Stay in our Amazing CONEX Tiny Home

Back in 2011, I finished my tiny guest house, built out of two forty-foot CONEX shipping containers.  It’s a comfortable, fully functional house with one-bedroom + sleeping loft, a large kitchen, living area, full bath, laundry and extra storage.  I was pleased with the results.  You can read my original post, including my floor plan design and original photos at Build a Great House for under $10,000.

We used it mostly for convenience and for family and friends that would visit from time to time.  Over the years, I couldn’t resist making lots of improvements.  That, of course added cost, but it has been so worth it.

 

My latest improvements included:

  • A generous covered deck with deck chairs and a large gas barbecue that overlooks our little pond, filled with catfish, bass and croaking bullfrogs.
  • Covered parking for one vehicle in addition to the carport that handles four of ours.
  • French doors opening onto the covered deck
  • Newly Steel Framed Massive windows looking out into the woods and creek behind the house.  The house is so much more bright ant cheery.
  • Fresh, natural re-sawn pine wood paneling in the living / dining area.  Wood is so much more cozy than corrugated steel.
  • New Kitchen Cabinet faces
  • A kitchen bar, re-purposed from a big oak conference room table salvaged from my days at Baskin-Robbins corporate.
  • A new heat pump that cools and removes humidity in the summer and makes the place toasty warm in winter.  The original low cost insulation, added to the exterior under the wood siding, has been great.
  • A gas fireplace for some extra cozy when “the weather outside is frightful”.

A few months ago, we began offering the space for short-term rental on Airbnb.   The response has been amazing.  You can see the listing at Mountain Waterfall Cabin in Eco-Village

We also listed another one bedroom log cabin at Log Cabin on Miller’s Falls

The experience hosting and getting to know lots of great people has been fabulous.  Many of the improvements were prompted by suggestions from guests.  It’s still a work in progress.  Between guest visits, I can usually be found either making improvements to one of these two houses or making plans for the Village 2.0.  that I’m calling the “Enchanted” Village on Sewanee Creek, or Enchanted Village for short.  I’ll write more about that later.

So, if you are interested in seeing what it might be like to live in a tiny home or a container house built from Conex shipping containers, come stay with us in one of our comfortably small houses.  While here, I’ll be happy to give you a tour of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  You can meet some of our self-reliant Villagers and learn about rainwater catchment systems, off-grid solar, bee-keeping, gardening, the benefits of chickens (even harvest some fresh eggs for breakfast), Ham radio communications, raising mushrooms or foraging for edible woodland foods, the slower, more satisfying life-style we enjoy here and much more.

Wander over to the amphitheater and enjoy a cookout in the fire pit under the satellite dish gazebo.   If you are a singer/song-writer or musician, this is the perfect place for a songwriter’s retreat.  How about an awesome place in nature to perform for a few appreciative music-lovers.  Our amphitheater offers a great outdoor stage with a covered backstage.  You can book it for free (as long as Villagers are invited to enjoy your music).  I’ll take you on a tour of the surrounding area where you will meet the rangers at the Visitor’s center and arrange for a guided hike through one of our eight nearby state parks.

Take a short walk along the creek to the top of fifty-foot Miller’s falls.  Then follow the gentle trail to the bottom of the falls.  Go behind the falls and enjoy contemplating God’s wonders on the natural stone bench in the grotto.

If you enjoy the unique satisfaction of being creative and building things, I can always use an extra pair of hands in the wood and welding shop.  By the way, I’m looking forward to many more years building tree houses in the enchanted village and love to share creative ideas with others who are similarly motivated by the urge to create magical things.

the Impact of Distance on Entitlement & Gratitude

Villagers hold, as a personal value, that we should not be dependent on government for our welfare. Dependence on distant entities breeds a sense of entitlement, which is the opposite of gratitude. There is broad agreement among clergy, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, scientists and thinkers that gratitude is the foundation of happiness.

