Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Flying Toys

In an earlier blog post, I stated that I was angry and felt like throwing my toys out of my playpen.

Unfortunately, when people throw their toys out on a larger scale, it creates enormous suffering. The news story of the moment is Gaza, but this year tragedies also have unfolded in Sudan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Congo and elsewhere.

It is my dearest wish that humankind would create peace.

I don't know how to persuade people in far away places to do that. The only thing I know how to do is to spend each day learning a bit more about compassionate communication and implementing it right here in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. My primary vehicles for that are my membership of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community and use of our consensus decision-making model.

As Gandhi said, Be the change you want to see in the world.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dance, dance, wherever I may be

For years I have felt occasional urges to dance, but have not listened to them. Oh yes, I do sometimes attend parties at which I dance. But that's not what I'm talking about here. What I mean is a more consistent practice of dancing.

Since I've moved to Nanaimo, I've become interested in the Sacred Circle Dancing at the Unitarian Fellowship. Unfortunately it conflicts with the Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community's shareholder meetings, which are held on Thursday nights.

I am in the process of exploring if the shareholder meetings could be moved to another night. If not, we have only a few more months of the construction phase left, and then I expect some let up in our schedule of meetings.

In the meantime, I am just playing music and dancing in my living room. I am feeling drawn to African music, which reminds me of my childhood in Swaziland. Thanks to You Tube, I've found some familiar clips.

When I was a young child, my parents were pioneers in the bush. We were the only white family in a radius of thirty miles. Every night I used to fall asleep to the sound of the drums that the Swazi people used to play while they told stories and danced around their fires. To my ear, drum beats are the most soothing sounds in the world.

When I recently spent several nights on the living room couch of friends in Nanaimo, because severe weather prevented me from reaching my home in a rural area, I found the ticking sound of their clock very restful. When I reported that on the first morning, they expressed surprise. In fact they felt embarrassed that they'd forgotten to take the clock down before I'd settled in for the night. They said that the loud ticking had disturbed previous guests. I responded, "Oh, please leave your clock where it is. I love it." To my taste, it wasn't quite as good as a drum, but it was the next best thing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Getting back into synch

The frenzy of Christmas used to bother me. I found it stressful. That was until I to some extent unplugged the Christmas machine, or at least tamed it to a tolerable level.

Some years ago a book about mythology explained to me why the North American Christmas is over the top.

Apparently winter used to be a quiet time in Northern Europe. The long hours of darkness and the cold weather naturally lent themselves to a more restful period. According to the book about mythology, that was reflected in the winter holidays of the Norse people.

The Romans, on the other hand, were just the opposite. They commemorated the dedication of the temple of the god Saturn on December 17th. They called the holiday Saturnalia, and it evolved into a playful week-long celebration that had much in common with the North American Christmas of today. There were school vacations, feasts, exchanges of gifts, pranks, etc.

When one considers that Southern Europe has a milder winter than Northern Europe, one can understand why the Romans were less constrained by the weather than the Norse people were.

It seems to me that cheap energy in the second half of the twentieth century allowed us North Americans to override the climate in which we lived. If we still were hunter-gatherers or even farmers, we in Canada and the Northern Tier states of the USA would be forced to celebrate a much quieter Christmas. Even my mother, who grew up in Hungary before and during the Second World War, reports that it was a big deal to find a fresh orange in her Christmas stocking.

When I started simplifying my Christmas celebrations some years ago, I did not retreat into a cave. Certainly I do enjoy having Christmas Dinner with family and friends. I also enjoy buying gifts for a very few close family members and friends. (I generally buy gifts way ahead of time, in order to keep December as stress-free as possible.) Now that I'm trying to be even more eco-friendly than before, I probably will make many of my Christmas gifts in future.

This year the unusual weather on Vancouver Island forced many of us to simplify even more than we might have wanted to do. If Peak Oil comes to pass, I wonder what Christmas (and the rest of our lives) will look like. I suspect there is the potential for Voluntary Simplicity to turn into Involuntary Simplicity.

Be that as it may, I like to relax during these days between Christmas and New Year. I like to feel the rhythm of winter.

Last night I played some haunting Celtic music that my son in Calgary had told me about by e-mail that afternoon. I turned off all the lights in my townhouse, lit a single tea light, turned the volume of the music down low, sank into the couch, and felt my body melting into the supportive atmosphere.

This morning I feel refreshed and ever so grateful to have had the chance to chill out.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas was magical

When weather stranded me on Vancouver Island, the parents of a Nanaimo friend, who live in Victoria, invited me for Christmas at short notice. My friend and I caught the Greyhound bus down there on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and returned to Nanaimo by train on Boxing Day (December 26th).

I had the greatest fun with this family, who had been total strangers to me. We spent much of Christmas Day in their kitchen, joking and laughing and cooking up a storm. Fortunately, turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings is a fairly universal meal, which most people in Canada prepare roughly the same way. So it was easy to fall into the rhythm of helping in someone else's kitchen. The reward was a delicious Christmas Dinner.

I was sleepy and nodded off during our late afternoon bus ride to Victoria. But our return journey took place in the morning, when I was alert. This gave me an opportunity to appreciate the stunning scenery over the Malahat Pass and along the shores of Shawnigan Lake. Uncharacteristically, snow-covered Vancouver Island looked like the set of Dr. Zhivago.

