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 and 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.

Informative, Non-partisan News

The following is a dialog from “Friends of Sewanee Creek” a private site.

I just discovered a website with a mission to report on issues in depth, in a non-partisan balanced manner. Check out http://www.publicintegrity.org
At times, it seems to have a liberal bias. But on second reading, that’s probably because I have a clearly conservative bias. I like being able to read articles that at least try to present both sides, then make up my mind which side is right.
I believe it’s time to lose the Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Conservative, Liberal and Progressive labels. Labels are used to simplify and obscure shenanigans we would reject if not for the cloud of stupid party or generalized philosophical positioning.
I believe in the free market, not the market that is paid for by big Corporate special interest donors to “free market” conservatives.
From what I have read so far on The Center for Public Integrity Website, there is enough information there to make informed independent decisions. I hope you get good value from this site and will share what you learn with other thinking people here.

———– commented on 09/13/2014 05:55:48 am
Grant, Some have asked me why I quoted a “Liberal Blog”, it inevitably was because it represented some “Flawed Thinking” or outright Lunacy! It is always good to read both sides! As they say, “Know Thine Enemy”…! Unfortunately the “Low Info” people never do this and continue to get their information from those “reliable sources” such as Jon Stewart or Al Sharpton or the Liberal and Biased TV News!
LOL…!

Grant Miller commented on 09/13/2014 08:31:50 am
Excellent points! It’s good to know your enemy.
Sometimes, it’s even better to discover that, as Pogo said, “we have met the enemy and it is us.”

Grant Miller commented on 09/17/2014 08:21:16 am
I believe that our world has been intentionally polarized. This divides grass roots power and assures that those with concentrated power at the top of the pyramid maintain a strangle hold on the masses, unchallenged, despite how egregious their sins and obviously corrupt they are. I am speaking primarily of two power bases, government and massive corporate interests. Perhaps the largest and most nefarious subset of corporate power is the military industrial complex that keeps us perpetually at war.

When we label liberals as the enemy, or liberals label conservatives as the enemy, the divide increases, grass roots power is diluted and the real enemy is free to enslave and rob the general population.

When I read balanced, well articulated perspectives from both sides of the divide or speak with intelligent representatives of either side, I find an amazing amount of agreement on the core problems, causes and perpetrators. Differences are usually found in proposed solutions that come out of differing world views. By listening carefully to opposing views, I often discover insights that I had been blinded to because of labels, biases and ignorance.

The world is a highly complex place. The more I learn the more convinced I am that I understand very little. In business, I was once counseled by an associate (who incidentally held a liberal perspective) to “stay in learning mode as long as possible”. I think that is a fairly accurate definition of the word humility and I have found it to be wise counsel, albeit difficult to follow.

One of my objectives in the Village is to heal divides and increase power at the grass roots through building community. That is happening within our tiny Village as we are open to civil, intelligent exploration of opposing ideas. As we practice this, our influence spills out of the Village to the larger community like ripples in a pond.

Let’s avoid demonizing people who hold opposing views. If their views make them an enemy, we will not defeat that enemy by force of labels. The only way to defeat an idea is with a better idea. Better ideas are never effectively delivered by shouting across a divide, but through clear logic, respect, patience and love, unfeigned.

This, I believe, is what Christ taught by parables and example.

Interesting People – Rich Life

From the outset, I have made it a point to target interesting people who will become not only Village neighbors, but the fabric of a lifestyle that makes life interesting and rewarding. There are many prepper communities emerging these days. They typically aim to fill their ranks with a comprehensive list of survival skills. Welder, blacksmith, gunsmith, military tactician, plumber, electrician, mechanic, hunter/trapper, tanner represent just a few of hundreds of basic skills. Important as these may be, they address only survival. For Villagers, life is about much more than survival.

I believe we have been successful in attracting a certain type of individual who is a cut above the mundane, normal, or average. So far, our small community boasts interesting people with distinguished accomplishments from diverse backgrounds.

  • Some have advanced degrees, like Tom who has a PhD in plant genetics or George who is a bio-chemist with deep experience in water quality systems management, mycology and toxic environmental clean-up.

But intellectual capacity doesn’t always require a high level degree or formal education. Street smarts are just as valuable and interesting.

  • Jeff J. humbly acknowledges a lack of formal training, while his accomplishments as a highly sought-after Hollywood film editor are impressive. Having worked on such famous films as Star Wars and Hunger Games among many others, his experiences, instincts and observations on life have brought great pleasure and growth to me and other Villagers. Knowing my interest in movies, a residual from my days at Blockbuster, he even contributed a huge library of DVD’s to the Village to enhance our movie nights, whether at our large screen home theater or the bigger one at the amphitheater.
  • Mike and Barb are accomplished singer/songwriters who infuse their art with the values we embrace as a community. Their music strengthens both the moral and social fabric of the Village.
  • Fred is our inventor / engineer / communications expert extraordinaire. I affectionately nicknamed him Mr. Inscrutable because his intellectual and scientific prowess often makes me stretch to grasp a point he is making. Those who attend a lecture he is giving at the University of the South on Open Source Ecology this Wednesday will likewise be stretched and enriched.
  • Jim has a deep, practical history with self-sufficient living. Now retired, he is an effective investor who loves tending his garden and chickens while experimenting with all kinds of projects from alternative energy to alternative construction. Jim donated many years of Mother Earth News to the online Village Library. His soft, engaging nature makes him a natural in group dynamics where he instantly puts people at ease.
  • Jeff P. and his three sons are all Eagle Scouts.  Jeff is CFO for his company and has been a scout leader for years.  His practical knowledge of outdoor life and appreciation for nature derived from scouting contribute to our mission in many ways.
  • Micah stopped just short of completing a PhD in philosophy, and deploys his prodigious intellect and work ethic in his highly successful internet business, helping America’s best and brightest choose colleges best suited to them. In his spare time, he raises goats, cattle and chickens for home consumption and has purchased several hundred acres nearby to build a cattle ranch with his brother.

The Women in the Village contribute to the richness of daily life just as much if not more than the men.

  • My dear wife, Becky, is known for her home-making skills that range from amazingly artistic quilts to the best home-made bread ever, made from home-ground flour, to fresh veggies and eggs from her greenhouse and mini-farm.
  • Judy cans, sprouts, sews, gardens, bakes and cooks some of the finest food you will find anywhere and tutors neighborhood children in math.
  • Stephanie brings her personal brand of wisdom to the Village. She is a counselor who listens attentively and serves up help to University students, meanwhile raising her two little boys with patience and love.
  • Linnette is an accomplished artist who excels with ceramics.  She created the beautiful tile work and fired the individual tiles in her large kiln for the sign at the entrance to the Village.  Her sons include a doctor, an architect and a business man.
  • Linda is a natural organizer-leader.  She runs the Meetup group, “Provident Living and Self Reliance” out of Nashville. She was instrumental in organizing Preparedness Fairs here in the Village and many other group meetings for Villagers as well as hundreds of other Self-Reliance oriented people throughout Middle and Eastern Tennessee.

