Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Healing Circle

On Sunday night we held a healing circle at Pacific Gardens to express our many feelings about the death of Murray Rogers, our dear friend.

We gathered together in the dining room to talk about the emotions that had surfaced since we heard the news - shock, sadness, guilt, anger, and frustration that we couldn't help him.

Carla, who had not known Murray, but saw how those of us who did were affected, kindly offered to provide refreshments, because, as she said, "I believe food nurtures more than the mere body" - and she was right.

Roz had decorated the room with soft-lit electric candles and arrangements of dried plants from our gardens.  There was a pensive photo of Murray and Susana's beautiful tribute to him displayed on a table.

Several in the community who, like Carla, had not personally known Murray, came to provide support and help us deal with our grief and sense of loss.  That meant a great deal.

We talked for almost two hours.  At times we wept as we recalled how Murray had struggled with his anxiety and depression.  At other times we laughed as we remembered Murray's offbeat sense of humour.

We remembered his incredible generosity, his willingness to tackle new projects, his creativity, his skills as a master electrician and a scuba diver, his passionate concern for the environment.

Murray was a unique shining star, a man like no other.  He could be bombastic and in-your-face, tender and loving, argumentative and then accepting.  We will never forget him.

We'll be holding a gathering for his family and his many friends on Saturday, Nov. 23rd from 2 to 5 pm at Pacific Gardens, where we will celebrate his life with music and food and share our stories.

Here is a picture of Murray as we like to remember him, taken at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Pacific Gardens a little more than four years ago.


Murray Rogers, centre, with Pacific Gardens co-founders, 2009

Saturday, November 9, 2013

We have lost one of our own

In the past, we have celebrated births in our Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community.  Now we grieve the loss of one of our own, Murray Rogers, who died suddenly earlier this week.  We mourn his death, but celebrate all that he meant to us.  
Susana Michaelis has written a moving tribute to Murray.  The creative logo he designed for our community is pictured above her words.

My Memories of Murray Rogers
I first met Murray in 1995 when I joined the Community Shared Agriculture Farm Project. A group of us idealistic folk created a society, got government funding, and ran a youth training program on an organic farm that we created. All of it was "out of the box", as none of us had experience running a farm, hiring staff and training large groups of teenagers! It was a challenge and great learning experience. These were the kinds of projects Murray jumped into without hesitation.
When David Weston started discussing the wild idea of creating a cohousing community in Nanaimo, it isn't surprising that Murray jumped right in. Another Murray-type adventure! Murray and I cold-called friends, and friends of friends, and asked for money to buy this amazing piece of land to create a new kind of intentional community. Amazingly, people opened their hearts and their wallets, and Pacific Gardens was conceived! The gestation period was long and arduous, but Pacific Gardens exists today because Murray Rogers believed in the dream when it seemed impossible. As co-founder, he fully invested his time, energy and money to see this project succeed.
Murray was always full of creative ideas. Every meeting he had some new innovative idea that he enthusiastically expounded upon! I must admit, he didn't always have an appreciative audience. However, when Murray showed us the logo he dreamed up for Pacific Gardens, and showed how the PG formed the image of Mount Benson, it was the fastest-adopted decision ever! We knew it was brilliant!!
Murray was larger than life. He was big in stature, big in heart, big in energy, and big in impact on others. He filled the room with his presence. You could always hear him coming, his constant jokes and puns, and his big belly-laugh at his own jokes!! He marched to his own drummer. His cat was called "Puppy" and his dog was called "Kitty". Murray never wanted to be conventional!
Murray embodied generosity and compassion. He housed homeless folk, joined and donated to countless non-profits and worthy projects, supported a family in Belize, founded REEF (Rogers Environmental Education Foundation) to preserve coral reefs in Belize, and could always be called upon to help in any situation. He visited his parents every single day in a senior facility.
Murray was a brilliant man who could make anything he set his mind to. He was the ultimate re-user of found materials. He could always see how something could be re-used or invented new.
An electrician, a lover of nature, a skilled scuba diver, a musician, an avid gardener, an activist, an artist, an inventor, a father, a friend. There was more to Murray than any of us know. He lived a very humble life, choosing to put his money and energy into helping others and protecting Mother Nature, which he valued so much.

