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Giving Thanks 2014

Laird's Blog -

Thanksgiving isn't until tomorrow, but I'm starting early. Let me count the ways that I'm thankful.

1. After 29 days on the road, I was thankful to wake up in my own bed this morning. Not only is it good being next to my wife for the first time in a month, but my sore back is weary of the strain of travel. I'm hoping that a week of R&R at home will ease the pain and accelerate my slow healing.

2. This weekend celebrates the completion of Ma'ikwe's and my first year of living together, which we're enjoying every bit as much as we'd hoped we would. While it was sad for me leaving Sandhill, I'm happy with my choice.

3. I enjoyed taking the last leg of my train ride home last night—from Chicago to Quincy aboard the Illinois Zephyr—with my stepson, Jibran, who is joining us for his first break since starting college last August. It was fun hearing him describe all the new things he's been exposed to the last three months and see how much he's thriving. I was concerned about his going to a rigorous academic school (Shimer College) a year ahead of his age cohort and with no time spent with peers through his high school years (he was tutored at home), but I needn't have been. It's clear he was ready.

The most satisfying piece for me was his disappointment that his fellow freshmen are not (yet) that accomplished at listening carefully to what those who disagree with them have to say. Learning how to think and how to listen are not necessarily skills picked up prior to college, but Jibran, apparently, had a good start.

4. I just completed as solid a stretch of work as I've ever had. Bad back and all, over the course of four weeks I worked every weekend: three with cohousing groups and a fourth at the NASCO Institute (Nov 7-9), where I conducted a pair of workshops. Satisfyingly, everything went well. Woohoo!

5. My Amtrak travel has been extensive enough that I just reached Select status for 2105. That means expedited reservation service, three passes to the first class lounge in Chicago or DC when I'm traveling coach, three free upgrades to Business Class on intermediate-distance trains, and a 25% bump on tier qualifying points for next year. As someone committed to train as his preferred mode of transportation, this cornucopia of amenities and bonuses is a blessing.

6. I'm also thankful for a major life change that's just ahead. At the fall FIC organizational meetings (held Oct 23-26) the Board agreed—at my request—to move forward with shifting me out of the center of things. Though I've been happily up to my eyeballs with Fellowship affairs ever since it was launched in 1987, it's time for a change. We'll be dividing my current job into two parts: Development Director (DD) and Executive Director (ED). 

We have completed an overhaul of the DD job description and are poised to start the search for candidates soon. In addition, we have a promising ED candidate already in hand. With luck, by the end of next year I'll have turned over both roles to worthy, younger successors without a glitch.

I'm pleased to be making these changes from a position of strength. While I expect to continue to play a supportive role in the Fellowship for some time to come (after all, I represent an incredible wealth of personal relationships that cannot be transferred as easily as a Vulcan mind meld), it's time to bring in fresh horses.

While I'm simplifying my life, I'm not sailing off into the sunset. There will still be plenty for me to do as I redistribute my time among the four remaining never-a-dull-moment major interests in my life: my marriage, my cooperative group consulting, my teaching, and my writing.
• • •So I'm sitting at my desk at home, thankful for a great deal. All of this and I've got roast turkey with dressing, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, orange-cranberry sauce, homemade minced meat pie, Famous wafers and whipped cream, and spiked eggnog directly on the horizon—which I'll be consuming with consummate enjoyment amidst family and friends. 

How much better can it get?

Why Conflict Resolution Committees are Like Maytag Repairmen

Laird's Blog -

As a consultant to cooperative groups. one of the most common things I'm asked to demonstrate is how to work constructively with conflict. 

Illustrative of this point, I'm just wrapping up a four-week swing through the Eastern time zone in which I've worked with three different residential communities. In all three instances, a portion of what I did was explain my thinking about conflict, and then demonstrate its application with a live example of some festering interpersonal tension where the protagonists volunteered from the floor. Think of it as theater in the round.

