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Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Nicaraguan Gulch - UPDATED 12/2016


The farm is open for visitors! It is not done yet, nor nearly as nice as it will be (the thousands of rainforest trees we have planted need a good five more years to shade the whole property) but the farm does have two lovely guest rooms and possibly the most ideal food in the world. However--

-I always thought visiting the farm would be heaven for any family, paradise for the kids and a wonderful, relaxing break for the parents. But we have had some trial visits from families over the last year and I have learned that:
1) Many children do not know how to go outside and play
2) Many children do not know how to entertain themselves
3) The children who expect adults to be in charge of their safety ... are not safe outside at the farm

Even with a group of children with ages from 5-13 running around, a newcomer who is used to watching television and playing computer games, who expects to be entertained ... it took our visitor a week to leave his room and play with the other kids outside! And even then he was not safe and the other kids had to constantly come alert the adults to the poor choices he was making.

We are instituting a screening process for those who want to visit.


My husband has been developing a private city "Galt's Gulch" in Nicaragua for the last five or so years. Our goal is to create a way of life, and especially a way to raise children, that is more satisfying, meaningful, and less stressful than life as a parent in the US. Or just life in the US.

Many gulches are in development. Most focus on values that are out of sync with ours. Our values are:

Physical Health
Because nothing is enjoyable in life if your body doesn't feel good.

Our Gulch Health Goals
-The healthiest food in the world*
-Tasty food, like a 5-star restaurant
-Low Toxin Levels: Lots of fresh air, surrounded by jungle, formaldehyde-free furniture, organic gardens, animals eating what they are actually supposed to eat
-Car Free: A walking community, driving should not be necessary most of the time
-An Active Life: Exercise available that is pleasurable and fun, like yoga at the top of a mountain, hiking through the forest, dancing, swimming, and combat--and no driving required to get to any of them
-Body care: High quality water to bathe in, a masseuse that visits every week
-Living these values should be enjoyable, part of the fun of life, not chores, not have-to's.

*To maintain the highest level of physical health possible we eat the Weston A Price diet around 80% of the time. We eat whatever we want the other 20% of the time because no matter how healthy we are, we are going to die anyway. That being said, when we are partying it up, we still do not eat MSG, HFCS, or trans fat. This means if we go out to eat, we rarely go to restaurants below 4-stars. Because I worked in restaurants for ten years and, in general, if it's below 4-stars, I am definitely eating things on my above "under no circumstances" list. It is unclear to me if it is possible to maintain healthy genetic stock across multiple generations while living in a city. Farms grow healthy children--this was common knowledge 150 years ago, and it is a far more serious a statement than many realize. Partly because it takes generations for a family's stock to be depleted--it happens so slowly, we don't notice it. It was obvious to our great-grandmothers as they watched the migrations of families from farms to cities, they saw the change, the narrowed faces, the sicknesses, the crooked teeth. But it is less obvious to us. Most kids today have braces, so we think it's normal. There are no grandmothers left shaking their heads saying, "Country kids don't look like that." Of those who grow up on farms today, few live on self-sustaining farms and traditional diets. Farms today are not the farms of 150 years ago. So when I say, "Farms grow healthy children" I need to clarify: I mean small, family farms with their own dairy cow, chickens, hay, and vegetables. Hypothetically it is possible--with a great deal of money, time, and focus--one could eat the Weston A Price diet in a city for generations, but I think it is a great deal easier on a farm.

Relationships / Communication Skills

All the money in the world doesn't matter if your important relationships aren't enjoyable. You cannot live in a free society without good relationship and communication skills either. In fact, poor relationship skills don't just lead to family feuds, they lead to wars.

Our Gulch Relationship Goals:
-A Respectful Culture: Nonviolent communication is the language of our gulch
-Freedom and respect as the basis of community organization
-A Child Inclusive Culture: Children are treated like people and invited to participate in all aspects of life, the community is small and safe so they have a lot more freedom (and fun) than kids in America do, they own their bodies and are in charge of their lives.


-Living somewhere beautiful is inspiring. It makes us feel good on a very deep level.
-We follow Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language building style here.
-We believe that beauty is objective, not subjective. 


-No Cooking Necessary: Three meals served in the communal dining hall, if you want to cook you can, but for busy moms like me, not having to cook is heaven.
-No Cleaning Necessary: Labor in Nicaragua is very inexpensive, housekeepers cost around fifty cents an hour. Again, for a busy mom like me this is a dream-come-true
-Low Cost of Living: Bungalows at the gulch cost a $5,000-$50,000 depending on how many amenities you want. Compare that to trying to buy a home in Los Angeles
-An Adventurous Life: Living in Nicaragua means spending less of our money on the basic necessities of life and more on travel and adventure!

