Thursday, December 9, 2010

"How We Give Gifts: A Tribute to Love and Stuff" — Lindsey Piper

(sung to the tune of the Beatles "Help")

Stuff! You know I need it honey
Stuff! Keep spending lots of money
Stuff! To fill up all my shelves
STUUUUFFF!!!

When I was younger, not much younger than today
I really "needed" stuff (ps hey, mom & dad, I'm gay)
But now I see the light, my house is small for sure
Not to mention plastic crap, and over-flowed drawers

Help me change the way we give out stuuufff
Cause I think I am ok and have enouuuuggh
Don't get me wrong, great gifts are hiiip

Won't you please, please help me
gift-y, stuff freeeee.... oooooooooo.

To our dear friends and family,

There are two reasons for this letter: First, as many of you know, we have signed on a home in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Belfast, Maine, that we plan on moving into after Allison graduates from dental school in 2011. Many of you don’t know, however, that the home we’ll be moving to is small - very small by American standards (under 500 sq ft.) with very little storage. Second, we’ve been meaning for a long time to make a list of things that we really want and need for gifts so that people don’t have to guess (and it would be great to have that available for people we want to get gifts for, too!).

Moving into a place as small as our new home will be is going to be a big adjustment. Together we have amassed quite a lot of “stuff” over our combined 65 years. Starting this spring, we are going to need to start liquidating large volumes of our belongings: big things like furniture and appliances as well as a plethora of tchotchke and excess supplies of all sorts that have built up. The reality of this is a little stressful but it’s also pretty liberating. Right now we live in a generously-sized apartment with a very large attic and basement - lots and lots of storage. Our default, as it is for many people, is to simply put things that are not immediately useful or regularly used somewhere upstairs or downstairs, or to put it in a closet, cabinet or drawer in our apartment. When we get a gift or replace an item, like clothes, housewares or electronics, we frequently don’t dispose of or donate the original. Usually we just put the old one somewhere else “in case we ever need it” and use the new item. The end result of this is that we have a whole lot of work to do to bring this accumulation down to a size that will be comfortable in our new home. Virtually every drawer, shelf, closet, nook and cranny in our current home is full. So thinking about what we are going to have to do to adjust our lives to a very small space is daunting. But if we’re successful, imagine how much easier it’s going to be to move!

So... why are we telling everyone this? Well, it turns out we actually need your help to achieve this goal, and we’re going to need it for years to come. Because we have such an amazing, loving and generous circle of family and friends, each year we receive a lot of gifts… a whole lot of gifts. Just think about all the gifts! There are Christmas gifts and Valentine’s Day gifts and Easter gifts and birthday gifts and just plain old I-saw-something-and-thought-of-you gifts. All of these gifts, given to us with so much love, merriment, joy and sometimes, if we are all truly honest with ourselves, a certain sense of obligation, add up. In conjunction with the many things that we buy ourselves each year, they’ve added up in our lives to a critical mass that begs to be changed.

What we somewhat uncomfortably are asking you to do, and are asking ourselves to do, is to consider changing the way you buy us gifts or whether you buy us gifts at all. In our culture, as in many cultures, gift giving is an expression of love, gratitude and respect. And receiving gifts is also an expression of love, gratitude and respect. So what are we saying? Do we want you to stop expressing love, gratitude and respect for us? Are we saying that we don’t love or respect you or are not grateful for all of the gifts that have been given to us already and/or the sentiments behind them? No, not at all.

We are actually hoping that we can start to change the way we give and receive gifts, perhaps even shift our expressions of love, gratitude and respect for each other, while simultaneously reducing the number of garage sales, re-gifts, donations and square footage we’ll need over the course of our lives!

We are so incredibly fortunate. While we may want a few things, we honestly truly need nothing. If we never received a gift again, and only replaced things that wore out, we would be just fine. We have more love and great people in our lives than we ever hoped for.

But as far as gifts go, let’s face it - we all have had the experience of receiving a gift from someone, saying thank you and having thoughts like this: “Oh dear, where am I going to put that? ” or “I really wish I had gotten __ instead ” or “I really could have used __” or “Nice, but not my style. ” It also kind of stinks when you buy or make someone a gift and you never see them use it - even if you paid a lot of money for it, put in a lot of time and tried really hard to think of something they wanted or could use. None of those are great experiences - but the good news is we can do something about it!

If you see something out in the world that lovingly or humorously reminds you of us, please consider picking up the phone to tell us about it instead of bringing it to the register, especially if it’s not something you’re positive we want and need. Come Christmastime, holidays or our birthdays, ignore that nagging notion that you need to get us a gift to show us you love us. Call us to tell us about it and the thoughts it brought up. Write us a card or letter or just think of us fondly! Don’t get us wrong - there will always be things that we can’t afford or would really like as gifts. You can always feel free to ask us if we want that perfect gift that you see but is not on any wish list! You can always volunteer or donate to a cause in our name! Our obligation in this whole endeavor is to be honest with you about whether we want that gift you’re thinking of getting us or to tell you if we really need something. This is kind of radical and sometimes uncomfortable, don’t you think?

To make this work, we also need to put in the effort to make wish lists available to you. Or if we don’t have a list available, we need to not be upset with what comes to us (or doesn't)! Alternatively, we can actually make a date of it and go shopping for gifts together! All of this is going to be especially important when we have kids in the next couple of years. We will need help to get that fancy running stroller that we covet but can’t really afford and our kids will grow like weeds and need new or new-to-them-clothes. If we don’t have the space for all of the adult things we have, we really, really are not going to have the space for all of the adorable toys, clothes and games that are out there! And we also deeply want to keep reducing the impact that we have on the earth. That in and of itself is a very valuable gift that we are asking of our loved ones. Ultimately, it’s a new adventure for all of us and could end up being a lot of fun!

The Other Side of Moving — Elizabeth Garber

The day I agreed to sell my house, I felt like I got on a train, a rumbling old steam engine that was going to take me on a journey. There would be no stopping until I reached the “other side.” That first day I opened a notebook and made pages of notes, mapping out how I was going to do this, what I would pack and store, what I would sell, what would go to my office (files, finances), my mother’s attic (wedding dress, children’s treasures), on and on, creating the grand map for how I would consolidate my life for the two years before I move into Cohousing. From then on, every day from the moment I woke up I was aware I was on the “moving” train. I’d emerge from sleep creating lists, as well as plans, where was I going to live, housesit, rent? Sleep became more difficult as I scoured the chess board of options through the night, slowly edging from a vision through fear, panic, overwhelmedness, prayer, brainstorms, until a workable plan for my life in transition emerged. And during the day, when I wasn’t working or going for a walk or cooking meals, I was packing and organizing my life. I was on a train, I couldn’t stop, I had to keep to the schedule.

Fortunately I started with my desk, going through every file and drawer. I say fortunately, because at the beginning of moving I could still think, examine and sort wisely. By the end of moving, there was no energy or mind left for minutiae! Then books, sorting what I need for the winter to read, what for long-term keeping, what to give to the library and to give away to friends. Then the photo albums I’d created every year for my children’s childhood — I stored in big plastic tubs with firmly locking lids. My kids called home asking about the photo albums, admonishing me to keep them safe. We agreed that these albums are our most treasured belonging. The living room steadily filled with boxes and storage tubs.

I realized I was going to clean out and organize every drawer, every shelf, every closet of my life. What an incredible cleansing process! Each day, I allowed myself to do whatever I was drawn to clean next. I got excited, ooh yes, finally I could clean out the Christmas wrappings, the bottom of my closet, the drawer where I saved photos that hadn’t gone into the photo album. At the end of each project there was another drawer, sorted, wiped clean and empty. This process could not be rushed. Two months passed, each stop on the journey passed, the give-away, the yard sale, the packing party. My back recovered, I got over my cough, I used every herb and tea I knew to get sleep, and I kept making the next revised list. What was left to do? What had to wait until the last minute?

I must confess, I had a secret pleasure that helped me come home from work and look forward to packing, the mindless non-decision making kind of packing and cleaning. I listened to the Harry Potter books 1-5, read aloud, with terrifically varied voices and accents, so that I always had their friendly company late into the night. And the challenges that Harry, Hermione and Ron were dealing with made packing look easy. I will lend my collection to anyone who would like them when they are moving!

