Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cohousing: The Best Restaurant in Town — Susie Shea

One of my favorite things about the folks in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is the food they make. When we joke about being “the best restaurant in town” it's only half-kidding. Of the dozens of meals I've had with these amateur chefs, I have yet to have a bad meal and I always come away inspired to make new dishes. It could be Edie's amazing rhubarb bars and Abby's blueberry cobbler at a meeting, or a spinach-and-feta salad with greens from somebody's yard, or perhaps tasty baked beans or a vegan chocolate-chocolate-chip cookie... (okay, now I'm hungry.)

Anyway, when I think about what to make for these potlucks, I always cook with these folks in mind – what can I make that will bring smiles to the faces of my neighbors but that won't take too much time or require special shopping trips? The answer often comes back to my old spring/summer reliable – the fritatta.

Fritattas are just cooked eggs, veggies and cheese. They're simple, and are the best way I've found to use up veggies, both those on the edge (wilty spinach or kale, bendy broccoli?) or that summer surplus that so many gardens seem to develop in August (drowning in tomatoes and zucchini?). Since we get a CSA box from one of our local farms that comes with a dozen eggs each week, we often have extra eggs to use up as well.

This also an amazingly flexible and forgiving recipe: you don't really need exact measurements or ingredients, and it can be served hot, cold or at room temperature. Put in whatever veggies you happen to have, whatever kind of cheese you like, increase or decrease amounts based on the volume of your baking dish or number of people you have to feed – once you've done it once or twice you won't even need to look at a recipe.

Susie's Coho Potluck Fritatta

butter and/or olive oil
salt & pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375F.

2. Butter or oil a 9x13 baking dish (I recommend glass or ceramic)

3. In a large bowl, beat 10-12 eggs with a little milk or soymilk. Add salt pepper and herbs to taste (thyme, oregano, rosemary are all nice) and set aside.

4. Chop the veggies! Chop or rip up a large handful of fresh spinach or kale, and set aside. Chop up a large head of broccoli and two small zucchinis into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

5. Dice a large red onion and sauté in a bit of olive oil until slightly caramelized (I like to add a dash of balsamic vinegar here), then add your broccoli and zucchini.

6. When the broccoli and zucchini have cooked until they are soft but still a touch crunchy, turn off the heat, add your spinach to the pan and stir. Let sit for a few minutes until the spinach is wilty.

7. Grate a cup (or more!) of a tasty cheese. I like to use something sharp like Cabot “Racer's Edge” cheddar, or something creamy like a gouda or swiss.

8. Mix your vegetables and cheese in with your eggs, stirring until everything is well mixed, then pour into your greased pan. Make sure any protruding veggies are well coated with egg.

9. Pop it into the oven and bake until the egg is completely set and starting to brown at the edges of the pan. You should be able to poke a knife into the top and press to the side and see only firm tasty egg, no runny or overly gooey innards, and easily slide a knife around the outer edge of the fritatta.

10. Remove from the oven, serve warm, or let cool. Either way is delicious.

So what are your potluck “old faithfuls”?

Dulcimers, Permaculture & Martial Arts — Arielle Bywater

It's a given that by joining our community, new members can learn how to raise chickens and plant flowers alongside their friends: that's part of our mission! But the standard skills involved in living in an ecovillage are only the tip of the iceberg: members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage tap into a veritable treasure trove of skills, talents and knowledge. At a recent Equity meeting, some of our members rattled off just a few of the many things they are excited to give to the community. Here are some of the most fun, funny and useful skills we're eager to share:

Playing the dulcimer
Buddhist meditation

Horse hoof de-icing


Violin lessons
Wool spinning

White water rafting

Choosing a college


Computer basics

Copy editing

Conference/event planning


Cooking 20-minute healthy meals

Rug hooking

Indoor sprout growing

Bread baking

Linocut printmaking


Baking and cooking

Math tutoring


Making wedding dresses

Wood carving

Martial arts

Cleansing and fasting

Audio recording

Transforming uncomfortable feelings

Wooden boat building

Intergenerational group games


Jewish rituals


Nonviolent Communication
Chinese medicine

Rock climbing

Massage therapy

Quaker meeting


Practical money saving

Lactation consulting


Home funerals

Bike repair

Baby sign language


Cat Talents

See something here you've been hoping to learn more about? Why go to classes or pay for workshops? In cohousing, you just knock on your neighbor's door! Join us!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Waldo County Green — Arielle Bywater

Part of the reason my family is currently living in Belfast, Maine (on sabbatical from my job as a professor in Chicago) is because the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is just one example of the way this region is committed to green living. We are so in love with the many ways in which Waldo County is green, in fact, that we're writing a book about it!