We should be “self-reliant”. That requires faith and work. But it does not mean that we want to be alone. In the Village, we strongly value the giving and receiving of service within a tightly knit community.

An inspiring talk by Dale G. Renlund starts with the premise that “the greater the distance between the giver and receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement.” Here is a link. The opposite is also true.  A generous and direct exchange (both receiving and giving between close associates) is an essential element of community. It strengthens ties, builds individuals, social resiliency and enhances gratitude and happiness.

By institutionalizing the giving and receiving of service through our weekly Village Projects, we remind ourselves of these values and create good habits.

Neighbors helping build a new shed

But ritual service is not intended to fulfill all of these needs. It only serves as a catalyst for regular sharing between community members, thereby enhancing a general sense of gratitude, self-reliance and happiness.

Another value of Villagers is a deep commitment to living our religious convictions, whatever they may be. The speaker in this talk goes on to illustrate the principle of distance as it relates to entitlement vs. gratitude in our relationships with God.

We believe that social relationships are important, whether with family, neighbors or deity. In healthy relationships, there is no room for entitlement, only gratitude that brings us closer together.

New Email: grant51miller@gmail.com

The Low Road to Freedom – How Buildings Learn

This BBC-produced video showcases low cost construction and its relationship to freedom.  As a lifelong follower of Thoreau’s philosophies, this resonates with me. Freedom to build “what you need” is a principle upon which the Village on Sewanee Creek rests. 

So, we have a roughly 5,500 square foot mansion currently under construction here. It is anything but low cost. But it is what the owners decided they need. From my point of view, that’s wonderful. If you have the resources so that the building does not become a lead weight on your life, it can become such a blessing, not only to the owners, but to those they chose to share it with. In the Village, where we are collectively all about voluntary sharing, what a blessing that can be!   It’s what’s inside that counts.  I’m confident that the owners who will become the heart of this magnificent home when it is completed, will bless all of us with their generous spirit and wise hearts.

On the other extreme, we have three “Tiny Homes” that are “finished” and occupied with capacity for future expansion and creative expression as need dictates. Large or small, expensive or low cost, or somewhere in between, the range of homes in the Village expresses our core values.  One of the most important among our values is the individual freedom to build according to needs as each of us defines them. 

Out of that freedom, comes a natural diversity of expression. That diversity, or lack of sameness can be viewed in different ways.  Differences can be viewed either as low-end eyesores that depress property values or as egotistical displays of wealth on the other extreme.  As we elevate our consciousness and supress lower ego-driven impulses, these differences can be perceived as beautiful, artistic expressions of freedom.  Again, where the building is only an expression of the builder, it’s what’s inside that counts.

When our personal artistic senses are challenged by diversity, it is an opportunity to reevaluate the depth of our spirituality and the quality of our values – to dig a little deeper and discover more enlightened ways of perceiving and interacting with the world around us. 

Monday, we celebrate the 4th of July. For me, it’s a celebration of the liberated human spirit, not just freedom from political tyranny. My fondest hope is that the Village will continue to evolve and improve as a society that values freedom in its deepest, spiritual sense, thereby securing not only freedom for ourselves but fostering it for others.

Keep reading to my previous post.  You are invited to celebrate the 4th with us tomorrow, or for the rest of forever.

The Value of Community – Mennonite Perspective

From a distance, I have admired Amish and Mennonite communities. Our Friday project tradition is loosely borrowed from the iconic Amish barn raising. I have admired them when they occasionally hit the news with a story where the community has pulled together to publicly forgive the perpetrator of some horrific crime against them.

