Sunday, July 29, 2012

The midnight gardener

We have several dedicated gardeners here at Pacific Gardens (alas, I am not one of them).  The weather we've had this growing season, with heavy rain in June, followed by days and days of sunshine, has meant they've been incredibly busy planting, weeding and cultivating.

One of them is my neighbour, Chad, whose giant Romaine lettuce is the feature of a video on our Facebook site.  During the spring and summer months I'll often see him pushing a wheelbarrow full of woodchips for our compost, wrestling with a hose, or in serious discussion with his partner, Susana, as to what they should plant where.  As chair of our Garden Committee, he is keen to develop what we call a food forest, where we will grow as much of our own food as possible.

He also works very long hours in the garden, so much so that I refer to him as the midnight gardener.  One night late during the first summer I lived here I heard the sound of someone moving around outside. I turned on my patio light and flung open my patio door to see who the intruder could be, only to hear Chad say, "It's okay, Kathryn - I'm just working in the garden."

Although I'm not a gardener - yet - I'm very grateful for the dedication and hard work of people like Chad, Susana, Kari, Richard, Kendrick, Clare, Sharon, Mykl, Kara, Doris and Kaj, Mia, Rosalind, Tara, Matt (and there may be others I have not mentioned) who spend so much of their time tending the gardens here.

Who knows - maybe some day I will don my wellies and join the crew!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reuse, reduce, recycle, refuse

Mia's post about our recycling room doesn't do it - or her - justice, I think. Not that I'm bragging, but, we have the best recycling room ever, and that's not just from me - the guy who picks up our recycling every week says so, and he should know.

Mia, and another lady from Pacific Gardens, Gloria, spend hours every week making sure that all our recyclables go in the right place - newspapers, cans, glass, batteries, soft plastic, juice and dairy cartons, metal and plastic lids - as well as looking after our freecycle cupboard, where second-hand treasures from our residents can be taken home, at no cost.

Gloria and Mia  also have fun and interesting educational workshops on recycling, with great prizes.  Gloria has prepared pretty,decorative signs that show us where everything should go, and they both work hard to keep the recycling room spotless and clutter-free.

I think if we had a contest for the best recycling room, like they have for loos in Scotland, we would definitely win first prize.  Here's to Mia and Gloria, our recycling mavens - long may they thrive!


Our fabulous recycling room!

Here is one of my favorite  amazing little treasured hangouts in our community. People do the reuse and reduce and recycle and refuse footprints.    I foxtrot about with my broom and sweep the floor  to give the space the respect recycling efforts deserve in our century. The clear  signs totally helped.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to do a community meeting

Community meetings are a big part of life at Pacific Gardens.  For some of you - actually, I expect a lot of you -  this may not seem like such an attractive feature. I'll admit, there are times when I have gone to our meetings and wished I had stayed home and done something more productive like scrubbing the ring of grunge in the bathtub.

But that was when our community was just starting, and we were learning how to do meetings in a more cooperative, egalitarian way.  We tried all kinds of different techniques - taking away the tables, sitting in a circle, using colour-coded cards to indicate whether we were in favour or against a proposal, having the facilitator stand, to name a few.  Some we kept, some we didn't.

There were lengthy pre-meeting meetings for our facilitators (I can hear the groans already!) so they could prepare an agenda that would help make the community meeting run smoothly and finish on time, while allowing enough discussion from the participants to come to a good decision.

As someone who prefers action to process, I occasionally - well, actually, more than occasionally - found this excruciating.  All this effort to decide how we wanted to spiff up our entranceway, or deal with noise in the atrium - arggghh! And we still ran over time, and interrupted each other, and people got angry.

But at a recent community meeting, it all came together for me - even though we did run over time, did interrupt each other, and some of us got angry (including me).  The proposal on the non-existent table was whether or not we would continue having a permaculture course at Pacific Gardens.  It was about the third time it had been brought to the group, with no resolution, and the Garden Committee folks were getting frustrated with all the delays.

When the discussion began, it was all about money.  It was costing us too much in terms of our time and effort, and we weren't getting enough in return from the organizers of the course.  But as the meeting went on, and our extremely skilled facilitator, Kara, summarized what people were saying, it became clear that it wasn't about the money.

It was about our feelings, and interestingly, those on both sides of the issue had the same concern - that they weren't being respected. The chair of the Garden Committee didn't feel we understood why it was so vital to have the permaculture course here. As someone who was passionate about ensuring food security for our community in the future, he believed it was essential to gain the expertise and advice given to us during the permaculture course.

For those feeling reluctant to have the course here again, the issue was having our boundaries and needs respected. There were too many limits on when we could use the dining-hall and kitchen, the guest rooms, and when the children could play in the atrium, too many strangers on the property, and too much work.

In the end, we didn't come to a resolution - but we did come to a greater understanding of who we are, what we want and need, and how to talk about contentious issues in a way that is respectful and caring.

It was all worth it.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How To Be A Successful Cohouser

I’ve been reading Kathryn’s posts on our life here at Pacific Gardens and am finding them really interesting! It made me think about what makes a successful cohouser, and so, removing my “rose-coloured glasses", this is what I have noticed.

Usually the only people who don't fit in have totally unrealistic expectations, and can’t cope with reality. We are just people....and people come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, with various opinions and personalities. Throw in youngsters with exuberance, and we have a real mix of what it is like to be in a community. People who are completely stuck in their ways and how everyone else should be, get stressed when we use consensus, and not the "loudest voice wins!!".

