Staying warm yurt style

IMG_3753

The yurt in warmer times

Aw, the picture above reminds that there will again be a time when the yurt bubble is open and there is not a 2 foot field of condensed snow surrounding our home.  In the meantime, we are dealing with an El Nino winter to topple records with a couple of months left to go.  How are we staying warm without all of the trappings of modern homes?  Through the very simple tricks listed below.

IMG_4199

The Yurtain – a yurt curtain

Back in the fall when the warnings of the severity of our winter seemed far off, I decided to make us curtains for the yurt.   The huge advantage of our home is that we have a ton of light and, due to our spectacular natural surroundings, also have gorgeous views.  But our windows are plastic so I knew that we would have to do some covering up for the winter.  So I invented (or think I did . . .) the yurtain, a perfect curtain for the yurt.  It is a very simple utilitarian design.  I bought fabric that was already quilted, fancied up the edges with some binding and then added the ties at the top.  Voila, the yurtain.  The ties are important because we don’t have the ability to hang a traditional curtain rod.  These stretch to cover up our windows pretty well.  In the mornings when we leave for work, we simply remove one tie to let the sun in for solar heat gain.  When we get home, we tie the curtains back up for warmth.  Although only a half inch thick, there is a definite difference when the curtains are up.

IMG_4203

Weatherizing the door

Like all homes, we lose a lot of heat through our front door.  To combat some of this loss, we installed weatherstripping around the perimeter.  Next, I made a curtain out of scraps with batting in between to stop the leakage from the glass window.  This curtain, like the others, has ties so that we can take it down to allow light in.  Last, I made a simple door snake.  In the weatherization workshops, we always taught people that stopping the small leaks all around the house has a large cumulative effect.  This is the same principle applied here.  I fashioned a quick door snake for the bottom out of leftover scrap fabric and stuffed with all of the small pieces of quilting batting I had lying around that were not good for anything else.  I knew there would be an occasion for all of these stashed scraps!

IMG_4202

Warming up the bed

Lastly, we decided to enhance the space by our bed since that is where we spend a lot of our home time.  As our walls are rounded, a headboard does not work.  This allowed us to get a little creative.  First I stuffed foam from our furniture projects between the crossbars of our wall creating a padding and barrier.  Second, I hung up the pea quilt to cover up the foam and create another layer.  (Right now I’m not worried about the quilt getting bleached because the sun is too low in the sky.)  Then we added a second set of pillows behind our pillows for yet another layer of protection.  With this set up, we have no draft in our bed.  We use flannel sheets, a down comforter and a wool blanket to stay toasty inside.  If it’s especially cold, we can always wear a hat to bed and add another quilt on top.

Our home is heated by a wood stove that is brand new and fairly efficient considering that a lot of the heat is lost to our high ceilings.  We stumble over in the middle of the night to add a couple of logs until we wake up.  Not once has the stove been so cold as to not keep coals when we are tending the fire.  We start the fire immediately when we get home and wait only a little while for the place to heat up.  During this time we are also busy moving and getting dinner ready that the cold is hardly noticeable.  It is really a pretty simple set up and works well for our home.

When we are home in the winter, we are not sitting around in T-shirts and burning logs with abandon.  We wear sweaters and slippers and we use the plethora of blankets we have around.  This is how we all used to live in the not so distant past.  What we are doing is what has always been done.  We are conscientious of little steps that we can take that have big impacts.  Collectively, if everyone turned down their thermostats even a few degrees and donned a sweater, plus plugged up the smaller leaks around the home, it could make a huge impact on our wallets and our planet.  We all can keep ourselves comfortable in the deepest darkest of winters with simple solutions.

Reflections on Resolutions

IMG_4003

Welcome 2016

This morning marks a new beginning and a new year.  We are encouraged to be reflective and motivated right now.  I haven’t spent too much energy looking into the past and projecting into the future for I am currently involved in the present working on projects and cooking a bunch.  And these activities are a good representation of my 2016 resolution which is simply to be more present.  I need to focus on what is here and now and enjoy what I’ve got.  The goal is to not ruminate on what may happen or what has happened but to just be.  So that is my resolution, my  one all encompassing goal for 2016.

