Hospitality: When a house becomes a home

One of my big fears about moving to BHFH was that it would be harder for us to have people visit, hang out, feel at home. If Bill and I had a mission statement for our marriage, providing hospitality would be front and center. I hoped that people we love would feel comfortable hanging out here, but I didn’t know. I hoped that our housemates would be comfortable with our family and friends, but, again. I didn’t know. Not everyone appreciates having a rambunctious 21 month old or people they don’t know invading their space.

marton and leila asleep in library Mostly it’s worked out well. Clearly our son-in-law and granddaughter feel comfortable enough in our home to fall asleep in the library shared by all 21 residents. Leila loves to ride the elevator, play hide and seek around the dining room and explore all the different staircases. She has a place she prefers to sit at the dining room table and when we do a round of names (when we have guests at dinner) she usually pipes up with “LEILA!” Our house mates have been patient with her noise and our clear adoration of her. One of the big pluses for her is having a whole new set of aunts and uncles whose names she is gradually learning, sort of. Clarissa is known as Issa and Ryan is Iyan. Continue reading

Thanksgiving for a life well lived

Rev. Jerry Singer at the 50th anniversary of his ordination, June 2, 2013, Nativity Church, Detroit

Rev. Jerry Singer at the 50th anniversary of his ordination, June 2, 2013, Nativity Church, Detroit

This has been a sad few days. As we were leaving church Sunday morning, Bill checked his email and discovered that yet another friend had died. Jerry Singer was the pastor of our best ever church community. He was also a good friend.

Over the last several years I’ve lost my mother, my only two aunts, three cousins, three important mentors (now four) and several friends. While I understand that death is part of life and on one level am not afraid of it, I still finding it shocking. How can it be that this person who was so full of life is no longer there? Where did they go?

And maybe more important, what of them is left? What is their legacy? How might I help keep it alive and pass it on?

Living at BHFH, we’re focused on what it takes to build a strong and enjoyable community. I wish my fellow housies had had a chance to witness Jerry’s community building in action. He knew everyone in the parish by name. Whenever someone new showed up at Sunday Mass he greeted them before the service, asked their name and before Mass started introduced them to the community. Unlike many pastors, he shared power easily, often being guided by the congregation rather than imposing his own opinions.  Continue reading

Not your average alarm

Nothing quite like being jolted out of bed early in the morning by a fire alarm instead of my usual alarm. Especially in a big old house in a city where there have been numerous bad fires in big old houses. Once I was fully awake I was pretty sure it was a false alarm. We’ve had a few of those lately because something is out of kilter with our alarm system. Still, the idea of heading outside into the 20 degree weather in my pjs did not sound like fun.

But, as I ran into sleepy housemates in the hall something interesting happened. Annoyance turned into amusement. We all looked pretty funny. It was a false alarm. Sharing the irritating experience took some of the sting out of it. Pretty nice to have laughter instead of the whining I might have otherwise engaged in. One more plus of living in community.

House of love, school of love

Some residents of Beacon Hill Friends House call it the house of love. Sometimes when we’re feeling warmed by the care we show one another, it means just what it says. Other times, when tensions are high, it’s used sarcastically. For me, house of love means a commitment to enter a school of love whether life is warm and fuzzy or fingernails-on-a-blackboard. It’s all about learning how to keep expanding the circle to include more and more, learning to love whom and what is in front of me instead of wishing they were different.

In her book, My Accidental JihadKrista Bremer describes the development of her relationship with her husband, Ismail, a Libyan Muslim. She is honest about the ways their cultural differences grate. She reports him telling her that Mohammed once said that the most difficult jihad people must fight is within themselves – against intolerance and self-absorption.

stacked otherwiseThat’s what the house of love is all about: Learning how to let go of my intolerance and self-absorption. And there’s nothing like living in a diverse community to make me confront it. Take a small example. We have a dish sanitizer (called the Avenger). I believe the rack should be loaded logically, putting likes with likes so more will fit. I can become quite grumpy if things have been put in helter skelter and there’s no room for my dishes. I’ve even been known to reload it to make more things fit because my preferred way of doing it is most likely the right way. It took a long time before I could hear another housie’s concern that loading the sanitizer rack too densely might make it heavy enough to hurt someone’s back when they put it into the machine. Continue reading

Free for all: Condoms in a basket

Some of our friends and family enjoy describing our living situation at Beacon Hill Friends House as a hippie commune.  basket of condomsAnyone who’s spent any time at BHFH knows the reality of the place falls far short of a houseful of flower children.

Except last weekend, perhaps, if you paid a visit to the public restroom by the dining room during our annual barbecue for more than 100 friends of the house. There, displayed invitingly on a low table by the door, was a basket of condoms.

In our day, Carol and I were big believers in condoms. But never so much that we offered them up to visitors like so many tissues in a box or candies in a jar.

I realize that condoms are in many ways a healthier gift than jelly beans.  And that makes the community tension I’ll describe all the more interesting. Continue reading

Your room awaits you on Beacon Hill

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 11.49.32 AMAfter staying in Airbnb places in Detroit, Budapest and Vienna, it’s been interesting to experience the other, host end of the service. Beacon Hill Friends House has two guest rooms now listed on Airbnb, and the listing is generating lots of visitors.

Apart from occasional duty greeting a guest when our residency manager, Ben, is away from the house, encounters happen mostly in the kitchen. Breakfast is included in the cost of the stay. The breakfast table conversations are intriguing on several levels. Among them: the visitors’ stories of life from whence they’ve come, more often than not overseas. But it’s also fascinating to hear their reactions to the house, the neighborhood and — in the case of international visitors — the country. We’ve had recent visitors from Australia, Uruguay, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, Colombia, Pakistan and Austria. Continue reading

Gap Year for geezers

One advantage of reading a newspaper in print is the chance you’ll stumble into something good you never would have searched for online. Like Tom Farragher’s first-house piece in the Boston Globe’s revamped Sunday real estate section.

Telling the story of the Connecticut house where he and his wife, Joanie, learned to be husband and wifeTom got me thinking about Beacon Hill Friends House and what it’s teaching me.

In neither case is it just about the house. Continue reading