I could go on. For the sake of brevity, I will limit the list, but you get the point. Beyond specific skills and accomplishments, most Villagers are well traveled, intellectually open and, as a result, qualify as interesting people who contribute at many levels. Because they are all focused on self-sufficient living, each one also contributes to the list of survival skills and the general resilience of the Village.

The work I do to attract and woo interesting people results in tangible value to people who move here. And the longer I do it the more valuable the Village becomes. That is why the value of the product Villagers buy into is less and less about the beautiful land and more and more about a rich lifestyle built on relationships with extraordinary people. For fans of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, you might recognize the Village as a kinder and gentler Galt’s Gulch.

It isn’t enough that we have many interesting people here. It is just as important that those interesting people each desire to share their knowledge, insights, skills and talents or we are just like any other upper-income neighborhood, filled with people who are busy, successful, and isolated in social silos. So we try to select people who love people. It’s implied in our motto, in harmony with nature AND PEOPLE. I believe we have also been successful in developing a culture of sharing.

And, while attracting interesting people who want to share is the essential foundation, it is only the beginning. As we continue to weave and expand this fabric of many colors and textures into a culture of interesting people with an interesting, rich life, I think it is not enough to simply have them here. We must continuously draw people out in interesting venues and situations where all can naturally benefit from such rich natural resources. We must enhance our natural human resources through activities, processes, customs and traditions that we all embrace.

  • Our weekly “Village Project” is one such tradition that puts talents and skills to practical work while creating an atmosphere for mutual, service, positive social interaction and sharing.
  • Our Monday “Family Home Evening” gatherings are a regular place for sharing on a more intimate, sometimes more intellectual level. We teach, share stories, play games, discuss world events, books, and movies, share treats, and plan together.
  • Our Monthly potluck is a time for reaching out to Village land owners who have not yet built and relocated here. It’s less frequent and allows them to travel from Nashville or sometimes more distant locations. It’s also a time to enjoy great food and casual conversation in an unstructured environment.
  • Since I have joined the staff at the University of the South, I am much more tuned in and do a better job of sharing the abundance of culturally enriching, and mostly free activities there. Lectures, discussions, plays, concerts are plentiful to overwhelming in their availability. We try to get Villagers together to share in many of these experiences too.
  • At less frequent intervals, we have made field trips to Nashville or other outlying towns, like the trip we made to see Les Miserable or recently to Athens to learn about earth-bermed housing.

As more interesting, sharing people join us, the opportunities grow exponentially along with the need for careful tending. I take seriously the responsibility of creating value for Villagers. But, I think everybody knows that it’s a group project, not wholly dependent on me.

Frankly, I’m not satisfied with the type and quality of activities we do now. We can do more and be more. I need all of your help.
Please share your ideas and your energy to bring them to life.

ETHOS: Left and Right are just arms and legs on the same body

Oops, too close for youtube’s comfort? Only hours after I posted this it disappeared. http://vimeo.com/24706064
Watch the video before you read the following:

“Our Ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business and our politics.”
Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010

The left/right, liberal/conservative paradigm is meaningless. It is a smoke screen, a delusion, a diversion. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my thoughts and values are so steeped in conservative traditions. Harrelson, Zinn and others in this movie are icons of the left. Yet, here he is speaking intelligently to the same issues that have polarized the right against the left and reaching similar conclusions to mine on what to do about it.

One of the prime reasons for this Village is a reaction to a world gone berserk. 9/11 was the watershed moment that changed my world view and led ultimately to my decision to find another solution. It is a reaction to powerlessness against overwhelmingly powerful forces.

Most of the world has taken refuge in the very activities that perpetuate their surrender of freedom and meaning in life. Harrelson correctly points out that in the aftermath of 9/11, we were told the solution was to go shopping. And again, in 2008 when the economy crumbled, we were told that it was our duty to save the economy by doing what? “Go shopping”.

How ironic is it that I am now teaching “Strategic Marketing” at the University? Yet, Marketing, like the Internet, like a gun, like a drill press or a saw, is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It is simply a means of identifying and satisfying human needs and desires. Some enterprises use marketing effectively to pander to base human needs and wants. There is a BIG market for these products and services.

I do marketing to find and satisfy people who are looking for a means to improve their lives, to find meaning and joy. The product I am building is mostly intangible. It is community, harmony, security, connection to nature, creative and constructive work, a meaningful life. In this context and for this purpose, is marketing evil? Only if what I am selling is bogus or of poor quality.

Yet, while I agree with Harrelson’s prescription, it is only one element of a total solution for an empty, shackled life. “Stop shopping” or at least shop wisely. It’s positioned as an offensive weapon against an entrenched corporate enemy. Is that where it ends? In the unlikely event that this perpetual war should end, either in victory or defeat, what do we, the wounded and weary foot-soldiers, return from the battle front to? There must be something more, something meaningful to replace our culture’s obsession with consumptive living.

Sandy Hook is another 9/11 event. It is meant to polarize right and left. Masterful marketing used with malice aforethought, IMHO. Extreme polarization between left and right. Strident calls for disarmament from the left while demand for guns and ammo empties the gun stores and heavily armed and fortified communities appear in Idaho and elsewhere.

Left and right are just arms and legs on the same body.
Powers that divide, profitably conquer
while the masses, having lost their heads,
trade arms, legs, body and soul for fear and division.
– Grant Miller

In answer to this insanity, can we not respectfully explore and enjoy different perspectives and world views while we live peaceably within our means and “in Harmony with Nature and People”? That is my solution and my intent.

The Pendulum Swings

A Sunday Observation:
Discussing how difficult it is to achieve the correct balance in life:

Comment, “I wish I could just get the pendulum to hold still in the middle.
Response, “When the pendulum stops, so does the clock”

I’m thankful for our grandfather clock. It is a constant reminder of important things like this.
Another life lesson from our clock, We must rewind it regularly. A reminder that the body and soul require constant nourishment.

Socialism Fails as Free Markets Flourish In the Village

In 1620, the Pilgrims tried socialism – and utterly failed at it. For several years, the colony raised crops in “communal service.” It didn’t work. So Governor Bradford instituted one historic change that was to ensure the flourishing success of the colony and change American history ever afterwards. Communal agriculture was abandoned and private planting was established. Here is Bradford’s own account from the original source documents:

“This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times–that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.”

This story from our American heritage explains why private property ownership is so important. Let me give you another example of how we learned the same thing that Governor Bradford did. Those who have visited my website at sewaneecreek.com have seen that we tout our community garden.  This garden was never intended to feed Villagers, but rather serve as a place for training and social relationship building. But, even on that level, I proudly admit that the “community garden” has failed. The good news is that we recognized this early on and, like Governor Bradford, changed to something better. I built a nice raised bed garden and brought in good topsoil for the community garden.  But, because everyone in the Village has enough land to raise their own crops, it’s simply more convenient to farm closer to home. That fact, combined with what the Pilgrims discovered long ago, that socialism discourages real work, doomed the community garden even though it’s still there, ready to be worked by anyone who wants to.