While all groups have conflict, only some have a commitment to engage with it when it surfaces. Fewer still have agreements about how to engage with it and members trained in delivering that support. Some groups (less than half) have a Conflict Resolution Team (in one version or another) whose job it is to be available to support members having trouble extricating themselves from the mud all alone.

While I'm always happy to hear that such support is in place, it turns out that Conflict Teams tend to be like the apocryphal Maytag repairman: grossly underused. Why? Here are half a dozen reasons that explain what I think is going on:

1. Is the team authorized to be pro-active?
When groups first stick their collective toes into the swirling waters of distress there is a tendency to take baby steps rather than full strides, with the result that the team is expected to not engage unless asked in by one or (hopefully) both protagonists.

This caution will definitely choke the amount of work that comes the team's way in that there are all manner of reasons why people needing help don't ask for it—including pride, embarrassment, uncertainty about whether it will make a difference, and lack of confidence in the members of the team. Further, people in distress don't always make good assessments about what's happening and what they need, all of which complicates case loads for the Conflict Team.

Better, I think, is to authorize the team to step in whenever it has the sense that there's unresolved tension and it's spilling over into group functionality.

2. Lack of a baseline commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve conflict if named as a player by another member
This is an important understanding that's missing in most groups. Thus, if Chris is struggling with Dale and asks Dale to discuss it (in an attempt to work it out), is it acceptable for Dale to say, "No"?

Mind you, I'm not saying that Dale needs to agree with Chris' story about what happened, to admit culpability, or to accept blame; I'm only suggesting that they have an explicit obligation—by virtue of being a member of the group—to make an honest attempt to sit down with Chris (perhaps with third party help from the Conflict Team) and sort it out.

Lacking this agreement, many people named in a conflict are leery of getting together with someone known to be upset with them, for fear of being the pin cushion in a wrestling match with a porcupine. Who needs it?

3. Lack of clarity about what support looks like
Often, groups empanel a Conflict Team without being clear how they will conduct their work, what options are available to protagonists regarding formats, or what support and safety will be extended to "customers."

Ambiguity about these things amounts to signing a blank check and it's understandable that there will be hesitancy about committing to an unknown process to navigate volatile territory. Juggling live sticks of dynamite is dangerous on any occasion; is it any wonder that being asked to do so in an unknown dark room is not appealing?

4. Lack of confidence in the skill of the team
Even if the process is fairly well defined (addressing the previous concern), there may be serious questions about whether Conflict Team members are sufficiently proficient at managing it. Who wants student doctors in charge while you're undergoing open heart surgery?

5. Confusion about whether team members facilitate all conflict cases that come their way
One reason why members don't approach the team for help with a conflict is that they may not have the impression that any of the team members are sufficiently neutral. Team members may be known to be close friends with the person you're conflicted with, or highly sympathetic to your antagonist's viewpoint. When those conditions obtain it's understandable that would-be customers try to get their needs met elsewhere.

The remedy, I think, is to spell out the expectation that the team is responsible for finding a facilitator (or team of facilitators) who is skilled enough and neutral enough to be mutually agreeable to all parties. There is no need to limit who is eligible for filling this important role to team members or anyone else—including the possibility of securing help from outside the group. The prime directive here is having a successful meeting between Chris and Dale—not generating work for people wanting to facilitate conflict.

6. Casualness in how team members are selected
For the Conflict Team to be used a lot, great care needs to be taken in how team members are selected. This is not an appropriate occasion to simply accept the first four people who volunteer for the job. While desire to do the work may be a factor, it isn't nearly enough.

First you'll want to delineate the qualities wanted from people serving in this capacity. The list might look something like this:
o  Discretion
o  Empathy
o  Fair-minded
o  Good listener
o  Ability to work constructively with emotions and in the presence of high distress
o  Ability to collaborate well (with fellow team members)
o  Good communication skills
o  Trusted
o  Approachable
o  Skilled at facilitation
o  Has time in their life to make the team's work a priority when a conflict arises

Second, you'll want a selection process that gives the whole group adequate opportunity to indicate which members rate high for these qualities.
• • •It's one thing to know enough that you need a tool and make the effort to have it on hand. But that's not enough. You also have to make sure the tool is used when the occasion for which it was secured arises. A garden hose that's left untouched, coiled neatly at the side of the house when a fire starts among the leaves in your side yard, is not much different than having no hose.

