Archive for January, 2011

Week two of being snowed in. A little over a week ago we decided to brave a blizzard in my tiny little car in spite of the warnings and it ended up being a 23 hour trip rather than the 13 or so we’d bargained on. We had to abandon the car a kilometer away from home and then trudge back and forth from the car to the house and back again unloading groceries. The next day, we shoveled a path for the car and pushed it home. Ah, Canadian winters- can’t beat ‘em.

Anyway- in my last blog, I spoke about borrowing property as an alternative to buying. There are other options. Intentional communities for instance. An intentional community is any group of people owning, or sharing, property together. There are many kinds of intentional communities. Some are set up with the sole intention of sharing the cost of the property. I came across one in Calgary, Alberta that is a group of townhouses- the owners purchased the block and a couple of vehicles for sharing among them. They share property but are otherwise completely autonomous.

Other communities share a common vision, or goals, whether the link be religious, environmental or a more encompassing set of beliefs and way of life. Many of these have a communal kitchen and shared chores. Oftentimes, a community will have an application process and sometimes a ‘trial period’ for newer members during which a decision is made whether the person ‘fits well’ with the existing community. Some communities require that you “buy in”, others require no financial input.

I’ve never been much interested in communal living. Some of you may have deduced from my previous articles that I’m not really a people-person. The thought of lively closely with others, well… Let’s just say I’ve spent most of my life moving away from, rather than towards that. Shane is very much the same and I’m eternally grateful for that. I don’t think that I could handle trying to balance my life with a social extrovert. (Actually, I know that I couldn’t- I’ve tried.)

I was very much surprised then, at how remarkably comfortable I was (we both were) with the whole thing when we visited Oregon to take a couple of courses. We shared not only work and living space with others, but meals, and evenings. We had many late night discussions with Donkey, and Brian, and Fabien, among others, down at the smoking spot. We discussed everything from politics, to philosophy, to building practices, and books. It was all very interesting to me, not just in the topics we covered but in the fact that I could spend that much time with people without feeling the urge to run.

Ianto and his wife Linda, who run the property and courses, stressed the importance of community throughout. Ianto even had us go through the uncomfortable exercise of sitting closely, no further than elbow width apart, to help assimilate participants to communal living. “We’ve been socialized to build walls,” he asserted, and to work alone, and as such we are destined to fail. Interesting concept. At one time, I would have dismissed the whole thing as hippy-drivel but spending some time watching and living in that kind of environment left me with a completely different mindset.

In a relatively short amount of time, we did a tremendous amount of work. We built an addition to a building- complete with roof, built several rocket stoves including a water heater, wandered through the forest collecting deadfall suitable for building, discussed building specifications, plastered a small home and a good section of a courtyard wall. Our meals were shared and always timely, the dishes were always done, and the property in perfect order at the end of the day. And yet at any given time there were people off wandering by themselves or in small groups, meditating or simply enjoying the weather.

I don’t know about you, but when I take time off to wander the property or read for leisure or am otherwise ‘unproductive’ the chores quickly stack up. I could easily be busy every waking moment and still not get everything that ‘needs’ to be done completed. The expression “many hands make light work” suddenly took on new meaning for me.

So did the notion of equality for that matter. While I did overhear a couple of complaints from people about others who weren’t ‘doing as much’, for the most part people accepted that everyone had something of value to contribute. Those contributions might not be directly measurable against each other, but added to the overall well being of the community in some fashion or other so were equally valuable.

Of course, common ground is essential to communal living. There’s no way that Shane and I would be able to spend any amount of time with people we had nothing in common with, let alone share the same property. I think more important than having common characteristics though is having a common goal. All sorts of people from different backgrounds and with different ideas and interests can come together and work quite well if their goals align.

Eventually, Shane and I will probably welcome others to share our property. We intend to produce more than we can consume ourselves and will have plenty to share. But with several large gardens to tend, and the animals that we plan on keeping, as well as bees- well, the days will be quite full. I personally enjoy manual labour, especially that which takes me outdoors, but I can see how having a few extra hands might free up the days. So at some point we’ll search out some friends who are also interested in abandoning the cash economy and are willing to pitch in with a few chores in return for a home on the property and a share in the food produced. Free us all up to spend more time enjoying the day and less time ‘working’.

In the meantime, for those of our readers who are struggling for options- consider an intentional community. There are as many types of communities as there are personalities. Take the time to do some research and you just may find your perfect fit.

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Don’t have the money to buy land? Consider ‘borrowing’ a patch of land before you lock into a mortgage that will have you working to pay it off for who knows how many years.

We met a gentleman last year who has been borrowing land for about forty-five years. Hasn’t owned land since he landed in the U.S., has never paid rent, and has never been without a home. Instead, he approaches a landowner and offers to build a home on their property in return for a five to ten year rent-free lease on the property. At the end of the term, he simply moves on to do it again with the landowner now in receipt of a home they can either live in themselves, rent out, or use for guests.

It sounds a little outlandish- but like I said, he has never been without a home and has managed to avoid all of the normal costs associated with rent or ownership. Obviously, you’ll want to put up something more than a shack though or you’ll be unlikely to garner favour with your benefactor and won’t have any examples to show to future prospects. But with earth-building, whether cob or earthbags, you can build a beautiful home that will last for next to no money.

Now that he’s in his seventies, our friend has landed at a beautiful little patch of forest with a cozy cob home in Oregon. His current ‘lease’ extends through his lifetime, so he’s not faced with moving and building again. During the time he’s been on the property, he and lots of helping hands have managed to build an entire village of small natural buildings and communal spaces that the property owners will inherit.

Quite the notion, isn’t it? Imagine spending your days working on your property, whether building spaces or gardens, rather than leaving your home to work for the cash to pay for it. No loans or solid credit rating required.

A good place to call home


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As may have been obvious from my last post, I’ve had a rough week or so. It happens. I go through cycles of optimism (or the closest I get to optimism) and despair, directed related to how much time I spend with people.

I was doing just fine. Working away at our plans, on landscape design, hammering our details for the heating system, talking with other like-minded individuals and exchanging updates… It was really good. Times like those I think, “you know, maybe… maybe we can turn things around”. And then I left the property. Within a few short days I became convinced that we are all doomed.

In three days we managed to cover racism, bigotry, genocide, religious ‘reasoning’, and general misery in conversations with one person. Once again, Shane played the role of optimist in arguing against these issues while I sat there shaking my head. Did she just say we should kill for peace? I didn’t bother to voice my confusion and horror aloud. I just sank further and further into a state of despondency. Not because this one person has such extreme views, but in listening to her explain her thinking I realized that she is a member of the majority. Ours is the minority view.

Top that off with the mass consumerism all around us seemingly at an all time high. We don’t celebrate Christmas. We don’t celebrate any holidays, instead choosing to treat each day as special. Saving up our time, money and energy to be spent at certain times of the year just doesn’t make a lot of sense to either of us- so, we are neither rich nor poor at ‘this time of the year’ and decided to look for stove pipe that we need for the mass heater.

“Are you sure this is a good idea on Boxing Day?” I asked Shane. He reasoned that we’re never in the city otherwise, so why not. Reasonable enough. Oh. My. God. Canadian Tire was packed with people, all frantic looking and racing around, children in tow. Didn’t these people just finish shopping? Weren’t there months of shopping done in preparation for that ‘one’ special day? There weren’t even any sales on (except on tin foil and plastic wrap- which I bought lots of). What the f*ck were these people thinking?

Then we went to Walmart to see if they had a couple of Ts that we couldn’t get at Canadian Tire. (Please don’t lecture me- yes, I said Walmart. I will one day resolve never to step foot in Wally World again but so far that day has not come. I’m cheap and I need stove pipe.) If C.T. was a zoo, Walmart was a carnival. And again- no real sales, so what were all of these people doing??? Shopping their way to end times. Sigh. As I looked around I realized that not only would most of these people trade their children’s futures for an extension to the days of mindless shopping, they are actively doing just that.

Add to that the general background noise- popular media reports and so on. Did you know that the top Canadian ‘news story’ (as reported by most popular media outlets) for 2010 was the Vancouver Olympics? No mention of the massive overspending by our government on the G8/G20 and the horrendous human rights abuses by authorities resulting in innumerable injuries and false detentions. Also absent was any mention of Tom Flanagan (former aide to our Prime Minister) calling for the assassination of Julian Assange. Go figure.

I’ve spent the last week trying to recuperate. Focused in on our plans and positive direction, if not monumental impact. We got our application for trees in today, I’ve pretty much settled on my list of seeds, drafted a design for a combination rocket stove-mass heater that looks to have potential, and researched power options exhaustively (again). We also went to the dump earlier today for our own version of ‘holiday shopping’ and picked up some really cool stuff. That alone infused me with some much needed enthusiasm.

So- I’m recovering my focus. I need to live in the solution. I’m going to hermit-up and get my blinders back on- girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. The next few blogs will hopefully see me back on a positive trend.

a scavenged grinder- perfect condition!


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