Sunday, June 30, 2013

Doing the Dirty Work in a Cohousing Community

Sometimes there's just no way you can avoid doing the dirty work in a cohousing community, and Pacific Gardens sure needed it.

Weeds were taking over the gardens.  The compost bin was over-flowing.  Crayon and pencil marks decorated the walls.

Windows had a patina of grunge.  The new equipment for the playground had remained un-asembled for too long.

The window-sills needed dusting, the pot-holes in the driveway filling, and the dryer vents in the common laundry vacuuming.

Augggh!  It's bad enough having to do the housework in your own place, let alone in the Common House.

So how do you get people to do this stuff?  Well, it ain't easy.  We have tried several strategies in the almost four years we've been living here.

We drew up a Community Contribution list with all the chores on it, and the name of the person to contact if you were interested in tackling one.

Hmm. Not too many takers with that approach.

So, then we decided to have a Community Contribution System Team, whose members would gently - but firmly - encourage people to do their fair share.

Alas, no-one wanted to be a cohousing enforcer.

And then Kari came to the rescue.  She sent out an e-mail saying we were having a work-bee this weekend, and put up notices.

She asked for volunteers to provide snacks and drinks, as well as child-care. A list for what needed to be done both inside and outside appeared.

And here's the amazing thing.  With just two days' notice, on the first really sunny day of the summer, and a long weekend, people  turned out.

Not a whole lot, but the ones who did worked very hard, and the building and the grounds look fabulous. The day ended with a terrific potluck.

Not all the chores got done, of course - the crayon marks are still there, and some of the tasks requiring heavy lifting need a champion.

But the community - from age four-and-a-half to 81 - pulled together and gave our beautiful home some long-needed tender loving care. Wow!

It's another reason why I love living here.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fun and Games at Pacific Gardens!

We had our first-ever Pacific Gardens Olympics last weekend, and what an event it was!

We started with a games night in the dining-room Friday night, since the rain prevented us from having a bonfire outside. But we still had lots of fun.

Myriam and Trey taught Ron and myself the intricacies of Catan, which I can only describe as a game of Capitalism Lite.

Despite my total confusion about the rules, I managed to become a road-builder and developer, but Trey and Ron really impressed with their canny entrepreneurship.

Then we joined the grown-ups for a game of Battle of the Sexes.  The women absolutely trounced the men - although it was a bit rigged, as there were five of us to three of them.

Saturday the rain stopped (sort of), and the sun came out (almost), and we had the intergenerational games outside.  I'll let the pictures tell the story.

Myriam leads the way!

Eggs-acting throws by Trey and Joel!

Don't spill that water! 

Great bowling form by Anna!

A victory for the team!

And there were loads of tasty treats provided - including liqueurs for the exhausted adults afterwards!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strange and beautiful ideas about cohousing

Trying to explain what cohousing is can be difficult at times.  People have some of the strangest ideas about our cohousing home!

They can't figure out if it's a co-op, a commune, or a condo. But Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community has elements of these and more.

Most often folks assume it's a co-op, and no matter how many times we correct them, they still call it that. But we own our units, not rent them.

We are an intentional community, though, like a co-op, and we manage our own affairs, just like co-ops do, with a board and committees to run things, and meetings where residents make decisions.

Often people think cohousing is like a 1960s-style commune, with hippie residents who wear tie-dyed shirts and birkenstocks, eat crunchy granola, and grow B.C. bud in the backyard.

We do share common space, like our dining-room, music room, and exercise room, but we grow fruits and veggies in our organic gardens, like the strawberries Mykl picked today!

The residents certainly can't be stereotyped.  We have nurses, students, a yoga instructor, a former ESL teacher, a retired naval officer, a meteorologist, and a chef, to name a few.

I like to explain to people that we live in a condo, but cohousing is the concept that guides our physical design and the way we choose to live here.

That means the focus is on social interaction. We each have our own kitchens - but they have windows that face out to the inner atrium, so we can see our neighbours.

We cook our own meals, but we like to share them with the rest of the community in our weekly dinner potlucks and our popular weekend brunches.

Most of us have our own television sets, but we like to gather in the dining-room once in a while to watch a movie with our neighbours, or have a games night with both kids and adults.

The reason those of us who pioneered this cohousing development wanted to have a place like Pacific Gardens is because we wanted to know our neighbours.

So, we do have our privacy, but not to the point where we are socially isolated, surrounded by people we don't know and have never met, as so many are today.

