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!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cohousing Art Show Opens in Downtown Belfast

Art, summer, and Belfast are three words that often appear in the same sentence—and Belfast Cohousing members are no strangers to the fine arts. Friday, July 23rd saw the opening of the first art exhibition at the Beaver Street office of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage.

Organized by Elizabeth Garber with help from Jon Ippolito, the show includes artworks from the personal collections of BC&E members. The works on display are affordably priced, with proceeds going to help the cohousing project. The show is also a way for interested visitors to meet cohousers and learn more about their vision of creative sustainability.

This initial show includes paintings, drawings, and sculpture by Maine artists such as Robert Shetterly and Tom Prescott. A future exhibition, planned to open in mid-August, will feature works by renowned abstract expressionist Angelo Ippolito, the father of BC&E's member Jon Ippolito, who also happened to be a curator at the Guggenheim for fifteen years.

The Beaver Street office is located in a small but beautiful corner of downtown Belfast, in the side street directly opposite the Belfast Co-op.

The show will be open on consecutive Fridays through the summer from 5-7 pm, or by appointment by calling (207) 338-9936 or 338-9200.

For more information, you can also contact us via

Above, top to bottom: Elizabeth Garber in the gallery space; Rosencrantz by Tom Prescott; the BC&E Beaver Street office.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Neighborhood Now — Denise Pendleton

I give thanks, almost daily, for the rich web of support and relationships my family enjoys, with increasing depth, through our participation in Belfast Cohousing since spring 2008. I often reflect on what drew us to our first open house, to our next steps of exploring members, and I think, “it was the energy efficient home, ” or “it was the gardening and raising animals together” or “it was the neighborhood life for my children. ” I didn’t really expect, when we wrote our equity check, that any of it would happen before ground-breaking. But I’ve been happily surprised to discover that the “neighborhood for the kids” has transformed into vibrant community as our paths crisscross with those of other members and our lives become increasingly a shared journey in the past few years.

Last Sunday, for example, our thirteen-year-old daughter participated as one of five girls in a “Coming of Age” ceremony at the Belfast UU Church. Three of the five are part of our coho community, and we joined this church a little over a year ago thanks to the urging of Joanne, another Coho mom. On our first church visit, we discovered that Audrey needed a mentor, and without hesitation, who stepped forward to nominate herself for this task but Coho friend, Coleen. This has been a memorable year for our daughter and her new friends and her growing understanding of the importance of community, as the credo she read today to the congregation expressed, “I believe in community. Communities are there to help you with hard times, to enjoy happy moments with you. I belong to the cohousing community and that community is very friendly and nice and has kind of become my other family. ”

Perhaps she was thinking back, as I often do, to our sailing adventure of last summer, with a flotilla of several member boats. It wouldn’t have happened if a few of our coho friends hadn’t initiated, instigated and put in some hours of hard work to make it happen. I still marvel at those magical days we had, setting off by moonlight for Holbrook Island and in the several anchorages that followed, sharing resources from cabin space to rowboats, passing platters of food over the bow and stern lines as we moored together, trusting in one boat’s anchor to hold us in the sparkling waters of a tree-lined island cove.

This past winter, we found ourselves in similar configuration on skis, pooling our resources to make it possible for us to enjoy a few long weekends in a slope side condo, carpooling, sharing meals and good conversation. Some of the kids are old enough to take off on their independently and I’m lucky to get one run in with Luke or Audrey. Meanwhile, among us adults, we’ve found that while some of us ski fast and some of us do not, in subzero temps or warm sunshine, we all have double delight because the kids are happy and we parents are having fun too.

I can’t count the number of sleepovers our son Luke has had with his friends Finn and Soren or how often we’ve had them at our home—enough that we now have toothbrushes with their names on them. We’ve been delightfully surprised on several occasions to find ourselves childless for an entire 24-hour spell as our children happily go to stay with another family, and we are able to celebrate anniversaries or birthdays we’d given up on. Meanwhile, lost and found clothes pass between our homes along with loaned books and, well, chicken tractors and a trailer that’s been so popular among coho-ers that we’ve thought of putting a sign-up sheet on Basecamp. We’re thrilled it’s not just sitting in our yard for our occasional use, but had it borrowed to transport lawn mowers for Coleen’s work party, hay for Sanna’s horses, and manure for the farmhouse children’s garden.

