Tuesday, July 28, 2009


At the moment I am homeless. Not homeless in the sense that I don't have a place to sleep. But homeless in the sense that I don't have an official residential address.

That has been the case since I vacated my rental house at the end of May. However, I was able to push that fact onto the back burner while I was galavanting overseas for all of June and most of July. Now, as I sit on my bed at the Painted Turtle Guesthouse, with my laptop balanced on my lap -- I guess that's why we call them laptops -- the reality has sunk in.

Before I left for my trip abroad, I made an offer to purchase my apartment at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, and Pacific Gardens accepted my offer. (As I am a shareholder in the development company that is building our apartment complex, I am -- effectively -- both the vendor and the purchaser.) Back then the assumption was that construction would be completed during my absence, and I would take official possession of my apartment upon my return to Nanaimo near the end of July.

Now I've come back to Nanaimo, and it turns out that construction is not finished. It's close, but it's not quite there. The big thing, from a legal point of view, is that we don't have an occupancy permit. As I understand it, the City of Nanaimo will be inspecting the building later this week. The inspector will look at things like the sprinklers that belong to the fire suppression system. If the inspector is satisfied, we will get an occupancy permit. When that happens, purchasers officially will be allowed to take possession of their apartments.

Being involved during the construction phase of this project has been a lot messier than I had dreamed it would be. Along the way there have been surprises, delays, panics, you name it. From an emotional point of view, it has been a roller coaster ride.

But, through it all, the sense of camaraderie amongst us cohos has been tremendous too. We've all pitched in, volunteered for the project, and supported each other as individuals. Even after the shocks I've sustained, the reality of belonging to a cohousing community has exceeded my hopes and expectations.

Sitting here on my bed at the Painted Turtle Guesthouse with my laptop perched on my lap, a profound realization has sunk in. I am a Pacific Gardener, and that is tied into much more than a physical address.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Good Enough

At one point during this past weekend's consensus decision making workshop, one of the participants expressed concern about some deficiency or other. Our workshop leader pointed out our time limitations and said that, under the circumstances, things were good enough.

The concept of "good enough" was one of my take-aways from the workshop. It was a term I had heard before, but this time I got it at a new level.

The single incident that illustrated it to me most powerfully was our attempt to assist a blind man who participated in the meetings of our host community. A volunteer from our group sat next to him and reported to him what was happening. The idea was to help him as much as possible to access the information that was available to everyone else from non-verbal sources.

In chatting with the volunteer afterwards, the blind man expressed appreciation for her assistance. He described to her how isolated he felt and how, even with her help, there still had been some pieces of the meeting that had been missing for him.

When I heard the volunteer's feedback, I felt sad. Although I hadn't consciously put it into words, there must have been some part of my mind that had been in denial. It was as if I had been under the illusion that, if I just learned the correct protocol for interacting with a blind person, I effectively could give him eyes.

According to this world view, there was a magic wand that could meet every challenge. If I had just found the one perfect book on parenting and had read it from cover to cover, my kids would have had happy childhoods. If I could just get my hands on a book called Cohousing For Dummies, I could ensure a blissful future for my fellow cohos and me at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community.

This weekend the realization sank in that I was not perfect and that the magic wand that would make me so did not exist.

Oddly enough, I felt relieved.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Woke up at 5.00 a.m. today. Another half hour later. Woo hoo!

Doing these quarterly consensus decision making workshops is awe inspiring.

During each workshop the residents of the host community share with us a couple of their conflicts. They are issues on which they have tried, but so far failed, to reach agreement. We trainee meeting facilitators then attempt to assist them in clearing the blocks.

Both the participation in, and the facilitation of, the process are peak experiences. When people who had been in conflict reconcile, there rarely is a dry eye in the room.

Presenting the trainee meeting facilitators with a real life challenge with which the host community is grappling is far superior to presenting the trainees with a hypothetical exercise on which to work. The difference is huge.

In an emotionally charged scenario, it is particularly useful to introduce an exercise that encourages each meeting participant to share from the heart, to access their feelings, and to take responsibility for their contribution to the situation. Alternative meeting formats that employ elements of movement or art or storytelling or drama are amongst the skills that we are learning.

Elliott Willis and Judy Roberts during the lunch break at WindSong Cohousing Community yesterday. Elliott lives in Nanaimo, as I do, and she is a member of O.U.R. Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Yup, I woke up early again this morning. This time it was 4.30 a.m., so that was a half hour improvement over yesterday. But the good thing about my jet lag is that, although I have a full day ahead of me, I still get a chance to blog.

Along with some residents of eight intentional communities in Coastal British Columbia, I am participating in a consensus decision making workshop.

On this occasion the host community is WindSong Cohousing Community in Langley. This is the first time that I have seen the community that provided the inspiration for the design of my own community, Pacific Gardens in Nanaimo.

Here is the glass-covered pedestrian street that inspired the founders of Pacific Gardens. We too have an atrium. I thought it was an awesome design for the rainy winters of the Pacific Northwest. Ironically, I am experiencing it as a terrific design even during the glorious summer weather that we're having right now. WindSong has lots of young children, and it provides them with a wonderfully safe environment.

Here is another part of the atrium.

Some apartments and townhouses at WindSong obviously are home to kids .......

....... while others have a more sedate, adult look about them.

Here are the vegetables gardens .......

.......and next to them are one of a couple of different playgrounds.

During meal breaks, we workshop participants are able to spread out amongst WindSong's gardens.

These are my charming hosts, Marcus and Julian. When I return home, I will take with me instructions to give their Ouma Mia big hugs on their behalf.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Since yesterday afternoon, I have been back in the cohousing world. I am participating in another workshop on consensus decision making. This time it is being hosted by WindSong, a delightful cohousing community in Langley, BC.

I am billeted with Yonas and Julia Jongkind and their three cute little kids. They are the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of Mia Jongkind, one of my co-owners in Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community in Nanaimo.

This morning I woke up at 4.00 a.m. No doubt it's the result of jet lag. Luckily I am sleeping on a separate floor from the rest of the family. I'm in Yonas and Julia's study, which houses a computer that they kindly invited me to use. So I started organising my vacation photos. I will add more as and when I get time.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Home sweet home

Well, I'm back. It is difficult to summarise an overseas trip that lasted over seven weeks. However, these photos may give you some idea.

Southern Africa was a kaleidoscope of cultures. These buskers at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town were every bit as good as Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The reunion to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday was heaps of fun. Here is our clan at Mbuluzi Game Reserve in Swaziland. My mother is in the centre of the photo, wearing a green sweater.

It was magical to walk through the bush and see wildlife like this.

Yet I also witnessed grinding poverty. People who live in a village like this one in Swaziland have a very tough life.

This roadside fruit seller in Swaziland told me her name was Anne. She said that, of the six children with her, three were orphans whom she had taken under her wing. My guess is that the children's parents were victims of the AIDS pandemic.

One of the downsides of South Africa is that it has a horrendous crime rate. The friends with whom I stayed in Johannesburg had a high wall around their property, topped by this electric fence. In addition to that, they and half a dozen of their neighbours had clubbed together to pay for a security guard outside their house, twenty four hours a day. They told me they felt like prisoners.

After Johannesburg, it was a relief to get to safe, environmentally-friendly Switzerland. This photo was taken in Berne.

There is no good reason to include this photo of Gruyeres, other than to show off. I liked the way the mist-shrouded castle came out.

Here I am this morning, at the home of friends in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver. Although my overseas trip was amazing, it is great to be back home in Canada. I am one very happy camper.