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There and Back Again

Laird's Blog -

Not only is the title to today's blog the alternate (lesser known) title of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 classic fantasy, The Hobbit, but it accurately captures my relapse into lower back pain following my overzealous representation of Sandhill Farm at the Best Missouri Fair at the Shaw Botanical Gardens, Oct 3-5. That is, I went there and now my back hurts again.

I know that was nearly three weeks ago but I still hurt.

Unfortunately the basic problem is getting older, which I suspect is terminal. The tenderness that I'm dancing with traces back to a fortnight of heavy construction on a cistern project for Sandhill that I oversaw (and apparently overdid) in late May. My folly was thinking that I could do anything (or at least anything that I've been able to do in the past), and that ain't necessarily so.

Having been a homesteader since I moved to Sandhill four decades ago, there's always been an emphasis on physical labor, and mostly that's an aspect of my life that I've fully embraced. Gradually, however, my work mix shifted from lifting with my arms, legs, and back to lifting with my pen, voice, and brain. Over time I did less work on the land and more as a nonprofit administrator (first for the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and then for the Fellowship for Intentional Community) and as a group process consultant and trainer.

Last May I got up close and personal to my physical limitations with the questionable choice to jump into concrete work after months of doing nothing more aerobic than carrying my own bags on train trips and pecking away vigorously at a keyboard. My back could tell the difference.

After a couple weeks of rest and recovery from the cistern work, my back wasn't "normal" (which condition I'm not sure I'm ever going to experience again) but I was able to resume normal non-constructive duties—I just needed to be cautious. When I got overambitious with a shovel digging up a suspect water line behind our house in July, my back made it clear the next day that that wasn't such a good idea.

The thing though that put me over the top of the pain threshold, was a four-day sequence at the beginning of October. On Thursday I was over at Sandhill grating, blending, and jarring 10 gallons of peeled horseradish root (yielding 127 half pint jars for sale—about eight gallons). In addition to the tears and irritated mucous membranes, I had to schlep our 90 lb Univex slicer/shredder from the commercial kitchen to our front porch (never try to shred horseradish indoors). It was like lugging a bag of cement. Ugh. At the end of an eight-hour shift I was bone tired and my back was sore.

The next day I returned to Sandhill to load for the fair, which entailed packing several boxes of sorghum (a case of quarts weighs over 40 lbs) and myriad cases of condiments. After a couple hours the pickup was full, and so was my quota of lifting for the day… but I wasn't done.

When I got down to St Louis I had to unload everything in our booth space and my back was protesting. I knew I was in trouble when I went to bed that night, but I still had to reload everything that didn't sell at the end of the fair Sunday evening and I was hurting badly by then. (Is there anything worse than lifting a weight that you know you shouldn't?)

It is now 16 days later and ibuprofen is my best friend.

My recovery has been painfully slow and I'm not used to being so limited in my activities or needing to be so careful when I get out of bed. I was walking to a meeting in the dark two evenings ago and when I stepped into a low spot in the road that I couldn't see, I overstrode slightly and it was like someone was gouging my lower back with razor blades. No fun. While I'm making do, I have to be way more cautious than I'm used to.

There is one silver lining: the sympathy and support I'm getting from Ma'ikwe, who has been struggling with lower back issues herself since '09, as a symptom of chronic Lyme. While it's not so great having both of us needing to be extra careful when lifting buckets, Ma'ikwe has been totally understanding when I ask her to help put on my shoes first thing each morning, before I've limbered up enough to be able to do it myself.

It's the different between sympathy and empathy—she's not just patiently listening to her partner describing pain, she's actually been walking in my moccasins. Painful as that is, we're navigating this together and that helps a lot.

Co-Housing: Combatting loneliness in Muswell Hill eco retirement development - Ham&High

Cohousing News from Google -


Co-Housing: Combatting loneliness in Muswell Hill eco retirement development
Three new co-housing developments in London, all designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards and backed by developer Hanover, are aiming to provide a remedy to this situation. Maria Brenton, 69, is part of a group, Cohousing Woodside, planning to move into a ...