I will miss having Murray, with his longs legs and suspenders holding up his pants, striding into our weekly potluck with his BBQ chicken in hand. I will miss his loud laugh and his jokes. I will miss his presence. He is probably trying to invent a way to make heaven more energy efficient! Bye for now, and be at peace, my good friend.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Fine Art of Composting

With so many dedicated gardeners here at Pacific Gardens, you would think the folks living here would know exactly what goes into the composting bin.

We have passionate discussions on the importance of layering brown material with green material, fool-proof methods of keeping down the fruit-fly population, and when to turn or not to turn, so we should be experts by now.

Well, maybe not.  Our indefatigable recycling, garbage and compost duo, Mia and Gloria, have made some interesting discoveries when checking out the compost bins for, shall we say, non-conforming items.

Oh, what they found! A plastic jockey figure.  A watch.  A plate. A fork. A spoon. A wine-bottle stopper.  A ping-pong ball.  A net-bag. Ribbon.  A ruler.  And a compostable bag - full of non-composted food!

This was in addition to the usual offenders -  bits of plastic, foil wrap, twist-ties, and different varieties of string, both plastic and non-plastic.

So they included this in the display of what not to compost at their most recent educational evening.

Creative composting from cohousers!

But as usual, they made it fun, with prizes, treats, popcorn and a movie, the only one our children had not seen yet, "The Gods Must Be Crazy", which demonstrates what can happen when you throw away a pop bottle!

There's obviously a fine art to composting, and recycling, but we're lucky to have Gloria and Mia, who teach it with creativity - and a certain amount of comedy.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Pacific Gardens Still Says No to Smart Meters

All of us at Pacific Gardens have now received the bullying letters from B.C. Hydro about smart meters saying in effect, pay up or else, and threatening to charge us exorbitant fees for the right to keep our current analog meters.

This has caused a great deal of angst and worry in our community. None of us can afford the fees, but we also don't want to have a bank of 25 smart meters humming away in our basement that could threaten the health of our children and people with heart conditions.

Those of us who are concerned about the fees have been worried that we would alienate our neighbours if we signed the forms giving our consent and mailed them in, but at the same time we did not want our power cut off if we couldn't pay.

So, as usual at Pacific Gardens, we had a meeting to discuss what we were all feeling and what we could or should do next. We were guided in our discussion by questions raised by our sister cohousing community, Windsong in Langley.

For us, as for them, our main concern was how we could come together as a community and create consensus on an issue that has so much potential for division, pitting those on limited incomes against those who are worried about health effects, privacy issues, and increased billings.

The meeting was excellent.  There was a good attendance from both renters and owners, and everyone had a chance to speak and be heard.  We made a decision to hold off sending in responses to B.C. Hydro and to meet again early next month to plan our next steps.

We'll use the extra time to gather more information, get advice from other groups, figure out possible options, see if the class action suit for a no-fee opt-out is successful, and hear what the B.C. Utilities Commission has to say about the proposed fees.

We're also going to investigate whether we can have wired meters connected to an outside transmitter.  This was an option suggested to us by B.C. Hydro before, but of course, it could cost us.  However, if it means we can have a smart meter-free building, it would be worth it.

If we can keep our status as a building without smart meters, Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community would be one of the few places in B.C. where people opposed to them could live - and there are thousands who do.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Pacific Gardens Pumpkineers!

We have a bunch of very creative kids (and adults) here at Pacific Gardens - give them some pumpkins and it's amazing what they'll come up with!

Yesterday Roz held a pumpkin-carving party for the weans (as they say in Scotland) and the old ones, as well as the not-so-old parents, with some spectacular results.

Here they are:

The great pumpkineers!

Scary pumpkins!

Funny pumpkins!

I have to admit my favourite was Anna's, which was a scary pumpkin spider, although Lindsay's terribly toothy pumpkinhead was pretty good too.

The best part of it for me was that everyone got one of Roz's yummy chocolate zucchini cupcakes, even if all they did was come into the dining room and take a look - like me.

We've put the pumpkins outside to keep them cool and fresh until Oct. 31st, when the little hobgoblins will be knocking on our doors for treats!

Here they are, lurking on Roz's balcony, lying in wait for the big night.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Thanksgiving Dinners, One, Two, Three!

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday of the year.  I like it way better than Christmas, which I find annoying in the extreme because of its emphasis on consumerism.

Christmas is focused way too much on buying stuff, with a tidal wave of advertising flyers pouring into our building, designed to make us feel bad if we don't get the latest gadget or electronic doodad for our kith and kin.