Now I'm back in my rented townhouse. This has been a lazy day of reading. For me, these days between Christmas and New Year are amongst the most relaxing of the entire year. Absolute bliss.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Life is what happens while you're making other plans

Well, my flights to Calgary got cancelled yesterday owing to severe weather out here on the British Columbia coast.

I am disappointed not to be seeing my sons over Christmas.

On the other hand, there is some good news. I received a full refund of my expensive holiday air fare. This is enough to cover flights for two people at off-peak times. One of my sons wants to use half of that air fare to visit me in Nanaimo over a weekend. My other son wants me to visit him in Calgary on another occasion. I probably will do that around his birthday.

I'm also fortunate to have received an invitation to Christmas Dinner from local friends who heard about my situation.

It's now Christmas Eve. My movements require me to part company with my laptop over the next couple of days. So I will take this opportunity of wishing you a Christmas filled with warmth and love and laughter. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, I wish you a day filled with warmth and love and laughter. May you enjoy many such days in 2009.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Want to throw my toys out my playpen

Sometimes unwelcome things happen in my cohousing community, and I feel angry. This is one of those days.

That doesn't change the fundamentals of my situation. I'm still incredibly grateful to have chosen Nanaimo as my new home, to have joined Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, and to have formed wonderful friendships in a surprisingly short time.

But, with that having been said, I want this blog to be authentic. Being a coho [member of a cohousing community] may be a predominantly joyful experience, but it is not a constantly joyful experience. At least it is not for me.

This is where I'm finding it useful to be learning skills in the area of compassionate / nonviolent communication.

To my mind, our families and our communities are microcosms of the larger world. My belief is that, if I want the world to be at peace, I have to create peace right where I am, right now.

This was the overriding reason for my joining a cohousing community. Yes, there were a zillion other reasons too. But, if we cohos went around in a circle and each had to name his/her primary motivation for joining, that would be mine.

So I will refrain from throwing a tantrum. I will find a constructive way to share my feelings and to help to make it safe for my fellow cohos to share their feelings. Then, together, we will chart a way forward.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice

This afternoon I'm going carol singing in downtown Nanaimo with the Everybody Sings group.

Then on to friends for dinner.

After this, the days here in the northern hemisphere will gradually grow longer. In due course, our winter wonderland will give way to spring. But I imagine we Vancouver Islanders will be sharing tales about the winter of 2008-2009 for quite some time.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Who helped whom?

Spent the night on the couch at Ian, Mia and Joseph's house in Nanaimo last night so that Ian and I could get up at 5.00 a.m. to do the breakfast shift at the Unitarian Fellowship's Emergency Weather Shelter. We took with us the box of clothes that Kari and Andy had delivered to Ian the night before.

The people working the morning shift were Bill, Ian, Paula, Rob, Wendy and I. We made breakfast for the shelter's clients. After they'd finished breakfast and left, we stripped the bedding off the mattresses, and cleaned the kitchen, the church hall in which the clients had slept, and the washrooms (toilets).

One of the clients needed some help doing things, because she was missing an arm. I wondered what it must be like to cope with one arm.

After the clients had left, we noticed that there was some oatmeal porridge left, and some of us volunteers ate it (with yummy dates and raisins mixed into it). It was really nice to sit around the table and get to know the other volunteers.

Eating is a means of survival. But it also is physically pleasurable and, when I do it in the company of others, it involves an element of celebration. (I became much more conscious of the celebration component when I attended the Food Security Forum a few weeks ago.)

Rob and Wendy, who are members of the Unitarian Fellowship, were telling the rest of us how much help they'd received from the fellowship's immediate neighbours and from non-Unitarians in the wider community of Nanaimo. They said the Emergency Weather Shelter project had brought them into contact with several neat people whom they otherwise might not have met.

A person who was not present, but who was very much part of this story, was Sharon. She is one of the owners of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. She is a full-time nurse. Yet she is a quietly competent person who accomplishes an amazing amount outside of her job. The relevance here is that she is the volunteer coordinator for the Emergency Weather Shelter.

I really enjoyed the morning. It gave me a chance to meet lovely people and to feel even more at home in Nanaimo (although my cohousing connections helped me to integrate surprisingly quickly when I moved here in September 2008).

Most of all, I appreciated the fact that some people had had the forethought to create the Emergency Weather Shelter system. It sure has been needed during this stretch of cold weather that has lasted an unusually long time by Nanaimo standards.

Friday, December 19, 2008


When the call recently went out from the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo for assistance with the operation of their Emergency Weather Shelter, some of us cohos signed up for volunteer shifts.

This got me thinking about the relationship of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community to the neighbourhood of Harewood (in which our strata complex is located) and the even wider community of Nanaimo.

Just off the top of my head (and without having taken a formal survey), I can think of several volunteer organizations in which our members are involved:

Co-operative Auto Network - Car sharing club.

Emergency Weather Shelter - operated by First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo.

Food Link Nanaimo
- Linking people and food in Nanaimo.

Freecycle Network - Grassroots, nonprofit movement of people who give (and receive) stuff for free and keep good stuff out of the landfill.

Global Village - During the Christmas season, volunteers operate a retail outlet that sells goods produced under fair trade, non-exploitative practices. Many of them come from developing countries.

Green Drinks Nanaimo - Holds informal monthly discussions about the environment and sustainability.

