life in community

cohousing , life in community

26 women, aged 50-87, the Older Women’s Cohousing group, will this week take possession of a block of 25 newly built flats in Union Street, High Barnet. Together they will form a self-managing community, based on the shared values of neighbourliness and mutual support. A mix of home-owners and social renters, they want to act as a demonstration project to encourage other older people to plan their later lives and develop similar initiatives.

Having lived mostly alone all over London and beyond, these independent minded women have met regularly to develop their own mini-neighbourhood in High Barnet, design their building and plan their future together. Some OWCH members are still working and others have long retired – many from the public sector. Aware that advancing old age can mean increased frailty and possible isolation and loneliness, they have joined forces to plan ahead. Most of all, they want to stay in charge of their own lives. They also want a lively mix of sociability and shared activity plus clear boundaries for personal space and a private life. They intend to look out for each other and share resources as well as reach out to their locality. One of the earliest actions they plan is to invite the whole street in for coffee to see the building that has been under construction, causing inconvenience for a considerable time. They intend to enjoy becoming known as the pioneers of the country’s first ever senior cohousing community, establishing here what has been a feature of Dutch and Scandinavian life for decades. More here,

art , cohousing , life in community , news

Congratulations to Ted who had his photograph of the Great Oak West node featured as part of The View From Your Window — click on the picture below to see the feature.


life in community , meals

Passover crowdOver the years, a number of wonderful traditions have been established at Great Oak: the GO anniversary/Valentine’s party, July fireworks, late summer bonfires, and what has become my personal favorite — the Great Oak Seder. I no longer remember what inspired Rachel, Tom and me to organize the first one, but it was such a fun event that we’ve done it every year since.The first seder was a relatively simple affair on some levels — although Rachel, Tom, Bonnie (Rachel’s mom) and I did much of the cooking, other GO’ers volunteered to make some of the traditional dishes. As many had never had these foods, let alone cooked them (or shopped for ingredients that were kosher for Passover), it was quite the learning experience!

The evening began with an introduction to a key Passover ritual — the reading of the Haggadah. In a moment of insane inspiration, Rachel, Tom and I decided at the semi-last minute to write our own haggadah. Interweaving English and Hebrew, prose, poetry, songs, and (amazingly) a brief play, the Great Oak Haggadah (and its musical supplement) was the first introduction many had to the Passover story and to a second key Passover ritual — eagerly eyeing the food while becoming overcome by the sinking feeling that it would be hours before one would actually eat.

Thinking back to that first year, I’m somewhat amazed that we ever decided to do it again. But we have! And, for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me, things have gotten more elaborate each year. (And more and more people participate — we had 91 attendees this year!)
Over time, our Haggadah has become more polished (well, at least I’d like to think so!). My annual revision process (writing parts of the text and integrating pieces from a wide range of published and unpublished sources) has deepened my own awareness of the meaning of this holiday. I think, too, that varying the text has served to keep folks more interested — there’s usually at least 2 sections that have been substantially revised.
And, in keeping with the Jewish tradition that we should continue to find new meaning in the story of Passover, we try to bring the story alive in new ways. This year, through the combined efforts of a lot of folks, we did a musical puppet show. It was a crazy amount of work but I think it was well worth it — adults and kids all seemed to enjoy it a lot.

Friends are gathered round, tonight we’ll stay up later
Because there is no greater than the Great Oak Seder

Moses, Laird, and Pharaoh discuss conflict resolution Miriam sings

cohousing , life in community

Parenting is a complex, difficult and harshly judged affair. Being a new parent is to be full of self-doubt and anxiety (at least it was for me). I can’t think of a more ringing endorsement for parenting in cohousing than this cheeky article:

My idea of childcare is a large field. At one side is a marquee
serving local ales. This is where the parents gather. On the other
side, somewhere in the distance, the children play. I don’t
bother them and they don’t bother me. I give them as much
freedom as possible.

Maybe cohousing isn’t all that in the specifics, but Great Oak (apart from the darkest and coldest winter stretches) is certainly about as close to that that I’ve seen in my, admittedly limited, parenting years.

life in community , meals , news

Any occasion to have a celebration/party/special meal and associated festivities is welcomed at Great Oak. For the first time, we celebrated Diwali with a catered Indian meal, sparklers for the kids followed by Bhangra dancing (lessons provided). The Common House dining room was decorated for the occasion with silk saris and rangoli. Click on the image below for more pictures of the occasion. Although the proceedings were much more modest than our annual Passover Seder we have grander ambitions for 2008!

(note the hanging saris on the wall along with the rangoli)

art , cohousing , life in community , music , news , performances

Great Oak just celebrated its 5th anniversary with a fabulous talent show and party!

Great Oak 2007 Anniversary

We  had music, dancing, snakes, dragons, grape-hoarding, band-name unveiling, storytelling, stage-shyness, anti-art and much, much more!

life in community , news , performances

The game room in the Great Oak Common House has a large wall used as a projection screen;

Great Oak Common House Game Room with Movie screen Great Oak Movie night album Great Oak Movie night album
it is painted with screen-goo which is a

specially formatted, highly reflective acrylic paint, designed specifically for the video projection industry. Screen Goo acrylic paint allows one to transform any smooth paintable surface into a high performance projection screen.

Combined with a LCD projector, DVD player and some speakers, we have a very enjoyable, community, movie experience periodically. The movies have ranged from a “Portrait of Andy Goldsworthy, an artist whose specialty is ephemeral sculptures made from elements of nature.” in Rivers and Tides to The Adventures of Robin Hood with Erol Flynn and Apollo 13 and to a Bollywood favorite, Dil Chahta hai, that was accompanied with popcorn flavored with chat masala and samosas as a snack during intermission as part of a member’s birthday celebration!

Most recently, it was Groundhog Day, albeit a bit early for Spring, but hope springs eternal!

life in community , news

Mary & Carl’s 4th New Year’s Day Euchre Tournament – and the 2nd held at Great Oak.

Twenty-four people including Great Oak family and friends, Touchstoners, (mostly the entire Rolka family, minus Chet who was sleeping) enjoyed four rounds of friendly competition.

Potluck snacks included the generous and delicious left overs from the Epicuria new Year’s Eve party.

The youngest participant was Mary’s 12 year old nephew Jordan, and the oldest was Sarah’s mom, Gail, (who is noticeably older than Jordan).

Almost half the participants were first time players!

Carl Hanna dominated the score board with a perfect 40! Lisa placed a respectable second with 38. Jim Sweeton brought up the rear with a total of 16 points.

Prizes, (and we use the term loosely, here), were distributed in a White Elephant exchange. The low scorer, (that would be Jim Sweeton) was the first to open his mystery gift. Subsequent rounds of gift opening included the option to snatch a gift from anyone with a lower score, (that would be Jim Sweeton).

Thanks to all who participated, especially Sarah and others who helped with set-up and clean up.

The Beginner's table.

To see more photos click here.

life in community , music , news , performances

Maybe this post doesn’t address all that, but it does showcase the talent that drives the Great Oak band.

Once upon a time, several years ago, my friend John & I wrote a little songy. We subsequently made a video which laid dormant, more or less, until the technology of video sharing caught up.

Now it’s on YouTube.

Check it out! Share with your friends! Watch it often!

life in community , meals , news

The Great Oak meal program is the “glue” that holds our community together, providing optional, shared meals, five nights a week in our Common House dining room. The meals are served with shared labor and costs for the households at Great Oak and periodically to our neighboring communities of Sunward and Touchstone. We’ve logged over 600 meals and although we’re still working on our technique, it is good enough to be instructional to other communities!

Great Oak shared meal in the Common House dining room

One of the most important and not-often duplicated features of our meal program is that the labor is integrated into the Great Oak work system so those who don’t want to do kitchen jobs can still eat and those who do have snow cleared from their paths or the grass mowed.

Cooking a shared meal in the Great Oak Common House kitchen

To reduce the amount of labor involved in tracking the signups and billing for so many meals and jobs, we’ve invested in a fair amount of automation, including online, web-based meal signup that feeds directly into our billing program. Click on the thumbnail image for more detail on how to signup:

Thumbnail of Great Oak online meal signup

The nitty-gritty about how it all works

  1. meals scheduler person works out a schedule for 2 months in advance (can be
    less or more, up to you) and enters in the meal shifts for that period online, including information about meal date, cook, asst cooks, cleaners
  2. once (1) happens, cooks can edit their meal online and add their meal name,
    menu, how many diners they will accept and when the online meal signup is
    closed (optional)
  3. diners can signup (anyone in their household) for meals anytime after (1)
    but typically will do so after (2) so they know what they can expect to eat
  4. ooks will get nag emails if they don’t update the menu 2 weeks before
    the meal date and then 1 week before and every day till they do or the meal is
  5. anyone with a meal shift will get email reminders about their shift in
    advance (2 days for cooks and 1 day in advance for everyone else)
  6. diners can opt to have email reminders sent to them about when they are
  7. when the meal is closed, the cook has the responsibility of printing out
    the signup sheet, and attached to it is the reimbursement form, and no more
    online signups are allowed
  8. the cook takes the numbers from the signup sheet and shops accordingly, and
    brings the sheet to the dinner
  9. if there are spaces for late signups, they are recorded on the sheet (there
    is spot), or if there are any drop-outs or other changes, they get recorded on
    the sheet at or right the meal
  10. the cook attaches their receipts to the reimbursement form and signup sheet
    and puts it into a meal biller person’s cubby
  11. the meal biller person goes online to note any changes to the signups for
    the meal, enters in cost of the meal (we separate out meal purchase and any
    staples purchase, but that is again optional) and the program figures out the
    cost per diner based on the signups — then the meal biller person marks the
    meal as “complete” meaning that it is ready for billing
  12. if the cook has requested a check, then the meals biller writes them a reimbrusement check, otherwise records the reimbursement as a credit against
    the cook’s household account
  13. at the end of the billing period, the meal biller person simply hits the
    “bill now” button and lineitems are generated for all the meals in the last
    billing period and attributed to the diners’ household accounts
  14. at preset times (currently the 6th and 19th of the month), statements are
    generated and emailed to all dining households. The meals biller in some cases
    prints out the statements for those who require them
  15. the meals biller collects checks and then records payments and any other
    adjustments online. Once all received payments are entered, we require
    payments to be made by the 20th, the meals biller hits the “charge admin fee”
    button and the program figures out who is in arrears and charges them an admin
    fee (5% currently)

The meals billers record money activity in and out of the bank account in a
check register separately — my program does meal signup and billing, NOT
accounting — so if you are happy with Quickbooks to manage the accounting,
you can continue to use that, but we’ve found that a check register works fine
for the few bank transactions we do.

This is the workflow we’ve now used for over 600 meals at Great Oak and I
think it has worked pretty well.

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