Co-Housing: Combatting loneliness in Muswell Hill eco retirement development - Ham&High

Cohousing News from Google -


Co-Housing: Combatting loneliness in Muswell Hill eco retirement development
Three new co-housing developments in London, all designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards and backed by developer Hanover, are aiming to provide a remedy to this situation. Maria Brenton, 69, is part of a group, Cohousing Woodside, planning to move into a ...

The Giants Win the Peanut!

Laird's Blog -

In 1951 Bobby Thomson hit "the shot heard round the world." With the Giants down 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning in a do-or-die playoff game against the dog-ass Dodgers, they fought back to have runners on second and third with two outs and a run in. Dodger manager Charlie Dressen brought in Ralph Branca to relieve a tiring Don Newcombe to face Bobby Thomson (who had hit 31 homers in the regular season—some off Branca).

After throwing the first pitch for a strike, Thomson pulled a high inside fast ball into the left field stands, and Giant radio announcer Russ Hodges said it all:


[Did you ever wonder why the Dodgers chose to face Thomson, a home run threat, with first base open? On deck was the Giants' rookie-of the year candidate, Willie Mays, and the Dodgers wanted no part of him.]

The reason I bring that up is that two nights ago Travis Ishikawa, a journeyman defensive specialist that the Giants brought up from their Fresono farm team for the second half of the year, took a fastball from St Louis Cardinal reliever Michael Wacha into the right field stands, sending the San Francisco Giants (which the New York Giants of Bobby Thomson became when owner Horace Stoneham moved them west in 1958) to the World Series. Just like Bobby Thomson 63 years ago, Travis' pennant clinching belt came with two on board in the bottom of the ninth. Travis will never have to buy a beer again as long as he drinks in the City by the Bay.

I write about all this because I'm a sport fan. Baseball is my first love, and the team I love above all others is the San Francisco Giants, which I inextricably bonded with the moment they departed the Polo Grounds of Manhattan and landed in the Golden State. There is a capriciousness and purity about this that may only have been possible among eight year olds who grew up watching Leave It to Beaver, but here I am.

When Travis went yard on Michael, my inner eight year old went bananas: a Wach-off homer! My 33-year-old son—a diehard Cardinal fan—grudgingly texted me, "Hope you turkeys win it all now..." which passes for graciousness among the male sports fans in my bloodline.

Knowing of this internecine rivalry between Ceilee (the Cardinal fan) and Laird (the Giant fan), Annie (Ceilee's mother, who grew up an Indian fan—talk about long sufffering) sent me a two-word email the next day, "Go Giants!" After all, it's not just about getting to the World Series; you actually have to play it. In this case against a red-hot Kansas City Royals team that ripped off eight straight playoff victories to get there on the American League side of the bracket.

Semi-famous for her tongue-in-cheek malapropisms, Annie (whom I've known since 1968) was wont to ask each summer, "Who's gonna win the peanut this year?" This from the same person who grew up attending a Protestant church inspired by the teachings of John Calvin and who thought as a child that road signs at intersections were expressly for the benefit of her congregation: "Presbyterian Crossing."

For the sake of father-son relations it's gratifying that we've been trading ascendency the last five years, with the Giants winning the pennant in the even years and the Cardinals in the odd ones. Now all the Giants have to do is cool off the Royals. Both teams have had a good run to get to the Series. Both snuck into the playoffs as wild card teams, yet roared through their opposition with ease. It's the fifth-seeded Giants against the fourth-seeded Royals. Who's streak will endure for one more round?

Though it's anybody's Series, I feel lucky. Surely it's an omen that Bobby Thomson's birthday was Oct 25, the same as mine. At least such rabbit-foot logic makes sense to this baseball fan, a part of whom will always be eight years old.

Go Giants!

Waiting for Frost

Laird's Blog -

Today (at noon) marked the exact mid-point of October. As we cross into the dark side, a strange thing happens—gardeners start longing for a frost. 

Mostly, frost is something homesteaders want to assiduously distance themselves from. They want it to depart their fields as early in the spring as possible and stay away late into the fall—but there are limits. As the root cellar fills and pantry shelves begin to groan with the collected abundance of the growing year, you reach a point where enough is enough. Sure, you could just walk away and let the rest of the garden go, but that's hard to do; farmers are hard-wired to gather everything they grow, and it sometimes takes a frost to euthanize a garden that still has life in it. We're just about there.
 • • •Homesteading in mid-America means that nine months of the year (September through May) you're paying close attention to whether the forecast calls for temperatures above or below freezing.

