Speaking of stuff: George Carlin said it well

Thanks to Ellen Hume for referring us to this great bit by George Carlin: “Stuff.”

The comments by Ellen (on Facebook) and others (attached to Carol’s post — Taming the Acquisition Monster) have me thinking about the important role of comments in this journey of ours into the downsized life. I’ll explore that topic in a subsequent post.

But Carlin’s sketch is too good not to share immediately. It’s worth a five-minute Friday afternoon break,  even if you watched way back when Carlin first performed it nearly 30 years ago. Carlin died in 2008.

Appreciating community where we find it

Regular readers may have noticed the diminished frequency of our posts.

As Carol noted (in her most recent post): “I have a confession to make: We’re not really spending a year in a room. In the eight months we’ve lived at Beacon Hill Friends House we’ve travelled extensively both for work and for pleasure.”

And unlike more accomplished bloggers, we’ve not yet mastered the skill of sustaining a regular pace of publishing while we’re on the road.

One thing we are learning: How to appreciate community where we find it. Some of those places: On the road for three weeks in Vietnam with a band of 14 fellow travelers who quickly became friends; at Bamboo, a co-working space in downtown Detroit that Kirk Cheyfitz and Ellen Jacob and I have adopted as an office-away-from home; at our new parish, the Paulist Center across from Boston Common.

viet fotoThe Vietnam trip, organized by old friends Hoa & Tom Fox, got me enthused about a style of travel that has been around for a while but that I’d not experienced: A group assembled around common interests in addition to curiosity about the destination. In this case, the Foxes gathered friends of the National Catholic Reporter, the liberal weekly Tom led for more than 30 years. Together, they guided us through Vietnam, where Hoa met Tom and where they lived before moving to Detroit (and meeting us) in 1972. Despite age gaps — in some cases, they spanned half a century — the group found a pace and a purpose that seemed to work for all concerned.

An insight-in-retrospect: What I found especially interesting was placing myself in the shoes of fellow travelers with the idea of seeing things differently than was possible on my own. Continue reading

Why good enough is just right

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screengrab: nytimes.com

You know how certain words seem to sum up where you are at any given point in life?

Our lives have tended to swing between a couple: adventure and stability.

Our life at Beacon Hill Friends House feels like an unusual balance of the two, prompting a new word: Enough.

Not only enough adventure and enough stability, but enough of most of the elements that go into each: enough new, enough familiar; enough fun, enough work; enough easy, enough hard.

Not that we’ve got it all worked out. This week finds us still wrestling with a question Carol posed  in this space a few months ago: Keep or sell the car? Continue reading

Welcome to NPR/WBUR.org visitors

We appreciate your interest in life at Beacon Hill Friends House. We’ll have a
Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 12.58.34 PMnew post coming soon. If you’d like to get an alert when it’s published, just click the FOLLOW icon at bottom right.

For those of you who are visiting via another route today, here’s the link from NPR’s Facebook page that’s sending so many visitors to A Year in a Room.

A glimpse of what might await us next

Six months into our time at BHFH, we’re enjoying life in the house so much that it’s hard to imagine moving elsewhere. But all residents are term-limited at a max of four years and there’s always a possibility that our stay could be shorter.

So we’ve kept one eye on what might be next, a perspective informed the other night by something called a Coop Crawl — sort of like a pub crawl except that you visit coop housing sites instead of saloons.

Since most of you are probably as new to the world of coop communities as we are, here’s a basic primer on the three categories we’ve become familiar with:

  • Collections of like-minded people forming households that typically share space, food and decision-making — and sometimes politics and worldview, too.
  • More formal set-ups (like BHFH) guided by specific expectations of conduct and collaboration
  • Hybrid arrangements (like co-housing, discussed below) that include more private space and ownership than that offered by coops
Dave Goodman at JP Co-housing

Dave Goodman in the common kitchen at JP Co-housing

Common to all three is a commitment to “intentional community,” an approach to daily life that demands and values getting up close and personal with people outside your family.

As one of our Crawl hosts, David Goodman, said the other night, “It’s not for everybody.” David lives at Jamaica Plain Co-housing and noted that one of his relatives puts it this way: “I love co-housing except for the ‘co’ part.” Continue reading

Sick (but home) for the holidays

If you’re anything like me, there’s one place you want to be when you’re sick. And that’s home, which is also the place I want to be for the holidays.

Carol and I experienced both during last week’s combined holidays of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. We’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say we gained a new understanding of the shared-bathroom-down-the-hall (SBDTH) part of our lives at Beacon Hill Friends House. We recognize our fortune at dealing with minor illness that came and went in a matter of days. As brief and non-threatening as it was, it showed us some things.