Cohousing offers many benefits, but interested developer a must - Medicine Hat News

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Cohousing offers many benefits, but interested developer a must
Medicine Hat News
Cohousing differs from other multi-family projects in that it is developed for and by the future residents, making it a unique opportunity to have a say in how you want to live and a true alternative for those who are no longer interested in living in ...

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Sometimes Money Is Not the Right Currency

Laird's Blog -

There's no doubt that money matters. But not always.

I recently worked with a group that was struggling over how to find an equitable settlement with its developer (who was also a member of the group) over promised facilities that never materialized, and one of the key challenges was coming to agreement about constituted "equitable."

Here's the back story:

o  The project was started about a decade ago when the developer bought a piece of land and promoted it for a community location. He sold lots for a certain amount of money, with the understanding that some of the purchase price would go toward paying off the land, some would go toward infrastructure (roads, sewer, and utilities), and some would be set aside for building common facilities. While the exact nature of the common facilities had not been delineated, everyone agreed that the promise had been made.

o  The project was to be developed in two phases: roughly two-thirds of the lots were in Phase I, and the remainder in Phase II.

o  When the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2008, it put an unanticipated squeeze on the master plan. It was hard to sell lots, interest payments were piling up, and the cost of infrastructure development spiraled upward. The net result was that after Phase I lots were sold there was only enough money to pay off the mortgage and to complete the infrastructure. Nothing was left over to build common facilities.

o  Further complicating matters, it turned out that the Phase II lots were in a more remote location such that there were serious questions about whether it would be revenue positive to develop them. Thus, it was by no means certain that completing the development would actually yield any additional revenue with which to fund construction of common facilities.

o  As long as this issue remained unresolved, the developer was stuck in no man's land: halfway between being a real estate professional who hadn't kept a promise, and being a fellow member of the community. It was awkward. Everyone wanted to get beyond this limbo, to the point where the development phase was complete and everyone was just a member of the community, yet they needed a pathway that would both protect the rights (and dreams) of the community to common facilities and didn't bankrupt the developer in the process.

o  By the time I got there, the group had been gnawing on this bone for more than two years and there was serious fatigue over the time and energy it was taking to untangle this Gordian Knot.

Now what?

There were a couple ways to look at this.

Option 1: The Financial Solution
Under this approach the group could assign a dollar value to the empty kitty for common facilities and then compare it against what the developer offered as compensation. While there would undoubtedly be some serious numbers to crunch, there are known methodologies for getting all that accomplished. In the end you could compare the value of the proposed remedy to the value of the debt and adjust as needed.

In many ways, that's the point of money: to facilitate fair exchange between apples and oranges.

However, fair market value does a notoriously poor job of taking into account mental anguish, good will, and the importance of ongoing good relations among the players. As all the folks involved in this decision were going to continue to live together after the settlement, this mattered quite a lot.

Option 2: The Energetic Solution
Under this approach, the group would purposefully skip the step of conducting a careful financial analysis and go for the gestalt. That is, once both sides were satisfied that the offer is reasonable, the group could decide to accept it because it was close enough and the most important thing is to get the problem resolved and move on—not extracting the last nickel possible.

While money is a tool, and not inherently good or evil, focusing on financial equality as the prime directive has a way of devaluing intangibles—such as relationships, the lifeblood of community—rather than supporting them.

In the end, the group chose Door #2, and the relief in the room was palpable, as weight was lifted from everyone's shoulders and the sun came out from behind the clouds.

Belfast Ecovillage Completes Largest Community-Initiated Solar Purchase in ... - Triple Pundit

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Triple Pundit

Belfast Ecovillage Completes Largest Community-Initiated Solar Purchase in ...
Triple Pundit
Home solar Members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a tight-knit community in Midcoast Maine, are experienced in working together. When a child is born or an illness strikes, members lend a hand and provide home-cooked meals. Sharing cars, child ...