Many people may not know that Waldo County (of which Belfast is the seat) has been a hotbed of back-to-the-land activity for at least two generations. Counterculture folks flocked here in the late 60s and 70s in search of inexpensive, fertile land — and found it! Many of these hippies and homesteaders stayed and helped create some of the wonderful eco-friendly infrastructure Belfast now enjoys: Belfast is the home to Maine's longest-running health food co-op, a general "Green Store" in the heart of downtown, a robust farmer's market, and more. Waldo County is also home to a major solar energy company and the Maine Organic Farmers & Growers Association, which is itself the longest-running such organization in the country, and puts on the wildly popular, nationally-known Common Ground Fair (a must-attend event and the highlight of Waldo County's social calendar) every year.

Recently, Waldo County has seen another influx of eco-minded, farm-oriented folks: young adults and young families who, like the generation before them, have moved here for a simpler, more sustainable way of life. Happily, this movement is happening all over America right now, but Waldo County is particularly vibrant with new, small farms that practice organic and biodynamic techniques, use permaculture, and are otherwise making high-quality, low-impact food for all of their neighbors.

As someone with both a scholarly and a personal interest in subcultures and environmental issues, I've been studying back-to-the-land movements for years, and have a collection of oral histories of hippie communes from the 60s and 70s. So I was dismayed to discover that there is no book that covers Waldo County's involvement in that era. My husband (also a writer) and I were determined to document this current wave of back-to-the-land activity here in Maine, for which Belfast is certainly a major hub.

Our manuscript, which is also my sabbatical project, will contain first-person stories culled from interviews with more than twenty local households, each with very different and exciting stories about how they made the choices they have made. The manuscript will open with a chapter on the previous generation back-to-the-land movement as an homage to and celebration of all the ground they broke for the new folks. Then there are chapters on younger people who are making lives in Waldo County as homesteaders, market and CSA farmers, as well as those making the choice of intentional community (a cohousing family will be featured in our book!). We also hope the book will include photographs of the farms and farmers by Waldo County native and professional photographer Sharyn Peavey. While we are nowhere close to being done yet, we hope the book will eventually be published and widely available, and serve as a testament to the amazing things happening on the land and in community here in Belfast and Waldo County.

An excerpt from one of our stories, of Maia and Jacob at After the Fall farm in Montville (20 minutes from Belfast), which offers winter CSA shares appears in the new issue of the online journal Connotation Press.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Excite, Nourish, Connect — Denise Pendleton

At our recent general meeting, we were all asked to list activities that would excite and nourish us as cohousing members during the upcoming development phase. We started with the children’s list, and after they finished and went out to play, the adults reflected, wrote and shared, as facilitators wrote notes on flipcharts.

It was a gratifying and uplifting activity in many ways. In part, because our common vision and values were demonstrated in the repetition of similar ideas — from “let's start now to garden and raise chickens together here at the Farmhouse” (our interim Common House) to “let's have work parties, potlucks and visits to each member's home” to music nights, salons, art projects, taking the kids hiking, and putting together a kayak & sailboat armada to an island in the bay. There were pleasant surprises too, as members offered ideas — and a new side to their personalities that I might never have suspected. It was great to hear the kids say, “more campouts! ” Who knew they were having such fun? And of interest to hear the teens say, “having more kids in the community our age would be more fun. ” I truly loved every suggestion, but I was most excited by the idea of a "communiversity” — the idea that any community, and ours in particular, can provide what schools intend to provide: an education for our children and ourselves, but through a myriad of multigenerational relationships.

I was reminded of another time (quite a while ago) when we members sat in a circle and shared our individual visions of cohousing. This was in November 2008, when Chuck Durrett (grandfather of cohousing in the US) led a workshop and we shared, for the first time since I had joined several months earlier, what elements we envisioned as key to our community life. While many of the answers were similar and somewhat predictable (gardens, common meals, the chicken club, walking the trails), many again offered new insights into our values (clothesline and sauna committees were planned as well as an ice skating rink, as I remember).

While meetings, potlucks, campouts, salons and other gatherings have given us the chance to have many conversations, it feels as though we've completed a circle that is more like a spiral, where beginnings and endings will continue to cross over, and we move forward. Now, as we enter this new phase of development, with the site design, common house design and unit/home design behind us, we are coming ever closer to that deep connection we seek — to the land and to rich community relationships.

Monday, May 10, 2010

May Day Appreciations — Elizabeth Garber

What a luminous time in the emerald meadow polka-dotted with dandelions, the Maypole crowned with a spray of lilacs, and our May 'ribbons' billowing in a mighty breeze. What an afternoon filled with delight together and welcoming so many visitors! I want to thank all of us — from the rain-braving hole diggers, to the mowing relay teams, the Maypole setting team wielding stones and crow bars, everyone who helped ready the farmhouse for the open house, all who danced, and the avid team of greeters, land walkers and tour guides at the prototype. Our profound thanks to the amazing musical Gawler family and friends for mentoring us in the Maypole setup and dances. Our visitors enjoyed all we shared with them. It was wonderful to have so many new members join in their first dance and especially sweet to appreciate our new members — Sawyer, Steven, Tom & Barbara, Jim & Paula — bringing their beaming smiles to the dance. What a remarkable unified team we are! Thank you all.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Noah, Nervin & Mark — Coleen O'Connell

A few weeks ago two work horses, Nervin and Mark, arrived at the farm where Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage has its development phase headquarters. Sanna McKim, our Project Manager, and fellow cohouser, Mitch Henrion bought the Halflinger horses as their first shared step in our sustainable agriculture mission. The newly constructed fence and barn with two beautiful horses is attracting neighborhood stir as they give definition to the farm.