Last spring, we finally got the chickens we thought we’d get 3 years earlier when we moved to this old farmhouse. We got the chickens because Sanna, in her usual enthusiasm for shared life, offered my daughter a hen and a few baby chicks, and before he knew it, my husband John was building his first chicken coop. It wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been made so effortless, and now we’ve got so many eggs we have the joy of giving them to relatives who bring us, in exchange, cookies, freezer pie crust, mended clothes and herbal tinctures. We love looking out the window at our free range chickens bringing life to all corners of our yard, and we love that kids are learning more about raising their own food. (While not part of my initial motivation for joining Belfast Cohousing, it’s more become more important to me as I contemplate with increasing frequency what life might be like for my children in 30 years and hope they’ll know how to thrive absent a petroleum-based economy.)

Two nights ago, John and I both had to be away for work. I patched together rides to Tae Kwon Do at the local Y for our 10-year-old son Luke, while Audrey’s 14-year-old coho friend Mika offered to “babysit” until I got home at 8:30. When I walked in the door, Mika’s dad Paul was making himself at home playing a lovely tune on the piano and the kids were playing happily together thanks to Mika’s fun-loving presence. I realized I had a moment to walk through my gardens and take a breath in the late summer light. When I came back in, I told Paul that Luke wanted him to be his Coming of Age UU mentor for next year. I didn’t include Luke in the conversation because I know Paul is a single dad and might say I don’t have the extra time, but he unhesitatingly responded with a big smile and a “yes, I’d be thrilled. ” And, “Oh, ” Paul said, “I just happened to have brought a gift for Luke tonight. ” He pulled out of his pocket a battery-powered fork that twirls spaghetti for eating the Italian way, explaining that it used to be Mika’s. Somehow, I think, these two guys are meant to come together across generations into deeper relationship, as the many paths in family life overlap, as the threads of community life are interwoven.

Our connection as cohousing neighbors deepens every other community interaction, be it through the UU church or baseball or the horse barn. I know that we will more than watch each other’s kids growing up, but actually care, in every sense of the word, for each other’s kids and families. And I can head out on Monday, as a steering committee member for a week long National Cohousing conference, knowing that Coleen is going the extra mile to help out, staying at the house to help John, whose work often takes him on the road, with the kids and meals and chicken care. And she promises me I won’t regret having gone, I’ll come home to family and home not in chaos, and I believe her.

Small Blue Portions — Steve Chiasson

This piece was originally written in 1994…

Of all the fruits I’ve known and loved, blueberries are the only ones I’ve reached a real understanding with. Purists will maintain that the smaller, low-bush wild berries are the only legitimate blueberry, and I’ll confess that I do prefer them in cooking; their form suits that function perfectly. But for eating out of hand, my taste buds give them no clear advantage. For compactness, convenient picking and overall ease of maintenance, high bush berries get my vote. And for a few weeks each summer my breakfasts consist of roughly equal amounts of cereal and blueberries, with just enough milk to moisten.

Because it was rainy yesterday morning and I did not pick, the bushes in my yard are laden with ripe berries. Surveying them from the back porch, I imagine I am standing on the moon looking earthward and the heavens are strewn with small blue globes, immeasurably precious. Each is complete unto itself, birthed by the universe and suspended in space by the slenderest, greenest of threads. They are fat and ripe and ready to fall. Overhead, the sky reflects that blue as if some watercolorist has flung dabs of cobalt into the air and spread a wash from horizon to horizon. I walk into the cool morning air. Deep, dewy grass licks my bare feet. A branch so heavy with berries it brushes the ground beckons me. I begin picking there.

