Life in the Parking Lane

Wren on August 20th, 2012

Tighter quarters in our current location!

No matter how you toil, no matter that you seek to serve, there comes a day when you wake up and realize: You’re living in a fucking driveway.

Wait, that’s just me.

Somehow, when we had our rv parked on larger parcels, I didn’t experience self consciousness about living in a dumbed down Star Trek shuttle craft. But now that I’m sandwiched between two houses, parked in my friend’s driveway, where a neighbor could look out their window and into mine, well, I feel a bit like that extra passenger riding the stick shift in a compact pickup.

I nearly have to hold my arms up to squeeze through the gate past the back of my rv Serenity, to go between the front and back yard.

And when my host wants to mow the front lawn, we have to lift the battery-powered mower high through the same passage.

Today I realized that, to retrieve my camping gear, located in a lower compartment with its access door on the outside of the rv, I’m going to have to take Serenity off her hydraulic lifts and back her up several feet, then drive her back in position!

Imagine if you had to roll your entire house down the driveway ten feet to get into your attic or basement!

To keep some perspective, remember that rv’ing is just a form of camping. And when camping, tent or otherwise, everything takes longer, with strange extra steps, or an activity is just longer because it’s awkward—trying to put your pants on in a tent while wondering if there are bears. [Yes, there are bears. Are they near you tent? I don't know. Your shirt is on inside out...]

But complaining that my particular circumstance isn’t quite right is a pastime with me. It’s not my dominant experience.

Generally, I am really enjoying our time here in Silver Spring, Maryland. Our hosts’ backyard leads to a park with trails, soccer fields and lots of places for Tuatha and me to explore. Five kids with a soccer ball wore him out yesterday, much to his delight.

Tuatha and I also take extensive walks through the neighborhood. I’ve gotten used to urban/suburban living and almost never forget to bring a plastic bag anymore. The waste of dedicating an entire plastic bag to a few little pieces of Tuatha poo used to grind my gizzard. Now I’m glad I remembered and can prevent some neighbor’s annoying discovery. I’m Wren Good Citizen!

Back to complaining then:

I’ve been boondocking here without my partner C.T. for a couple of weeks. He’s been dancing, politicking, volunteering and generally huffing and puffing at Dance New England in New Hampshire.

While he’s been gone, I’ve had trouble keeping the house battery charged and I appear to have run out of propane, which means no more fridge. Fun Fun. Thanks to my saintly patient hosts, my cold food is now in the house. We’ll get more propane next week.

Ants continue to find their way in, but as long as they’re not in the bed, we’ve made a livable deal: Some of them can stay, I’ll continue to be lazy about wiping my counters and sometimes I’ll squash large numbers of them with a napkin when I want to use the kitchenette as an office. Okay, livable for me…

Tomorrow I’ll host my first overnight guest here in the driveway. Visitors are always surprised at Serenity’s great size and expansive interior. When they see the galley, closets and bathroom they always remark, “It’s just like a house!”

Mission accomplished. It is a motorhome…Maybe they were picturing a Chevy van with a mattress and some granola in the back.

Heathcote had an old trailer  that was home to many members through the years. It was no bigger than Serenity. Maybe if C.T. and I find land to live in Intentional Community again, Serenity will continue to house people for years to come.

In the meantime, we’ll get that battery issue handled, refill the propane tank, get her all past her safety inspection and registration…C.T. plans to drive her down to Louisa, Virginia for the Communities Conference at Twin Oaks over Labor Day weekend.  While he and Serenity are traveling and teaching, I’ll be working with my friends from Crystal Cottage at the Maryland State Fair!

Then, after our various toiling and serving, it’s back to the driveway, plastic poo bags and suburbia!

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Cat Magic Goddess String Set

I am certainly learning a lot about crowdfunding from our first Indiegogo campaign. We must interact daily with the site and potential contributors. Just like an offline campaign, we make daily phone calls and send out batches of emails and Facebook posts.

Catalog picture don't do these pewter pieces justice! This is made in Colorado of lead free pewter. It has diamond etching that catches the light, giving the effect of diamond inlay. The stylized fetish bear shape includes the arrow toward the heart. The bear paw design features turquoise colored enamel. On the back of the piece is the engraving, "Bear...Teach Me Strength." Perk at $30 level.

Zuni Fetish Bear Necklace

One fun addition is that, like Kickstarter, Indiegogo has us offer perks at a variety of levels for funders to choose. About half choose a perk, half skip that.