Harewood Community Centre Cooperative - A group that seeks to establish a community centre that focuses on the provision of health care (both conventional and alternative) in the neighbourhood of Harewood.

Literacy Nanaimo - Promotes literacy for all individuals.

Moya Centre - An organization that assists victims of HIV/AIDS in Swaziland, Africa.

Nanaimo & Area Land Trust (NALT) - Promotes and protects the natural values of land in the Nanaimo area.

Nanaimo Community Gardens
- Helps Nanaimo residents to achieve food security.

Nanaimo Ebbtides Master Swim Club

Political campaigns - Some of our members have worked on the campaigns of candidates who were running for political office at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Wonderland

I'm sitting in the living room of friends, warmed by their wood stove, sipping tea, listening to Christmas music, and looking out at the bright blue sky, the snow laden trees and Mount Benson watching over us like a sentinel.

We had dinner together last night, and they invited me to sleep on their couch when the snow looked too deep for me to get home.

This morning we had delicious oatmeal porridge with all sorts of goodies mixed into it. Then I helped them shovel their driveway.

The roads here in Nanaimo now are looking better, and I'll soon head home. But it sure has been nice to hang out with friends from my cohousing fraternity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Emergency Weather Shelter

We are having a stretch of cold weather that is unusually long for Nanaimo.

Three owners of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community (PGCC) also are members of the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo (FUFON). Their church is part of a network of organizations that provides shelter during weather emergencies. Sharon, one of our cohos, is FUFON's volunteer coordinator for this effort.

Since the FUFON has quite a small congregation (fifty members) and since this cold snap is lasting a long time by Nanaimo standards, operating the Emergency Weather Shelter is stretching FUFON. So they have put a call out for people from the wider community to volunteer.

I have just e-mailed Sharon to volunteer for a shift. I received such awesome help the other day, it's the least I can do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Yesterday, I bought snow tires in place of the all-season radials that had been fine in Calgary. I bought tire chains. I bought a snow shovel for my van. I loaded my van with a spare set of clothes, candles, matches and food.

I am now equipped for an expedition to Outer Mongolia.

This feels good.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cohousing is old hat in India

Today I received a response to an e-mail I'd sent to a friend in Australia. My news update had been dominated by my excitement at joining Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community earlier this year.

My friend originally is from India, and she told me that cohousing communities that operated on the consensus decision-making model were common there. In fact, her parents belonged to a cohousing community.

I got a chuckle from the fact that cohousing communities were considered to be cutting edge in Canada, whereas they were an everyday part of life in several other countries. We in Canada have so much to learn.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Baptism by snow

In an earlier post, I referred to my baptism by fog. Well, today it was snow. My vehicle got stuck in the snow on the back country road on which I'm currently living. It's a long shaggy dog story, and I won't burden you with the details. Suffice it to say, it was quite the adventure.

But, even in the middle of the "adventure," there were things to appreciate. Like the overwhelming kindness of the local residents in this rural area. Like the picture postcard beauty of the snow covered forest. Like the long underwear that I'd taken the precaution of putting on this morning.

I'm also grateful that, pretty soon, I'll be living in Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, within easy walking distance of a supermarket, and within reasonable walking distance of downtown Nanaimo, the harbour and Vancouver Island University.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Oh My God!

Have just looked out the window, across the water from Vancouver Island.

There is cloud all around, except for a break that is allowing the sun to shine a spotlight on the Coast Mountains on the British Columbia mainland.

When I looked at them yesterday, the peaks had a bit of snow on them. But now they look totally white. At least that's how they look from this angle, bathed in that light. I guess that is the result of last night's snow (which we got even in Nanaimo, but which is gone where I am).

The scene just took my breath away.

To paraphrase what a friend said recently, "I live in such a gorgeous spot, how will I know when I've died and gone to heaven?"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Interesting Day

Ah, moving on from the joys of Christmas to the joys of vehicle ownership .......

Yesterday my vehicle got a flat tire. If you can believe it, I had managed to reach the age of 56 without ever needing to change a tire. Somehow there always had been a man around to do it. But on this occasion there was no man. There was only Judy.

Funnily enough, over the last couple of days I had been discussing with friends how valuable it was for us to practice operating in modes to which we were not accustomed. They all agreed.

Nice theory, eh? What's not to like about it?

Hmmm ....... Well, let's just say that I have a new appreciation for those men who'd changed tires for me in the past. Thanks, guys.

While I was struggling to access the spare tire, I remembered my late father's personal motto, "There's no such word as can't."

Well, that persuaded me not to pick up the phone and call the nearest service station. Okay, so it did take me two hours and fifteen minutes to change a tire. But, hey, I did it!!! The sense of accomplishment was awesome. Here's a big cyber hug for you, Dad.

But the donkeys in the nativity scenes suddenly don't look like such a bad mode of transportation after all.

Joy to the world

I am just loving the Christmas season in Nanaimo.

Unlike a larger city, where it was difficult to find a parking spot and my ears felt assaulted by Muzak in the shopping malls, the Christmas season in Nanaimo has been convivial but relaxed.

Celebrations have been simple and fun -- potluck suppers, outdoor carol singing with friends followed by hot chocolate, concerts put on by churches and amateur choirs.

Don't know what to buy the person who has everything? In Nanaimo this is a non-issue. Give her a jar of your homemade applesauce. And, in my circle, be sure to wrap it in a tea towel rather than Christmas paper. My friends are nothing if not "green."

