Sunday, December 6, 2020

Building A Pond

One project I undertook at Ca Ira Castle this Fall was to build a pond. This after being inspired talking to Jamie Byron on our podcast over at Dream 10X about sustainable land management practices (among other things). The goal in building this little pond is to prototype a possible solution for rain water catchment using a big hole in the ground. 

If water can be retained from rain fall over extended periods of time, perhaps it will attract additional wildlife to the spot, such as frogs, birds, snakes, deer, etc. Where the animals gather, the food chain thrives. The animals eat, drink and poop and they enrich the nutrient poor soil in the process, which hopefully leads to richer soil and healthier plants and trees (and ultimately more oxygen for you and me). 

It never hurts to have a source of water nearby.  I figured water catchment would be cheaper and easier than digging a well, at least in the short-term.  Water can always be filtered in times of emergency.

That's the theory anyway. 

On September 7, 2020, I dug the hole in a spot near our fire pit where water was naturally pooling.  I facilitated the water runoff by digging a shallow trench from the highest spot on the land to the newly dug hole.


 After leaving, I hoped that the frequent rains we were having this year would continue.  True to form, the rains have continued frequently throughout the months of October and November.  

On November 2nd weekend Cindy and I celebrated our first anniversary by running a 30 mile run in Farmville, Virginia.  We stopped by the land to check on the pond real quick before coming home...

Sweet mud hole bliss!  I could not have been more pleased to see something I made with my own hands so successful!  No plastic liner used here, just dug a hole and tamped the clay down with the digger bucket as best I could.

We returned to the land again on November 28th weekend following Thanksgiving.  It was cold at night, but my heart was happy to know that water was being retained in my mud hole.

So far, the water retention prototype is working.  Deer sign all over and frogs have begun moving in.  I am interested to see how this project holds water throughout the course of next Spring and Summer.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Our First Castle Skill Building Day

Cindy and I woke up this morning (July 26th, 2020), and over coffee, started discussing plans for the day. Instantly, ideas started flowing, culminating in - hey, lets start a Castle Skill Building Day where we focus on skills we'll need once we have live in a castle. Some of those skills include:
  • Permaculture
  • Masonry
  • Blacksmithing
  • Bee Keeping
  • Meadery/Beer Making
  • Viticulture
  • Orchards
  • Archery
  • Bagpiping
  • Animal Husbandry (sheep/goats/cows/chickens/doves/pigeons)
So today, we picked a few of those skills and started learning them through doing them. First, we tackled candle making using natural bees wax. Here's a video of what we learned:

Secondly, we took on Blacksmithing, or Couplesmithing - where husband and wife teams attempt to make tools by forging complimentary pieces of steel. This is a real skill as we were about to learn in this video:

Finally, we took on Mead Making using honey sourced from my friend Mike. He has about five bee hives at present and sends us bees wax and honey from time-to-time. We decided to use his bees wax to make candles today and his honey to make a batch of Mead. In this final video, we walkthrough our learning process for making Mead - the nectar of the gods:

The ultimate goal, of course, is to build a Castle in Ca Ira which sustains itself through sustainable agriculture and architecture and includes the cultivation of Wine, Beer, Honey, Mead, custom Steel artifacts, etc. Until we can devote our full time and attention to these objectives, we need to cultivate and improve our skills in all of these disciplines with the time we have allotted.

Until then, we also seek to analyze the process of achieving outlandishly lofty dreams by talking to others who are at various stages of success along similar journeys at our new Web Project: Follow our Blog and Podcast as we seek to describe and explain the process of achieving greatness in one's life through dreaming 10x-sized dreams.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Piper's Retreat

Cindy and I have dreamed of one day building a castle at our land in Ca Ira and hosting Highland Games Competitions there, not unlike the Glenfiddich Piping and Fiddle Competition at Blair Castle each Fall.

Fergus Muirhead introduces the Glenfiddich Piping Championship 2019 from The National Piping Centre on Vimeo.

Wouldn't it be great to have a beautiful place to celebrate the best bagpipe and fiddle talent in the World on US soil? We think it would be amazing to have a special place in the United States to host such a competition, and have Pipers and Fiddlers from around the world come and compete in a beautifully grand setting, not unlike Blair Castle in Scotland.

