yurt life

Off the grid living – six months in, two yurts built, one broken dream

29 March, 2016

You know that little rhyme about the girl with a curl? When she is good she is really, really good, and when she is bad she is horrid? Off the grid living is a bit like that. When everything is going well it is completely and utterly dream like… but then, a few little things go wrong, and it’s like a horrible nightmare where you are on your knees in your favourite trousers digging a Vodafone technician’s car out of the mud with your bare hands, the very Vodafone technician who just told you that you’ll never be able to get the internet wired up at home.

Oh wait! That really happened!

Winter just arrived with such a big fat wallop over the head, it’s unreal. One minute we were camping out on the beach, foraging for shell fish and digging epic sandcastles while our backs crisped in the sun, the next minute we were at home on the farm, sinking in miry clay, staring at one broken washing machine, one broken generator and one broken dream of being able to Skype my family from our lounge.


We had an idea that by the end of March we would be all set up, ready to take off the grid living from the summer version (swimming in the river, barbecues, an abundance of solar electricity) to the winter version (wood burning stove heating water for hot baths and cooking our stews, hunkering down in blankets to watch the stars appear) in blissful comfort. But instead we are (once again) a bit behind in all of this, despite (once again) busting a gut.

We still don’t have hot water. Or a deck (this is kind of important when your yurt is surrounded by mud.) Or a fire. Or any hope of being able to use the internet properly from home. (At the moment we can get a few gbs on the mobile if we place it on a certain spot on the window sill.) I don’t mean to make a fuss about the internet thing but we had really hung a lot on the idea that I’d be able to work from home (my entire livelihood is based on the internet) and we’d be able to be in proper contact with my family. I’ve literally skyped them twice since September. I do feel mega bummed out about it.

We DO have: two children that love to cover themselves in paint and food and mud and an immensely hairy dog that burrows like a bunny into enormous mountains of soil and then bowls inside and bounces around the furniture like a clay covered, fur shedding honey badger.

Fortunately, we also do have: friends that take our emergency washing and give it back to us all clean and dry and folded, and friends that take the batteries for our tools and charge them for us when the sun hasn’t shone for eleven days and our solar power digital display is flashing “WHAT SORT OF PLACE IS THIS WHERE IT RAINS FOR ELEVEN DAYS STRAIGHT- PLEASE GOOGLE “HYDRO ELECTRICITY””

Well, this is the sort of place where, when you look at the weather map, the whole of New Zealand has little sunshines all over it and our little valley has a big fat rain cloud. And yeah, okay, solar panels, one day we WILL rig up a little system in our stream to generate power through the winter months, see how you like that with your little left out self!

Also. We do have a local library with a great internet connection, loads of electricity and a lot of good books, which makes the winter seem a little bit more do-able.

I guess that’s one thing about off the grid living, the early days at least, it does make you quite dependant on good friends and family and good local infrastructure. Which isn’t a bad thing. I bet there are tonnes of self sufficient people out there who have done this so long and have got everything so very sorted, that they don’t need to rely on the people around them. But I guess a little bit of me thinks it is a good thing to all be able to lean on each other a bit…

And more things we have: (I realise I am applying a gratitude philosophy as I write. That’s nice hey? I am counting my blessings. My blessings shall be the rungs with which I pull myself up from the mud beneath New Zealand’s terrible rural internet service.)

We have ducklings! Fluffy baby things make everything better and even when it is raining so hard you can barely see to the end of the paddock, your eye still snags on a whole line of white ducks waddling along having an absolute freaking blast and the corners of your mouth still lift into a (ever so slightly begrudging) smile.

And, as of about half an hour ago, sorry husband, we do have a robotic vacuum cleaner.  It’s not courtesy of Santa, who heard neither my plea for a robot nor a stop to my dog’s farts nor a repeat prescription for deworming pills. But from Ebay. From a guy called Roger who like only used it twice. Thanks Roger. And it may not have been a purchase discussed with all the budget holders in our family and yes, our solar panels may not get enough juice to make it work but symbolically it makes me feel better.  It makes me feel absolutely freaking awesome. I think its mere presence in my life will just stop our dog shedding her fur all over the place.

(And there’s always the library, for a sneaky little charge, hey? I’m sure this kind of stealth is what good healthy communities are founded upon.)

Apart from picking our way through mud and sweeping up dog hairs (no longer!!!) our days are made up of a lot of the sort of things I always hoped they would, which is nice. The girls and I pack a picnic most days we are home and slip and slide our way along the river and up the mountain. Every morning they wake up and say “Let’s climb the mountain today!” and although we’ve never made it to the top (five hour return journey) we always give it a good bash. There is a nikau palm a third of the way up, I don’t know who started it, but it’s called the Love Palm and it gets a cuddle from all of us when we pass it. Hugging a tree starts off a little awkward folks, but then its beautiful. 

 Ramona cutting kindling with her ax.

The garden is growing and we even have a bunch of wild flowers brightly blooming after chucking some seed bombs about the place. I am fermenting a lot of food (on purpose) – it seems to be the only way I can deal with the millions of marrows that keep spawning in the veggie patch. They don’t care about eleven days of rain, marrows. They don’t care. I chuck them in a jar with a bunch of other veggies and some salt and three days later = more probiotic goodness than you can shake a yoghurt at.

