Friday, August 31, 2012

So Actually We're Moving Tomorrow

Well, we're leaving tomorrow.  That's right, we're packing the whole house up tonight and hitting the road tomorrow.  Its sort of a long story. Here's the summary from an email I sent to my parish's Holy Name Society:

To summarize a long story, the IRS revoked over 200,000 non-profit organizations of their non-profit status in 2011.  This was a wide group, but it consisted of Georgetown University, a large percentage of NFP groups and my employer.  The problem was in a systems glitch (so they say) that revoked the status of "inactive" groups.  Like Georgetown University, we were not inactive, but unlike them we don't have the time, money and lawyers to make things shake in the IRS buildings.  We're on the phone constantly with them and each time it is a different story and a more complicated mess.  They've already seen the clear evidence that we have done everything correctly and it was their mistake, but we have to await tedious bureaucratic procedures and even pay them to fix it!  Its almost cliche how incompetent and unhelpful they seem to be.  Did you know there are people that really think we need more of this?  

What this means is that for now over 15 months we've been in limbo and restrained in many ways of raising money.  Once its fixed it'll be like it never happened and retroactively all will be well, but that's not the case right now.  We have grants and fees around the country waiting for us, but we can't get it.  Its come to such a point that I don't know when my next paycheck will be available.  I know it'll work out, but its gonna be a rough road.

But God is faithful.  About a month and a half ago my wife and I felt a strong call to act sooner on a vision we've had for quite a while. We knew that we were eventually moving to a farm, but a while back the call felt stronger than ever.  For some reason, I just new it was time to go now, or at least in September.  So I arranged a place for us to live for free in exchange for work.  What that means is I have a place where we have very few expenses provided at just the moment when I wont have an income.  As a father of 3 you can imagine the relief.  I realize now why we felt such urgency to make these arrangements.  We planned on moving the 15th of September, but we just found out that this month's income will be on hold sooner than we thought, so we have to go now!  We wont have to pay next month's rent, but thats if we get out tomorrow.  We have no money, and no income, but we have a plan that was clearly worked out by a good and loving Father.

We'll be spending tonight and tomorrow packing up and loading a truck, which I just reserved.  We will be leaving Colorado tomorrow night.  That means 2 things.  First, we have very little time to say goodbye to all of the kind, generous and faithful friends we have made here.  Please know that we have accepted that this is the greatest city we could possibly live in, if we could live in a city, and its because of you (and the mountain view helps too).  Second, we need help.  Could you please come tomorrow to help load a truck?  Obviously, there's lots of last-minute packing involved in this too.  We live in a small apartment, so we can't have 12 people in each room packing tonight, but a few helpers tonight and tomorrow morning would be welcomed.  But more importantly, can you help load tomorrow?  I wont be able to pick a truck up until 10, but we'll be packing beforehand.  However, if you can come around 11, that's when the party will really be going. 

This email is sent to a list of members of the Holy Name Society of OLMC, and to Augustine Institute students.  Forgive me if you have no ida who the Craigs are and are miffed I have your email.  I'll give it back after this one. 

Please do let me know if you can come so I can have an idea.  And please do not worry.  Strangely, this all seems very right to my wife and me.  There's a great peace over it all, and we feel ready for this. 

Mary, queen of peace, pray for us.

In Christ,

Jason Craig

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Praying for the Trip

I mentioned that we're praying for the move.  Yesterday Fr. Henry said mass for our intentions.  The first picture is of the elevation of the Precious Blood, followed by communion under one species and the last is the final blessing.  I hope these pictures also illustrate why we started this journey with finding a good parish. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Moving Date Set

We are packing up and hitting the road on the 15th of September.  My father will be helping us as we drive the whole family across the country.

We plan to stop and visit Kevin Ford at Fiat Farms.  Maybe a pilgrimage stop here or there (like the shrine of St. Francis de Sales in St. Louis).  My wife is packing quite a bit of [real] food.  We've arranged with our dairy farmer to give us a bit of extra milk.  We have folks on both ends ready to help.  We have a few boxes packed, but not enough.  I've calendered my work extensively to try and keep things flowing.  I switched from on campus classes to just one distance class.