-There is so much opportunity here! There is great demand for goods and services and no competition. This is Costa Rica twenty years ago. This is the place for smart, hardworking entrepreneurs.

Why Nicaragua?
-Because there was no good way to raise children in the US. I ran into an Argentinian couple the other day. They met in New York and lived there until the birth of their first child. They found raising children in NYC to be unbearable, so they moved to Nicaragua. Not Argentina. Not elsewhere in the US. Why? Because they wanted more children. And in Nicaragua (unlike the US or Argentina) they could afford it and enjoy it. Because to truly enjoy raising your children you need help. In Nicaragua they could afford the maid, cook and driver that make raising children so much more enjoyable. This hit home for me because I worked for some of the wealthiest families in Los Angeles--they had full time maids and cooks--but raising children in those big, lonely houses was still unbearable. I envisioned how a city gulch could work but it required too much capital to get it going. So I chose the farm gulch, where raising Anders is every bit as idyllic as I imagined it would be. It's not perfect, but if there were 120 voluntaryists here it would be as close to perfect as my ideal life could be.
-Because we wanted to live on a farm that produced almost all of our food, and it is much more affordable to do that in Nicaragua than in the US. Moreover, labor in Nicaragua is so affordable that we can live on a farm and manage a farm but not be the actual farmers. This is key. In the US you can only pull that off if you are Oprah or Martha Stewart.
-Because there are no chem trails here.
-Because the USDA is not going to show up and harass us about drinking raw milk.
-Because not only can we harvest our own animals on our own land, it's a skill that all of our neighbors grew up with. How many people in the US know how to harvest a cow? Or even a chicken?
-Because there is plenty of water (where I live, the west coast on Nicaragua cannot say that).
-Because it's a 3 hour flight to Florida and Texas and a 5 hour flight to LA. Many gulches are simply a lot farther than I want to be from the US.
-Because we have more freedom here than we would have even on a farm in the US.
-Because foreigners get a lot of slack to be different i.e. freedom.
-Because Tom loves tropical climates.
-Because living in Nicaragua is so inexpensive we have money leftover for trips to Whistler and Europe.
-Because the sleep! (The darkness at night!)
-Because the SKY! (The stars!)
-Because even though there is nowhere in the world without a corrupt government, the corrupt government in Nicaragua is poor, small, and generally MIA which means--because freedom.

Would I Still Choose Nicaragua if I Were a Billionaire:
-I think so. I do prefer the climate in Chile, but it's farther from the US and Europe than I want to be. I can't stand the lack of freedom in Europe and the US, but if being a billionaire could buy me the freedoms that I want, then I would totally consider it--can billionaires build a house and not follow certain building codes? Can they kill their own cows? Can they start a private school for vaccine-free children? Do they not fear CPS showing up at their door? How easy is it to completely change the zoning laws of a given area and create an entirely new zone called freedom to build a house or a business? Is there freedom available if I bought a remote island off of Scotland? Could I pull a Liberland?
-If I were a billionaire, I would buy a huge chunk of Nicaragua, like 1/6 of the country. I would offer free land to anarchists from all over the world. I would buy the news papers and media outlets. I would buy the schools and provide free education to all adults and children.... I'd get myself assassinated pretty fast :)

