Why a Yurt?

Good morning RGB fans!  Sorry we have been out of communication for four months, but we have been focused on building our yurt.  The next series of blogs will tell you the good and bad, hard and easy in developing 5 acres and building a yurt.  What we thought would be pretty easy became very complicated quickly. We hope this will help you in not making the same mistakes we made. 

The yurt building blog series will be the following, so you don’t have a book on your hands:

  • Why a yurt and selecting a company
  • Getting your property ready, pulling permits, finding contractors, wood platform or cement foundation
  • How to build a Weatherport 24’ yurt with a loft and getting a good yurt building team
  • The inside planning and execution
  • Lessons learned and what we would do differently

Why a Yurt?

As you all know, we sold our home in Bend back in April and had spent the last year and a half exploring the west trying to find the next mountain town we would call home.  In June, we were exploring Montana and were in Red Lodge enjoying the beautiful area and considering moving to there when we got a text from our real estate agent in Sandpoint, Idaho.  She let us know that the property we were looking at could be ours, before it went on the market, if we put in a full price offer that day.   We had thought we were getting priced out of Sandpoint with the crazy sales in a couple hours site unseen and decided at a minimum this would be a good investment. 

We were very excited that afternoon we had an accepted offer and would close on June 28, 2021.  This amazing 5-acre parcel was 1.5 miles out of city limits, next to a great mountain bike and cross-country ski area called Pine Street Woods, Sherwood Forest and Syringa Trails.  We could bike 1.5 miles to the library, 1.5 miles to the grocery store, 2 miles to downtown and the lake.  When we arrived, we did not realize all the down trees and the abundance of dead trees and limbing that needed to be done before we could put anything on the property.  It was the driest and hottest summer in Sandpoint history so we were worried about a fire starting on the property and we had no water or other utilities. 

We headed to Home Depot and got hand saws, loppers, pole saws, clippers and got to work on cleaning up the property and building massive slash piles to burn after the first snow and rainy Fall.

Prior to buying our Sandpoint property we had been talking with the agent for 8 months at possible properties.  We had learned that all the good builders were booked 2 years out and there were several big developments in progress that had most builders and contractors booked solid.  Greg and I always loved staying at yurts in campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest and thought it would be fun to live in a round home.  It just seems more environmentally friendly to have a smaller footprint.  We wanted to live in the minimum amount of square footage and enjoy more trees and wildlife on our property.  After living in less than 25 square feet for 18 months, 650 square feet sounded like a mansion!  After selling almost all our possessions in Bend, we really wanted to have a small footprint and own the minimum to be comfortable.  With Bode gone, it is just the two of us and after living with so little we had a good idea of what we really need to be happy.  So I began my research on yurt companies and the most durable yurts that last the longest in cold and snowy regions.  I joined several Facebook Yurt communities (these groups are awesome and people are super helpful, we even got to tour several yurts I n Sandpoint from the group communications) and in the end Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove, Oregon and Shelter Design in Missoula, Montana came back as the most popular and satisfied customers.  The Mongolian Yurts looked really cool but the only person selling them was a lady in Portland and reports in the Facebook communities said it was months to get one.  The big issue in the Summer of 2021 was the crazy wood costs, shipping issues and both Pacific and Shelter yurt companies were in such a big demand they could not deliver a yurt to us until January or March 2022 and the costs of the yurt changed weekly due to the cost of wood (prices constantly going up!).  Building a yurt in Sandpoint, ID in the months of January, February or March is a big NO-NO with snow and freezing temperatures, we needed to have our yurt up by October. 