Then it was the night before moving day. I got home from work and my mother arrived. I am so blessed to have an energetic, enthusiastic, fun 81 year old mother who would organize and pack my pantry and hardware drawers all through moving day. Before we went to sleep, she sprayed oven cleaner in the oven, and we choked and gagged to get away from the stink of it! She was planning to clean the oven the next morning. At 3:30 am on moving day, I woke up smelling the oven cleaner. I knew what I had to do. I found a painter’s face mask and rubber gloves. By 4am, I was kneeling down with my head in the oven, cleaning out the cooked on baking and broiling spills and splatters of the last 9 years. I was laughing as I worked, this is part of the spiritual practice of cleansing and attending to every aspect of my life.

I was so happy that in a few hours I’d be able to take my mother a cup a coffee when she woke up in and tell her I had a surprise for her, that I’d done the oven. When we were kids and weeding long rows of beans or peas, she taught us about doing surprises for each other. She’d leave her row and weed a few feet of our rows, so it was a surprise when we got to it. This was my weeding ahead for her. I was on a roll, this was moving day. I would strip the beds, wash and dry the sheets and pack the bedding away. I would work my way through the list of what had been waiting for me to do.

It went like clockwork, the two moving guys came with a U-Haul truck and carried away the piles of boxes, the paintings, the furniture, and we kept packing the last things that needed to be dealt with while reassuring the cat that it was alright. By two o’clock my mother and I were starving but satisfied, the last surfaces wiped off, the last load gone in the truck. We had been an incredible team, each doing the next thing to do, seamless, easy, and we were having a good time. A friend brought us coconut milk to hydrate us and cookies to hold us over until a late lunch. We left the empty apartment, fed and patted the cat, gathered up food for a picnic dinner, rented a movie and went to a B&B where I’d reserved a room for the night. By five pm, we’d each had a hot shower and were in our sumptuously soft twin beds, talking over the amazing day. Then she read the NY Times and I napped. The deep astounding weariness of the last few weeks of packing began to recede. I slept deeply all night. When I woke up briefly, my mind was quiet and blank, there was (nearly) nothing really left to do.

I had entered the “other side” of moving. The train had reached a little country station, and I was let off in a new place, to discover what my life was like. My mother went home. I walked through my empty apartment and felt at ease. I remembered how it was when I bought it — when I had envisioned how we would live there. The rooms were empty again and ready for my new friend who was buying it. She came by holding up paint chips to the walls planning the life she’ll live in this space. I was glad to offer my feedback.

This process of moving was so intense and all involving, I am glad for our Cohousing community that we are getting on the train one at a time, to spread this out over time. This way those off us who are on the other side can help our future neighbors as they prep for selling their houses with painting parties and then moving parties. I feel so grateful for all who helped me and will soon be able to offer a hand to them.

Now, I am house-sitting for a friend before moving to a winter rental which is furnished, complete with sheets and towels. I realize this is my first week of stepping out of twenty-five years of being a householder who created home for her family. Now I feel very simple, like I’m on a meditation retreat. I have a few changes of clothes and simple food for the week. I move through my friend’s house and observe how we each gather objects that are full of meaning for ourselves and assemble a life. I have dissembled the objects of my life, and have put them away. I’m glad that I have this space and time before I create my new home at Cohousing. I’m aware that my relationship to the objects that I have saved and stored will change a great deal over this two year break.

Living without the things of my life, all there is left is me. I feel like I am simply an aware presence living a life. I am not rushing around in a house filled with tasks I have to do. I feel very mindful, choosing each next thing to do. It is a much simpler life. I’m actually doing what I’ve wanted to do. No computer in the evening. Instead, I’m reading the memoir I’ve wanted to read for months. I go to bed early, sleep deeply, ah, heaven, refilling the well of my energy. Waking up early, I discover I want to meditate, then stretch and exercise, then eat a good breakfast, all without rushing. Then walk to work. This is good, simple, moment by moment.

A Ball of Yarn — Coleen O'Connell

To think that it can all start with a ball of yarn. The design, the preliminary planning, and the decisions all take time before the process can begin. The moment arrives and the chosen yarn is unraveled and the creation begins to be woven. There is anticipatory excitement in those first stitches.

The months ahead will involve painstaking attention as the connections of yarn are woven into interactions that will result in a bundle of warmth and protection. There will be frustrating days; there will be delays in the process as the knitting gets placed on the back burner; days when unraveling will have to happen in order to get back on track after a small mistake; days when the yarn breaks and has to be repaired. But certainly there will be days when growth will be apparent and celebrated. But the eye is always on the prize – the knitting together of a beautiful and functional creation. The commitment to the goal is essential to its attainment. The vision of beauty to be realized never wavers.

Breaking from the standard patterns – the ones that you see over and over again – the vision is fresh. To think out of the box is to design something that will have lasting value in a world that calls for and practices mediocrity. Distinctive. A model others will want to emulate or copy. Practical and functional. Though others who come after will want the design, there will never be a creation quite like this one. The yarns will never be able to be truly reproduced again. This creation will be unique.

And so it is with knitting together an Ecovillage. The designs are set, the pattern determined, the knitters are lining up to do the weaving. The process is about to unfold as the stunning vision of a shared dream is seeing its way to finally being realized. Breaking ground this spring will be like taking out that first ball of yarn awaiting diligent hands that will turn it into a beautiful sweater. The excitement will be palpable. Patience and diligence will be necessary as the designs are made real. The coming together of a diverse group of people, weaving together a community beautiful and unique in our little village of Belfast, Maine, will be the realization of a long held dream. Let us hope that others will want our design and pattern; that others will want to knit together such a thing of beauty.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the day we can set the needles aside, try on our creation for its perfect fit, and see the sensations of the world reflected in our labor. Let it be so.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A "From the Farm" Thanksgiving — Craig Jensen

One night in August, a fox snuck into our barn and carried away many of our turkey chicks. It was an early and excessive thanksgiving for the fox family, but a major setback here at The Meeting School. New birds were ordered and the staff and students (with the help of dogs, cows, and guinea hens) stayed on alert. The new birds have done well, but we’re still expecting a smaller-than-average Thanksgiving turkey on the table.

At The Meeting School, we celebrate the fall harvest with a “from the farm” Thanksgiving. We serve our turkey as well as our roasted root vegetables and our mashed potatoes. We stuff squash and press cider, we bake pies from our apples and pears, and we invite our families and friends to sit down at the long wooden farm tables that make up our dining hall. Sharing food, and sharing the work of growing and preparing it, is an essential part of The Meeting School’s unique learning experience and there is no better display of this than Thanksgiving. Farm raised turkeys, slaughtered here and cooked here by a staff and student team, are the traditional focus of the table. I know that our current farm coordinator is thankful that the birds have sized up enough to show well, but my own food-related thanks this November are still set on our tomatoes.

Our greenhouse is a small, slant window design, built onto the south side of the boarding house that is also home to our community kitchen. When I returned to The Meeting School in August I began reclaiming this favorite space. I started new greens and began moving others inside. I’ve transplanted in leeks and herbs and flowers that will extend our season and enrich our community meals. But the highlight has been the sprawling tomato plant that continues to bud, and flower, and fruit even now in the second week of November. The greenhouse is unheated but has a very warm bank from the building behind it. When I began tying up the plant in August it was just a leggy and ambitious start that had not been moved outside. It was slow to fruit, but has really been producing some quality tomatoes. It seems very possible that we’ll have fruit ripen on the vine that we can add to a Thanksgiving salad. Incredible!

In my experience, the way we grow, cook, and share our food can really define a community. Sharing food with friends at The Meeting School helped me realize my call to farming and convinced me to live in community. I am looking forward to growing food and growing community in Belfast soon, but until then you are all invited to visit us here in southern New Hampshire.

