thanks Louise for the great photo!)



The Yurt Raising is Upon Us

As we begin to prepare for the yurt raising this weekend, anticipation courses through my veins. My thoughts are consumed with, “What will this be like in the yurt?” and “What do I really need for the yurt?” and “How can I downsize even further before the yurt?” The thing is: We are consumed with so many things. We work all day to make money… to buy things that we don’t need… because we’re trained to think “This Feels Good Because I Earned It.” We’re trained to think that the size of our homes and the value of our cars are a reflection of how “good” we’re doing in life. To clarify, I’m not saying we should all downsize to Tiny Homes and stop supporting local businesses. I’m suggesting that perhaps, there’s no need for this mentality of excess.

Sean and I watched a movie called “Tiny” last night, about the movement to live with less things and space, and live fuller in terms of experiences and relationships. Arguably (and I love this point) when there are less things to clutter our lives, we are able to focus our energy more on the things that matter — life. love. adventure. It’s a conscious decision to live that way, and one that The Minimalists also support.

Technically, our yurt - being 700 square feet without the loft, is just barely (sometimes not even) considered a “tiny home.” Folks living in 128 square feet, or 58 square feet can claim that title. In fact, Tiny Home-ers might call our yurt a Tiny Mansion. Nonetheless, it’s still a tent at heart lacking many of today’s common comforts. And for me, 700 square feet of living space, off-the-grid in a peaceful forest setting is just right for us in this moment. Follow our journey this weekend on Instagram. (And wish us luck!)

Here I am, pushing one of the last pieces of our insulated deck panels into place:


I love seeing Sean smile like this, with a sense of accomplishment.


Sean and Daisy, celebrating the Busby win when the deck was finished.


Last night, testing out the first view through our french doors (frame). Photo credit: Louise Anten/Camera Shye Photography.


Our First Snow - a lesson on appreciating the forest & cultivating the trees

Well, it’s official. Our first snow in our new home has come and gone. It’s November in Montana, and dare I say it…winter is here! And while our hometown has changed since last year, Sean’s giddy feelings about the “first snow” have not. It’s like watching a kid on Christmas… except “Christmas” isn’t a set date. Christmas could happen any day—so when it does, it’s that much more of a surprise.

If you know Sean, you know he was SnapChatting the moment it started to dump:



For the past two weeks, northwest Montana’s forecast has been calling for “snow” every other day… but until this Sunday, NOTHING came. Sometimes it would say a 90% chance of snow in Whitefish—and still, nothing would happen. Seeing Sean on those days is like seeing a kid on Christmas who gets the wrong Lego set from Grandma. Angry, but not really angry because Grandma’s just trying to do her job, and Grandma does what she wants. So when the snow finally started coming down in earnest, Sean was as happy as could be. You can’t see it in the photo above, but he’s got a massive grin on his face.

I walked around the perimeter of our home the morning after, snapping photos of our first Montana snow. Looking at all the beautiful, snow-covered trees and seeing the sliver of morning light coming from the east, I recalled a lecture I heard recently, and I reflected on the forest surrounding our home as it applies to life.

Oftentimes, the day-to-day gripes overshadow our “big picture.” We feel obstructed from achieving our mission in life because we’ve got a bunch of seemingly meaningless stuff to do first. Metaphorically speaking, we focus on the forest, when we miss the trees standing right in front of us.

I believe we should know what the forest looks like, meaning our “greater picture,” or our “purpose” in life. Not our job, but rather what is the true talent we were put on the earth to do? We should never lose sight of that, and similarly, allow that forest to change as our lives change with us. In the meantime, our day-to-day focus shouldn’t be on that forest, but rather on each tree, one at a time… cultivating each with love and kindness. We must pay attention to the small things—our trees—that put us in the right place at the right time. Because in the end, when we look back, we will see that it was the trees (however meaningless they seemed at the time) that got us to where we are.

“Don’t focus on the mountains all the time. Focus on what makes the mountain whole.” —Levi Lusko





Adventures in our own backyard: Picking for Huck Pies

One of the reasons Sean and I were initially drawn to Montana was the abundance of outdoor activities at our disposal. At any given moment (in any given season), we could be paddle-boarding in Whitefish Lake, backcountry skiing in Glacier National Park, cycling the hundreds of road biking routes through the lush valley, mountain biking the muddy paths of the Whitefish Trail, or hiking up Big Mountain. I’ve got literally hundreds of photos of various activities we’ve done—I’m determined to post them here to showcase Montana’s magnificence!

In the last few months, we’ve hiked at Whitefish Mountain Resort a number of times, and about halfway to the summit is a vast clearing where the bushes are absolutely packed with massive huckleberries. Our friends mentioned how they’d never seen huckleberries that big—even after living in Whitefish for many years. When our friend Chloe visited from across the border a few weeks ago, we couldn’t resist taking our Canadian friend on her first huck-picking mission. In return, she baked us some delicious huckleberry hand-pies. We begged her to stay and continue baking for us, but alas, she retreated to Canada where she is currently perfecting her recipes.

In these photos, you’ll notice Ava—the black and white dog—who belongs to our friends Russ and Britt. They are currently teaching abroad in Beijing (you can read their stories here!) and we’ve got little Ava in our care for a few months. The best part is Ava came with a dog pack from Ruffwear (find here). She’s a bit of a mountain beast with an endless supply of energy—carrying her own water, snacks, frisbees, and poop bags. Sean’s pack is the Osprey Kode pack (find here).

