Remembering why we thought cohousing was a good idea
Date: 29 June 1995
We gain too, because our dog, fish and garden get fed, watered and walked as needed and the house doesn't have the vacant look that can invite trouble.
We'll be staying at Doyle St. for a night or two.
The coolest thing about all this is that as far as I can tell, no one is keeping count as to how much some people offer their homes and how much others need extra space. I think people just figure it will all even out in the end, as long as no one abuses the policy. And if it doesn't quite even out, we still get to meet new people.
2) The following letter is pretty self-explanatory. It was posted at the common house and is reprinted here with the author's permission. Capital letters are where she underlined. Parentheses are mine to add explanation.
You may not remember me, but I've been "sick" all week long with a "sore throat." My name's Liz. Actually "near death" or "suicidal" and "hot poker from hell down my throat" would better describe it. About halfway through this week I decided I would, WITHOUT RESERVATION, rather give birth to Ben (her wild 4-year-old) again than live through one more minute of this. And I mean AT HIS PRESENT SIZE.
Author: Rob Sandelin ([email protected])
Date: 27 December 1995
Here is a typical cohousing story which is illustrative of the cohousing way of life.
Over the holidays we had several visitors and since the weather was unusually nice (not raining!) the kids were all playing outside. At one point the kids were not visible and one of our visitors asked where my kids were. I shrugged and commented that I didn't know, they were probably at someone’s house. She got this amazed look on her face and said something to the effect: " You just let you kids go into whomever’s house they like?" And I said sure, why not? There are no strangers here other than you. A few minutes later the kids all migrated over to my house and went into the basement and continued whatever game they were doing and again my visitor commented: “Don’t people knock on doors before coming in?" I explained as best I could that there was an unwritten, but well respected code of conduct, where some houses you just came in, others you knocked and then went in, and others you knocked and waited for a response. My four year old, who had come into the room then added: " And at Stephana’s house when you clean up the toys you get a gummie!" My four year old then explained, as only a four year old can, which houses had toys, where the cookies were in each house, and what toys she liked best at each of her friends houses.
My visitor’s amazement at my daughter’s knowledge of the inside of all the neighbors’ homes made me aware what an amazing difference our neighborhood offers. I just take it for granted sometimes, forgetting how "unnormal" our lifestyle really is.
Date: 28 December 1995
Another little one: Thanks to the technology of baby monitors, we can now baby-sit for one another without either the baby or the sitter having to leave home. It's cool!
Date: 29 December 1995
On Christmas day here at Nyland a progressive dinner was planned among 12 households. Since we are so big a trend is evolving to do activities with smaller subsets to keep things manageable.
A four-course meal was setup where 3 households would make appetizers, 3 make soup or salad, 3 make a main dish and 3 make dessert. On the hour (3, 4 and 5pm) each of the three courses were at different homes with a different set of people. It was great to see people walking around the neighborhood on their way to the different homes. Dessert was held in the common house where all 12 families gathered together to eat an outrageous assortment of goodies
(needless to say hunger was no longer a motivating force) and then settle down together and watch "It's a wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart". I can easily imagine this becoming an annual ritual here at Nyland.
Date: 21 Feb 1998
In our community, one of the benefits is that single kids grow up with an extended family of instant brothers and sisters of various ages. This has the benefit to the child of having older sisters and brothers to adore (because there is no sibling rivalry). These other children can, depending upon their ages, act as siblings or sitters.
Also, as children grow into their teens and tend to become less communicative with their parents, there are other adults with whom they have become friends during their earlier years. We have seen it happen that this is where the teen can speak with a more mature friend, not a peer, when guidance is desired.
We have eight children, ranging in age from 1 to 15. Five boys, three girls. Not only is it great for the kids, but also the parents get a break as they swap children and have time for themselves as adults, with adult activities.
The still unnammed Berkeley cohousing community
Date: 25 Feb 1998
The thing that I did not realize until later reflection is that Michelle never had to ask for help. Her neighbors saw her needs, and helped her in the sort of quiet, unspoken way that communities work.
