2016 in Review

This blog has certainly fallen down the priorities list, but I felt it was important to offer up a quick review of 2016.

It was a BIG year for us. We had a great earnings year and educated ourselves on a number of investing and early retirement concepts. Even after a pretty awful start with the dog surgeries, the end result was a huge increase in net worth, the likes of which we’ve never seen. From 2014 to 2015 our net worth increased a piddly $28K. From 2015 to 2016 it increased by over $100K. Wait what? o_O

FYI my definition of net worth means cash and investments, not assets like vehicles or home equity.

Mid-year we started saving like our lives depended on it, and the result was astounding. And this was only a partial year of dedicated, deliberate savings, so I’m very excited to see what progress we might make in 2017. We have big ideas on what to do to the house, and now that we know where all our money is going, it seems like an easier task to earmark some money to improving the house after making substantial cuts in wasteful spending in other areas of our lives.

We have cooked up this seemingly crazy early retirement plan. I won’t go into the grisly details, as I honestly don’t recall who I gave this blog link to back in 2015 when I started it (I don’t want to spook any coworkers!), but we are about 25% of the way to our goal. We achieved a 53% savings rate in 2016 (meaning, we socked away over half of all the money we made in the year, less taxes). In 2017, I’m hoping we can save 65% of our income and end the year just shy of 40% of our goal. That of course is all dependent on a number of factors outside of my control, including the narcissist we’ve recently elected and what impact he might have on financial markets. I’m just going to continue to stick to the plan, and the markets will do what the markets will do.

That concept (not panicking when markets are inevitably volatile) is a good segue to the specific books and blogs that have gotten us to this point. I don’t want to plug products, but I do want to give credit where credit is due. It’s quite obvious to me that the public school system completely neglected to teach me how to be financially independent. I mean, I remember learning how to write a check in school. Your name goes here, you write this here, and voila, you now understand how to spend money. Fantastic. They never warned me about credit cards. They never taught me about debt. By sheer luck I never made any of those life-debilitating mistakes myself, but many people can’t say the same. Money is a taboo concept to discuss openly, and frankly that’s why so many people are bad at it. So I’ll be more than willing to talk money with anyone that asks, and want to mention a few of the resources that have helped me along the way.

Below are the books and websites I’ve been devouring this past year that have helped educate me on how to be financially independent. I know that sounds like an infomercial… but this means retirement people, at a very early age… like being able to exit the Monday through Friday, nine to five beige cubicle hellhole some of us call home and be able to start the REAL work of your life, which honestly could be anything and everything that makes you fulfilled and happy, that may or may not provide a livable wage (or a wage at all!).

I hope your 2016 was a good one and that 2017 finds you well. And I hope you may take the time to check these books and blogs out. They could change your life (goddamn that really does sound like an infomercial).

Books:

  • Your Money or Your Life – Vicki Robin
  • The Simple Path to Wealth – J.L. Collins
  • A Random Walk down Wall Street – Burton G. Malkiel

Internet:

 

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And Just Like That, it’s Fall!

The summer FLEW by and I was not diligent and did not update this blog, not even once. Ah well. Here’s your update in a nutshell.

We made it out to Taos in the spring. It was a great feeling being back there. We got to catch up with a lot of people and finally got to show some family and friends what a finished product Earthship looks and feels like. We also did some awesome hiking and overall relaxing. I really can’t imagine vacationing anywhere else… we haven’t planned another trip out yet, but I’m sure there will be one in our future.

School is done. A Certificate of Organizational Leadership from St. Kate’s is now mine. Homework was overwhelming. Relationships were made. Fun times were had. We’re all glad it’s over but fondly look back on it. None of us (that I’m aware of) chose to go on to pursue a full degree. First off, St. Kate’s was disorganized as hell. For the money they charge for a graduate degree, I expect more. Much more. Second, the degree Ecumen chose is a very fluffy degree – Organizational Leadership. I’m not even really sure what that means or who would require it in a job description. If I were to choose a graduate degree to pursue, this would not be it. Lastly… we all had a new appreciation for free time and I don’t think anyone was ready to dive back into homework after finishing. So we all happily accepted our certificates and went back to normal life. I’m now locked in to staying at Ecumen for at least 2 years after graduation per the tuition reimbursement agreement, which shouldn’t be an issue.