I Am Planning To Move To Nicaragua, Any Advice?
-Most gringos who move to Nicaragua move to the Pacific coast. The Pacific coast is very developed. This means it's expensive. It also means it is full of cops, government involvement, and petty theft by the locals. It means wealthy Americans with million dollar beach mansions cruising in Range Rovers and surfing. Lots of yoga retreats. No farms because they don't have the water. The people I know who have a small resort there on the beach have to have the water brought in by truck and spend a fortune, more than 10k a month on drinking water for guests.
-If I wanted to live on the Pacific coast, I would seriously consider Rancho Santana, owned by Bill Bonner. Freedom loving community. Ish. If my food values weren't what they are, I would happily live there.
-Grenada is the place many Americans retire. There are over 2000 people in the Expats of Granada Facebook group. 1000 are Americans. The other 1000 are Canadians. When I ask Americans why they came they say the less stressful life. When I ask the Canadians why they came they say the weather. Granada would be an easy place to start, for Americans. But again you will find much higher costs than out in the sticks where I live, and much bigger police presence and tons of American do-godders bringing their statist b.s. "helping" bureaucracy with them.
-Where I live there are no gringos for hours. Specifically, 90 minutes to the south in San Carlos I met a French expat who owns a fishing resort. 4 hours to the north there is the German coffee plantation and resort, Selva Negra. Some Americans just opened the Kiss Me Ice Cream Parlor in Matagalpa as well. They have already opened a second location in Leon and will open a third location this year. But that's it for gringo's (as far as I know) in the central third of Nicaragua. On Google maps you can look at the town Acoyapa. That is about twenty minutes north of our farm. There is very little police presence here, and the cops I have met were extremely polite and not crooked in any way. I have found the locals very welcoming and friendly.
-If I had it to do over again, I would have looked into the Matagalpa area. Those are the mountains in the north, so instead of being 80 degrees all year, it's 70. That is much more my climate. Super gorgeous. Tons of undeveloped areas. More costly than where I live, but still affordable. And closer to the airport. Our farm is 2 1/2 hours from the airport. Matagalpa is closer to 90 minutes.
-But if I had to advise other people on where to live, I would want to point out that community is very important, especially in a foreign country, and I don't know anyone cooler than Tom and myself... so you may seriously want to consider buying the farm across the street. :) They are all for sale. No signs up or anything but I have never met anyone not interested in selling their land. Or if you wanted a small amount of acreage, come visit, maybe we can work something out.

Life Here, the Good and Annoying

Sleeping at the gulch is a very different experience than it is in Los Angeles. In Nicaragua I fall asleep effortlessly, sleep more deeply, have vivid dreams, and feel more rested when I wake.

At the gulch (or perhaps in the country) I feel the day and night very deeply. I get sleepy and go to bed pretty soon after dark. I get up just a short while after sunrise. Being on the same schedule with everyone else around me feels really good.

The darkness is really special, magical special. There are no hills that glow. When it's dark at night it is pitch black.

I absolutely love not having to cook or clean up! Communal meals are really special as well. I can't wait until we build the (real) kitchen. I love eating food grown on our own land. I love caring for the land and improving it and knowing my soil gets better every year. I love how easily things grow. I love not worrying about water. I love making my beers!!! I love how happy my bacteria colonies are here. I love raising my own animals. Chickens are so wonderful to have around and bring so much joy to my day. And our cow too. I can't wait to have pigs. I can't wait to be producing all of our own food!

We used to have a lot of bugs. But now we have a lot of chickens and more shade and the land is healing. The balance has shifted. Now we have the number of bugs you'd see at a park--not very many.

I love showering in chlorine-free, chemical free, well water!

Not sure what it is about the water at the farm, but in LA my hair is so oily after 2 days that I have to shower again, in Nicaragua I go for 5 days easily and my hair is still fine.

Same with body odor. Not sure what it is about the climate or the water, but it takes a solid week before I smell like I need a shower. In LA I wear deodorant every day. Here I don't bother most days because I don't smell.

I can't wait until we have our own private in suite bathroom. And a tub. 

Never having to cook or clean is even more awesome than I thought it would be.

Endless outdoors for Anders to play in is very satisfying. Anders being constantly covered in bug bites is something I am still working on, but something that will be largely solved as construction moves forward and we humans occupy more of the space here.

I love how low our cost of living is. We went snowboarding in Whistler for a week this year and stayed at the Chateau. Next year we will go for two weeks, and in the mean time I am planning at least a month in Europe this summer. These things would not be possible if we were still in LA spending 3k a month on food alone.

I find my neighbors to be kind, helpful, happier than most Americans, and trustworthy to a certain extent.

I like it that Nicaraguans do not look helplessly at me if Anders tries to talk to them or mess with their things. They talk directly to him and often respectfully. I like it that kids don't bother people here, they run and play wherever they go, and everyone smiles at the joy they bring.

I don't like it that Nicaraguans, like Americans, pat children on the head, pinch their cheeks, tickle them, and in general treat the child as if he does not own his body.

Adults don't "play" with children here. This makes it impossible to find a babysitter as the babysitters will keep Anders alive, but he doesn't enjoy being with them. However, this is far more authentic than American adults who do play with children, but don't actually enjoy it. So... as difficult as it makes it for me to find a babysitter so I have time to write, I also appreciate the reality-check.

It drives me insane how slow restaurants are. After you order you will wait at least 30 minutes for your food, but usually an hour. Hate it.

The night is magical--the darkness, the stars, the quiet, the fireflies.

