Signs of spring

Keep 'em flyingThis past month marked the formation a new work team to work on a crazy big eco-project with Fortune 100 CEOs, as well as the milestone of finishing the first draft of my book on building neighborhood resilience.


  • Snippets of the sun coming back. Some gorgeous days interspersed with gloomy cloud cover.
  • Garlic shoots emerging. Better sign of spring for me than any decorative flower bulbs, although those are gorgeous, too.
  • Ever watchful dog protecting my kids and letting me know when anyone is near when I’m deep in thought about how to fix my latest farming mistake.
  • Found the best Big Picture summary of what actions our country needs to take that I’ve read in a long time.  (note subscription to read is free)
  • Two enjoyable weekend construction projects with trusted friends, building a semi-portable rocket stove and a new Perone style bee hive. Details on implementation of each next month after some testing.


  • Food crop beds riddled with mice holes, especially under the floating row covers. Time to add a pair of barn cats to the microfarm.
  • Two separate dog attacks on our chickens, each time injuring one bird. Negligent dog owners drive me nuts.
  • Last bee hive died (the Kenyan style one). They left stores and were OK two weekends ago, so I have some investigation to do to determine the cause.
  • Too many laying chickens from our latest batch. They are beautiful healthy birds, but my life is now out of work/farm balance as they require more frequent rotation in the pasture and feed/water refills. Solving by selling off half the flock this week.
  • And finally, a lowlight that will become a highlight. Due to my day jobs, I end up reading a lot of bad news. And I’m burning out on it. Yes, our society is due for a radical overhaul, which will most likely be painful. And our planet is reacting against all the damage we are causing it. Which will definitely be painful for us. But I’m weary of reading and researching the bad news each day. So I’m taking a cue from the permaculture revolutionary Paul Wheaton’s email signature about “making a better world through learning good things rather than being angry at bad guys.” Perhaps I’m not the only one going through this…

Map Your Neighborhood Step 10

There is a brilliant woman named Dr. LuAn Johnson in Olympia, Washington who created the Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) program. It has the nine steps to complete immediately after a wide scale emergency such as a tornado or earthquake.

For our small town, we are adding a “Step 10” series to various citizens’ nine step guidebook to bridge the gap between an individual set of neighbors and the larger community surrounding them. Steps 1-9 of Dr. Johnson’s MYN program ensure you, your loved ones, and your direct neighbors are cared for and secured. As we roll out our town-wide plans to connect our neighborhoods for both emergency preparedness and sustainability projects, the Step 10 series will shift the focus of specific individuals to securing entire neighborhoods and then the whole town (which happens to be an easily defined area – it’s an island).

Perhaps this list will be useful for your town as well. Here are a few examples of our Step 10 additions for citizens to pursue after they have finished their Steps 1-9. They will seek to travel (safely, short distances) to their neighborhood’s designated shelter:

  • Ham radio operators to begin communication coordination
  • Doctors, nurses, EMTs and CPR experts to to provide medical attention
  • Mechanics and engineers to ensure all generators are safely up and running
  • Members of the horse and bicycle communities to begin transportation duties (medical supplies, communication devices, etc) where roads are likely blocked by landslides and fallen trees

As we do further work on these Step 10 actions, we’ll document them on our main website, as well as excerpts here on this blog.

DIY disaster relief

I noticed this headline the other day. It reinforced in my mind the need for citizens to be proactive and take charge of their own emergency preparations. Gone are the days when “they” will come to rescue you from the flood, earthquake, hurricane, or other significant disaster.

Locally we’ve just started a new focus on these efforts, building off the good work done by some professionals several years ago. We’ve put together a wide-reaching consortium of both professionals plus citizens to cover many different topics that an emergency – long or short – could affect.

From non-cellular communication to non-gasoline powered transportation, we’re seeing significant interest and buy-in from individuals and existing groups. It’s exciting to see.

Keep Calm & Carry On

I have British friends who use this old catchphrase often and many times tongue-in-cheek. Which made me smile all the more when I saw the nearby graphic while reading one of my favorite blogs, Little Homestead in the City.

As we are ramping up our local efforts to build resilient neighborhoods on our island, it’s a good reminder to read about the history of victory gardens and related sustainability projects that our grandparents were quite familiar with, and that are becoming new again.