In looking back at last year’s resolutions, I was able to complete the majority of them.  My most significant accomplish was downsizing and making a major life change in my household.  I did get in a few more baths and will continue to enjoy this simple luxury when able.  I did not knit a sweater but I have been busily crafting several baby blankets, so I feel satisfied.

I think it is important to look back and reflect upon what has been accomplished and lessons learned in the past year.  I believe that it is powerful to set a goal for the upcoming year.  However, I do not buy into all of the pressure to completely reinvent yourself in the new year.  I believe we should be happy and accepting with who we are and not feel that a diet or an organized closet must be achieved in order to have a good year.

Whatever 2016 may hold, I am hopeful for another year full of adventure and crafting.

The Biggest Project Yet – Part 3 (aka Living in a Yurt)

Sunset over Mesa Verde

Sunset over Mesa Verde

The question I am often asked when it is unearthed that I live in a yurt is “what is it like?”.  There are many folks here in southwestern Colorado living differently either out of necessity, or for philosophical reasons or because there are just so many ways to create a home.  In my town, yurt living isn’t unconventional so I don’t often explain my home in detail, which is why this question can be a challenge to answer succinctly.

Visiting deer

Visiting deer

My experience living in a yurt thus far has been great.  Naturally it has been an adjustment as is any new space for the first few months.  I think the most profound difference for me personally is a new sense of connectedness, not just in the space but of feeling more connected to more in life overall.  I live simply and I can account for all of the waste that comes out of our home.  Likewise, I know how much water we use.  I know the weather outside because I am not insulated in a temperature controlled box.  I know when it is hunting season because suddenly the area outside becomes a refuge for all of the local deer.  I know when the moon rises and sets and can see the Milky Way through the bubble in my roof.  It is peaceful and without a ton of distractions.  I can take the time to just sit at the end of the day and watch the sun set or sit by the light of my oil lamp and color in my coloring book.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Living in a yurt does require a bit more planning.  I grocery shop almost daily utilizing whatever is leftover so that nothing goes to waste.  We have to haul in water and our 7 gallon jug lasts us between 2 to 3 days for cooking, dishes and drinking.  We bring in our firewood nightly and take out our sink/compost bucket daily.  All of our dishes are washed immediately and put away.  Combined, none of these chores really take up much of our time, especially once established as a routine.

Built for our yurt

Built for our yurt

Because our yurt is a full-time residence, we have the setup almost exactly like a studio apartment.  We built all of our kitchen furniture out of barn wood so everything is sized perfectly for our space and is purposeful.  For cooking we use a 2 burner Coleman camp stove; I am still cranking out risottos and curries at the same rate as before.  (Even with being a prolific cook, I can remember few times I actually utilized all burners.)  We eat meals at my grandma’s table, same as before but now by the light of an oil lamp. Our yurt is decorated like a home and feels more like a home than our previous apartment.

As the weather transitions to winter, yurt living will be yet another experience.  We have cords of wood stacked and ready for warmth.  We have our sweaters, quilts and our tea stash ready too.  We are in the final stages of winterizing the home before the weather changes.  Living in a yurt connects you to nature while providing a comfortable and cozy home.

The Biggest Project Yet — Part 2

The yurt at dusk

The yurt at dusk

I’m not accustomed to segmenting my blog posts into sections, so please excuse the bumpy transitions.  I’ve never had a project or musing large enough to merit multiple passages.

Before and scaffolding

Before and scaffolding

And now onto the construction of the yurt itself.  We did not have the luxury of time to build a yurt from scratch so we ordered a customized yurt kit from a Western Slope (of Colorado) yurt maker.  It was delivered directly to our landing spot in various rolled up bundles.  Sadly I don’t have a before picture of the delivery; it was stunning that a pile so meager would actually become a home for two.  In preparation for the big construction day, we built a scaffolding to help with the building because the yurt is so tall.  More on the importance of  — and stress of — said scaffolding later on.