The rain storms are spectacular. Open-sky showers in the heat of the day are super fun. The dry season just feels like summer in LA.

We are currently replanting the rain forest trees that were clearcut 8 decades ago. A decade from now, when they are taller, our land will be significantly cooler.

I didn't realize how special it is to be the steward of a piece of land. When I plant a tree and water it and prune it so that it grows to be as beautiful as possible, I develop a relationship with the tree. I feel connected to many of them! It's very special.

We now have a spectacular well and no water shortages! The power situation has improved as well. There have been no outages in a long time. But farm life here is still similar to farm life in the US: there is never a wealth of choices when you want to buy something so you have to make constant trips to the nearest city, you learn to do a lot yourself because the nearest person supplying whatever the service you need is too far of a drive away, and no one is in a rush to do anything ever nor are they stressed about anything. These are all good sometimes and annoying sometimes.

I dislike 80 degree weather here as much as I did in LA.

The biggest thing I notice about living at the gulch is that nature is the enemy. There is a song sung to kids in the US by hippies that goes, “The Earth is our mother, she will take care of us.” That song makes me want to laugh when I am at the gulch, the jungle-fronteir. At the gulch--as a farmer--nature is an enemy I want to conquer or control to the best of my ability, which is to say: I totally get why humans had that attitude for so long. When you are being attacked by the sun, by the heat, by the humidity, by the rain, by more bugs than you ever knew existed, by the most evil biting ants you can imagine—what we are working so hard to create in Nicaragua is just shelter! AKA freedom from the natural world, from the outside. 

Wrenching a comfortable existence from a piece of Earth is hard work. Water, power, wifi. In LA I turned on faucets and never once thought about how one manages to get water from the ground into that faucet. Or how one manages to create electricity and then put it right there in the wall.

The excitement of being in a foreign place is wonderful! I love the local foods and I love the constant discovery of new things. The local cacao drink is incredible; we are having our cook make it with every meal. Recently we found out about a fermented pineapple-skin beer/juice that makes me giddy! And we found out the locals like to snack on green mangoes soaked in lime juice with salt and pepper--natural Gatoraide anyone?

A year ago I wrote: "The stress of being in a foreign place is stressful. I was paranoid about the police the whole time I was in Nicaragua even though I had no bad interactions with them and I drove myself all over the place. Except in the capital city, Managua. I hired a driver for $10/day to drive me around there. This worked out well as he knew where to go for me to buy what I wanted to buy." Today I don't feel much like a foreigner anymore. I drive in Managua though I still find it stressful--like driving in any city. I have been pulled over three times and found the police to be polite, apologetic, not entitled, not violent, not rude, and not corrupt. Twice I was pulled over at a drug-inspection point and they apologized profusely while they searched the car and our luggage for drug trafficking. Once I was pulled over and learned a rather strange traffic law that I didn't even realize I had broken (here you cannot pass on a dotted line if it is with-in 200-feet of a solid line... which begs the question, why make it dotted then?). The policeman was very nice and let me off since I hadn't known the rule. If I had gotten a ticket it would have been $8.

I have to make a conscious effort to drink enough water to not get dehydrated here.
Got stomach-flu a couple times here but nothing after adding kefir to our daily diet.
I enjoy very good heath here. No idea what benefits the less-stress life style brings.

Nicaragua makes me think of the Ted Talk "Life is Easy," the message of which is that life just doesn't have to be as hard as we make it. It doesn't have to be so stressful. It doesn't have to be so much work to be alive.

Nicaragua makes me feel this way--not that life is "easy," but that it's not stressful. Perhaps it is the cost of living, or country life, or life with a full-time cook, I don't know. But man I love the relaxation of this place.

But about the Ted Talk "Life is Easy": it's is very misleading. It should be titled, "Life is easy if you don't mind third world poverty." Because building a small, kind of sturdy bungalow out of tree branches you find in the forest in Nicaragua is almost free--so "very easy." Building a small, sturdy, cement bungalow with a wooden bed in Nicaragua costs around $5,000--let's call this "easy." Adding tiled floors, paint on the walls, glass windows, an a/c and a dehumidifier (so your books and electronics don't get destroyed by the climate), bedside, tables, an entry table, hat hooks, a desk with a chair and a lamp, a closet, a doormat, attractive lights, bedding, and curtains and now you have spent around $15,000. If you want your own bathroom with hot running water and US-style water pressure, your little kitchen-less bungalow has now cost you $20,000 minimum. 

