a cosmic leap

the.semitrailer.project

day 079  : :  blog post 003

OK, so there has been a month between blog posts. Good reason for it: the “cosmic leap”. That being: the epic gulf between living in a unit with running water, electricity when you flick a switch, a place for your poo to go when you flush, things like solid walls and so on. It’s a reasonably big deal to have to fabricate this stuff quickly in a manner that will last the better part of a year of building our tiny house without feeling like we are perpetually camping. Thus the span between blog posts: I’ve been busy dammit 😝

Not only busy, but fretting about my capabilities not only in terms of our little tent village, but what I’ll be like building a “proper” dwelling. I spend countless hours frustrated with stupid tasks like figuring out how my solar panels should be mounted or how plumbing works or what a good composting toilet should function like. Everything takes WAY longer than I feel like it should. WAY.

Added bonus: it’s winter and cold with random moments of inconvenient rain and intense wind. I’d have my frustrations no other way…pile it on!

It’s not only the time taken but my mental anguish of not knowing how some basic stuff works after many decades of being on this planet. The dumbfounded looks I got at the electrical shop when I was talking about how 12V set-ups work or what material my ground wire should be makes me feel like I’ve been living in a cave. Of course it seems like every Australian goes camping and so they all are experts at 12-volt everything, but I’m just a noob who knows how to use a camera and his computer and that’s about it so it seems.

I also made the decision not to post too much about this part of the process as I wanted this to be about building a tiny house on a semi trailer, even though my new friend Rob believes that I should be showcasing the whole experience. I can say that it is definitely not for the feint of heart and I give Heidi credit for stepping away from homely comforts and embracing living in a tent for a few months and then in a tiny house. She’s taking it slowly and occasionally shakily (we did a re-design of our sleeping set-up after a recent blustery wind storm that vibrated our bell tent too much for her liking) but is still on-board with the adventure…for now! I agree with Rob in the sense that while this adventure is a definite challenge, it is worth doing these things in life to shake ourselves awake from our routine. It is good for people to see that it is possible to break loose from convention and follow our dreams, even if they seem crazy to others.

And so I continue to shape our temporary home. It is taking longer than I hoped for but I do realise that it has to be emotionally sustainable for us to do the tiny house build, and therefore has to be comfortable enough, functional and not a hindrance on a day-to-day basis. So if getting running hot and cold water, a fuss-free toilet, warm and safe shelter and reliable power takes me a bit longer, I guess it will pay off in the coming months. And I suppose (he says, trying to convince himself) I am learning transportable skills now for the tiny house, so hopefully it’s not at all going to waste!

welcome to the semitrailer project

the.semitrailer.project

day 043  : :  blog post 001

And so it begins!

We have decided to take the plunge and start building a tiny house. Heidi and I started talking about the possibility of compact living when we first met, as we loved the idea of simple living and neat designs like straw bale and cobb, cottages, cabins and other cute, handmade dwellings. Tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) came a bit later when I started looking into the work of tiny house granddaddy Jay Shafer who began to popularise the idea of living tiny on wheels around 2008.

It didn’t take us long to start dreaming of having one too, especially in the increasingly challenging Australian housing market. However, dreaming and doing are two very different things, and it took us awhile to get a combination of finances, opportunity and courage to put it all together into action.

I have cited the day as “43” here as I have unofficially made the end of a recent event the day that shifted our ambitions into gear: the first-ever Australian Tiny House Festival, in Bendigo, Victoria on 23-24th March, 2019. Once we saw all the great ideas, likeminded folks talking about it and getting excited about it, real-life houses we could walk inside and enthusiastic speakers giving inspired presentations, we felt like we had put it off long enough.

The only sad part is that, once again, we were ahead of the curve on this one but weren’t brave enough to be a pioneer and take the plunge when we first started thinking about it. Despite it seeming like a “popular” and “trendy” thing to do now, we still feel like it is an unconventional approach to solving the housing problem. Thinking about it more though, I’m sure that I am thinking it is more common than it is simply because I personally have been thinking about it for many years!