What motivates a family to join? — Abby Gilchrist

We joined Belfast Cohousing for many reasons. We have lived on a farm half an hour from Belfast for the last seven years. Over that time, we have worked on it — completely renovating, and making the old farmhouse really efficient, fixing up the barn and other outbuildings, starting gardens — basically we have made it into the farm that we always dreamed of having. But, since having our two children, we realize how often we are in Belfast and how much time our children spend in the car. We have also found that we are isolated on our farm, having to schedule times to see any of our friends who live just a few miles down the road. With just the two of us and our two young children, it has also been difficult to find the time to do any serious farming, and we have had to cut our flock of sheep way down to a much more manageable six.

The more we thought about it, Belfast Cohousing seemed like a great choice for us. Only two miles out of town (a five minute drive), it offers us a wonderful mix of community, farming, gardening, woods, nature, the ocean, and convenience! Now we can enjoy having agricultural animals and the related chores, but not be tied down by them. Sharing the work with others allows us the chance to have more freedom in our schedules.

The children will be able to run out the door to play with their friends within sight of many community members. We feel it’s important for our children to be around many other children and adults, and this interaction will be very easy in our community — the homes will be in close proximity, and all connected by walking paths throughout the community. The common house will be a wonderful gathering space with a few shared meals a week (and we will only have to cook or clean-up once in a while!). We also picture many craft projects spread out on the tables in the afternoons, spontaneous plays put on by the kids, and sitting in the living room talking with friends while children run back and forth between us and the children's playroom.

Of course, the community aspect is the main reason we have joined the project. While we can see the many benefits that there will be when we move in, our family has already experienced many of them. Support and friendships, as well as help with projects like pickling beets. And perhaps there will be a big work party at our farm this weekend to help with our move! Coleen and Elizabeth have already given us a chance to leave our children with someone they know while we have had a few dinners in town.

Another reason we decided to join the community is to minimize our eco-footprint and impact on the environment by driving less, sharing resources, and living in a home that reduces heating costs by 90%. And did we mention what a wonderful, cool town Belfast is? It has a wonderful co-op, a very active downtown library, art galleries, a variety of music gatherings, and community theater. So, we are moving. It is sad to say good-bye to the life that we had dreamed of for so long, but exciting to be moving forward toward this new dream of ours.

The Bella Luna Common House — Steve Chiasson

The weekend before Thanksgiving, at the instigation of our super-motivated Boston-based contingent, a bunch of cohousers from Maine traveled south to help “Plaster Boston” with posters and brochures, tapping this significant market in an effort to uncover ten more families — TEN! — for whom Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is the perfect fit. We know they’re out there. We just need to find each other.

The caper was well planned. We all arrived at North Station around 1:00 and sprang into action, jazzing up our standard marketing posters with dayglow pink and green stickers — “Sustainability, Community, and Affordability!” “Only ten units left!” “One BR units starting at $150,000!” “A fraction of Boston prices!” “Super energy-efficient!” All true.

Our team leaders equipped us with lists of businesses plotted on Google maps, stacks of flyers, tacks, tape and directions to Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain, where we would regroup for dinner at the end of the day. Four teams fanned out to comb four sections of the city, looking not just for places to hang posters, but also for any businesses that might allow us to put up a display or host a presentation. It was an ambitious undertaking. And I had misgivings from the start…

Let’s just say I’ve had some seriously unpleasant experiences involving asking complete strangers for favors, dealing with noisy, fast-paced environments, and getting lost in Boston. Even with Jim, Bill, Sarah and Atkins (Sarah’s service dog) by my side, I felt a slight heaviness in my gut as we headed up the street toward Boston’s North End. At a corner coffee shop near North Station, Bill and Sarah headed off on their own while Jim and I inquired inside. The folks in the shop gladly let us post our materials, supplied the name of the manager, and came over to study the flyer as we were on our way out. So far, so good. At our second stop, Jim slid into a neighborhood laundromat while I crossed the street to another coffee shop. No room for posters there, but they did have space for brochures next to the door. The manager even cleared out some old materials to make space for ours. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad.

Back outside the coffee shop, I squatted on the sidewalk and scanned the printed list Jim had previously given me for the name and address of the shop I'd just "postered." Boston Commons Coffee. Check. I looked up, but didn’t see Jim on the street, and so I assumed he’d finished postering the laundromat and had moved on to the next business on his list. OK then. I had a map. I had a cell phone. I knew how to proceed. Feeling somewhat emboldened, I decided to strike out on my own.

First I pinpointed my location on my Google map and headed off toward the next business on my list. At the next intersection, I opened the map to double-check reference points and street names. Hmmmm. The major street directly in front of me was not identified on the map. I walked a few blocks in either direction and still did not find any other streets I could identify on the map. In short, I was lost in Boston. Again! With a map!! Fighting off my upset feelings, I decided it didn’t matter. I could just walk up and down the streets in the immediate area, simply moving block by block looking for any place of business where I might leave materials.

I walked past rows of upscale restaurants, too intimidated to walk through the doors. A couple of pastry shops with lines of patrons stretching out the door were clearly too busy to even speak with me. A butcher shop? Wrong clientele. A small organic grocer looked promising, but I could find no place inside where materials might be left. Same with the gelati shop. I hung a poster in a dingy laundromat and plowed on, struggling now with quickly growing feelings of discouragement. When I found myself leaving the neighborhoods of shops and entering a sort of warehouse district, I turned to retrace my steps only to discover that I now truly had no clue which way to go. On top of that, I was getting cold. And my back, which I’d injured at work earlier in the week, was becoming seriously painful.

I hunkered down against the wind and pulled out the large Boston map Jim had given me, ”Just in case.” It might as well have been in Greek. The streets were too numerous and densely packed, and many were not identified by name. Having no idea where I was, I had no point of reference. I stared at it in dismay. I could have gotten my phone out and called Jim. I could have asked a passerby for directions. I could have done any number of things that involved rational thought, but the reality was that I was completely in the thrall of discouragement, despair and self-recrimination. Blinking back tears, the most coherent thought I could seem to muster was simply, “I’ve got to get back to North Station,” and I started walking.

Fortunately, my choice of direction was sound. Soon things started to look more familiar, and I came out upon the broad avenue that runs down toward the Zakim Bridge and North Station. Now that the worst of the crisis had passed, I felt calmer. I sat on a curbside bench and took out my map and my list of businesses for one more look. Still nothing made sense. The brief thought that I might just resume systematically canvassing the neighborhood vanished in an eyeblink when I realized that daylight was waning. No way was I going to let myself be caught out there in the dark. It was 4:00 o’clock as I rose and headed down two blocks to North Station for a 5:30 rendezvous with the members of my team. I had three businesses listed on my sheet, and felt miserable. A wimp. A total failure.

I spent the next hour and a half watching commuters and Bruins fans come and go, sometimes standing to knead the knot in my back, sometimes sitting with with my head in my hands, staring at the floor. I was in this position when Jim walked up. I was immediately comforted by his companionable compassion. It made absolutely no difference to him that I had only three names on my sheet. Nothing could have mattered less. What mattered was that we were there, together. I almost felt like crying again, this time for completely different reasons.

A short time later at the restaurant, Lindsey gave me a hug and a look that clearly said, “I care about you. ” Denise offered to swap seats so I wouldn’t have to sit apart from the group. From the far end of the table, James noticed me kneading my back and came over to apply some on-the-spot massage therapy. It was heavenly. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of a busy Boston restaurant, two dozen members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage sat together, sharing a meal and stories of the day. That evening, the Bella Luna restaurant in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts became our Common House. Looking at those familiar faces around the table and hearing the laughter and conversation I realized that for the rest of my life, unless I consciously choose to, I will never, ever have to be alone in this world. I love these people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Day at the Fair — Jeffrey Mabee

Judith and I went to the Common Ground Fair on Friday this year. It was a cold, cloudy damp day, an amazing contrast to the next day which was sunny and hot. I love the cool, wet days. It reminds me of fishing in Alaska. Anyway, I love the sheepdog trials and made a beeline there while Judith wandered over to the Energy and Shelter area. It is a marvel to watch these dogs and their handlers. I wondered if we should have one at cohousing to make sure the children don’t wander off! After the show I met up with Judith, and as we strolled through the energy displays, I was delighted to find that I felt free of the need to figure out what systems we would be using in our future home. I felt grateful that so many intelligent and thoughtful decisions had already been made on our behalf and that we can look forward to being cozy, warm and energy efficient without making another decision! We will not have to cut down another tree or burn another gallon of oil if we are judicious in our use of electricity. We don’t need to decide what kind of construction we want, what roof type, what kind of windows and doors, what type of insulation etc. What freedom!