Walls and a door

Walls and a door

The day of the yurt raising arrived and the skies promised to be sunny without scorching and breezy without gale force winds.  Our crew of six included my dad and stepmom and my local relatives.  After fueling up with a big breakfast and donning our sunscreen and work gloves, we immediately got to work at 8 am.  The instructions were less than helpful so there was some deciphering and decision making that occurred right from the start.  Along the way we had to remind ourselves that the Mongolians erect and deconstruct such structures throughout the year without elaborate detailed books.  The first order of business was to orient and place the door without bolting it into place.  This required someone (me) to hold the door up while everyone else worked around the upright door on an otherwise deck.  I felt like I was on a comedy sketch holding onto a door with no walls; knock, knock jokes ensued.  Next up the crosshatched walls (uni in Mongolian) were unrolled and stretched out before being bolted to the deck with the door still being held in place. We placed a cable around the top of the walls to later place the rafters on. The construction of the walls and door were so quick, we had the brief delusional thought that the yurt would be done within a matter of hours.  And then came the roof.

Rafters and a ring

Rafters and a ring

The most crucial part of the roof construction was to lift the enormous and leaden center ring into place atop the scaffolding.  This required our project engineer to lift 50 pounds plus directly above his head and then hold onto the ring.  He then utilized climbing gear to tie the ring down so that it couldn’t fall down on us below.  After the ring was hoisted up, then the rafters were rather quickly assembled around the walls and attached to the cables.  We did not work on the rafters in any order, they had to be arranged to spread the weight around the evolving roof. The ring attempted to fall off the scaffolding rig with only a couple of the rafters on, our first scare on the otherwise safe worksite.  During this process, It was helpful to have a few of us on the ground being able to assess where the best placement of the next rafter would be.  Considering the scale of the roof (20 feet circular), it was assembled in less than 2 hours with everyone working together to move rafters up to the scaffolding and then attach the base to the cable.

Project Engineer and assistant formulating a plan for the roof

Project Engineer and assistant formulating a plan for the roof

The roof would continue to be our biggest challenge yet of the construction with the placement of the actual roofing material.  The outside of our yurt is an industrial weather-durable thick canvas designed to be outside in any element for years.  In fact, our roof has a fifteen year warranty.  First we placed a white roof liner (so that our ceiling is not just insulation) on top of the rafters.  Naturally, this was when the wind kicked up to give us an extra challenge.  After the liner was down and secured, we added the additional insulation panels on top of the liner.  These were in multiple pieces and in the bright mid-afternoon sun, kept trying to fly off and not stay attached.  The insulation around the yurt is made of a reflective material and about a half inch think and very pliable.  Being in a climate with four distinct seasons, insulation is critical for year round living.  We were jumping between ladders trying to secure everything prior to attaching the true roof.  And here is where the scaffolding was both our source of assistance and consternation.  To complete the roof, we had to lift the bundle of roofing material (weighing upwards of one hundred pounds) up to the scaffolding to three adults ready to unroll it.  From my vantage point below as one of the folks bracing the scaffolding, it was pretty nerve wracking to watch them wrangle the unruly bundle up and onto the roof.  The material was not easy to unroll into place.  There was a lot of grunting and cursing from above and below.  Once somewhat in place, we created an elaborate scheme to stretch the material across the roof from below.  Although built to withstand weather, this is not a roof in which you can walk out on and fix things.  Employing climbing gear yet again, we attached carabiners to the tags on the material and looped a climbing rope through.  Then four of us pulled and tugged it into submission.  This exercise occurred in various places around the circle and for several hours until the roof was in place.  The instructions in our manual made it sound like all you had to do was plop the roof up and it would roll gently and seamlessly into place.  Yep that manual needs a few upgrades!

Bubble Up

Bubble Up

The last step of our roof was to hoist the bubble up and into place.  The bubble was lifted from below and, again using climbing gear, pulled up to the sides of the roof and then quickly into place.  And with the bubble in place, the roof was complete and the scaffolding could come down at last.  And no one was injured on the non-OSHA approved job site!