It is important to me to continue to read advice blogs from Indiegogo and to browse other campaigns, to learn what works and what doesn’t.

About midway through our campaign, I realized I could make much better use of the inventory of jewelry and gifts that I have left over from my shopkeeper days.

If you’ve known me or Hippie Chick Diaries long, you know I used to sell gemstones, figurines, incense, batiks, musical instruments, etc., and jewelry I made myself in a traveling shop called Heathcote Earthings.

Blue Iris Garden Fairy Flag

I had to give that up more abruptly than planned because of increasing problems with arthritis and anemia. That abrupt end left me with lots and lots of remaining inventory.

I would love to sell the entire lot to an existing store or someone wanting to get into the festival vendor business. I have listed the business several times online, including EZUp canopies, tables, covers and displays. But times are tough all over and I haven’t found a buyer.

In the meantime, my inventory really saved the day on Staten Island, where I was able to set up outside Every Thing Goes Clothing, thanks to Peggy and my other

Pewter Frog Necklace

friends at Ganas Community. Ganas operates several stores in the St. George area of Staten Island and ETG Clothing is right on the path to the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan, so I had lots of foot traffic. I was able to raise much needed funds to move us down to Washington, DC.

Now I realize I can offer more of my inventory as perks in our current campaign. We’re limited to twelve perks per campaign. So I selected the

Crystal Dragon Pennant

items pictured in this blog post for the current campaign. Click on each item for a more detailed description. (Clicking will take you to the main campaign page and perks are listed down the right side. These same pictures are repeated in the campaign’s photo gallery.)

Most of the pewter is lead free, diamond etched and made in Colorado. The batiks are handmade on rayon, a natural fiber and are designed by the artist Amara Wahaba Karuna, who is based in Hawaii.

Pewter Prancing Unicorn in Circle with Wrapping Vine. Catalog photo doesn't do this justice!

What I love about being able to offer store items is that your contribution is a form of double gifting:

• First you make a donation to our cause (keeping our rv on the road so we can continue to offer Value-Based-Consensus workshops).

• Then you get a nice ethically made or fair trade item to give as a gift. Many people collect these motifs, which is why I stocked many frogs, dragons, cats, unicorns, bears, etc. Do you know such a collector? Maybe it’s you!

I don’t collect trinkets these days, but when I did, I collected folk art decoy ducks, interesting gemstones and Blenko glass. I also seemed to have collected sheltie and pygmy goat items to celebrate my four-legged family members.

Pewter Dragon Necklace, Zigzag Pattern

I also seem to have a fun affinity with frogs, or their shape.

But isn’t this all just empty materialism? Yes. No argument. Even when you buy locally or fair trade. When a person in my shop would seem to agonize over a purchase, when I could tell that they loved the object but probably shouldn’t spend money on it, I would always tell them,

“There’s nothing in this booth that’s going to change anyone’s life. It’s all just a smile for awhile…”

Wren and Rita Jane selling jewelry, gemstones and fair trade at the York Fair

In the early days of my store, I focused on the educational mission of the Heathcote Earthings project. If people were going to buy trinkets and gifts anyway, they should buy them from me or another ethical trader. Is it made of natural or recycled materials? Is it local or fair trade? Any slavery or environmental abuse involved? I enjoyed helping people to learn to ask the right questions, beyond, “Is this the cheapest?”

Toward the end of my time running the business, I grew impatient with peoples’ materialism and selling trinkets, however ethical their origin, was not meaningful enough for me. I began my shift into my current work in social technology.

I could look around Hina Hanta, my little hut in the woods at Heathcote Community and notice my own collections. Even though I didn’t have much, none of the objects around me was enriching my life. I came to imagine my life would be just as rich if they all disappeared.

I’ve written several times here about my thought that if my little house burned down, as long as I got my pets out, my quality of life would be little changed.

Now, my family lived through a devastating fire on Valentine’s Day of my eighteenth or nineteenth year. So I know that much is lost in a fire that does matter—family photos, everyday clothes, legal documents, heirlooms. And I do know that there’s a mourning after a fire.

C.T. and Tuatha find room for a night game of soccer.

But still, I looked around at what I collected and I knew I could live without nearly all of it.

And so I have.

When we left Hina Hanta to live aboard Serenity, I had to be selective about what I could bring. Nothing too heavy, nothing breakable, nothing useless. I’ve lived six months and counting without my dust collectors and my quality of life is not diminished by their absence. In fact, it’s easier because I don’t have to care for them. Even the one folk are decoy I brought with me took a tumble going down the road and is now decapitated. Them’s the breaks…

(But rv life has its own material requirements. After years of getting plastic out of my life for ethical reasons, suddenly I chose  plastic storage containers, etc., for pragmatic considerations.)