As I type of think of other things...  Right now I have a bed to hold down.  Don't worry, the covers help.

If anyone has made a trip across country with little ones, feel free to drop some advice in the comments. 

What I Have and What I Don't ... and ... Should We Homestead?

Last time I mentioned in passing a few things that make us different, or rather, makes our situation different.

As I've spoken with people about the Catholic Land Movement, many of them desire to go but are in some situation or another that prevent them.  This is fine.  It is either something you can overcome or something you can't.  But maybe you are not suppose to go.  For us, some of the things we have make us more able to go than others.  Here are some of the haves and have nots or our family:

We no longer have any desire to live a suburban life.

We have a strong marriage and we communicate very well.

We have faith, may it please God, and we want to live it fully.

We do not have a good credit score (due to Florida housing market).

We do have debt.

We (I) have experience in the country, working with my hands and with plants.

We do have a plan out of dept.  It is a good one. 

We do not have family where we are currently.

We do have income from work that can be done anywhere.

We do not have any capital (i.e. not a dang dime).

We do have a place to stay in exchange for work.

Due to the last three, we do have a serious plan to save serious money in the coming year.  Seriously. 

We do have a car.

We do not have a car that is paid off.

We do have 3 kids.

As you can see, there's a lot of factors here that are different from yours.  I propose that, if you are serious, you list out things that effect a potential move.  Like the last post, you simply have to start taking action if you're interested in stepping out.

But, the point of this post is to say with confidence that my wife and I feel strongly called by the good Lord to this.  We have been praying, studying and talking for quite a while and we are both on the same page, in all ways.  I listed this communication up top, and really its one of the first considerations to make.  If this just your dream and is really unrealistic for your spouse?  A dear friend of mine was considering a big move like this a while back.  He talked about it constantly and was really excited.  I was excited too.  I urged him to it and gave him quite the proverbial shove.

He did not go.  He did not go because his wife was not so much against it, as not at all feeling the same urge as him.  Not even a little.  In that case, as he will tell you now, it was his itch and excitability that got him.  He looks at that time with a bit of blushing now, because he is confident it was just a phase of cabin fever.  Sometimes our dreams are just that.  I've never thought "follow you dreams" was an adequate plan for life.  I like powerful three word sentences.  I really do.  But that just doesn't always make sense.  Sometimes they are just intemperate passions being aroused for anything that is not the ordinary daily life we live in.  If you think that might be the case, I recommend St. Josemaria's The Way. Ordinary life has extraordinary opportunities for grace. 

However, if you and your spouse are on the same page.  If the itch feels more like a call, continue praying.  Talk it through together and with the Friend of Sinners.  For Pete's sake, please talk with real people about it.  Get connected.  Pray for guidance and open doors.  Without prayer something like this is very difficult to discern.  We are at peace right now, even though it is very hard to leave our community.  We love it here.  But its not home.  We're going home.  I think.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to Homestead without a Homestead

This is a follow up to a blog a few days ago about how we chose where we are going.

I've searched around and found a few other sites/blogs that chronicle families attempting homesteading.  There's something very different between them and us - we have nothing.  I do have a job that I can do online, but we have no way of just up and purchasing a place.

We bought a house in Florida in 2007.  Think about what happened in the following years and how we had to sell that home... and I use "sell" loosely.  We practically paid them to take it.  And let me say, I tamed that jungle around the house and loved every minute, and a jungle it was.  Vines, including and especially blackbriar, were everywhere.  I loved that house, but we moved from there for a good reason and we're happy we did.  I can't say that I would have been as clearheaded there as I am now about the need to do what we are doing.  I needed to leave, but that's another story. 

So our credit is shot.  I'm also in grad school, which means our costs this past year have really jumped up and we have been slipping into debt.  So, how are we going to homestead with nothing?

Homesteading broke is actually the historical norm.  Look up the history of homesteading, and you'll see that it usually begins with a family with nothing.  And they grow their lives slowly, not googling and hasty home hounding.  They knew what they were after and worked with what they had.  We have very little, but not nothing.

