life in community

art , life in community

This past Thursday, Dec. 22, saw heavy usage at the Great Oak Commmon House. In addition to Judith’s regular Thurdsday Origami Group, a Solstice celebration organized by the Clarks and the (Mary) King family Christmas bake-off, there was an informal Art Show hosted by Sarah Ross.

The show featured paintings by Sarah, Catherine Lankford and Maria Beaugrand all of whom where students in the Fall 2006 session of Painting I at Washtenaw Community College. Our instructor, Nemanja Rosic, as well as friends, family and neighbors of the exhibitors also attended. There were light snacks, including cookies from Mary’s bake-off. A very artsy time was had by all.
The Art Wall At the Art Show

To see more pictures from the show, including some close-ups of the paintings go to: Art Show pics…

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!

cohousing , labor , life in community , meals , news

To do the work required to run the community, Great Oak depends on its members and their labor. Tasks range from maintaing the buildings and infrastructure of 37 units, to facilitating meetings to mowing grass and plowing snow. Unlike many cohousing communities, the tasks required to run the Great Oak meal program is a major part of the general work program. Meal jobs represent around 50% of the work hours.

Shovelling a pile wood chips mowing the lawn with some help

This being Michigan, the seasonal extremes mean that we have different jobs at different times of year. This winter (2006-7), we have a list of 88 different jobs representing 468 hours. Some jobs have multiple positions, and some people opt to perform multiple shifts of certain jobs. Since the list of tasks vary by season and workers like variety and change, we rotate jobs a few times a year. We also have community work days a few times a year to do those tasks that require many people at once and can be done en masse.
A general description of the Great Oak Work system that was posted to the Cohousing-L mailing list has details about our periodic work surveys and how we allocate work based on the preferences expressed on the survey.

work day Common House painting snow shovelling with the Great Oak truck

As listed in this other recent Cohousing-L message the most desired jobs for this upcoming work season were (the number represents the weighted “average” preference):

  • 42 - meal cleaner once a month
  • 27 - weekday meal assistant cook
  • 26 - light duty snow shoveller
  • 24 - sunday meal assistant cook
  • 23 - meal cleaner two times a month
  • 23 - Common House sitting and guest room cleaner
  • 18 - Common House laundry room cleaner
  • 17 - meals billing person
  • 16 - weekday meal head cook
  • 11 - sunday meal head cook

and the least desired jobs were:

  • -88 - community meeting childcare
  • -87 - Buildings committee steering rep
  • -87 - Buildings committee convener
  • -87 - Weekday head cook three times per month
  • -87 - Lilacc (Little Lake cohousing committee) committee rep

This system has been in place for almost 3 years, over 600 meals, 2 community meetings per month, many committee meetings and thousands of hours of constructive labor. So far, we haven’t found a better way, but the work committee is always fine tuning and balancing the needs of the community with those of the busy and varied individuals who comprise it. The number of workers has been pretty consistent at around 60 adults, though the load per adult varies, with the goal always to maximize the happiness of all!
Below is the complete list of jobs, sorted by committee. Listed is also the hours per month on average someone doing the job can expect to spend and the number of positions available.