Of particular interest to me is the Piobaireachd Music of the Highland Bagpipe. This music is the equivalent of classical music to the Great Highland Bagpipe, but in my opinion, there is more to it than that. It is a highly meditative body of music in nature, from the way the player walks whilst playing a Piobaireachd to the repetitive patterns in the music. It's sound is very ethereal and other-worldly. In fact, the Piobaireachd 'Crunluath' and 'Crunluath A Mach' movements remind me a great deal of the French Scientist trying to communicate with the Alien Mother Ship in 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. It's an amazing music idiom for the Highland Bagpipe. If interested, give this Glenfiddich Piobaireachd a listen:

Finlay Johnston performs Piobaireachd at the Glenfiddich Piping Championship 2019 from The National Piping Centre on Vimeo.

So thinking of the Glenfiddich Championship in Scotland and the Highland Bagpipe Competition in general, I've set about to starting my piping hobby back up trying to use Piping Competitions (which are hard to come by these days with COVID-19 concerns and all) to try improve my piping skills. Here's my recent submission to the Ohio Scottish Games Piping Competition 2020 Online (I dream of having a Pipe that sounds as well a Finlay Johnston's one day...):

Keep Dreaming!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Planting Ground Cover

In the beginning of March, before this whole Covid-19 outbreak none-sense, we planted some grass and clover in order to help prevent soil erosion, prevent new weed growth and to help enrich the soil. We also took the time while visiting our land to have a small memorial service for our deceased dog, Cavall. He was a good dog and will be missed.

Monday, March 9, 2020


This weekend we visited 'A Better Way' Farms, in Charlottesville, VA, to talk to Kathy about Goats.  My youngest daughter has an affinity for goats, so my wife bought her a 'Goat Experience' for five people to visit her farm and mingle with these odd creatures.  We begged my daughter to take to us with her (she is a young adult, after all, and typically wants nothing to do with us, but goats and farm life are very intriguing to us) so she agreed to allow us to tag along.

I have to admit I was a bit surprised to find goats so friendly and cuddly.  Not that I'm in to cuddly, but they really are friendly animals.  And they provide quite a bit of value on the farm, from milk production to helping to clear the land of many types of unwanted weeds.  And let me tell you a bit about weeds on the farm...there can be alot of them!  Then again, goats do seem to nibble on just about anything.  But the thing that struck me the most about goats (and these goats in particular) was just how happy they seemed just to be alive.  The goats that we visited seemed to have an incredible 'joie de vivre' that was just fun to be around and even seemed to permeate my own soul (and I am a REALLY tough guy :)).  They even had their own playground set! 

The proprietor of 'A Better Way Farms', Kathy, is obviously passionate about her goats as well.  She takes great pride in trying to breed the highest quality animal possible, which is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is small farm productivity.  It is imperative that small farms such as this find their business niche and survive financially - if not for the benefits to the environment, then for the diversity and benefit of the local and larger economy as a whole.
I left 'A Better Way' Farms intrigued by the value proposition goats offer farmers, not to mention just a little happier on the inside, perhaps recognizing a somewhat primordial desire to work, and play, outside more.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Dreaming Bigger: A Tiny House?

To me, Martin Luther King Day is about having big, audacious dreams.  Napoleon once purportedly claimed that the job of a Leader is to "define reality and to give hope."  In order to define a reality different than the present, one must be able to dream big dreams.  Martin Luther King, Jr., had big dreams and gave people hope for a better future.  Similarly, Henry David Thoreau dreamt of a simpler way of life.

One of the very first books I read when I moved to Northern Virginia (from Evansville, IN) was 'Walden,' by Henry David Thoreau.  I was not aware of the irony surrounding my reading of that book - in Northern Virginia - until just at this moment.  Northern Virginia real estate is outrageously expensive (albeit not quite like like San Francisco or New York, thankfully!).  Nevertheless, the cost of having a roof over one's head in the United States of America is prohibitively expensive almost everywhere.

Reflecting back on Thoreau's experiment on Walden Pond: even then, he saw a possibility of carving out a cheaper, more sustainable, harmonious existence without the need for having one's life tied to a bank mortgage or other debt and restrictions.  On this idea, I find Thoreau's experiment of living in the woods using his own wits, ingenuity and hard work extremely simple and common sensical, yet ingenious at the same time.  What would it be like to experience and undertake a similar experiment in our own life?