Another story: One day our neighbors were in a tizzy because the in-laws were coming to visit for the first time, and the house was a mess and they had very little time to work on it. I took their two boys off on a long expedition in the greenbelt to look for frogs, bugs, birds and the like. I kept an ear cocked for the arrival of the in-laws, and delivered the boys right as Grandpa, and Grandma arrived. The house was spotless, and I never mentioned the field trip. However, after the in-laws left, I came home to find a six pack of very good beer on my front step with a simple card that just said, Community works!
Another story: (I could go on all day about this) I noticed one summer evening my daughter had a new bandage on her elbow. She had been playing on the other side of the community and had fallen down. A neighbor heard her crying, comforted her, brought her in and cleaned her up, bandaged the small scrape, fed her some cookies and juice and sent her off, good as new. I never even knew about it until I saw the bandage, my neighbor did exactly what I would have done.
My final story for this evening: One day one of the older kids was walking down the road with an adult I did not recognize. She was clearly showing the place off and I thought maybe it was a tourist (we get a lot of those) had asked her for a tour. I thought I would check and it turns out he was her teacher from school. He was so impressed with her conflict skills, group skills, and maturity in working with adults that he had come see this place she lived. He later joined another cohousing group.
The stories go on an on, every day brings new ones. After so many years here I just take it for granted.
Date: 28 Feb 1998
At Eno Commons, half our households have kids (bringing us to a total of about 16 kids, almost all of whom are seven years old or younger). We have business meetings every weekend, plus some socializing during the week, so the kids are all pretty good buddies with each other and with the grownups.
Our youngest current member, a little girl under a year old, regularly gets passed around our pancake breakfasts and business meetings. One of the people that is best at soothing her (except when she's hungry) is an experienced parent with older kids (and she also happens to teach at a Quaker preschool). So the child gets an extra grownup to bond with a bit and the parents get to enjoy more of the meeting and social time.
The older kids have decided they are in charge of designing the playground and have already gone through a couple of rounds of planning. A little while back they came to us and asked for help facilitating their meetings (we're still working on that - here's one for the list: how do you facilitate a meeting when the participants have 15 minute attention spans?). Then they told us they would be fundraising so they could have more control over what went into the playground. This from a group of kids whose median age is about 5.
One of our 5-year-olds told her mother one day that Eno Commons was better.
"Better than what?" her mom asked. "Better than anything!" her daughter replied.
Jessie Handforth Kome
Eno Commons Cohousing
Date: 1 Mar 1998 08:22:33 -0600
Christmas Eve we shared a late night dinner with several neighbors and I mentioned I'd be putting together a bike late that night for my 5-year old from "Santa". At 11:00 pm, one neighbor knocked on my door to offer his house for me to assemble the bike so my son wouldn't discover me doing it. I happily took the box over where he and his wife (whose own child was grown) took out their tools. One of the bicycle pieces turned out to be damaged and I was crushed. These wonderful neighbors stayed up till 1:00 am helping me fix the damaged part. The next morning my son came downstairs to find his new bike from Santa, ready to ride.
Lake Claire, Atlanta
Date: 16 Oct 1998
A lot of times, those of us who live here sort of take for granted our situation. I had an interesting experience of having Sharingwood described through the eyes of a very enthusiastic visitor. Here is a piece of it:
Mary, you have got to check Sharingwood out! To start with, the place is alive with kids. They run through the bushes and chase each other and popup out of nowhere, then dash off again, clearly having the times of their lives. You know how shy Tina is? Well, when we arrive for our tour, she was approached immediately by three other little girls and invited to a wonderful little tea party. They had set up on a log stump a delightful little camp and Tina was immediately part of their group. We couldn't get her to come with us as we walked around the place. The mother of one of the other kids assured us she would watch her for us. It was so, I don't know, easy. I guess they do this all the time, watch over each others kids so a new one just gets added to the flock.