Exterior walls in process

Exterior walls in process

IMG_3645

The intricate wall construction

Now as the day began to dim into night, we still had to put the wall insulation and material up.  Working quickly we got the insulation panels up and tied into place in sections along the cable.  I should mention that the interior fabric of our yurt is nice bright white, perfect for construction in a field.  We naturally have some shoe prints and dog paw marks gracing our mostly pristine walls.  Once again the exterior wall was another massive roll of fabric.  I don’t even know how to accurately describe the process that was putting up the this part of the fabric wall.  Between the Project Engineer and me standing on ladders and the giant roll being handled a few feet in front of us, we crocheted (literally) ropes into other ropes all the way around the thing.  With the sun and our blood sugars quickly descending, we got to the end of the roll of fabric and surprise!, there was still about two feet of yurt remaining and no extra fabric.  There was some extra tugging and grunting and a collective decision to stop for the night before we devolved into an even more exhausted heap.  Over margaritas and mexican food in town, there was a sense of satisfaction but not completion.  There was exhaustion but the knowledge that 12 hours of nonstop work did not complete the job.  Still, it was amazing that the six of us managed to nearly build a house in a long summer day.

And, done!

And, done!

The following morning, greeted a fresh start with better can-do attitudes and full bellies and a new set of eyes on the project.  Sara (whose property we live on) spent years living on a sailboat.  She said that there was enough fabric to go around, it would just require pulling and tugging and make little progresses turn into a big one.  So we pulled and we tugged and we pulled and we tugged and after at least five times around we were within a half inch.  And this half inch was easy to fix.  A few hours later when my parents arrived, there were shocked when across the orchard they did not see the two feet of glaring insulation.  They were so impressed and couldn’t believe it was done.  Sometimes it takes stepping away from and new eyes to solve problems.  We then sat in the yurt and enjoyed a glass of champagne together, everyone enjoying the space and the quiet of our new home.

Cheers! Champagne toast to the new home.

Cheers! Champagne toast to the new home.

The lessons learned constructing our home are myriad.  First, climbing gear is super helpful in construction sites as well as adventuring.  Second, there is nearly always a solution; sometimes it just requires a new perspective.  Third, when embarking on a big project, it is good to celebrate the small successes along the way because things are never going to go as planned.  And fourth, friends and family that can support and contribute to a big project are the biggest gift of all.

And next time, projects built to facilitate full time living in the yurt and what a normal day is like inside.

The Biggest Project Yet — Part 1

New Home with Mesa Verde in the background

New Home with Mesa Verde in the background

Of all the projects I have been involved in, none have been as momentous and life changing as building our own home.  Tired of paying too much for too little and living next to neighbors with no concept of quiet hours or smoking rules, we received an offer to build a temporary home on our friend’s apple orchard 10 miles east of Mesa Verde National Park.  And this is where we now live.  The home is off grid but within an acre of a cozy home with hot water, a washing machine and a refrigerator.  We are surrounded by heirloom apple trees, roaming deer and a big open sky.  We watch the stars through the bubble of our roof instead of scrolling through endless hours on the internet.  We have a 300 foot circle in which to simply be after work.

Aha! It’s level!

The first process of the yurt building was to make a deck and to survey a flat spot for the home.  What looks to be a simple task in actuality involves hours upon hours of staking, measuring and rearranging.  Having an engineer as your companion in this crazy life makes building a heck of a lot easier!  When we placed the first center board down and got it level, we were ecstatic.  But celebratory moments are fleeting because there cannot be distraction on a job site.  Once the leveling was complete, the deck building commenced at a rapid-ish pace.

A level foundation

A level foundation

The foundation took about a full 12 hour day to construct.  Being organized and proactive was key; we ordered all of our building materials from local mills and staged everything near the site, including the van which housed all of our food, water, shade and sunscreen.  After the first night, we collapsed into the van and slept soundly.