This picking is not the indiscriminate feeding frenzy of the blueberry rake. This picking is berry-by-berry, each one turned between thumb and forefinger, inspected, and consciously chosen or left to ripen further. I circle the bush with slow deliberation, pausing now and again to admire and cherish the early August morning swelling to life around me. The quiet rustlings of the woods and the low murmur of the stream down the hill… the sparkling elegance and symmetry of spider nets newly slung. A pair of large, perfectly ripe berries anchors one such net. With a nod of acknowledgement to the demure and inconspicuous architect (who resembles nothing so much as an unripe berry) I pass them over.

Unseen and unheard, our little orange cat suddenly appears at my elbow, mewling. I scratch behind her ears. She purrs and rubs her arched back against the lowering blueberry branches, then scampers away at the approach of the dog. My small plastic container soon overflows. I rise and turn toward the house.

In the living room my son sits in the recliner, wrapped in the fur-soft blue-and-white blanket we keep draped on the back of the sofa for just such mornings as this. A shaft of dappled sunlight carves the space between us, slanting across his face. He smiles.

“Isn’t it cold out there?”

“A little,” I reply, rubbing my damp feet on the carpet to warm and dry them. I return his smile and tousle his hair, then follow the scent of fresh coffee into the kitchen.

I half-fill my bowl with cereal and pour berries in. They roll and tumble, pattering, and I am well satisfied to my take pleasure in small blue portions.

A Mission for Community Meals — Susie

Food is social glue – how many times have you been at a party, and everyone ends up in the kitchen? How many new friendships have formed over a cup of coffee and a muffin, or at a dinner thrown by friends? How many families have been welcomed to the neighborhood, comforted in times of stress, or surprised at the holidays with a hot dish or plate of cookies? Sharing food is a way to bond with our friends and loved ones, and to meet and interact with a wide variety of people. It can be a sacred experience, it can be fun and engaging, connecting us to each other and to the land we live on and the cycle of life we're a part of. In short, sharing food is more than just eating together – it represents part of our commitment to our mission as Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, and our commitment to living happily in connection with each other and the land.

As a community, we hope to eat together frequently. Our Common House, both the eating and cooking spaces, is designed with this in mind. We won't always eat together (our own home kitchens are going to be top-notch, too), but having frequent community meals offered at our Common House means it'll be easy – parents can depend on a few nights a week they won't have to cook, folks feeling lonely can come up and socialize, people wanting to try something new can always check out what's on the menu.

Recently, we participated in a visioning exercise to discuss some of our values around food and brainstorm some fun ideas about what community meals at BC&E could look like. Ultimately, we'll develop a mission statement to help shape how it all comes together.

Our discussion began with a little appetizer – uh, I mean opening exercise. We broke into groups, with folks of all ages and dietary persuasions to develop a dream menu for a community meal. Some samples:

Meal 1:
Big green salad from our own garden and with other local seasonal ingredients
Hearty lentil soup, with carrots, potatoes, etc., also from our back garden
Hearty multi-grain bread, baked in our own kitchen
Big bowl of locally grown fruit

Meal 2:
Seasonal spinach & arugula salad with homemade vinaigrette
Quesadilla with roasted peppers, refried beans, cheese (optional) with salsa and sour cream on the side
Homemade coconut milk ice cream

Meal 3:
Egg frittata with greens
Mixed green salad
Wendy's bulgur, tomato, feta, cuke and garbanzo salad
Homemade bread
Organic fruit salad

... you get the idea. By the time just the opener was done, I was hungry (which is saying a lot, since I'd just scarfed down a tasty grilled cheese from the Co-op). As we moved on to the larger discussion, several key themes came out: Inclusivity, Simplicity, Sustainability, Quality & Fun. These themes seem like such a simple vision, an answer to both the WHY and the HOW of eating together, but there is a depth and richness behind each of those statements that will be discussed, teased out, celebrated as we move forward with our project.

While it's just the beginning of the discussion, and there is much to be figured out, it is clear how gifted (and enthusiastic!) our group is when it comes to food. I doubt we'll ever have a shortage of cooks or fantastic menu ideas, and I'm really looking forward to cooking and eating with my neighbors.