As to the question of what to wear to a Chrimstas party. Well, the big decision that usually faces me is, "This pair of jeans or that pair of jeans?"

I don't know if it's my imagination, but it feels to me as if it's much easier on Vancouver Island for my heart to "prepare Him room."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Big Dream

Consensus decision making and compassionate communication, which I have been learning about through Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, have so captivated me, that I want to take these topics further.

Developing my communication skills is helping me in my personal life and in my relationships with my fellow cohos. I would like to share these skills with others in cohousing circles and in the wider world as well. That is My Big Dream -- to find a way of expanding nonviolent communication skills into the larger community.

Luckily, I'm going to have a chance to learn more. First of all, belonging to a cohousing community in itself is like signing up for a lifelong workshop. But, in a more formal sense, Tree Bressen is going to be facilitating a series of workshops for the cohousing communities in British Columbia over the next couple of years.

We in the cohousing communities in BC want to develop our capacity to practice these skills ourselves and to teach them to new cohos who join us in the future. Fortunately, Tree shares the dream of building this capacity amongst the cohousing communities in BC.

One of the neat things about cohousing is that the larger cohousing movement is to individual cohousing communities what those cohousing communities are to the people who live in them. Just as a cohousing community offers opportunities for some shared meals, communal gardening, car-sharing and so on, the cohousing movement, collectively, creates economies of scale.

Thus, the cohousing communities in BC have agreed to take turns hosting the series of workshops that Tree will offer to us over the next couple of years. Since Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community's building still is under construction and we haven't even moved in yet, Tree has promised to schedule our hosting stint towards the end of the series.

I've already participated in one of Tree's workshops, back in September 2008. I am so excited to have an opportunity to work with her again early in 2009.

What's more, in addition to the formal part of the workshop, it will give me a chance to visit the cohousing community that hosts the first workshop in the joint two-year series. That will be an opportunity to see how the host cohousing community functions and to meet other cohos from around BC. What a treat that promises to be.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly

After I'd bought into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, but before I'd moved to Nanaimo, Susana e-mailed to tell me about the Thursday morning singing group to which she belongs -- Everybody Sings.

It operates on the principles of Ubuntu Choirs. That is, it is assumed that every human being knows how to sing (even if he/she doesn't believe he/she can). Members of the group are not given sheet music, lyrics, or anything else. Group members learn songs just as children in so called primitive cultures learn them -- by having the songs modelled by more experienced singers and by repetition.

The music comes from all over the world -- the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Russia, Israel, Kenya, and on and on. Participation is very informal. Group members can clap, wave their arms, tap their feet or even dance if they feel so moved.

Well, I finally got to experience this for myself when I participated in Everybody Sings last Thursday morning. It was really neat, or at least it was once I got past the mild panic I experienced during the first song. The two group leaders started out by asking us to sing in harmony. My first reaction was, "That's unfair. I don't even know this song, much less how to sing it in harmony."

But, after that first song, I ordered my mind to get out of the way. I chose to relax into the singing, allowing it to take me wherever it took me. Once I did that, it turned into a wonderful experience.

It seems to me that the way in which Everybody Sings operates is illustrative of the way in which Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community operates. Do we know how to "do" cohousing? If you want to get technical, we don't. It's not as if you can go out and get a diploma in cohousing or anything like that.

But, in embarking on a cohousing project, we in many ways are returning to a way of life that was common to humanity for centuries, if not millenia. So I believe the skills are contained in the collective unconscious of humankind.

Yet we in North America are out of practice. So it is extremely unlikely that we will get the harmony just right on our first rehearsal. But for all that, and without having been able to put it into words at the time, I passionately wanted to step into the cohousing circle and join in the cohousing song.

Am I ever glad I did.

Humour 101

Today I feel like some levity.

Having lived in Canada for a cumulative total of 27 years, I thought I had integrated very thoroughly -- to the point of practically having gone native.

But now I am reliably informed that my humour is weird.

I have received the dreaded diagnosis. I am a victim of CHDS (Canadian Humour Deficit Syndrome).

I looked for remedial classes on Vancouver Island University's calendar. Alas, I didn't find anything suitable.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Home is where the heart is

Yesterday afternoon, a friend introduced me to lovely Westwood Lake. As the name suggests, it's on the western outskirts of Nanaimo. We had a most enjoyable walk on the forested trail around the lake.

Fortunately the Nanaimo that I am getting to know is prettier than the Nanaimo I first saw. On that initial visit, I had flown into Comox, rented a car, and driven south to Nanaimo. My first impression of Nanaimo was a series of strip malls, car dealerships and shopping malls along the highway. It was not an auspicious beginning.

In this respect, Nanaimo is not alone. Many towns in British Columbia are laid out in a similar way. The town is intersected by a highway lined with strip malls, car dealerships, and the like. If this was all you saw of the town, you might be underwhelmed.

Kamloops, in the interior of BC, is a case in point. I had driven through there several times on journeys between Calgary and Vancouver. I thought it was one of the most ordinary places I'd ever seen. Then, on one occasion, I had an overnight break there. I didn't stay in a motel along the highway, but one that was right in the heart of Kamloops. I got lost on my way to the motel, and had to meander through the town for some time. But this gave me a chance to see more of the town. What a difference that drive made. I got a very different impression -- and a most favourable one at that.