In her post Anais asks her readers their preparedness levels in these areas (at least one of which you’ll see we’ve not listed in our categories to the right – oops): Food, Water, Fuel Energy, Sanitation, Alternative Currency, Transportation, Communications, Medical & First Aid, Survival, Security.

I’ll prepare a future post regarding our sanitation plans in low or no power scenarios.

Transition Town movement: US versus Europe

An interesting insight by Lindsay Curren, publisher of the US-based Transition Voice website, commenting on the writings of Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the UK-based Transition Town movement,

In America there’s another incentive to build local economies and local resilience: the lack of a guaranteed social safety net, and the crumbling of the strained services that are available. In Europe, we “still have nets that catch you when you fall,” says Hopkins.

To be, “more survivalist based” is therefore more natural for the United States. That’s why we may see more of a desire stateside to balance family emergency and self-defense plans with community building, a reality of the culture whether it fits in with Transition’s gentler original intentions or not.


Make your own medicine

This winter we’ve been experimenting with creating our own herbal tinctures. We’ve used tinctures for years for both preventative purposes and to get better faster if we do get sick.

When doing research on the company behind an enjoyable family game called Wildcraft! that we recently purchased, we saw the same company (a single family, really) produced an herbal remedy creation kit. Our eight year old was immediately drawn to it, as he had been reading about harvesting herbs from the forest at school and successfully identifying them in our backyard and nearby forest. We’re glad we ordered it.

The kit has several projects included, all of them a great way to invest a few cold winter evenings with your family to produce some very useful products to keep you healthy and strong.

Co-Housing Do’s and Don’ts

In this economy, it’s not unusual to have friends lose their homes. This past year, we took in an empty-nester couple who had lost their home to give them a place to land, recover, and reenergize themselves. We’ve had many other folks live with us before, but it’s always been a short-term stay, measured in weeks. With this couple, their stay was measured in months – and if we had not introduced some “tough love” to the relationship – potentially years.

They are moving out at the end of this month, but only after we had several difficult, heart-to-heart, “welcome to reality” conversations. I think they had planned to stay for years.

Lessons learned:

  • Before taking someone into your home to live free of rent and utilities, do your due diligence. There is a reason why they’ve become homeless; you have ever right (even duty, as their friend) to drill down into those reasons.
  • Have several face-to-face conversations prior to their move-in about their *specific* goals re: jobs, refilling savings accounts, eliminating debt, how use time, when they expect to leave, etc.
  • Set a weekly check-in meeting so you don’t allow unspoken frustrations to boil too long. Try to “clear the air” daily, if possible.

Unexpected appreciations found:

  • I appreciate the calm, wise counsel of my wife is now more than ever. Granted, she’s a professionally trained social worker, counselor, and coach, but that’s for helping *other* folks. Applying those same techniques and principles to your own home and family members is a challenge for anyone. She came through this challenge with flying colors, and has taught me many helpful life lessons along the way.
  • The laziness of the “housewife without a house” who refused to even seek a job taught me to appreciate my mother more, as they are the same age and both empty nesters. While I love my mother dearly, she drives me crazy on some issues. This experience of having a capable adult sitting around my house all day, not doing chores, but reading books, surfing the web, and talking on the phone, clearly showed me how much I value my mom for her professional/personal devotion to educating high school students. She’s an amazing woman who I now appreciate more than ever.
  • I perceived a new, extreme attitude of entitlement with the husband of this couple, despite knowing him for ~10 years. He’s a smart person with good, Big Picture ideas, but has failed for the last 15 years to turn any of those ideas into a reliable revenue stream. For the last three years I’ve counseled him to continue this Big Picture adventures, but in parallel with getting a workaday job to pay the bills (work at a local big box like Home Depot, clerk for a local attorney, tutor high school students in math, anything really).His attitude that a workaday job is beneath him irks me, but also gave me a new-found appreciation for my father. My father always had a primary day job which paid the bills, but he also pursued Big Picture adventures (teaching, community service projects, etc) which may or may not have revenue streams immediately attached to them. That set him up to pursue those adventures full time now that he is retired. I am emulating my father in this aspect, which is one of the highest forms of flattery I can think of.