In the Winter
Although this is the sleepy time for growing things, there is still plenty of outdoor work to do (it's a farm, after all). If you need to cut wood, for example, it makes a huge difference if the temperature is 25º or 35º. If there's no snow on the ground, then 25º is much better. The ground will be firm and you should have no problem maneuvering in the woodlot. At 35º, think mud.

On the other hand, if there is snow then 35º may be better because the white stuff will melt off the log (less ice to dull your chain saw) and the ground is likely to still be frozen. 

If you're splitting wood, I suggest looking for something closer to 15º. The ground won't be greasy (better footing) and the cord wood pops right open in the cold (plus the brisk temperatures help counterbalance the heat you generate wielding a maul).

In the Spring
When the sap starts rising in the trees (typically in February in northeast MO), everyone starts to get itchy to plant garden. While some things can tolerate freezing temperatures (peas, onions, beets, carrots, potatoes, salad greens, and brassicas) most of the garden has to wait patiently for danger of frost to have past.

Depending on how green your thumb is—and how long you've been without fresh vegetables—it can be an excruciating wait. (Is there anything more delicious than your first homegrown or wildcrafted salad of the year?)

In the FallOn the one hand, homesteaders keep a close eye on Weather Underground (or old ankle injuries) for early warnings of impending freezes so they know when to strip the garden—after doing all that work to get everything planted and weeded, you want to capture as much of the bounty as possible. In the 40 years I've lived in northeast Missouri we've had our first killing frost as early as Sept 15 and as late as Nov 10—which is quite a wide range. Obviously this means big swings are possible in the amount of produce harvested from gardens at the end of the season.

If you last into October though (as we have this year), the sweet corn is long gone, the tomatoes have already dialed it back on their own, and the green beans have dried up. Still going are peppers, okra, and basil, all of which will just keep on trucking until Jack Frost paints them white.

I cranked out a batch of end-of-season pepper relish last week and I believe those will be the last jars we add to our store of 2104 canned goods. In the weeks ahead there will be sweet potatoes to dig, and the late root crops and salad greens will persist into December, but everybody here is ready to trade access to a few more late peppers in exchange for witnessing a population crash among houseflies and grasshoppers.

We're ready now to sing hallelujah and amen to another growing year.

Rocky Corner cohousing development wins funding, closes on Bethany land - Milford-Orange Bulletin

Cohousing News from Google -

Rocky Corner cohousing development wins funding, closes on Bethany land
Milford-Orange Bulletin
BETHANY >> Rocky Corner, Connecticut's first cohousing development, has won funding from two community groups and closed on a former dairy farm property in Bethany. The 33-acre land purchase was completed on Sept. 23, securing the former Elsie ...

Saying "No" to Prospective Members

Laird's Blog -

One of the trickiest issues that intentional communities face is screening prospective members.

Some groups find this so odious (judging whether others are good enough) that they don't even try. Instead, they rely on prospectives to sort themselves out appropriately, based on what the community has said about itself (on its website, in brochures, or in listings), and how the new person relates to the community when they visit.

Another factor when it comes to screening is that communities often borrow money from banks to develop their property and are thus subject to federal Fair Housing Laws, which means they may not discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. Some groups mistakenly translate this into a proscription against using any discernment about who joins the group (or buys a house) but that's not true. It's perfectly legal to insist that people be financially solvent, not have been convicted of felonies, or agree to abide by common values and existing agreements. In fact, it's legal to choose against a candidate for any reason other than the seven protected classes listed above.

What's more, there are any number of people who are attracted to community for the right reasons but are not a good fit, and it's better all around if the community plays an active role in screening for decent matches. In many cases (unless the would-be member is a community veteran) the new person is still wrestling with the question of whether any intentional community is a good choice for them, much less your community. There will be many new and strange things that people have to make sense of during their initial visit, and in the process they can easily miss clues as to whether the visit is going well or not as seen through the host's eyes.