From the vast array of lunch possibilities, we chose a veggie wrap and sat down at a picnic table. A couple from Rockport, MA came along and sat with us and we immediately started a conversation about cohousing (perhaps because of my tee-shirt). They were very interested in our project. We talked them into checking out Belfast before returning home. We love Belfast and it is easy for us to be enthusiastic about it. Then another couple sat down with us. They were from Martha’s Vineyard and had been receiving our newsletter for some time. We had many things in common and I could see how well they would fit into cohousing. It was a good example of how we never know where we might bump into a stranger who will become a future neighbor. And that’s a reason to wear your t-shirt and carry BC&E cards and brochures wherever you go!

It was a good day at the fair. I went there thinking this could be the last time we need to do our booth. I left the fair thinking we would always have a presence there and that there will always be people interested in our way of life. We might even need our own tent considering all the exciting projects we will want to share with these thousands of like-minded people at the fair!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More Kudos to G•O Logic

By now, most folks who are involved with our community or have been following our progress are well aware that G•O Logic (Alan Gibson and Matt O'Malia) have designed and will be building the homes in our community. The prototype house they constructed on Crocker Road in Belfast — a visit to which is always one of the most popular parts of our monthly Open House events — has been garnering much acclaim, and more and more people are sitting up and taking notice. Witness these tidbits from a recent newsletter sent around by the company:

Passive House Certification

In Maine, the standard for green design and construction has been officially raised with the completion and certification of The GO Home in Belfast, which is the first Passive House Certified Home in Maine and only the 12th Passive House in the entire United States. This smart and small 1500 square foot, three-bedroom residence packs an elegant design punch, while achieving super energy efficiency at construction costs comparable to a standard home. As a passive house, the homeowners will see a 90% reduction in their heating bill, resulting in a cool $300 dollars per year for space heating, while enjoying all the comforts of the super insulated building shell during the winter months. Alan Gibson and Matthew O’Malia will be traveling to Portland, Oregon next month to receive the Passive House Certification in person at the annual Passive House Convention, where they have also been invited to be guest panelists, as well as present their current work. For more information about Passive Houses visit: www.passivehouse.us

The GO Home’s This New House television d├ębut!

In This New House, a new magazine-style series on DIY Network, co-hosts Amy Matthews and This Old House's Kevin O'Connor bring viewers inside homes across the U.S. that feature innovative building materials, techniques and gadgets. At 8 pm on October 13th on the DIY network, The GO Home will be featured on This New House episode: Why Passive Houses Rock. Licensed contractor and host Amy Matthews visits our certified Passive House in Belfast, Maine and discuss the technology of the GO Home, the fact that there is no furnace and it’s affordability. For more information visit: www.diynetwork.com/this-new-house/why-passive-houses-rock/index.html

Unity College Residence Hall

Unity College has announced that GO Logic has been awarded the contract for the design of a one-of-a-kind residence hall on an American college campus. G•O Logic will design a Unity College residence hall to the Passive House standard. If the construction achieves the standard, it will be the first Passive House residence hall constructed on a college or university campus in the United States. In June, Unity College was awarded a grant from The Kendeda Fund to construct a “cottage style” residence based on principles of passive house design. The project entails an educational component involving Unity College students in the design, construction, and monitoring of the facility through curricular and co-curricular activities.

Small Business of the Year Award 2010

GO Logic is proud to have been awarded the Belfast Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year Award 2010. The Small Business of the Year Award recognizes the smaller business that operate in Waldo County. This award reflects something special about the business, whether it is a unique style or approach, new technology, special services, or some other criteria that distinguishes the business from others similar to it. GO Logic will receive the award at the 50th Annual Awards Dinner set for October 21 at the Point Lookout Resort. For More Information visit:  www.belfastmaine.org/

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lessons From The Geese — Coleen O'Connell

Today as I was sorting through the piles of papers that have been accumulating over the past years when I came across a piece by Milton Olson. It was at once a reading for this season as geese fly overhead, AND a reminder for our cohousing community as we continue to migrate toward groundbreaking.

Here is some wisdom from the geese:

Observation: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another. As Elizabeth and Coleen close on their houses, they are providing the uplift for Wendy & Hans, Denise & John, Bill & Sarah and others to get their homes ready for sale and sell them.

Observation: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others. Arielle and Rob are longing for Belfast from their Chicago home. How can we secure them jobs so they can return? They do have the good sense of geese. They know where they need to be.

Observation: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities, and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources. The Steering Committee, though committed to the end, is getting much needed help from those willing to step into leadership as “champs” of certain tasks that need doing. We are going to do this thing together!

Observation: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core of values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek. In general, BC&E is an upbeat and encouraging group. Feeling appreciated for hard work is a common sharing.

Observation: When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong. Surely Chuck’s heart surgery this past summer engaged many as he recovered and found his form again.

We'll continue helping each other as we work toward breaking ground in the spring. The work we are all doing now is the foundation for the neighborhood we will be once we are moved in. As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. If you're of a like mind, join our flock and fly with us!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Deciding to Join — Mary-Anne Clancy

In mid-July, almost a month to the day of our first Open House, I asked David how he’d rate our chances of joining Belfast Cohousing as equity members. We were driving home from our first potluck and general meeting and he took his eyes off the road and turned to me.

“70 percent”, he said.

It would be another month before we signed the paperwork and handed over our check, but that exchange on Route 9 was the first time either of us put a number on something we’d known almost from the first.

"That was fun, ” I said after the June Open House. “I really liked the people we talked to.”

“They seemed genuine, ” agreed David. “Everyone was very gracious. ”

We’d been drawn to Belfast Cohousing by the concept of a group of people dedicated to sustainable living and community farming. Who made up that community was the question. The answer began when we walked through the farmhouse door.

Jeffrey welcomed us, spending much of the next hour explaining the project and answering our many questions with humor and no reservations. Lindsey, Allison, and Sawyer took us on a tour of the land, soldiering on despite the slugs that squished between Lindsey’s feet and her flip-flops.

When it came time to visit the prototype, Abby jumped into our car, ignored the dog hair, and answered even more questions. After the presentation at the prototype, Coleen took the time to show us the architect’s drawings and explain the various housing units, even as it became evident that tour time was up. Outside, Chuck talked to us about how impressed he’d been by the process that cohousing used to make decisions. Abby and Geoff lingered in the parking lot and continued to talk to us, despite having two small children who were more than ready to go home.

The July potluck, general meeting and open house further convinced us as we met and talked to Judith, Wendy, Hans, Marion, Jim, Steve and Barbara, Elizabeth, Paul, Craig, Jon and Joline, Mike and Margie, Bill and Sarah. We began the two and a half hour ride home, exchanging stories on who we’d talked to and what they’d said.

I was struck by how a close-knit group who obviously enjoyed being with each other had taken the time to make us feel so welcome. David was surprised by how open the men he’d met had been about their concerns and the risk they were taking. Those concerns had been paramount in our discussions, but once we knew that others shared them, they began moving into the background.

The following week, we had lunch in Lubec with Geoff, Abby, Noah, Clare, Mike and Margie. We came away with the overwhelming feeling we were going to join. Reading the operating agreement and attending the clarity session were almost superfluous.

It was then that I remembered a phrase from The Waking by Theodore Roethke: “We think by feeling. What is there to know? It is the best explanation I know of how we made our decision as quickly and surely as we did. Now, when people ask me how we came to join Belfast Cohousing, I say: “Do you know Roethke?"

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke

Community Apples — Susie

One of my favorite Maine fall traditions is apple picking and the subsequent apple sauce, butters, pies and crisps that get made with fresh fall apples. I usually track down a local orchard that has pick-your-own and spend an afternoon wandering through precise lines of trees to select good looking fruit. Northern Spy, Macintosh, Granny Smith... Some are better for sauce, some are better for pies, some I just like to eat right off the tree. It's one of those quintessential Maine fall activities that I remember from my childhood, and always brings a sense of rightness to the season for me.