Dog is recovering nicely. She still gets up slowly and isn’t quite as fast or agile as she used to be, but she’s her usual dumb-dog self and gets to run and have fun again. Those surgeries and the post-op were a huge nasty expense and an awful experience. We’re glad to be done with it and glad that she didn’t have any major complications.

I’ve been learning a LOT about early retirement and investing and have made some fairly significant life changes in an effort to get us across the finish line faster. I started biking to work instead of driving. Its 7.5 miles to work one way, so when I ride I get in 15 miles that day. I figure I save about $8 a day by riding instead of driving (using U.S. government mileage reimbursement rates). I also am getting in great shape and feel energized when I get to work and feel nice and exhausted when I go to bed. My normal commute is 20 minutes and riding is only 30-40 minutes, so it doesn’t even really take that long. 

I also quit drinking. I had kind of a bad encounter during the last time I drank, and felt like, ok, time to get my adult shit together and stop acting like a damn fool. So for two weeks after quitting I realized how much of a habit drinking had become. Here were all of the excuses I found for drinking that were real obvious to me once I had quit: It’s Thursday, time for a happy hour! It’s Friday, time for the weekend! It’s nice outside, let’s sit on a deck and have a drink! I’m playing video games, time to get loopy! I’m reading a good book and relaxing, sounds like it’s time for a glass of wine! I had a bad day at work, time for a drink! I had a GREAT day at work, time for a drink! And so on…

I don’t want to make it sound worse than it was, but I was probably drinking 2-4 times a week, probably 3-5 drinks each time. That’s not cheap, and it’s not good on the waistline. So I quit and haven’t looked back. It’s been nearly two months now. I’ve saved a ton of money in the meantime, and with the biking and not drinking, I’m in super great shape as well. 

I will say I’m learning some very interesting things about the psychology of drinking and drinking culture. People all react in very strange ways when a person they’re used to drinking with quits drinking. Some worry. Some feel insulted. Some downplay the importance and think you will “come around eventually.” Some praise you for your efforts and wish they could do the same in their lives (spoiler alert, they can). Some don’t care and it’s nbd. It’s been a weird kind of social experiment to see all the different reactions. 

So I’m saving money and getting in great shape by biking and not drinking. I also joined a grocery cooperative and am trying to be more deliberate and calculating with our meals. I want to eat healthy but don’t want to overspend either, so it’s a balancing act. I read Your Money or Your Life (I definitely recommend this book) and am following the steps to try to achieve “Financial Independence” or “FI.” I mean, it really sounds like I had some kind of weird come-to-Jesus moment, but in actuality, I’m just fucking sick of working in the conventional sense. I want off the treadmill. It’s going to happen. Luke’s on board. Someday this will be our “we’re retired and traveling the globe building Earthships” blog. We got this.

Well, at the rate I’ve been posting, I’ll see you next year 🙂  Ha. Toodles!

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Spring is here!

So, clearly I am not disciplined enough to post every month or two. Winter hit and we hibernated. I started school. Our dog had two flippin’ surgeries. She is now finally getting back to normal and I only have 6 weeks left of this certificate program. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

The big news is we are heading back to Taos for a vacation in 9 days. We are very ready to get back out there and catch up with people we haven’t seen since our excursion in June. I am ready to be wind-whipped with mesa dust and watch another New Mexico sunset. At the end of every yoga class I take while in savasana, my mind always wanders to New Mexico. That has to mean something, amirite? I can confidently say I’ve never thought of a Minnesota winter in that moment…

We have not done a lot of work to the house other than getting rid of a lot of things. We had a massive cleaning event last weekend because some folks were house hunting with a realtor we’d worked with previously and wanted to look at our house. We also got a home inspection. It’s been 10 years since the last one and this gives us a formal to-do list to really try to move out. No surprises there luckily, and we learned a lot about our house. If anyone wants a recommendation for an inspector, let me know! It is not common for me to say I love a stranger, but I loved this guy.

