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Putting a Lid on It

Laird's Blog -

Colloquially, advising some to "put a lid on it" translates into a request to shut up, or shut down. Well, yesterday that's exactly what I did.

In this case, I was shutting up Sandhill's new 12,000 gallon cistern, which involved pouring 4.75 cubic yards of concrete. The trickiest part was getting the forming right over a rectangular hole that was approximately 8'x25', so that the concrete went where we wanted it—and stayed there while it cured. As that amount of wet concrete weighs something north of a ton, you don't even want to think about the mess we'd have had if the forms had failed and the concrete slumped into the cistern. "Dismay"is not even in the same solar system as the emotional response that would have ensued. Although I had configured the shoring entirely with wood—something I was doing for the first time—everything held and the pour went smoothly (if you don't count Sandhill's pet kitten who mistakenly thought it would be clever to jump onto the wet concrete, and who realized immediately that something was very wrong).

Afterwards, the driver of the concrete truck (Dennis) admitted that he was worried about the forming holding up to the task. As there is no end of the amateurs buying ready-mix for backyard projects, you have to assume that drivers see just about everything, and Dennis had been delivering concrete for at least a decade. When he complimented us on the stoutness of our forming, I knew it was because he was not originally confident that we knew what we were doing. And so, in turn, I complimented him on keeping that opinion to himself until we were done. Whew.

While there is still be a good bit of work left before we can start capturing rain from the roof, the hard parts are now done and that was the bulk of my assignment. In the days ahead I'll oversee the wiring and the installation of the submersible pump, and advise on how to handle the overflow and the best way to connect the guttering to the cistern intake, yet these oddments are relatively straight forward and it feels good to have honored my commitment to build Sandhill a cistern—something I promised to do when I left the community last Thanksgiving.

Noticing how sore my back is today I'm wondering how much it makes sense to undertake this kind of work for anyone in the future. While it's never been easy for me to accept physical limitations—especially for things I used to be able to handle in stride—it's all the harder when I feel my knowledge about how to do things and my understanding of good technique have never been greater. Nonetheless, it may be time for me to put on lid on heavy construction. Sigh. 

Maybe in the future I can be the guy who rescues the mischievous kittens and redirects the ill-disciplined dogs. Kind of like a New Age Walmart greeter.

Il primo progetto di cohousing passivo di Londra - Rinnovabili

Cohousing News from Google -


Rinnovabili

Il primo progetto di cohousing passivo di Londra
Rinnovabili
Potrebbe sembrare insolito che nella capitale inglese non si sia mai intrapresa un'esperienza abitativa di questo tipo, anche a fronte della carenza di alloggi a prezzi accessibili che ancora oggi colpisce la città britannica, tuttavia i progetti di ...
Londra si apre al cohousingIl Sole 24 Ore

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Londra si apre al cohousing - Il Sole 24 Ore

Cohousing News from Google -


Il Sole 24 Ore

Londra si apre al cohousing
Il Sole 24 Ore
Copper Lane è un progetto residenziale appena realizzato a Londra che secondo gli architetti potrebbe essere una soluzione alla fame di case nella capitale. Innovativo e tradizionale al tempo stesso, è un progetto di "cohousing", una casa da ...
Il primo progetto di cohousing passivo di LondraRinnovabili

all 2 news articles »

Show for Shirt and Shine

Laird's Blog -

As a consultant I float a lot of bread on the water.

Every year I attend community events and offer workshops without compensation so that people can get a taste of what I know, and how I deliver it. Sometimes this leads to paid work directly (within 12 months); sometimes the seeds are slow germinating and the fruit doesn’t ripen for years (last year, for example, I worked for a group that I first interested in 2003—it was a long wait); sometimes nothing happens.

I was doing a version of that at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference last weekend, when I moderated a panel on Radical Sharing Platforms, conducted a discussion exploring Community Businesses (their challenges and opportunities), and led an introductory workshop on Consensus & Facilitation.

