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

Books – My Friends or My Addiction

I sometimes wonder if my love of books could be an addiction of sorts. I can get high just walking into a bookstore. When we downsized from a four bedroom house to a room in this community, books were among the most difficult things for me to let go of – and I did let go of boxes of them. Despite this, books are the major clutter in our room now.

pile of booksI once met a person who claimed to have read ninety per cent of the books she owned. I never imagined such a thing was possible. I don’t think I’ve read more than 50% of the books I own, but that doesn’t stop me from acquiring more. The Kindle app is not my friend when it comes to this. The ability to download books that don’t take up room on the shelf is sometimes too great a temptation to resist.

And yet, when I think of the experiences books and reading have led me into, I don’t really want to put a negative label on my love of them. As a shy child in an alcoholic family, trips to the library were pure joy. The only cloud was that I couldn’t check out more books than I could carry. Books let me imagine different worlds than the one in which I lived. Continue reading

Chocolate chip pancakes and the role of shared stewardship in community life

By the time I made it down to the kitchen, the place was packed. Housies, housie family members and overnight guests were all in motion — cooking, cleaning, eating, talking around a table strewn with two newspapers and all the makings of a holiday weekend breakfast. It felt a lot like the ones we’ve enjoyed over the years with family.

But there was a difference. Although I spotted Carol cranking up the blender at the far end of the room, I was related to none of the dozen or so others in the room. This was not a family gathering, but it reflected a dimension of relationship we’re finding increasingly essential to our lives.

That's Danny on the left

That’s Danny on the left

Presiding at the big six-burner gas stove was Danny, at 21 the youngest of BHFH’s 21 residents and one of its more accomplished cooks. The way I began the day with his chocolate chip pancakes — cooked up for everyone in the room — re-enforced an idea I’ve been noodling a lot in recent days.

There is something about the shared experience and stewardship of community life that enriches — and eases — day-to-day life in ways I hadn’t imagined. It’s not that this sort of community is without its challenges, so don’t mistake my enthusiasm for a blanket endorsement of life at BHFH. Continue reading

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

Making friends with chores: Never too old to learn

Neither Bill nor I grew up in households where we shouldered especially demanding chores. Bill cut the lawn and took out the trash, but his mother once confided that she did me no favor by laundering, ironing and putting away his clothes for him.  In my family we were just expected to help out with whatever was needed. That might mean working in the garden, setting and clearing the table, or odd jobs.  And the easiest way was considered the best. This looseness around chores led to some interesting consequences early in our marriage. We often had a messy house. The first time I washed Bill’s shirts I put any that weren’t permanent press in a laundry bag to iron later. Several years and a couple of moves later we finally threw out the untouched laundry bag.

We carried our family of origin patterns over into our child-rearing. We tended to clean what we needed to when it seemed to need it rather than on a regular basis. Our kids helped out with things, but didn’t have regular chores. We more or less got the job done, but in a fairly undisciplined and sometimes untimely fashion. At some point when we could afford it we paid people to do the heavier duty cleaning of our house.

So, living in a house where we all have regular chores that need to be done at specific times has been a new and interesting experience. We IMG_2639have a chore for five weeks at a time and then switch. This cycle I sweep the kitchen courtyard on Wednesdays and the St. Francis courtyard on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Because this is falling leaf season, I also put out the yard waste I’ve swept up for curbside pickup on Thursday evening. Continue reading

What makes a home

Coming back from our last trip, I realized how much Beacon Hill Friends House had become home. I began wondering what it is that makes a place a home. I imagine it’s different for everybody.

For me, the physical attributes for a place to be home are minimal: good light, a comfortable place to sit, books (of course!), a few cherished things and easy access to outdoors. It helps if the place is relatively neat, but that doesn’t always happen with us.


The physical environment is the least of it for me. Primarily it’s about the people. First, I’d have to say, home is where Bill is. We’ve been married twice as long as we lived before marriage. Home is where we sheltered children and aging parents. But, we sheltered them more with ourselves than with a specific physical environment.

Home is a place where it’s ok to be who and how you are. Not long after returning from a trip I was sitting in the kitchen writing while one housemate made dinner and various people wandered through. I could have gotten more done in the quiet of the library. But, I woke up really crabby that day – jet-lagged and discouraged by the clutter in our room. Continue reading