Running in ZK Blog's blog

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Seasons at Twin Oaks– some mashup photos

Hey everyone!

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to running in ZK, but I’m hoping that will change in the new year.  For all of 2013, I’ve been busy with a nature blog I was creating called ObserVA (,  a daily observation of nature and the change of seasons at Twin Oaks and around Central Virginia.

Anyhoo, that’s all done now, so I’ll have more time and energy to write stuff here.  As I was wrapping up my ObserVA blog, I thought I would finish it off by taking photos of various locations around Twin Oaks, and compare them to photos taken from the same locations at previous times in 2013.  It took some time, and when it was done, I was pretty happy with how they turned out.  So I posted them on the blog, and also on Facebook, but before I was totally done, I figured I’d re-post some of my favorites here on Running in ZK.  So, my apologies if you’ve seen all of these before, and if you haven’t, then enjoy!

First one shows the permaculture orchard in the Kaweah backyard, all kiwis and figs and butterfly bushes back in May, and a whole lot of nothing in January.Image

In September, these goldenrod flowers along the edge of the cow pasture were quite pretty.  In January I was able to find the dried up flowerheads.Image

Fun with Ezra

On New Year’s Eve, after we finished playing our dance band set, Ezra and I shared a moment of blissed-out triumph.

“You know, Summer,” he mused, “I was thinking about my top favorite fun moments, and I realized, you’re in a lot of them.”

“Do you mean your top favorite music fun moments?” asked someone sitting near us.

“Well…they’re kind of all the same thing,” we both answered.

A brief session of “remember when?” then ensued, and I realized that Ezra and I have many more overlapping fun moments.  Therefore I am starting a new “series” of posts (a la my series of posts on good notes left around Twin Oaks) with this one.

It Came From the Dumpster, 2011

Look how awesome the sign is!

Look how awesome the sign is!

Kamikaze Theater, a concept introduced to Twin Oaks by Clementine, has a set of rules and standards we didn’t exactly follow, but our version of it looked like this: whoever wants to be involved, strap on your seatbelt and drink a shitload of coffee. At 8 pm Friday night, everyone gets together at ZK to talk about what’s going to happen. What’s the play about? Who’s going to act in it? Who will write the script? What about costumes and scenery? Decide who’s doing what, then split up and do it.

In preparation, we’d put out a 10 day input box gathering ideas from anyone in the community, and on Friday evening, we decided that anything put into the box would – nay, must – go into the play. Somehow. The script people would make that happen.

Thanksgiving Dinner

This is a guest post by Tigger, who was one of our lead cooks for Thanksgiving this year.


I’ve been doing the thanksgiving dinner for most of the 18 years I’ve lived at Twin Oaks. It has always been my favorite holiday. What can go wrong with a day of cooking and eating, which are two of my top activities. I tell new members that if there is one day to invite their families to the farm for their a visit it should thanksgiving.

1-It takes a village

For me one of the traditions of Thanksgiving is to get as many people involved as possible, whether baking deserts, prepping vegetables, or decorating the dining room. It takes a village to feast 150 people with as much homegrown produce as possible. Inclusion is one of the core values, this is our community, our meal for which we are giving thanks. The invitation is always there for people to come in and do as much as they want, to prepare a dish or dessert that has a special personal thanksgiving meaning to share.

2-dining room redone

Outreach is fun!

One of the jobs I forget that I do is outreach/recruitment. I forget it because I do it so infrequently.  I love the energy I get from talking to folks about community though. It’s always so much fun!

This past weekend, Nina and I got to speak at the first annual Jewish Intentional Communities Conference just outside of Baltimore. The folks organizing this event are trying to help kickstart the Jewish intentional communities movement in the US, and they asked Twin Oaks to send a leader/founder to speak since we’ve been around for a while. Apparently, my not-quite 8 years of mostly-living-here-on-and-off qualified.

I was pretty excited to get to go. I think everyone should live in community, but there aren’t enough communities, so I think lots of folks should be starting them. So, a conference that’s explicitly about encouraging folks interested in community to go start ‘em up? I’m so there. I was also excited that this was a non-secular event, as I’m personally interested in increasing the connections between the secular and non-secular communities movements.

The conference itself was awesome. I ended up co-presenting three workshops on various topics that seemed pretty well received. Folks were really interested in income sharing and how we managed to pull that off for 46 years. Also, I pointed a few folks from the west coast towards Emma Goldman’s Finishing School in Seattle, which I love doing because Emma’s is awesome and everyone should know about them. Most of the folks I talked to had never heard of Twin Oaks, the FEC, or the FIC, so I was happy to be able to introduce us to people.

PAL is Your Pal

[This is a guest post by Trout from PAL-land.]