So what does all of this mean for the Indiegogo campaign and choosing one of these only-slightly-less-evil-than-most material objects?

Hey, it already exists. And it’s still a smile for a while. And we’re human. We love and we’re going to keep giving gifts, even to ourselves, even if we do become more selective about it.

I hope if one of these perks speaks to you you will enjoy treating yourself or someone else. And C.T. and I deeply appreciate the support of each and every contribution, large and small.

Thank you for all you do in the world!


P.S., Please visit our Indiegogo campaign! We’re raising funds to get Serenity, our motorhome, all registered and passed by the Maryland State Safety inspectors. See lots of perks for donating and pictures in our gallery:

Direct Democracy Tour: The Dog Drives

There are various posters cycling through my Facebook newsfeed that tell me there are more empty houses in the U.S. than there are Americans who need homes.

In a quick fact check on Google, I find out that, according to,  Amnesty International USA puts the statistic at five vacant houses per homeless person.

I am exploring my very personal relationship to this information. Since February of 2012, my partner and I have been on the road and, in fact, homeless. The short version of the story is that, while we were touring Occupy in November of 2011, our Intentional Community was dealing with zoning complaints by a neighbor. Instead of having a long, expensive legal process, the community decided to voluntarily, pre-emptively condemn several houses, including mine. Given that we were committed to our tour and that we had ongoing philosophical differences with some of our community mates, C.T. and I decided not to fight the decision, but to leave the community where I had lived and taught for sixteen and a half years.

Since then, we’ve been traveling in Serenity, the rv we bought through donations and loans. And we’ve often stayed for extended periods with friends and supporters of our consensus work. There are two very different ways to view our experience of homelessness so far:

1) We are totally privileged. We have enough food, usually similar to what we ate in community. We’ve never slept on the street or in a shelter. We are able to have our dog with us. People donate to our expenses because of our status as consensus trainers. We

Occupy Louisville encampment, populated entirely by homeless people when we visited in November, 2011.

continue to find enough money to keep our phones on, and we usually have internet access. No one would compare our experience to the common idea of homelessness.

2) Homelessness in not a cliff one drops off of, but rather a sliding slope. Many of the homeless people we met in Occupy encampments told similar stories to that of my birth father, who spent the last nineteen years of his life on the street. At first he had a home but got behind financially. He left in the night without a word and began a period of years in which he stayed with friends and relatives, eventually wearing out his welcome until he was relegated to the streets. He received SSI for post-polio syndrome and traveled between tent villages in the warmer states. When he died on the street in L.A.’s Mission District he was fifty-three. His family hadn’t heard from him in over a dozen years.

I don’t expect to repeat my father’s story. But without a regular home and address, everything gets complicated—getting mail, getting a job, etc. And many things are more expensive. I have a small kitchen on board Serenity but in community, I ate from bulk supplies, bought at wholesale. If I were on the street, the story would slide down the slope quite a bit more.

And what about that Amnesty International statistic?

Right now, C.T. and I have parked our rv in the driveway of a friend in a DC suburb. It’s a middle class neighborhood quickly becoming working class as the economy worsens. Just a few doors down from me, surrounded by houses that are valued at at least $150,000, is an abandoned house. It’s a split level on a huge lot backing up to a park. The grass is three feet high. Several mature trees have fallen and no one has removed them. Some gutters have plants growing in them, others are angling down. The roof itself is sprouting greenery. In the back yard, people from the park have made paths to cut through to the neighborhood.

It’s such a sharp contrast to the manicured lawns on either side. Is it a foreclosure? How long has it been abandoned? I have to admit, I’ve had my squatting fantasies. It’s hard to see a roomy, nice house go to waste while I am driveway hopping.

Starting in Baltimore, which has an amazing number of vacant homes. we started to hear talk among Occupy activists of occupying vacant homes. From his early activist days, C.T. has had some experience with successfully occupying vacant property. There are ways to go about it, knowing you’ll be evicted, in order to make a statement. And there are different ways to go about it if you actually want to hold onto your squat for an extended time.

What are the chances that we could find and occupy a vacant home? I don’t know. But every day, when I walk my dog past that abandoned house, I’m struck by the wasted resource, a building that some bank or landlord is hoarding. Or maybe that man owned it outright and just walked away for some reason. I don’t know. But I’m becoming curious enough to investigate.