I grew up working with my hands whenever I was out of school.  I spent a lot of time on equipment and working with land, though not agriculture.  So, I do have some experience and I am eager and ready to return to it and aware of what it takes.  I also have a degree in horticulture.  But let me say, these things are helpful, but you are capable of learning.  Having come from the good ol' boy south, I know that many country folk can send a certain scoff the way of someone trying to get to the land - like no one can make it, and those sorry city-slickers don't know what they're doing or what they're getting in to.  Ignore it.  I've lived in the city now for years and city folk reverse the same line on backwood rednecks.  Everyone creates a certain insider/outsider mentality and likes to think they are living a life they are particularly suited to.  And while I do agree with Belloc that it takes more to make a college boy a farmer than vice-verca, it is doable.  You can do it.  Be humble, but go.

So being the inside-trader of humility that I am, I found a place for us to stay where we can work in exchange for housing by humbly asking.  But I'd like to speak a bit about how we did it.  Each time I've explained our situation to someone they quickly let me know that it sounds perfect.  It does.  It wont be, but its really good.

So here's how you do it.  Stop googling.  If you're reading this blog you're probably somewhat interested in getting to the land.  Or at least you like to talk about it.  The thing is, there's a lot of people on the internet talking, and many of them are stranded in suburbia dreaming of the country.  But herein lies a true difference between country life and city life - in the country everyone talks to everyone, even their neighbor!  And I'm not talking the "How ya doin'?...  Good, see ya" talk that you do when you take out your trash, but the stop and listen, joke and soak kind of talking.  Country folk know what's going down, and google don't.  Get a hold of a few of them and you can get the whole picture, even unique opportunities like old farmhouses empty and longing for a family. 

So you can message board and blog scroll until you're red-eyed and regretting how late you stayed up, but what you need to do is pick up the phone.  Visit a place.  Talk to people.  Tell them your situation and what you're looking for.  I did find where we're going online, but I know I wouldn't find a place to stay and learn (something I had in mind).  So I visited twice, wrote down numbers, sat around at the coffee shop (which is a very different place than the trust-fund hipster joint of the city), and then followed up.  I shook hands, made eye contact and told the story.  I complimented their town and asked about it.  Instantly I was not an outsider coming to shut myself up in a gated community on their granddads old farm, but I was a new friend looking for help.  Small town people are eager to help. Ask.

What I did was visited, followed up with calls and emails (they do use the computer, they just don't post everything in a searchable calendar) and talked with real living people.  I also visited farmers, asked about the area and what they thought of my idea.  To the right is a picture of my daughter and I feeding a cow on a farm we visited (this is not where we're moving to, but a place we visited nonetheless).

I might arrive and it isn't as great as it seems.  But by talking my way there with real living human beings, I already have a safety net of a community excited for us to be there.  I have a back up, and its not an IRA.

So the advice I would give, if you're serious about this, is to get offline right now (especially if its late and you know you should be sleeping anyway), write down what you're after, call or visit communities you're considering, and talk with people.  You'll be amazed at what opens up when you take a step, unplugged.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Official Moving Video/Theme Song

Katie and I are having difficulty deciding what the official song/video will be for the move.  Her vote is:

My vote is this one:

Can you help us?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Building a Home... At Some Point

We prayed that the Lord would open a door for us to return to the land.  But we did not pray for a house.

Many people are crippled at the thought of buying land/home/property/farm, moving there and then maybe making it.  Or failing.  The Catholic Land Movement has been given the title of "romantic" many times, perhaps with a pat on the head to commend a good, but naive heart.  "It is just not realistic these days," they say, "What if you get out there and then don't make it?  Then what?" 

Modern thinking is so enslaved to the debt and consumerist fed economy that we can't imagine there are other ways.  Or maybe we can imagine, but we're just not thinking enough.

Before we can even dream of a farm of our own (yes, that is the goal), we need two things:

1 - We need a place to live where we are not tied down by multi-decade long contracts filed by computers.  Really, we need a place where we are hardly tied down at all.