Compromise, flexibility, compassionate communication, understanding other points of view, and co-operation go a long way to make life enjoyable for yourself and others. If this fits for you, I think you will thrive in cohousing.

Not everyone here has let go of "being right", but it sure helps to do so, if you want to make friends and reduce conflict. The dynamics of our life at Pacific Gardens change with each new resident. That is the joy and the challenge of living in community. Remember that it is a "personal growth opportunity!!"


P.S. Here is a picture of me taking part in a permaculture course at Pacific Gardens.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The rock-polisher effect, part II

Earlier in this blog I talked about the rock-polisher effect of cohousing, and how it had helped me become a better person, by making me more patient.  Well, to be honest, saying it's made me more patient is somewhat of an exaggeration.  In fact, I think a truer representation would be to say it's made me a bit more patient, or even a teensy bit more patient.

You see, patience doesn't come easily to me.  First off, I've spent most of my life working in media, so deadlines are of critical importance to me.  Second, I am what you could call a hot reactor - in fact, my father  dubbed me "the atomic-powered mosquito" when I was a child.

I really do try to sit still and listen during our community meetings as we go through the consensus process, and I have been to communication workshops where once again, I am told the importance of listening.

But I don't know what happens - I hear something and before I know it, I am responding without the frontal lobes of my brain even realizing it.  And watching me try to sit still and listen when someone says something I disagree with is interesting. Our next-door neighbour, Ian Gartshore, who has witnessed this during Green Party meetings, says it's like seeing the human equivalent of a cell-phone on vibrate.

At least now I don't catapult myself out of my chair, and I have been known to wait at least a few minutes before I express my point of view rather energetically, and it takes only a few attempts by other people in the meeting to get me to stop interrupting.

Maybe when I'm older (I'm now of pensionable age) I'll master this.  In the meantime, this rock still needs some patient polishing.


(Here I am a meeting - the second from the right - being patient.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

That's why I'm here

Yikes!  It's been almost a week since I last posted.  It's been too least that's my excuse. Today we're supposed to have a thunder-storm - a rare event on Vancouver Island - and it's not the first. The weather's been crazy everywhere.  Climate change is happening, and what we're seeing this summer is only the beginning.

It was my concern about climate change that was the major deciding factor when I joined the group that was developing Pacific Gardens.  If I was going to be living in a world shaken by the effects of a changing climate, I wanted to be in a caring, supportive community, where we looked out for each other.

Most importantly, I wanted to be with people who had the imagination and wherewithal to look at different ways of living - growing our own food, recycling, bicycling, walking and car-pooling to places, sharing resources, reducing consumption, making our own entertainment and fun, networking with others to build on what we have.

I haven't been disappointed. Yes, we have struggles and conflicts, just like any other group of people, but because we share a common vision of a better world, we try to solve them. And as I look out my living-room window at the multitude of beautiful flowers and fruits and vegetables growing in people's gardens, watch the myriad butterflies and the birds, and hear the children playing, Pacific Gardens seems like an oasis of tranquility in this troubled old world.

And that's why I'm here.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The rock-polisher effect

Sometimes it's hard to explain to people why I chose to live in cohousing.  It isn't always easy; in fact, sometimes it's downright challenging. I guess the best answer I can give is that I like living here because it makes me a better person.

Diana Leafe Christian, cohousing guru and author, has described it as the rock-polisher effect. By tumbling up against each other as we struggle to live in community, we round off our sharp edges, become brighter, more beautiful.

For me, I've learned how to be more patient with myself and others, more accepting of differences. Understanding others takes time, and that's good. It's also given me the courage to live according to my beliefs, knowing that there are others who will join me along the way. And that is a great gift, worth all the challenges.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Where neighbours become friends

There are times when I think that living in cohousing is too much - too many meetings, too many tasks, too much argy-bargy.

And then I experience what I did in the last two days.  I had to go to hospital for a diagnostic test today, and sent out an e-mail for someone to drive me there and back. I immediately had offers of help from two people.

Then, I had problems with a lock, sent out another e-mail asking for help, and within five minutes one of my neighbours showed up and fixed it in a nanosecond.

And finally, this afternoon, when I came back from the hospital, a neighbour showed up at my door with a gift of a scrumptious cinnamon bun - apologizing that it didn't have any icing!

Now, I don't want to give the impression that cohousing is all about what you can get from others.  It's also about what you can give. And this culture of giving is contagious - when you see your neighbours helping each other out, you feel motivated to do the same.  And that builds connections and trust.

So, despite having to endure a rather unpleasant medical test, I am feeling really good this afternoon, thanks to my wonderful, caring neighbours here at Pacific Gardens!


Monday, July 2, 2012

My first cohousing blog ever!

I admit I am not always au courant with the latest in online developments. I only got into Facebook and Twitter when I was (briefly) a Green Party candidate.  I have to say, though, that I am finding them a wonderful tool for connecting like-minded people, and, with Twitter, making pithy comments.

Blogging is different, however.  I've kept a journal for many years, recording my innermost thoughts and dreams, but this is much more public, a cross between a newspaper story and a personal account. Blogging about cohousing, and particularly, life at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, will be interesting, so watch this space!