What works better? Letting natural law take its natural course. We began assisting one another with gardening on our own land. That practice evolved further to helping one another with other projects. The key is that there is always a project sponsor who has a vested interest in getting something done with or improving something they own. An enlightened sponsor, interested in optimizing value, getting the job done effectively and efficiently, puts extra effort into organizing in advance. By managing it well, needed tools and materials are readily available. Know-how is acquired by study in advance of execution and necessary training is given.  This happens naturally when the objective is efficient production, not just hanging out together.  Not only does value-added work get done, but leadership and management skills are developed in the process.  The tangible results?

Example 1. Last winter, three families contributed real labor in the planting, tending and harvest of crops from the greenhouse that my family owns. The productivity of our assets increased as needed labor hours were contributed. We felt good about sharing the products of our combined labor. We had an abundance of winter vegetables including cabbage, kale, lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli and cauliflower.  At times there was much more than the three participating families could consume, and much more than our family had the prior winter, when we operated the greenhouse by ourselves.

Example 2. is actually many examples. As each family realized the benefits received when others contributed labor to THEIR sponsored/owned projects, there developed a free market of labor exchange based on trust that value given would be returned and amplified. A free market requires that kind of trust and it encourages all to give their best efforts in return SO THAT they can earn the trust and contributions of others. An essential part of FREE MARKET is FREEDOM.   No one is forced, coerced, or even made to feel guilty if they don’t opt to play in the free market. But there are natural consequences, in the form of benefits.

Here is a partial list of the products of these many small projects.

ROTATING COMMUNITY PROJECTS
(by sponsor/beneficiary – in order of arrival in Village & participation)

Family #1

  • Raised Bed Gardens Built
  • Greenhouse Built
  • Back Garden Clearing, Plowing, Planting
  • Orchard Irrigation Water Tank – overflow from RWCS
  • Deep Cycle Solar Battery Charging
  • CONEX Guest House Built
    • Insulation
    • Exterior Siding
    • Interior paint & Paneling
    • Plumbing
    • Roof
  • Power Shed
    • Concrete Foundation
    • Shed Re-Roofed
    • Lister Generator Installed
    • Wood Gasifier Installation & Training
  • Micro-Hydro-Electric Generator @ Miller’s Falls
    • drilled for Re-Bar above Waterfall for Small Dam
    • Install Weir
    • Install pen-stock

Family #2

  • Dam for Driveway and Pond Built
  • Driveway Built, Rock Surfaced
  • Outdoor Wood Furnace Installed
  • Raised Bed Gardens Built
  • Chicken Coop designed & Built
  • Rainwater Catchment Tanks installed
  • Solar PV System Installed
  • Roof Repair – Main House
  • Seed Lawn
  • Move In: Unload truck and move furniture
  • Kitchen Cabinets Finished
  • Special House Cleaning for guest visit
  • Solar Fence Installed
  • CONEX containers for shop installed,
    • Ground work, leveling
    • Windows installed
    • Trenching for electrical connection to shop

Family #3

  • Storage Shed Built
  • Raised Bed Garden Built
  • Garden Leveled and Plowed
  • Stone Retaining Wall & Garden Bed Built
  • Fallen Tree Removed
  • Chicken Coop Built
  • Installed 2 TV Antennas
  • Move In: Unload truck and move furniture
  • Rainwater Collection System Installed

Family #4

  • Put Out Large Brush Fire
  • Built Goat Shelter
  • Re-Mapped New Lot perimeter for Solar fence and Dam

Family #5

  • Raised Beds for Garden Installed
  • General Yard Clean-up during Construction

COMMUNITY PROJECTS

  • Tile Fired and Installed for Face of the Village Sign – Donated by a generous Villager
  • Planter at the Village sign, maintenance – Family #3
  • Winter Greenhouse Garden, Cabbage harvest & Kraut Processing
  • Bee Keeping
    • Monthly bee club potluck And instruction
    • Continuous learning & sharing of info re: bees
    • Hives built
    • Bees installed
    • Regular weekly rotation of bee care & feeding
  • Food Service Equipment donated for Commons, pending installation – another generous Villager

SOCIAL / CULTURAL & EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES

  • Weekly Monday Family Home Evening get-togethers for games, discussions, lessons, etc.
  • Pot Luck Dinners
    • Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving
    • Monthly Village Potluck – Rotating Venue
    • Ad Hoc – too many to count
  • Preparedness Fair (with over 15 expert presentations)
  • Preparedness Workshop (with gourmet outdoor cooking demo and feast, rock climbing and rappelling and more
  • Annual July 4th Celebration (potluck, entertainment, movies, fireworks, pig roast)
  • Summer movies under the stars @ the Village Amphitheater
  • Movies @ the Miller’s Home Theater – Too many to count
  • Plays attended together
    • Les Miserable – Nashville
    • A Mid-Summer Nights Dream – U. Of South, Sewanee
    • Julius Caesar – U. Of South, Sewanee
    • Picasso at the Lapin Agile – U. Of South, Sewanee
  • Movies away from the Village
    • Defiance – U. OF South
    • Atlas Shrugged
  • Educational presentations attended in Huntsville twice
  • Many gulf hikes, cave explorations
  • Stone Fort Park Tour – Manchester
  • Local Worm Farm Tour

Making Japanese Kaizen and American Individualism work together in the Village

If you have read my short bio, you know that I have some experience with the Japanese culture and speak fluent Japanese.  In the late 70’s, Japanese management philosophies were popular in America as our auto, electronics and optics industries were being decimated by Japanese competition.

Kaizen is a key word in Japanese philosophy.  A direct translation from the Chinese/Japanese characters “Kai” and “Zen” is “change” and “good” or in other words, to transform for the better.  As with most things Japanese, there is a deeper meaning, hinting of a unique, underlying culture.  To understand, one needs to add a few more words to the translation.  These would include patience, persistence, small, incremental and harmonious.
Deeply imbedded in the Japanese psyche is an understanding that perfection is achievable, but only in incredibly small, incremental steps, accomplished through cooperation.  Nothing great is ever achieved by a single genius in isolation or in one magnificent technical or ideological leap.

Dyed-in-the-wool American that I am, it’s hard to practice this philosophy.  By nature, I tend to be visionary, impetuous, strong-willed and impatient.  We Americans pride ourselves, above all, on rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, independence and personal initiative.  We idealize strong-willed individuals, while the Japanese idolize an amorphous group who toil upward silently in the night, never seeking or receiving personal credit but collectively achieving greatness through an uncountable series of small innovations.  That’s kaizen, or change(s) for the better.  While American heroes are individual people, the Japanese draw their heroes from nature – ants and bees.

Polar opposites, there is genius in BOTH Japanese and American world views.  Where quick, bold action is required, Americans win.  Where absolute excellence of quality, nearing perfection, is required, the Japanese approach excels.

Is it possible to practice both in a symbiotic balance?  That is the challenge of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  We are striving for a balance between opposites.
Consider our motto, “In harmony with nature and people” One might say it has a Japanese, Zen-like ring to it.  A number of Villagers even work together harmoniously to raise bees.       Bzzzzz, sounds like “nature and people in harmony”, doesn’t it?  I actually hadn’t thought of the symbolic nature of our beekeeping collaboration till just now.