We’ve been trying to move out of our house much like I’ve been trying to diet. We say we want to do it, but haven’t really done anything to make it happen. Part of that is due to me spreadsheeting our finances and forecasting out how long it will take to save up to build an Earthship, and extending that out to when we could retire early (FYI there are SO many good early retirement blogs… I am so down with this concept and we are in good shape to make it happen someday). This of course put us on a ~5 year plan (that damn 5 year plan … we’ve been on one for 10 years!) so we’re not in a huge hurry to sell. But hey, if you know someone that is really wild about soccer (a new stadium will be 8 blocks away), we will gladly undertake another massive cleaning event for anyone that wants to see the house.

Work’s been going fine for both of us. Raises, promotions, etc. Our hearts aren’t in it but we’re determined to squeeze the most money as possible out of our cheap lifestyles so that we can make a dramatic and marvelous exit while we’re still young enough to enjoy it. For that reason alone, we continue to push hard on our careers.

The classes I’ve taken in this certificate program have taught me however that I will ultimately end up doing something environmental with my life. That may be on a small scale on my own or volunteering for a larger organization – all I know is that “elderly care” which is what my organization does is not really grabbing me. At all. I don’t see it as the defining issue of my lifetime. It’s like, we’re focusing on trying to ensure older adults are happy and somewhat fulfilled in their end-of-life stages and I’m over here worrying that they won’t have water in 10 years. My mind is in a very different place than my organization. Again though, squeezing enough money out of the system to become self-sufficient so that I can do what I ~want~ to do rather than what I ~need~ to do is going to come first. So, elderly care it is, because it’s a good job and is not evil. That is good enough for now.

Ok back to it. I hope to provide some updates from Taos. Sunsets. I want sunsets!!

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October / November 2015 Update

Well, we went through some ups and downs with the dog surgeons. I finally found one I liked and Lola had her surgery today. She’s home resting now. It was an adrenaline packed ride home because the first thing she did was re-situate herself in the back seat when I had to run back into the clinic briefly for something I forgot. I think she hurt herself in doing so because she was really crying and whining from the back seat after I got back into the car. I drove to a parking spot and opened the back door to try to get her back into the front. She climbed into my lap immediately but hurt herself again in doing so and went into a complete conniption fit. Literally. Like I was holding her with all my strength to keep her from struggling and hurting herself again. Once she got that out of her system, I picked her up and put her back in the front seat and swaddled her with blankets. It was then a long, slow drive home in the snow and sleet, with one hand on a dog that was finally starting to relax but could panic at any moment.

I managed to get her home and into the house and in her kennel. She’s already had more pain meds. They say the first night is the worst of it, so I just keep telling myself that. They said her CCL was 90% torn, so she was probably like one squirrel chase away from a really painful experience. I’m hoping she can return to her normal life and level of activity after this next 8 weeks of post-op hell.

In other news… my last class session of my first class (of three total) is this Thursday. I’m ready to be done with homework for a few weeks. It’s been a good experience overall but has been a bit of a drain on our time and energy. It has been fun to get to know my coworkers more though, and I’ve already began changing some things I do at work and in life as a result of the class.

We have a trip planned in May to go back to Taos. By then the dog should hopefully be back to normal and feeling good again, so we’re looking forward to that.

Sorry for the sparse updates. It’s winter now so we’ll be in hibernation mode, and snuggling with a broken dog mode. Come spring we should have more updates on the house and the state of the Earthship shed we’ve been working on.

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September 2015 Update

A lot has happened since my last post, but a lot has stalled out as well.

