The Good Life Lab


A modern manual for living off-the-grid

When I was editor of Craft magazine, I always looked forward to Wendy Jehanara Tremayne’s next “Re-Fitted” column, which profiled a waste-conscious maker and included a how-to project by that person. A few of the projects included making textiles out of plastic bags, turning used clothing into a quilt, and building a beautiful outdoor fence with found branches and tie wire. Even more inspiring than her articles, however, were our phone conversations between magazine issues. After chatting about her next article idea, she’d briefly enchant me with her snippets of how she and her husband, Mikey, left their high-powered jobs in New York and moved to Truth or Consequences, NM, to live as waste-free and off the grid as possible. Always in a rush, I would hang up and then wish I had gotten more details.

Six years later, I was finally able to read about Tremayne’s “decommodified life” in her fresh-off-the-press book, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living. Captivating right from the start, Tremayne’s tale of quitting her job as creative director of a marketing firm to “live in the waste stream” describes her bumps and triumphs in turning an RV park into their homestead and living a rich life spending almost no money. Both from the city, she and her husband learn as they go, using found and tossed materials to build structures on their property, driving a car that runs on vegetable oil, growing their own food, concocting homemade tinctures from local plants, and landscaping with homemade compost and free dung from a local camel named Stanley.

Tremayne weaves her narrative with colorful charts, beautiful illustrations by different artists, and loads of how-to projects (DIY biofuel, roasting coffee with a popcorn maker, building a decorative fire barrel, making mead, and constructing a sturdy and handsome papercrete dome, just to name a few). Whether for inspiration or as a road map to creating your own off-the-grid homestead, Tremayne’s book is a must read for any maker who fantasizes about stepping off the consumer-centered treadmill and into a life that is connected to nature, unhurried and meaningful.

-- Carla Sinclair 06/4/13