I enjoy my life at Twin Oaks.  I’ve been living here for over 6 years now, and from the first day I arrived as a visitor, I knew that I had arrived at my home (consequently, our welcome salutation to new members is “Welcome Home”).   I could probably write a book or two on all the things that have transpired in that time just in my life, but I’ll spare you the details.  In a line, the community, the landscape, has become part me, as I have become part of it.  And as time passes, the two of us become indiscernible to my eyes, as if our fates have become intertwined.


One of the beauties of our little community is that once you have served a year of membership, you are eligible for a one year, membership entitled, unpaid getaway we call PAL.  And when it’s up, you get to come back and pick up right where you left off.  As with anything at Twin Oaks, it’s a little more complicated than I would put it, but that’s the bare nuts of it.  So just when you feel like you’ve lost your identity in a sea of community, like your life has become insular and wonder if there’s anything else out beyond the line of trees past the orchard, or just want to prove to yourself that you can still make a living on your own–why not take a PAL?

Piper’s Funeral

I sort of planned to get photos of this one when I heard they were decorating one of the farm trucks with greenery.  But I didn’t.  I wish you could have seen it.

I don’t know the details of how she died.  The story, though, is that they found her in a chair in the Nashoba addition, chocolate and hot cocoa at her side.  She was enjoying herself when she went.  No lengthy decline in health.  [Edit: She was 89.]  Partied her ass off at the Halloween party last week.  We’re all pretty sure she is/would be thrilled that this is the way it happened.  Knowing her.

Thursday night there was a sharing circle.  I didn’t attend.

Today we gathered at Nashoba.  Current members clustered together, and ex-members and friends were plenty.  Red made the coffin, simple pine boards I’m told, but with an accent of darker wood running lengthwise, produced hammock-stretcher style.  How Twin Oaks.  Piper was dressed in the glittery, glamorous gown she wore on Halloween.  The rest of us were mostly dressed in whatever.  It was cold outside, so some had dark coats and pants, while others wore their winter usual.  When it was time to process, volunteers lifted the coffin into the truck.  Carrol drove, and people, kids, and dogs followed along to the graveyard, shuffling through the thick dry leaves that lined the forest road.  They placed her atop her grave, and we all gathered around to share what we would.  Many spoke of her influence teaching children to read.  Others had stories about her sassiness, or about how difficult she could be sometimes, or about how she dreamed big and went after what she wanted.  Some shared poetry and music.  We cried, but mostly we laughed.  The day was gorgeous.


Last night was the Halloween party.  Halloween is not my favorite Twin Oaks holiday, but this year I really enjoyed it.  We have a new holiday manager who used to be involved in haunted houses, and she did a wonderful job transforming ZK (our dining hall) into a party space.  Many people don’t like having parties at ZK (traditionally the dance parties at Halloween, Anniversary and Validation Day happen there) because the building feels “institutional,” the dance floor is too big to ever feel “full,” and the layout of the building encourages people to section off such that one feels as though the party is less attended than it actually is.

Louisa Town Relations

I put in a req for Brittany to take me into town today for some dairy/fences errands.

So, first, we stopped at the Food Lion for treats: “Donuts?  Donuts.”

But then on the way out, we passed by this couple, one of whom said “Oh look, young Twin Oakers!”  Not in a sort of “Hello!  I lived there!” sort of way, but in a “Hey, your hair is sticking up!” sort of way.

So I interrogated Brittany about our appearance, and we determined that we look a little funny.  Maybe not outlandish.  But off:

Brittany and Keegan

I’m wearing a matching red hat and scarf with a naval (?) jacket that I got out of commie last year, some torn up jeans, and poop-stained dairy boots.  Brittany says she looks “bag-lady chic.”

Later, at the hardware store, I was getting things rung up, and I said, “I think we have an account with y’all.  I’m from Twin Oaks.” And the cashier didn’t respond for a while.  Then he looked up, and said:

“What are you working on there?”

“Oh, I mean, nothing really — this is just a few things for the dairy barn.”


“Yeah.  I manage the dairy program there.”

“Huh. ”
“How did you land that job?”

“The last manager stopped, and nobody else wanted to do it.  That’s kind of how things work there. Did you know the last manager?”


His look was puzzling.


1) He was checking to see if I was legitimately from Twin Oaks or if I was trying to bill somebody else for my drain stoppers and surge protector.

2) I looked like a city boy?  “You do look very stylish from the waist up,” says Brittany.

No Dairy, Just Dance

I know you all out there have been wondering for some time, “Would a dairy barn be a good place to throw a dance party?”  Last night I found the answer, and it is a solid YES.