I went back to the drawing board.  I found a company in Delta, Colorado that made their yurts from steel beams and no lattice!  This company had been in business for 30 years!  These yurts could handle extreme wind and snowloads from all parts of Alaska, were Artic Research Yurts and ski resorts across Oregon and Colorado had successfully been used in harsh conditions.  They highlight being that many of their yurts in Alaska have been up 25 years before any vinyl being replaced.  The yurts even had insulation of R-20 (a regular home is R-19)!  I called the company and even got a customer to call and get their satisfaction of their yurt in winter conditions.  I was excited that this yurt could survive Sandpoint, Idaho.  Even better, they customize and build to your specifications and can delivered in around 8 weeks!  Strangely, steel was more affordable than wood.  Later on, I will discuss questions I should have asked but did not think to that would later become issues we will need to resolve. 

We went with Weatherport and decided to get all the bells and whistles.  We got a 24’ yurt with a loft and 8 real windows (later we will discuss why that many windows may not be a good idea).  We wanted it to blend in with the property so we got a green yurt with a grey roof.  With a signed contract and their team working on a design it was time for us to get to work prepping the property and getting all the utilizes, designing the platform, get the permits and get everything ready for an end of August delivery. 

In our next blog, I will discuss the complexities of preparing a property.  To be on or off the grid and why we made our choices.  All the permits and research you need to do and the benefits of living in a smaller community!

Here are links to recommended yurt companies and Facebook groups:

Importance of Meditation for Everyone

On the road daily, Greg and I take time to mediate each morning after breakfast. We read the book from Wim Hof , “Activate Your Full Human Potential.” The power of the Wim Hof Method is the combination of the three pillars. A committed, consistent practice including the breathing/mediation technique and cold exposure can help you unlock a host of benefits including: increased energy, better sleep, reduce stress levels, increase will power, stronger immune system. For those who struggle with mediation this 11 minute practice really is easy and great start for your day. I also like the sleep mediations you can get from your FitBit Premium membership if you are a FitBut user (I love my FitBit for this and for monitoring my sleep). Whenever I am at an amazing view, I take the time to center myself and mediate for at least 5 minutes. We can all take 5 minutes to enjoy the view, take time to calm our minds and mediate on our beautiful landscape. Just a mere 5 minutes can impact your day and positively effect your energy level! Whenever we get a little too busy and forget to center ourselves, I like to come back to this blog to remind me of different techniques and importance to have mediation in my life. I hope it is helpful for you.

Through this ordeal, I have learned a lot about concussions and traumatic brain injury. Every time I stress out and continue to blackout and hit my head, I could cause major neurologic and psychological problems. I finally took this seriously and decided I could not power on through.  In the next few paragraphs, I will give you a summary about stress, concussions and brain injury.  It’s a little dry taken from Mayo Clinic and a few other scientific publications but its helpful in your understanding why mediation is so important for those of us who are workaholics or survivors of traumatic brain injury.

Every year, 1.5 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries.  In a concussion, your neural cells are damaged and your brain must recover to rebuild these cells.  If you are always stressed your levels of cortisol will be high and the brain will take even more time to recover.  Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone that is released by your adrenal gland during stressful situations. When your highly stressed then a large amount of cortisol remains in your brain. It generates more overproduction of myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal. This can result in adverse effects that can impair important cognitive structures in your brain, like damage to your hippocampus (responsible for the processing and storage of short-term memory).  In addition, it affects the differences in the volume of gray matter versus white matter (creating more white matter and increasing atrophy in the white matter), as well as the and size and connectivity of the amygdala (is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation).  The “gray matter” of the brain is densely packed with nerve cell bodies and is responsible for the brain’s higher functions, such as thinking, computing, and decision-making.

Multiple concussions reduce the amount of gray matter and decreases the number of stem cells that mature into neurons affecting learning, memory, decision making, multi-tasking and concentration. In post-concussion syndrome you can have symptoms like fatigue, sleep difficulties, irritability, balance and coordination problems, agitation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, altered consciousness and difficulty processing information. I was suffering from all of these!  Studies and research have shown that Mindfulness meditation helps to reduce the symptoms and distress on the brain and helps increase gray matter in the insula, frontal cortex and sensory regions.  Researchers found that the frontal regions, anterior cingulate, limbic system and parietal lobes were affected during meditation and that there were different patterns of cerebral blood flow between the two meditation states i.e.“focused-based” practice and a “breath-based” practice.