We have arrived at today, day 43, and the first entry to a journal that I aim to keep about the trials and tribulations of building not only a THOW, but one that is built from a trailer that usually sits behind a semi-rig. I’ll go into detail about this in my next blog post, but in short we heard about this approach from friends of ours and it appealed to Heidi and I because of:

  • the larger, maximised floor space
  • the pre-made outer structure that is already built to be on the road
  • the near limitless weight possibilities
  • the universal towing ease
  • the low entry price of acquiring the base trailer

among other things. We’ll soon see if this has been the right decision for us, but looking at the first trailer creation of our friend Rob, it seems like there is every chance that it will be a great canvas for us to create our very first home build!

001-delivering palletsDay 43, in practical terms, was just a day of me picking up some wood pallets (something I’m familiar with as I’ve built many an item of furnishing with them 😄)  in order to deliver them to the property where we’re doing our build and create a platform that our temporary tent home will reside on. So nothing too momentous, but a significant first step towards the big build and only 3 weeks away from living in a canvas shelter while we build for the rest of 2019!

Let the memories begin…


I’ll be throwing some photos of our journey up at our Insta site the.semitrailer.project and I’ll be documenting progress on YouTube as well (link to come)

Community road-tripping, Mark II

Just a few days ago, I was in the dark, seam-sealing our tent at Heidi’s folks’ house, trying to do the last couple of chores before we officially headed out on our 2016 Intentional Community road trip. IMG_8293A few days before that, I indiscriminately grabbed boxes of camping gear from our long-term storage, and packed them into our car without even looking inside them to check everything was there. Thinking of this now confirms to me the somewhat blasé nature of this current expedition we are embarking on compared to the “fanfare” of last year’s first trip. That’s not to say I am treating this trip lightly, but perhaps I am approaching it with a bit more knowledge and confidence in this life direction we’re learning about.

As we wrapped up our first trip through Victoria last year, we essentially just rolled on with our world packed on our backs, hopping around Adelaide house-sitting for the next 9 months. That sense of exploration continued as we left the possibility wide open to continue our journey where we left off, hoping to cement the feeling that intentional community living was indeed our Preferred Future Lifestyle.aquarius

While Victoria offered an amazing variety of communities, we felt that we would be remiss if we didn’t investigate the glory that is the north-east of NSW and SE of Queensland. Nimbin’s famous Aquarius festival of 1973 spawned numerous “hippie” communities in these regions, with the most resilient (and presumably most successful) of these still pushing along after over 40 years. There has to be some valuable lessons to be had in these places.

A fortuitous sequence of events brought us together with a new friend, Ed Wilby, who is a founder of the Alliance of Intentional Communities Australia (AICA) and let us stay at his home (in the middle of an amazing national park) prior to this trip. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time and discussion with someone who is passionate about intentional community living and development, and who may well figure into our future more prominently as I hope to help the AICA out in their fledgling developmental stages.

It feels like all roads are heading towards our intentional community dreams, which is exciting to acknowledge. In the month or so leading up to our trip, we had a selection of positively-charged community-related experiences:

  • a good friend came across a piece of property that could be used for a communal village and opened a dialogue about that potential
  • I attended a talk from a resident at 700-member Findhorn community in Scotland who introduced all sorts of interesting possibilities
  • had opportunities to meet some great people through Ed (mentioned above) who are in the process of going down the road of starting a community in Adelaide
  • stopped in for a very inspired visit at Rose and Andy’s place (Cornerstone community we visited last year) in Bendigo, Victoria who continue to blow us away with their easy spirituality and positive affect on their community
  • encouraging enquiries from friends we’re visiting who are taking an active interest in our journey
Kito

Kito curled up for the journey

As of this writing, we have an eco-village, an Amish-like Christian village, a seaside all-rounder community and artistic/spiritual co-op in post-Aquarius Nimbin lined up over the next month to kick off our trip, so it should be very enlightening! By some people’s standards this might all seem a bit mad, but for me this colourful list of places only serves to engage my imagination of what is possible when we break away from the structures imposed by the mainstream.