     ^ This picture already existed on the internet

Clean industrial surroundings, multiple dance floor levels, electronic music, disco ball, and egg sandwiches.  Next time, a lovely refreshment bar and off-floor social space.  You’re gonna love it.

In 1995 when my brother told me Jerry Garcia had died I said, “who?” and he said, “the lead singer of the Grateful Dead, idiot,” and I said, “oh, that metal band?”

And yet, me, a member of Uncle Trout’s Band:

I don't play banjo in this band anymore.

I don’t play banjo in this band anymore (though I’m still in the band).

Wha happened?

I don’t know.  I guess I grew up.  HA HA HA HA.

Backing up, I will unashamedly admit to being completely obsessed with Phish from 1994-1999-ish (I attended 64 shows between 1996 and 2004).  And you might think, as do many of the unindoctrinated, that all bands with traveling followers decked in patchwork and patchouli are the same.


Phish is clever, heady, math-y. Their lyrics are collegiate, verbose (yet often stupid and grammatically incorrect ["the echo of whomever spoke," for example]).  They’re tight, eager, earnest, silly.  When they jam (at least back when I used to see them), they often play together as though with one brain, psychically coming together to fill open spots in their collective musical mosaic, including knowing when to use quiet and silence.  Yo.  I loved this band for a long time.

The Grateful Dead is as far from most of that as you can get.  They’re loose, unhurried, unironic.  Lyrics replete with sexism and nature imagery.  The jams go to never-never land and can become unlistenably atonal.

I do play acoustic guitar in this band now.

I do play acoustic guitar in this band now.

What a difference a week makes

It’s Tuesday, the day of Keegan’s coffee shop in Appletree/the Nashoba addition.

Is this really happening?


     ^ Mug is smug in its appropriateness

I missed coffee shop last week due to having a third eye-type opening in my forehead, due in turn to extreme tofu making.

Tofu at Twin Oaks is a sweet little factory job.  It’s somewhat physical labor, which appeals to some communards, but we take care of ourselves.  Once we get good at our jobs, many of us enjoy the experience of “flow” that comes from pushing ourselves to be slightly faster, more efficient, more coordinated.  Others who would rather work at a more relaxed pace do so, so the work is not necessarily stressful or hectic.  We get to take labor credits for stretching and weight lifting, body care activities that help us prevent injury.  In the last year we even brought in a professional who gave Alexander Technique classes tailored to tofu hut jobs.  But accidents still happen.

Last week, my morning pack shift was going along swimmingly.  I was so up to speed, had packed all the bulk tofu, and had changed the packager over to be Italian Herb pounder-ready.  The pasteurizer was full.  I noticed that the bottom film (the clear plastic that becomes the “pocket” holding the tofu) was running low, and I decided to fetch more so it would be at hand when needed.  Then physics happened.  Dolly, meet face.


     ^ Helpful graphic and musical reference

This is why we can't have nice things

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Walter Cronkite wrote a preface to the 35th edition of Orwell's classic 1984.

K Shifts

Almost all jobs at Twin Oaks are voluntary. Members can pick the work they want to do, with the idea being if we value a job enough, it will get done. If no one is willing to do a job, by this theory, then we don’t value it. The only exception to this rule is our kitchen cleaning shifts (K shifts). Everyone is required to do one K shift per week, unless they are physically unable. The shifts last for one to two hours right after lunch and dinner.

The idea is that K shifts are the least desirable job in the community and that everyone must do it for the sake of fairness. In reality, not everyone does K shifts. There are two K shifts per day with three people per shift, meaning that we only require 42 (out of 92) people to clean the kitchen during any given week. According to some labor assigners, several people in the community systematically mark of their labor sheets such that it is impossible to assign them a K shift.

Despite the perceived undesirability of K shifts, many people self-assign a regular weekly shift. The advantage to this is that you can choose a time you like and perhaps team up with friends. People on regular shifts often spilt the tasks the same way every week, with everyone doing their favorite jobs.

There used to be the sense in the community that K3s (the after dinner shift) were especially unpleasant (as many people don’t want to do any work after dinner), but currently every evening has a regular crew. Brittany and I do a K shift most Fridays, for example. Because we allow out loud music during K shifts, many of the regular K3s are based on common musical interests. On Sunday there is a “heavy metal K3? and on Monday there is a “classical music K3.” Brittany and I usually listen to show tunes. On Thursday, there is a shift that is doesn’t have out loud music. Some people schedule regular K3s with their friends as a way to have a regular hangout with those friends immediately following the shift.

It’s Fall! Almost!


     ^Dearest Wren


     ^Sassy, before she moved to the Courtyard


     ^Keegan sometimes attracts company while he works


     ^Sweet goddess, the maple-glazed apple cider doughnuts from last Mabon

       (Shall we prioritize another harvest-equinox celebration next year?)