In having found Nanaimo, I feel as I imagine Goldilocks did after she'd identified just the right chair, just the right plate of porridge, and just the right bed. At this juncture in my life, Nanaimo feels just right.

But it is not just Nanaimo's pretty face that makes it feel so much like home -- although the point of this post is to acknowledge that Nanaimo does have a lot of beauty. What turned the walk around Westwood Lake from a black and white picture into a colour picture, from an emotional point of view, was having a friend with whom to share the constantly changing light and other things we noticed along the way.

By arriving in Nanaimo, not just as any stranger, but as a new co-owner of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, I have been privileged to have been embraced by a circle of friends. This circle is comprised not only of Pacific Gardeners, but also their friends who share a variety of interests with them. To paraphrase Goethe, this has made Nanaimo for me an inhabited garden.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Am I selfish or selfless?

It has just occurred to me that joining a cohousing community has been a paradoxical experience for me. It simultaneously has been one of the most selfish things I've done and one of the most selfless.

In choosing cohousing, I've been selfish. I no longer was willing to settle for mediocrity in my life. A situation that was anything less than the gold standard -- in terms of authentic social relationships, interaction with the natural environment, and so -- just didn't cut it. So I have been feeling happy, actually blissful, ever since I joined Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community.

Yet, at the same time, it has been a demanding process. Just on a simple, housekeeping level, there have been time commitments (planning meetings, etc.).

On an emotional level, there have been rough spots. We have had ample opportunity to practise what we've been learning about compassionate communication. (If you want to find out more about that, I recommend Marshall Rosenberg's excellent book, Nonviolent Communication : A Language of Life.)

It takes fierce commitment for me to listen, really listen, to someone whose behaviour I perceive as difficult or unreasonable. Yet the breakthroughs that our group has enjoyed when we've persevered through a difficult situation have been intensely rewarding.

The other day I saw an enquiry from a woman on an Internet forum about intentional communities or cohousing communities. She was asking if anyone knew of a community that was supportive but that would allow her to keep her life simple, that would not involve time commitments, that would not require meetings, and so on. Well, hello?!? Perhaps she had never heard the saying about pop bottles, "No investment, no return."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Divorcing my car

When you hang around with a lot of carless people, as I am doing, you start to feel a bit ridiculous if you own a car. At least that's how I'm feeling.

Several members of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community don't own cars. This also is true of some people in our wider circle of friends.

None of them has said a word about my vehicle. But, without anyone saying anything, I have come to feel -- as I said above -- a bit ridiculous.

At the moment I am renting an oceanfront condo that has a delightful view but that is far from town. So, until my lease expires in the middle of January, I won't be able to cut the umbilical chord.

However, I currently am looking at a couple of rental properties close to downtown. I plan to move to one of them when my current rental arrangement expires.

I have applied to join Vancouver's Co-operative Auto Network, which has a satellite office here in Nanaimo. This car sharing club would give me access to a car on the odd occasion that I felt the need for it.

The nice thing is that there is reciprocity amongst several car sharing clubs. I haven't investigated the list of cities and towns that's involved. But I know that, at a minimum, the car sharing club will give me access to cars in Vancouver, Victoria and Comox and of course here in Nanaimo too.

Many of my friends manage very nicely by using a combination of walking, bicycling, transit and membership of the car sharing club. They look fit too, without having to go to a gym.

The biggest single factor that will enable me to divorce my car will be Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community's location. During the early discussions, friends of the founders tried to persuade them to buy a cheaper parcel of land further out. But, from the beginning, proximity to urban amenities was on their non-negotiable wish list. I will be forever grateful that they stuck to their resolve to be within easy walking distance of schools, grocery stores, etc.

The downtown/harbour area and Vancouver Island University are a little further away, but still within walking distance, and certainly within easy cycling distance. It's 2 km (or 1.2 miles) to the downtown/harbour area and 2.5 km (1.5 miles) to Vancouver Island University in the other direction.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Delightful Dilemma

The delightful dilemma that I face in Nanaimo is that there are so many fun activities from which to choose.

I find that on about five out of seven nights there are events that appeal to me. Many of them are free or by voluntary donation.

Sometimes there simultaneously are two or three events that are equally appealing, and I'm forced to choose from amongst them.

Occasionally I skip an event that sounds as if it would be interesting or fun, because I need a night off!

This is what my social calendar for this week looks like:

Sunday night - Taize (tay-zay), a meditative and musical service at Bethlehem Retreat Centre - FREE

Monday - Drove 100 km (60 miles) each way to Courtenay, to visit my dear friend, Christina. I paid for the gasoline, and she took me out to lunch. As I prepare to cut the umbilical chord between my vehicle and me, I have resolved not to drive up there by myself again. Next time I go, I intend to catch the train or the bus.

Monday night - A night off, what a concept

Tuesday afternoon - Had to miss a forum about the Alberta Tar Sands at Vancouver Island University in order to attend a Marketing Committee meeting and a Board of Directors meeting for Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. But, having just moved from Alberta myself, I am not entirely a stranger to the issues that must have been addressed at that forum. The pithy title of William Marsden's book most likely summarizes the information and opinions that were presented there -- Stupid to the Last Drop.

Tuesday night - Spontaneous invitation to a Greek restaurant from Susana. We both were interested in a talk that Gwynne Dyer was giving at Vancouver Island University. But we also wanted some down time and a chance to get to know each other better. Dyer's presentation no doubt would have been interesting, but I sure enjoyed the conversation with Susana. She generously picked up the tab so, from my point of view, the meal was FREE.