Anyone out there want to squat?


P.S., Please visit our Indiegogo campaign! We’re raising funds to get Serenity, our motorhome, all registered and passed by the Maryland State Safety inspectors. See lots of perks for donating and pictures in our gallery:

Direct Democracy Tour: The Dog Drives

I’m distracted by wondering how “dead ant, dead ant…” originally got associated with the theme song to The Pink Panther. Can anyone remember?

Anyway, I’m enjoying the distraction because I’ve spent several days building up muy & mucho bad karma by vacuuming up tiny ants in the rv.

I originally ignored the few that came at first. Then I investigated around the tires and hydraulic lifts of the motorhome and I thought I found how they were getting in.

Since I’m not back at Heathcote Community with my preferred herbs and powders for repelling them, I accepted our host’s offer of Raid, which I applied liberally (meaning well intentioned, making myself feel better but never seeing the whole picture and not really changing anything). But spraying Raid didn’t even slow the ever increasing trails of little black ants.

I remembered that at Heathcote, both in the springhouse where I first lived, and later at Hina Hanta, I had major ant events, beyond what my alternative knowledge could handle. Since Heathcote has a prohibition against insecticides in our land lease, I tried vacuuming them over several days.

It totally did the trick. That sucks.

You see, I am one of those unapologetic animal rights types who identifies with Bambi and doesn’t want to hurt a flea. So it wasn’t lightly that I took this step.

And the entire time that I pointed my suction want of death at row after cluster of scattering ants, I imagined a giant sucker lowering from space, gulping up humans as if we were fodder in a very sick video game.

I remembered Henry David Thoreau’s essay on watching ants at work under a tree at Walden Pond. He marveled at their industry. I wondered what I don’t know about ants and what it is like to be one as I watched them appear and disappear.

I guess I’ll find out in my next life, because I’ve totally committed ant genocide now. Trouble is, it worked again. This callous behavior has been reinforced again.

I remembered the scene in the movie Contact, where characters are discussing whether or not to trust technologically superior aliens. They compare aliens to humans killing ants, and noting that we don’t feel badly for long afterwards. And I notice that I don’t. Ants are not beings I identify with strongly, despite momentary curiosity about ant life and ongoing respect for their collective focus.

Sometimes nature is cooperation. Sometimes it is competition. My motorhome. Ants enter at your own risk.

I’ll see you next time around the wheel. Please don’t vacuum me…


Please visit our Indiegogo campaign! We’re raising funds to get Serenity, our motorhome, all registered and passed by the Maryland State Safety inspectors. See lots of perks for donating and pictures in our gallery:

Direct Democracy Tour: The Dog Drives

Why Is a Dog Driving?

Wren on August 4th, 2012

People might think it’s flippant or cute that we wrote our Indiegogo fundraising campaign in the voice of our dog. But for us, that’s a perfect representation of his membership in our collective.

Tuatha’s safety and security (and his place in our lives) are big reasons for our choice to travel by rv. Another is my desire to have a sense of rootedness. Whereas C.T. is a true gypsy, happy living out of a suitcase perpetually, I come from rooted people and prefer a sense of home.

Tuatha is both a child of ours and a sage teacher, grounding us in what’s important while bringing rhythm and routine to our lives. He’s a clown, an athlete, a doorbell and a cuddle buddy.

When C.T. first met my dog Tuatha, he said, “That’s not a real dog,” remembering is old lab Yoda, who was not as pampered, nervous and needy as Tuatha. But as they taught each other how to play soccer and as vegetarian chef C.T. took over the chore of cooking Tuatha’s vegan dog food, they each came to their own understanding. C.T. decided that Tuatha is in fact a dog, of a sort, and also a child substitute, and Tuatha claimed C.T. as his Papa.

As we park Serenity in our fourth host location since leaving Heathcote in February, Tuatha feels secure with all the changes because we’re there, we’re family. And he has the same effect on us.

Fiopa is not the first collective to be shaped by the needs of a dog. There’s the tale of a set of puppies that cemented the collective that would create Food Not Bombs.

Stay tuned to Hippie Chick Diaries for the story of the dogs that founded Food Not Bombs!

In the meantime, please visit our campaign, contribute and refer friends often. We have about three weeks left to raise three thousand dollars and keep our rv home on the road!

Since our campaign started, C.T. and I have received no fewer than four requests for workshops. But none of these new groups have funding to hire us. Let’s show the world what community means by keeping this consensus teaching going!

Loaves and fishes, my friends; Loaves and fishes!


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