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

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

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

Engaging strangers at dinner: Not everyone’s cup of tea

house dinner 2I’ve learned a lot from the Myers-Briggs, especially when administered and explored by my favorite former clinical psychologist. As an ENFP, one of my major take-aways is how differently I recharge my batteries than, say, someone whose profile begins with an I instead of an E. In Myers-Briggs terms, the difference between extroverts and introverts is a bit more nuanced than the popular understanding of the terms. In brief, it’s all about where we draw our energy: from interaction with groups or from more intimate, one-on-one or solitary settings.

Which brings me to the dinner table at Beacon Hill Friends House. When I hear we have guests for dinner, my ears perk up. I hope I end up sitting close enough to them at our long table to find out a bit about them and answer questions about the house. I also realize this is not a reaction shared by all. Continue reading

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

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

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