We have had our dog on 6 weeks of what they call conservative management, which is meant to be an alternative to surgery. We have restricted her activities, we don’t allow her to use stairs, we only take her for short walks, we’ve added a number of supplements to her diet to assist with joint stabilization and reduce inflammation, and have changed her to a raw food diet ($$$). I also took her to the dog chiropractor a few times, a homeopathy practitioner, and bought some crazy red-light therapy device that we blast her knees with every day. Needless to say, I’ve pulled out all the stops. The only thing we are failing at is I know we don’t restrict her activity enough and we allow her out in the back yard without a leash, which inevitably becomes a chase-the-squirrel fest every now and then. After 6 weeks I’m not really seeing her get any better. She still has good and bad days, and her limp is just the same as when we started. Again, we probably should have been stricter on her activity level to give her leg a prolonged healing time. We have a surgical consult tonight. I’m still not convinced it’s the best thing for her, but I’m not convinced that all of my non-surgical healing techniques are going to work either. We’ll see how tonight goes.

I was accepted to the graduate school certificate program that I mentioned in my last post. We’ve had two sessions of our first class already and have a third tomorrow. I’ve done a lot of reading and some writing, but nothing that I would categorize as overly challenging. The one regret I have is that this class is made up entirely from my work colleagues, therefore I don’t feel like I’m learning much by way of different perspectives. Also, the class is a sea of white people. This became most apparent when one of the assignments asked students to interview 3 leaders, with at least 1 of them being from a different culture or nationality of your own. The class was baffled by this, and had serious doubts that they could “find” anyone to interview. I was dying a little inside after that class. Luke got an earful that night as I came home completely frustrated with my colleagues. Besides the lack of diversity in class, I am learning quite a bit of what I call “fluffy HR stuff.” The first class is called Ethics and Leadership, and the books we are reading are quite good. The class is causing me to reflect even more on what I am doing or should be doing in life. The more I attempt to delve into the fluffy HR stuff of who I am, what my values are, etc, the more I know I’m not quite where I want to be yet, so it’s simply a constant reminder of wanting to bug the hell out when it’s supposed to be DISTRACTING me for 3 years before I bug the hell out… oh well.

The weather has finally dried up a bit so we’ve been getting up north to work on the Earthship-shed project at Luke’s family’s house. It’s been good to get our hands dirty again, even if only on the weekends. The work on our house has come to a halt because much of it we can do in the winter, but the shed project needs to be done before it frosts, so we’ve focused our efforts on trying to make some progress up there before turning again to our own house projects. We did however install a French Drain to try to stop water seepage in our basement. Our basement has been bone dry since we installed the drain, so hopefully this winter we can get down there and clean up and paint a bit without fear of it all getting ruined.

So we’re still in wait and see mode. We’re still saving money. We’re knocking out projects as we have availability, and I’m attending school. We’re stressing about the dog a bit but we’ll just deal with whatever comes of it. In the words of my esteemed husband whenever I get overly stressed… “suck it up cupcake!” Haha. Indeed.

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August 2015 Update

Well, I seem to have a few folks that still check in here so I thought an update was warranted.

Let me tell you the good things about being back… our dog was ecstatic, it was good to see family and friends, and it was nice to sleep in a familiar bed.

Let me tell you the weird things about being back… the world felt much louder, smelled stranger, and the house felt much too large and full of junk. It was difficult to care about the topics that people chit chatted about. Day to day things that bother people seemed like petty distractions. The track we were previously on seemed far less important.

Suffice it to say, reintegration has been difficult. We had a major perspective change while in Taos, one that will be very difficult to shake. I guess that’s not all bad, as now we have more clear goals and a deep motivation to fulfill them.