I realised I may have been spending too much time on this fermenting thing when I had a dream that Juno and I were sauerkraut and the duvet was the brine and I had to keep us covered so we didn’t go mouldy.

Or perhaps it is a symptom. The bottom line of this sort of life. When it’s good it is sublime and when it’s bad you dream that you are a fermenting cabbage. 

 PS- I kid you not, the sun has come out today! We can only conclude that my new robot is amazing.

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  • Jess 29 March, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    The business! I have a home with internet and power purchased from the man and i got home from my great job working w kids and whanau feeling like a deflated bag of something without ducklings… luckily i arrivef home to G’s amazing roast vege and chook, with some great seedlings from our co-op, and a massive pile of stories (all my old ones!) To read to my kotiro. Phoebes Hot waterbottles, amelia bedelia, etc. Some days a yurt ina rainy valley sounds mean.

    • Lucy 29 March, 2016 at 10:00 pm

      Well, those highs are the same as mine – yummy food not cooked by me and snuggles with my kids 🙂 perfect! hehehe x x x

  • Laurenne 29 March, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    Always love your updates. In fact I am stalking them slightly at the moment as we try and decide whether we can do off grid living and a 5 hour move to get opportunity.

    A scheme in wales means we can buy cheap agricultural land and build an off grid eco house if we submit detailed plans of how we will live and work the land be self sustaining and make a certain amount of income off the land after 5 years. Scary, but exciting. I so feel that call and like we need to do it now or we never will. But the community thing scares me.. away from everyone we know – who will do our washing in this situation?!

    I’m starting to make connections there though, and we have our caravan and hubby can work anywhere with mobile Internet so maybe we’ll just stay a while and hang out and see what happens.

    Are you planning on making money from the land to supplement your income writing?

    Condolences about the Internet, dude. But perhaps a bonus in the long term for harnessing the power of now?

    Love sauerkraut, we made about a millon jars last year when the guy a few allotments up from us gave us loads of big as boulders show cabbages! But perhaps making a bit too much when you are dreaming about it haha 😉 xx

    • Lucy 29 March, 2016 at 9:58 pm

      Wow that does sound like an amazing opportunity – a lot of work though hey! So much for you to think about- have you found many groups of self sufficient people types? Could you do some woofing for a month so you get a bit of a glimpse of how you’d manage work and working the land etc. hard decisions! Love x x x

  • Natalie 29 March, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Great post Lucy, I just love how you write! so honest and I can imagine you talking it through word for word 🙂 when times get tough it must be so tough with so many limits but like you say, counting the blessings in between will help see you through! You guys are doing a fab job, I’d love to raise my family in a more simplistic way one day away from the city (even though with everything there comes hardship). And cuteeeeeeee ducklings! That photo of Ramona chopping is ace! We’re hoping to have our GYO patch this year, obviously not on this scale having a small garden but everything has to start somewhere right? well done and be proud! super shi**y about the internet, no solution what so ever??? x

  • Gina Caro 30 March, 2016 at 1:16 am

    I’m still totally jealous of your lifestyle even with the no hot water or wifi!
    When I was a uni one of the other students made a hot water system from an old cast iron radiator that they painted black. It was a fantastic system and worked really well. Might be an idea for you? Or alternatively I would look into hydro power if you own the stream. Again there are systems that you can make yourself that work really well. I’m guessing that you probably already know all of this but just thought I’d mention it 🙂

  • ThaliaKR 30 March, 2016 at 4:12 am

    Oof. I am full of both a) much sympathy for your troubles! and b) much snorting at the hilarity of your writing. Thank you.

    Especially love Tim’s new name: The Other Budget Holder. Nice ring to it.

    PS The axe pic! Fab!

  • Kelly mcDiarmid 30 March, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Sounds like a working bee is in order!! Perhaps you could offer fermented vege for a hard days labour!

  • Vicki 30 March, 2016 at 11:43 am

    I can relate to much of what is going on for you. Two months ago we move into a passive designed, solar tiny house. I feel so blessed to live in this abundant wilderness, we are calmer, happier and grateful. We live in a deep valley without cell reception. Our home phone works 20 % of the time when it does not rain. We fought long and hard for the internet and finally got it but it was difficult to get anything achieved ( banking, communication, future options for employment) for many months of uncertainty. I feel your pain on that one. It rains alot here and no one mentioned that and in all the plans and scheming we forgot to check the weather patterns. The upside is everything is green and fertile and we are surrounded by flora and fauna. The air is so clean. The downside is mud, mud and mud ( and flash flooding). I enjoyed your description of how it is for you. It connects people when reading about similar experiences. I am finding strength in the challenges of our new lifestyle and location. It is way more in line with how I want to live. I am inspired by the fermenting. I am brewing kombucha often and have been pondering pickling veggies. Thanks for the update.

  • Maya 24 September, 2017 at 6:55 am

    I cannot believe you too had a sauerkraut dream! A few weeks ago my baby was having a restless sleep and thrashing around all night. I was dreaming he was a big jar of whole fermented cabbage leaves bashing me on the head. Bizarre.

    I came to the event in Manchester and found you totally inspiring. You are ace!

    • Lucy 26 September, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      Oh my golly, LOL to the LOL! Hahahaha. Oh dear. What is becoming of us!