Meditation increases regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the prefrontal cortex.  As reported by researchers the cerebral blood flow of long-term meditators was significantly higher compared to non-meditators in the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, thalamus, putamen, caudate, and midbrain. In brief body-scans of meditators show meditation practice improves somatosensory perceptual decision making.  Meditation enhances cortical remapping and brain functions while it also helps to uplift mental health and causes healthy changes in the brain. It was time to take my meditation practice seriously!

So, for ten years I was trying to learn how to meditate but never had truly made a practice.  I had read a number of books on meditation, mindfulness and how to radiate calmness.  I even went to mediation workshops but I never stuck to it.  Now I had to or I may never get better.  In the beginning, trying to calm my monkey mind was impossible.  I would start focusing on my breath and then the next minute I would be thinking about what I would knit next, go back to my breath and then think about a new recipe to try.  I could never sit there for more than 5 minutes without having to twitch or move or scratch.

If you are a crazy Type A person, whose mind is always thinking and nerving on something.  The best way to get into a mediation practice is to start with guided meditation for sleep, called Yoga Nidra.  I started with this one and then later I downloaded the Insight Timer App from the Google Store, it is amazing and I highly recommend it. My first few weeks I focused on mediating for 15 minutes lying down in bed before sleep during my afternoon nap and right before bed. Your brain can much more easily focus on the voice.   Like what my favorite Tibetan Buddhist Meditation master: Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche says, “You must give your monkey mind a part-time job to be able to meditate.”  As I did these guided meditations, I began to really focus on breathing meditation.

So, a couple times a week before I got up to start my day, I would switch off my audiobook and focus on my breath.   I would chant in my mind rising and falling with the rise and fall of my breath.  When my mind would wonder to something I could hear I would chant hearing, hearing.  Then when it would calm I would go back to my breath and chanting rising and falling.  When I would feel my mind wandering and want to scratch or move my leg, I would start chanting feeling and I would then not need to move and then go back to focusing on my breath.  Soon I was building mindfulness and awareness.  Once again, I was only doing this for 10-15 minutes.  I could feel my energy increase, my twitching and constant need to move to slow.

I am also now enjoying chanting mediation called Om mani padme hum.  I took this from the Tibetan Culture website “Om mani padme hum, which is an ancient mantra that is related to the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara.  Every Tibetan child is taught the mantra by their parents, and they all use it very commonly in daily life, and especially if they make a prayer walk (kora) or go to the temple, or pray using a rosary (mala).  Basically, any mantra is “a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of ‘creating transformation.’”  There are great examples and guides on the Insight Timer App.

I then re-read all my meditation books, I highly recommend the following:

·         The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Eric Swanson, Daniel Goleman

·         Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Eric Swanson

·         Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Helen Tworkov, Matthieu Ricard      ranemediating

Rane mediating at our Beach House in Newport, Oregon

They now began to make more sense to me.  I now tried walking mediation when I went on my walks in Shevlin Park and around the golf course.  Trust me it’s not easy, I would have good weeks and have weeks in which I did no mediation and forgot about my practice.  But I wanted my brain to heal so I would then make sure even if it was only 5 minutes I did some type of mediation each day.  Then my friend Maribel taught me Hong Sau Mediation, which I love and can do for 30 minutes a day now.  I highly suggest this for beginners, here is a link to a great guide.