So much has happened since we’ve been back. We decided to test the housing market by inviting over a few realtors to see what they thought of the house and help us prioritize what we’d need to fix in order to sell. Before inviting them over, I wanted to completely clean out the place, which my husband thought was excessive, but if the realtor even bothered to tell me, “I would just clean up this room and de-clutter a bit,” I think I’d shake them, because DUH, I need expert advice, not common knowledge. I didn’t want them distracted by clutter, and honestly, after living a month in a studio, most of the items we had in the house we had come to realize held little to no value and were merely taking up space and needing to be dusted from time to time. So we sold some things on Craigslist, donated some items to Goodwill, and threw away some items we would not bother giving to Goodwill, which meant we really shouldn’t have been keeping them around anyway. We went through each and every room and either boxed things up or got rid of them, and prepped the house for strangers to come give unbiased opinions to us on it. That in itself was a somewhat stressful process and took a few weeks, but it was good to keep busy on something, as my brain often drifted back to Taos and this work at least felt like I was pursuing an Earthship goal.

We had one realtor over that was very… how do I say this nicely… well frankly he just wanted his commission, and he wants the ego-boost of being the #1 realtor in Midway, so he seemed much more interested in making a sale in Midway than in selling our house. He seemed like the kind of person that should be selling condos in downtown – I’m not sure why he’s slumming it in Midway. Maybe he likes the big fish small pond feeling. He quoted us a price that was $10K lower than I was hoping for after conducting my own online research into comparable properties, and wanted us to push for a fall sale, which meant we would likely have to go out for bids to get work done to the house as we weren’t on a long enough timeline to do it ourselves.

The next realtor was a trip. She was very hippy and kind of flighty but I immediately liked her. She was very approachable and from the minute she walked in the door she seemed excited about the house. I don’t care if she was genuinely excited or just acting, she had me convinced, and that’s all she needs to do to sell the house. We walked her through it and she gave us much of the same feedback that the other realtor gave us, so it was good to have similar feedback that we could work with. She also thought we should push for a fall sale, only because she is seeing a seller’s market right now that she hasn’t seen in a long time, and obviously no one knows how long it will last.

After much deliberation, and list-making, and spreadsheet forecasting, and bid-taking, and deciding that HELL no were we paying those kinds of labor prices for work that we could do ourselves on a long enough timeline… we decided to nix the fall sale idea. We aren’t on a timeline, and our main goal right now is to save money, so paying a bunch of money to fix up the house seems kind of contradictory to what we’re trying to achieve. We told both realtors thank you for the information, we now have a list of priorities that we can devote our time and money to and we will contact them in the future when we are ready to sell. The condo-seller realtor kept bothering us and trying to get us to sign documents … the hippy realtor said, “Good for you that sounds like a wonderful plan, let me know if you decide to sell!” I love her.

So we’re not selling the house this fall, but we do have a nicely emptied house with plenty of space and a list of to-do’s to make it sellable (which we have already crossed a few off the list). So we felt accomplished in that respect.

Now as for my work… apparently when you feel like completely checking out of life, life reels you back in. My work decided to select a few individuals for a graduate school certificate program that they were going to pay for. They are paying $7.5K per person and are allowing classes to be scheduled on-site and during work hours (3-6PM every other Thursday). You also get a 10% discount on all other tuition costs at this school just by being an employee, which would amount to another $3K in savings if one were to pursue a full graduate degree. So all of a sudden, my work puts $10K on the table…

Now knowing that we are not selling this fall, and being the avid spreadsheet geek that I am, I really truly deep down know that we’re not leaving within year (as much as I hate to admit it, as much as my brain is telling me to get out now while I still can). We know how much money it will take to buy land and build an Earthship, and there’s really no point in taking out a loan to do that, because the whole POINT of this adventure is to build an Earthship debt-free, so in all honesty that would take us ~3 years to accomplish at our current level of savings. 3 years isn’t a terrible timeline. It just warrants a level of patience that I’m struggling to have at the moment.

