Building a New Village home, a piece of cake

My mother celebrated her 90th birthday a week ago, Saturday. Building her a new home in the Village has been almost as easy as her birthday cake. The Saturday before her birthday, we visited the modular home factory at Blue Ridge Log Cabins where we ordered her a new home. To say I was impressed is an understatement. The factory is state-of-the-art and the quality of their product is outstanding.

My mother’s new home will be ready to ship in just 6 weeks from date of order, complete with everything, including appliances. It will be installed on my property about 50 feet from my brother, George’s house.

Friday before our trip to the factory, I called Jim, a friend and contractor who lives down the road, to let him know of our plans.
Monday morning, he was on site with a crew of about 8, a dozer, backhoe, trencher, bobcat and misc. other equipment. By end of day, the footings for the foundation, the pit for the septic tank and septic field lines were dug, power and water lines were stubbed out. Tuesday, the rebar-reinforced foundation was poured and the septic system finished. A week later, after the concrete had cured and rain storms had passed, the block mason laid the concrete block and baseplate for the crawl space.

I was amazed and delighted at how quickly and easily the prep work for the new house was completed. A month ahead of scheduled delivery, we are ready for installation. The prep work came in about $1,500 under the quote, no down payment, paid in cash upon completion. Years of building relationships and experience in the Village have paid off for us and those that follow in the Village.  Inquire about the Village here.

This will be the second blue-ridge log cabin for the Village, and the third modular home. In the last decade or so, modular construction has come into its own. On time, on budget with superior quality and no hassles. You can have a customized home without the dread and nightmares that normally accompany new home on-site construction.

We will actually need to ask Blue Ridge to delay delivery a bit so I can be free after the semester ends and I finish grading finals for my class at the University of the South. Then, I can be there for the install while George and Mom are in California packing for the move.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.

 

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.

Making BioChar for our small farm

BioChar Ovens

BioChar Ovens

We have a weekly tradition of trading projects in the Village, where one family chooses a project and others chip in.  This week, we built biochar ovens (sometimes called kilns or retorts) out of 55-gallon steel barrels.  Using a plasma cutter, it was a breeze cutting and assembling these ovens.   Weather cooperating, we plan our first biochar making session this Saturday.  We invite Villagers and visitors from the local community to join us.

Biochar, also known as Tera Preta, was discovered in the Amazon Jungle a few years back.  Apparently biochar production and use as a soil amendment was practiced by a lost pre-Colombian civilization.  The discoverers noticed that in a patch of cleared jungle land, the rich, black soil was incredibly productive where the surrounding soil was dead.  Upon excavating, they discovered that this black soil was also amazingly deep, having been artificially manufactured over generations.

“The burning and natural decomposition of biomass and in particular agricultural waste adds large amounts of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere. Biochar can store large amounts of greenhouse gases in the ground; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old-growth forests.” – Wikipedia

Our soil tends to be acidic, so the addition of a ph raising amendment, like biochar is a big plus.  In addition to sequestration of carbon and other minerals beneficial to food crops, biochar is also noted for its tiny nooks and crannies that provide habitat for beneficial bacteria that enhance soil quality and structure.

The process of producing biochar from wood also releases clean syngas, that can be used as fuel in internal combustion engines.  We make electricity using a generator fueled by wood gas.  So many benefits from one process!

There is still much to be learned about how and why biochar works as a soil amendment.  But, as a community, we decided it’s well worth testing, contributing to the body of knowledge, reaping the benefits in our small farms and creating another source of green revenue by producing it in reasonably large quantities.

Here is a video that explains the system we built.  Have fun with this.  We are.

BTW, if you’re someone who enjoys being self-sufficient, building things, and the company of other creative, industrious folks, you might want to join us permanently.  We’re a community of interesting, accomplished people who care about each other.  Contact us here.

 

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.

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.

Our Local Currency, An Alternative to Barter in Tennessee

Here, on the Southern Cumberland Plateau, there have been a number of recent attempts to establish a barter community.  One uses Face Book to publish barter opportunities, but it has become just an online yard sale.  A local farmer’s market accepts food stamps and engages in some barter.  Craig’s List offers a section for barter.  Old time rural residents of Grundy, Marion and Franklin Counties have been adept for years at striking good barter bargains.  But the fact remains that barter is difficult.  Matching two needs to two haves occurs rarely and usually with a lot of unsatisfying compromise.  All advanced civilizations rely on some form of universal currency to grease the wheels of commerce and stimulate trade within the economy.