This year, I haven't had a chance to get to the orchard I usually do. Schedules have been tight, it's a bit of a drive, and with a busy fall, I haven't quite felt like I had the time. When I get a call from my friend (and cohousing future-neighbor) Emily, pleading for people to come pick apples from trees in their backyard, it was perfect timing. "We have so many good apples, and they're just falling to the ground," she said, and asked if we wanted to come over to get some. Emily and James live only a few minutes drive away, and there's something really awesome about picking apples from a tree in a friend's yard - organic, hyper local, and of unknown (but tasty) variety, adding a bit of mystery to spice up the apple sauce.

The picking was a combination of gymnastics (James climbing up into the branches, shaking them so the fruit from the top falls onto the tarp below), education (their two year old teaching me about the "bad" apples with the rotten spots that must be chucked into the woods for the animals to eat) and just genuine fun with friends. We pick two big bags of apples for sauce and a smaller bag of the "good eating apples," and call it a job well done. Relaxing dinner and conversation ensues, and we leave for home later in the evening with a trunk of apples and bellies full of dinner.

It's exciting to think that I managed to score two free bags of apples, plus a fantastic evening with friends, all because of my coho connections. It's even more exciting to think about how we'll be growing our own fruit trees on the cohousing land, and in a few years, we'll be able to have a big community gathering of apple picking and pie, cider and sauce making.

Here's my recipe for apple butter made with a slow cooker - easy as... pie?

Cook a bunch of apples into apple sauce: - wash them, cut into quarters (leave the peel and core - this adds pectin and flavor) - fill a big pot with enough water to cover them, and then add 1T of apple cider vinegar - when they're soft, drain them, let them cool a few minutes, and then run them through a food mill until you have apple sauce - spice and sweeten to taste (I usually use honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and allspice) - stir to mix well.

Cook apple sauce in slow cooker: - on high for 4 or so hours - leave lid off or significantly cracked (so moisture can escape) - stir regularly (every ten minutes) and scrape the sides down so the apple butter doesn't form into goo on the edges of the pan - check consistency by putting a small dollop on a plate, spreading it out and letting it cool. - when it's the thickness and consistency you like, turn off the slow cooker and let it cool.

This makes excellent gifts when canned in half pint jars, and can be used as cookie or cake filling, jam for toast, hot topping for vanilla ice cream or, if you're sneaky about it, eating right from the jar as a decadent alternative to apple sauce.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stuff — Steve Chiasson

“The more stuff you own, the more stuff owns you.”

This morning as I was carrying my breakfast dishes to the kitchen, I noticed a certain slant of light coming through the windows of my sunroom and found myself veering from the “things-I-need-to-do” path I’d set for myself the evening before. Conditions were perfect for taking photos of the interior spaces in our house (something I’ve been wanting to do in preparation for putting it on the market), so I decided to seize the moment and follow that path instead.

I attached the camera to my tripod and set up for the first shot — looking back towards the entryway from the sunroom — and noticed that the long counter on that wall was covered with stuff. Books, papers, office supplies, bric-a-brac. I moved all the clutter to the dining table, strategically placed a couple of African violets on the counter to give the space a little color, then snapped the picture.

Turning 180˚ to take in the rest of the sunroom, it was immediately clear I needed to move the vacuum cleaner from the middle of the room, the pieces of sheepskin (cut from an old waterbed pad) that Barbara was crafting into something else, the deflated green-and-white fuzzy Celtics beach ball that came from God-knows-where and somehow found a place in our lives, and a few other sundry pieces of flotsam and jetsam.

Next up was the corner where the dining table sits, now covered, of course, with all the stuff I’d moved from the long counter. Thinking ahead (aha!), I decided to postpone that shot, knowing I’d need to move even more stuff onto the table when I photographed the kitchen, as the counters there were dutifully obeying the “Flat Surface Law” which states (contrary to what some physicists will tell you): “Every available flat surface in any human habitation must be covered with stuff.”

I was getting the hang of it now, though. Sometimes it wasn’t necessary to actually move things from one place to another. I could just push it all into a corner and frame the shot to avoid that, or cover it up with something more visually appealing. Some things that were hugely cluttered — the corkboard next to my phone, for instance — turned out to be OK as they were, giving the place a “lived-in” kind of feel. Nothing Better Homes & Gardens would go for, mind you, but it worked for me.

In the process of going from room to room, rearranging all manner of stuff along the way, I lay my hands on a dizzying array of clothing, furniture, tableware, books, papers, pictures, laundry, exercise equipment, tools, personal care items, rotting produce, bottle caps, kids’ artwork, you-name-it. The funny thing is, it didn’t look all that bad to me when I started. It still doesn’t, really.

We’re not slovenly, by any means. We’re just busy people who have, for many years, bought into the Great American Misconception that “stuff” somehow makes your life better. Hey, sometimes it does. But more often than not, it just sort of attaches itself to you in very insidious ways and finds a place to live under your roof (or in your garage, or your barn). I have a feeling that if most of us could see all of our worldly possessions in a pile in our front yards, we’d be horrified.

On occasion the thought crosses my mind that maybe a saffron robe and a rice bowl ain’t so bad. But with cohousing in my future, I get to walk a middle path. The downsized house that Barbara and I will be moving into will force us to touch virtually every piece of stuff that has attached itself to us over the past thirty-plus years and decide what is really, truly essential. What is really, truly precious enough to be allowed to share our new living space. What we really need for ourselves, and what we can own in common with other members of the community.

It’s a new day, baby…

Here are some other interesting takes on "stuff."

George Carlin
Annie Leonard
Paul Graham


Oh, and here's a link to house photos, if you're interested…

Fear of Transformation — Danaan Parry

Excerpted from The Essene Book of Days

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments it my life, I'm hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I'm in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while as I'm merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It's empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness, coming to get me. In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip of this present, well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won't have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that l must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn't matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantee, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of "the past is gone, the future is not yet here". It’s called transition. I have come to believe that is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a no-place between places. Sure, the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that's real too. But the void in between? That's just a scary, confusing disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have the sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored — even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to "hang-out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void we just may learn how to fly.

Click here for more on Danaan Parry, Earthstewards, and the Essene Book of Days.

Stepping Off The Cliff — Elizabeth Garber

The conversation I keep having goes something like this:
“I heard you’ve sold your home.”
“Yes, I’m moving to cohousing.”
“So, are the houses built?”
“Ah, no. They’ll start building first thing in the spring.”
“So how soon can you move in?”
“About two years from now.”
“So where are you going to live until then?”
“I’m figuring it out.”

My twenty year old daughter says, “Mom, this isn’t rational. Why are you leaving my beautiful house to live like some college student? Now I have no place to come home to! Where will I have Thanksgiving?”

I promise her, “Wherever I live, I’ll have a place for you.” She’s unconvinced.

Usually when people move, they are moving someplace — where they will move in, and set up home right away again. Or sometimes people my age, once their kids have left home, pack up and go off traveling or go to the Peace Corps. I’m downsizing and storing my belongings because of a vision a small group of us hold that we are creating a village where we’ll live together, have gardens, and so much more. It is this vision we’ve been developing for years that I now lean into as I sell my house and begin to pack.

At first, there is an exhilaration and excitement about the lightening up, sorting through of a lifetime of raising my two children. I finally cleaned out the medicine cabinet I’d meant to organize for years. I threw out old children’s cough medicine bottles, and organized all my herbs and homeopathic remedies in a plastic tub for taking with me. I descended through layers of history as I cleaned out the cubbies in the roll-top desk—finding, in the bottom of the drawers, my daughter’s five-year-old drawings of princesses, photos of my kids, love notes they left for me over the years. How much do I keep or toss? Someone is coming to buy the desk, the wood stove sold, my daughter’s high school desk sold. I listen to my gut. What do I keep, sell or give away? The peach couch is going to a single mom with a little girl so they can read books the way I did for years. The give-away party for my friends is in five days, the yard sale in six, the moving day in less than two weeks. I’m feeling weary and scared. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be living this winter. I get emails and calls with generous offers of places to stay. My cohousing friend, Coleen, just put her house under contract. I’m not alone in this. We plan to be roommates, living somewhere for the next two years.