So knowing all this, and knowing that my work just put $10K on the table of educational opportunities, essentially things that will help me develop as a person (and frankly will distract me as we save up money), I decide to apply to the program. Knowing that I hate to let things go to waste, and that a ~3 year timeline is the time it will take me to pursue a full degree, I will likely roll those credits into a degree program and get the MBA I’ve been thinking about for so long.

THEN, if that weren’t enough to think about… our dog has either a partially or fully torn ACL in her rear left leg. She’s been limping since March but it’s gotten worse and x-rays now confirm that she has … I don’t know, some sort of evidence of a tear. Our vet just kind of rattles off words at me that I type quickly and Google later, as he does a pretty terrible job of explaining things in layman terms.

So everyone is telling us she needs surgery. I Google what the surgery entails. Holy shit our dog is going to suffer, for at least 3-6 months. IF she manages to make a full recovery, she will be “good as new” sort of, though generally with these surgeries there are complications and/or infections that in a worst case scenario require more surgeries and even longer recovery time. Some of the worst cases I’ve read about, dogs were recovering from surgeries for 2 years… that’s 14 human years!! If someone told me, by the way, you may need surgery that will take you FOURTEEN YEARS to recover from, I would probably throat punch them and fuck off into the desert…

So being the stubborn cuss that I am, I’ve read a lot about how people treat knee issues in dogs without surgery. They say give it at least 8 weeks to try at-home care before going under the knife, since the worst that can happen with at-home care is it doesn’t work, when the worst that can happen with surgery is… well, there’s tons of bad shit that can happen with surgery. I was planning on just doing the surgery even just 8 hours ago, but after a bit more reading and research I think we’re going to try to correct it at home first. If that fails miserably, I’ll give in to the doggy medical world recommendations. I mean, I don’t even trust human medical world recommendations half the time, so doggy medical world recommendations… please. These surgeries are huge moneymakers for them, so I’m naturally skeptical. I will try natural treatment first.

So for the TLDR crowd…

Reintegration is not easy. I’m still not feeling reintegrated into normal everyday life. We would like to sell the house but are too cheap to pay for it, and we don’t have the money to build in less than ~3 years anyway, so we will wait it out. My work offerred up some free grad school classes that I allowed myself to be bribed back into the system with. And our dog is in need of expensive and invasive surgical care that I’m too stubborn to accept as necessary before trying more natural methods. All in all, I wish I was back out in the FREAKING DESERT! P.S. Everything in the city smells like chemicals.

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Day 29 – Final Exam, Free T-Shirt, Pizza, Group Photo, and Q&A and Margarita’s with Mike Reynolds

The last day had arrived. I studied a bit in the morning and we continued with packing and cleaning. The final exam itself wasn’t very tough. We had suspected as much. It did help that I studied a bit, but even if I hadn’t, I think I would have passed. There are 100 questions and 4 extra credit questions worth 1 point each. Luke ended up with a 100 (96+4) and I ended up with 102 (98+4). They don’t grade very harshly… there were some questions that they said everyone always got wrong so they don’t even count those. Overall they’re not in the business of flunking people, they just want you to learn, so at least it’s not very stressful that way.

After the exam we packed and cleaned and waited for pizza. We ate with the group in EVE and took a group photo with Mike Reynolds (I haven’t been sent the photo yet but will post it once we get it). They then carted in 2 huge coolers of margaritas and we had a Q&A session with Mike, during which we could ask him any questions we wanted.

Some questions were pretty serious and well thought out, and others not so much, but overall it was a fun experience. One of the key takeaways was that people kept asking him what they could to for him, or for Earthships, or to help “the cause” and he kept telling them all they can do to help is to help themselves. Once you get your own shit together and are in a good enough place that you now have some time to help others, then you can refocus your efforts elsewhere, but the best thing you can do for the world right now is to focus on yourself and make yourself self-sufficient. If everyone did that, we’d be in much better shape.