Finally, when you take into account how important it is to have your membership aligned about what you're trying to create, it becomes clear why it's not a good plan to rely mainly on the new person figuring it out on their own. Yes, this may mean that someone washes out sooner, but isn't that better for them as well—rather than getting a false impression about how things are going and discovering the mismatch six months after moving in? Delayed disclosure may relieve the community of having a difficult conversation up front, but at what cost?

OK, let's suppose I've convinced you that communities should get actively involved in membership selection. In broad strokes, there are four possibilities about how a prospective visit may go:

a) Both the community and the prospective realize it's not a good fit. While there's the possibility of some hurt feelings if the prospective feels that what they found did not match what the community promised, mostly this ends amicably and there's no problem.

b) You both like each other and the prospect converts to becoming a new member. Hooray! That's what you had in mind and you're off to a good start. Of course, the honeymoon will end and not everything that starts out well stays that way. While there's no guarantee of long-term happiness, you did your best and now you take your chances.

c) The prospective doesn't feel there's a good fit, though the community likes what they see and wants to encourage the prospective to hang in there. Most of the time when this occurs it's because the prospective comes across as a "good catch" and will likely be attractive to a number of communities. In short, they have options. In this situation also, there's unlikely to be hard feelings. The community may be sad at losing a good prospect, but dating doesn't always lead to marriage and you knew that all along.

d) The hardest combination—and the one I want to focus on in the remainder of this essay—is when the prospective likes the community but it's not reciprocated. Now what?

In general, this is because of one or more of the following factors:

o  Poor social skills
There's a high value placed on good communication skills in community and it can be a serious problem if the prospective is not good at:
—Articulating what they're thinking
—Articulating what they're feeling
—Hearing accurately what others are saying
—Expressing themselves in ways that are not provocative
—Taking in feedback about how others are reacting to their behavior
—Being sensitive to how their statements and actions are landing with others

The issue is not so much whether the prospective fits right in, as whether the members feel they can work things out with the prospective when there are differences—because there will always be differences (eventually).

o  Weak finances
Sometimes it's a question of whether the prospective has sufficient assets or income to meet the financial obligations of membership. Not everyone who is drawn to community has their life together economically.

o  Too needy
Occasionally prospectives come to the community to be taken care of, and there appears to be a frank imbalance between what the person can give relative to the level of support they're needing. For the most part communities are looking for a positive or break-even balance from prospectives and will tend to shy away from those with mental health issues, emotional instability, addictions, or extreme physical limitations—unless there is a plan offered whereby those needs will be taken care of in a way that works for all parties.

Note that there are some excellent examples of communities that have built their identity around serving disadvantaged populations:
—Gould Farm (Monterey MA) focuses on mental health
—Innisfree Village (Crozet VA) focuses on intellectual disabilities
—Camphill Village (the first in the US was located in Copake NY and now there are 10 others) focuses on developmental disabilities
—L'Arche Communities (the first in the US was located in Erie PA and now there are 17 others) focus on intellectual disabilities

o  Failure to keep commitments
It's hard on communities when members make agreements and then don't abide by them; when they make commitments and then fail to keep them. Sure, everyone has a bad week, but with some people it's a pattern and communities are leery of folks who aren't good at keeping their word.

To be sure, it can be difficult to discern a pattern during a visitor period, yet it's one of the reasons groups like to ask prospectives to lend a hand in group work parties—so they can assess follow through and work ethic. People who come across as allergic to group work don't tend to be viewed as good members.

o  Too different
This factor is something of a nebulous catchall. It can be an unusual personality, a quirky communication style, strange tastes or habits… Perhaps this traces to a different cultural background, but regardless of the origin it can be hard when there are no others like this person already in the group. Members may feel awkward in this person's presence and questions arise about whether they can make relationship with this person.

Even where there is a group commitment to diversity, that doesn't mean that everyone can find a happy home there.
• • • One of the measures of a group's maturity is its ability to have authentic and compassionate conversations about hard things. And discussing the sense that a particular prospective is pushing the group's edge around the limits of what it can handle is an excellent example of a difficult conversation.