And so we embark on the next chapter of our Intentional Community Adventure; we hope you will be coming along for the ride!

 

 

You can see Heidi’s first blog post for our journey here.

 

Di and Ruth: compact community

~ DESTINATION ONE: STRATHALBYN ~

Community can come in small packages.

In our planning leading up to this little adventure of ours we’ve gone and chosen some communities to visit solely based on a paragraph or two of information via the ic.org website, our WWOOFing book or a brief phone call. Reducing the decision to a small set of “highlights” based on some preconceived ideas of what community is all about will undoubtedly reveal some surprising realities once we arrive, but I’m beginning to believe that this will be the joy of the experience – if we allow it to be that way. Our first community experience has already been that way: before arriving, I had conjured an image of what sort of “true” community could possibly exist between two people, but it has already proven to be an unexpected learning experience.

Heidi, Di and Mike

Heidi, Di and Mike

The baby steps of our 2-month trip took us to the homes of Heidi’s spiritual director Di and her friend Ruth. From the start, Di was comfortable using the term community to describe her and Ruth’s setup: conjoined properties consisting of two houses with no dividing fence and a shared backyard. Ruth and Di, who have been friends for 40 years, move between the two buildings freely but that divide is enough to provide some individual expression and some personal space to be able to retire to whenever they each want it.

So, looking at the way I perceive “community” to mean, I see it as:

  • a group of people sharing resources to reduce their collective environmental impact and save some redundant expenses;
  • living in close proximity with one another so that regular interactions are encouraged;
  • some common interests that connect everyone;
  • an overall care for one another’s well-being;
  • having shared experiences with like-minded people that enhance life’s journey

In this context, Di and Ruth are easily covering many of these points, but are simply doing it (at the moment) between the two of them. Their focus might not be so much on environmental concerns, plus having only two people to do everything can have its downsides, but their positive outlook, ease of lifestyle and welcoming hospitality definitely made it feel like they were creating a larger community than just the two of them. I definitely felt like a big warm hug was embracing us while we were there 😀

In planning this trip, we had broken it into roughly two parts: intentional communities and WWOOFing stops. However, I’m now beginning to think that the line is blurred with solid community likely existing in the WWOOFing stops as well. If Di and Ruth are an example of how it can be with just a small community then the places we are looking at who are often connecting with families, other like-minded individuals or the wider community will possibly have a similar feel. In other words, I will try to not place everyone in a tidy box before I experience what their version of community has to offer!

Go forth with an open mind.

Our preconceptions of what we expect to encounter on this trip will certainly colour how we actually experience it, as it was pointed out to us by Michael, a guest at dinner the other night at Di’s home. Michael had traveled extensively through Australia and abroad living communally and was a valuable addition to the conversation. His arrival at this meal was particularly fortuitous as our host Di had happened to bump into him the day that we were visiting and so we could pick his brain a bit regarding our own travels.

The advice Michael provided was useful but was one of the few things he actually told us (as not to contradict his own advice) was: the less we impose our own biases onto an upcoming visit to a community, the more we’ll get out of it. Upon arrival, it’s too easy to initially judge the way things are done by others if they don’t sync with our own methods, but if we wait, listen, learn and absorb, in due time we’ll get a more authentic view of how the community ticks. That’s not to say that our own perspective isn’t valid but it’s easy to arrive somewhere and think “why would they do that like this?” or “this community is broken here and here and I could do it better”.