In Paul Born’s article, Deepening Community: The Joy of Togetherness, I was interested to read the perspective of one Mennonite leader on the importance of community, what it is, how it benefits us, and how it is built. I was drawn into the article by his description of how difficult community can be and why a part of us finds community inconvenient, invasive and unwelcome. Life is often about finding a balance and that balance point is dynamic and different for everyone. That’s why, in building the Village, I have tried to attract people who have a desire for close community. We cultivate that desire through our traditions of regular social and shared work events, but avoid any and all coercion to participate. This establishes a baseline culture of voluntary community and cooperation, but allows each person the freedom to seek their own balance without social pressure. We govern ourselves by broad principles, but few rules. While consensus is desireable, there is room for differences because of the importance we place on private ownership and control of private property.

Recently the topic of “like-mindedness” was raised again in our community bulletin board. Some of us acknowledged our discomfort with the term. But an underlying set of shared values is fundamental to a cohesive community. In many “intentional communities” those values are provided by religious faith in a codified set of doctrines provided by a charismatic leader. My observation is that when broad principles are distilled into ever finer sets of rules by which members are expected to live, the overwhelming social tendency is to judge one another harshly. Rules meant to perfect us, chafe and bind. Soon, the burden is more than we are willing to bear. The ties that bind, bind us down into socially unbearable servitude. One of the central messages of the New Testament is about Jesus’ struggle against the Pharisees and Saducees who had reduced the law of Moses to a state of hypocrisy and judgementalism based on rules for virtually every action, every choice. We see the same impulses in today’s freedom movement, rejecting “nanny state” government’s exponentially growing body of law that attempts to regulate everything.

Over time, a culture of the Village on Sewanee Creek has emerged with identifiable characteristics. I will attempt to describe what I see. People who “fit” in the Village, have a strong sense of self but are unselfish. They desire to give unselfishly, but expect others to reciprocate in kind. Because they want to be generous, they are long-suffering and forgiving. But over the long term, if generosity is not reciprocated, they do not feel an obligation to give disproportionately. Takers are not encouraged. They gradually find themselves isolated by their choices. All must give in proportion to what they receive. This is a principle of human nature, perhaps a part of natural law.

Villagers have an independent streak and enjoy their private space. They enjoy the company of others, but they are not offended or feel excluded if not invited to participate in a private dinner or a project initiated by other members of the community.

Villagers are interested in being creative. They like to make and build things. Often, we start out lacking the skills or esthetic sense necessary to build masterpieces, but we want to become better.

A sense of humility seems to be a necessary characteristic. Working in community affords each of us an opportunity to learn from others and improve our practical skills. In our Friday projects, I have observed a great deal of patience for those who have little in the way of practical skills, but humbly seek to learn and improve. Patience stretches thin for people who are self-centered, arrogant, pushy or argumentative. It is most obvious when one who lacks skills arrogantly refuses to accept advice from those who have mastered those skills. It is a path that can lead to isolation even within communities with the best intentions. But, our approach provides flexibility and openness to natural resolution. If the owner/leader of a project finds it difficult to work with a particular volunteer, (s)he is ok to invite that individual to spend their time more productively on other, more satisfying work. If that happens with a lot of people, that leader may realize that they need to work on their leadership skills. It is the same freedom that is exercised by individuals to not participate in any given project.

But all benefit from mutual service. All desire to be part of our community traditions. It’s the reason we are here. Because each choice brings it’s natural consequences, people are motivated to follow scriptural counsel to repent, change, improve. To the extent that the majority of people in the community focus on humbly recognizing and improving their own weaknesses based on the true principles taught by Jesus, unwelcome behaviors are self-correcting. Individuals improve personal competence and self-reliance. The community grows in strength and cohesiveness.

I began writing this post as a short introduction to Born’s article for our Village Bulletin Board, but it grew into something more. An online discussion, internal to “Friends of Sewanee Creek” followed. Please feel free to share your own perspectives on this blog.

If you are interested in access to our more private community discussions or think you might fit in our community, send me a request Request FOSC Membership. Our process of inclusion starts with a friendly phone chat, so be sure to include your phone number.

