Saturday, May 28, 2011

A week of being solidly middle class

We left East Wind on Thursday morning, much to my dismay.  The upside is that we are hanging out at my dad's in St. Louis for a week before the East Winders come and pick us back up.  (By the way EW - we're still needing someone to call and confirm that for us!!)  I haven't got to spend much time with my pops in a while, so he's really excited to get to see us and hang out with Iz, in particular.  Me and Mac are just a sideshow attraction anymore. 

Our families have been remarkably supportive (with a notable exception or two) despite the fact that they don't really understand what we're doing.  Luckily, we've managed to convince (most of) them that we aren't running off to join a cult.  Mostly, they see us and hear us and know that we are happy, that we are optimistic about the future, and we feel like we belong.  For (many of) them, that is the only goal, all they want for us.  (Well, I'm sure my dad would be happy if we stopped asking him for money every few months.)

So, I'm sitting in the suburbs, laptop on my lap, giant TV with 957,346 channels of nothing to watch, basement with another huge TV, spare room, all the bells and whistles.  I'm bored as hell.  There are no baby goats (OMG SO CUTE) no chicks with baby bats in their dreadlocks, no party at the next house.  I don't have to run up the path to poo, and there's climate control, so those things are nice.  But being here has reminded me of how much I don't want this.  I've seen like...three people outside all day.  WTF?  It wasn't even that hot out today.

This just isn't me anymore.  If it ever was.  I need connections, I need to know that the person next to me or across the table gives a shit.  I need to know that what I do contributes to the greater good.  At East Wind I feel that way.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Our time at East Wind is winding down...

I have had an amazing time here at East Wind.  As excited as I was about Dancing Rabbit, I think it was more a function of being excited about the idea of living in community, rather than the community itself.  I LOVE the people that I met there, and I am a changed person for the experience.  Over the last couple of weeks I've come to understand that the challenges we would face at DR are very very real, and very concerning.  There is a level of security here that DR would be unable to match.  The healthcare alone is something that Mac and I would have to work double time out in the world to provide for Isaiah, and it's just handled here, and that's not something I think we would be able to provide for a very long time at DR.

Something else that I am amazed by is the amount of knowledge collected here.  There are people ranging in age from 19 to 60, and many of them are involved with the kids here.  (There aren't many right now, but hopefully soon that will change.)  Rather than having a day care type situation, members sign up for 'meta' shifts, which involves one or two people taking all the kids for three hours at a time.  It's creditable work (towards a members weekly labor quota) and it frees the parent up to do other work.  The coolest part of it is not getting the kiddo out of my hair for a little while, it's that the people who do it really enjoy it, and spend much more time teaching than hiring a babysitter out in the world, who would more than likely just put on PBS kids and text her boyfriend. 

On to where we are, physically.  This place is located in a beautiful area, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.  Southern Missouri has a climate much more like what I am accustomed to - mild winters (though colder than the Gulf Coast) and humid wet summers.  Life here is abundant, and manifests in sometimes icky ways.  Tarantulas live here fer fucks sake…but there's also about a million really beautiful butterflies. Several have landed on me and just hung out, which is pretty awesome. I've never head cicadas as loud as the ones here. 

I know it's been quite a while since I've updated what we've been doing.  Sorry.  Honestly, I've just been having too damned much fun.  I've cooked for 70 a couple of times, which was challenging and fun as hell, and I've cooked for 7 or 8 here at Lillput (the name of the house we are staying in) to rave reviews.  I've made some great friends, and had some really fun times.  I have enjoyed the company of very nearly everyone I have met here. 

So, hopefully we have found home.  If everything goes the way I hope it does, we will be returning for a three week visitor period starting June 8.  After our three weeks, we can transition directly into a provisional membership, which will last for a year.  After that, we will (as long as we don't piss anyone off too badly) become members of East Wind Community…home of the tastiest damned peanut butter I've ever had.  :)  Wish us luck!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A tale of two communities...