Constructing the deck

Constructing the deck

The second full day of construction involved placing rigid foam insulation to the foundation before construction the yurt deck.  We were working in the southwest heat on top of reflective insulation pieces for hours.  Remember when it was fashionable to place foil under your face while sunbathing for optimal burning and rapid aging?  Well, that was this was like except it was underneath our entire bodies.  And here I would like to mention how grateful I am for gatorade because I have never sweat so much in my life.  Anyhow, on to the deck building.  We had chosen to have beetle-kill Ponderosa pine milled for our deck.  Beetle kill has been rampant in Colorado and there is a lot of excess lumber because of it.  It has very interesting hues from blueish to purple when it meets the natural red of the pine and a lot of character.  We had the wood milled with tongues and grooves thinking that we could simply snap it all together across the deck.  Wishful thinking!  Because our wood was beetle killed, it was wonky and not straight in the least.  We wound up having to cut the wood into 4 foot pieces instead of our 8 -12 as we originally planned.  In order to facilitate all of this new sizing, we had to rent a generator which promptly died on us mid cutting.  We then loaded all of the wood into the truck and drove it to our electricity source to cut down to the new size.  We built the entire deck with no power on the site: we used hammers, mallets and hand saws.  Building the deck was a process requiring several more weeknights after work to construct.

A round deck

A round deck

Constructing in the round created an additional set of challenges.  When we first began construction of the deck, we found the true center and marked it with nail which we then affixed with a piece of string to measure.  We needed a perfectly round 20 foot circle, so we were constantly measuring 10 feet from the nail in a circle to make sure we were on the mark.  After copious measuring, we created a length of extension cords out to the site that would have given any OSHA inspector heart palpitations.  For the task of making the deck a circle, a powered circular saw was necessary.  We attached a pencil to the string and made a perfect 20 ft circle to cut.  Once the circle was complete, we added a band of OSB to the deck about an inch up in order to attach the yurt.  We also encased the bottom in roofing material to ward off the potential for animal settlement underneath.  We also sanded and sealed the wood until we could construct the yurt.

And next time, how we constructed the yurt.

When the Plan Doesn’t Pan Out

Planning it out

Planning it out

I recently embarked on my most challenging quilt yet, a quilt that once the pattern was opened and digested, completely overwhelmed and perplexed me.  If I would have had access to these instructions, I would never have purchased — and (spoiler alert) succeeded — in making the aforementioned quilt.  Once I opened the pattern and recognized the sheer scale of the effort ahead me, I knew that I had to be proactive with my planning in order to avoid utter chaos.

Color pencils are good stuff!

Color pencils are good stuff!

Organization began immediately.  After copious hours of cutting 1-inch pieces into even smaller 1-inch pieces, I used envelopes from our recycling to stash each pile of strips.  Because so many pieces were so similar in size, it was important that I label each so as to avoid confusion when putting the strips together.  Another tool that I utilized throughout the whole process was my larger cutting mat. Instead of moving it aside after cutting, I left it on the table, a seemingly simple strategy that made a big difference in ensuring that all of my pieces were exactly the size I needed.  Also, this quilt required a great deal of space for something comprised entirely out of 1-ince pieces that will become a wall hanging.  Part of my organizational strategy was to utilize a space that didn’t feel cramped.  Our kitchen table has been a work station since the last major national 3-day holiday weekend with envelopes, pattern pieces and strips taking up nearly every last spot.

After all of the cutting, came the organization of the pattern.  Looking at it, I knew that colored pencils would be my best friend is deciphering the pattern.  Like the pieces that make up this quilt, the pattern was tiny. Even with all of my color coded instructions, mistakes were still made as I it was difficult to determine what on the pattern (which was coded in different patterns for different colors) was what.

Keeping the strips straight

Keeping the strips straight

Once the pieces were assembled into pairs of strips, I simply labeled them with masking tape to keep track of each.  My masking tape trick was great as I could see the pattern unfold in front of me.  I could also see many of my piecing mistakes and fix them prior to sewing the top together.