Saying "no" is not fun, and it can be very hard to hear it if you're the one being voted off the island. Yet sometimes groups have to do it, and putting it off doesn't make it easier later. The best you can do is anticipate that this is coming and discuss ahead of time what qualities you want in new members, so that you've already established the criteria you'll use before you start applying them.

There will still be challenges: such as the dynamic where one member wants to stretch to take a chance on a prospective that another member is convinced is a poor risk, but at least you'll have established a basis for the conversation—in this case: what is the perceived risk, and how much is too much?

While living in community can be a wonderful experience—I've been doing it for four decades and love it—it isn't always easy.

Questioning Technology

Laird's Blog -

Do you ever wonder about how much technology to embrace in your life? I do. I figure the answer lies somewhere in the gulf between ball point pens and nuclear power plants, but where exactly should we draw the line?

I realize that we're not likely to stuff any genies back in the bottle, but having a genie on hand does not necessarily mean we should request wishes from it. What is the intersection between a sustainable life and a technologically abundant one? What technologies make sense?

This requires some discernment. 

First, we can cross off the list those things that are flat-out too dangerous, such as automatic weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And it's not much of a stretch to go a layer deeper and eliminate nerve gas, crewless aircraft, and genetically modified organisms (such as tomatoes spliced with fish genes).

Next we can knock off technological advances of dubious utility, such as electric knives, fake seafood, and stretch Hummers. In some cases, we've just taken a good thing too far: vacuum cleaners are useful, but who needs one with variable speed suction? 

Of course, some choices are far more nuanced: table saws are dangerous (accounting for half of all woodshop accidents) yet also very useful—not many carpenters can approximate the precision of a machined straight line cut with a rip saw.

One of the most important lessons I learned from doing construction was to figure out how to build things such that I could repair them when they failed—not if they failed; when they failed. It occurs to me that that wouldn’t be such a bad way to assess technology either. If I can’t reasonably repair a thing myself—or at least locally—how dependent do I want to be on it? How confident am I that I’ll have access to replacements? What will I do instead if that technology is no longer available? It may make sense to use it until it's gone, or it may not. Sometimes dependency on new technology leads to an atrophy of the old technology—the one you'll need to rely on when the new one is no longer available. 

For example, I suspect we're losing a generation of farmers who understand the intricacies of crop rotation and green manure cropping in the post-Word War II era, where mainstream agriculture has come to rely on anhydrous ammonia for nitrogen and pre-emergent herbicides for weed control. These are things to ponder. 
What about computers? Leaving aside the obvious fact that no is going to be manufacturing microchips in their basement, to what extent is computer technology anti-relational? Are email, texting, and Facebook becoming a substitute for face-to-face conversation, and at what cost? To what extent are people increasingly holed up at home at a keyboard (like I am right now) instead of visiting the neighbors? For that matter, how often do you encounter people fully engrossed with their laptops and smartphones even when they're in social spaces like coffee shops and restaurants? I'm not convinced this is a good trend.

Google is able to track what kind of information we're seeking and then display ads for products and services related to your search. Amazon suggests titles similar to the one you asked about. On the one hand this is smart advertising. On the other it's encouraging us to reinforce our opinions rather than seek a variety of viewpoints. Is the increasing sophistication of information technology reinforcing the trend toward polarization that currently plagues political discourse in this country? 

These are not simple questions, but the most dangerous choice of all is not asking them.

First-of-its-kind Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing building breaks ground on 12th Ave - CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

Cohousing News from Google -

CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

First-of-its-kind Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing building breaks ground on 12th Ave
CHS Capitol Hill Seattle
As the area ponders two new developments on the edges of Capitol Hill, a one-of-a-kind project in the heart of the Hill moved forward last week with a few little scoops and a big milestone. Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing, a communal development where ...

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First-of-its-kind Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing building breaks ground on 12th Ave - CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

Cohousing News from Google -

CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

First-of-its-kind Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing building breaks ground on 12th Ave
CHS Capitol Hill Seattle
As the area ponders two new developments on the edges of Capitol Hill, a one-of-a-kind project in the heart of the Hill moved forward last week with a few little scoops and a big milestone. Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing, a communal development where ...


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