On the other hand, a top stated value for the Village is self-sufficiency, independence and personal liberty.  One practical application of that value is the absolute requirement for private property ownership. Within one’s personal sphere of control, ownership begets personal accountability.

On yet another hand, we believe that collective, cooperative work optimizes effectiveness, efficiency and positive social relationships.  We observe this in action nearly every week when we rotate projects, one Villager sponsoring and leading the project and the rest chipping in.  A few weeks ago, it was my turn.  My project was framing up a new car port.  It is instantly clear as you struggle to lift both ends of a heavy beam into place, level it, and secure it, that a team of 2 or more beats a single laborer no matter how skilled or determined.  Where there is clear leadership and willing follower-ship, once again there is harmony as well as efficient achievement.

Both Leaders and followers are important in any task involving more than one person.  But, we find that achieving long-term harmony requires that all who want to lead must have a fair opportunity to do so.  By regularly trading project leadership, each participant grows and is built along with the building projects we undertake.  Each participant has an opportunity to improve their people and relationship skills including both how to lead and how to follow.

Each also has the opportunity to express their creative side on the property they own and control.  That brings out the best of our American spirit of ingenuity, vision, and can-do attitude.

One of the big lessons I have been forced to learn is that quality takes time and continuous improvement.  Through the contributions of many, both in physical labor and inspired ideas for improvements, each day is a challenge to make things a little better.  In the Village, we enjoy the pleasure of seeing our personal labors translated into physical improvements before our eyes.  No doubt, it’s nice to be able to call up a professional and order a nice improvement done.  But there is a special satisfaction that comes only by being able to say, “I did that”.  Even better if you can say, “We did that.”  At the end of a productive day, working together on something that will be yours for a long time, the tired smiles are priceless.

If this is the kind of harmonious, productive life you have always dreamed of, drop me a line here.

The Power of Small Moments

I have often blogged on the importance of making a difference by thinking small, or rather, local.  Meaning, if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.  Gandhi’s “BE the change you want to see” is the universal starting point.  Failing to do so has delivered to us a shallow culture of hypocrisy and deeply ingrained corruption from the highest levels of boardrooms to the shop floor, from congress and the presidency to the local planning commission or school board.  Epidemic corruption makes for profound distrust, breeding systemic, deeply ingrained cynicism.

The longing for Values and Integrity is why many Friends of Sewanee Creek have told me they are drawn to the dream of living in a community of people who genuinely care for one another, hard-working people of strong, traditional core values, people who are civil and respectful to each other even, or especially, when they don’t agree or have conflicting interests.  That dream can only be realized when each of us commits to be the shining example of the community we want to be in.

That starts with me.  As the obviously imperfect founder of the Village, the self-imposed burden of self-examination can be daunting.  The worst kind of cynicism can be the loss of trust or self-respect that comes from failing to meet one’s own standards to perfection.  And . . . nobody wants to hang out with cynics.

While each of us does our best to live to high standards and values, it is important to think SMALL as well as local.  We need to recognize that it is often the small acts of kindness or civility that can make the biggest difference.

This morning, I ran across an article titled, “The Power of Small Moments”. It got me thinking of the huge task I have set for myself of building a culture of goodness in the Village, let alone the daunting task of being a shining example of what I want to see.  I found it oddly comforting.  I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.

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.

Fear Mongering?

I found this TED presentation fascinating, as much for the audience reaction as for the information conveyed.
On YouTube there are, at this writing, 515 likes and 794 dislikes.

Among the YouTube comments, there is a refreshing amount of critical thinking and legitimate dislikes over some of the solutions  Goodman suggests and even his self-interest-promoting motives.

  • Good idea to re-engineer the genes of world leaders to make them invulnerable super-people?  Hmmm…. seems like a pretty bad idea to me.  Maybe the world leaders are the real terrorists?  In fact, I’m pretty sure many of them are.
  • Open source everything, including everybody’s genome?  No thanks.  Think I’ll try to keep that to myself as long as I can.
  • Turn everybody into vigilante mob cops?  Welllll… there are some problems here too, although neighborhood watch groups have been a pretty good thing for some time.

On the other hand, even with all the communications and coordination technology used by the terrorists in Mumbai, I wonder how successful ten guys would have been at killing hundreds of people in a luxury hotel and shutting down the city had all of the guests been personally armed and well-trained.

Here’s one case where Occam’s Razor seems to apply, where the more complex things become, the simplest and most straight-forward solution is the best one.

Liberals who responded negatively to this piece frequently suggested pre-emptive work to identify and help criminals not to become criminals.  That would be nice.  And, of course, there was the argument that the real problem is poverty.  If we could just put all our efforts into lifting people out of the ghetto, we could have a utopian society where crime would not be necessary.  As I have said elsewhere, I like nice, uplifting thoughts that often come from liberals with good intentions and positive, optimistic viewpoints.  But the pragmatic side of me says, point me to one example where that has worked in the real world.  (Again, see Occam’s Razor)

History says there always have been, are and always will be bad people motivated by power and greed and some who are just vanilla psychotic.  The smart and wealthy ones will be the most dangerous in a world dominated by high-tech innovation.  There must be adequate deterrents for them and protections for the rest of us.  Small, underfunded, slow response, remote police forces won’t be up to the challenge.    Don’t believe it?  How about cell-phone/text coordinated flash-mob gang robberies of stores in big cities that have become routine police nightmares?  Similarly, it’s doubtful that well-intended social engineers who want to reform all the bad guys will be up to the task, especially against the smart, well-financed bad guys (drug lords, world leaders and garden variety terrorists).

Liberal, anti-gun enthusiasts  love to cry “Fear Mongering”, believing it to be the modern equivalent of “Wolf”.  Many commented on YouTube, with a touch of sarcastic ennui, “What’s new? Technology can and always has been used for good and evil.”  as if to say in true Alfred E. Newman style, “What, me worry?”  But, if there is anything that rings true about Goodman’s talk, it is that the stakes and the risks are increasing at an alarming rate.

On a happier note, if you believe the majority of people are actually good and the bad guys are in the minority, as I do, why not put some trust in the good guys?  Arm them, train them well, not only in gun handling, but in positive ethics.  The Swiss seem to have a handle on this, where the general population is disciplined and  trained to be responsible for their own lives.  Guns are handled with great respect and crime is extremely low because the deterrent is high.  To acquiesce to a few well-armed criminals while distrusting a well-educated, well-trained majority is, in my view, the ultimate in pessimism. Unbecoming of a true, good-hearted liberal.  For a thinking person, the natural response to the scenario where the bad guys are the only ones armed with technology and weapons is not “fear mongering”.   It’s just rational, useful fear.

If I wanted to Save America

  • I would start with me.
  • I would focus on my strengths, I would strengthen my self-sufficiency.  I would prepare for whatever might come my way.
  • I would assert my independence, my freedom to do what I believe to be right.
  • I would listen carefully for what God wants me to do and be.
  • I would “BE the change I want to see.”
  • I would join with or build a community made up of  people who can convince me that they truly want to be what I want to be.
  • I would watch their backs and expect them to watch mine.
  • I would teach others to be strong, to have courage and hope.
  • I would stop whining about the Federal government, because it’s past what I can change, but I would change what I can, locally.
  • I would “Act like an American, the kind of American that my father and Grandfather and their forefathers were.