2 - We need a place where we can learn.  Selling everything and moving straight to the land is probably romantic and imprudent.  Centuries formed agrarian cultures, not excited sell-offs. We have a lot to learn, and we are well aware of that

So where are we moving to?  We have found an old farmhouse on a 250 acre peace of property where one family has lived for over a century.  Right now, there are 3 generations living there (though you can't see one house from the next).  They are hardly a full-scale farm, but the do have crops and animals, with a pasture almost ready for some cows.  In exchange for part-time labor from us, we stay in the house for free.  In exchange for education, I work part-time for them.  Get it?  Bartering, that's what that is.  If you want an agrarian life one day, start bartering now.

The situation meets both requirements above.  Also, by entering into the bartering system, while I, my family and the landowners all benefit, the economy suffers.  When you barter, you are no longer a measurable "consumer."  Somehow we live in a system where something that benefits every party directly involved somehow "hurts" the economy.  They'll label it a lack of consumer confidence, but you and I know the real story.  If too many of us start doing it they might need a new regulatory office up there on the floating pyramid. 

So yes, we want a home, and on our anniversary this month I bought my wife cast iron door handles for that home (presents of iron are traditional for 6th year anniversaries).  We'll move these handles around a few places I'm sure, but hopefully it finds a home as right and fitting for us as it is for the door.

In the next post I'll describe how we found this family and worked out the arrangement. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chosing the Place

We're renting a truck in less than a month, and there will be all sorts of things to write about when we arrive.  But first, how did we pick where we're going?

We have chosen Tryon, NC.  Tryon is in Polk county, which is one of two counties in the state that has a full time position dedicated to supporting small sustainable farming.  But that was a fact I found out after our first reason we started looking at Tryon.

There's a great parish there.  We are currently at an FSSP parish, and know the value of a church where there's fire in the pulpit, reverence at the altar and shepherds in the confessional.  I was tipped onto Tryon's parish through a geeky Catholic web site that featured it for its beautiful renovation. 

So, we started with the parish (and we looked at a bunch and made a lot of phone calls).  Then found out the county is one of the best places to start a farm in the southeast, not just because of the support, but it is surrounded by markets all within an hour of this very rural location (9 million people within an hour to be exact, and that does not include Charlotte or Atlanta which are both a little over an hour).  The region is in an isothermal belt, which means it is particularly conducive to crops with milder summers and winders.  Food laws are decent, homeschool laws are better.  Land is affordable.  Water is as good as it gets these days.  I've visited the area twice and, being from NC myself, felt very at home with the land and the people.

How we found a place to live and farm with no capital investment or enslavement to a bank is a story for another post. John Henry, pictured here on a plot we negotiated across the street from our current apartments, doesn't care about the details.  He's just ready to get to work. 

8/21/12 - Father Said Yes

Yesterday, Father H. (my spiritual director) gave me the final yes for beginning a major shift in my life.

So, today I begin two things.  Actually, we (my wife and I) start two things.  Wait, wait.  Today I, my wife and children begin two things.

First, we are joining the Catholic Land Movement.  Perhaps it should be called "The New Catholic Land Movement" since it is indeed a revival of something begun, dead, and resurrected.  For information on THE Catholic Land Movement, please see Kevin Ford's website:

The second thing we are starting is this blog.

I have spoken with many friends, especially men, who have a deep longing to move back to the land -  to live sustainability out of love for family and culture, not fear.  Yet many of them are paralyzed at the first steps.  Growing up in a culture so removed from the dirt from which we came makes it a fearful step to get back on it, especially with a family.  I'm going.  I'm in.  And because for many men and women the first, middle and last steps are shrouded and unknown, I am going to chronicle our steps.  Through this blog I will talk very little philosophy and vision, since that has been cast by many more eloquent and intelligent than me, but I will primarily write about our experience as we step out. 

The next post will discuss whys, wheres and hows, especially in response to Mr. Ford's recent essay on choosing a place

I also pledge to you that I will make every effort to update often.  This will mean many short posts with news, updates and even advice, and not many long infrequent posts. 

Thank you for reading, and I'll get back to you soon.

Jason Craig