Voluntary

The Village on Sewanee Creek is located in rural Tennessee, the “Volunteer State”

“Voluntary” is a key word in our community. Expectations, demands or compulsory involvement are kept low in favor of personal choice and personal circumstances. We trust that the primary reason for joining our community is the desire for community. Largely due to lack of compulsion or pressure, the community has flourished with high levels of regular, voluntary, joyful involvement.

Regular traditions include:

Friday Project. Rotates weekly by homestead, as calendared on our Private Village website. Each week, a designated home owner plans and gathers materials. Everybody shows up to work about 10 am, sometimes earlier in summer. A simple meal is often provided by the home owner. Project work is usually planned to last two hours, but frequently ends up an all day project as members generously linger to volunteer time. The payback is simple and obvious. We enjoy each other’s company and we learn project, leadership, organization and social skills. We learn to trust each other in all the important dimensions of trust: reliability, competence, integrity, respect, caring. And we know that as each gives, the gift is returned in a regular rotation. It’s a virtuous spiral. Hundreds of discrete projects have been completed. A short list includes such things as help building houses (primary and guest), a chicken coop, a large hoop greenhouse, raised bed gardens, maintenance on the community amphitheater or trails, harvesting cabbage and making sauerkraut, canning green beans or venison, installing a rainwater catchment system, a goat enclosure, house painting, framing and roofing a carport, and on and on.

Monday Evening FHE: Games, discussion, lesson, problem solving, planning, followed by light refreshments.

Bi-monthly formal potluck dinner. Host rotates between families.

As the community has continued to grow in numbers, greater specialization has emerged. Members are assigned and voluntarily accept callings that include: director/coordinator of music, drama, facilities, community scheduling, security, beekeeping, Open-Source Ecology (distributed manufacturing), games, etc.

We maintain shared, online virtual libraries of books and movies and a private website for sharing of ideas and general communication. These don’t require a leader or curator, just the initiative of someone to create the format for a shared online database and the generous trust of friends volunteering to share their resources in an open, organized fashion. We have no need to build a physical library, only information about what resources are voluntarily available and stored by each member in their homes. It has been said that the millennial generation cares little about ownership; it’s all about access. Older generations, on the other hand, care about personal ownership and care of things. The bridge is TRUST. We do not own many things in common, but we actively cultivate trust. As trust develops, open sharing is a natural consequence. Where there is no need to replicate assets, personal costs decline; abundance increases. This isn’t a new idea. It’s the way communities functioned before they became fractured.

As you can see from our Friday Project tradition, this concept is applied to the sharing of skills and services as well as things like books or tools.

The community is composed of active, accomplished individuals with diverse skills and backgrounds that include:
PhD’s in plant genetics, Psychology, Counseling & Philosophy.
Masters in Engineering, Bio-Chemistry, Business, Computer Engineering.
BA’s / other certifications in mathematics, elementary and secondary teaching, textiles, registered nursing, and more.

Equally if not more important and respected are our member’s practical skills in construction, plumbing, electrical, landscaping and excavation, military and police, bee-keeping, water purification and management, horticulture (organic & greenhouse gardening, orchards), animal husbandry and the performing arts (singer/songwriters, instrumental music, live theater, film directing and editing)

Each year community strength grows. 2014 has been a watershed year, as our active population and skills sets virtually doubled. Over the years, more lots have been sold with the promise that, as homes are built, transitions made, new trusting relationships created, the Village will only grow in strength and stability. It’s a pretty nice place to live for a volunteer.

Why is Freedom Important?

It is to safeguard our ability to choose and do that which is good.

To defend freedom in the name of freedom only – the right to do whatever we want because we want to – is to be morally bankrupt, destructive to the world God created for us and at odds with “natural law”.

If we commit unspeakable acts of violence and evil in the name of freedom, we have no moral basis for the defense of “freedom”. We fight not for freedom, but for personal greed and dominance.

