November 2006

cohousing , news

Although considering and choosing a community and then living the reality of Cohousing in one is likely an enriching, complex and difficult process, it might help you to know some of the resources that can help. Living in Cohousing is a learning process and so constant re-evaluation is the norm! To get an overview of the range of intentional communities around the world, is invaluable, and in particular, if Cohousing interests you, make sure you know about and the Cohousing-L email list.

Of particular interest might be the article, Is cohousing right for you? on the website and the similar list of questions in a Cohousing-L posting entitled People who are considering cohousing may want to ask themselves some questions. A diverse range of people live in cohousing, some are just starting out, some are old-hands, but everyone is learning how to live in community — even some brave introverts!

No, we’re not all gregarious and extroverted, and there is a huge variety of personalities that live in Cohousing, and that is the richness and challenge.

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.


This past Saturday most of the community participated in an all day training titled “Understanding our Differences” hosted by our former member now neighbor Diana Kardia. We have had weekend workshops before at Great Oak. We have had Laird Schaub out to act in the role of outside facilitator to help us work on difficult issues and improve our problem solving process. Several members of Great Oak, Sunward, and Touchstone are now working with him on a long term facilitation training, out of which have come a few more weekend training session where we have worked difficult community issues.

This weekend’s session promised to be something different, with less focus on working out specific issues or group process and more on more vague issues such as how we are different. I confess that going into this I was pretty skeptical. The whole thing sounded a bit too uncertain for me, with a goal of appreciating how everyone is different. It seemed to me that we all felt fine about differences, so long as our differences aren’t in conflict, and the workshop was missing the point.

As it turned out the workshop was a wonderful experience. The issue of our differences was not so much about differences in opinion or goals, but differences in how we deal with conflict. It was helpful to talk about how a reaction seen as not caring could actually be just one person’s way of processing something difficult.

In the end, the biggest outcome seemed to be that many people are very interested in getting to know each other better and forming closer relationships. I suppose this shouldn’t come as any surprise given that we all chose to live in cohousing. Some of us will be thinking more about where we can find more ways to get to know each other better beyond dinners and meetings.

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!