Cohousing Stories

 

Remembering why we thought cohousing was a good idea

 

Created: 1-10-2002
Updated: 1-27-2002
 
Compiled by Selwyn Polit 
 
 
 
This is a collection of stories I compiled and edited from messages in the archives of the cohousing listserv, Cohousing-L. You can search for original "Stories" messages (and more recent ones) in the archives. Try searching for:
 
      +subject:"looking glass" or +subject:stories or +subject:appreciate
 
      +subject:"encouraging words" or +subject:remembering
 
 
To join the amazing worldwide discussion or search the archives, go to the Cohousing-L Info Page: http://www.cohousing.org/cohousing-L
 
This is a long document, so lots to enjoy. If you prefer to download a version in Microsoft Word, It is available at the very bottom of this document.
 
Note that email addresses are from date of message and may have changed.
Current addresses for many authors may be available by sending a note to
 
 

 
Author: David L. Mandel (75407.2361@compuserve.com)
Date: 29 June 1995
 
House exchanges:Our budget didn't enable us to build official guest quarters in our common space, but we're doing just as well through cooperation.
 
A few weeks ago, a resident renter had a graduation party in the common house after getting her MSW. We were all invited, of course, and so were a number of friends and relatives from out of town. A good number of them stayed the night in a couple of units whose regular residents were away or had extra space to share. The friend and daughter of two members who share a one-bedroom came for a few weeks -- they stayed with a single member who has a two-bedroom unit. Then last weekend I benefited from the same generosity. Both my parents and their respective partners showed up from Chicago for a family event. I posted an inquiry and presto, three empty houses at our disposal for the weekend. We made do with two. Coming soon, in August, we're going away for three weeks and our house will be occupied by a member's daughter and grandson who are moving back to Sacramento and will be looking for housing in the neighborhood
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.
 
The trend may be going intercommunal, too. We've had a number of out-of-town cohousers stay here, in one house or another. But last month a Doyle Street cohousing resident in Sacramento for an affordable housing conference (what else?) arranged to stay here, and when he brought his boss along, we got use of a house whose owner was away for the week. And this weekend my family will escape the valley (109 last Sunday) and meet my mother and friend in the Bay area.
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.

***

Hi -
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.

 
Anyway, I got the most tremendous unsolicited help this week from so many people, and want to thank everyone. NOMI (age 16) took care of Ben several times this week and made it at all possible for Roman (writer's husband) to work this week. SARAH & MAURA (sisters, 14 and 12, largely responsible for three preschoolers at their own house) also helped out at VERY short notice when I finally got to the doctor yesterday. BILLY & LAURISA (another member couple) watched Ben when he was playing with Forest (their son) several times and, I suspect, probably when he wasn't too. CHRISTINE (the new MSW renter from above) did my work for my work team, also on short notice, with help from MAY, DEBRA & JOHN (three other members). There are probably more people that I don't even know about who helped me (there are), and I thank them also.Of course me being me, I was pretty darn cranky all this time too.
 
So apologies to Cheryl & Ben [big Ben] and anyone else I was snippy with while I was delerious. It was without a doubt the most miserable illness I've ever had, and I'm still not well yet. Imagine being in horrible pain and not being able to say one word about it! My worst nightmare. Most of all, ROMAN the best husband in the world, bar none, I love you.
Love, Liz
***
Another time the whole community pulled together even more dramatically than this was in early spring when Sarah and Maura's sister died suddenly. That's where the three preschoolers came from. The grandmother is now the children's legal guardian. Before and after the funeral, everyone was pitching in food, just being there and especially helping watch the children. Our teenagers especially have spent a lot of time with the little ones, and it will continue to be a supportive place here for them until they're grown up. The guardian/grandmother/member has said she might write something on the experience. Meanwhile she has said many times what a difference it makes to live in a community like this.
 
So cohousers of the future, today's moral is that it will be worth all the work and even all the hassles and hustles I and others report on here that arise after you move in. Keep at it.
David Mandel, Southside Park Cohousing, Sacramento
 


Author: Rob Sandelin (Robsan@Exchange.MICROSOFT.com)
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.