Wednesday night (tonight) - Mr. Holland's Opus, one in the Mid-Week Movies series that addresses mental health issues - FREE

Thursday morning - Ubuntu Choir - Costs $7 for a drop-in session. (Next year I'll go for the $25/month package deal.)

Friday night - Family Sphaghetti Dinner and Sing-along at the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo - voluntary donation

Saturday night - Potluck dinner with friends. Cost? Well, I suppose if I wanted to get technical I'd say I have to buy ingredients for the casserole dish I'll take. But the occasion essentially will be free or, rather, because of the company of friends, priceless.

Sunday afternoon - Hike with the Whiners Hiking Club. I'm not sure about that, as there are some other options for Sunday afternoon. But I've pencilled it into my calendar. If I do go, it'll be FREE.

Sunday night - The Singing Christmas Tree at the Evangelistic Tabernacle Family Church, an annual concert that reportedly is very, very good and FREE.

One of the things that will be so cool when we're actually living in community is that we'll have the pleasure of good food and good company when we have a couple of communal meals a week in our common house.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Walking the talk

Yesterday I visited my ex-Calgary friend, Christina, at Creekside Commons Cohousing in Courtenay, BC (100 km or 60 miles north of Nanaimo).

We were saying how much we loved being involved in cohousing and comparing notes on what it was about it that enchanted us.

We both agreed that our fellow cohos were nutty as fruit cakes (and we allowed as we might be just a little off the wall ourselves).

Christina said she thought cohousing was much more like an extended family than a community. She said that, in all the other groups to which she belonged (her professional association, hobby circles, etc.), there was a self-selection process that ensured that people were pretty similar. But in cohousing peoople were much more varied, and we had to figure out how to live with them, warts and all.

Now that I think back on what she said, she was onto something, but I think there's more to it than that. I don't think it's that people in cohousing are more varied than they are in Christina's professional association or hobby groups. In fact, buying into a cohousing community is a self-selecting process too. Cohousing doesn't appeal to everyone. The very act of joining a cohousing community parachutes you into a group with which you share some broad values.

I think what it is about cohousing is that more aspects of your lives intersect.

If you're involved during the planning stages, you have to make some tough decisions. Financial constraints often force you to choose amongst priorities. You have to decide which socially supportive and environmentally-friendly design elements are non-negotiable and which you are willing to drop.

Once we at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community are living in our strata complex, we'll be cooking and eating communal meals in our common house a couple of times a week. Some of us will be doing organic gardening together. Others of us will run a car sharing club. And on and on.

What I think Christina was trying to say, and almost put her finger on it, is that the cohousing lifestyle is as encompassing as extended family life is.

Extended families who are united by blood and marriage enjoy varying degrees of success when it comes to love and tolerance towards each other. In Christina's and my experience, cohos are extraordinarly committed to the ideal of community and towards the individual members of their communities.

They may have deep disagreements at times, but they'll go to the ends of the earth to understand where someone else is coming from and to find a creative solution that caters to individual idiosyncracies.

I probably could draw up a list of 300 reasons why I joined a cohousing community and why I love it. But, if I was forced to give you only one reason for joining, I would say it was to engage in peace making. In the past I had participated in political activities that promoted peace and opposed war. But I started to feel like a fake, because I wasn't that good at getting on with the people immediately around me. I was haunted by Gandhi's words, "Be the change you want to see."

Waking up in the morning, knowing that, before I've even lifted my head off my pillow, my life already is more congruent with my values, makes a world of difference.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It takes a village to raise an adult

On Saturday I attended a forum about food security in Nanaimo. At the turn of the (previous) century, Vancouver Island produced 85% of its food locally. Now only 5% of the island's food needs are met locally. This is astonishing if you consider that we have a mild climate that allows us to grow winter greens and that the ocean also is a source of food.

The City of Nanaimo has quite a progressive attitude towards local food production. Municipal bylaws allow the growing of vegetables in front yards. They encourage real estate developers to plant edible landscapes. City parks and school playgrounds have some space set aside for community gardens.

Although there are some community gardeners doing stellar work, not all of the space that the City makes freely available is used. In addition to that, local farmers wish more Nanaimo residents would buy their groceries from farmers' markets.

One of the obstacles that became apparent during the discussions was the general population's loss of skills. In the past, say about 50 years ago, it was common for people to grow some of their own food, to store some types of fruits and vegetables in root cellars, to can other types of produce, and to cook recipes that employed seasonal plants.

But, after the Second World War, social and economic trends tempted people to rely more and more on convenience foods and on foods that had been imported from distant climatic zones.

I am a prime example of that. When I moved from Africa to Canada just over thirty years ago, I was able to keep right on buying oranges, bananas, avocados, etc.

But earlier this year the province of British Columbia introduced a tax on carbon-based fuels like gasoline, diesel, natural gas and home heating fuel. People are starting to re-think their habits and to ask themselves if they can do things differently. It turns out that efforts to reduce the consumption of carbon-based fuels overlap very nicely with the concept of increasing our level of food security.

At the food security forum there also were representatives of Vancouver Island Health Authority. They were talking about the staggering rise in the rate of diabetes in Canada, the health benefits of eating vegetables and the exercise that gardening provided.