Our happy Canadian friend, enjoying some classic American berries.

These bushes were literally weighted with berries!

This jug looks empty here, but we managed to fill the entire thing that day, plus two more containers! Visor by Mountain Khakis (find here). Top by Polarmax (find here).

Although Ava looks slightly annoyed in this photo, she is growing accustomed to getting her picture taken frequently in Montana. And she knows that a good photo session is typically followed by her favorite activity in the entire world: Frisbee.

Snacktime with a view at Whitefish Mountain Resort:

Mmm… huck pies! So good we couldn’t even wait for the camera before digging in:

Montana. It’s not just Paradise… it’s Bear-adise

Prior to our return to Montana, our neighbor had been sending texts and emails recounting various bear sightings on our property. Apparently, the apple tree in our yard is quite the scene for the black bears in the ‘hood. Sean has also been reading articles in the local paper for months about all the bears in Whitefish this season. A quote from the Whitefish Pilot read, “Bear expert Erik Wenum says at least one bear is roaming the streets of Whitefish at any given moment.” So, as soon as we pulled in the driveway yesterday, I headed over to our neighbors’ to get the scoop and meet their new puppy (adorable 8-week-old Golden Retriever). On my way over, Sean shouted, “Do you have the bear spray?”

“No! I’m just going to the neighbors,” I called back.

Sean was a minute behind me, bear spray in tow. After meeting the pup, I ran back to the house for something (sans bearspray) and just as I was calling Daisy to come into the house, a heard a rustling in the bushes just up the hill. Not a second later, I had Daisy inside and watched a small black bear 40 feet away from me, saunter away up the hill. It didn’t even acknowledge my presence. The bear disappeared from my view, and as I came to my senses, I realized our VW Golf Greasecar was sitting JUST at the base of the hill, not 10 feet from where the bear had been.

Let that sink in: Greasecar + Bear = tasty treat and car demolition. I looked closer and realized the windows were wide open. The trunk was full of sweet-smelling waste veggie oil. It was go-time.

I ran to the car (sans bearspray), bear still slightly in sight in the distance, backed it out of the area and drove it around to the front of our home to the safety of the garage. Luckily, I didn’t see the bear again after that, but WOA. Talk about a “welcome home” party!

Afterward, Sean and I spent about 30 minutes picking fresh, wild raspberries from the bushes lining the road that runs through our property. There are smashed down spots in the bushes where you can tell a bear has been sitting there, doing the same exact thing in our absence. By picking two big bowls of the sun-ripened fruit, we hoped to deter a few bears from returning.

This guy had the same idea… he ran off down our road before we started.

Even Daisy enjoyed the fresh pickings!

On Mollie: Polarmax Spring 2014 top (similar here) Mountain Khakis Anytime Skirt.

Dog’s first raspberry:

On Daisy: The Ruffwear Quickdraw Leash (aka The Best Leash on the Planet for On-the-Go Dogs).


Here are the apples on our tree… not yet ripe, but they will be soon. And when that time comes, let the pie-making begin!

Someone is excited to be home:

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

Epic Time Crunch

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. Today’s topic that I chose from Jenni’s list at Story of My Life:

What scares you most?

To be perfectly honest, I’m afraid of not having enough time.

Spreading myself thin is something I’m good at. It stems from my inability to say “no.” I have an innate desire to get involved in everything. I read a magazine, and I think OH OH! I could totally write for this publishing group. They need me.

Um, yeah. Except that you have a job.

Or I’ll talk to a friend who wants to start up a website and I think OH OH! Let me help you create it and run it on the back-end—we’ll do it together!

Um, yeah. Except that you have your own website.

What is that? Does anyone else suffer from chronic involved-ness? About a year ago, I decided I wanted to go back to school to get my master’s in dietetics so that I could eventually become a Certified Diabetes Educator. Everyone was pumped for me. I was pumped for me. It was a solid idea. Since then, I’ve been chipping away at my prerequisite courses before I can apply to the program … but I’ve hit a roadblock. I cannot get myself motivated on these last two courses. (Science courses, go figure.) They’re not on a set academic schedule, other than I have a year to complete them… and somehow, 9 months has gone by and I still haven’t completed them. It’s one of those things where I honestly feel that if I’m meant to go this route in life, the motivation will find me. Is that crazy?

And it’s not that I’m just sitting around doing nothing all day. I’m avoiding school because I’m too scared of not making enough time for the other things in life (arguably, the important things in life): our house chores, my amazing job, my happy dog, my bike, my yoga practice.. my incredible husband who loves me and wants to spend time with me. Someday, there will be little Mollies and Seans to deal with, too… and then how important will science class be? It’s a fear of letting people down, too. A fear of letting myself down.

Even when I’m on super fun adventures like this one, below, cycling the Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park, I hear in the back of my mind this little voice saying you could be studying… don’t forget!


I could talk circles about justifying this fear of in either direction, but for now, for my writing purposes… I’m going to let this fear be out in the open, here on the Internet.

Sometimes, putting yourself out there is the first step to encouraging the solution to materialize. Here’s to solutions.