This experience has not soured us to taking folks into our home again, but it made us realize we need to be more wise in how we do so. Should you be considering the same for your friends when they are down and out (I hope you do), consider using this template we developed based on our miscues to start the conversation:

The new few [weeks/months] will be stressful for you and we’d like to help by having you live in our home.

We expect you to work harder, smarter, and longer than you ever have before, in order to refill your savings account and move into your own place on XX date. In exchange for that level of effort, you can live here free of rent and utilities, with a full bedroom/bathroom suite and unlimited access to a full kitchen of appliances until XX date. You can have as much land as you like to plant crops to offset your grocery bills.

We expect all family members that can physically work to be working – whether that is for monetary income or barter – as you return to the point of housing independence. We expect you’ll cut all expenses to the bone in order to maximize savings. We expect you to give us updates on employment, debt burden, and savings account status each week/month. We expect you to complete a Dave Ramsey course/book.

We also expect you to labor beside us in these specific chores, without having to be reminded:

– Trash and recycling out to side of house and then down to road to pickup spot (weekly).
– Weeding the front and side yard decorative beds (infrequently).
– Weeding the vegetable garden beds in the side and back (frequently).
– Hauling in firewood during the winter (weekly).
– Raising/lowering the western shades for solar gain (daily).
– Do your own dishes, sweeping, etc (daily).

If that sounds like an attractive deal, you are welcome to move in with us.

It’s clear to me that American families will begin to do much more co-housing in the coming years due to hard economic times. Whether it is grandparents-parents-adult children living together again, or simply friends helping friends, we need to get smarter about how we do these living arrangements. This last year taught us that we will only take in folks that bring a “net gain” to the household, folks that you would be glad to have living under your roof in good times or bad because they don’t introduce an overabundance of stress into the household nor bad role-modeling for our kids, and because they help with the much-needed food production chores.

US military prepares for economic collapse

I’m glad I live in a country where our military folks have the resources to learn via roleplaying and what-if scenarios. It’s a useful way to learn and explore all the aspects of a given topic. But it also makes me nervous-as-all-get-out when I read this:

The Army has launched an operation called “Unified Quest 2011” in which it studies the “implications of ‘large scale economic breakdown’ inside the United States that would force the Army to keep ‘domestic order amid civil unrest.'”
The 2011 Unified Quest lends truth to assertions that the United States is indeed not witnessing an upward economic recovery, as so many in our federal government have asserted. Soldiers are being trained in evacuation and detainment as a response to rioting, revealing the possibility that the United States military may resort to martial law in order to maintain order.
Unified Quest 2011 also prepares soldiers to act as diplomats in the event that there is a limited availability of diplomats at combat outposts, or on the streets contending with hungry and angry Americans.

Ugh. You can read this either positively or negatively. I’m frankly not sure which is closer to the truth of reality.

The government will not help you

Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane the same morning this photo was taken. Ugh.

It’s not that government officials and employees do not *want* to help you in a natural disaster – or any kind of emergency – it is that they literally will not *be able* to help you.

When the widespread eco-disaster hits your area, do you think help is on the way from your local, regional, or federal government? The unfortunate answer has proven to be “No.”  It only takes one read thru this timeline to understand why regional and federal aid will be shortcoming.

Leave your personal political beliefs out of the equation when reading through the timeline; the US just simply is not prepared for this type of disaster response. This was an epic fail.

Like the frustrated firefighters who have to drive right by the home going up in flames in order to survey their entire small town before they can begin to dispatch the blazes one by one, when a large emergency hits the local level government folks will be overwhelmed and scrambling.

What’s the positive, citizen-led solution to this issue? For our family, it is the Map Your Neighborhood program.

New self-offense class for “normal” folks

At one of the dojos I train, we’ve begun to build a new self offense class two afternoons a week.

Strangely enough, after a frustrating morning of dealing with politics in the world of Fair Trade companies, it is very satisfying to throw elbows at a target as hard as you can over and over until your elbow is raw and bleeding.

Of course, then you have to provide the same target for your sparring partner. This was even with a thick forearm pad! Where’s my Arnica?