I like the $20,000 house. Life is a lot less easy if you need to come up with $20,000 than if you need to come up with $5,000--not to mention that everything you own costs in time to care for it after you own it: furniture has to be dusted and polished, every additional square foot of floor is another minute sweeping and mopping, landscaping means caring for plants, machines mean maintenance and repairs, etc. So due to my own personal choices--my life will never be that easy.

But $20,000 is still a lot easier to get than the $500,000 you need to buy a house in Los Angeles or the $100,000 you would need to buy a home in a tiny desert town three hours from Los Angeles. And since labor costs so much less in Nicaragua, maintenance there will also cost 90% less. 

In the original version of this post, I missed the following about Los Angeles:
-Endless classes in everything I ever wanted to know
-Thai food, Indian food and sushi
-Amazon Prime
-Unscented laundry detergent (next time I will bring this)
-Clothes dried in the dryers (I will buy one for gulch, but it does not have one yet)
-Babysitters that speak English and engage with Anders

Today I miss:
-Amazon Prime

Because how often did I take any of those classes? Now I plan my 6-week trip to LA around a class. And the restaurant option is nice, but you know what's nicer? Not having to go anywhere OR cook. Seriously. I now find going to a fancy restaurant to be work. Ugh, I have to get dressed and drive? Ugh, I have to order and wait? Why would anyone want to do that?! I found unscented laundry detergent here. I still haven't bought a dryer, but stopped caring about that. And I'm going to buy a dryer soon. The babysitter problem still has to be solved, but at the same time, the animals, trees to climb, dirt to dig in, and local kids coming over to play meet more of my needs than the babysitters available in Los Angeles.

How to Employ Without Enslaving (Updated 2/17)

What does a healthy relationship between employer and employee look like?

It seems to me that if one man is trading with another man, it is not all that complicated. Both are men, responsible for their lives, responsible for agreeing to a trade that provides them with value and declining a trade that does not.

So why is the workplace trade such a mess? 

Paid vacation: because you are not capable of saving for a vacation yourself?

Paid sick days: because otherwise you are so irresponsible with your money, you can't afford to get sick?

Retirement plans: because we both know you won’t plan for it?

Health plans: because your health is my responsibility?

The tradition of a holiday bonus – it’s for slaves. It's the myth of the benevolent rich guy and his grateful dependents. (See my Christmas post about that.

Why would I hire that person? Why am I taking responsibility for your life? I want to hire you, not be your mother!

All these “gifts” that employers are expected to give – they establish a relationship between employer and employee that does not look healthy to me. Is this kind of employment the gateway drug to big daddy government since no one is expected to take responsibility for his life?

I don't do my employees any favors when I turn them into my dependents.

Also, I don't think these "benefits" are for the employee at all. They are sold that way, but in reality, they are for me, the boss.

I talked to my farm manager and my cook about this, and both insist that, given the choice, they want to exchange money for labor. End of story. They don't want any of the gifts which they actually see as attempts to control. It's the flip side of the gift coin. The employer thinks he is "taking care of" his employee with that health plan, but employees would actually prefer the control over their lives.

Here, it's about food. Right now I provide very high quality food to my employees. This costs me only an extra $150 a month per employee, and I value having healthy employees, so I pay for it. I used to see myself as a benevolent boss giving them a gift that they appreciated. As it turns out, they don't appreciate it!

They don't see it as a gift. They would prefer that $150 in their pocket. They don't value healthy food or even the good health they enjoy from eating it. They would rather have more money and live on beans, rice, sugar, and beer. With the extra $150 they would buy even more sugar and even more beer. As the employer, I am controlling them by not giving them that option. They did freely agree to the arrangement, but it doesn't change the controlling nature of it.

My employees are irresponsible. And they would prefer to be allowed to be so.

But I don't feel safe having irresponsible employees. The "benefits" I give to my employees are actually there to protect me. Irresponsible people end up on the streets, if not now, then when they are older. They are a drain on society. They turn to crime and  begging.

The moral dilemma here is: You, my irresponsible employee, can't have it both ways. You say you want the freedom to make irresponsible choices. I want to give you that freedom. But not if it means you will expect me to take care of you when those bad choices catch up with you.

The ultimate consequence of irresponsible choices is, of course, death. If there is an expectation or requirement that me – or someone else – will save you from the consequences of your having freedom to make bad choices – then you can't have it.

The Freedom to be irresponsible, to truly own our lives, necessitates a greater comfort with suffering and death than we as a society currently have. Are humans capable of letting the two irresponsible little pigs get eaten by the wolf? Can we let Darwin take over?

Here are some thoughts I have on death: