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

Shining a light from one generation to another

Yesterday I turned 65. Bill and I had a really great day together, including a birthday dinner at the house. But there was no big ritual about it. I signed up for Medicare the month before. The day before I got my senior pass for the T, which allows me unlimited rides for $28 a month. But I did give a lot of thought to generations.

Over the last several years Bill and I have lost all the family members of the generation ahead of us except for one of my uncles. We’ve also lost our mentors and people who inspired us as they walked the path ahead. I understand far better now Marian Wright Edelman’s need to write the book Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors to honor the people who mentored and shed light on the way for her.

John DunneJust a month ago, we lost someone who started inspiring us in college and continued to do so up until his death. John Dunne was a prolific writer who taught at the University of Notre Dame for over 50 years. He was a great lover of God who saw life as a journey with God through time – a great adventure of which death was, perhaps, the most adventuresome 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

A light in the tunnel: Workday at the House

One of the most frequent questions we get about life at Beacon Hill Friends House is: Who does all the work? A few of the answers: The house has a paid staff of three: director, kitchen manager and residency manager. You just heard from Carol about the system of resident chore and dish crew obligations. The third piece is a command performance that happens twice a year: Workday.

light in tunntel

Designed as a way of getting the house in shape for approaching seasons, Workday requires the participation of all residents to install or remove storm windows, stash or put out the deck’s warm weather furniture and otherwise prepare this 200 year-old edifice for another Boston winter or summer.

But Workday is also the time for home improvements that will serve the house all year long. Among the more ambitious projects last Saturday: the first stage of creating a bike shed in the courtyard outside the kitchen. This involved hauling many wheelbarrows full of gravel from a pick-up truck out front through the narrow tunnel (pictured at left) to the courtyard. Team Earthworm extended a raised area at the end of the courtyard that will serve as a foundation for the shed when we build it in the spring. All of which will eliminate the need to haul bikes up and down the steep stone steps to the cellar. 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

Scoping the hard work ahead on unity amid difference

In the wake of the Marathon bombings six months ago, I wondered what it would take for the popular sentiment of “we are all one Boston” to take root in reality.

We got part of the answer Wednesday night, as the third strike thrown by Koji Uehara threw the region into a virtual chorus of Big Papi’s “This is our bleeping city!”

Photo by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

Photo by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

It certainly threw the TV room at Beacon Hill Friends House into that mindset, with more than half the room making its way to the streets of Boston despite the midnight hour. The roar of the crowd drew me to Parkman Bandstand, where police officers on bicycles (and suited up in reflector jackets rather than riot gear) posed for photos with the crowd they were assigned to control. As one of the officers mentioned to a tipsy reveler who, at least by appearance, had nothing in common with the cop, “We’re all Sox fans tonight.”

Even the worst reported incident of vandalism, the destruction of a car on Boylston Street, ended well with a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover the owner’s insurance deductibles.

My walk in the park concluded a big day for me. It was my 65th birthday, and included another walk, this one with Carol to Faneuil Hall in hopes of getting a glimpse of President Obama. In town to defend his health care plan and apologize for its ragged online launch, the president’s appearance provided an excellent platform to consider the challenge of unity amid difference. 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.

IMG_2637

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

100 Days: What’s working, what’s not, what’s changing

Several months into our year in this room, it’s time for a check-in. There’s no probationary period for new residents at Beacon Hill Friends House (no cracks, please, about how lucky that is for us).  But the time seems right to ask how it’s going.

There’s nothing like returning from a trip to provide a snapshot of how you’re feeling about the place you’re returning to. And our return from Vienna earlier this week prompted at least a couple of feelings about life at BHFH.

Walking into the kitchen, I found Kevin and his girlfriend, Christina, cooking up a storm. Several housies were hanging out around the table with the Sunday papers spread out before them. I got hugged and welcomed in ways that made me feel like belting out the theme song from Cheers, “Where everybody knows your name.”

washerHeading for our room, I passed through the laundry room and was confronted with a clever but disturbing creation decorating the washer. The alert that this critical appliance was “eating quarters” instead of washing clothes was not the best news for someone with a week’s worth of dirty laundry.

Appliances broke when we lived on our own, of course. The good news about broken appliances at BHFH: Arranging the repair is someone else’s responsibility. The bad news? Arranging the repair is someone else’s responsibility. Continue reading

Eking meaning from my first black eye

carol shinerIt was just before lunch and I was happily striding down Chestnut Street, rushing to fetch that Volvo we’re either going to keep or sell.

I never made it to the car. Catching my toe on a loose brick, I planted my face on the brick sidewalk. Luckily for my face, my right hand broke the fall a bit. Not so lucky for my hand. Sure changed my plans for the day. Instead of reading, writing, walking and playing with our granddaughter, I spent the day at urgent care and radiology, icing and resting. I was incredibly lucky — no broken bones, just a very sore hand and my first ever shiner.

I will also admit to a shaken psyche. One of the ways I calm myself when shaken is to try to make meaning from the event. Writer Carolyn Myss suggests that we treat the unexpected in our lives as a form of spiritual direction. The fall was certainly unexpected — what might it direct my attention toward? Continue reading

How travel opens windows on the ways we live

Living in a 16 by 18 foot room is easier if you have the means to travel.

Susan Ager reminded me of that with a comment to a Facebook update I posted last week about connecting in Vienna with a friend from Boston.

Susan’s right, of course, and not just about the fun and freedom attached to hightailin’ it out of the country now and then.

It’s also about getting a glimpse of how differently people relate to their stuff, their space and the people around them.

One of my first eye-openers on this front came more than 30 years ago. Continue reading