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood


Author: Joani Blank (jeblank@hooked.net)
Date: 28 December 1995
Here's a little snippet of an anecdote: During the first few weeks of our living at Doyle St. together, One of my neighbors came through the common house dining room door, directly from work, with a cheery, "Hi honeys, I'm home!" It gave me happy goose bumps. Two years later his baby daughter took her first steps just before common dinner for all of us to observe and celebrate.

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!

Joani


Author: Zpaiss (Zpaiss@aol.com)
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.

Zev


Author: David M. Dobkin (dmdobkin@pacbell.net)
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.

David Dobkin
The still unnammed Berkeley cohousing community


 
 
Author: Rob Sandelin (Floriferous@classic.msn.com)
Date: 25 Feb 1998
I was hunkered down underneath my car doing something oily and I could see down the street as one of my neighbors was trying to set out some metal light fixtures to spray paint. Every time she lined them up, her toddler would carry one off or otherwise disrupt the process. I was sort of tied up working on the car so I couldn't help her, but I didn't need to. Rosemary, another neighbor, walked up to the toddler with a couple little baskets, and took her hand and diverted her into picking berries, while the mom gratefully arranged the lights and painted them without further interruption.

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.

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood


 
 
Author: Dahako (Dahako@aol.com)
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
Durham, NC
 


Author: Jennifer McCoy (jmccoy@gsu.edu)
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.

Jennifer McCoy
Lake Claire, Atlanta


 
Author: Rob Sandelin (floriferous@email.msn.com)
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.

 

Author: PattyMara@aol.com (PattyMara@aol.com)
Date: 25 Dec 1998
Dear Cohousing Listmembers and friends,
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


Author: PattyMara
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.
 
After dinner, eight women from Tierra Nueva and two guests from a neighboring community (Halcyon) gathered down at our garden campfire ring to build a fire and share a full moon ceremony. We were a diverse group of women, coming from many traditions, yet we were able to find connections as we remembered and prayed for our families and friends.
 
 One of the most delightful aspects of being here has been to watch our landscaping take root and grow. Our private yards are finding very individual expressions, ranging from low maintenance sand to lush wild gardens to traditional lawns and decks. The common landscaping is particularly stunning, since we have two ornamental horticulturists who led us through planting a gorgeous variety of perennials and native plants. We have an extensive culinary and medicinal herb garden as well as an organic veggie garden complete with a scarlet runner bean tepee and two large corn spirals. It is amazing to watch the garden expand as more beds get tilled and planted by various members. Along the common walkways the sunflowers are towering over 8 feet tall.

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.

 
Warmly,
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing, Central CA Coast, San Luis Obispo County


Author: Denise Meier
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.

 Denise Meier
Two Acre Wood
Sebastopol, CA


Author: MartyR707
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.
Back to the Common House for skits created on the spot by teams. Then dancing, food and Midnight! Champagne confetti and after all that.... outside to some wonderful fireworks that one of the members had bought. It just went on and on for hours with surprises. Those of us that are hard core ended up and one man's home for more champagne, chocolate cake, and conversation til 3 in the morning. And the best part- just a few steps walk home and to bed.

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?

Marty Roberts
TAW - Sebastopol
 


 
Author: MartyR707
Date: 30 January 2000
 
<< At least twice you mentioned that people from outside the community, either a neighbor or a member who does not live there. How do you handle non-resident members? I was wondering how formal the relationship is. We are starting to talk about this since we have had people outside our membership who want to be involved, and "hang out" with us some times. >>

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!

And there is a single mother who couldn't afford to buy in but lives two blocks away and has been part of the group almost since inception. She also serves on committees, comes to meetings and cooks. those are our two "informal nonresident members" so far. Both households were members before we built and have known us for some time. Others are starting to show interest. Some of us don't want to have an open dinner scene where whoever wants to can come eat for $3, but we also like the idea of more cooks, friends, etc. so we are still working it out. Stay tuned.

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.
Marty Roberts
Two Acre Wood


Author: PattyMara
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.
Best to wait, like Two Acre Wood did, until the reality settles in. Here we had a full fledged member opt to buy a house that borders the site when it came up for sale, before construction even began here. Then she enticed another member to share the mortgage, which for us meant the loss of two members, at a time when we needed all the committed members we could scrape up to make the project a go with the bank. It was not a happy time, lots of stress and grumbling. Then when the two ex-members wanted to discuss possible neighbor-membership to use the common house etc, it was difficult.