Following the weekend I spent three days in Floyd VA visiting my dear friend Annie. While there, I was approached by a nearby forming community who got excited about how I might be able to assist their formation based on the taste a couple members had gotten at the Twin Oaks event. Thus, on Thursday (while Annie worked for a neighbor) I was whisked away for three hours with the new group: a quick one-hour tour of the built facilities and the new construction in progress, followed by a two-hour power lunch with nine folks, none of whom had ever lived in community before. Happily, they were an eager audience, the conversation was fast paced, and I had a lot of fun.

I knew going in that this was a pro bono demonstration of what I might be able to offer as a consultant, and it’s too early to tell if any seeds I sowed with this group will sprout or not. In the restaurant business, they’d call what I did a “show,” where would-be customers are given a look at servings of what’s on the menu to see if it’s ample enough and mouthwatering enough to order. (For some reason this request is particularly common at barbecue joints.)

After two hours of fielding rapid-fire questions about foundational structure and community agreements (we ran out of time, not questions) people were in a pretty good mood. As a thank you, my host offered me a t-shirt with the community logo on it, which I gracefully accepted (I can always use a new t-shirt). While I’ve collected quite a few of those from clients over the years (as well as bill caps), I enjoy getting them. Then it got better.

Among the nine gathered for lunch was a neighbor who was somewhere north of 60—yet sharp, spry, and entrepreneurial. We'd had some productive exchanges and I'd enjoyed the repartee. As we were getting up from the table she asked me to keep a lookout on her behalf for a new husband. I double clutched for half a second to make sure she was serious (she was), and then promptly promised to keep my eyes open. While that request is much rarer than the offer of a t-shirt, it’s not the first time I’ve been asked to provide yenta services on the side, nor do I expect it to be the last.

When I related the story to Annie and Carla (a mutual friend who arrived at Annie’s for an overnight just as I returned from my “show”), they both wanted to know if the woman was indirectly inquiring about my availability to play stallion. While flattering on some level, I quickly quashed that idea. I’ve got all the woman I can handle back in Missouri.

Then it got more interesting still (so to speak).

In our final minutes together we somehow wandered into a light-hearted conversation about local culture, and before I knew it someone had gone into the kitchen and returned with mason jar of clear, local moonshine—which the husband-seeking widow was happy to sample straight from the jar (at one in the afternoon, mind you) offering me an on-the-spot testament as to its authenticity and potency—after which the remainder was pressed upon me as a token of their appreciation for the day.

This exchange immediately evoked for me the 2008 novel by Matt Bondurant, The Wettest County in the World, which describes (with poetic license) the wild bootlegging days of his forefathers in Franklin County VA (which is quite close to where this exchange took place). And I naively thought this activity had largely evaporated in the first half of the 20th Century. Ha ha.

There was definitely something different about this group, and they’d finally hit upon something I’d never been offered or requested before. While there’s no knowing where this might lead, one thing is certain: we took a shine to each other and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

'Hoe minder plaats in Vlaanderen, hoe interessanter cohousing wordt' - De Morgen

Cohousing News from Google -


De Morgen

'Hoe minder plaats in Vlaanderen, hoe interessanter cohousing wordt'
De Morgen
Cohousing klimt gestaag op de populariteitsladder en wil níet met de communes van de jaren zeventig worden vergeleken. Eef Tanghe weet er alles over. Zij geniet op twee fronten van deze vorm van (samen)wonen. Eef woont met partner en baby in ...

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Brownie Returns!

Laird's Blog -

Like a lot of kids, I had a favorite stuffed animal when I was young: a small brown dog I called Brownie. Unlike most kids, I didn't get Brownie until I was a teen. At an age when most have grown out of attachment to stuffed animals, I grew into it.

While I don't recall why I wanted a stuffed animal going into junior high, there it is and I became very attached to my little buddy. Not only did I have him next to my pillow all through my remaining years at home, but he was my faithful companion as I:
o  Attended four years at Carelton College (1967-71).
o  Went to Washington for my two-year stint as a junior bureaucrat at the US Dept of Transportation (1971-73).
o  Traveled across country in a motor home for seven months while Annie, Dave Oser, Margaret Loud, and I explored America, a la Charles Kuralt (1973-74).
o  Pioneered Sandhill Farm (1974 onward).

