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

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.

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

Why good enough is just right

Screen shot 2014-02-03 at 11.57.14 AM

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

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

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