Saying this, I think I’d like to experiment with my own bias and I plan to write a short paragraph before my forthcoming community visits in which I explain my own expectations and predictions of what the place will be like. I will be basing it solely on what I have read about the place, the vibe I get from any contact I’ve had with them, and my own biases like judgments about animal rearing/eating or lifestyle decisions. Hopefully this will help me examine my own reasons for thinking the way I do and see if I am putting too much emphasis on what’s in my head rather than what I am experiencing with an open mind! More to come…! 🙂

PS. Sorry for the analytical ramble: at this stage things are less about experiences and more about theory!

You can also view Heidi’s take on this visit to Di and Ruth in her blog at Miss Roo’s Adventures

 

Strathalbyn

The beautiful town centre of Strathalbyn

 

Be the change you want to see in the world

I love that quote by Gandhi; I have embraced it and strive to live by it but it’s surprisingly difficult. Not so much in the principle of it but rather the not-being-preachy-to-others part.

I try hard to live a simple life: happy with less needs, less “stuff”, less impact on this planet, less treating being financially successful like that’s the be-all, end-all of life. However, time and time again I need to be reminded that people will likely internally consider and respond to the subtle suggestion of observation of the way I conduct my life rather than having to explain why I think that the way they are doing things is wrong. If they see with their own eyes and in their own way how I respond to the challenges I face or handle certain lifestyle decisions and see that I am still happy (maybe less stressed, more free time, etc…) and functioning quite fine with less then perhaps they might want to consider incorporating some changes in their own life. Even if it has nothing to do with being personally happier as such, but seeing that I care about injustices, the world we live in plus the consideration for people around me, then the need to do something for the greater good might be inspiring in itself.

Even writing this down makes me feel preachy though. And a bit self-righteous. As if I am living the perfectly low-impact, community-centric, walking-with-the-poor, know-your-neighbor, self-sustaining lifestyle that I think everyone else should be striving for. I guess the aim of living this lifestyle that I believe in is that if there’s something — even if it’s just tiny — that makes someone reconsider something they could improve on in their own life, then the ball might start rolling to get more and more people beginning to change.

The reason for dwelling on these thoughts recently stemmed from my frustration the other night with hearing yet another self-absorbed person talking about how important and expensive their new car/house/furniture is, as if this is the most important part of their journey as a human being. I was frustratedly telling Heidi that I’d like to remind them of a few facts about how wasteful and shallow their consumer-driven, Earth-destroying lifestyle is, but she quickly reminded me of the risk of being labelled a hypocrite if even one thing in my life could be argued the same way (ie. driving a car, flying too much, using too many carbon emissions, living in a comfy house instead of under a tarp in the gutter, etc). Best to keep doing my best at what I’m trying to achieve and let examples of those actions give people some ideas.

Anyway, the very fact that I’m even writing this post is probably sounding hypocritical in its own right, but sometimes I just need to blather on to maybe make a point… 😀

Here; these guys say it really well and are being rather quite blunt about it!

Swirly lifey stuff

I’m on the eve of my tenth move in 2 years, weary at the thought in principle but on further reflection, relishing the idea that I have very little “stuff” to actually move. What a change!

As recent as 2 months ago, I had to haul things I had in storage at a friend’s place in Brisbane over to another friend’s place (bless their hearts for being so kind to make room for my crap) which took a 1 1/2 ton truck and about 10 hours of my time to load and unload. This is of course stuff that I am not using, just towing about from one location to the next with consideration of using it at some point. Meanwhile, I have been successfully living my life for the past year and a half with none of it. Sure, I miss the odd thing like when I say “oh, I have a Breville in storage; would be good to have a toastie right now” or “my golf clubs are in storage,” but these things happen so infrequently as to not recall thinking of them moments later. So when I thought “oh here we go again, another bloomin’ move (substitute “bloomin” with a more colourful term), I was pleasantly surprised to find when I really thought about it, I have about 4 or 5 boxes of stuff, clothes and 4 or 5 items of furniture and that’s it. Easy. Yay!