And what of “the economy”?  How’s it going out there?    Even a casual observer will notice that “the economy” is increasingly distant.  Globalization has expanded the marketplace for goods, services, finance, labor and everything else far beyond our reach or control.  One impact of globalization is that it seems the only export growth sector for America is jobs, especially those that are high paying, manufacturing or high tech.  For several decades we have been told that America is a service economy and that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing as long as you have a high paying job and can buy cheap things imported from China or India.  That makes you feel pretty wealthy.

Service economies function on lots of credit and lots of consumption.  That worked pretty well as long as the housing bubble and easy credit pumped up our false sense of prosperity.  When that popped, we bailed out the big banks and wall street investment firms with trillions of dollars of inflation generating fiat cash.  Oh yeah, that wasn’t a one-time thing as promised.  We’re still doing it.

Meanwhile, the government keeps telling us that inflation is low and under control.  But those of us not on food stamps have noticed a big difference in the cost of our every day expenses, things like groceries, gas, health care and insurance.  Meanwhile, tried to get a new loan for a house lately?  That huge cash infusion into the banking industry doesn’t seem to be trickling down.  Wonder where all that money went?  It’s still in the toilet and someone forgot to flush.  Can you imagine the inflationary impact if it had actually gone into our consumptive economy?

But the real elephant in the room is the US Dollar’s status as world currency tied to the petrol dollar.  There have been rumblings for some time that it’s time to change that.  In early 2012, Russia began selling oil to China without the intermediary US dollar.  The dike is cracked and many informed people believe it will take more fingers than we have to keep it plugged.   How many guns, fighters, tanks, air craft carriers and military bases will it take to force the world to continue using an inflated dollar?  When the dike fails and another currency becomes the global currency (Can you say Renmimbi or how about Yuan?)  what will become of the good old $US?   I have a framed 100 trillion dollar note from Zimbabwe on my book case as a reminder of what happens to all currencies when there is too much of them floating around to represent the value of their underlying goods and services.  Ever wanted to be a trillionaire?  Just move to Zimbabwe and you can enjoy that status.

These are just some of the reasons we have been considering alternative currencies for a long time.  We believe in proactively preparing for things.  We believe in being self-sufficient. And, there are many more benefits to stimulating the local economy by keeping cash circulating locally.  For a quick look at the benefits and how local currencies can work, take a look at this short video.

Surprisingly, there is nothing illegal about printing your own currency and there are a number of very successful examples of local currencies in the USA.  BerkShares in upstate New York are one of the most successful.  Here is a list of local US currencies.  You will note that, while there are several, they are still uncommon.

We think we have a unique approach to implementing the Sewanee Dollar at the Village on Sewanee Creek.  It can work initially in a very small economy based on systems already in place.  Over time, we hope to grow our economy and the benefits of participation to encompass business transactions in a much larger area.  Interested?  Inquire Here.

Top 100 Movies for Troubled Times

The Art of Manliness is an outstanding website for men.  It features traditional values and advice on how to be a real man. Here is their list of the top 100 essential movies for Men.  I own and love most of the movies on the list, but there isn’t much there for women, nor are all it’s movies essential for our troubled times.  Soooo…..

Many years ago, I was Director of International Development for Blockbuster Video. That was in the days before Blockbuster was made obsolete by the internet, Netflix, Red Box, VUDU, Youtube, etc. We were goin’ and blowin’ then. I digress.  The point is, I developed a love for great movies.  Years later, that led me to put in a good sized dedicated home theater with a performing stage in our home in Atlanta. We had many wonderful experiences with other families and their kids, either watching and discussing great movies or making up and performing plays and reader’s theater on the stage.

One very special memory is of a teaching moment when I sat all my kids down to watch the movie, Gandhi. I kept the remote in hand.  After each significant scene, I paused the movie and we taught and discussed an important life lesson. Gandhi is a long movie.  With discussion and some breaks, it took a good part of the day to get through it. The time could not have been better spent. It’s times like those that I am most proud. Times that paid great dividends in the lives of my now adult children.

Those experiences led to my commitment to build the amphitheater stage with outdoor theater in the Village. The physical facilities are there and we have enjoyed movies under the stars many times, but my dream is, as yet, unfulfilled. So far, the theater has been used mostly for entertainment. I miss the deep discussions. I’ll keep looking for those opportunities to learn and share like we used to with our kids and close friends in Atlanta.

This brings me back to the top 100 movies for men list. It occurred to me that we should develop a top 100 list for the Village.  Not sure what we should call it yet. Maybe something like the “Top 100 Movies for Troubled Times.”  It should be made up of movies that:

  • Teach about character and positive values (either through positive or negative examples showing consequences of bad choices).
  • Provide perspective for our troubled times (Dealing well with adversity.  History is a great teacher of perspective as we repeat past mistakes.)
  • Give us strength and courage to persevere in difficult times.
  • Show great role models for healthy social interaction – How to treat one another with dignity, respect, trust, and love.
  • Teach practical solutions to real problems. Time proven survival skills and strategies.
  • Give inspiring examples of freedom-loving people with an independent spirit; people who are self-reliant, hard-working and willing to fight for their freedom.
  • Inspire us to be better,do more, be more creative and stronger.