The Oatmeal is right: printers were sent from hell to make us miserable.

I have fixed printers at every single job I’ve ever had. It never matters what my actual job title is, or what I was hired to do. There will be a printer, the printer will break, and I will fix it. And then I’m drawn into printer hell forever.

This didn’t change when I moved to Twin Oaks. The main difference is that this time I did it to myself. I didn’t have to do tech work when I moved here. I could have been like many other Oaker techies and just said “nope, I moved here to do , fix your own damn printers.” Alas, I actually enjoy systems and network admin work, and once you start doing that, fixing printers is inevitable for some reason.

Luckily, I don’t have to spend all of my time with printers. One of my favorite things about this place is that I can usually adjust my labor scene when I start getting bored with a job. There are things I’ve discovered I really enjoy, like fixing cars and putting things in boxes (aka shipping). There are other things that were fun for a while, but got old or started making me cranky, so I moved on. I can explore new areas, quit them, and the whole time never worry about things like being homeless or not being able to pay bills.

I’m not always the best at quitting things though. Take printers, for example. If I could never fix a printer again, I’d be a happy person. However, there aren’t that many people that can deal with them, and it’s expensive to just keep buying new ones. Also, we print *a lot* in seed racks, and I’m the one that has to keep the things working so we can pack seeds. It’s much harder for me to just say “eh, don’t feel like this anymore” in that situation. So, my future will contain printers for a while. Luckily, I enjoy enough of my other work to make dealing with printers worth it.

Customer Service

Working on the hammocks desk, I field a lot of questions about our products.  Ten years of doing this job, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this one, that came in the other morning through our site:

I Do Not Like “Green Eggs and Ham”

Most are familiar with Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. Having read it as a child, without remembering the details, I’ve gone through life taking from it what I believe to be the intended message: it’s good to try new things. The story involves Sam, aka Sam-I-Am, trying to make an unnamed character, who I’ll call Joey, eat green eggs and ham. Joey refuses to do so, so Sam asks him again and again in slightly different ways (“Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?”) until Joey finally caves and tries it out.

I recently came across, for the first time in about two decades, a copy of Green Eggs and Ham. It’s in our storytime reading pile at Unicorn School, the homeschool cooperative for the kids of Twin Oaks. Our storytime pile is made up of some combination of books owned by the community (45 years of collection has led to an annoyingly vast collection), books currently borrowed from the library, and books loaned from kids’ personal collections. It’s been read a few times in storytime as of late, and while it has silly illustrations and fun rhymes, I became quite disappointed with the content of the story.

Poly Date Night

While not quite the norm, polyamory is far more common at Twin Oaks than in mainstream society. Community living provides unique opportunities for making non-monogamous relationships work comfortably, and I am glad to be part of what has so far been a wildly successful group of loving individuals. Elspeth and Rosie are a well-established couple that have been together for a number of of years, and in the past year have each started dating another person, Elspeth seeing me and Rosie dating Brittany. We’re all really comfortable and happy with each other, and the four of us have been able to build a friendly support system for each other.

Rosie and Elspeth had been planning for some time to have a baby, and two months ago accomplished this task with the birth of Sylvia. As plenty of new parents have reported, it can be hard to keep romantic energy active while taking care of an infant. One would think that this would be made near-impossible by having two partners. Instead, quite to my surprise, it turns out that having this extended support system has made things work out quite smoothly, as smoothly as one could hope for with a newborn in the mix. This is exemplified in the arrangement of our twice-a-week date nights.

Our 'local' Poly Map

Mapping out relationships is a curious pastime of poly people.

The Member Montage


The upcoming member montage. I still nee to collect photos from everyone.

At Twin Oaks we have a printout that we hang in various buildings around the community that gives photos and names of members in the order in which they joined.  It’s called the member montage.  Woody started this project several years ago, and it has persisted since he left because it’s a helpful aid for visitors who are trying to match names with faces.


You wouldn’t think that it would be hard to figure out the placement order on the montage, right?  It’s actually become a complicated and charged topic.  Determining the order of the members who have only had one membership is easy, but many members have dropped membership and rejoined or gone on a PAL (personal affairs leave).  Woody’s original criteria for placement was that if a member went on PAL or if they dropped membership and rejoined within a year, they could keep their original spot. If they dropped membership and returned in over a year (needing to do a new visitor period), they would go at the bottom of the member montage.


Even with these criteria, the member montage has been inconsistent in its placement of members: What is interesting is that many members are super attached to their position on the member montage.  It is my sense that people take pride in how far up they are on the montage.   People in the lower, smaller slots at the bottom of the montage care about moving up to the bigger slots.  Members have bickered about their placement and made demands to be put in higher locations on the montage.


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