As people arrived for yet another meeting, little Noah, son of Abby and Geoff Gilchrist, asked in his 3 ½ year old voice, “Coleen, can you take me out to see the horses? ” “Of course” I happily responded as I motioned to his father that we were departing. Nervin and Mark were happy to see us. We hauled armfuls of hay as I answered endless questions Noah posed about the life and purpose of these horses. His fear of their size was as large as his curiosity for who they were and what they were doing in this field.

A week later, while helping his parents unpack from a move, Noah was assisting me in placing books and magazines on shelves. He noticed a magazine with a pair of draft horses on the cover. He stopped, took the magazine and set it aside. Later he asked if I would read it to him so he could find out more about Nervin and Mark. Though Nervin and Mark were not in that magazine, there were other teams of horses that stimulated Noah’s questions once again. His fascination with these new members of our community was large as life. We looked at that magazine many times over the course of two days. What I love is that these animals have names, they have needs, and they are fast becoming a part of our community. Noah talks of them as if they have just paid an equity membership and signed up to buy a house. In a rural, sustainable intentional community, I am imagining that over the years the sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and who knows what else will join our community and their membership will be as important to our children as the people who join. Certainly as I field the curiosity of Noah I am aware of the role that animals play in the lives of our children and their growing experience of community. That is how it should be and that is what we intend. All animals – human or other – will all have a place in the ecosystem we are building. The ecological balance will be struck as we experiment with what works and what doesn’t. It will be an organic adventure both literally and figuratively.

Noah will grow up surrounded by a rich array of community members. Aunties like myself from the Auntie brigade will delight in the interactions with other people’s children. For Nervin and Mark, they will continue to have star status as long as there are three year olds around to marvel at them. This is all as it should be.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Exploring Personal Frontiers — Mary O'Herin

While I love the pictures of deep space that return to us from the Hubble, and how they riffle the cilia in my imagination, the true frontiers of our time that I turn to for hope and inspiration are the body/mind frontier being explored in neuroscience and energy medicine, and the collective consciousness frontier being explored in psychology, astrology, Buddhism, communication, environmentalism, and probably a few other places as well. Cohousing for me is a choice that feels like a natural off-shoot of my love for these two frontiers, AND a collective endeavor that will deepen my knowledge of both.

Most of the intimacy in my life occurs between myself and one or two people at once. I also feel it to an extent in a few group activities: rowing, ultimate frisbee, an astrology study group. Each of these groups has a consistent core of people that have become known to me enough over time that I feel a warm sense of connection with them, even when there are a few new folks I don't know. My learning curve in each activity is very modest compared to the same curve in felt intimacy. It is the knowing and being known that keeps me returning.

Even just being in the planning and growing phase of cohousing, I already feel the enjoyment of knowing and being known by a cooperating group of people. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I usually pick activities that have a very high freedom factor, where there is little pressure from the group to do anything much beyond your best effort when you are able to be there. I place high value on my freedom and flexibility, and tend to avoid groups that may have high or rigid expectations. I remember looking over the packet of exploring member info that Wendy gave me when I returned. One of the pages described which types of people did well in cohousing. I had to laugh when I read the description of the Maverick. That was me: the very independent self starter who generally did not seek out groups.

I was initially wary of cohousing, thinking it might be the sort of group I peel away from moments after pulling up to the curb: too clubby and rigid. My initial exploration was on the defensive side because of my own edgy fears around groups, control and conformism. Even in groups with a progressive agenda I have experienced regressive control and conformity issues. After my initial involvement 1 1/2 years ago, I dropped out after only 2 1/2 months probably in part due to past group experiences of mixed success, but I think mostly because I wasn't at the time able to give it a fair try. The concurrent psychic/emotional/mental demands in my life with my 2 boys, and getting it together as a split co-parenting family were such that I didn't have much left for a radically new consideration like cohousing.

When I returned about 9 months later I was ready to give it full consideration, and I knew some of the members that had joined since my lapse. I remember walking into the Farm house side door, I was a little late for a General meeting, and literally feeling an impact in my solar plexus: a warm pulsing wave of really nice energy. It caught me so off guard that tears came to my eyes, and I turned around and went back out to my car for a couple minutes to absorb the wave of feeling that the impact had triggered in me. It was all very sweet, and it certainly was my body giving me a big “Yes! We're back.” ( I do rely heavily on my body's wisdom to balance out my reasoning self.)

The first return impression proved to be true. It was great to be back amidst the endeavor to build a cohousing community in mid-coast Maine. It is a vibrant, flexible, creative group of folks who want to create something strong and positive and then spend a long time enjoying it!