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I’ve already done a top 80 list from my personal catalog,
but then it’s just my list.   I could use some help getting to the best 100.
All you “like-minded” people out there, post a comment with your top 10
or more.
I’ll take the best from your lists, combine them with mine and share the best of the best.
As a starter, here are 10 that I think should make the list

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Gandhi (no surprises here)

It is impossible to capture the life of any man in one film, much less the life of a man who saw and did as much as Mahatma Gandhi. Thus the filmmakers who tried to capture his life on the silver screen sought not to give a blow by blow account of Gandhi’s life, but instead to capture his spirit in what they did show. The film begins with Gandhi’s assassination and then starts the retrospective of his life, beginning with his being thrown off a train for being Indian, and through his non-violent efforts to win Indians their rights and then their independence. One man truly can free an entire nation, if not change the entire world.

Best line: “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. NOT MY OBEDIENCE!”

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Defiance

Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters.   They provide leadership and protection to about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants who have fled to the woods, build a Village, learn to survive and fight off the Nazi army.

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Life is Beautiful

With humor and an indomitable, positive attitude, a Jewish man wins the love of a beautiful woman.
With inspiring courage and discipline, he must call on the same qualities to protect his son in a Nazi death camp.

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The Kite Runner

After spending years in California, a soft and pampered Amir returns to his homeland in Afghanistan to help his old friend Hassan, whose son is in trouble.  It’s a story of sacrifice, deprivation and danger as he risks his life against a deeply corrupt and depraved regime.

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Groundhog Day

On it’s surface, Groundhog Day is just another comedy. But if you delve deeper, you’ll find a story that drives home some profound messages. Bill Murray is Phil Connors, a cynical egotistical weatherman who annoys just about everyone and gets stuck living the same day over and over. It’s Groundhog Day. We don’t know how long Phil is stuck in this purgatory of repetition. Maybe a month.  Maybe a thousand years.  From Phil’s plight we learn that real change in life can only come from within us.  It’s a movie about the slow and agonizing process self-improvement, known in some circles as repentance.

Best line: “I’m a god.” “You’re God?” “I’m a god. I’m not *the* God… I don’t think.”

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Cover of

Sommersby

Set in the deep south immediately after the Civil War, Laurel Sommersby is barely surviving, working the farm without her husband Jack, who is believed dead in the war. Jack Sommersby was an abusive, coarse man, so his return is unwelcome to Laurel, who has been seeing another, kinder man.  But Jack has changed a great deal.   Some, especially Laurel’s suitor, believe that this is not actually Jack but an imposter. Laurel herself is unsure, but takes the man into her home and learns to love him.  This is a story of reformation, integrity and supreme sacrifice under conditions of extreme poverty.

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Ikiru

A Japanese bureaucrat tries to find meaning to his life after he is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He must learn courage and take up a  respectful, yet dogged struggle against the bureaucracy to right previous wrongs and injustices.

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Braveheart

Mistake #1: Primae Noctis? Are you crazy, Long Shanks?
Mistake #2: Slicing up William Wallace’s woman? Are you asking to get your fort burned down? Never hack off a Scotsman.
Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the battle painted warrior poet William Wallace is easily one of the greatest heroes in all of movie history.

Best line: “Every man dies, not every man really lives.”

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City of Joy

Dr. Max Lowe (Patrick Swayze) abruptly deserts his practice as a surgeon and falls into depression.  He flees to Calcutta, India to lose himself, but finds Joan Bethel, a local social worker and discovers the joy of unselfish service and a life with meaning.  He makes friends with a family in desperate need.  Hazari Pal and his family are desperately poor, having been swindled out of all their money.  Hazari takes a job working for a local godfather, but things go from bad to worse.  Dr. Lowe finds himself in the middle of brutal suppression.  He steps into the breech to defend Hazari’s family at great personal risk.

Best Line:  “How long are you going to keep drilling holes in the ocean?”

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Jericho (TV Series)

A series of terrorist attacks leaves the US in a state of disaster.  The small Kansas town of Jericho must come together to deal with a new reality.  Along the way, they unravel a massive government conspiracy, organize a militia, fight off desperate neighboring towns, but most of all, learn to trust and work with old friends and rivals.
It’s TEOTWAWKI.  Deal with it!

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Sharing, teaching and reinforcing positive values through the arts can make our Village(s) better prepared for times that are tough or even if they’re not.