The neighborhood is like houses set in a national park. The houses are tucked amid these giant trees and its all very nicely landscaped. There is a little patch of woods right in the middle of the first group of houses where the kids have camps and trails. In the greenbelt, which is huge and surrounds all the homes, they have their own campground! They have campfires and sing songs and roast marshmallows. Can you imagine? Huge trees and trails through the woods. We saw two deer that just stared at us, then went about their business like they owned the place! A whole group of kids and adults were having fun, laughing and throwing hay at a work party to cover up their new playfield. Playfield! They even have a playfield. The new phase is designed so the homes will all surround a big central park area. Its incredible, like a dream place to raise kids.
The common house is smaller than I thought it would be but very comfortable and homey feeling. A large peace group (from outside) was meeting there over the weekend, which tells you something about these people. We are going to the community dinner this week. They cook meals for each other! Everybody takes a turn helping a couple times and the rest of the time you just come to dinner. Can you imagine? Its like I died and went to heaven.
We had the most wonderful conversations just standing around in the street.
Many of the neighbors came over to meet us and say hello. Remember that church we went to in Buffalo? It was kind of like that, the warm, easy friendliness of everybody and the sense of instant inclusion. We got three invitations to people’s homes for tea. I could have stayed forever. This cohousing is going to change the world. No really. Its like everything you ever dreamed about from a neighborhood, only really happening, not just dreams.
I just watched the Christmas sun set into the Pacific dunes from our new deck then ran downstairs to take the laundry off the line before it gave up the accumulated heat of this most gloriously clear sunny day. All throughout the site and along the creek this morning there were monarch butterflies everywhere, enjoying the warmth.
It is very quiet here at Tierra Nueva Cohousing on the central California coast. Of the sixteen families who have moved into our homes, most have travelled elsewhere to be with parents or extended families. A couple of the singles shared Christmas dinner at a local restaurant out on the patio above the ocean. On site, the aromas of roasting and barbequeing turkeys filled the air as families gathered in their individual homes to share private Christmas dinners.
We celebrated as a community last Saturday night at the first annual Weird
Food Cafe Dinner Dance. And dance we did under a disco ball, to the eclectic musical tastes of various community members, ranging from Manhattan Transfer to Ella Fitzgerald to Talking Heads. It was a raging success. Candlelight and a huge tree was the decorating theme, and it transformed our common house into a magical yule garden. The food was planned to be served in courses in different parts of the common house, all through the evening to encourage people to stay late and dance in between courses. We had baked brie, curry mango chutney, fresh oysters on the half shell, Cajun chicken with a variety of hot mustards, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, chocolate chicken, chocolate mousse, crab cakes (in the wee hours) and much champagne and eggnog. One of our single senior members described the event as "the best party I've been to in 25 years"! We were there until 3 am!
The night before we celebrated Hanukkah with all of the kids lighting the many menorahs, including Marya's, who passed away in July. Her picture was nestled among the lit candles and we welcomed her spirit to the ceremony.
Our next gathering will be New Year's Eve where we will be making traditional tamales together. We'll also do the secret Santa gifts and the 6th or 7th annual White Elephant Gift Exchange. This has been a favorite social through the years, and we have one fruitcake that promises to make its 4th appearance at the gift exchange. Rumor has it that one of our newer members actually
*likes* fruitcake. Hopefully he'll get it, take it home and eat it.
It's time to gather at a community member's house for dessert. Cheesecake and gingerbread men call. Solstice and Christmas blessings to all of you,
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing
Date: 31 July 1999
New Year's day, after a polar bear swim in the Pacific. Tonight is a balmy summer evening, with a rosie sunset lighting the dunes.It is utterly quiet here since so many families are off camping or vacationing. Common house meals are attended by most everyone, but numbers are relatively small, 15-30 diners, instead of the usual 35-50. I helped cook a meal for 33, a couple of evenings ago with my neighbor HariNam. We served fresh vegetable curry, with produce picked from our communal garden, the local farmer's market and our c.s.a. farm. Plus luscious sweet potato tempura, with a rice wine vinegar cucumber salsa, basmati rice, Thai ice coffee and watermelon. Corn dogs and corn on the cob for kid food. It was a deep pleasure to prep, cook, serve and eat.