committee Job hours per month positions
buildings Buildings Committee convener 2.00 1
buildings Buildings Maintenance Worker 2.00 3
buildings Buldings maintenance coordinator 2.00 1
buildings Counted member (buildings) 2.00 2
buildings Steering Rep (buildings) 1.00 1
common house Bike Shed Maintenance 1.00 1
common house CH Committee convener 3.00 1
common house CH Decorator 1.00 1
common house CH Hottub and Hobart (dish-sanitizer) maintainer 1.00 1
common house CH Night Lockup 2.00 2
common house CH bathrooms cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH bathrooms spot cleaner 1.00 1
common house CH clean-up coordinator 1.00 1
common house CH dining room cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH game and media rooms cleaner 1.00 1
common house CH halls and common areas cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH inventory/shopper 4.00 1
common house CH kids room cleaner 2.00 1
common house CH kitchen cleaner 2.00 2
common house CH laundry room cleaner 2.00 1
common house CH maintenance coordinator 3.00 1
common house CH sitting and guest room cleaner 1.00 1
common house Counted member (common house) 2.00 2
common house Kids room coordinator 2.00 1
common house Steering Rep (common house) 1.00 1
finance and legal Bookkeeper assistant - Check Writer 3.00 1
finance and legal Counted member (finance and legal) 2.00 2
finance and legal Finance and legal committee convener 2.00 1
finance and legal Insurance point person 1.00 1
finance and legal Steering Rep (finance and legal) 1.00 1
finance and legal bookeeper assistant - Member Bookkeeper 4.00 1
finance and legal bookkeeper assistant - Check Depositor 2.00 1
finance and legal bookkeeper assistant - Check Logger 2.00 1
finance and legal general bookkeeper 6.00 1
grounds Counted member (grounds) 2.00 2
grounds Heavy-duty shoveller 3.00 3
grounds Light-duty shoveller 2.00 6
grounds Snow and Ice Removal Coordinator 3.00 1
grounds Snow plowers 4.00 4
grounds Steering Rep (grounds) 1.00 1
grounds Tractor (Snow plower) 3.00 1
grounds grounds committee convener 3.00 1
grounds point person for garbage and recycling 2.00 1
meals Counted member (meals) 2.00 2
meals Meal cleaner 1.50 52
meals Meal cleaner 2 times per month 1.50  
meals Meal cleaner 3 times per month 1.50  
meals Meal committee convener 2.00 1
meals Meals Scheduling Person 4.00 1
meals Meals billing person 2.50 2
meals Meals billing tech 1.00 1
meals Meeting Night cleaner 2.00 2
meals Meeting Night takeout orderer 1.00 2
meals Steering Rep (meals) 1.00 1
meals Sunday Meal assistant cook 2.00 8
meals Sunday Meal assistant cook 2 times per month 2.00  
meals Sunday Meal assistant cook 3 times per month 2.00  
meals Sunday Meal head cook 4.00 4
meals Sunday Meal head cook 2 times per month 4.00  
meals Weekday Meal assistant cook 2.00 27
meals Weekday Meal assistant cook 2 times per month 2.00  
meals Weekday Meal assistant cook 3 times per month 2.00  
meals Weekday Meal head cook 4.00 14
meals Weekday Meal head cook 2 times per month 4.00  
meals Weekday Meal head cook 3 times per month 4.00  
membership Counted member (membership) 2.00 2
membership Fun coordinator 1.00 1
membership New member handbook 2.00 1
membership Steering Rep (membership) 1.00 1
membership child care coordinator for community meetings 2.00 1
membership community meeting childcare 1.00 6
membership member database maintenance 1.00 1
membership membership commitee convener 3.00 1
membership outreach/contact 2.00 1
membership outreach/marketing 2.00 1
membership website hosting and backend maintenance 2.00 1
membership website maintenance 2.00 1
process Book of agreements content entry 1.00 1
process Community Reporter 2.00 1
process Conflict Resolution committee Co-Convener 1.00 3
process Counted member (process) 2.00 2
process Info committee convener 2.00 1
process LiLaCC Convener 1.00 1
process Steering Rep (process) 1.00 1
process agenda planning for community mtgs 2.00 1
process archivist and bulletin boards 1.00 1
process facilitate community meeting 2 times per season 2.00 8
process minute taker for community meeting 2 times per season 1.00 4
process process committee convener 2.00 1
steering Steering convener 2.00 1
tech GO-Net Administrator 2.00 2
tech GO-Net biller 1.00 1
work Counted member (work) 2.00 2
work Steering Rep (work) 1.00 1
work community work coordinator 3.00 1
work work allocation tech 1.00 1
work work survey tech 1.00 1
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.

art , life in community , news

For Jim’s birthday, he and Gail planted a peace pole at Great Oak. The pole has inscriptions in eight languages, English, Spanish, Hindi (India), Hebrew, Arabic, Wolof (Senegal), Ojibway (A Native American language) and Dog (animal paw prints), all which say, approximately, “May peace prevail on earth”.

Peace poles are found around the world in places where the spirit of peace is embraced by people of good will. The Great Oak peace pole has been placed in a community garden where it can be seen not only by its neighbors but also by visitors who make their way into the community via the pedestrian path that runs through the middle of our buildings.