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.

coheartedly,
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing, central CA coast


Author: MartyR707 (MartyR707@aol.com)
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.

And this was written by Steve on another day:

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 "

I'm feeling a bit sad as I pop the kids into the car and we drive off, leaving sweet Neva St. and all that privacy and massive backyard and character behind. A minute later we pull into our place. Just as we came in, Mary pulls into her spot. She bounces out of her car greeting us mightily. She's been to drumming class and is even more upbeat than usual. A moment later Tom lopes along with big ole Dailah. He asks about Malka who has an injured leg, and then he jokes with the kids about this or that. Holly waves from her kitchen sink, Koby hollers "goodnight Leo" in the direction of Leo's house though he is nowhere to be seen, and then Michael J appears with a friend. We make a date for early morning tennis. Excellent. There's cackling coming from Louise's house again. Marty spills out with Louise right behind. I tell them how nice it is to hear laughter again from Louise's. We all agreed. We weren't home two minutes and we'd seen six friends and neighbors, and hollered goodnight to another. All that sweetness and quiet privacy of Neva St. was eons away. I didn't really care how pathetic a backyard we had. It was fun coming home.
 
Mary Ruthsdotter, wife of Dave Crawford, mother of grown daughter:
My husband and I came into this grand adventure with modest expectations. The house we had lived in for 20 years suited us well, but we did not have a lot in common with our mostly college-age neighbors. When we read about a meeting to discuss cohousing, our curiosity was piqued. Living more cooperatively made sense. We went to that first meeting, and we were still there five years later when the new front-door keys were distributed.

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.

 
What did we find? All of the above, to our delight. Evening margaritas, walks to town, shared meals, outings to the beach - it's rare not to find at least one person available to join us. Ready conversationalists that match our different interests. Kids as lively and sweet as they come. And even more. We've been touched by our neighbors' loving interest in our well-being as we've faced unexpected career changes, cared for our ill parents, or tackled untimely car repairs. Village life does suit us well, as we'd anticipated.

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.

 
(Marty again:) I asked a few kids what they liked about living in cohousing:

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!)

I like Kids Club and working in the garden.
One time Sophie took a bath with me at our house - we like taking baths together at different kids houses. (Editor's comment: I think this is the kids version of our hot-tubbing!)
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!)

Marty Roberts
Two Acre Wood, Sebastopol, CA

 
Author: "Kay Argyle" <argyle@mines.utah.edu>
Date: Fri, 28 Dec 2001
 
One of the guys had mentioned Monday night at the common house party that they'd gotten the air compressor in the workshop running. When we noticed a tire was low, just as we were leaving to see family Christmas afternoon, he showed us how to turn it on, and his visiting father-in-law loaned us a tire gauge to double-check that my 30-year-old bicycle gauge was giving an accurate reading. The pressure got lower between every service station air pump during the hundred miles there and back, and the tire developed an audible hiss, so we planned that first thing the next day we would take the car to a tire shop.
 
Wednesday, the lady whose backyard is kitty corner from ours stopped by to offer us an air compressor that ran off a car cigarette lighter, saying she'd noticed we had a flat. We thanked her very much, and explained about the compressor in the workshop.
 
We went out to the car a little later. My room-mate started laughing. Someone had left a couple of cans of compressed air next to the car.
 
Kay
Wasatch Commons
Salt Lake City, Utah
 

 
Author: "Robyn Williams" <pov@iinet.net.au>
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2001
 
How was the period of peace, goodwill and excessive shopping at your place? We had a solstice/holy-day celebration with an Indian (sub-continent) theme. A lovely low key evening with friends and family, delicious curries, a circle dance and lots of fun. We gathered early on Christmas morning for breakfast. We sat on the lawn, under a sparkling blue sky, a soft, warm breeze blowing through the trees, bird song filling our ears ... it's summer here, I just thought I'd rub it in a bit ;0). Anyway, it was a beautiful start to the day, exchanging small gifts, mostly homemade. Jenny had made little stockings filled with toffees, which she'd hung on our elm tree for the kids. One friend had to leave early to visit in-laws. She said, cheerfully, "Well, I'm off to be tolerated instead of staying here where I'm loved."
 
