Through the Looking Glass 8
From: PattyMara (
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999 22:42:24 -0600 (MDT)
Dear Friends,
Tomorrow my family will mark a one year anniversary--our mortgage for our 
Tierra Nueva home closed on July 31 last year.  I began writing my looking 
glass journal about this time last year as well, so it feels timely to add a 
bit more tonight.  

My last entry was New Year's day, after a polar bear swim in the Pacific.  
Tonight is a balmy summer evening, with a rosie sunset lighting the dunes.  
It is utterly quiet here since so many families are off camping or 
vacationing.   Common house meals are attended by most everyone, but numbers 
are relatively small, 15-30 diners, instead of the usual 35-50.  I helped 
cook a meal for 33, a couple of evenings ago with my neighbor HariNam.  We 
served fresh vegetable curry, with produce picked from our communal garden, 
the local farmer's market and our c.s.a. farm.   Plus luscious sweet potato 
tempura, with a rice wine vinegar cucumber salsa, basmati rice, Thai ice 
coffee and watermelon.  Corn dogs and corn on the cob for kid food.  It was a 
deep pleasure to prep, cook, serve and eat.

After dinner, eight women from Tierra Nueva and two guests from a neighboring 
community (Halcyon) gathered down at our garden campfire ring to build a fire 
and share a full moon ceremony.  We were a diverse group of women, coming 
from many traditions, yet we were able to find connections as we remembered 
and prayed for our families and friends.  

A few months ago we decided as a community to reduce the number of business 
meetings from weekly to twice a month.  What a luxury after 7 years of weekly 
meetings!  The result has been much better attended meetings with tighter 
facilitation and more information being reported from all the working 
committees. In addition to these business meetings we have initiated a 
monthly "Community Life" gathering on the second Sunday of the month.  We've 
had two of these gatherings with great success.  The first had two fantastic 
exercises.  One was called "Two Truths and a Lie"  where each member told 
just that, and we all had to guess which was was hilarious and we 
all learned something new about one another.  The second exercise was a group 
dynamics/problem solving kind of thing.  In less than an hour we discovered 
which of us were Visionaries, Structurers, Action-takers or Caregivers.  Each 
of the groups identified themselves, spoke about which of the other groups 
were the most frustrating to work with, created a poster with key concepts 
and formed strategies about how to best work with the other groups to get 
things done.   We learned that a healthy community needs contributions from 
each of the four groups to sustain itself.  A succinct comment from Floyd, 
our process mentor, summed up the exercise.  He said:  "If we were to take a 
vacation trip together, the Visionaries would be the ones to decide where we 
would go.  The Structurers would get the maps and create the itinerary.  The 
Action-takers would find and drive the bus.  And the Caregivers would make 
sure that everyone had a fantastic time." 

Our second gathering used the Open Space format to bring hot issues into the 
light.  And we had several sizzling topics.  One was about the integrating 
renters into our community, particularly, a single man who was spending a 
great deal of time with the children of the community without creating a 
friendship/trust level with the parents of the kids.  Many fears were 
revealed about the safety of our kids, and the appropriate behavior expected 
of adults who enter a community like ours.  It was a deeply helpful exchange 
for everyone.  Other topics included:  private business in our community 
workshop, neighborhood relations, community meal cooking/cleaning and using 
common land (or not) for overflow private stuff like barbeques and hammocks 
and toys.

Our next gathering is going to attempt to bridge the gap between "old timers" 
and the "newbies" by creating 7 random subgroups,  then giving each of them a 
year's worth of minutes from the past 7 years of business meetings.  The 
subgroups will then figure out a creative way to communicate what happened 
during their appointed year, and begin working on a presentation like a skit 
or a song to be performed at a  party which we'll be having soon to celebrate 
our year of living here.  We hope that the end result will be a humorous 
dramatization of what we had to go through to build this place and all the 
ups and downs of designing and developing cohousing.  

One of the most delightful aspects of being here has been to watch our 
landscaping take root and grow.  Our private yards are finding very 
individual expressions, ranging from low maintenance sand to lush wild 
gardens to traditional lawns and decks.  The common landscaping is 
particularly stunning, since we have two ornamental horticulturists who led 
us through planting a gorgious variety of perennials and native plants.  We 
have an extensive culinary and medicinal herb garden as well as an organic 
vegie garden complete with a scarlet runner bean tepee and two large corn 
spirals.  It is amazing to watch the garden expand as more beds get tilled 
and planted by various members.  Along the common walkways the sunflowers are 
towering over 8 feet tall.  

We've had two of our community's dogs die this summer.  It was a tender 
gathering that met to mourn the passing of Nellie and comfort her owner. 

The Wierd Food Cafe presented "Like Water For Chocolate" night with exquisite 
food from the cookbook, stunning decorations and a contest to guess which 
wedding dress belonged to which woman.  We had a dozen dresses hanging all 
around the Common House.  The movie was shown as well, but most folks stayed 
downstairs in the candlelight to party together. 

Our Fourth of July Barbeque set a record for number of people attending.  We 
fed 75 people fresh fish, ribs, campfire baked vegies and peach 
cobblers...then put on our annual fireworks show in the village green.  

As families return from vacations we are planning Monday night slide shows 
for trip highlights.  One of our members, Kit,  just returned from Africa, 
with many many rolls of film to share.  Others visited the Grand Canyon, 
Wisconsin, Seattle, the Eastern Sierras and northern California Redwood 
parks.   I'm looking forward to welcoming them all home and hearing the 
voices of children ringing through the site again.  

I'm also waiting to hear from Two Acre Wood-folk as they move into their new 
homes, as well as from Robyn in Australia, to hear about their transitions 
into community.   I'm no longer feeling the surreal "through the looking 
glass" feeling that I did last year.   Instead, I'm becoming familiar with 
the new patterns of proximity and privacy that are forming.  The shine of the 
new is slowly being burnished to a comfortable lustre, and it feels just 

Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing, Central CA Coast, San Luis Obispo County    

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