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If I wanted America to Fail

This video has gone viral.
But it offers no solutions.
Focus on action, not fear.

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What kind of American are you?

Watch this for another shot of courage. . . and wisdom

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A Different Sort of Courage

Common wisdom: Courage is assertion in the face of risk.

But sometimes, courage requires us to shut up when we disagree, let others express themselves without interruption, and still others to carry the burden of my debate.  To trust that truth may lie outside my own consciousness, that it will only be revealed by others is to trust in the worthiness of opponents, friends and strangers.

The courage of humility is to wait, to hope, to listen.

The fruit of Courageous Humility is Uncommon Wisdom.

Quarter Horse Parable

Many of you who have visited the Village, if you were lucky, got to meet Joe.   He’s a local who does a lot of work here.   Joe is an expert with horses as well as an expert trader. A few days ago, knowing nothing about horses myself, Joe told me a little about his favorite, the quarter horse.
According to Joe:
The Quarter horse is a powerful, sensitive breed. They respond only to the lightest touch on the reigns, but are among the most brilliant, agile performers. They are the breed used in rodeos, barrel racing, cattle roping, all activities that need precision and power.  Joe buys and sells lots of junk horses. Most cycle through rapidly. He has one that just keeps coming back. With each trade, Joe makes a little money. Ironically, this one is his favorite.  It’s a keeper and it’s a quarter horse.  He sells it and then re-buys it for a lower price when the new owner discovers that it is un-ridable. That’s because people who are used to less sensitive and responsive animals tend to horse them around – meaning that they use gross, rough jerks on the reigns and gouge with their feet. Quarter horses respond to rough treatment with an equally rough ride.

It takes me a while to process information like that. This morning I awoke with a lovely thought. Good people are a lot like a good quarter horse. They are bright, sensitive, hard-working, responsive to a light touch, but may buck under a rough hand. Because I sometimes view myself as ineffective, an unskilled horseman, I often feel that people don’t understand what I’m saying or respond as I would like.  When I feel that way, the tendency is to be less sensitive myself, to tug on the reigns too hard or dig in with the spurs. Almost inevitably, that brings on a rough ride.

That thought reminded me of Christ, quietly writing in the dirt.  A gentle suggestion, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  The accusers who were ready to stone the adulterous woman melt away.  He turns to the woman and gently asks, “where are your accusers?” Then, I can imagine he said lovingly, almost in a whisper, “I don’t condemn you either. Go your way and sin no more”.

Good people are like a good quarter horse and the adulterous woman. Imperfect, sinful, like everyone else, but humble and sensitive, ready to respond to a gentle touch with power and grace. It’s a lesson I struggle with over and over. Today, I will try to remember Joe’s parable of the quarter horse and live with a lighter touch.

I am so thankful that I live with a constant, perfect example of the gentle touch, my dear wife, Becky.

Surround yourself with Extraordinary People

What do you want to surround yourself with?
I wanted to write something for you about this, so I Googled “surround yourself with” and here is the advice that came up on the first page.

I agree.  I NEED to surround myself with the best, the extraordinary, so that I can become my best.  That’s easier said than done.  It takes work to attract and keep the best in your life, especially if you are looking for people who are better than you are.  I have spent the last five years of my life with that single-minded goal, to attract extraordinary people to the Village.  Our list of permanent residents is still small, but it includes people of extraordinary talents, skills, accomplishments, experiences and character traits.   To name a few, these highly accomplished people, all with post-graduate degrees in their field and stellar life accomplishments, include among their skills:  published philosopher and writer, chemist, plant geneticist, musician, Sr. business executive, successful entrepreneur, web developer, teacher, world travelers, electronics/communications expert, linguists, etc.  If you include those who have purchased land but have not yet built and moved in, the list becomes too long.  Overlaid on these skills are values of hard work, positive thinking, humility, mental toughness, creativity, generosity, mutual caring, independence, self-sufficiency and a strong desire to be part of a cohesive, sharing community.

Have you noticed that on my website, the request for information page includes a text box that asks an unusual question?  “Tell us a little about why you are interested in living in the Village on Sewanee Creek and what you would bring to the community as a neighbor.”  Do you know of ANY other developments where land is offered for sale, but applicants are asked to justify their contribution in terms other than dollars?

I don’t refer to myself as a “developer”.   My primary focus is building this community, so my business card says simply “founder”.  Unlike developers whose work focuses exclusively on subdividing, meeting government codes and selling, I actually live here and have different, vested, personal interests.  So I spend the bulk of my time blogging to attract extraordinary people, then interviewing and observing to understand whether they would be happy and contribute here.  When a person buys land in the Village, only a little of the value they are getting is in dirt, trees, creeks and a nice view.  They are buying years of my single-minded labor to assemble a community, a circle of extraordinary people.  For some, it is hard to recognize tangible dollar value in that.  Those who think the above quotes are only nice platitudes won’t join us in the Village.   They are unlikely to commit to the lifestyle we aspire to or even discover my website with its carefully crafted key search words.  And that is good.  We aren’t looking for average people who have money but don’t get it.

For those who strive to surround themselves with greatness, with people who will lift you higher, people who are like-minded, passionate, intelligent, creative and so on, to these the beautiful land is a nice incidental.

That Village residents understand and value this was recently demonstrated to me by one of them.  We were on an outing together to Nashville to see my favorite play, Les Miserable.  As we drove together I took the opportunity to discuss some community business.  I mentioned that property values in the Village have stayed significantly higher than any nearby as indicated by recent sales.  I sought their views on changes to the covenants because I want to make them as minimally restrictive as I can while maintaining the beauty, tranquility and productivity of the Village.  A Villager with two young children dismissed higher property values.  “Resale value is irrelevant to me”, he said.  “I plan to live here the rest of my life.”  Then he added, “I just want to be sure you will continue to be selective with the quality of my new neighbors.”  BTW, this young, extraordinary man is our post-graduate philosopher/writer/entrepreneur and I would say he gets it.

AUSTERE but WITHOUT FEAR – A Message from Sendai, Japan

I lived in Japan for two years (1971-1972) and returned there many many times over the years on business. The Japanese people are amazing.  Since the morning I learned of the quakes and tsunami, I have been in touch with close Japanese friends via FaceBook and Twitter – glimpses of quiet, stoic courage.

A friend forwarded this letter to me this morning from a lady who lives there, but is apparently not Japanese by birth.  Her reflections on life in the aftermath describe what is happening there more fully, simply beautiful. Despite deprivations, this letter recounts people living even more richly than before – on a different level.  It’s amazing to think how different life experiences have prepared me to be where I am today.  To see what life can be, and hopefully will be like in the Village minus the calamities, read on.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Hello My Lovely Family and Friends,

First I want to thank you so very much for your concern for me. I am very touched. I also wish to apologize for a generic message to you all. But it seems the best way at the moment to get my message to you.

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.

Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, “Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another.”

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not.

No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun.

People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.