Interestingly, I’m possibly moving out with my girlfriend’s friend (my beautiful Heidi is old-fashioned so we cannot live together yet and thus the living with her friend 🙂 ) who is very much a simple-living-eco-friendly-sustainability-loving-community-oriented person like I have become, which is a new experience for me. Perusing potential dwellings with someone who heads out to the backyard first to see where the veggie patch might go before looking at the house itself is different but refreshing; I like her priorities! After many years of looking at things through the standard lazy commercialised-living lens as many other people do, I’m truly starting to consider things like: hoping for rainwater tanks and solar panels on the property; how passive heating/cooling will work effectively in the house; what fruit trees exist on the land and how much space is there for growing veggies; ensuring there is opportunity for community gatherings and sharing meals with people; and making sure that shops are walkable/rideable to conserve fuel. Whereby I was quite happy to live alone until recently, I’m now reveling in the opportunity to live with someone else and develop a greater sense of community; something I’ve spoken about but not really put into practice yet. It’s quite exciting!

I’ll update when I find a new place and we’ll see how many of these new thoughts have been put into practice.

All of this moving comes amidst a push for funding on my human trafficking film which we’re starting to work on. My feelings about the environment and climate change became blurred when I was away looking at people dying or screwing up their lives from poverty, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry. G’night! 🙂

Defeating my cravings

Yum!! No, no...naughty...

No matter how much great-tasting healthy food I eat, I never crave it like I crave junk food: chocolate, hot chips, ice cream, potato/corn chips. Why does stuff that tastes so good have to be bad for you?? (I know there are healthier versions of all these items, but I don’t crave those versions either!) Naturally, you don’t have to be a health-food Nazi to live simply, but I suppose as you start living ethically, all these things follow suit as it seems that so many of the companies that produce junk food are also unethical in their business practices (I wonder why this is? No really, I want to know why!).

I got a craving tonight for ice cream. I told myself that I could supplant this need with salt & vinegar chips if the ice cream was unattainable. It was 10:30pm. I had my car keys in hand and I thought “what are you doing? You don’t need this right now, at this time of night. And, all the companies who make what I want are evil!” I was so very right! Sitting down at the computer and looking online (ah, the Internet, how I love thee…), I found that my second ice cream choice, a McDonalds hot fudge sundae, comes from a company voted several times as the world’s most unethical company. From destroying rainforest to building farms for their cattle to illegally underpaying staff, they are a wasteful and shameful company from a respectable business point of view. I knew their food was fatty and unhealthy, but this will seal the deal for me never going there again.

My first ice cream choice, Streets’ Magnum series, I found listed in the great iPhone app “Shop Ethical!” which is a searchable database that tells you all about most food products sold in Australia and rates them for their ethical behavior. Streets is a Unilever subsidiary, and Unilever have a poor ethical score due to animal testing and human rights issues, and generally poor ethical practices, shameful for one of the largest companies in the world.

The backup plan of potato chips would have either come from Doritos (owned by Pepsico who sit near the bottom of several responsible shopping guides and ethiscores; though I could’ve gone with CC’s who get a decent score) or salt n’ vinegar ones from Smiths (also Pepsico; Samboy or Kettle would be ok). There are some alternatives to the unethical companies but you have to know who is owned by whom. For example, between the infamously dubious Nestlé, Mars and Kraft companies, there are hundreds of subsidiaries that you probably don’t realise have these irresponsible umbrella groups controlling them. When I was looking for dog food in Coles today, every single bag of dry food was owned under Mars & Nestlé even though there were all of: Purina, Lucky Dog, One, Beneful, Pedigree, Pal, Chum, My Dog, Good-o, Optimum and Supercoat. In addition to boycotting these companies, best to write the producers and suppliers and tell them what you think as it’s the only way they’ll know that we want some change to take place. I wrote Coles today to tell them this.

Anyway, at the end of it all, I safely convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by denying myself of these treats (which in itself is very good practice) and instead had some fresh bread dipped in balsamic vinegar & fresh, local olive oil. ‘Twas tasty for my tum too; better yet, it was tasty for my conscience! 🙂