Season's greetings everyone
Robyn Williams
Pinakarri Community
Fremantle, Western Australia
 

 
Author: Marty Roberts <MartyR@sonic.net>
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2001
 
A few recent ones:
My 18 year old cat with failing kidneys needed twice-weekly fluid infusions with a big needle. Two cohousing neighbors who are nurses volunteered to do the procedure (for several months). Towards the end when he was very bad and needed twice DAILY infusions, two more neighbors joined in and it was easily accomplished. During his last few days, the 6 year twins across the way drew pictures for me and came to visit him daily. When he died we had a little ritual in my living room and then proceeded to my backyard for a little burial ceremony. This is my third pet to die since I moved in (my dog had cancer and the cats were 19 and 18 years old), and we had similar experiences each time. I am very attached to my pets, so this has been incredibly helpful.
 
This week, I took a neighbor's very sweet cat to the vet for surgery since she was working and I am caring for cats right now for two separate households that are out of town - Figaro and Mamoosh.
 
One night, I had three spontaneous invitations to dinner. Since I live alone this is so appreciated.
 
Today, I went down to Ben and Wendy's to tell Ben he could pick up the 20 shoe boxes that I needed to get rid of and he needed for crafts projects. Two year old Elena wanted me to read a story right then and there, so I did!
 
Our Christmas party was the best ever! Several of us went to a friend's to pick up a huge tree that had to be cut down for thinning their property. Others helped put it up and contributed lights and ornaments. Connie the decorating queen decorated the place to the max. Several amateur musicians rehearsed Christmas music for a few weeks to entertain us. I played the piano for the first time in 25 years and no one laughed! The food was an amazing group effort feast.
 
Movie nights in the Common House lounge are often spontaneous and cozy - something fun to do almost always materializes very easily. And then there's West Wing Club on Wed. nights at one of the only homes that has cable. She isn't even home, but opens her house gladly.
 
Well, it appears I could go on and on. But I'll stop for now.
Marty Roberts
Two Acre Wood, Sebastopol, CA
 

 
Author: Terri Hupfer <gordita@pacbell.net>
Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2001
 
Ok,
I have a few to add. We have just moved into our place. The last of the 32 households moved in Dec. 22nd, so we are all in the middle of moving stress and life changes and holiday madness, yet, even in all this, it works.
 
1. We started our celebrations with a light party, lots of candles, bringing in the light to the dark of winter, etc. It was the first party in our Common House. There have been more; a latke party, birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, and impromptu cookie baking and potlucks all in a CH I'm not even sure we have C of O on.
 
2. One resident had back surgery, several people spontaneously brought meals and offered to walk his dog.
 
3. One resident had a huge leak, her neighbors discovered it, and had most of it handled before she was even able to make it home.
 
4. We have had 15 people in our 7 capacity hot tub, steaming and chatting away in the cold, starry night.
 
5. My neighbor and I regularly drop off mystery novels on each other's doorsteps.
 
6. We help each other carry in groceries, pick up children, and fix broken things.
 
7. Our kid's room is full of lovely toys and furniture, all donated by residents
 
These are some of the things to be thankful for in cohousing, even though most of us have been here less than 2 months.
 
Terri Hupfer
Pleasant Hill Cohousing
Bay Area, California
 

 
Author: Elizabeth Stevenson <tamgoddess@attbi.com>
Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2001
 
I've been thinking about responding to this thread, but the truth is, I don't know where to start. Many of the first few months of living here were just like what everyone else is writing.
 
Let me share a few things about what it's like after over 8 years.
 
The overriding event of this year for us has been May's passing. We took care of her in shifts, along with professional nurses, one of them the mother of a resident, for critical times. With so many people doing this, it never felt like a burden. People took turns coordinating her care, as well. That was a big task, and our best people organizers handled it seamlessly.
 