To us, living apart from others is the really strange idea!


Friday, June 21, 2013

These days, I am feeling really overwhelmed with community love for my Pacific Gardens Community.

It’s just been a great and crazy week.

Some craziness here made me decide (after months of thinking about it) to step down from my role as chair of the Happy Kids Committee. The circumstances are not really something worth repeating but I was very pleased by the number of people who wanted to use it as a learning opportunity about what went wrong and why and how other committees can be better supported in the future.

It is so inspiring to me that a community will acknowledge that something isn’t working and work to fix it.

I am also having a great week Community wise.

I had a little cocktail party to celebrate my newly dressed balcony last Saturday. We listened to a nice mix on Songza and chatted by the light of the lanterns until midnight.

A friend dropped by a big bag of salad from her garden for me yesterday.

On Tuesday I shared pre-dinner cocktails with some lovely ladies on the back patio.

And last night we had a birthday potluck. My kids were the only kids who attended this week and they loved being able to be the helpers who wheeled out the Birthday cakes.

Then after pot luck (and the clean up) five of us snuggled in for a movie night on the Dining Hall couches.

And now I am planning for the Olympics this weekend as a Community building activity that also doubles as a celebration of the first day of Summer. Happy Litha everyone!

Tonight was supposed to be our opening ceremonies aka. our Bon Fire. But we are pretty rained out right now so I am turning it into a community game night instead.

I was sick on Wednesday and lost a whole day of prepping and am now scrambling a bit to accumulate the articles needed for the weekend, but it’s all good because I am happy and excited.
I hope we get a good turn out and some sushine!


Strawberry patch.

The gardens here are fantastic.

I am not going to say that here is no work involved in growing food on the island but I can say that with longer growing seasons and plenty of rain and sunshine that the bulk of it is done for itself.

This is my strawberry patch:



Right now I am getting two bowls like this every couple of days. Time to can some syrups and jams.



Friday, June 14, 2013

Music of the Spheres at Pacific Gardens

Philosophers from ancient times used to believe that there was something called the Music of the Spheres - a unique musical hum emitted by the Sun, Moon and planets.

Sometimes I think Pacific Gardens has its own music of the spheres, made up of all the musical offerings in our building's history to create a multi-layered fabric of sound.

There are so many examples.  Last week I was walking through the dining-room and there was Matt playing his guitar in one of the most amazing jazz renditions of "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" I've ever heard.

I've heard David Li's rich, warm baritone as he sings Happy Birthday in Mandarin, followed by Mia's enthusiastic and slightly off-key version in Dutch, and Mykl's romantic rendition sung to Laura on her birthday.

Gerry plays the drums, David Weston the harp, violin and guitar.  I have fond memories of Krissy who taught Braeden piano lessons and played jazz piano in swinging Diana Krall-style.

Then there's all the musical events we've had in our dining-room.  Dennis Lakusta's fabulous house concert, Paul and Jess's irresistably-danceable acoustic rock, and the group of Nanaimo folk musicians who jammed here on a regular basis.

And the singers - it's almost a given that if you live at Pacific Gardens, there's someone in a choir, performing in a concert or heading off to a hootenanny or a choral practice.

We have people in Everybody Sings, the Malaspina Choir, Nanaimo Sings!, the Island Soul Choir, the Vancouver Island Symphonic Chorus, the Nanaimo Folk Connection, church choirs, you name it.

And there's the hum of music from everyone's own CD collection, which you can hear as you walk by people's units or from the CD player in the dining-room that's almost always on.

For a music-lover like myself, this is another reason why I love living here!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cleaning bees and breakfast potlucks

This is a bit dated but...I wanted to share it anyways.

Our community puts on these little potluck breakfasts seasonally (if they happen more frequently than that, I am oblivious to it).

It’s a nice change to the evening potlucks. The energy is so different at these. Quiet, calm, relaxed.

After the potluck they host a cleaning bee. And this time they had planned a soup and muffin lunch afterwards as well. It was delicious soup and John made bread with local wheat that he had freshly ground.

Sometimes I wonder about making time for these cleaning bees. God knows I have a hard enough time keeping my own house clean. It seems silly to go wash windows in community when there is a pile of dishes on my counter. And my weekends are short enough already and that means I have to get up early enough to come up with something to make to bring and … insert more excuses in here…

But, the experience is really worth it.

It gives my kids the chance to give back and also to get to know their neighbours in a more productive way. Anna has been helping Kari all morning and even hours later she won’t leave her side.