I'm not a fan-boy of the Tiny House movement.  Shoot, my aim is to build a big 'ole castle on our property one day.  But I don't want to be beholden to a bank note or Venture Capitalists to make it happen.  Live Free or Die!  I feel like there is freedom in discipline (ala Jocko Willink) and minimalism.  In our video below, we dream a little bit about some of our possibilities at Ca Ira Castle along these lines.

Perhaps 'dreaming bigger', in the context of housing, is the idea of living a life of true freedom through significant reductions in the overhead associated with the outrageous cost of living in America, vis-a-vis a tiny (read 'affordable') house.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Top Reasons Why I Love Ca Ira Castle Lands

The lands of Ca Ira Castle are epic.  They are not for the weak.  The rough exterior offers have a safe haven for wildlife needing refuge. It is also a refuge for the humans who need to just "be." These lands have a spritely spirit of their own that fights to be tamed... just like me.  
Top Reasons Why I Love Ca Ira Castle Lands

1) The stars shine bright above with the Milk Way protecting our paths. Saturn and Venus compete for priority in the night sky.  This is a place for our past, present, and future selves.

 2) It's a place you can play or practice music as loud as you want... bagpipes, opera, a shofar... or blast some Armin van Buuren.

 3) So much love is at this land.

 4) It's a place we can be ourselves. Let our goofy and geek run free

5) It's a place we can enjoy the warm, cozy dancing of flames in an open fire.

6) Haybale couches.

 7) It's a place family and friends can come and celebrate life with us.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Goals

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life." My Dad used to say that to me. I was never quite sure what he meant when he said it though. But on this first day of the year 2020 it seems apropos. In fact, for the last few months I've been trying to gather my thoughts around what some of the next big steps Cindy and I should take on making our 37 clear-cut acres more of a year-round hospitable environment.

To date, we've been somewhat mindlessly planting a wide variety of trees to see what might be hardy enough to thrive without much human involvement.  This past year, our three biggest accomplishments (aside from tree planting) was firstly, the work done on the driveway - smoothing and clearing the path and dropping over 100 tons of stone on it to make year-round access to the property a reality.

Secondly, we had a small 10x8 shed delivered and placed at the top of the driveway so we would now have a place to keep our tent and sleeping bags, water, etc.

Thirdly, I built an outhouse out of cedar and pine in my backyard and transported it to the land in a rented truck.

All of these changes were HUGE improvements from the previous status quo.  It meant that when we went to our land, we no longer had to pack the car with camping gear, and that when we arrived, in most weather situations, we were now be able to drive on to the property without the risk of getting stuck in the mud or having to haul camping gear up a very muddy driveway during a thunderstorm, in the middle of the night (which we did once).  Now, we also have a place to go to the bathroom that is protected from the elements and does not require digging a hole every time.

Yet another major improvement we made later last year was in preparation for our wedding last November 2019.  We needed a cleared, mostly level, spot to put our wedding tent and port-a-jons for the wedding reception.  So I rented a Track Loader and Excavator and cleared about 10,000 square feet of land, removing small trees, weeds and felled tree roots in the process.  This clearing will be a great spot to put more permanent structures like a garage and perhaps a house.

In my mind, the next major step in helping us maintain our driveway, the wedding tent clearing, the trails we've cleared as well as help keep the grass and weeds at bay, is the purchase of a tractor and a bush hog.  If we get a tractor, we'll need to be able to store it someplace to keep it out of the elements in order to protect our mechanical investment, so that means building a barn or garage of some sort.

At the same time, the summer months make camping almost unbearable at Ca Ira Castle, as it gets really hot and there is not much shade.  Even with shade tents up the wife and dog start to hate me pretty quickly for taking them camping (and the kids can't even be bothered).  It is time to figure out a way to provide a more permanent shelter from the elements there, if possible.

So here's my rough plan, not necessarily in order, for improving our life even more at Ca Ira Castle in 2020:
  • Acquire a Tractor with front-loader
  • Acquire a Bush Hog
  • Buy a modular two-story garage
  • Put equipment in bottom part of garage
  • Build-out an off-grid livable space in the top part of garage
    • Install Solar Panels
    • Install Composting Toilet
    • Water Well
  • Build a deck off the back for enjoying the sunsets
  • Plant clover and grass in the cleared spaces in early spring to help soil
  • Make a concrete bench for enjoying the shade of one our London Plane Trees