No longer a housie but still in it together

For the first time in a couple of years, I climbed the steps to the Friends House not as a resident but as a guy with no way in.  

I had to remind myself not to use the special doorbell code for housies who’ve forgotten their key. Instead, I pressed the bell once and waited, much as any passerby might.

The greeting I got from Ben was a boisterous reminder that, at least among my former housemates, I’m no stranger.

IMG_0349The visit got me thinking about what I share with the 32 people previously known as strangers with whom I did dish crew, shoveled snow, painted a bathroom, installed a lightswitch, scrubbed toilets, washed windows, sat in silence and passed the talking rock between June 2013 and August 2015.

Stepping into the office, Ben pointed me to a bin of mail the Post Office had failed to forward. I glanced at the mailboxes of the 21 current residents and noticed a couple of new names above our old slots

Heading downstairs to the kitchen, I ran into Billy, who’d made such an impression on Leila, our two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, that she was convinced he’d be joining us in our new apartment in Brookline. Encountering a friendly face I didn’t recognize, I figured it must be John, who moved in by virtue of us moving out. He lives now in our old room on the third floor.   Continue reading

The Road Goes On…

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Clicking on this Google Map will give you a better view of where our new place is vis-a-vis BHFH, just a bit over three miles west along Beacon Street.

I’ve never been a big fan of transitions. I hate that feeling of being torn between the sadness of leaving one thing and the excitement of the new adventure. Bill and I have decided to move into an apartment across the hall from our daughter, Kate, her husband, Marton, and our grandchildren, Leila and Mateo. Not immediately, but by early August. As exciting and happy as that is, it also means leaving our community at Beacon Hill Friends House.

Over the past two years this community has been the welcoming home where we transitioned into the next phase of our lives. We’ve had the luxury of good friends and interesting souls with whom to share our lives. We’ve had none of the worries of keeping up our own place or shopping for groceries. Dinner was provided five nights a week.  Continue reading

On the ways we might live next

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A group of friends clustered tiny houses together in Texas. (screengrab: lightersideofrealestate.com)

Coming up on two years at BHFH (it turned out that ayearinaroom wasn’t enough), we’ve applied for what’s known as “third year residency.”

The house puts a limit on how long residents can live here. At the outset, you’re admitted for two years. Staying longer requires an application making the case that you’ve been a reasonably reliable contributor to house life and that you’ll continue in that vein in the year ahead. A similar process is available for a fourth year, but that’s the limit.

In the two years we’ve been here, the house has welcomed 16 new residents. Four of them have left for one reason or another. Of our 19 current housemates, we’ve been here longer than 12.

As much as we’ve occasionally wished for a longer tenure, I think the residency limits make sense. Living in this sort of community can be a transformative experience, especially if it’s carried forward into something new. And there’s something about getting to know a new resident every six or seven weeks that makes life at BHFH even more interesting.

We’ve considered a number of options for life after BHFH. Continue reading

Pet peeves of community life: Flip side of the upside

At a recent house meeting (we hold them twice a month at BHFH), everyone was invited to write a couple of pet peeves about living in the house and place them in a basket.

Some of the beefs that made their way into the discussion:

  • Overloaded dishracks
  • Crumbs around the toaster
  • Interrupted conversations
  • Lights left on in empty common rooms

Sound like any household you may have been part of at some point?

roomOne of mine : “More a puzzle than a peeve — how to raise questions or issues with staff without feeling like walking on egg shells.”

One of Carol’s: “When people bring a lot of negativity or irritability into public spaces.”

In some ways, it’s strange that I’d be annoyed by the staff issue. I’ve felt from the start of our time here that one of the best things about BHFH — differentiating it from most coop living situations — is the work of staff who are paid to serve and lead a community they’re also part of. Continue reading

Responsibility – to whom about what?

It’s snowing again in Boston. We seem to have a big storm every week and no warm weather in between for the snow to melt. So, you might wonder, why would I cancel a scheduled trip to Florida for a conference in the middle of it?  blizzard1

It was a hard decision for me. I grew up in a family where responsibility was the main virtue stressed. That notion was strongly reinforced by Catholic education in the 1950s. Doing what I say I’m going to do, doing what I’m supposed to do, living up to my responsibilities were primary. Hence, canceling a commitment goes against the grain.

In many ways, it’s a virtue that’s helped me in uncountable ways. It helped with parenting. It gave me a good work ethic and let me plow ahead through graduate school despite multiple difficulties.

It’s only as I’ve aged that I’ve seen it as a liability as well as an asset. Growing up, I don’t remember any discussion of these questions: To whom am I responsible? For what? How does that responsibility change over a lifetime? And how do I sort conflicting responsibilities? The answers to those questions make all the difference in whether responsibility works for good or ill. Continue reading

On the benefits of a Saturday in community

I have no idea what I was thinking when I decided to update our eight year-old iMac to the Yosemite operating system. Midway through the install, the screen went blank and there appeared to be nobody at all home — and no apparent way to ring the door bell.

imac 2Googling the problem showed many others had suffered the same fate, without any clear path to recovery. I really needed that machine in prepping for the teaching I’m doing this week in Vienna, but didn’t have the time to haul it down Boylston to the Apple store.

And then I spotted Sumner, a former housie, sitting in the kitchen. Sumner is a programmer who continues helping his former housemates in all sorts of ways — honchoing our workdays, tweaking our new high speed wireless and more. So much so that I was reluctant to impose on him for volunteer tech support on a Saturday morning.

“No problem,” he said when I went ahead and asked anyway. With his phone he discovered a possible solution that had eluded me. “But hold down your hopes,” he cautioned as I headed upstairs muttering Hail Marys and hoping, despite his cautions, that the old beast might somehow come back from the dead.  Continue reading

On losing it in front of friends

1993 Photo of Evelyn Mitchell by Anne Peters

1993 Photo of Evelyn Mitchell by Anne Peters

I’ve written previously about Talking Rock, the device we use at house meetings to share what’s going on in our lives. Whoever happens to be sitting closest to the rock (it lives on the fireplace mantel in the library) grabs it and spends a couple of minutes updating the 20 other housemates.

The revelations range from matter of fact to life and death. As much as I’m getting more comfortable with the exercise, I still struggle to get beyond the nuts and bolts of daily life and share at the level of my braver housemates.

A show and tell/talent show at a recent house retreat seemed like a good opportunity to go deeper, especially since lack of musical or related talent had me leaning toward the show and tell option for the session.

So a few minutes before the group gathered in the parlor, I grabbed the photograph of my Mom, Evelyn, from our room. I began framing the story I wanted to tell about this eldest daughter who gave birth to me just a few miles from where we live now on Beacon Hill. Continue reading