The people who already were involved with community gardens reported what a lot of fun it was to work together. They said that all aspects of food production and consumption -- gardening, harvesting, canning, cooking and eating -- were so much more enjoyable when they carried them out in each others' company. This testified to a fact of which most of us are aware at some level, namely, that food helps us to come together and celebrate.

I then recognized that we at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community already were carrying out some of the suggestions at the food security forum and already had plans to carry out the remaining suggestions once we moved into our apartment complex.

Once we're living there, we intend to have organic vegetable gardens and an orchard.

But, in the mean time, those who know how to cook seasonal fruits and vegetables have been sharing their recipes with those who didn't know how to do so. At our potluck dinner last Friday night, we enjoyed a delicious meal that focused mainly on fall and winter vegetables.

After we'd cleared the table, we returned to it. About half of us strung popcorn so that we could have environmentally friendly Chrismtas decorations (that we would feed to the birds after Christmas). The other half of us wrote Christmas cards to the friends of our community.

As we did all this, we were sharing stories and telling jokes. I felt so warm and fuzzy. In looking back on it, I realize that some of my behaviours had changed for the better, and it hadn't taken anyone wagging their finger at me (or my feeling guilty) in order for me to switch.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Embracing FOG

There has been just one occasion since I've moved to Nanaimo on which I've thought, "Uh oh, what have I done?

I knew that, in moving from Alberta to Coastal British Columbia, I would be trading a continental climate for a temperate rainforest climate. Each has its advantages. Alberta has lots of blue skies and sunshine (but snow and cold winter temperatures). Coastal BC has milder winter temperatures (but, as the climate zone's name suggests, rainy winters).

Back in Alberta there had been many people who had retired to Coastal BC, just because it had milder winters. Some of them had enjoyed the coast, and had stayed on. But I knew of instances in which Albertans had simply not been able to take the grey winters, and had moved back to Alberta (or become snowbirds and gone to Arizona for the winters).

I loved the lush vegetation of the coast, and felt confident that the surroundings that appealed to me so much would compensate for the rainy winters. When I'd lived in Melbourne for two and a half years, I'd experienced a sort of Mediterranean climate with drizzly winters. I'd survived those winters, so felt sure I'd survive the winters on Vancouver Island too.

But the suburb in which I'd lived in Melbourne had been slightly inland, and I had not experienced the full effect of the coastal fog. After Vancouver Island's rainy season had set in in earnest this November, we had a few foggy days in a row. My temporary condo is right on the waterfront. But it might as well have been on the moon. I couldn't have told you, from looking out my window, where I lived.

Then I woke up, maybe for the third morning in a row, to a particularly dense fog. I stood at the window, thinking to myself, "Yes, Nanaimo is a vibrant town with lots of neat stuff going on. Yes, I love my fellow cohos [members of my cohousing community]. Yes, it's so convenient to be able to take the garbage out in my sandals. But, holy Batman, I'm living in a sensory deprivation chamber!!! I don't know if I can take this!!!!!!!"

Just then, a piece of driftwood floated into view, barely discernable through the fog. Perched on it was some sort of sea bird. Being so new here, I didn't know the species. It was quite large and angular. Compared with the grey background, the driftwood and the bird looked black. The scene reminded me of some Chinese and Japanese paintings I've seen. Just a few brushstrokes in black and white. And then, before I knew it, they had drifted into the fog, beyond my field of vision. That vignette was so exquisite, so ephemeral, that I felt awestruck.

Right on the spot, I determined to see the beauty in all the seascape's changing moods. From that moment to this, I have remained resolutely cheerful about the weather.

In fact, we've had a mixture of weather through the remainder of November -- some sunny days and some rainy ones. This morning I again woke up to fog, but this time it didn't freak me out.

I know I will need to live through a coastal winter, indeed a few coastal winters, before I'm qualified to pass judgement. But, the way I feel now, I have survived my baptism by fog, and have earned my stripes an islander.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Passing the Baton : Founders in Cohousing

It often takes cohousing communities a long times -- years -- to get off the ground.

In the case of my cohousing community, a small handful of people were sitting around the kitchen table in one of their homes, and they started to have a "What if?" conversation.

From that point to this one, they've gone through a lot of steps, some of which I don't even know about. I do know they looked at many different pieces of land before they found one that met their criteria. They then had to apply to the City of Nanaimo to get the land re-zoned from single family residential to medium density, multi family residential.

They and their friends invested their savings and took out second mortgages so that they could buy the land and take on the many expenses that are involved when a group acts as its own developer.

Then there was all the research, the visiting of existing cohousing communities to see what worked best, the identification of what the initial owners wanted this cohousing community to be like, the hiring of architects, the application for a building permit and on and on.

By joining the group when the building already is under construction, I have had it easy by comparison. When I joined Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, I found all of the existing owners very welcoming towards me. Since I wasn't new just to their community but also to Nanaimo, they went out of their way to tell me about things that were going on in town, to invite me to events they were attending, and to invite me to their homes.

I felt warm and fuzzy, and thought, "What a lovely group of people." But I didn't stop to analyze it until I read something in one of Diana Leafe Christian's books. I can't remember if it was in Finding Community or in Creating a Life Together. In any event, in her writing she discussed The Founders.

She said that, as new owners joined the project, the founders needed to walk a fine line. Yes, the founders certainly were a great resource, because they knew the history of the project. Consequently they could provide insights into the reasons for early decisions, they could tell newcomers where they could find this or that piece of information, and so on.

