Be Water; Be like God

This morning I have been meditating on Lao Tsu’s verse #8 of the Tao Te Ching.

It gently invites us to be like water.

I considered two translations. Each is quite different. Without consulting the original Chinese, I did my own translation. I drew inspiration from the two translations, adding my own insights about life and the nature of God and water. Truths I learned from my own life’s path, my Tao

I hope to become more like water and God. Wrestling with my own poetic version of Lao Tsu’s wisdom helped me think more deeply, clarifying my water. I recommend the exercise and, should you give it a try, would love to see your version. Post it as a comment for the enjoyment of all. Share your living water. In a time of division, contention and darkness, this is something we can all do. Perhaps the best thing.

“Be Water, my friends. Be Water.” Bruce Lee

I include the two translations, from which I drew inspiration, below.

I hope this brightens your day in some small way.

With love, Grant

———————————————————————————
“True goodness is like water, 
it benefits everything and harms nothing. 
Like water it ever seeks the lowest place, the place that all others avoid. 
It is closely kin to the Tao.

For a dwelling it chooses the quiet meadow; 
for a heart the circling eddy.
In generosity it is kind; 
in speech it is sincere;
in authority it is order;
in affairs it is ability; 
in movement it is rhythm.

Inasmuch as it is always peaceable it is never rebuked.”

———————————————————————————
“The supreme goodness is like water.
It benefits all things without contention.

In dwelling, it stays grounded.
In being, it flows to depths.
In expression, it is honest.

In confrontation, it stays gentle.
In governance it does not control.
In action, it aligns to timing.It is content with its nature,
And therefore cannot be faulted.”

Extreme Consolidation in the Solar PV market expected this year

This is a good industry article indicating that solar panel manufacturers will go through a major consolidation this year.

Consolidation is a weeding out of the smaller, less efficient manufacturers in favor of low-cost, high-volume, efficient manufacturers.  The remaining suppliers will benefit from lower supply and less intense pricing pressures.  It remains to be seen whether, in the aftermath of lower supply, prices will increase.  They may continue to decline, despite decreased pressure on prices, as new, more efficient technologies and manufacturing techniques are developed.  Or, it may signal the bottoming out of PV panel prices.  Also, there does seem to be some improvement in the economy, at least in some sectors.  This could release pent-up demand from people who have been waiting to invest in solar out of fear over a potential job loss.  If we have industry consolidation (lower supply) that coincides with higher demand, the remaining suppliers will benefit from even higher economies of scale, resulting in higher profitability and perhaps lower prices as low-cost suppliers further consolidate market-share.

By observing general trends in the high tech sector based on silicone chips, one could conclude that prices will continue to decline.  That is, unless there is some other major disruption in the supply chain (like war, political upheaval, etc.)  If prices begin to increase post-consolidation, this may trigger more government intervention and subsidization, which could also be an offsetting factor, although generally, once consolidation has occurred, fewer companies may use subsidies to simply pad their bottom lines, further strengthening their balance sheets and staying power in the market rather than reduce prices.

Industry consolidation is just one factor to consider in determining when is the right moment to invest in Solar technology that moves us further in the direction of off-grid self-sufficiency while staying fiscally conservative.  My sense is that now is at least a much better time to invest in solar than a few years ago.  I’m glad I waited.  Cost per KWh is still higher than grid-supplied electricity.  But the question remains, should I wait longer?  The economy looks to be improving in the short term.

I consider small-scale home based Solar PV not for its economic efficiencies, but more for its insurance value. Long-term, the world still looks extremely fragile.  With the short-term improvement in the economy, this may be the perfect moment to invest in self-sufficiency, whether it is a modest amount of solar PV or a more secure location on which to place it.

Achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability without bankrupting yourself requires a long-term, plodding approach.  Like Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, (remember that from college psychology or sociology classes?) one does not achieve self-actualization until the more basic needs are covered.  PV solar, is at the top of the pyramid.  First, you cover basics like food, water, shelter, Next is energy in the form of least costly and highest efficiency.  Energy for heat and cooling falls in this category.  Passive solar or bio-mass solutions are a much better alternative.    Never try to provide these using Photo Voltaics.  That would be like trying to survive in a famine on an all-corn-fed-beef diet where it takes 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.  Inefficient, unsustainable.

