Through the Looking Glass #4
From: PattyMara (
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 18:25:13 -0500
Dear List,
At long last the time, the energy and the clarity to continue writing about my
recent move into Tierra Nueva Cohousing on the central coast of California.

We've been here since August 22, about 7 weeks.  For the first four weeks
nobody had telephone service.  Never have the phone installers been so warmly
greeted than when they finally arrived to pull cable and splice it for service
for the 4 families living here phoneless.  

At this point there are 6 families in residence.  Our wet slab issue which
ground us to a halt until we made some flooring changes is now mostly
resolved.  We investigated de-humidifiers, sealers and other flooring options
and gave members their choice of solutions.  At this time the parquet wood
floor in the common house has been replaced with tile and we'll be doing the
final walkthrough in a couple of days.  

Not having access to our common house has been a cruel joke for those of us
who have made the commitment to size down our possessions and use common house
facilities, like the laundry room.  But more importantly, it has been like
we've been cut off from our heart center.  For a time, the families living
here were fenced out of the common house and the surrounding construction, due
to a liability issue with our contractor.  Gradually the fences have been
coming down and soon enough, the common house will be ours.  

To compensate for the lack of common cooking & dining  we formed a dinner club
for all families in residence, plus community members living within walking
distance.  It has been a joyful experiment.  We decided that each family, on
their chosen night (we average 2, sometimes 3 nights per week) do all the
planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning for everyone (about 30 on average).
It has been challenging for some to get the timing and quantity right, but for
others it has been very successful.  On the night I cooked,  I served almost
40 diners for less than $25.00 total.  Menu:  Lentil-Harvest Veggie Stew,
Chicken Alphabet Soup, Stuffed Red/yellow and green peppers, a mammoth organic
salad,  home baked breads and chocolate cake.  I am a fond believer in cooking
whole foods for very little money, and hope to convince some fellow community
members that common house meals can be priced less than $3.00 per person.
Much of my meal came from my wonderful CSA farm and a local farm managed by a
community member, in the midst of a healthy harvest, so it was a seasonal
delight to have access to such a wonderful variety of organic veggies.

Living here has been wonderful.  Most of my fears about housecleaning have
dissolved.  Yes my white amana stove is challenging, but no one seems to be
keeping score on who scrubs the burners to keep them shining.  Some of the
families are living on concrete floors until their slab dries and that makes
for some interesting decor.  All of us have boxes, overflow stuff and assorted
yard junk that seem to have nowhere to go yet...and nobody has begun
landscaping.  So it is a joyful jumble in our yards.  We have had glorious
weather so the evenings are warm enough still to eat outdoors.   If one family
is heading over to the pier to buy fresh fish off the boats, we all pitch in
and buy together, then barbeque in one of our yards and eat communally.
School has begun so kids and parents are walking to the neighborhood school
together or sharing rides.  All of our outdoor tables are gathered together in
one yard or another (this week they are all in our yard) for the community
potlucks and fire circles.  This is the nugget of my heart's desire (to share
food prep and eating together, and sitting around a campfire), and it has been
coming true over and over during the past 7 weeks.  

As each new household moves in we have been making dinner for them on their
first night or sometime during the first few days of chaos.  All of us who are
emerging from the stress of moving are helping out the ones who are in the

We've had a couple of moving van nightmares, which are simply not accustomed
to pedestrian friendly developments.  Our last moving van took out a main
water hydrant and caused quite a ruckus of rushing water down the road.

Construction seems to be behind schedule so the remaining 21 families are
stressing over the changing timelines and ambiguous move-in dates.  Of course
there is one family expecting a baby in February so the hope that we all move
in by the end of the year is very dear to their hearts.  

We've begun discussing the hot topics of fences and pets.  It is most
interesting to see the differences of opinions being expressed by folks who
live here and by those who don't yet.   Those who don't live here seem to want
to defend a nebulous "cohousing" ideal of no fences.  Those who do live here
are faced with the reality of pet and toddler needs, not to mention the need
to hide outdoor stuff, like recycling bins, garbage cans, wood piles,
barbeques, bikes etc.  And then, there is the whole area of "Private Outdoor
Space" which those of us who live here KNOW is of such great importance.  So
the discussions are ongoing, and the fence committee has been unable to get
the group's consensus on a process for three meetings now.  

I'm getting good at setting boundaries.  The tours continue, and sometimes I'm
okay with folks lookey-louing at our house.  But mostly, I'm clear that they
can see enough from the windows without inviting them in.  And once we get
curtains, they'll just have to go somewhere else to see how those cohousers

I am delighted by the tranformations I see in our kids.  Our son Alex, now the
oldest kid in our community (age 14) since his big sister left for college 3
weeks ago,  has rejoined the human community and actually leaves his room and
computer to play outside with the younger kids.  They spend hours on the
trampoline, the hammocks and the continually changing ziplines and bike
trails.  The kids have taken over the lower orchard (a mature avocado grove)
as their adventure playground in the true pattern language meaning, of their
own design and direction, changing with their whims.  When kids of community
members who don't live here yet come over they simply refuse to leave, it is
so much fun to be here.  Lots of communal childcare is emerging, as well as
shared creative ventures and trips to the beach, the dunes and the movies. 

I hardly miss my old lovely redwood cottage.  Somehow this condo, with all of
its design compromises and construction glitches has won my heart.  The  tiny
kitchen with the additon of a custom panty and a wonderful butcher block cart
works great.  It's kind of like living on a boat (which I have done) and I am
liking it so much that I keep on inviting friends over for dinners every
weekend.  The walls are less white as I slowly paint and put up art.  My
husband has finally arranged the stereo system and the archival tapes and cd's
to his liking so the music is good.

And once we got the knack of closing windows at night we have begun to enjoy
the benefits of passive solar heating.  

The monarch butterflies have returned to the eucalyptus grove which borders
our site, and hawks circle overhead.  Owls call in the dawn hours and the
stars are brilliant.  

I'm off to bake a three tiered cake for one of our community members who is
celebrating her 70th birthday tomorrow.

Patty Mara Gourley

And one last note:  we have been sold out for about two months, until
recently.  One of our buyers decided that her heart is in the mountains of
Colorado.  So we have a 3 bedroom, 2 bath duplex home available, priced at
$181,500 or so, and are accepting wait list applications from qualified
buyers.  We are hoping to attract a family with children (because 19 kids
doesn't seem to be quite enough!).  Anyone interested can email a request for
a waiting list application to Susan Hoffman:  susanH222 [at]

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