It’s a fun way to contribute and to build relationships.

I am making a conscious effort to not sit at the kids’ table at the regular potlucks. It is so nice to spend time with the other adults.

Mia has started a Friday afternoon tea. They are really low key and quiet but it’s been a nice way to round off a work week.

I am glad to see that people are putting more effort into community building.


Community Sharing

There are many people here with wonderful gifts. Some share their gift of celebration with us, others their gift of growing food. Some share their gift of relaxation with us. Others their gift of music and song. Some share their tools and time. Others their love and affection.

It’s wonderful to walk down the atrium and hear Mia’s music playing in the dining hall.

Or Mykl playing his guitar.

Or to pick herbs and kale from the community gardens.

And when I needed to boost my car, to borrow a neighbour’s car to boost mine.

Earlier this month we talked about giving up our car and adopting a car-free lifestyle. Aside from being good for the environment, it would have also been good for the budget and waistline.

I put out an email to select members of the community and asked them for support in this idea. And we were overwhelmed by the response. Three people offered us their vehicles to use. Even frequently.

As a family we do sort of need a car though. There are appointments at the hospital for Trey and there are unexpected trips to the school to drop off a blood glucose monitor. And there are dentist appointments and big grocery shops and then road trips or drive to go hiking or swimming.

When we added up the many things that we wouldn’t actually bother doing if we had to cycle or borrow vehicles we realized how naive we had been. So, at the end of it all we decided that we would keep our car. But we were so grateful for those people who offered to lend us their vehicles so generously.




Friday, June 7, 2013

Party Central at Pacific Gardens!

Maybe it's because of spring, but people at Pacific Gardens have been partying hearty this last month, and it shows no sign of stopping!

First was the Green Party party May 5th with munchies and great dance music provided by a local  acoustic rock duo, Paul and Jess.

Next was the birthday party Tara threw for herself the last weekend in May, with all kinds of good food, a bonfire and general merry-making.

This was followed by Susana's birthday party two nights ago, which featured the same great band, Sharon's super-delicious, gluten-free cake (yes, there is such a thing!) and even more food.

Having a dance band made it extra-special for Susana, who loves to kick up her heels on the dance floor.  As she says, "It is hard to dance and have a sad face!"

But the best is yet to come. Two weeks from now we will have our very own PG Olympics, with a bonfire Friday night, a potluck breakfast the morning after, and a day of races and fun.

Here is the beautiful poster that Myriam designed for it:

We end the month with a Magic The Gathering party for Trey, where we will commemorate his arrival on this plane eight years ago, and feast on cake!

Trey's talented Mom, Myriam, designed another fabulous poster for this event:

Myriam is the creative force behind these last two events.

This is why I love Pacific Gardens!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Beautiful Life

Today I was going to write about the way of the circle, but it has been such a lovely day here at Pacific Gardens that I wanted to celebrate its perfection.

It's been raining off and on for the last few weeks, and yes, I know on Vancouver Island's wet coast, that is to be expected, but not in May, and not for the whole month!

But now it's June, and today was absolutely exquisite. Clear skies, with a balmy breeze wafting the scents of flowers and trees through the air and carrying the sounds of the children playing in our gardens to my patio.

For the first time this year, I hung my laundry on my umbrella clothes dryer, and the warm wind whirled the clothes around like flying flags so that they were dry in less than an hour, smelling of spring.

My neighbour Susana has been away on a special two-week holiday to celebrate her 60th birthday (there's going to be a big birthday bash for her this Wednesday), so she hasn't been able to tend her garden.

The flowers don't seem to mind the neglect.  In fact, they're thriving, growing in profusion, purple, yellow, white and orange, dancing in the breeze while my wind chimes sing all day.

I look out into the gardens and see our spring fashion parade of sun-hats, some floppy, some splendiferous, others bedecked with bandanas or a blossom made of felt, each as unique and quirky as the owner who wears them.

I find balls and badminton rackets and skipping ropes lost in the fast-growing grass, and in the distance I hear Kaj, ear-protectors firmly clamped on, tackling marauding plants with a weed-whacker.

After dinner I'll join the walking group on an hour-long jaunt around the neighbourhood, and we'll talk about cabbages and kings and whether pigs have wings - and maybe politics.

It's on days like this that I feel I have the most beautiful life ever, and like the speaker at the Sunday service I went to today, am determined to be a radical optimist, full of joy and hope for this flawed but wonderful world we live in.