Here are some pictures from the day…

Earthship Trip 79 Earthship Trip 81 Earthship Trip 75 Earthship Trip 77 Earthship Trip 82 Earthship Trip 78 Earthship Trip 76

We left around 4:30 that evening to begin our drive home. We didn’t have to check out of the housing until the next day, but we both had to work on Wednesday, so we had to get an early start. We drove for about 10 hours (switching off), and were too fatigued to go on so we got a few hours of rest in the truck at a rest stop and woke up around 6AM and began driving again. We got home around 1:15 and were pretty exhausted, but were happy to see our dog and to be able to relax a bit.

And with that the adventure was over… We learned a TON about Earthships, met a bunch of amazing people that we’ll hopefully stay in touch with, and are now in a better place to build our own Earthship someday. Would I recommend the Academy? Absolutely. Even with all of the irritating days and what I perceived to be “fluff” classes, the main benefit to the Academy is meeting like-minded people and building up a network of people that are totally willing to help each other on their individual builds. Also, we got to know the staff at Earthship Biotecture and they shared all kinds of amazing tips and tricks with us. It was definitely worth it, and was a great experience.

I will probably not post any more blogs beyond this point unless something Earthship-related happens to us, but once I get that group photo emailed to me I will post that. I can’t wait to see it 🙂

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Day 28 – Rest and Potluck

On Sunday we packed and cleaned and relaxed a bit. I studied for the final exam, and when I was sick of that, Luke and I went out to eat at a nice restaurant, as we were only 2 days away from leaving and wanted to enjoy what little time we had left in Taos.

Later that evening the ladies living over at the split level Earthship hosted a potluck and party so that everyone could get together one last time before leaving. It was a blast. I’ll just post some pictures of the party and call it a day. Not much else to say about it other than people are sad to be leaving and are having a great time together, and our truck was apparently the place to hang out all evening 🙂

Earthship 08 Earthship 01 Earthship 02 Earthship 03 Earthship 09 Earthship 04 Earthship 05 Earthship 06 Earthship 07

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Day 27 – Sand Filter Lab, Food Production Lab, and REACH Tour

On Saturday we had a sand filter lab with Rob. This was actually a really good lab and this homemade water filter has some very important practical uses in the world. I’m going to show it to a few friends of mine. It’s not directly Earthship related but it could be used in a Simple Survival Earthship or in another situation where your Earthship isn’t getting you clean drinking water for some reason.

The next lab was a Food Production lab with Michelle. The first part of it went a little long, as we went out to the compost pile and discussed her method for composting, but then she literally had us flip every single compost pile so that went on a bit longer than necessary.

Earthship 08

Then she walked us through the visitor center to show us various plants she has growing in the greywater beds. This wasn’t as helpful because most of the plants I can already recognize on my own. What would have been more helpful is if she discussed various success or failures with different plants or plant varieties, but I think they are still very much experimenting with food production so they don’t have a set formula for exactly what you should grow. It was a good lab, it just ran a little long, especially when we were really just waiting all day to go tour REACH.

REACH is a community of Earthships that were built during the 90’s on the side of a mountain. They can’t build up there anymore due to the county worrying that they can’t provide aid or fire protection for them up there, but all of the existing structures are grandfathered in. The slope is so steep that large, high profile trucks can’t even drive up the mountain, nor can any vehicle that doesn’t have 4WD. Many of the structures have been abandoned (hello, it’s HARD to live on the side of a mountain…), but many others are still inhabited and Kirsten and Ron own one now as well. I’m just going to picture spam you now and let those speak for themselves.