We've had two of our community's dogs die this summer. It was a tender gathering that met to mourn the passing of Nellie and comfort her owner.
The Weird Food Cafe presented "Like Water For Chocolate" night with exquisite food from the cookbook, stunning decorations and a contest to guess which wedding dress belonged to which woman. We had a dozen dresses hanging all around the Common House. The movie was shown as well, but most folks stayed downstairs in the candlelight to party together.
Our Fourth of July Barbeque set a record for number of people attending. We fed 75 people fresh fish, ribs, campfire baked veggies and peach cobblers...then put on our annual fireworks show in the village green.
As families return from vacations we are planning Monday night slide shows for trip highlights. One of our members, Kit, just returned from Africa, with many many rolls of film to share. Others visited the Grand Canyon,
Wisconsin, Seattle, the Eastern Sierras and northern California Redwood parks. I'm looking forward to welcoming them all home and hearing the voices of children ringing through the site again.
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing, Central CA Coast, San Luis Obispo County
Date: 31 July 1999
Last night we had an impromptu potluck dinner in the woods; the food was great, the kids were running around on the plaza together, different adults playing with them in shifts; the long late-afternoon light made the new landscaping and the really beautiful architecture look even better...and I felt really happy, getting a very good reminder of why we put so much effort and angst and money into making this happen.
Two Acre Wood
Date: 21 January 2000
New Year's Eve - and the millennium! What a great opportunity to stay home and still have a party! No driving, etc. So no one here was into doing much planning, but we mostly knew we'd be around. We had a wonderful evening that just happened pretty organically. One home was set up as media central so we could drop in and see midnight come in around the world. someone else got a piñata that the little kids could pound like heck - it was so funny to watch. There were games at one table. Then a neighbor (not coho) came to tell us her sister and husband had brought their Taiko drums over and did we want to try them. THAT was the highlight of the night in my book. Most of our community trouped over and pounded on those drums to our hearts content - what a rush. Many of us will be signing up for classes soon.
When I dragged myself out at 11:00 a.m., the common House was completely cleaned up and there was a marvelous brunch on the table of the Common
House - cooked mostly by one of our "nonresident members" who arrived early to get it going. The rest of the day - New Year's Day 2000 - was spent planting peach trees, kiwis, lemon trees and more - basic landscaping and clean up - a great way to start the millennium.
Tonight, right after a delicious Common meal of fresh tuna from the coast, we all trouped out to watch the eclipse in one of our neighbor's telescope that he had all set up. The little kids rode their trikes around in circles in the plaza as we all watched the moon go into hiding.
so, there's a taste - I will tell more. Perhaps the Russian theme dinner we had here last weekend - complete with herring and vodka! Maybe someone else here at TAW wants to tell one?
TAW - Sebastopol
Date: 30 January 2000
Well, here's a short version: we had lengthy discussions before move-in on how to handle this. Of course there was lots of disagreement and varying points of view. Especially on what sort of financial contribution they might make - anywhere from "nothing" to "it cost us a bundle to build this, they should pay to use it" to "why don't they buy a piece of furniture for the common house". We finally decided to move in first and talk about it later. There is a currently a proposal brewing for discussion (I haven't seen it).
Meanwhile, there is a couple who didn't get a unit, but miraculously found a rental next door who are active members of the community. They are on committees, share childcare, eat with us, etc. It has not been formalized yet, but just happened because they made themselves attractive by coming to meetings and Helping! Actually she is kitchen manager even!
The neighbors that hosted the Taiko drummers are just that - neighbors across the street. They were our biggest opponents when we were trying to get city approval (an apple orchard was cleared for 14 houses on two acres right out their front window) - and have become our best friends ever since we moved in. they always liked us, but had hoped for fewer homes in their view.