Friday’s Community Project

Just getting around to recapping and thanking all those who helped out in Friday’s community project. We successfully framed the carport on our CONEX guest house. Two hours of good fellowship and work followed by delightful conversation over lunch. Everything went smoothly. The timber frame is up, plumb and square. Experience is a great teacher. Still a lot to do before the carport is finished, but we’re well on our way now. The 800 square foot steel roof will provide a platform for solar panel installation and shelter for four vehicles. The combined roof space of carport and guest house is about 1,460 square feet. That more than doubles my effective rainwater catchment area, increasing the margin of water self-sufficiency with our 7,500 gallon Storage tanks.

For newbies here, the Village has a rotating voluntary shared project tradition. Every week a different household chooses and organizes a project. The community pitches in to help. One incentive to give time and effort is the expectation of the same when your turn comes around. But, there are others. The opportunity to learn from others with different skills and the comeraderie that goes with good people working productively together toward a common goal are others.

Together, we have built a storage shed, raised bed gardens for Several families, temporary shelter for goats, planting, caring for and harvesting produce in the greenhouse, installing drip irrigation systems and many other gardening projects, electric fences and chicken coops worked on our guest house, framed the carport, cooked a pig in the ground Hawaiian style and much more.

I want to thank all who have participated so far and invite everyone else to join us. Tradition is Thursday 10 AM start time followed by lunch, but we’re flexible on days and times. Some need to leave to get back to their work after lunch, but there are often several who keep working long after that. All voluntary.

Kind of like the famous Amish barn raising tradition without having to be Amish.

Rainwater Catchment: Better than a Well in a Drought

Many people have asked me if wells are feasible here at the Village on Sewanee Creek.  My response is always “yes, you can, but I wouldn’t and didn’t”.  This guy explains why better than I can.  Where wells are drying up in drought-plagued Texas, rainwater collection still works.  That’s the 1st reason.  But after that, pure, soft, quality water is an even bigger reason.

Four of six families in the Village now have significant rainwater collection and storage systems.  So, I guess you could say we’re another “Tank Town” with a nicer sounding name.  During the drought that even hit Tennessee for about 6 weeks this summer, we used ours to water the greenhouse and our large garden, switching temporarily to city water for our household needs.  That saved us hundreds of dollars and our garden when chlorinated city water would have been too expensive for gardening on our scale.

One of the benefits of living in the Village is that your neighbors prepare and share as much as you do.   My brother, George, and I both have large systems with a combined 15,500 gallons of storage capacity.  George has a larger roof than I do, so his system is more robust than mine.  By linking and sharing systems, we can increase balance, capacity and resiliency even further.  We recently installed another 500 gallon tank that takes the overflow from George’s tanks when they are full.  It is positioned just above the orchard.  Through a gravity feed drip system, the orchard is now insulated from droughts too, with pure, unchlorinated rainwater that would have been lost.

Rainwater harvesting is the first critical step in becoming self-sufficient.  I’m so convinced of this that I offer a 10% rebate on the purchase of land in the Village to cover the cost of implementing a great system.  We have built several systems.   George is a chemist and water expert, having run the water quality lab for many years at the Coachella Vally Water System (Palm Springs/Palm Desert).  So, we help Villagers with water quality expertise as well.  If you would like to see pictures of our systems or more information about what we have done in the Village to become inter-dependently self-sufficient for water, food and other stuff, contact me here for access to our “members only” online database.

Low Cost Ownership @ the Village on Sewanee Creek

The jewel of the Village has always been what we called phase II.  Pristine, forested, rolling land, with the most dramatic views, cascading creeks and water falls.  It’s all there, untouched and waiting for this moment and the right people to build a community of caring, sharing and prepared people.

In 2006, when we got started, I expected to quickly sell out on Phase I, then move to the best part.  Then the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit in 2007, followed by a total economic melt-down, led by Real Estate in 2008.  It’s been slow going, but our unique approach to community building creates value that goes far beyond the land.  So, we survived in slow growth mode.  Slow is good when you are striving to build a community with solid roots.  Sort of like nurturing a Japanese bonsai tree.

Fast forward to 2012.  The forests are 6 years older and the wildlife has cycled through several generations, but phase 2 is otherwise unchanged.  Meanwhile, the cost of building paved roads and other infrastructure required by the government, has sky-rocketed to the point that traditional development of Phase II is not feasible.  And, on Phase I, we have grown a community of self-sufficient folks.  Our gardens are maturing, along with our gardening skills and our bees.  We have weathered seasons of drought and plenty with our rainwater catchment systems; we have experimented with various types of low-cost alternative energy, from wood gasification to Lister Diesel generators, to simple wood stoves, solar ovens and micro-hydro-electric generators.  We have built six lovely homes, some traditional construction, log, SIP, cast concrete and experimented with ultra low cost CONEX shipping container construction at the amphitheater, for storage, for workshops and finally, for guest houses.  The learning from all of this and expertise from highly skilled people who have joined us over the years continues to raise the level of self-sufficiency and preparedness of the Village community.

Cost of ownership in difficult economic times has been the primary obstacle for most people who wanted to join us in living a simple, frugal life.  So, here’s the low-cost alternative:

Land on Phase II is to be owned by an LLC with shareholders. Through a shareholder’s agreement, co-owners allocate personal plots within the community.

This method of ownership has several advantages:

  1. Lower cost per acre (In the $4,000 range)
  2. Lower taxes: Blocks of land over 16 acres can remain in “green belt” status, with close to zero tax rates.
  3. As there is one owner, it is not a “development”, hence no need for Government Planning to interfere.
  4. Lower development costs for roads, and other infrastructure.
  5. Full membership in the established Village on Phase 1 with access to commons, hiking trails, community gardens, and other infrastructure.
  6. Shared cost of self-sufficiency infrastructure (well(s), rainwater catchment, alternative energy systems, etc.)
  7. Enhanced sense of community, but still not a commune.

Purchase size would be from 50 to 100 acres.
So, hypothetically, 50 acres, shared equally in 5 acre lots = 10 owners (could be more owners and lower total cost with smaller lots).  Out of that, each contributes an acre for a highly functional 10-acre commons. This is all usable plateau top land. Cost per household would be in the neighborhood of $20,000 plus the shared legal cost of setting up the LLC.  Add a low cost home, like the guest house from Shipping Containers I built for under $10,000 to, say, a 2-acre piece of Phase II and you could have a great life in a gorgeous, sustainable community for about $18,000.

I know there are a lot of you out there who desperately want to own land in the Village, but simply can’t afford it in this economy. And I can’t afford to sell Phase I land for much less and even cover my sunk development costs.  But I have no development costs in Phase II other than the interest I have been paying on it for six years.

If this sounds interesting, please let me know. We can start doing some serious planning and marketing if there is enough interest.

Aftermath of 9/11 – Hope, Peace, Power

Victor Guzman survived 9/11 from the 85th floor of the World Trade Center  Watch this video to see how he lived to tell how 9/11 changed his life in a positive way.
In a strange way, his story is my story.

I was on the opposite coast that dreadful morning, but the impact was no less devastating.  I had celebrated my 50th birthday 12 days earlier by being downsized from the best, most lucrative position of my career as International Division President of Allied Domecq (Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts).  I almost never watch TV, but for some reason that morning I flipped on the news a few seconds before the image of the first plane hitting the first tower seared itself into my consciousness.  I believe the impulse to turn on the TV at that moment was not an accident.  I called my family together and remember telling them that I didn’t know what it meant, but it was hugely significant and the world would never be the same from that moment forward.

Newly emancipated from my career at its peak, I was still full of confidence.  I decided to take advantage of that moment of freedom and reward my dear wife, who had faithfully followed me across the world as we climbed the ladder.  We abruptly sold our California house, moved to Atlanta and built our 5,000 square foot dream house where we could be near her family.

What followed was four years of unemployment.  It was a period when, like Mr. Guzman in this video, I had the time to be intensely involved with my family.  We enjoyed precious moments working, playing and studying the scriptures together.  It was also a time of grief and depression.  My oldest son, stricken with the disease of schizophrenia took his life.  The first five years following 9/11 was punctuated by some consulting work and one year as International Division Managing Director (President equivalent) at Papa John’s International.  In that year, my performance exceeded all the targets I was given, but within one year to the day, I was fired by a boss who had never intended to fill that position and knew it would be vacant again one year from filling it.  I had sold our Atlanta home and relocated to a place we didn’t want to be.  Success meeting my objectives at Papa John’s had refreshed my confidence, but this time I was done with living inside the matrix, the corporate life.

It had been just over five years since 9/11 and my departure from Allied Domecq.  The second 5-year phase of post 9/11 life began.  Always supportive, Becky followed me as I threw what was left of our life savings and all of my energy into building a community where we could live free and independent, surrounded by honest, supportive, creative and hard-working people of like mind, good people who care about their fellow-man as Christ taught.  This second 5-year segment has not been easy, nor financially profitable. Today, I have more questions than I have answered.  But, of the things that are important, I am blessed.  My children are now all independent – two in college, two married with children.  I had time to be with them in their formative years, building and enjoying them. I live in a place of immense natural beauty.  My personal land and home are debt free.  I have time to think and have spent a much of my time meditating, reading and writing.  My wife has thrown herself into raising a garden that feeds us.  We have a secure, private supply of clean, pure, life-giving water.  Our efforts have yielded a core group of trusted, beloved friends.

So, you can see, 9/11 has a great deal of significance to me.  You could say it was the beginning of a ten-year journey through tumult, failure, sadness, depression, blessings, hope, peace and empowerment.  The journey has just begun.

In this moment of reflection, I am impressed to tell you that
the outcome of the next years will depend on whether we sink into confused despair or realize that we are individually and collectively powerful.  With God’s guidance, we can create a world of hope, peace and power.

2011 Preparedness Workshop becomes Semi-Annual at the Village on Sewanee Creek

Feedback from our Preparedness fair last July was excellent but with plenty of room for improvement.

On breadth of content, we received high marks.  But because there was so much going on, a lot of folks struggled to get involved in all the activities they wanted to, even with repetition over two days.  Things were tightly scheduled, so people were rushed getting from one venue to the next.  This resulted in the most consistent piece of feedback, the desire to have more focus and depth at the expense of variety of topics.  Incidentally, the fair happened to fall on the hottest day of 2010.

In response to experience and feedback, this year we will have two one-day events, one in the Spring and one in the fall to correspond with planting and harvest seasons.   That should assure comfortable temperatures and it leaves room on the calendar for the Village’s traditional Independence Day celebration.  The name is being changed from Fair to Workshop to reflect the increased focus on fewer activities, but by having two events this year we can compensate for fewer varieties at each workshop.

I am especially thankful that this year, the burden of coordinating, setting up and preparing for the Fair won’t fall on me.  Last year, I spent three full months getting ready.  This year, coordination and most of the planning is being handled by our newest Villager with the help of the Provident Living meetup group out of Nashville.  If you plan to come, please register with the Provident Living meetup group at http://www.meetup.com/providentliving/ Make sure you RSVP and add a comment if you plan to camp on Friday night.

That should be enough background on the main changes.  So, here’s what to expect for our Spring Preparedness Workshop.

To see info about last year’s July Preparedness Fair, click

https://1stvillager.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/hands-on-preparedness-fair-workshops/

or

https://1stvillager.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/preparedness-fair-the-village-permaculture/

or

https://1stvillager.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/preparedness-fair-at-the-village-on-sewanee-creek/