Thanksgiving morning in BHFH kitchen

Thanksgiving morning in the BHFH kitchen

The bug hit Carol about 24 hours before it snagged me, a staggered staging that rendered our circumstances more workable than they might have been. By the time things subsided over the weekend, I was covering the dozen steps from bedside to SBDTH in seven seconds flat — an urgent journey that would not have accommodated dual racers in the hall.

Apart from the challenging logistics, I’d wondered what it might be like to be ill in the house. I’ve always hated getting sick on the road, away from the familiar accoutrements that can help ease the disruption, if not the discomfort, of digestive revolution. Continue reading

A light in the tunnel: Workday at the House

One of the most frequent questions we get about life at Beacon Hill Friends House is: Who does all the work? A few of the answers: The house has a paid staff of three: director, kitchen manager and residency manager. You just heard from Carol about the system of resident chore and dish crew obligations. The third piece is a command performance that happens twice a year: Workday.

light in tunntel

Designed as a way of getting the house in shape for approaching seasons, Workday requires the participation of all residents to install or remove storm windows, stash or put out the deck’s warm weather furniture and otherwise prepare this 200 year-old edifice for another Boston winter or summer.

But Workday is also the time for home improvements that will serve the house all year long. Among the more ambitious projects last Saturday: the first stage of creating a bike shed in the courtyard outside the kitchen. This involved hauling many wheelbarrows full of gravel from a pick-up truck out front through the narrow tunnel (pictured at left) to the courtyard. Team Earthworm extended a raised area at the end of the courtyard that will serve as a foundation for the shed when we build it in the spring. All of which will eliminate the need to haul bikes up and down the steep stone steps to the cellar. Continue reading

Scoping the hard work ahead on unity amid difference

In the wake of the Marathon bombings six months ago, I wondered what it would take for the popular sentiment of “we are all one Boston” to take root in reality.

We got part of the answer Wednesday night, as the third strike thrown by Koji Uehara threw the region into a virtual chorus of Big Papi’s “This is our bleeping city!”

Photo by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

Photo by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

It certainly threw the TV room at Beacon Hill Friends House into that mindset, with more than half the room making its way to the streets of Boston despite the midnight hour. The roar of the crowd drew me to Parkman Bandstand, where police officers on bicycles (and suited up in reflector jackets rather than riot gear) posed for photos with the crowd they were assigned to control. As one of the officers mentioned to a tipsy reveler who, at least by appearance, had nothing in common with the cop, “We’re all Sox fans tonight.”

Even the worst reported incident of vandalism, the destruction of a car on Boylston Street, ended well with a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover the owner’s insurance deductibles.

My walk in the park concluded a big day for me. It was my 65th birthday, and included another walk, this one with Carol to Faneuil Hall in hopes of getting a glimpse of President Obama. In town to defend his health care plan and apologize for its ragged online launch, the president’s appearance provided an excellent platform to consider the challenge of unity amid difference. Continue reading

100 Days: What’s working, what’s not, what’s changing

Several months into our year in this room, it’s time for a check-in. There’s no probationary period for new residents at Beacon Hill Friends House (no cracks, please, about how lucky that is for us).  But the time seems right to ask how it’s going.

There’s nothing like returning from a trip to provide a snapshot of how you’re feeling about the place you’re returning to. And our return from Vienna earlier this week prompted at least a couple of feelings about life at BHFH.

Walking into the kitchen, I found Kevin and his girlfriend, Christina, cooking up a storm. Several housies were hanging out around the table with the Sunday papers spread out before them. I got hugged and welcomed in ways that made me feel like belting out the theme song from Cheers, “Where everybody knows your name.”

washerHeading for our room, I passed through the laundry room and was confronted with a clever but disturbing creation decorating the washer. The alert that this critical appliance was “eating quarters” instead of washing clothes was not the best news for someone with a week’s worth of dirty laundry.

Appliances broke when we lived on our own, of course. The good news about broken appliances at BHFH: Arranging the repair is someone else’s responsibility. The bad news? Arranging the repair is someone else’s responsibility. Continue reading

How travel opens windows on the ways we live

Living in a 16 by 18 foot room is easier if you have the means to travel.

Susan Ager reminded me of that with a comment to a Facebook update I posted last week about connecting in Vienna with a friend from Boston.

Susan’s right, of course, and not just about the fun and freedom attached to hightailin’ it out of the country now and then.

It’s also about getting a glimpse of how differently people relate to their stuff, their space and the people around them.

One of my first eye-openers on this front came more than 30 years ago. Continue reading