Through the Looking Glass #7
From: PattyMara (
Date: Fri, 25 Dec 1998 20:31:18 -0600
Dear Cohousing Listmembers and friends,
I just watched the Christmas sun set into the Pacific dunes from our new deck
then ran downstairs to take the laundry off the line before it gave up the
accumulated heat of this most gloriously clear sunny day.   All throughout the
site and along the creek this morning there were monarch butterflies
everywhere, enjoying the warmth.  

It is very quiet here at Tierra Nueva Cohousing on the central California
coast.  Of the sixteen families who have moved into our homes, most have
travelled elsewhere to be with parents or extended families.  A couple of the
singles shared Christmas dinner at a local restaurant out on the patio above
the ocean.  On site, the aromas of roasting and barbequeing turkeys filled the
air as families gathered in their individual  homes to share private Christmas

We celebrated as a community last Saturday night at the first annual Wierd
Food Cafe Dinner Dance.  And dance we did under a disco ball,  to the eclectic
musical tastes of various community members, ranging from Manhatten Transfer
to Ella Fitzgerald to Talking Heads.  It was a raging success.  Candlelight
and a huge tree was the decorating theme, and it transformed our common house
into a magical yule garden.  The food was planned to be served in courses in
different parts of the common house, all through the evening to encourage
people to stay late and dance in between courses.  We had baked brie, curry
mango chutney, fresh oysters on the half shell, cajun chicken with a variety
of hot mustards, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, chocolate chicken, chocolate
mousse, crab cakes (in the wee hours) and much champagne and egg nog.    One
of our single senior members described the event as "the best party I've been
to in 25 years"!   We were there until 3 am!

The night before we celebrated Hanukkah with all of the kids lighting the many
menorahs, including Marya's, who passed away in July.  Her picture was nestled
among the lit candles and we welcomed her spirit to the ceremony.  

Our next gathering will be New Year's Eve where we will be making traditional
tamales together.  We'll also do the secret Santa gifts and the 6th or 7th
annual White Elephant Gift Exchange.   This has been a favorite social through
the years, and we have one fruitcake that promises to make its 4th appearance
at the gift exchange.  Rumor has it that one of our newer members actually
*likes* fruitcake.  Hopefully he'll get it, take it home and eat it.

So amid all the holiday cheer, what "warts" could possibly be surfacing?  My
promise to report the progress of my family's move into cohousing "warts and
all" can easily be accomplished.  We've been dealing with the dreaded pet
issue.   We hired an outside group facilitator last month to help us begin the
process, and spent 4 hours in a good first effort.  What seemed to emerge was
the notion that not all pets in our project need to be controlled by the same
rules.  There was a resistance by a longtime member to leash her elderly dog
who spends most of his day following her around or riding with her in her car.
Each of the dog owners gave a verbal commitment to the group regarding their
particular pets and it seemed to work to create different "rules" for
different pets.  But it was just a beginning.  And I sensed that not all was
said out loud.  

What seems to me to be happening is that there is a growing sense of
separation between the longtime members and those who have joined more
recently.   I think the shorttimers feel that us longtimers expect special
treatment because we have suffered in the trenches so long to develop this
crazy adventure.  We are immersed in a convoluted history that seems to defy
explanation or chronological order despite our best efforts to communicate
everything we've been through.  I am hoping that this division will dissolve
with time, but I do see it clearly as an issue that divides us now,
particularly when a newtimer opens up discussion on anything that was decided
long ago.  For example:  the placement of the future workshop or the location
of the garden and the play areas.  These locations were decided years ago, and
house sites where chosen based on proximity to each of the above amenities.
So when a relatively new member or a group of new members wants to talk about
changing basic site plan locations it raises a lot of concerns.  For the time
being, things are still being discussed in committees, so I expect that it
will begin to heat up the general meetings by the middle of January.  I'll
keep you posted.

Another wart is the need for a common house manager to create some
organization in the various rooms.   Tempers flaired recently when the kitchen
recycling/trash piled up after a community meal and the next group of cooks
had to take out a double load of bins.   Yes, we are compiling lists of
expectations and clean-up duties, but in the short run, we are all learning
what a huge amount of time and muscle it takes to plan, prepare and clean up
after a group meal.  The tempers that flaired were probably a result of the
teams being too small (and too elderly)  to share the work loads.   We'll have
to create more balanced teams in the future so the work can be distributed

A  committee is meeting soon to begin the definition of the manger's duties.
There definitely seems to be a need--and with the rigors of move-in there is
little extra energy for organization.  What do you established communities do
to keep your common house running smoothly?  Is it a volunteer or a paid
position?  How often does it revolve to another member?  What are the general

Another wart is the site lighting and county-required railings, both of which
turned out to be expensive eyesores, but more about that in a later
post...Right now it's time to gather at a community member's house for
dessert. Cheesecake and gingerbread men call.   Solstice and Christmas
blessings to all of you,

Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing  


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