It was the best of times. It was the…..   Well actually both of these places have been pretty kick ass.   
We're a week into our trip now at East Wind Community, and what a beautiful week it's been.  One thing that immediately sticks you at this place is the astounding beauty of the environment here.  East Wind as a community owns over 1000 acres of land tucked in the foothills of the Ozark mountains and it is absolutely breathtaking.  Most of the land is forest filled with dogwood, oak, cedar, and various other types of trees that I still need to learn the names of. There are creeks, a small lake, and plans for a pond in the future to use as a catfish farm.  Today I worked with the manager of East Wind's forestry team where we selectively harvested cedar trees that were encroaching on a road to use for lumber.  The weather was absolutely beautiful and if made for a great day in the great outdoors.  We've had many similar days so far and that's the best excuse I have to give you all for our absence of blog posts.  We're just having too much fun to sit in front of a computer and write. Sorry :)
In our last post, I explained our decision to come to East Wind after waffling back and forth on whether or not to come at all.  We definitely made the right choice in coming here - I'm almost certain East Wind and not Dancing Rabbit will be our home for a long time to come.  Both are wonderful groups of people who are each in their own way tackling some of our society's greatest problems with thoughtful and intelligent solutions.  Neither are perfect and neither are utopias, but the last month has definitely shown me that living in community beats the shit out of trying to live on our own.  There are many more similarities between the two communities we've visited than there are differences,  and I feel that it's important to state that before moving on.  Both communities are filled with people who genuinely respect each other and have a compassion not often seen in our outside consumer culture.    Both are living in a much more environmentally friendly way than I've ever done, albeit they do it in different ways, and to different degrees.  Both are very much less interested in television and the advertising and social conditioning that come along with them.  Children in both communities grow up with "siblings" that are unrelated, and many in both are home schooled, unvaccinated, and fed organic healthy food.  Any of our readers out there who are interested in these things - start sending emails now,  and get yourself a visitor period in a community that interests you. is a great resource with a searchable database that can help you find a community that fits for you, and most likely they will share many of the great qualities that I listed above.
  Intentional communities may share a lot of traits,  but there are many, many, different types, and our two visits have been to two vastly different models.  Dancing Rabbit, as we've documented, is an eco-village, where a set of environmental 'covenants' hold their members to a strict standard in order to reduce their ecological footprint.   Members of DR have independent finances, and most telecommute as to not violate their covenant requiring personal vehicles and a strict reduction in the use of fossil fuels.  East Wind on the other hand is an income sharing community where all members have agreed to work together in common, own possessions and land in common, and to create a high standard of living for all through the simple act of sharing.  The main source of the shared income at East Wind is their nut butter business where they make some of the best crunchy peanut butter that I've ever tasted.  The factory for the business is quite industrial and would stick out like a sore thumb in an ecovillage.  All members of East Wind have a labor quota which requires them to work 35 hours a week, and a small portion of that, currently three hours a week, is required to be done in the factory.  Where at Dancing Rabbit our family was struggling to find the unfilled niche where we could fit in and begin making a living, East Wind is filled with opportunity to work and contribute on day one.
 At DR, the question was what can we do; at EW it's what do we want to do?  There are so many 'jobs' here at East Wind that I'm interested in , and all one needs to do here is to go start working.  There's no need to see if there's a market to sell a good or service that is worthwhile.  There is ranching, gardening (food and herbs), food processing, cooking, child care, construction, woodworking, factory working, sandal making, laundry, dishwashing, and so much more.  All of these tasks are labor creditable and can go towards a members thirty five hour labor quota.  It's a system designed to allow people to be able to do things that interest them and that they have an aptitude for,  while ensuring that there is an income available to share, and that people's basic needs are met.    There is an extremely high degree of freedom here where people are doing the work they want, when they want.  There are people up at 4 am and people waking at 4 am.  People who are not interested in slaughtering pigs,  don't ever have to -  but are still able to eat bacon thanks to the people who do.  And the pig slaughtering folks who aren't into washing clothes, can get their clothes cleaned by those who find that to be their way to contribute.  It is a remarkable thing that is going on here, and in my mind this is how I'd like to live. 
Again, sorry for the long delay between posts.  I'm just having a blast with my time here and will try to share more soon.  We've extended our one week stay into two thanks to the people here,  and we'll hopefully be right back to EW after another short break into the outside to move out of our apartment.  Thanks for reading, more to come.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back to "Civilization" ... for a bit.