Today, I am focused on loving kindness and mindfulness mediation called Metta Bhavana.  In this practice, you start focusing on yourself and feelings of peace and calmness and then nurture your state of mind into strength and confidence while chanting ‘may I be well, may I be happy, may I be healthy and may I be free from suffering’ and cultivate the love within your heart.  The next stage you focus on a close friend.  Think about your connections, why you love this person, why you are encouraged by this person and begin chanting ‘may he/she be well and happy’ as you feel the love in your heart for that person grow.  Think of a person you are neutral with and have neither strong love or dislike for and think about this person’s humanity, what actions this person can make you feel encouraged and could make you love this person.  Begin chanting ‘may he/she be well and happy.’ Now think of someone you really dislike and have ill feelings toward (an enemy) and don’t concentrate on their negative actions but think about their positive actions, how can you think about the good intent he/she may have, how could you grow to love this person, how can you encourage this person and have good will towards this person.  Now chant ‘may he/she be well and happy.’ Lastly, in this practice you will think about all four people in positive light, now extend those thoughts to all the people you know, all the people in your neighborhood, all the people in your town, all the people in your region, all the people in your country, all the people and beings on earth.  Feel the love, encouragement, kindness you have for all these people.  Begin chanting ‘may all the people on earth be well and happy.  Slowly focus back on your heart and the love and kindness you are feeling and then step away from your practice.  This has grown into a 45-minute practice for me now.  Some great guides come from the buddhist centre.

My aspiration is for my experiences through mediation to help you in your desire to grow your meditation practice.  My greatest wish is this helps other Type A’s who feel: I really want to meditate but I just don’t have time or patience or the ability to focus their brain that way.  I am here to tell you, you can’t afford not to!  If you are a stress junkie like myself, you must start mediating ASAP you really want to repair the damage you are doing to your brain.   I am hopeful that this is helping my brain and in turn yours.  I am on twenty months of no blackouts and my migraines are diminishing.  I believe my memory is getting better.  I am also working much more on the right side of my brain with art, crafts, playing music but that was last week’s blog post.  Till next week, I hope you try a few of the practices above.

The Joy of Art, Crafting to Heal a Type A Mind

On the road, I find solace in taking time to mediate every day and a few times a week to do charcoal drawing, water color painting, working on my book or journaling to exercise my mind in a different way. Below is a repost of my blog discussing the importance of art, crafting and meditation. So much of our days are jammed pack with every minute scheduled, we forget the importance to rest our mind or give it time for creativity. Taking this time actually makes our brains more effective, efficient and productive. For us to be healthy, we can’t spend all our time working or being on a computer or being high under stress. We can’t afford to not make time each week for arts and mediation. Research shows that mediation reduces anxiety and stress by 60% and those with insomnia it reduces your wake time by 50%. Studies show people who write about their experiences daily actually have stronger immune system function and creativity reduces mental health issues.

After my seventh concussion and being diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury, as stated in my last blog, I began to take my injury more seriously and knew I needed to make a change in my life.  My emotions were on a roller coaster ride.  One minute I would be happy, then next my husband would say something and I was ready to pummel him in rage and then the next I would be crying hysterically like a toddler having a temper tantrum. Not only were my emotions wreaking havoc in my life but my memory, word searching, attention span, reasoning and problem-solving skills were like a child.

Since I had been told by my neurologist to not read, go online or watch TV, I needed to do something to occupy my time and get healthy.  To go from having 15 hours scheduled by the minute to no schedule was utter maddening.  You can only spend so much of your day meditating, doing yoga, going for hikes/walks and cooking. I was still struggling to occupy my days and I wasn’t ready to see very many people other than my closest of friends.  My godfather and mother came over for a visit and she taught me to knit. I became a knitting fool.  Making scarves, hats, shawls for everyone I knew.

My sister-in-law gave me a nail art kit for my birthday and soon I was making everyone wood nail art deer, owls, ravens and landscape pieces.  I also thought it was time to do something with the bags and bags of wine corks I had collected and made these wooden and cork hot pot holders for dining room tables and cork boards. That Christmas everyone got a Rane original creation!  I was becoming a crafting aficionado and enjoying the smiles on people’s faces as they got something made by me.  I was getting a little over zealous with my knitting and I think I made everyone I knew something, that my husband suggested isn’t there other art therapies or maybe even music therapies I could try?