All of that said, somewhere in the mid-80s I lost him. I know Brownie was still a regular occupant of my bed when Ceilee was born (1981) and Annie and I have a picture of them sleeping together in his toddler years. But I changed bedrooms a few times in the 1985-95 era (it's a semi-pro sport in income-sharing communities) and somewhere along the line Brownie got put in a box for "safe keeping" and never resurfaced. Ugh. 

Though I had lost touch with Brownie, the memories remained. When I was in high school, some careless friends were visiting my house one day and decided it would be clever to stuff Brownie into the corner pocket of the pool table in our rec room. When they pulled him out as a surprise, they tore his shoulder. The subsequent suturing was not up to hospital standards and he's been slowly leaking stuffing ever since.

He came factory equipped with a squeaker in one ear (a feature I never enjoyed; I prefer my stuffed animals to be soft all over and mute—unless I'm talking directly to them), and Annie performed a squeakerectomy sometime in the early '70s. Though the operation was a complete success, he retains a worn spot on his ear where the squeaker rubbed the fur off.

For a couple years in the late '90s (1996-98) I dated a yoga instructor who also had stuffed animals: Alex McGee (while I don't think Brown Bear and Gray Bear were a major factor in our getting together, it didn't hurt). When we broke up, the two aspects of our time together that endured the longest were my yoga practice (Alex got me going) and Brown Bear (who came to me in the "divorce").

While Brown Bear (BB) has become well integrated into my life (though he rarely does road trips, he's a steady fixture in my bed), I've made sure over the years that Brown Bear does not suffer the same fate of as the wandering Brownie. This has been made easier in that my wife, Ma'ikwe, came as a package deal with Rufus, a stuffed gray sea lion of approximately the same size and temperament as BB. They hang out together a lot, and we have a stuffed animal friendly bed. In fact, on many mornings we also have one of our Maine Coon cats join us, either Kyre or Galileo. It can be a real menagerie.

The Prodigal Brownie Appears
Last month I made the momentous decision to leave Sandhill (my community home of 40 years) and move in with Ma'ikwe at Moon Lodge, our house at Dancing Rabbit. That meant clearing out all my stuff from Sandhill. Ugh.

Last week, while unpacking one of the myriads boxes pressed into service to facilitate the move, lo and behold I discovered Brownie. Holy shit! Where had he been the last 30 years? I couldn't even imagine how he'd gotten into the box (which was loaded with an array of miscellany from my room) without my knowing it—that crafty old dog.

It happened that this joyous reunion occurred while I was alone (Ma'ikwe, who had never even met Brownie, was in Chicago delivering Jibran to college) so all I did was place Brownie (lovingly) atop the headboard of our marriage bed, where he could get a little fresh air (finally) and survey the whole scene without getting tangled up with Rufus or BB (much less Kyre or Leo). 

Ma'ikwe and I only overlapped a couple days before it was time for me to head East for FIC meetings and the Twin Oaks Communities Conference, and it slipped my mind to tell her about my discovery. In fact, up until a few days ago I hadn't shared this news with anyone. However, once I arrived at Annie's it all came out. You should have seen Annie's jaw drop when I told her that Brownie had resurfaced—it was a resurrection of biblical proportions and she was gobsmacked.

When I skyped my wife yesterday I remembered to tell her about the discovery and Ma'ikwe promptly went into the bedroom and brought the little darlin' out for show and tell. Annie was overjoyed to see the rascal. We still need to give some healing attention to his old shoulder injury, but there will be plenty of opportunity for that this winter. No more time in the penalty box for Brownie!
• • •As I think about it, it's turned out to be a great fortnight for connections:
—Visiting with dear friend Ella Peregrine in Louisville en route to VA. She's been struggling with Myalgic Enchephalitis the last seven years and it's precious to be with her, even for half a day.—Taking Jenny Upton out to dinner, celebrating all her selfless years of service to FIC.
—Having a power breakfast last Friday with Peter Lazar, who's reviving a cohousing project in the Charlottesville area (on property near Crozet).
—Working the Community Bookstore table at the TO Conference with Elke Lerman, an ex-partner (1986-89) and good friend who is also the mother of my daughter, Jo.
—Catching up with Scott Williams, who used to be part of FIC's Membership Committee back around 2001. He came to the Twin Oaks because he needed to be in the area to help settle his aging mother in a nursing home. He's living happily in Tucson now, and I hadn't seen him in a dozen years.
—Seeing Jake Kawatzki, a long-time member Twin Oaker, who had visited Sandhill any number of times over the decades. He attended the conference and I hadn't seen him since he'd moved to Savannah seven years ago.
—Visiting with Annie for three days before returning home. We share a son (Ceilee) and she's one of my closest friends—going all the way back to Brownie!
—Talking with Ceilee yesterday. He's life has been in turmoil the last 20 months and I had not spoken with him for more than three months. Yikes! It was great to hear his voice and reestablish the primacy of our caring for each other. 