Mac here -

Our visit to Dancing Rabbit now done,  we're here at Jenny's dad's house in St. Louis where many of the pleasures of modern society are readily available.  As I write this entry, Sportscenter is on in the background, (Lakers got swept?) and although it's interesting to catch up a bit on the world of sports, TV is much less distracting than the things going on at Dancing Rabbit.  Jenny has done a great job of keeping the blog up to date, whereas I found it hard to sit in front of the computer and write while we were at DR.  I was just having too much fun with the awesome people there.
Yesterday was filled with good bye hugs and promises on our part to come back.  I think it probably happens fairly often that people leave DR after their visitor period with genuine intentions of coming back there to make a life, and then get caught up watching Sportscenter or something similar and never make it back.  I hope that is a trap we don't fall into - The simple life of Dancing Rabbit was something that was very appealing to our family, and the allure of the consumer culture is something that I don't want to water down our memories.
Our trip out of DR was an interesting and gradual insertion back into that consumer culture.  First we passed small farms and then small towns with single red lights and tiny schoolhouses.  Dirt roads turned into gravel roads, then paved,  next a highway, and finally an interstate.  Before we parted ways with our DR escort we stopped at a gas station, and although we were in a very small city compared to where we started,  it felt very large.  Advertisements hit you in a new way when you haven't seen one in a few weeks.  Pepsi billboards and signs for candy bars on sale seem wholly unnecessary.  When we reached the bus depot in Quincy IL,  CNN was on in the main room with the big scary boogyman , Osama Bin Laden rearing his ugly face and serving as the messenger for the corporatacracy - "Be scared - Buy shit - Trust the Authorities."  I want no part of the bullshit they're selling any longer.
On our bus ride from Quincy to St. Louis, we stopped for food and we got to experience what it is like for vegetarians to try to get a decent meal in the world today.   Our choices - Gas Station food (fuck that), McDonald's, or Hardees.  hmm. Decisions, decisions.  Luckily the Hardee's up here have a small mexican menu as well,  and I was able to order a bean and cheese burrito, Jen got a cheese quessidila, and Izzy, who hasn't made the decision to go veggie, got himself a chicken tender kids meal.   We rushed back to the bus so that we wouldn't get left, at which point I found out that what I really had ordered was a beef, bean and cheese burrito.   My opinion of true vegitarians has gone up immensely knowing the bullshit they have to put up with everyday just to get a meal that they feel comfortable eating.   I'm definitely not vegitarian enough to pass up a meal over some ground beef ,  and I had no ethical issues with demolishing those burritos in short order,  but I definitely felt the heaviness in my gut later on and honestly, it's a feeling that I can live without.  If nothing else comes from this trip,  my diet is changed forever.  Maybe I won't be a total vegetarian for life,  but I've had a realization that I just don't need as much meat in my diet as I once thought I did.
Our bus dropped us off here in St. Louis where we were picked up by Debbie, Jen's new step-mom, and basically treated like royalty.  Hot showers,  a warm veggie friendly meal,  and clean sheets in a warm bed for everyone.  During our residency interview at Dancing Rabbit , the question was asked "What will you miss about home?" At the time, it was a hard question to answer.  Very in love with the place we were at , it was hard to thing to think of what we were lacking.   However during my long, hot shower - I realized that a long, hot shower was probably the right answer.
Today we are washing and folding the three weeks of laundry that had built up on our camping trip, and then we'll put most of it back into our seabags so that we are packed and ready when the folks from East Wind Community show up to pick us up and take us there sometime today.  We actually had a long waffling back and forth discussion as to whether or not we should stick to our plan and go to this second community after all.  We were extremely happy with Dancing Rabbit as a place to call home,  and the argument was made to put all of our time, money, and energy into that option since we know that it will work.  Jenny and I had both been on both sides of the discussion which lasted over a week.  In the end, one of our friends said something that made a lot of sense. "It's better to regret something you've done than to regret something you haven't done." And so with that piece of advice in mind, we will bravely move forward on the second leg of our intentional communities tour.
East Wind's advantages seem clear to me - they have a well established cottage industry that provides employment along with all the main costs of life for all members.  Medical, dental, and optical insurance is there for everyone in their income sharing community.  Housing is provided - no more camping for us this week.  According to the people we've talked to,  East Wind's climate is going to be much more similar to what we're used to, and is located on a gorgeous piece of land.  
The disadvantages of East Wind however, seem much more of a mystery.  Their presence on the web is minimal, and leads us to believe that being an example or model to the greater world is not that big an issue to them, and that was a very appealing part of what DR is doing.  We worry a bit from things we have heard that alchohol is a large part of East Wind's culture.  I have made my living for the past three years mostly at bars and weddings,  and Jenny and I both drink moderately,  so I would be a hypocrite if we were to judge them for drinking.  But we are bringing our child into this place, and it's important for me to know that we're not going to be living in a place where out and out alcoholism is rampant.   Another thing that Dancing Rabbit may have as an advantage over East Wind is their style of governing.  DR practices consensus,  a form of government where nothing moves forward without it being a decision that all in the group can live with,  whereas East Wind practices straight forward, one man, one vote democracy.  Both of these style I believe are much much better than what I am used to in the consumer culture,  but consensus has been very appealing from the start to us.   Consensus governing builds up the idea within a community that everyone has a piece of the truth,  and everyone deserves their chance to be heard.  The respect amongst the people of DR for each other is tremendous, and is one of their greatest assets.  It may very well be that the same sense of community exists at East Wind within their democracy,  but we will only know once we get there and see for ourselves.
And so we will go forward, and we will see for ourselves if East Wind is the better fit for our family.  I surely believed going into this trip that it would be - but my fears of the economics of Dancing Rabbit are all but gone.  Their version of capitalism is nowhere near the 'dog eat dog' capitalism that CNN and Sportscenter are preaching to me - The respect for each other creates a very unique form of co-operative capitalism where competition doesn't really work the same as it does on 'Main Street.'  They are able to work together to create abundance where needed as opposed to the version of capitalism we are indoctrinated into where scarcity is not a bad thing; scarcity is a high profit market.  Income sharing at East Wind is still very appealing,  and starting this evening we'll get to see what kind of cooperation that it creates.
That's all from me from now - thanks for reading,  and more to come soon.  :0