Their daughter baby-sits, we share gardening ideas, they gave us champagne with personalized labels for our housewarming, etc. On New Year's while we were drumming in their driveway, the husband even came out with handfuls of glasses and champagne to share around. We recently had the whole family over for common dinner.
Two Acre Wood
Date: 30 January 2000
At Tierra Nueva (central
CA coast) we discussed this ad nauseam *before* move-in with no clarity whatsoever. It is a dreadful time to consider non-member use of common facilities because most everyone is stinging from the rising costs, escalating tensions and general burn-out of development and construction.
We ended up not dealing with it at all. The two ex-members, now neighbors, ended up splitting up their shared mortgage and one moved out. The remaining neighbor has really hung in there with us, contributing time on committees, cooking, work days and recently donating a handsome sum to our pledge drive for building our workshop. She has integrated very well into the community, much to many folks' surprise. And she has been able to offer us very appreciated overflow parking on her land, when it gets tight here.
I look forward to more interaction with our neighbors, at-distance friends and hopefully some house exchange possibilities in the future. I suggest that the discussions be postponed until after move-in, based on our experience. There are many many opportunities to deal with the reality of life in community that really can't be accurately sussed out before the fact.
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing, central CA coast
Date: 11 June 2000
We started moving into our new cohousing homes at Two Acre Wood last July and the last families were in by September. After five years (more for a few) of planning, hard work, disappointments, and triumphs, we were in our beautiful new homes designed by community member and architect Michael Black. What has this first year been like? Here are the impressions from a few of our members starting with mine:
Marty Roberts, single woman:
For a single woman, cohousing is delightful. I moved from an admittedly peaceful existence in my own quiet home in Santa Rosa to a community full of people and activity. The delight is that there is always someone around to have dinner with, to go to the movies with, or to sit on the patio and sip a margarita with and rave about how the garden is growing. No need to make complicated plans, or even drive!
The community meals a couple times a week are great to come home from work to (even if I'm cooking), but sometimes even nicer, are the spontaneous meals that occur between a few households that all have some food and good company to share.
And the children! It is wonderful to have 9 or 10 young children as part of my extended family - I have known several of them since they were born and will probably know them at their weddings. Planting seeds in the garden with 2.5 year old Jewell, or dragging my old dolls down from the attic with 7 year old Liora is truly heart-warming and fun! Turning Elsa upside-down and knowing the peals of laughter that will follow, to have the giggling and innocence "in my face" is a great antidote to "being in my 50's"!!
Wendy Ellyn, wife of Ben Lev and mother of 2:
I might sound like a Pollyanna, but there is no place in the world I'd rather live right now. I love the way the kids flow into and out of each other's houses, and the way the adults (both parents and non-parents) enjoy the kids and each other.
My youngest daughter was born a month after we moved in, and by now she must think she has about 10 siblings and 20 aunts and uncles. My 3-year-old loves to perform for people, and it's been great fun to watch her and her friends do impromptu songs and dances in the common house. My husband loves to cook in huge quantities, and he's had the time of his life cooking common house meals.
There are so many other highlights from our first year here--the kids making a human pyramid on the lawn, candlelight dinners on the plaza, the guys cooking a voluptuous Mother's Day brunch, the way everyone helped out when a neighbor's dog died, realizing one morning that if I had car trouble I wouldn't have any problem finding a car to borrow...the list goes on and on.
It has taken a lot from all of us to build this community, to get moved in, and to organize processes and structures to keep things running smoothly.
The road continues to be bumpy at times. But the payoff is so delightful!