All of that and now I have Brownie, too, the first stuffed love of my life. Life is good.

The Business of Community Business

Laird's Blog -

This weekend I'm at the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference—something I've participated in for the last 20 years or so. It's a regular stop on my calendar.

I get to do some workshops, see old friends, sell books for Community Bookstore, help pull off a benefit auction for FIC (we made over $1300!), and have innumerable conversations with people seeking more community in their life. It's a lot of fun.

The best part (so far) has been pioneering a new workshop on Community Business. For the last few years I've been collaborating with my friend, Terry O'Keefe (Asheville NC), to figure out ways to help intentional communities have more robust economic activity, and we wanted to test the waters for interest in that focus.

Although our late afternoon Saturday workshop was not advertised in the conference program (we announced it for the first and only time at the opening circle Saturday morning), we drew about 20 folks and had a lively conversation throughout. It turned out that Terry and I were not the only ones with attention on economic sustainability. Hurray!

While it's too early to tell if that workshop interest can be translated into a business model (consulting with cooperative groups about how to be more business savvy), but it was an encouraging sign.

Here's are some of the questions that attendees were interested in:

o  When does it make more sense for the community to own a business, and when does it make more sense for individual members to own it?

It depends on whether it's an income-sharing community or not, what structure gives you the best chance of manifesting the management energy needed to operate the business, and how much you want the business to generate jobs for members.

o  What advantages might communities have in the marketplace?

—Often communities develop expertise in an area to meet their own needs, and that learning can have immediate commercial application (in ways that home-scale experiences often don't).

—Community members member tend to have above-average social skills (think customer service) and are happy to work part-time if they can work at home with flexible hours.

—Communities often control land or have commonly held buildings that are underutilized.

o  How tricky is it to navigate the dynamic where members are both peer-peer and employer-employee?

The hardest part may be when the employer gives the employee critical feedback about their performance as an employee—and these two are otherwise neighbors. This can be dicey, and a lot will depend on how well the culture of the community supports the expression of feedback.

o  How can we encourage non-income-sharing communities to develop their potential as an economic engine?

There are at least two parts to this: a) what can communities do to foster and support business development among entrepreneurial members; and b) what can groups do to help new businesses create jobs for non-entrepreneurial members?

o  To what extent is a focus on business development just buying into the (failed) paradigm of growth solves everything, and to what extent is it possible to use traditional business tools to support alternative economies?

While I think you can dial down demand (and live happily on less), it nonetheless makes sense to be smart about analyzing prospects for new business ideas with tried and true traditional queries (what's the market for your product or service?; what's the competition?; what do you do better than anyone else?; what do you love doing?; can you produce or deliver this product or service at a price people are willing to pay?; how is your business an expression of who you want to be in the world?)

o  How do handle the tension between the non-entrepreneurial (who tend to be risk averse) and the entrepreneurial (who tend to be risk tolerant)?

You had this tension already, whether you have community businesses or not. This is just another application of it. It's a better strategy to learn to deal with the breadth of attitudes among your members than attempt to eliminate opportunities for those differences to manifest.
• • •Now all Terry and I have to do is sift through all the dialog and figure out how to offer services that help groups navigate this gauntlet of economic challenges. While I don't yet know what that looks like, I'm looking forward to it (which is a typical entrepreneurial response).

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