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Homeward Bound - Almost.

I can't believe our time here is almost done.  We leave DR for Quincy early-ish tomorrow, and from Quincy we will spend a bit of time in St. Louis before heading home. 


I have had the most amazing experience here.  Even if we weren't coming back (which we are) I am a changed person, in a lot of ways.  Living in community, if only for three weeks, has taught me a lot about myself and the ways that I relate to people.  Also, I'm pretty sure we're vegetarians now. At least mostly.  I have had zero desire for meat in three weeks (there was even a roast turkey at the May Day party last night that I passed over) although I have been dreaming about some ice cream.  So there's no way I'm vegan.

I'm happy here.  Happier than I've been in years.  I've made what I feel like are real connections with people who are genuinely pleased to make new connections.  I've sang and danced, I've drank an awful lot of home brewed beer, I've learned an awful lot about how to grow and cook real food (black beans with nettles?  Yes please!) and I don't want to go back to a world where things like iPhones and bin Laden and commercials matter.  I haven't seen a television in three weeks.  I haven't seen a commercial, news, or mind numbing sit-com in three weeks.  I haven't had cell service in three weeks.  

So what have I done?  Walked, learned, listened, felt. 

And yes, we are coming back.  There are two possible timelines here - one: We go home, we sell everything we own as quickly as we possibly can, and we get the hell out of dodge.  Two: We screw around until the end of July, when someone from here will be down in New Orleans.  We can get him to zip over to Mobile and lug our shit back, and we split gas.  Timeline dos has some advantages - besides saving us a good chunk of change on either shipping or renting a uhaul, it gets us back here closer to august, and closer to when Wisteria Lodge will be available to us.  If we come right back, we will have to tent until August-ish.  Not terribly appealing. 

