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

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

Dinner for 21

Chefs need a day off like the rest of us, so there’s an occasional opportunity for housies to fill in for Myles at BHFH. Carol took a turn last night and prepared a special meal of chicken, pasta, tofu loaf, bread, hummus, asparagus, fruit salad and (thanks to fellow housie, Annie) some pretty amazing baklava.

My contribution was limited to chopping what I was told and dishcrew, so I’ll claim some objectivity in declaring it one successful evening!

dinner

 

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

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.

Taming the acquisition monster

I am not a big shopper. I discovered years ago that retail therapy was not very effective for me. Frequently I order what I need online to avoid having to go to malls. So downsizing and simplifying have not been onerous for me.

There are, however, two places where my acquisition monster comes roaring out. One is books, which I’ll write about in a subsequent post, and the other has to do with travel.  If you were to wander around our room you would clearly see that there is something about the art and craft of other cultures that I find irresistibly appealing. I went to Vietnam with the best of intentions, but the struggle was mighty and I didn’t always win.

artist with painting

Artist Hoang Thanh Phong (ricepaperart@yahoo.com) with his painting Mindfulness (photo used with permission of artist)

I gave myself a pass for some gifts: a couple of cute embroidered dresses for our newest granddaughter, coconut candies and various little things for our house mates, friends and relatives.

My biggest struggle came when we ate lunch at a terrific restaurant in Hue. Original art adorned the walls. The artist was there and told us about his works, which were very inexpensive. I wanted one so much I could hardly restrain myself. It was a perfect storm of desire – the artwork was deeply spiritual, I loved it, I wanted to support the artist, it was affordable, it would be a great reminder of a trip of a life time. It didn’t help when two of our traveling companions bought several between them. But, we have no more wall space in our room. The last thing we need is a painting. I walked away. I’d be lying, though, if I said I never think about contacting the artist and seeing if the one I loved most is still available.  Continue reading

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

Making room for one another

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. In fact, I’m writing this post from Hue, Vietnam. I don’t see these trips as an escape from community, but rather a chance to explore community in different ways.

imageTo better understand Vietnam, I am reading Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald. She points out that the Vietnamese and American psyches are different with regard to space. For Americans, space seems less limited and the possibilities for expansion enormous. For the Vietnamese, it is clear that there is very limited space and to take too much of it is to deprive another. As Fitzgerald puts it:

Within the villages as within the nation, the amount of arable land was absolutely inelastic. The population of the village remained stable, and so to accumulate wealth meant to deprive the rest of the community of land, to fatten while one’s neighbor starved. Vietnam is no longer a closed economic system, but the idea remains with the Vietnamese that great wealth is antisocial, not a sign of success but a sign of selfishness.

The ways we share space or make room for one another (or not) color our own happiness as well as the health of  our community.

Among the scenes I’ve found most compelling in Vietnam is traffic, as reflected in the accompanying video captured by one of our travel companions, Bob Fox. 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

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