Closing Contact with the Third Rail of Distress

Laird's Blog -

Almost all people living in intentional community—as well as those aspiring to—value good communication. After all, the heart of community is relationship and that's pretty hard to develop and sustain with weak communication.
That said, all conditions under which communication is attempted are not equal. Some are way more challenging than others. In particular, one of the hardest is when one or more people are experiencing serious distress. In fact, the higher the voltage, the more uncertain and potentially explosive the connection becomes—to the point where it's questionable whether even to attempt it because:

a) Relationship damage may seem a more likely outcome than enhancement (sometimes people express distress in damaging ways).

b) The possibility of constructive exchange may seem too remote.

c) The environment in which the engagement occurs may be too uncomfortable or toxic for the people not in distress to be able to function.

d) There is no clarity about what will be constructive.

e) There is no confidence in anyone present possessing the skills needed to be constructive, even if there's agreement about how to go about it.

However, despite all these reasons to be cautious, reaching out and communicating with people in distress is also when it can do the most good—in terms of helping the person through the distress, helping the group shift back from turbulent to laminar flow, and strengthening relationships through deeper understanding.

So how do you handle it?

I believe that once a person identifies with being in serious distress, the group's prime directive is to make sure that that person doesn't feel isolated, and the way to accomplish that is to establish an authentic connection with their experience—essentially, that means being able to demonstrate to the upset person's satisfaction three things:

1. What's the trigger?
What happened (or didn't happen) that resulted in the reaction? Sometimes it's an action, sometimes it's a statement; sometimes it's a sequence of things that becomes the trigger. Sometimes it erupts out of nowhere and sometimes it's been building for years. Rather than guess, you need to ask.

2. What's the energy?
It turns out that getting the energy right is often more important than getting the story right. That is, in order for the upset person to feel heard, it's important that the person reaching out gets into a similar energetic zone—raising their energy if the person is angry, and dropping down for people who are afraid. Smoke curling out the ears needs to approached very differently than tears rolling down the cheeks.

Sometimes people make the mistake of trying to be an island of calm when reaching out to people in distress (on the theory that matching energy risks further stimulating the overstimulated), but my experience has been the reverse—that upset is far more likely to be sustained when met by mismatched energy. ("If you truly understood what I'm going through you wouldn't be so goddamn calm!")

3. Why does it matter?
The final piece of my triage trio is making a connection to why this matters to the person in reaction. In what way did this touch a core interest or concern? Understanding context can often be a key element in feeling fully held. This is especially helpful when the listener can establish how the concern is reasonable and tied to something valued in the group.

Note that none of the above is about taking sides; it's simply about hearing accurately and establishing connection without ducking hard feelings or assigning blame. Done well, information should now be freely flowing again.
• • •Now let's spin the above another way. Instead of focusing on someone in distress, think of someone who comes across as stubborn and locked into their position; someone who's perceived as holding the group up by not working productively with the input of others. They're seen as insisting on their right to be heard, yet it doesn't appear that they're living up to their responsibility to work respectfully with the views of others.
How do you handle that?
My advice, amazingly enough, is to proceed in the same way as with people in distress (outlined above). In general, someone balks at reaching out to others not because they're an asshole, but because they don't yet feel that they've been reached out to. Thus, the request to balance rights and responsibilities lands hollowly for the stubborn person because they don't have the sense that their rights have (yet) been honored.
It is not enough to simply assert that you have heard the person, you need to be able to show them through reflective listening. Better yet, feel into their beleaguered position (as an outlier for being stubborn) and establish a connection to why their position matters to them.
Then see if they unclench and are better able to reach out to others and find middle ground. In my experience deep hearing is incredibly effective as a topical balm on raw feelings and as an analgesic for stiff dynamics.