After May died, my son and I went to see her. He got to say goodbye, and witnessed death close up. My first look at death was my grandfather in a casket. As you all know, it's very artificial and, I think, creepy, to see them made up to look like they are sleeping. I'm glad Ben got to see the real thing. She looked serene and more beautiful than ever.
 
This past holiday season was celebrated at length. Some years, it just gets more attention than others. This year, it seemed important to share more than ever. My daughter made up a new Chanukah song on the spot, sung to the tune of "Oh Tannenbaum". She has no stage fright whatsoever, and belted it out at dinner. "Oh, Chanukah"-sure to be a classic.
 
 
I came to work one day at the end of the semester, and one of my tutors had a picture of me at our CH Halloween party, in a god awful bright orange shirt I wore for the occasion. Let's just say it's not my color. I had to threaten him with many punishments before he would tell me where he got it. Turns out he's also a security guard at the place where my next door neighbors work, they were showing him pictures, and he recognized me. These kind of "small world" events happen all the time when you're networked to 25 families. I can't go anywhere in this small town of over 300,000 without running into someone who knows someone...
 
One of our former residents came back for a visit today, with several of her grandchildren. Her kids and mine ran around like a pack of friendly dogs, ranging in age from 4 to 15. When she got here, I was in the CH, preparing food for tomorrow's dinner. I came out to the alley and told her to get her butt inside and help me with the cooking. She happily obliged, and we talked for two hours while the homemade eggnog got cooked. She tells me every time she comes to visit that coming back reminds her how much she misses living here. I was sad to see her go this afternoon, but glad to know that even though some people have left for their own important reasons, they remain with us in spirit.
 
I once thought that I wouldn't be able to leave here, because I liked cohousing so much. I sometimes kept track of developments around the country in places I'd like to live, for possible future reference. But I have come to the conclusion I couldn't just live in any cohousing. This one is my home.
 
All the transitions that we make here are better for sharing them in community.
 
Liz Stevenson
Southside Park Cohousing
Sacramento California

Author: "Eris Weaver" <erisw@sonic.net>
Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2002
 
My partner Leslie and I spent 2 1/2 weeks over the holidays vacationing in Hawaii. A fellow co-houser took care of our two cats, and two other cohousers came with us!
 
Eris Weaver                                erisw@sonic.net
 
Sonoma County, Northern California

Date: Sat, 5 Jan 2002
 
At Tierra Nueva Cohousing, on the central CA coast, we are entering our fourth year of living together.
 
My children are older, age 21 and 17, and the time we spend together is precious to me. I guard family traditions because our time together these days is limited. Our daughter came home from college and brought us all the flu for the holidays. Under normal conditions I would have chosen to stay home and prepare a full holiday meal for just Bruce and the kids. This year I was more than willing to surrender the cooking duties and just show up at the common house for a Christmas day potluck. With my green salad in hand, we walked over, chose a table in the corner for the four of us and our box of Kleenex and enjoyed a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Most of the other families with children had traveled away to be with grandparents, so the gathering was small and amazingly quiet. Ahhh.
 
By New Years Eve all the wayfarers had returned and we all gathered for our best party yet. It was organized by an art historian in the group, with the theme of a 1920's Paris Masked Ball. We had mask making earlier in the week, and were encouraged to come in costume. Still in the wake of the flu, I came as a survivor of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918, with an explanatory placard around my neck, which I could cough behind. Personal favorite costumes were: Freda Kahlo with her one eyebrow, several Frenchmen with striped shirts and berets, and a cigarette/cigar woman from the Paris clubs, with full crinolines and cleavage (costume worn by our beloved landscape manager who is most often seen digging in the dirt, or pruning or planting). Another favorite transformation: imagine "Anybody" the tomboy from West Side Story. She bears a striking resemblance to our Steph who usually wears jeans, sweatshirt and tennies. Imagine our surprise when Steph showed up at the ball completely transformed in a short little black cocktail dress, high heals and diamond accessories, singing along to a Barbara Streisand song. What a knockout. The music was a compilation of all the favorite songs requested by the group members earlier in the week and burned into a custom c.d. So we danced and indulged in a dessert potluck and toasted the New Year at midnight.
 