The mountains around Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently. And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my friend’s husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me,

With Love in return, to you all,
Anne

More background on Anne:  http://scribbler.ca/?p=192

Top 10 Self-Sufficiency and Survival Skills

These days a lot of folks are thinking about how to survive tough times ahead.  It’s tempting to end your short list after a stash of food, and an assault rifle with plenty of ammo.  Good luck!  In a pinch, it’s not the things you have as much as the skills you have that will be your most valuable assets.  By the way, since it takes years to acquire all the necessary skills for provident, abundant living, I recommend adding COMMUNITY as a pre-requisite to an attempt to become truly self-sufficient.  You will find that the task is much less daunting and the journey more enjoyable if you work with other like-minded people to divide, conquer and share the spoils of your efforts.

Whether you want to move into rural America or stay put in the suburbs, here are some skills you will need whether or not TSHTF.

# 1 Grow Fresh, Wholesome Food

Most people have some experience gardening even if it was just watching a bean grow in a Styrofoam cup way back in kindergarten.  But could you live off of what you grow?  It’s definitely possible.  Our first summer garden in the Village provided us with roughly 80% of everything we ate, but we learned in subsequent seasons that doing it consistently can be challenging.   We added a 2,000 square foot green house, intending to grow food year round and found that it was a whole different animal… uh vegetable.  It takes time to build up soil quality, learn what grows best in your area, how to control insects, crop rotation and a myriad of other complex and inter-related issues. 

Fortunately, gardening is the single most popular hobby in the USA, so you know that it’s rewarding and you can swap knowledge with lots of people.  Agricultural colleges operate an Extension Service in most counties where you can get tons of useful, local information and soil analysis.  Local farmer’s coops are a great source for tools, fertilizer and seeds.  But your best source of information will be your neighbors who have successfully grown food for years.  They know local soils and weather patterns and where to buy or trade non-GMO heritage seeds.

Extend your garden with permaculture methods by planting a fruit and nut orchard that will yield abundant crops year after year without tilling and planting.  But start soon.  Developing a productive small-scale farm takes time.

#2.  Learn to Weld

Learning to weld is easy, especially if you use a MIG wire-fed welder. Just adjust the wire feed speed and voltage to match the thickness of steel you are welding.  You can get the hang of it with just a little practice and a few tips from a friend who knows how.  Community colleges often offer inexpensive classes on Welding. One near us is also certifying welders for work at nuclear plants in Alabama and NE Tennessee. 

I bought a little 120V MIG welder at Harbor Freight for about $100.  It’s a good idea to stock up on a bunch of flux wire.  Not a bad investment as inflation kicks in, especially on commodity intensive stuff like steel.  I use my little welder a lot and liked it so much that I bought a second one that runs off of 220V current and can do deeper welds.  It was about $180. 

If you haven’t welded before you will be amazed at how often you will use it, whether in a survival situation or just doing some DIY repairs around the house or shop.  Then again, you can barter or start your own small welding business for some extra cash.

For real self-reliance you might want a portable generator/welder combo. You can find these for sale all the time on www.governmentliquidation.com or, just use one of the generators you already have.  When we built the amphitheater stage, we added a 40’ container with massive doors that open to a big movie screen and lock closed to house the barbecue and A/V equipment.  It’s in a scenic, remote location at the Village. My 7KW Honda generator and MIG welder worked great.  I’m now putting the finishing touches on a guest house built from two shipping containers.  If you plan to do any welding on this scale, I also recommend getting a plasma cutter, also available inexpensively from Harbor Freight.

#3 Learn Basic Carpentry and Home Repair Skills

Start with some DIY projects around the house.  Build a deck, a shed or a playhouse.  Building it plumb, square and level are the basics and are easily learned. Ask a friend who has some carpentry skills to help out.  The Amish don’t have a patent on community barn raising.  It’s a great way to learn, build something great in a short time and bond with resourceful friends. 

Any long-term crisis requires these skills.  Even in good times there are plenty of opportunities for the service-minded person to enjoy helping a widow or single parent in need.  I have found there is nothing more satisfying than building or fixing something well.  Carpentry, Electrical and Plumbing skills will all be in demand.  Having learned some of these skills from a friend, if you are the one on the block who knows how to fix stuff it’s your turn to make a lot of friends quickly.

 #4 Learn To Trap and Hunt

Hunting is one of those basic survival skills that have also found their way into mainstream recreation. There are plenty of hunters around.  You need to make sure you are one of them so some of the local game finds its way onto your table and not someone else’s.  This is a skill that takes time to master.  It’s not just about marksmanship.  It requires one to understand the movement patterns of animals in the wild – the where and when of their eating, drinking, sleeping, communication and mating patterns. 

Since we have an abundance of hunting land right here in the Village, it has been easy to barter for hunting lessons with good hunters for the right to hunt here.  I think that’s a far superior learning method to book or video learning because it’s local.  But traditional learning methods have their place too.

Trapping gives you a more reliable, efficient way to get fresh meat.  Traps and snares work while you work at something else or sleep. Traps can cover a wide area. A hunter can sit in a tree stand all day and not see a thing.  If you are more interested in dinner than sport as I am, trapping is for you.

There are a lot of different types of Snares, Live/Box traps, leg hold traps and body gripper traps. Each has a different purpose and different methods that need to be learned for trapping anything from small game like rabbits or squirrels, to large game like deer or feral hogs to nuisance animals like coyotes, beaver or raccoons.

Look for a local Trappers Association and join up for their mailing list, workshops or just some fun outings.

 #5 Learn how to Butcher Animals

This skill is a natural, not only for hunters and trappers.  Near the Village there are several small farms that raise grass fed or free range livestock (beef, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc.) One of our Villagers is an avid carnivore.  He’s in the process of buying more land from me, planning to raise his own beef.  I lowered the price a bit with an option to keep a cow of mine in his pasture land.  Butchering skills come in handy for significantly reducing the cost of bringing your beef (or chickens or wild game) from the field to your dinner table.

The first time I butchered a deer, I was pretty clueless.  It was a partial road kill, with a broken back it limped onto my property and I needed to learn quickly.  That deer made it into my freezer and we enjoyed the venison, but it wasn’t pretty.  Later a hunting friend showed me how.  Learning how to properly butcher and store animals for meat is a skill that everyone wanting to be self-sufficient should have.

 #6 Fish for Food

This isn’t about trophy or pleasure fishing where a secondary objective is to have a nice nap in the sun. You need to be able to bring in a quantity of fish reliably and fast.  First, buy and learn how to use trotlines, fish traps and nets.  Then learn how to make your o  wn.

Like trapping, a good trotline can be left to do your fishing while you build a barn or chop firewood.  And when you return, you’re likely to find several fresh fish on the same line just waiting to be fried up or smoked.

In spawning season, many fish will school up and move together.  My wife and I have enjoyed a salmon run on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.  Many other freshwater lake and river fish like Walleye, Bass, Stripers and Crappie have similar spawning behaviors you can take advantage of.

Google trawl and gill nets for supplies you need.

Warning!  These techniques may be illegal where you are. Be familiar with local regulations.  But then, if it comes to a choice of a potential fine versus hungry kids, well… you decide.