A Ferrara arriva il primo esperimento di cohousing, una sfida per il futuro - Listone Mag

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Listone Mag

A Ferrara arriva il primo esperimento di cohousing, una sfida per il futuro
Listone Mag
Siamo in via Ravenna in visita a un cantiere fuori del comune. Sulle rive del Po di Primaro, dietro la Basilica di San Giorgio, sta per nascere il primo cohousing di Ferrara. E il pavimento c'è eccome. Il palazzo ha gettato le fondamenta il 20 agosto e ...

Suggerimenti per occupazione socialmente utile nell'ambito dell'agriturismo ... - Il Cambiamento

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Suggerimenti per occupazione socialmente utile nell'ambito dell'agriturismo ...
Il Cambiamento
sono Graziano 55anni della prov. di Como. Ho lavorato per 34anni in una azienda di telecomunicazioni come progettista. Vorrei cambiare la qualità della mia vita impiegando il tempo della mia giornata per un'occupazione socialmente utile nell'ambito ...

Praiseworthy, Nov. 17, 2014: Harry Hooper presentation full of interesting facts - Santa Cruz Sentinel

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Praiseworthy, Nov. 17, 2014: Harry Hooper presentation full of interesting facts
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Experiencing our first downtown Santa Cruz Halloween, was a pleasant surprise for those of us living in Walnut Commons Cohousing at Walnut Avenue and Center Street. Anticipating some rambunctious crowds, we decided to take turns standing watch on ...

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Praiseworthy, Nov. 17, 2014: Harry Hooper presentation full of interesting facts - Santa Cruz Sentinel

Cohousing News from Google -


Praiseworthy, Nov. 17, 2014: Harry Hooper presentation full of interesting facts
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Experiencing our first downtown Santa Cruz Halloween, was a pleasant surprise for those of us living in Walnut Commons Cohousing at Walnut Avenue and Center Street. Anticipating some rambunctious crowds, we decided to take turns standing watch on ...

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Why Consensus Takes Forever (but Doesn't Have to)

Laird's Blog -

One of the most prominent complaints about consensus is the perception that it takes too long to get things done.

In thinking about how to compose this essay, I was reminded of an old Mad Magazine cover that featured a spoof on piracy. Across the top was the teaser "Seven Ways to Quell a Mutiny." Underneath that, in a more discreet font, was the secondary teaser: "Eight Ways to Start One."

Trying to be more up-tempo than mischievous, I will reverse the numbers for this essay, offering seven roads to consensus hell, followed by eight paths by which good results can be rescued from the voracious jaws of poor process.

This pickle (of trial by meeting) comes in a variety of flavors; here are seven:
• Stubborn minorities can too easily monkey-wrench the process
• It takes too long to hear from everyone
• Too many things require plenary approval to go forward
• When key people miss meetings all the work has to be redone when they return
• Forward progress is paralyzed by the emergence of serious distress
• Decisions are weak, devolving to the lowest common denominator, which translates into high input and low output
• The person with the thickest skin (or strongest bladder) prevails, rather than what's best for the group

OK, that was the house of consensus horrors. Here are eight tools with which exorcise those demons:

1. Culture Shift
Consensus is designed to thrive in cooperative culture, but most of the people attempting it have been raised in competitive culture. In order to get good results users need to understand that it takes unlearning combative responses in the face of disagreement. This takes effort and awareness. Without them, consensus devolves into unanimous voting and it can get ugly.

2. Working Volatility 
No matter how respectful and constructive an environment you create, or how mature the participants, there will be times when people enter non-trivial distress, and you'll need agreements about how to engage in those moments, as well as the skill to deliver on those agreements. Again, these are not typically skills that most of us were raised with—but they can be learned. You can't afford to let reactivity paralyze the group.

3. Finding Agreement in a Haystack
Most of us have been conditioned to think first about how we are unique from others, before we think about how we are similar. Because we tend to find what we're looking for, mostly we see disagreement before we see common ground. In fact, some people have trouble seeing agreement until it's waved right under nose. Finding agreement in a jumbled haystack of opinion should not be dependent on good fortune; it should be the residue of learning to look for it.