I really just don't want to leave.  Fuck the world out there.  These people are too awesome, too real, this experience has changed me too much to even think about living in that again.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Couple of questions answered

I've had some friends ask me about a few of the more interesting and challenging aspects of life at DR - employment, wexing, humey, and education. 

There aren't really any 'jobs' here, per say, although there is lots to be done.  There is not much opportunity to clock in, do some work, clock out, and get a paycheck.  Certain jobs here are creditable for ELMS (village alternative currency) that can be used to pay some co-op fees.  Things like weeding common gardens or maintaining common areas are creditable, for example.  Also, you can make a deal to help someone with a project for ELMS.  There is no actual currency, one of the members here handles all the credit exchanges and maintains an online 'account' for everyone.  Most people here have some type of telecommute job - tutoring online, software or web development, etc. 

Wexer - work exchanger.  The work exchange program allows people who have building projects going on to put out ads asking for people with certain skills.  The members pay the co-op fees and living expenses of the work exchanger, the work exchanger comes and gets the experience of the building project, plus the awesomeness of living here.  A handful of new wexers showed up yesterday, and it was really cool to see the new faces and get to know some new folks.

Humey - poop.  That's the long and short of it.  The humanure system is a way to recycle human waste into something that is useful.  Rather than flush toilets, biodegradable waste is collected in buckets.  Weekly (or more, depending on who's cooking) the buckets are taken to the humey compost piles.  There are three bins, each in varying stages of decay. After...6 months, I think, they humey is 'clean', meaning that all the biological material has decayed out of it, and what remains is essentially nutrient rich dirt.  As far as I understand it, humey isn't used on low growing produce (like strawberries, for example).  When we did it we used it to mulch fruit trees.  It doesn't smell, it doesn't look anything like's just dirt.

Education here is interesting, and extremely exciting.  Right now one of the residents here Thomas is reading Winnie the Poo to one of the kids in German, than translating each page.  Education is constant here, whether it's languages or biology or woodworking or astronomy.  There are people here with some very impressive credentials (astrophysicist, biologist, ecologist, various engineers) who are almost always willing to spend some time with an interested kid.  The more 'formal' education is done through a co-op called DREC (Dancing Rabbit Education Co-op).  Parents and teachers take turns teaching, and the subjects, for the most part, are kid directed.  There are some exceptions (it's interesting hearing a 9 year old bitch about algebra, than say 'well, I can't do anymore physics til I learn it, so I'll figure it out') for the subjects we all need but few want to deal with.  Middle school and high school kids can bus to the nearest public school (I can think of a couple who do), of course, elementary age children have the option of public school as well, but it's farther away and they don't run a bus out here.  Since the vehicles are shared, it makes it a bit harder to get the younger kids to and from school, so most parents choose not to.

Hope I've managed to make a few things a little more clear.  Feel free to throw some more questions my way. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Full day of sunshine.

We finally had a full day of sunshine today and man does that turn this already wonderful place up a few notches.   Sun when we woke up - sun throughout the morning - sun into afternoon - a full day of sun.  Our morning workshop was one of the more interesting ones, and it was given by a really great teacher, but I found my eyes drifting outdoors several times examining all the possibilities that warmth and light could give.  Clean and dry clothes, relatively abundant electricity, and a great chance to finally get out in the canoe with Izzy.  Jenny and I have mostly been taking turns with workshops and taking care of Izzy,  and usually I'd rather not be on munchkin duty,  but I had a blast in the afternoon with my son out on the pond as we chased several snapping turtles from their peaceful sunbathing.  With our laptop fully charged, Jenny and I were able to put together our final version of our 'letter of intent' to become residents of Dancing Rabbit and it has been emailed to the appropriate people.  It's essentially a summation of this blog along with our challenges that we for see and the committees we'd like to be a part of.  We're expecting to have a residency interview sometime next week, and I'm really looking forward to moving here.  My questions have been answered, and my fears have dissolved.  I can not only deal with the mostly veggie diet,  I quite enjoy it.