Steve Einstein, husband of Karen and father of twins:
What a challenging thing this co-housing adventure has been. It's full of adjustments, and compromises, disappointments, together with frequent moments that are joyful and full of the sense of community that we all were hoping for. I think this has been a period of learning how to live together, and deciding just how collective we actually want to be. (Some have described co-housing as 'condo meets commune'. )
A Yiddish classic from the turn of the century was entitled 'Life is With People'. I feel that way about life here at Two Acre Wood. My life is so much richer and more engaged because I get to share this space with 26 other adults and 10 kids. We share the pain of someone's pet who has died, or a mother in Chicago who is ill, or the loss of a job. And then we share the joy of the birth of a new child, the growth of vegetables in our new garden, a soak with friends in a hot tub, a shared meal. Conflicts over just about every aspect of sharing this small corner of Sebastopol are common. We debate and discuss, and then revisit a discussion or decision, and then eventually come to a consensus of sorts, and move on. It's not a process for the impatient or fiercely independent. But it's a process that brings me closer to my neighbors, and helps all of us in continuing to define who and what we are. This is a journey we're on here. It's an unfolding adventure, and an exciting time to be a part of creating this new village of ours.
The other night I went with the kids to visit Brinnton, his wife Karen, and their daughter Grace, friends who live over on Neva St. The small house was a fixer that my friends spent a good amount of time reforming and their finished product is absolutely adorable. And my God, the back yard was massive and stunning. I recognized the wave of envy that was invading me. A small tasteful house with lots of character, a backyard to die for, and neighbors you know and like, ... jeesh, it looked so perfect. So as I was leaving Karen asks me how we like cohousing. I hate that question. How do we do justice to a question like that in two sentences? I end up saying "it's good, ... it has drawbacks, but we're happy with it for now, and it makes sense for us, ... yada yada yada "
What were we hoping to achieve? A place for forward-looking people eager for a new variation on village life. Interesting conversations with people of varied ages and backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. Kids in our daily life, for enjoying silliness with or for reading with in our hammock. Material resources owned in common for economic efficiency. Good company sharing yard work and building projects. Dinners and parties without driving across town.
Denise Meier, wife of Michael Jacob, mother of one:
It's late afternoon, and my daughter Liora, and Karen's twins, Koby & Elsa, are playing together in our hot tub, while Karen and I share a beer and talk about the day. Harry, my next-door neighbor with whom we share the backyard, brings his son over and asks if we can watch Leo in the hot tub while he attends a Landscape Committee meeting. "Sure." While Olivia, age 10 is away for a couple of months, Liora, age 7-1/2 is the senior kid, and most of the other kids, ranging in age from 2 to 5, listen to her better than to their parents. Leo climbs into the tub and Harry takes off. Karen and I listen while they resume a game they started yesterday, a long rambling story about 4 kids with names and ages remarkably similar to theirs:
"One night four kids met in the common house and tried to decide what to do. They decided to have a sleep-over at Leon's house. So they all went to Leon's. In the morning they went to Ben's house for breakfast. Then they decided to go exploring...." And on it goes. These kids are actually too young to gather in the common house at night by themselves, and most of them don't do sleepovers yet, either. But they will.
Recently a new baby was born into our community. Sometimes, as I watch her passed from lap to lap during a community meal or a general meeting, I wonder what it would be like to come into consciousness of the broader world with so many loving adults and children around; always someone to smile at, to play with, to hold you. I envy her, having grown up in a small nuclear family with no extended family within 2000 miles. I watch my daughter with her "pseudo-siblings", and notice that my worries about raising an only child have eased a lot since we moved in here. Not only does she have other kids to grow up with, to love and to fight with, but she has adults who will be there for her at times in her life when she can't or won't turn to her parents. For my family, this community provides a strong, loving base that sustains us as we move through our lives.
Leo, age 4:
I like going in Liora's hot tub.
I like to eat candy. (Sometimes get some at other people's houses along with juice, ice cream, or gum!)
When I slept over at Arielle's, I got to sleep in the top bunk!
Liora, age 7.5:
The "little" kids aren't always annoying, and sometimes they're fun. All the grown-ups are nice. I like being close to places to play on the property at Two Acre Wood and the kids around to play with. I like my house - it has an upstairs and a place for a loft in my room. I like Taiko drumming on the plaza. I liked going in Marty's attic and playing with her dolls - I always have fun with Marty! (Marty here: I have to admit that last part made me feel pretty good!)
Two Acre Wood, Sebastopol, CA
Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2002