The dirty little secret that The American people have bought into, the elephant in the room that we choose to ignore, is that the empire we support through endless wars of conquest disproportionately benefits us vs the rest of the world. As the empire crumbles and the benefits that trickle down from the elite to the masses wane, the masses will wake up, not out of righteous indignation, but out of a displaced sense of loss. The gravy train has been good. We have collectively turned a blind eye to our wars of aggression waged in the name of freedom, or as G.W. Bush euphemistically said it, “our way of life”. Is our way of life just an excuse for conquest and plunder?
These are my thoughts as I considered the following interview from The Real News.

I believe that the mission and message of our little community, the Village on Sewanee Creek, should be about freedom in its fullest and best sense – the freedom to do positive good. Not as “do-gooders”out to reform everyone else, but people quietly reforming our own lives in harmony with that which is good.
The American paradigm we live within has focused our thinking to be against or at war with almost everything. There are wars against poverty, drugs, inequality, injustice, terrorism, illegal immigration, and on and on. A war mentality breeds anger, dissension and more war.

What is the antidote for a world that is continuously at war at every level? Christ taught us to repent. Repent of your acceptance of all forms of war. Champion freedom for the sole purpose of thinking and doing positive good. Repent of your natural inclination to justify evil in the name of false, self-serving good. When we learn to focus all of our thoughts and actions on doing that which is good and productive and always rejecting that which is harmful or destructive, our lives will be full of light, joy and peace.

I write this with no personal sense of moral satisfaction, for I am as guilty as anyone of self-serving thoughts and behaviors that justify evil in the name of false good. When we stop focusing on the greed of others (Wall Street, corporations, politicians, etc.) we may begin to recognize our own complicity in a system, built from the ground up on self-interest, a nicer word for greed. Christ identified the problem in His mote/beam parable.

I desire to live among people who don’t see themselves as righteous or good, but humbly seek to become so through striving for that which is good – people who are continuously in an active process of repentance – or reaching upward for the light. I hope that being with such people, I will be inspired and strengthened to repent myself.

The world will become a better place not through conquest of others but by conquest of oneself.

Regardless of our circumstances or the political system we live within,  we are all, ALWAYS, free to do that.

Dream, Choose, Live: The Good Life

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately.”

Henry David Thoreau

I think the first, most essential thing one must do to accomplish that is to build one’s own house as Thoreau did. He built from leftover scraps of an old shanty. We have many other choices.

 
The mere fact that when people come to the Village, they can’t buy a finished home means that every one of us shares that journey. The journey enriches each of us individually and collectively, as a community.  One’s home is the ultimate expression of self, one’s capacity to dream and do. Even if you hire a contractor and never lift a hammer, you will learn, mostly about yourself. So many choices, it can be overwhelming. In the process, you are forced to come to terms with your personal values. There is no faking it.

What is really important to me?

  • How big should my house be?
  • How much of my life, in the form of money that I have exchanged my time and effort for, should go into this house?
  • What portion should I allocate for other things that are important to me and my goals?
  • In my house, do I want to emphasize efficiency and low maintenance or esthetic beauty? What do those things mean to me? Can I have both?
  • Do I want my home to make a statement about me or is it enough that it satisfies just me?
  • If I am taking this journey with a spouse and children, how will we use this experience to bring us closer as we discover and satisfy what is uniquely us?
  • What can or should I do without to have the things I really want?
  • My home will be a refuge, but from what? From the noise of the city, or from the discomforts of nature?

The folks in this video made some highly unusual choices in an environment most people would consider extreme. Yet, their home is a creative expression of who they are and how they choose to live.  And it is beautiful.

As you watch this video, notice the many trade-offs they made. I like to think “sacrifice” is what you give up to get something better.  A deliberate life is one of conscious choice. If one knows oneself and chooses well, a personal paradise is the reward. That personal paradise is within reach of us all, but we must choose.

For those who love nature and the joy of sharing with others, the Village on Sewanee Creek has all the necessary elements to build your dream with a little help from some friends.