The reason this post is titled “When the Plan Doesn’t Pan Out” is because despite all of the aforementioned planning, I still spent an inordinate amount of time ripping out and fixing erroneous fabric pieces.  Some days it felt like I was doing more correcting of mistakes than actual sewing.  There were still challenges despite having been so proactive.  And that’s okay.  This whole quilt was a bundle of many lessons, both in quilting and in life.  No matter how organized you are, crap still happens.  The most simple things around the house (think chalk, rubber bands and tape) can be extremely helpful tools.  Perseverance is key to getting things done even when you feel overwhelmed.

The quilt top is done and I will begin the next process of hand quilting.  I’m sure that even then, I will face a few more bumps on the road to completion.  What I continue to learn through quilting, which resonates in life too, is that things always happen no matter how much you prepare otherwise and rarely are we unable to correct our mistakes.

When Life Gives You a Bag of Limes

Ready for action!

Ready for action!

In our household, we are constantly trying to mitigate waste; waste not, want not could be our household mantra.  We do our best not to waste resources, food, time, energy and money.  Therefore in my continual quest to eat well on a limited budget, I am a huge proponent of the sale produce bins.  I am not afraid of a few bruises or misshapen pieces — I know what to do with the produce others do not want.  My favorite thing these days is the $2 bags of produce at the natural grocery chain.  These bags are gems full of produce that within a few days will be delegated to the compost bin.  I am a rescuer of these fruits and veggies, a produce rescue missionary.

I cherish the days when I can score one of these bags because whatever is inside dictates the menu for the next couple of days.  Soon, I will write an entire blog homage to the wonder that is the $2 (did I mention 100% Organic?) produce bag.  Today, my message is all about the limes.

My latest $2 score included approximately 3 pounds of limes and 2 bunches of fresh spinach.  The spinach was quickly turned into pesto and wilted further into a breakfast egg scramble.  The limes presented a tempting challenge; what could I do with this many limes?  An impromptu margarita cocktail party was my initial thought but that seemed like a bad idea on a work night.  I decided that what I could not use immediately, (i.e. margaritas or mojitos) could easily be saved for later occasions.

Holy pile of lime zest!

Holy pile of lime zest!

As a southwestern Colorado mountain dweller, I am appreciative of every lemon, lime, orange, avocado and banana I am able to get because none of these are grown within my time zone.  Often we only use the inside of the citrus fruit and forget about the incredible aromatics of the peel.  In our kitchen, I always save the zest for another recipe; a pinch of citrus zest can be an incredible addition to many dishes.  With the use of a zester or the finest setting on your cheese grater (careful to not scrape your knuckles!), you can extract the peel from the fruit.  You only want the outside of the peel and not the bitter pith which is the white coating protecting the interior.  I zested all of the lime peels to freeze for another time.  This zest will be great in Pad Thai or a stir-fry or in muffins when I need something to brighten up the flavor.  There is a good reason why the peel is called zest, it will add pep to any dish you choose.

Straight up lime juice.

Straight up lime juice.

After I zested, I juiced the remaining limes with a hand-held juicer.  A helpful tip here: it is probably a good idea to wear gloves if you have a lot of minor scrapes, cuts and overall dry hands.  What you extract is pure lime juice without any weird added coloring or sugar.  I chose to juice the limes into a Pyrex measuring cup because the next step in my lime preservation is lime juice ice cubes.  The rational being that because lime is such a strong flavor, the ice cube size is a perfect proportion for future margaritas, I mean recipes.

Voila! Lime cubes.

Voila! Lime cubes.

After all of this prep work, our house smelled enticingly of limes. Naturally I needed to see if my preservation plan worked.  I took the smallest lime cube and plopped it into a cocktail glass with tequila.  Blimey my drink is limey!  The lime cubes are quite intense, but on the positive side, in just a few sips I have prevented scurvy.

Vitamin C cocktail

Vitamin C cocktail

Don’t overlook the bins of bruised veggies and fruits. There are so, so many way to preserve produce.  If you are going to cook within a few days, save yourself a few dollars and save the produce from the slow decomposition back into soil.  Really ripe produce forces you to be creative in the kitchen and make the best with what you’ve got when you’ve got it.