I’m dismantling the life I created to raise my children as a single mom for the last ten years. I’m getting ready to begin the next era of my life. All this sounds sensible, until sometimes I find myself as tearful and vulnerable as the day when my youngest left home three years ago.  This is the end of the era of my raising my children that I’m grieving. I find a folder of my son’s art work from grade school. Do I keep it? And what about his stuffed dragon, and favorite t-shirt when he was two? I stare at the photos of their little faces beaming at me from their childhoods. Now my engineer son gives me a G-1 cellphone and teaches me how to check email. He’s all for the move, thrilled I’ll be living in such an energy efficient house in a community of like minded people. He cheers me on, while my daughter calls from her apartment in Somerville, Mass, “But why do you have to leave my beautiful house?”

At bedtime, I take out my worn Tarot deck that I’ve used for years when I’ve asked for guidance. I slide the cards, face down, through my hands, asking the question, “Where am I in my life?”  Finally I pull out one card and turn it over and laugh. Of, course. I’ve chosen The Fool. A youth, smiling merrily, is stepping off a cliff. It is the ancient card for beginning a journey. I read from the book: “On an inner level, the Fool, is an image of the mysterious impulse within us to leap into the unknown. The conservative, cautious, realistic side of us watches with horror this wild, youthful spirit who, trusting in heaven, is prepared to walk over the cliff’s edge without a moment’s hesitation.” Yes, this is the beginning of the next adventure. I have always listened to the call for what is next.

In 1985, when I was thirty two I drove to Maine from California in a Honda Civic packed with all I owned, $300, and a vision: to start my practice, get married and have a family. As I sort through tapes for the yard sale, I find songs I belted out as I drove across county, the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin “Sisters are Doing It for Themselves.” Do I keep this tape or pass it on? What do I need for the life ahead? I imagine putting this on a tape player as we mop the Common House floor before a dance. Ok, I’ll keep it.

What do I save from the last eras for this, the next adventure? My life has been a series of leaps into the unknown. Many looked foolhardy and irrational from the outside. So this leap towards cohousing is the next stepping off the cliff. As a life strategy, it’s worked amazingly well for me. I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have followed an amazing  path, but it doesn’t mean it gets any more comfortable. I still wake up unsettled, but I trust in the vision this community of fine people is holding together. I trust in the foundation we are building month after month to create a life together. I’m not alone in this. We are all a community of fine fools, trusting in a vision of a life we’ll create together, stepping off the cliff.

Postscript…

Coleen and I are going to be renting a furnished beautiful house in Bayside this winter, and spend the summer in Geoff and Abby's spacious church sanctuary where we danced to rock and roll this summer. We'll have to do that again next summer!! What's kind of wild is that for years I've had thoughts of cool things I'd like to do someday: live in a church and spend a winter in Bayside. So now is the time to do both! After I described the cozy house in Bayside, my daughter can't wait to come for Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Steering The Process — Coleen O'Connell

Boats of various sizes, colors and design bob on Belfast Harbor in the late afternoon sun as five people pile into a little dinghy to row out to a sailboat moored near the landing. It is our weekly Steering Committee meeting. Sanna McKim, our Project Manager, has invited us to meet on her sailboat Tigger as a change of scenery from our headquarters on Edgecomb Road. Geoff Gilchrist, Wendy Watson, Denise Pendleton and myself have been working together weekly to literally “steer” our cohousing project forward. We haggle through issues of competing topics, delve into questions about the project that have arisen since our last meeting only a week ago, and prioritize the next steps to bring to our Equity members – those households who have committed their money and time to birth our intentional neighborhood. Certainly I had no idea when I joined this project that I was to become a developer. It never occurred to me as a child when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up that “developer” was even an aspiration or an option. Yet that is what I/we have all become in this project. We have bought land, designed homes and a Common House, and now we need to sell them in order to break ground.

The good news of today, Sanna reports, is that we received the final approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection that our project is environmentally sound. We have also cleared the old easement that was attached to our land, which the town needed that before granting final approval. Check. Check. Two more things off the list of “things that need to happen” to make this ecovillage a reality. So many little details tied to each other, so many ways to think about each piece of information, so many directions to go. We haggle about which one will follow next, questioning each other as to why that should be priority now over some other important aspect. Five good minds listening and questioning, and ultimately trusting that we are making good choices for all the other members who are not present.

It is a huge responsibility, but what I know to be true from my past experience of working closely with a group of people to make a dream come true is that we are building our community in the process. We are building relationships that will last us the rest of our lives. We are binding ourselves to each other in ways that are unseen on the surface but with each obstacle we tackle, each conflict resolved, each joy celebrated, the underlying web of interdependence is woven tighter and tighter. The juice, the chips and the dark chocolate almonds are gone. The sun has gone down behind the trees and the harbor loon starts calling. A few boats come in from the day. Today’s work is finished. The accomplishments are many. We look forward to the launching of our project come spring.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Six Wooden Objects — Sawyer Stone

Looking around my room, I count six wooden objects I made — and all before high school. The skills and know-how I used to make them seem distant to me now and I’m hungry to (re)learn how to do more with my hands. Maybe those skill and knowledge sets are simply dormant and could be woken and coaxed out of their groggy state. Five of the wooden objects in my room I made in elementary school shop class and the sixth — a three-cubby shelf — I made in the small disorganized shop in my family’s basement to go in the treehouse my dad and I took almost seven years to build. When my parents recently moved out of my childhood home, about twenty years after I originally drew rough sketches for the treehouse on a brown paper napkin, I recovered the shelf and it now sits simply and proudly beside my bed.

It’s been a long time since I sketched out that vision for my childhood treehouse, or any other vision, but recently I had an idea to make a small wooden extension for the very limited countertop next to our stove. It would fold down, against the side of the counter when not in use, and would fold up and lock in place to rest that bowl or plate for which there never seems to be a spot. It seems simple enough, and certainly less of an undertaking that an entire treehouse, but there’s a certain amount of learning-as-I go that will need to happen. Walking home from work recently, I came across an abandoned bed frame, the headboard for which seemed like a good piece of wood for my counter extension. I hoisted it up on my shoulder and carried it the rest of the way home. Now I just need a saw and some hardware.

One of the gear shifters on my bicycle hasn’t been working properly for months, but I’ve been ignoring it until recently, when twice I’ve flipped my bike upside down in the grass behind my house, pliers and hex wrench out, hands soon greasy, determined to figure out how the bike works, and make it work more smoothly. I know I could take it to a bike shop, ask a friend more experienced with bike maintenance, or look it up in a book or online, but there’s a certain learning and satisfaction that comes from tinkering and figuring it out for myself.

The bathroom sink in the apartment I moved into two and half months ago has been slow to drain since we moved in. Early on, I’d reluctantly poured some “natural” drain de-clogger down it, in a passive attempt to resolve the problem, with no luck. Why hadn’t I just gotten on my hands and knees in the first place? It wasn’t until last week I decided to take matters, and the drainpipe, into my own hands. After pulling the various items out of the cupboard beneath the sink, exposing the pipe, I kneeled amongst the dislocated toilet paper and all-purpose cleaner. Reaching in, I removed a willing section of drainpipe and out came a long blob of hair and gunk – yuck! But that is what I was looking for and was glad I found because now our sink actually drains instead of backing up like it had a plug in it. So satisfying. So simple.

Looking back on my elementary and middle school experiences, two aspects that have long stood out for me, and that are some of my most identifiable valued learning experiences, are shop class and work program. At the time, I may not have extolled the virtues of shop class, or work program — taking out trash, washing dishes, or vacuuming the hallways — but looking back on it, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss all of that, and I worry that shop class and work program may have been eliminated from that and many other schools, depriving current and future students of the enriching experiences that hands-on work offers. They wouldn’t even know what they’re missing.