4. Skilled Facilitation
It can make a night-and-day difference having a facilitator who can create and maintain a collaborative container in which meetings occur, reminding people of their cooperative intentions when the going gets tough. While the need for this diminishes as the group gets more savvy about how to function cooperatively, in my experience have a sufficient diet of early successes can be crucial to feeling sufficiently nourished to stay the course--and a skilled facilitator can provide the bridge to those successes.

5. Corralling Repetition

I'm not saying that consensus is easy. But neither it doesn't have to be that hard (or take forever). 

The Erosion of Neutrality at Home

Laird's Blog -

I was recently talking with a friend who described for me the arc of her relationship with her home community, where she'd been living for more than a decade. She started out as a mother of two young kids and didn't aspire to an active role in community affairs. Gradually though, as her kids needed less constant attention, she got drawn into meeting facilitation and planning plenary agendas (two separate roles, by the way). These were significant contributions and mostly her work was well received. 

Buoyed by those initial tastes of group dynamics, she deepened her involvement in community affairs and was occasionally drawn into taking a strong position on contentious issues—especially those where she felt the principles and integrity of the community were being challenged by obstreperous individuals. 

As it happened, we were talking shortly after she had gone to the mat with another member over a longstanding clash of styles and substance (which included participating in outside mediation at the community's encouragement), when she observed, to her chagrin, that her days as a facilitator in her home community may be behind her. She'd gotten hip deep into community muck frequently enough that wasn't sure she'd ever smell sweet enough again to be an acceptable facilitator.

While the community has plenty of other facilitators and was not dependent on her being in the pool for things to go well, she was lamenting the loss of a role she especially enjoyed, and didn't see it coming. It had not been clear to her that standing up in heavy seas for what she thought was right placed her reputation as a fair-minded facilitator at risk. Now she's seen as a major player.

To be sure, my friend was not regretting her decision to get more involved in community life; she was just expressing sadness about losing a service opportunity that she has a gift for.

As I listened to my friend's story unfold, it occurred to me that I've walked in those moccasins myself. Twice. At Sandhill Farm (my home from 1974 until last Thanksgiving) I facilitated only occasionally in later years. Though I've been a professional facilitator the last 27 years, I tend to ply my craft elsewhere and I was rarely asked to handle a thorny discussion at home. 

Following a parallel trajectory, it seemed increasingly inappropriate for me to facilitate Board sessions of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, for whom I've been the main administrator since the '90s. As someone heavily immersed in the content, I typically draft the agendas, but I don't run the meetings. Never mind that I'm a pro; I didn't have the right profile.
• • •One of the core principles of cooperative group dynamics is that meetings should be run by people who don't have a dog in the fight. That is, your facilitator should be disinterested in the outcome of the topics discussed‚ or at least approximately so.
Interestingly, for members who are deeply invested in their communities—which are definitely the kind you want—an inadvertent consequence of investment is an erosion of neutrality, or the perception of erosion (which is just as serious), such that some of your best members will inevitably become unacceptable as internal facilitators.

The tenderness of this hits home when, as often happens, the movers and shakers are also the folks who best grok good process. Now what? This can be delicate.

Over time individuals often have to make a choice about how they can best serve their group: as a person carrying the ball upfield, as a coach calling the plays, as a cheerleader, or as a referee. They all have their place, but the roles are not interchangeable. Once you're identified as a powerful stakeholder it can difficult switching back to wearing the zebra stripes of referee facilitator.

Some of this is due to fewer and fewer topics on which you are not associated with a viewpoint. Some is due to others being nervous that you may use the power of the facilitator role to steer the conversation in ways that doesn't align with what they think is best for the group. Note that it may not matter whether you actually do that; just the fear that you might can be enough to render you ineffective as a facilitator. In fact, the more you're seen as skilled in process the more others may be chary about having you in that role simply because of the steeper power gradient—not necessarily because there is any history of your misusing that power. It can get pretty goofy.