One of the many shawls I created for friends.

I then remembered with the work I was doing before I went on medical leave from Microsoft regarding helping military veterans reskill and get jobs in technology. There was research on art and music therapy helping military veterans with traumatic brain injury.  I thought if it could work for them, it may possibly work for me.  I couldn’t read the research reports to understand the details and unfortunately scholarly reviewed publications are not on digital audio yet, (perhaps, someone should really look into that.)  So, I went to my psychologist and asked what types of art and music therapy I should try. This would occupy more of my day, give my monkey mind a part-time job and hopefully start helping my cognitive impairments. He suggested I start first with the adult coloring books and listening to classical music.

Once, I was able to read again I began to learn what art and music therapy can really do for you.  In the last ten years, there has been significant progress in the study of TBI and art/music therapies.” Biomedical researchers have found that music is a highly structured auditory language involving complex perception, cognition, and motor control in the brain, and thus it can effectively be used to retrain and reeducate the injured brain.”

I also learned that listening to “polyphonic music has shown to engage neural circuits underlying multiple forms of working memory, attention, semantic processing, target detection, and motor imagery, in turn indicating that music listening engages brain areas that are involved in general functions rather than music-specific areas.”  A good example of polyphonic music is this old Sting classic, I love this YouTube rendition.

In addition to listening to music, I took it a step further and have been teaching myself to play the acoustic guitar. Through other books, I learned the importance of dancing and singing every day to my favorite song and how that help grow the strength in my vagus nerve (As my earlier blog stated, I learned my vagus nerve was having issues and was the reason for my blacking out and causing all my concussions and traumatic brain injury).

My poor husband would have to listen to me belt out at the top of my lungs ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA or ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ by U2 or ‘Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison and the list goes on and on.  I started rubbing off on my friends and they would text me their dance out song of the day.  You should try it; your whole body get a rush of endorphins and total jubilation once your done with a grin a mile long and your spouse laughing hysterically at you.

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My first set of paintings on display at Chow Restaurant in Bend, Oregon.

I was starting to get bored with my adult coloring books from Costco.  When I was at the Newport Visual Arts Center, looking at the latest show there was a bunch of people painting with watercolors on the second floor.  As I walked in, I found out they had received a grant that allowed them to give free art classes every day for the community and I was invited in to try.  So for the rest of the Summer, every week I attended the water color class, pottery class, pastel class, coloring pencil class, and acrylic painting class. Soon, I was able to read again, I learned through Psychology Today that art therapists, “McGuinness and Schnur worked with TBI patients and they explain the salient roles of art therapy in addressing various parts of the brain with clients in a user-friendly way.”

They also state that, “art therapy can help with organization, problem solving, and memory when the frontal lobes have been affected by TBI.”  I then started concentrating on acrylic painting as my favorite form of painting.  And thanks to my friends Lisa and Amy, who one day said, “Hey Rane, you are actually getting good- you should sell your art!”  To my utter amazement, a local restaurant wanted me to show my art and by January 2018 I had sold 12 pieces.

Filling my days with painting, listening and playing music my energy, emotions and memory were improving. The hardest part of my TBI has been moving from a super positive always happy demeanor that rarely ever got mad to this uncontrollable rage that pops up from just a little comment could set me off.  If anything can calm this new emotion, I am happy to do it.  I am lucky my husband is understanding and can deal with these moments that happen several times a month.  My days are now packed with art, music, yoga, mediation and the outdoors. I highly encourage everyone, even those who may not have traumatic brain injury the power of adding more art, music or crafting in your life.  A lot of the research highlights how it can help slow and possibly stop Alzheimer.  Here are a few of my favorite beginner Youtube videos to get you started with music, art and knitting, I hope you try-  I promise you will have fun!