The Peace Pole was dedicated in a short and simple ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 26. After an invocation using a Buddhist meditation, members of the community read the languages on the pole: English, Spanish, Hebrew, Hindi, Wolof, Ojibway, and Arabic, and gave the English meaning of the phrase. Sam, one of our younger members, identified the animal paw prints in the 8th panel.

Peace pole dedication

click on the picture for an albums worth more!
Following the dedication ceremony, community members gathered in the common house for punch and cookies and sang peace songs directed by Tom.

life in community , news

The Great Oak workshop (shared with Touchstone) is taking shape. Great Oak donated the land and some portion of the construction costs with Touchstone paying for the rest. Great Oak and Touchstone will be partly funding the operating costs and the rest will be borne directly by those who use the workshop. Here is a video of the roof going up over the last weekend work day!

more pictures are in the workshop album.

life in community , news

The community recently got an AED which is:

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable electronic device that diagnoses and treats cardiac arrest by re-establishing an effective heart rhythm. This treatment is called defibrillation, which applies an electric shock to the entire heart muscle, uniformly clearing the electrical activity of the heart, hopefully allowing it to resynchronize.

according to the Wikipedia entry.More information about implementing an AED program may be found on the American Heart Association Website. The one Great Oak has is a Welch-Allyn AED 10 with a second battery and maintenance plan (they call to check that it’s in good shape) that an anonymous donor purchased along with a Welch Allyn Compact Wall Cabinet with Visual Alert and Audible Alarm (Model 002156-E). We then had our own Dr. Sickels give us a brief tutorial during a community meeting (he also gives free monthly presentations about health topics of current interest). We hope to never have to use it!

life in community , news , performances

Halloween is a holiday celebrated seriously at Great Oak, and 2006 was no exception. Click on the picture for our album of pictures from this groovy holiday:
Great Oak Halloween 2006 album

This year, the resident Great Oak band played, after trick-or-treating, scary favorites like “Monster Boogie” in front of the Common House — the crowd kept warm by dancing or huddling around the brazier!

Great Oak Band at Halloween 2006 Great Oak Band outside CH at Halloween 2006

37 households provide a lot of treats, but if that isn’t enough, Sunward Cohousing, Touchstone Cohousing and Eagle Point apartments are all nearby with a large host of welcoming haunted houses.

art , life in community , news

As Great Oak members moved in we often heard comments that folks had more art works than they had wall space to hang them. At the same time, members were talking about the large empty wall in the common house dining room. Putting these two threads together we created an art wall that enables members to loan some of their favorite works for display in this common area. There has been a wide range of art walls since, some with a theme but not always.
Willie's nature photography

One of the most popular showed paintings, photographs and other works that members had brought back from their vacations. Along with this display, we held a contest asking adults and children to identify the locations of the works. This culminated with an award ceremony at our annual anniversary celebration - everyone that entered the contest got a prize!

Another featured three of the large paintings done by Heather, our artist in residence. The bold colors and dramatic strokes of these works were very appealing and appreciated by many who saw them. And, the works of children, those currently living in Great Oak, and examples of work done by our older members in their younger days, gave us a colorful and interesting wall.
Art wall with Heather's paintings
Each art wall is usually on display for several months and new ideas for themes are always welcome.
More photo graphs will be added to our Art Wall photo gallery

life in community , news

Work days, typically on two adjacent Saturdays, twice a year — in the Fall and in the Spring — are an occasion for the community to tackle and complete larger tasks that benefit from coordinated mass labor. Tasks this Fall ranged from weeding garden beds, putting the hoses away for the winter, various maintenance tasks in the Common house including touch-up painting, improving the stairs on the kids’ room loft, deep cleaning the kitchen, polishing the Marmoleum floor to more ambitious projects like installing a staircase up a hill (click the picture for the full album):
building stairs Fall 2006 work day Great Oak 2006 Fall Work day completed staircase

to Laura and Keith’s fantastic handiwork of staining the concrete in the Common House foyer:

Great Oak 2006 Fall work day concrete staining Great Oak 2006 Fall Work day completed concrete stain

A majority of the adults in the community participated over the two work days and the sense of accomplishment is palpable and tangible!

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