Re: Re: Remembering Why We Thought Cohousing Is a Good Idea
From: pattymara (
Date: Sat, 5 Jan 2002 13:02:01 -0700 (MST)
At Tierra Nueva Cohousing, on the central CA coast, we are entering our
fourth year of living together.  

My children are older, age 21 and 17, and the time we spend together is
precious to me.   I guard family traditions because our time together
these days is limited.    Our daughter came home from college and brought
us all the flu for the holidays.  Under normal conditions I would have
chosen to stay home and prepare a full holiday meal for just Bruce and
the kids.  This year I was more than willing to surrender the cooking
duties and just show up at the common house for a Christmas day potluck. 
With my green salad in hand, we walked over, chose a table in the corner
for the four of us and our box of kleenex and enjoyed a turkey dinner
with all the trimmings.   Most of the other families with children had
travelled away to be with grandparents, so the gathering was small and
amazingly quiet.  Ahhh.

By New Years Eve all the wayfarers had returned and we all gathered for
our best party yet.  It was organized by an art historian in the group,
with the theme of a 1920's Paris Masked Ball.  We had mask-making earlier
in the week, and were encouraged to come in costume.  Still in the wake
of the flu, I came as a survivor of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of
1918, with an explanatory placard around my neck which I could cough
behind.  Personal favorite costumes were:  Freda Kahlo with her one
eyebrow, several frenchmen with striped shirts and berets, and a
cigarette/cigar woman from the Paris clubs, with full crinolines and
cleavage (costume worn by our beloved landscape manager who is most often
seen digging in the dirt, or pruning or planting).  Another favorite
transformation:  imagine "Anybody" the tomboy from West Side Story.  She
bears a striking resemblance to our Steph who usually wears jeans,
sweatshirt and tennies.  Imagine our surprise when Steph showed up at the
ball completely transformed in a short little black cocktail dress, high
heals and diamond accessories, singing along to a Barbara Streisand song.
   What a knockout.    The music was a compilation of all the favorite
songs requested by the group members earlier in the week and burned into
a custom c.d.    So we danced and indulged in a dessert potluck and
toasted the new year at midnight.  

A fine party.  And the best part:  I didn't do a blessed thing but show
up.  This is a first for me in my ten years of coho history.  And it was
wonderful.  Cohousing is a good idea when one has the flu.

Another tidbit:  When my elderly friend Elizabeth visited in early
December, I was reminded again how grateful I am for all of the handicap
accessible features that we built into our common facilities.  Crippled
with arthritis, Elizabeth is able to walk from the handicapped parking,
use stair-free path handrails, enter the common house and use the ADA
guest room and bathroom totally independently.  My home has stairs
leading to the porch, and internal steps, so Elizabeth needs help to come
sit in my kitchen and sip tea, but she is so delighted to be here that we
make do.  I urge all developing communities to invest in accessible
common facilities.  Cohousing is a good idea for people with physical

I'm curious how the new year will develop.  I suspect that our lessons in
community living will continue. It won't be smooth sailing.  There will
be personality clashes, hurt feelings, lessons about setting boundaries,
feeling included/excluded and different definitions of community work. 
Yada yada yada.  We'll cycle in and out of fully attended business
meetings, community work days, regular meals together, and occasional
parties.  I won't be worried when the attendance slips at any of the
above, because I trust in the cycle of return. 

When this thread first appeared, thanks to Robyn, I wondered if there was
anything I could contribute to the discussion.  Our community life has
been going through some interesting growing pains, and I had noticed a
distancing from community interaction.  Part of it may be due to the fact
that four houses are in the process of being sold internally among
current community members, with one woman leaving to form a new
community, one couple returning from living nearby, and two families
swapping homes.   In addition, one couple is in the process of finalizing
a divorce (both living in two homes here,  sharing custody of the kids)
and another couple just announced they are beginning divorce proceedings.
  Add to the mix a rental situation where an absentee owner rented his
unit to a "section 8" family (in California, this is a rental subsidy to
social service clients to help make housing affordable).  There was no
community involvement in the selection, orientation or integration of the
new family, and we were all thrust into a most uncomfortable situation. 
It was unfair to the family, who had no clue whatsoever about cohousing
and community life, and it was difficult for the rest of us for a variety
of reasons.  We all learned from the experience, to be sure, and the
lessons continue. 

I'm looking forward to enjoying a new supper club that has formed among
five families, called The Taste Buds.  We rotate cooking for one another,
once a week, so every five weeks, it's my turn to host.  It came about
partly out of frustration with common meals being too large and too
restricted financially for gourmet meals, and partly from the desire for
more intimate dining.  With the taste buds we cook for 10 adults (instead
of the usual 30-40 at common house meals) and can explore more artistic
and gourmet options.  It is fun, challenging to fit everyone at the table
in our small houses (we feed the little kids first) and slightly
clandestine, because we have chosen not to advertise that we are doing
it, to avoid the inclusion/exclusion debates.  I love the intimacy of
eating in our homes, where the acoustics are more comfortable, and the
conversation is select.  We are old friends (pre-Tierra Nueva), and I
value our time separate from community functions.  In a sense it is
"community within community" and we are just exploring the edges of this

May your new year be blessed with creativity exploration and the bounty
of community life,
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva, central CA coast


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