But DLC (as people in the chousing movement call her) went on to say that there could be a temptation on the part of the founders to hang onto control. An individual founder or a small group of founders might refuse to accommodate the ideas and wishes of new owners.

It was only then that I became aware of how fortunate I was. Yes, the long standing owners of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community had been very friendly and hospitable towards me. But there was more to it than that. They also had welcomed me onto committees, and had been open to my suggestions.

Although all of the existing owners of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community have been like that, I think Susana embodies the attitude of openess to an extraordinary degree. She is one of the people who participated in that very first "What if?" conversation. She has spent years working towards this dream.

Yet she repeatedly has thanked me for contributions I've made since I've joined the group in Nanaimo, and has complimented me on my ideas and suggestions. Susana is an example to me. I hope that, as more people buy into our project, I will be as gracious to them as Susana and the long standing members of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community have been towards me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Olympic Torch in Nanaimo

I have just stumbled onto the fact that the Olympic Torch will come to Nanaimo on its way to the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics. Woohoo!

Following tradition, the Olympic Flame will be lit in Olympia, Greece. It then will be flown to Victoria, British Columbia. After being carried on a 45,000 kilometre journey that will take it to every province and territory (including Canada's Far North), it will end up at BC Place for the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron on February 12, 2010.

Each volunteer gets to carry the Torch for 300 metres. The two most feasible dates for me are October 31st, 2009, when the Torch will travel from Victoria to Nanaimo, and November 1st, 2009, when it will travel from Nanaimo to Tofino.

There are two companies sponsoring the Torch Relay, namely, Coca-Cola and RBC Royal Bank. Each of them has a website on which you can apply to be a Torch Bearer. I started with Coca-Cola's registration process. I don't know if it was just me, but I found it difficult to make head or tail of it. I then tried RBC Royal Bank's registration form. Luckily RBC's registration process was very user-friendly (at least it seemed so to me).

Applicants will be informed in the summer of 2009 whether or not they have been selected to be Torch Bearers.

The registration process ended up being a bit humorous for me. I had to pledge to help to make Canada a better place. There were several buttons showing activities that would assist the community or the environment. I had to indicate my selection by clicking on one button. When I looked at the choices, I realized that, in buying into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, I was undertaking virtually all of the activites (to say nothing of Pacific Gardens' benefits that weren't even listed amongst the options!).

Filling in that form reminded me how a supportive infrastructure, such as a cohousing community provides, empowers a person to make heaps of healthy changes to his/her lifestyle in one fell swoop. It's actually taking some time for it to sink in for me that life really can be this good.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pigs Will Fly

In doing a Google search for cohousing, I stumbled on pigs will fly : the can do community blog. That gave me a chuckle. Pigs Will Fly struck me as a lovely metaphor for what we were doing at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community in Nanaimo.

Actually, we aren't that revolutionary. We'll be living in apartment condos in a "normal" neighbourhood, a couple of kilometres from Nanaimo's downtown core. If you went past our building project, you wouldn't necessarily know that it was "different."

But the consensus decision-making process we have chosen for our strata complex does take us beyond an average level of collaboration.

When I stop to think about it, there is a lot of cooperation in the world. Everyone, by and large, crosses a street when the light is green and stops when the light is red. Through thousands of agreements that most of us honour most of the time, we make it feasible for ourselves to live in society.

But living in society wasn't enough for me. I wanted more out of life. I wanted to live in community.

I remember a moment when I caught a glimpse of what was possible. It was at the turn of the millennium. At the time I was living in Melbourne. Because of Australia's longitude, we were one of the first countries to reach midnight. It was a thrill for me to watch, albeit on TV, the spectacular display of fireworks over Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I was so excited that I stayed up for the better part of 24 hours, and watched cities around the world reaching midnight. How can I forget the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower? Or the fountains dancing exquisitely to Handel's "Messiah" in Las Vegas? Interestingly enough, some of the low tech displays were gorgeous too. I remember how much I enjoyed the traditional dancing in Jordan.

What was so magical for me was the synergistic way in which all the people of the world pulled that off. I don't remember any UN negotiations or treaties or anything. People self-organized. It just happened. For that 24-hour block of time, the news focused on celebration, beauty and fun.

But, soon enough, we returned to business as usual.

Now, three months into my cohousing adventure, I've suddenly realized that I have attained what I longed for -- but wouldn't have been able to articulate -- back then. For me, joining a cohousing community has turned every day into the turn of the millennium.

It's not all beauty and bright lights. I guess our planning meetings might be compared with the preparations and rehearsals people had to go through before they put on those spectacles at the stroke of midnight.

Besides that, our project isn't obviously impressive, in the way a fireworks display is. Maybe the traditional dances are more representative of our efforts.

But, ever since I joined this project, I have felt alive.

Another way in which the turn of the millennium serves as a metaphor for cohousing is the paradox between the highly independent spirits that people in the cohousing movement have and how much cooperation the consensus decision-making process requires. Each of those millennium displays was unique, and yet they all fitted themselves to the larger timing framework.

Similarly, the people who are attracted to cohousing are very individual (sometimes even eccentric?). Yet we are the people who create communities that operate on degrees of cooperation that, at least for North American society, are extraordinary.

So I reckon it has to be true that pigs can fly.