A fine party. And the best part: I didn't do a blessed thing but show up. This is a first for me in my ten years of coho history. And it was wonderful. Cohousing is a good idea when one has the flu. Another tidbit: When my elderly friend Elizabeth visited in early December, I was reminded again how grateful I am for all of the handicap accessible features that we built into our common facilities. Crippled with arthritis, Elizabeth is able to walk from the handicapped parking, use stair-free path handrails, enter the common house and use the ADA guest room and bathroom totally independently. My home has stairs leading to the porch, and internal steps, so Elizabeth needs help to come sit in my kitchen and sip tea, but she is so delighted to be here that we make do. I urge all developing communities to invest in accessible common facilities. Cohousing is a good idea for people with physical challenges.
 
I'm curious how the New Year will develop. I suspect that our lessons in community living will continue. It won't be smooth sailing. There will be personality clashes, hurt feelings, lessons about setting boundaries, feeling included/excluded and different definitions of community work. Yada yada yada. We'll cycle in and out of fully attended business meetings, community workdays, regular meals together, and occasional parties. I won't be worried when the attendance slips at any of the above, because I trust in the cycle of return.
 
When this thread first appeared, thanks to Robyn, I wondered if there was anything I could contribute to the discussion. Our community life has been going through some interesting growing pains, and I had noticed a distancing from community interaction. Part of it may be due to the fact that four houses are in the process of being sold internally among current community members, with one woman leaving to form a new community, one couple returning from living nearby, and two families swapping homes. In addition, one couple is in the process of finalizing a divorce (both living in two homes here, sharing custody of the kids) and another couple just announced they are beginning divorce proceedings. Add to the mix a rental situation where an absentee owner rented his unit to a "section 8" family (in California, this is a rental subsidy to social service clients to help make housing affordable). There was no community involvement in the selection, orientation or integration of the new family, and we were all thrust into a most uncomfortable situation. It was unfair to the family, who had no clue whatsoever about cohousing and community life, and it was difficult for the rest of us for a variety of reasons. We all learned from the experience, to be sure, and the lessons continue.
 
I'm looking forward to enjoying a new supper club that has formed among five families, called The Taste Buds. We rotate cooking for one another, once a week, so every five weeks, it's my turn to host. It came about partly out of frustration with common meals being too large and too restricted financially for gourmet meals, and partly from the desire for more intimate dining. With the taste buds we cook for 10 adults (instead of the usual 30-40 at common house meals) and can explore more artistic and gourmet options. It is fun, challenging to fit everyone at the table in our small houses (we feed the little kids first) and slightly clandestine, because we have chosen not to advertise that we are doing it, to avoid the inclusion/exclusion debates. I love the intimacy of eating in our homes, where the acoustics are more comfortable, and the conversation is select. We are old friends (pre-Tierra Nueva), and I value our time separate from community functions. In a sense it is "community within community" and we are just exploring the edges of this territory.
 
May your new year be blessed with creativity exploration and the bounty of community life,
coheartedly,
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva, central CA coast
 

Author: "Rob Sandelin" <floriferous@msn.com>
Date: Sat, 5 Jan 2002
 
A few from Sharingwood recently
 
Sitting in a low grade funk and having a two year old come up and tell you all about their day and then realizing that the funk is gone and I'm smiling.
 
Creating a surprise wedding shower for a couple that never had one (they sort of eloped). They were very delighted.
 
Grabbing a rake meaning to clean up the fallen leaves and finding not only that somebody did the job, but they created piles in such a way that the kids could jump into them, a touch I would not have thought of and something I learned for next time.
 
Having an intense conversation with another adult about one of their problems, helping them find their needs, and then feeling wonderful when the whole situation worked out excellently. And then finding a loaf of fresh made banana bread-still warm- with a simple note of thanks. Extra wonderful!
 
 
Sitting quietly watching a squirrel collect cones to cache, and being joined, one by one, by 12 other people, who all spontaneously cheered as "our" squirrelly chased off another interloper who was intent of pilfering all that hard work.
 
There was a need for some extra computer storage, and within an hour no less than 3 zip drives are offered, and 20 zip disks.
 
Just about everyday some little thing goes on which shows you that the people who live here care about each other.
 
Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood
 
 

 

 

AttachmentSize
coho-stories.doc103.5 KB