#7 Gunsmithing – Learn To Repair Guns

For the aspiring Survivalist or Self Reliant person, having a variety of guns for various purposes is a no-brainer, whether for hunting or defense.  Knowing how to clean, repair, site and adjust guns is probably just as important as knowing how to use them.  Any  guy who has been through basic military training remembers that one of the first things you learn is how to disassemble, clean and reassemble your weapon efficiently so it will work properly? No shortcuts when your life depends on it.  Keep basic spare parts for your guns and learn how to fix each one if it breaks.

Many Video’s and Books on Gunsmithing can be found on Amazon or Brownell’s. Pick ones that cover your gun types.

#8 Operate a HAM Radio

We decided early on that having someone in the Village with communications skills and equipment is important.  With the many skills I need to master, we decided another Villager would take this on.  He happens to be my brother who is just finishing his house.  Since he already had his license, this decision was easy.  For now, he has a good portable HAM, but he’s planning to install a fixed unit with tall antenna.  I plan to get my license when I can get to it.  In a disaster, a HAM radio is your communications lifeline to the outside World.  To appreciate its importance, there was a great TV survival mini-series a few years ago called Jericho.  You can find it on Hulu.com.

Last year, the requirements for a HAM radio operator’s license became a lot easier.  No Morse code is required.  A few hours study and pass an online test and you’re on your way.  Then, join a local club for practice and to build a resilient network.

  #9 Advanced First Aid

“Knowing advanced life saving first aid skills should be the goal of every person who is prepping for life.   And I’m talking about skills that go above and beyond those taught in basic first aid classes.

Learn how to treat major wounds, such as a sucking chest wound, until help can arrive. Could you set a broken bone? How about removing a bullet? It’s not as simple as some macho guy on TV makes it look. You’ll have to assume at one point during a crisis, you’re first aid skills will be needed. If not by you, then possibly by a family member or friend. You may be their only hope for surviving.”
The Survival, Emergency Preparedness and Self Reliance Blog

  #10 Small Engine Repair

Small engines provide most of the power that makes self-sufficient living enjoyable and even doable for folks of our time.  As I look around our homestead, I’m surprised to count the number of small engines I use.  (Chain Saws, 4-Wheeler ATV, Generators, Pumps, Air Compressors, Saw Mill, Rototillers, and the list goes on)

Knowing how to repair any of these small engines is a huge plus because it seems they’re always breaking down.  Because we’re in the country there are a number of small engine repairmen I can and do depend on, many more per capita than you would find in a big city.  Most people around here use small engines a lot.  But in a crisis situation, good repairmen may be overwhelmed.  Your local community college may offer classes on basic and advanced small engine repair. Once you’ve learned the basics, the rest is a piece of cake.

Auto repair has elements of Small Engine repair skills, and I’m tempted to include it here, but in a real crisis I’m thinking of getting back to alternative modes of transportation.  Automatic transmissions or sophisticated electronics built into most newer model cars are way beyond the reach of today’s shade tree mechanics.  If I can fix the small engine on my 4-wheeler that will get me by for transportation within a ten to fifteen mile radius, that will do, especially if I have more than one vehicle.  I do have an older model 4-wheel drive stick shift, carbureted vehicle.  It’s great for off-road use or on icy roads.  And, for those wanting to be prepared in case of an EMP attack, it has no sensitive electronics that could be fried by a massive pulse.  For this older vehicle, small engine repair skills will get me a long way.  Then, of course I could go back to horse and buggy days as some around here do.  I know where to buy a saddle horse for almost nothing.  Come to think of it, where the cost of gas is headed, that might not be a bad idea.

At a minimum, you should be able to change a tire, and change out parts that frequently break like starters, alternators, water and fuel pumps. If you can’t do these simple chores, you’d better have money or another vehicle to rely upon should one go down.

This is my top 10 list.  It is only the start if you want to be truly self-sufficient.  To give credit where credit is due, I got inspiration for this article from a like-minded blogger on The Survival, Emergency Preparedness and Self Reliance Blog.  My list is a bit different from his, so you might want to visit there for more ideas and a different slant.

 

#11 Food Preservation

Yes, there are many other important skills I couldn’t squeeze into the top 10.  I’ll sneak in one more.  Food Preservation is really important because in most climates your winter garden won’t satisfy all your needs for fresh food.  Food preservation includes Canning, Smoking, Dehydrating, Salting, Pickling, Root Cellars, Refrigeration/Freezing and much more.  Maybe I’ll do a list of the next 10 another time and lead off with this one.

Like-minded vs. group-think

Working towards creating what some would call an intentional community, I am often told by interested folks that they want to live with “like-minded” people.  Since I learned early in life that words often don’t mean the same thing to different people, I have been interested to know what “like-minded” means.

Does it mean?:

  • We agree on everything?
  • Faced with similar situations we always come up with the same solution?
  • We have all the same beliefs on politics, religion and other controversial topics?
  • Our world view is identical as to the cause, effect and solutions for evil or social injustice?
  • We are focused on achieving all the same objectives?
  • Our methods for dealing with problems are the same?

If any of the above represents a proper definition of “like-minded”, I fear that finding any two like-minded people in this world may be a daunting task.  Even within a group of devout believers of a narrow religious sect, reaching complete unity of thought is extremely difficult as illustrated by the failure rate of intentional communities when group or leader-imposed unity of thought and action is the single-minded goal.

So, while living with like-minded people sounds like a nice place to be, in practice it is difficult to define, let alone live. 

Take “like-minded” in another direction and I also wondered if it might mean “group-think” in a negative sense.  Is it healthy for everyone to think the same?  Think lemmings.  Think Jonestown, drinking the cool aid and mass suicide.  In these cases, wouldn’t independent, rational thinking have been a better solution?

Does that mean we should abandon the notion “like-minded” altogether?

 I think not.

What brings “like-minded” back down to earth from the ethereal heights of utopian ideal is its interpretation in terms of broad principles instead of detailed tactics.  When people deeply share and are committed to good principles and values like honesty, sharing, love, service to others or unselfishness, their daily actions reflect their core thoughts and beliefs.  They may define themselves politically as conservative or liberal, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or hold even more extreme or unpopular views.  But if they choose to treat each other with deep respect, love, concern and they choose to serve one another with all their hearts, why should it matter that we hold different views on issues outside our immediate relationships?  These differences are the things that bring spice to a conversation, enlightenment to a thinker, breadth and depth of thought.  The unchallenged mind is a lazy mind.  Let us, therefore, welcome diversity of thought, but strive for unity in purpose, values and principles that uplift and build us as individuals and as a community.

This kind of “like-minded” is something to like.

A Life Transformed – Part 2

Part II: Dreams

            My summer in the garden changed my vision for my future almost entirely. Things about which I had rarely thought suddenly became central to my idea of happiness. Food was one of those. Being blessed with the opportunity to eat so much whole, real, home-grown food has deeply convinced me of its importance. In just the past few years since we moved here, my family has developed a simple, but unique food culture that gives me a physical, tangible connection to this place as I move on to college and other chapters of my life. I’ve even told my parents that for my graduation present the only thing I want is a supply of our home-canned vegetable soup mix, salsa, Mom’s apple sauce, and, of course, green beans. My everyday breakfast of homemade yogurt and the delicious mainstay of homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam are traditions I plan to carry on. I’ve learned here how powerful food, especially whole, healthy, real food, can be to bring families and communities together.