Despite having had shop class and other manual leaning experiences, for which I am grateful, when it comes to making or fixing certain things, I have often felt disempowered or not manually competent, to borrow a term from Matthew Crawford’s book Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, which I recently started reading. In general, I feel manual skills were undervalued in my upbringing, and in society at large as well. While I don’t support the dichotomy often presented between knowledge work and manual work, I was being better prepared for the former, not the latter. And while I highly value (the intertwined) intellectual and manual work, it is the latter for which I often feel less competent than I’d like to be, and I am eager to learn more hands-on skills such as woodworking, pottery, bookbinding, and farming. And what better place to do that than in community — in a community of people with all sorts of skills and knowledge and experience, eager to share and grow with one another.

All Hail The Beet Queens

Three of the Beet Queens in Abby's kitchen.
What are those women doing leaning over boiling cauldrons, ladling steaming spicy-sweet vinegar into rows of glass jars and why are their hands stained red? Pickling beets, of course!

For years now, when we've visioned our life after we move into cohousing, near to the top of the list of what we've wanted to do is canning food together. But we don't have to wait to move to cohousing to can, we can start right now! Abby put out the word that she had a lot of beets and invited us to come can. Little did we know she had planted 150 feet of beets — bushels of enormous tasty beets!

We got our systems down quickly: boiling, peeling, slicing, loading jars, processing in the canner and then cooling until the lids ping. We were telling stories and laughing, kids and dogs were running in for food and then off again to play and swim in the pond. We brainstormed about a summer kitchen for canning at the Common House and had a taste of what it will be like, before we know it!

When we were done, we were off to weed Chuck's garden, eat his lovely snacks, swim, and go home tired and happy from being together all day. The first of many work parties.

The end result was 14 pints and 34 quarts of pickled beets ready to open on winter nights when we remember the generosity of a full summer day in Maine!

I Can't Wait to Move to Maine — Allison Piper

My family has had connections to Maine for many generations. My great, great, great grandparents purchased a large plot of land in Franklin, Maine along the shore of Taunton Bay, about an hour north of Belfast. I would come to Franklin every summer as a child and it holds a very dear place in my heart. Whether it was the lobster "races" across the farm house floor, watching the harbor seals watch us off the bow of my great uncle's boat, or the arts and crafts I would engage in on cool, foggy, rainy August days, visiting up Franklin was a highlight of my youth.

I grew up in the rural suburbs of New York. While a very beautiful place, it felt terribly stifling to the teenage me — just not the right fit. When searching for colleges, I visited NYU, but even though I had been sneaking down on the Greyhound to visit for a few years, New York was just too much. Too dirty, too busy, too scary. The second round of searches took me to Boston. I've been there now for eighteen years.

My mother and step dad moved to Franklin while I was in college. She has been sending me newspaper clippings on Maine's forays into social libertarianism and on how badly Maine needs dentists since I started applying to dental schools six years ago. If you'd asked the me back then whether I'd ever move to Maine, I would probably have looked alarmed at even the question. But over the last two years, as we had to decide whether we really wanted to raise our future kids in the city, as we had to deal with the litter and the crowding and the thump-thump bass beats of car radios outside our window, and the absolutely astronomical cost of real estate, my firm resolve to remain a Bostonian the rest of my days started wilting. When Lindsey's family decided to make the greater Belfast area their home, it was all over.

Now I'm finishing the last days of my five week dental student internship at the Penobscot Indian Health Services outside of Old Town and I am happy to say that I'm in love — with dentistry and with Maine. There were a few key moments that captured my heart. One was stepping out of my car one morning at the parking lot outside of work early on during my internship. The rich, blessed scent of pine trees greeted me and caused such a joy in my heart I can't even describe. Then, every day during lunch, I would walk a couple of blocks down to a beautiful reservation park overlooking the Penobscot River. What a simultaneously calming and rejuvenating way to spend my hour between the morning and afternoon sessions! I am slightly pained now at the idea of this coming September when I return for my last year of dental school where I will be spending my lunch hour in the bustling, mostly treeless "Combat Zone" of Boston.

Then, last but not least, there were my visits to Belfast. The drive from Bangor alone, down Routes 9 and 7 across the rolling, farm-dotted hills and mountains (including Piper Mountain west of Newburgh) made me happy enough to go. But my mid-coast destinations sealed the deal, whether it was the ocean view from Belfast City Park, the panorama laid out before me after hiking up Mt. Battie in the Camden Hills with the promise of many more adventures to come before me, or the equity meeting where we set our April ground breaking drive and all of the cooperation and good communication that never ceases to impress me at our meetings. Oh, and of course there was the wonderful, spontaneous cookout at Sanna and Alan's, foretelling Common House meals to come and visits to see my beautiful three month old nephew, Yukon, right next door in Morrill.

So as I'm packing my bags to head back to Jamaica Plain, I'm doing my best to remember that I can enjoy each and every day between now and then in that great city. We have many wonderful friends there that we'll sorely miss and I'll never again be surrounded by the kind of daily, enriching academic melting pot that is Tufts Dental School. But I can still hold in my heart the little joys and promises that I now truly know await me in Belfast. I will be there before I know it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Adventures in Ecuador — James Pierson


I went to high school at Vermont Academy, where they ran a study abroad program to Ecuador during the summer. After studying Spanish for seven years (surrounded by people who speak English as their primary language) I decided this trip would be great to help me to really apply what I had learned. After graduating from V. A. in the summer of 2002, I headed out.

We flew into Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and spent a day roaming around checking out the city. It’s a fairly modern place that I didn’t find it too interesting. I did have an interesting conversation with two guys, though, and I’m pretty sure one of them made fun of me in Portuguese. The next morning we were off to Cuenca, which would be our home base for the next month.

In Cuenca we all split up to stay with our own host families. When you start living in someone’s house and you can’t really speak their language very well you start learning pretty quickly, though I must say the first week or so was quite confusing. Yes, I said I took seven years of Spanish, but no one said I was very good at conversing! Speaking was not the only way of communicating, though. People were very patient with me and helped me to understand things.

I was amazed at how close the people were in this culture. Every time my host family took me somewhere, even if it was people they just met, there were hugs and kisses galore. Awesome! I couldn’t figure out what happened with our culture. How could these people sit and talk to each other with their faces only inches from each other? If I talked to someone like that in the states, they would think I was coming on to them (or just weird) and probably not want to have anything to do with me. These people really have a strong cultural love for each other.

Other than running around with my host family meeting people, I also went to school to improve my Spanish. Its funny how much more I actually wanted to pay attention now that I realized how much more I had to learn. We also had this awesome pottery teacher who always had some kind of wonderful tea brewing for us in this extravagant glass tea pot. I loved working with her! She was always so fun and laughing about everything.

After the first week in Cuenca we went to Cajas. This huge national park is almost impossible to describe. You are hiking along mountainous terrain, all the while looking down into a huge open landscape. The vegetation was yucca, agave, and similar succulents, one with razor sharp teeth all along the leaves, as well as razor sharp grasses that you had to very carefully part to walk through. We had packhorses and guides taking us through this beautiful place. At about 9,000 – 10,000 feet it was quite a workout. Lots of little steps make it easier though. I tried chewing on coca leaves, which I was told those who did hard labor often chewed to help cure hunger pangs. It was interesting to say the least.

Then we were back to Cuenca for a few days, back in school, and then back out to the Amazon to stay with the Shuar. The Shuar are an amazing tribe in the Amazon. I was constantly planning how I could stay there forever. If I just disappeared with this beautiful girl into the rainforest, what could they do? They would never find me! OK, so obviously I came back—but not before being completely falling in love with the tribe and the rainforest. We visited a family in their home. This is quite an experience.