I know a handful of process professionals who have chosen to hold themselves aloof from engaging too deeply in dynamics at home. While that choice always struck me as odd when I first encountered it (why wouldn't you jump in with both feet to make your home as great as possible; why hold back?), now I have a deeper understanding of how things play out. If you feel that your greater contribution is helping your group with how rather than with what, then preserving your neutrality can make great deal of strategic sense.

While I may not have the discipline for that myself, I can admire it when I see it.

Laird's Ninth Symphony

Laird's Blog -

I'm in Ann Arbor this week, principally to participate in the NASCO Institute, the premiere annual gathering of student co-opers across North America. I've been on the teaching faculty for the last 18 years, where I enjoy giving workshops and acting as a resource for the next generation of young adults excited about cooperative living.

This year I'm giving a brace of workshops: one on Consensus Headaches (how to relieve them, not get them or give them) and one on Delegation (which is a stumbling block for many consensus groups).

While the conference (and delivery of my workshops) begins today, it is not the only thing on my mind. Neither, for that matter, is the sleet happening outside, not-so-subtly reminding us all what season is queued up next.

In fact, a majority of my bandwidth today will be devoted to orchestrating Laird's Ninth Symphony: a Slow Food Extravaganza, where—for the ninth time in ten years—I produce an elaborate and scrumptious four-source meal for a dozen foodies and friends. Everyone will gather at 7 pm and devote the rest of the evening to conversation, consumption, and conviviality—all in a leisurely fashion. Most years we're still at it at 11 pm. It's one of the highlights of my annual calendar and delightfully bookends November as a month of gustatory celebration: with Slow Food Ann Arbor on the front end and Thanksgiving on the back.

I am given a free hand to select the menu (usually based on a particular cuisine), and oversee the cooking and presentation—which usually means starting Thursday for a Saturday evening performance. In exchange, all the other celebrants divide up the cost of ingredients.

Many years I have the pleasure of producing this meal with my wife, Ma'ikwe. Both of us love to cook and it's a joy to dance with her in the kitchen preparing love in the form of sustenance. Right now, however, she's gearing up for a speaking tour of college campuses to talk about community and climate change in early 2015, and has decided to minimize her off-farm commitments in anticipation of the rigors of a heavy travel schedule ahead. So I'm in Ann Arbor without her. 

While I love cooking with Ma'ikwe, there's a silver lining to her absence: I could select a menu that's heavy on seafood, which I love and she does not. Further, I am blessed this year with terrific help in the kitchen in the form of Claire Maitre and Lesli Daniel. 

Though some year's I've done all the cooking solo, it's much less nerve wracking to have a buddy—and this year I'm blessed to have two accomplished assistants. This is especially valuable this year as I continue to struggle with a balky lower back from overlifting at a fair in early October. In fact, it's dubious I could pull tonight's meal off without Claire & Lesli's yeowoman help. Whew. Sometimes, magically, the universe provides.

In any event, here's tonight's menu, based on a Creole theme:

Signature cocktail 
Phoebe Snow

Appetizer
Cheese plate
Praline bacon
Shrimp remoulade   

Primi Piatti
Crawfish étouffée
Eggs sardou
Roasted beets with oranges and goat cheese

Secondi Piatti
Pan-fried John Dory with meuniere butter
Crabmeat Yvonne
Red beans and rice with andouille and tasso

Dessert
Bananas foster   
Key lime cheesecake

Wine Pairings
Pinot grigio
Pinot noir
Sauternes

Now isn't that music to your stomach's ears?

Nevada County town looks to create 'Opportunity Village' - The Union of Grass Valley

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Nevada County town looks to create 'Opportunity Village'
The Union of Grass Valley
“We want to make sure this village is as elegantly conceived and implemented as we can possibly accomplish,” said Durrett, who, with wife Kathryn McCamant, led the creation of Nevada City's cohousing community and Wolf Creek Senior Cohousing in Grass ...

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