            Now, when I look at my family’s garden, I see a great deal more than plants that give me nourishment. I see a visual representation of my connection to my family and to this place and of my own personal growth. I see a teacher that has many more lessons for me, lessons about simplicity, gratitude, humility, discipline, perseverance, respect, inner peace, the importance of connections, gentleness, caring, observation, hard work, independence, and love. I truly believe that, as Masanobu Fukuoka teaches, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation of human beings.” Growing food is about growing yourself.

            But most exciting, when I look at my garden I see my dreams for the future connections I hope to share between myself, the land, and my own family. When I look at the corn field I can hear the taps of my toddlers’ feet and the excited squeals of their game of “peek-a-boo” between the stalks. I can imagine their dad calling them over to help him stuff one of his old shirts for a scarecrow and a precocious 3-year-old telling them they’re doing it wrong. I can see myself buried in a mass of green bean vines until I feel a tap on my shoulder; my little son’s face is glowing with pride at the huge carrot he has just picked. I look now at the tiny fruit trees we planted a year ago and imagine them tall and strong enough to hold little climbers eager for the first ripe apple of the season.

My glimpses have spilled over from the garden spot to encompass all of our land. I envision a driveway lined completely with blueberries and raspberries, flowerbeds filled with sweet potatoes in front of the porch. The house itself is very small, but always warm and filled with light and laughter and people rushing in and out. I can feel the rush of summer air as someone opens the back door to bring in another basket of green beans to snap. “Grandma” is taking a batch of her famous whole wheat bread out of the oven (the smell is to die for) and “Grandpa” is sitting in an armchair serenading us with his saxophone. Someone hops on the piano bench and it becomes a regular jam session. It’s harvest time, and there are tables set up everywhere for slicing cucumbers and peeling peaches. My brother and his wife are there canning their peaches and pickles with us. More probably gets eaten than goes into the bottles, but there’s more than plenty. With all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there are several conversations going on at once. The floor is kind of sticky in spots from where someone has absent mindedly knocked over the syrup for canning peaches. In the evening everyone helps clean up the kitchen and take dinner out to the back porch, where we sit until sunset.

            In my dream all of the people who mean most to me share my love for and connection to the land on which we live. I’m able to instill the importance of that connection in my children, and our whole family grows together through our experiences in the garden. It’s an important bond that we share and the memories of our summers together shape us all and keep us coming home, no matter what other far-ranging adventures life may have in store for us. We are made of this place. The very food we eat is made of the love we put into the garden. The garden is a place of Renewal from life’s stresses and hardships, Freedom from the pressures of the world, a Place to call home, a Refuge from pain, the Memory of golden days, the Peace of silence, the laughter of a Community, the promise of Justice, and the Transformation of the soul.

Personal Freedom, Creativity and Work

“Everything that is really great and INSPIRING is CREATED by the INDIVIDUAL who can LABOR in FREEDOM.”

 Albert Einstein

In this quote, Einstein pulls together several of my most cherished themes (emphasis is mine). I feel most inspired when I can create something with my own mind and hands. It may not be ground breaking to someone else. But to me, it is beautiful. It makes my life happy. I feel inspired.

Yesterday was one such example. I worked all day beside my neighbor, Joe. We put up the frame for a dock on my brother’s pond. That simple installation was part of several other solutions.  We now have an inexpensive valve system for a 4″ pipe that won’t freeze and break in the winter, a place to fish from in the summer and overflow control for the dam. I can look forward to extending that big pipe from the bottom of the dam to a micro-hydro generator. I think we finished it in time to let the pond re-fill before summer sets in and to stock it with lots of catfish.  All together, it’s a very simple, yet elegant solution that took time and several iterations to figure out and implement, culminating in a sense of satisfaction.

We also restarted the wood furnace and routed hot water through an old car radiator with a fan behind it to heat a greenhouse cold frame tunnel within the bigger greenhouse. I was surprised by the amount of heat it puts out and how efficient the solution is. I went to bed last night feeling good. What a blessing it is to be able to work and create on my own land with my own hands. One of the reasons it is important for Villagers to own their land is that essential element of personal accountability. Without that, it becomes too easy in an intentional community to expect others to carry the load. One must give in order to receive. As the scripture says, “Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread … of the laborer.”   Upon achieving a measure of self-sufficiency based on one’s own labors, it becomes even more fulfilling to help others. 

Finally, Einstein speaks of freedom.  How wonderful to be able to make my own choices and either enjoy or suffer the consequences of my own thoughts and actions.  Out in the country, I feel so much more free than in a suburb where everyone is looking over my shoulder, judging every action or inaction, and the epitome of creative labor is how well and often my lawn is mowed.

Community -The Value of People

I get calls all the time from people saying they are looking for a community of “like-minded people”.  It seems that has become a cliche’.  Like most buzz words, it’s worth digging a little deeper to find out what it means to the person using it.   A wise man said, “the map is not the territory”.

The Village is all about making a place to live where people share similar, bedrock values especially caring about and being able to depend on their neighbors.  That takes a lot of work.  It means I have to explore their map of reality below the surface cliche’s.  Fortunately, by the time most people call me they are pre-screened.  They have found us by searching on some important key words.  They know they want a self-sufficient lifestyle and they want community.  They aren’t very interested in a superficial country club lifestyle where everybody wants to flaunt their wealth.  Most of the time, they are busy professionals, intelligent, successful folks with solid values who want to simplify.  They have usually read my blog, so the field has already been narrowed to a select few with a pretty good fit – compatible values.  But even then, I’m not shy about telling people who wouldn’t fit that they might be happier with a different kind of community.  Why?  Because I live here and I’m building the kind of place where I want to live for the rest of my life.  Great relationships with people are more important than money.  People are more important than things.

In hard times especially, people need to draw together.  Trusting relationships are everything.  This message seems to be resonating with people more and more as the economy looks ever more shaky and the government looks ever more out of control.  At a time when most luxury resort type communities haven’t sold anything for a year and are going bust, we are growing rapidly.

If you call or visit, there is no high pressure sales pitch.  Even before we show you around, we like to sit and chat for a while – explore your “map”, your values, your goals and aspirations.  Before you fall in love with the land we want to know that you will love the kind of people who are here.

We offer a private website where villagers, prospective villagers, contractors, and even neighbors from outside our “non-exclusive” development can get to know one another and share their views, ask each other candid questions and make sure this is where they want to be.  I have even offered to set up conference calls between prospective and current villagers to explore the fit.  It’s a slow process and it risks killing sales, but I think it’s worth it.  After all, making a move like this is a big change for most people.  There’s more to a happy life than a nice secluded house nestled in nature’s beauty.  You’re not buying dirt and trees, you’re hoping to buy a happy life.  We do everything we can to assure that will happen for our Villagers … and for ourselves.