Earthship 09 Earthship 10 Earthship 11 Earthship 12 Earthship 13 Earthship 14 Earthship 15 Earthship 16 Earthship 17

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Day 26 – Earthship Village Ecologies (E.V.E.), Retrofit, Owner/Builder Experience, Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Projects, and Independent Study Overview

In the morning Mike led a class on retrofitting conventional homes. The key takeaway here is that you will never get nearly 100% efficiency in a conventional home like you do in an Earthship, but if everyone was to attempt to retrofit their homes and lowered their utility usage by even 50%, that would be a huge step in the right direction. He also discussed Earthship Village Ecologies (E.V.E.), which is a large project they’ve been working on for a number of years on their test site. The core concepts of Earthships are 6 main principles, but Mike is expanding this to include 2 additional principles, Community and Economy. He says all too often he sees people successfully build Earthships out in the middle of nowhere, hours away from any kind of community or economy, and those are the people that go a bit crazy and end up moving back into the city. He’s noticed that people, no matter how far away from Wal-Mart they may want to be, they still need other people around them, so E.V.E. is his attempt at creating multiple structures that a community of people can live in together and create their own economy.

Next we listened to Tom and Kirsten’s owner/builder Earthship experiences. Tom is a pretty funny person, and one of the points in his presentation that made me laugh a bit was when he reminded the students that you need a job if you want an Earthship. He’s like, Earthships cost money, you generally need a job to get money, and so many people think they can get around that but they CAN’T, so plan on having a job people… It was just kind of hilarious because yes, a lot of students there are pretty anti-establishment and don’t have an income. Kirsten’s story was more inspiring. She built her own Earthship one little piece at a time as money became available, and was somewhat miserable for 10 years or so while she worked towards her dream. Now things have come together for her and she even owns an Earthship in the REACH community (which will be discussed in the next blog entry). She’s come a long way but has had to work really really hard to get there. It was a good story to remind folks that this isn’t exactly an easy route to take, especially if you don’t save up the money to have basic things like the tools you need and solar electricity and water on your job site.

FYI, if you want to learn about Tom’s beginnings building his Earthship, watch the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph3RaGa_IHQ

Our group got to have lunch today at the Mesa brewery with Mike and his crew as a reward for winning the homework challenge. I won’t sugar coat this… it seemed like kind of a formality and that they didn’t necessarily want to do the lunch. MR and his crew got there early and they all posted up sitting all in a group which made them very inaccessible for questions. Then they didn’t really start conversations with anyone but themselves, so if you wanted to ask a question you felt like you were interrupting. Many of us felt like, oh well, at least we got a free lunch. What I’ve been told is that MR hasn’t even shown up for many of these lunches in the past (due to various work engagements and projects), so I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that he was even there! Also, he was completely terrible to the waiter. Granted, our waiter was awful, as the service at the brewery is notoriously bad, but he was insanely rude to this kid. It’s just another insight into his behavior that I couldn’t overlook.

The funky seating layout and drama with the waiter didn’t stop me from asking MR a few direct questions about building in a Minnesota climate, so I got some good tips from him in that regard. He wasn’t avoiding questions by any means, he just wasn’t going to offer up any info without someone pestering him. I was happy to pester him a bit. 🙂

Unfortunately our lunch ran long and we didn’t actually get to see the Earthship Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Projects class with Rory, so I can’t speak to it.

The last bit of the day was the independent study overview and proposals with Kirsten and a final exam review with Phil and Rob. Not much to say there other than they want to make sure you get them to approve your independent study project before you start working on it, and they’d recommend that you do a start to finish build first.

Later that evening, Kris the electrician offered to do an electric walkthrough at Picuris so we tagged along for that hoping to learn a bit more before our last week was up. We cut that short however because Rory and Heather had offered to take people to their house at 5:30. Rory used to do an owner/builder course that had been cancelled, but their house is pretty amazing so they like to offer a tour to students after hours if they are interested.

The house is like something out of a Tim Burton movie. The creativity that these two have… it’s off the charts. And they use everything, I mean EVERYTHING, as a building material. I’m not sure how they seem to find a use for every piece of trash you’d ever think is worthless, but they give everything worth at their house. It was definitely a fun time and very cool to see some ideas other than the canned, neat and clean global model Earthship.

Earthship 01 Earthship 02 Earthship 03 Earthship 05 Earthship 06 Earthship 07 Earthship 04

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