You enter the rectangular home from the front, and inside sits the host. The man of the house sits on a stool and greets people as they come in. The spot where he sits marks a boundary line through the house. You don’t go past him, period. The woman of the house comes out from behind a wall just a few feet behind the man, carrying a large (and I do mean large) pot of Chicha. What is Chicha you ask? A fine traditional beverage made by the woman of the house. She masticates Yucca, spits it into a container and lets it ferment. It kind of tastes like hard apple cider, with a little… well we’ll just call it added texture. All guests in the home must partake in drinking. And not just a sip, either! The woman walks around offering the bowl, inviting all the sitting guests to enjoy as much as they wish. Then she goes back to the pot, refills the bowl and passes it to the next person until the pot is empty. Or (as in our case) until she goes into the back room and refills the pot two more times. Yum. Did I mention that when you are handed the bowl, if you are a man, you do not make eye contact? Our instructor said, “you can stare at her breasts for all I care—just don’t make eye contact. ” When a man and woman make eye contact, it’s worse than flirting; it’s like asking them to go deep into the rainforest and… well you get the idea. So after lots of drinking, the man pulled out what looked like a two stringed violin and started playing. It was awesome to sit and drink and listen to his music.

Back in Cuenca we decided to have a fine meal of cui—a delicacy to the Ecuadorian people. Cui is roasted guinea pig—a wonderful food if you don’t mind eating what your friend’s daughter might be keeping as a pet! Following that up with a traditional large shot of corn alcohol makes it a little better, but not much.

After spending a little more time at school in Cuenca, we spent four days traveling around the Galapagos Islands. Quite possibly the coolest turtles-lizards-and-birds experience I have had. Walking around on the islands you constantly have to be careful not to trip over boobies—blue-footed boobies, that is. They are amazing birds that fly high above the water and then plunge like high dive artists into the water to get fish. Ironically, it’s this diving that also kills them. Eventually they go blind from hitting the water so hard with their eyes open, and no longer can get food. Frigate birds—with large red neck bladders that they inflate to attract females—were everywhere. Albatross were diving off cliffs to take off and clumsily crashing back to the ground, as their wingspans are so large that they can’t really land gracefully. The Galapagos turtles were so huge that I’m pretty sure that if I curled up into a ball I could fit into their shell. Walking the beach with sea lions was intimidating and awesome at the same time. None of the animals on the islands care at all that there is a human presence, as they have been protected for so long that they have no reason to fear. You can walk right up to a sea lion and talk to it, though I wouldn’t recommend doing that to a large male; one briefly charged me, but apparently decided I wasn’t worth his while as he quickly stopped. Guess I just got a little to close.

That trip changed my view of the world and life itself. I realized a love that can exist between people as a whole, and how truly amazing our earth is. It was then that I realized how important it was to maintain healthy relationships with people and with our earth.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Sweetest Open House Ever — Elizabeth Garber

You might think that it was the golden light of August, the singing hum of cicadas in the background, the rumbling of hand-crank ice cream makers grinding ice around blueberry ice cream, or the bowls of coconut milk ginger or peach sorbet, or the circle of musicians under the shade trees in the front yard that made this the sweetest open house ever, but I don't think it was all of that fine sweetness. It was what happened for all of us when Chuck visited on his way home from the hospital, five days after open heart surgery.

The children had made him a bright, colorful get-well banner. He sat in a chair under the ancient locust tree, standing up to hug each of us, and the musicians circled around and played for him. Tears of tenderness and love welled up for all of us, over and over. We suddenly realized how deeply we are growing to care for each other, how a web of caring and love is connecting us all. How we couldn't stop gazing at Chuck with love and fondness and awe, that one who had stepped so close to the edge of life and death had returned to us, and it meant so much. We looked around at everyone and realized how much we cared about each other at such a deep level, and that this is at the heart of all we are doing.

Thank you all for the gifts you brought to the day — the ice cream you made, the mowing and weed-whacking, the generosity of all the conversations you offered the abundance of guests, the tours on the land and the prototype house, the playing with children, and the giant bubbles that filled the afternoon with luminous joy.

It was a blessed day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Between Sky and Sea" Opens at Beaver Street August 13

A selection of intimate artworks by renowned painter Angelo Ippolito marks the second exhibition in BC&E's Beaver Street gallery, located in the alley opposite the Co-op in downtown Belfast. On view will be a selection of oils, watercolors, and collages, many created in response to seaside locales, such as the Adriatic and Aegean. All convey the artist's signature concern for capturing the vibrant air where the sky meets sea or land. The opening reception is Friday August 13th from 5-8 pm; the gallery will also be open Friday evenings throughout the summer, as well as by appointment. Apart from sharing the visions of diverse artists, exhibitions in this windowed corner office offer interested visitors a chance to meet cohousers and learn more about their vision of creative sustainability.

"Between Sky and Sea: Intimate works by Angelo Ippolito" celebrates the creativity of BC&E's extended family by showcasing work by the father of member Jon Ippolito.
Best known for his prominent role in the New York School of abstract expressionism, Angelo Ippolito (1922-2001) produced a body of paintings and works on paper renowned for their lyrical color, light, and compositional rigor. Having immigrated from Italy at age nine, Ippolito helped usher in the downtown New York arts scene by co-founding the influential Tanager gallery in 1952, whose members included celebrated Maine painters Alex Katz and Lois Dodd. His paintings gained acclaim for their "brilliant color" (Fairfield Porter) and "joyous lyricism" (Dore Ashton). Long featured in the collections of New York's MoMA, Whitney, and Metropolitan museums, Ippolito's work has recently been seen in Maine via acquisitions by Colby College (2010) and the University of Maine (2008), whose president Robert Kennedy described Ippolito as "an accomplished artist of the first order."

The exhibition is curated by Jon Ippolito with help from Jeffrey Mabee and Elizabeth Garber, all BC&E members. You can find more information on the artist at
AngeloIppolito.com; for more on the show, please email info@mainecohousing.org or call 207-338-9200.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Making The Leap — Elizabeth Garber

All of us in cohousing knew the day would come when we’d start doing what we’ve been talking about for years now, but I had no idea that it was going to start changing this soon! Last weekend, at our last Equity members meeting, we were told it was time to put our houses on the market to make sure we had funds ready for building. We might be breaking ground this fall, we might be building in phases, and perhaps as early as next spring some folks could start moving in. We are getting so close, so much is getting pulled together, it’s almost time for everything to begin. I gulped. But was it time to put my beautiful nest on the market?

I’ve had a vision for the last few years that I’d effortlessly sell my condo apartment in an 1824 house in Belfast and move into cohousing when our houses were ready. Was it time now to put it up for sale? I felt sobered. I know over the years several people had said they loved my place, but would anyone want to buy it now? What if I couldn’t sell it in time for building? But then what would I do if I did sell it? I walked around the colorful rooms I love and went to sleep wondering, "How will I do this transition?" The next afternoon when I got home from our cohousing Open House, there was a message on my phone saying that my neighbor wanted to talk to me about real estate. I invited her over, and the conversation ended up with her saying she wanted to buy my apartment. I answered with a curiously calm certainty. “OK. We can do this.”

In that moment, everything changed in how I looked at my life and belongings. After she left I walked around my house, looking at everything with new eyes. I saw the table piled with books and notebooks, my rugs, and book shelves filled with poetry and art books. I looked through the lens of what do I love and what is essential that will fit in my future, cozy, snug, sustainable and minimal 500 square foot one bedroom triplex that will look like a little row of English garden houses. I looked at the peach couch, oak roll top desk, wicker chair. I felt a wave of ease and clarity, I can let go. I started making a list of what I want to sell. I decided for my birthday this fall I’ll have a give away party for my friends to choose their favorite treasures.


But what about the art work I’ve gathered for years? Paintings, etchings, sculpture, drawings? All with their own special meanings, some gifts, some bought over time or traded for? I walked up to each one, seeing the black and white photograph, the still life painting with my new eyes. Again and again, a quiet voice said, I can let go of this. I can pass this on to someone else to enjoy. Some will go to decorate the Common House, some to give as gifts, some for my house. And by the end of the evening, I’d taken fifteen pieces off the wall and decided to offer them for sale at our new Cohousing Gallery to raise money for our future Common house. (At the Beaver Street office in downtown Belfast on Friday nights from 5-7 pm.)


The life I’ve been getting ready for has already begun. My life's priorities are already changing to discover a different ways for living in community. This is a new way for us to express generosity and to let go of attachments. We are stepping into unknown territory to discover another way to live. It’s time to start packing!