Thanksgiving is focused on what it really important.The whole purpose of it is expressing gratitude for all the good things in your life, and as Canadians and cohousers, we have a lot to be thankful for.

So you can imagine my delight this month when I enjoyed not just one, or two, but three Thanksgiving dinners at Pacific Gardens, all of them scrumptious and eaten with good friends and good company.

The first was with my neighbour across the hall, Sharon, who cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for her son before she went on her holidays in early October so he wouldn't miss out.

She had so much turkey and mashed potatoes and veggies and gravy she needed help in eating it all, so she invited me, another neighbour, and her son's girlfriend - and there were still left-overs.

Then last night Pacific Gardens had its annual potluck Thanksgiving feast, with close to 40 people.  We had the usual fare, but with additions from our gardens, and an enormous pumpkin pie among the many desserts.

After the meal we had some wonderful entertainment, with Raul on piano and vocals, David Weston on violin, followed by David Li playing the piano and singing, and Clare, who revealed a hitherto unknown talent for the piano that delighted us all.

However, because some people were away on Sunday, we decided to do it all over again tonight, with about 25 people, and it was even better.  Kari made a pumpkin chocolate cheese cake that was absolutely irresistible.

Three Thanksgiving dinners in two weeks - now that's something to be grateful for!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Happy Kids, Happy Parents, Happy Community

Our Mia did something particularly wonderful for the community last week. She organized a meeting where the parents here could talk about their experience of living at Pacific Gardens.

So what's the big deal, you say - you had another community gabfest, and people got a chance to talk about the kids and their life here. Why was that so special?

It was special because it was the first time the parents were able to tell the rest of us how much it meant to them to be living in cohousing - and we were able to tell them how much it meant to us to have the kids here.

We found out that there were some misunderstandings and miscommunications that had caused some concern. No - we definitely did not want to be a retirement community with only seniors living here!

And no, the parents did not mind if we approached their kids when misbehaving, as long as we talked to them with respect, just as we would to any adult.

And they were thrilled that their children were developing multi-generational relationships, interacting with adults from age 23 to 83 - an opportunity rarely found elsewhere in society.

They talked of their hopes and fears for their kids, and their worries that they weren't as good at parenting as they should be.  Those of us who had been there assured them that perfection is not a job requirement for parents!

Most importantly, the adults without kids were able to tell them how much the children meant to us, how we treasured their presence, loved to hear their laughter, and learned from them.

It was moving, powerful, life-affirming, and authentic. Without the children Pacific Gardens wouldn't be as happy and connected.

Thank you, Mia!


Monday, September 30, 2013

How Will We Top This Next Year?

Our fourth anniversary party was a huge success!  We had more than 35 people turn out for the house concert by new Zealand singer/songwriter Anna Van Riel.

What a wonderful treat that was.  Anna has a voice more beautiful than Joan Baez, accompanied by a Kiwi sense of humour and an amazing ability to sing in just about genre and any accent.

And she did this all while her two-year-old daughter, Matilda, was determined to steal the show, along with all our other singing, dancing toddlers at Pacific Gardens!

Then came the potluck, attended by more than 50 - or maybe it was 60.  I lost count.  I do know we almost ran out of plates and cutlery, which is saying something.

And what a feast.  We crowned it off with Myriam's beautiful, scrumptious cake, plus loads of yummy desserts, with everything from fresh raspberries and whipped cream to apple crumble.

We had speeches from founders, residents, and friends, including Chuck Durrett, the architect who brought cohousing to North America from Denmark, and who's working on cohousing projects in Vancouver and on the island.

I have only one worry, though - how will we top this for our fifth anniversary next year?


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Our Kids All Play for Canada at Pacific Gardens

I'm sure you've seen the recent ads on TV sponsored by Canadian Tire about how important it is for kids to play.

They feature shots of kids in darkened rooms, eyes glued to their mobile phones or tablets, lying inert on a couch or in bed.

Apparently that's the life of a great number of children in Canada - but certainly not here at Pacific Gardens.

Yes, the kids do watch television - but usually in the company of others, both adults and children.

They play games, but they're the old-fashioned kind - scrabble, monopoly, cards - plus the new ones like Catan and Magic the Gathering.

Or else they're jumping up and down on the communal pogo-stick on our outdoor patio, swinging on the swings, and teetering on the teeter-totter.

When they're not doing that they're helping in the garden or taking out the compost or playing hide-and-seek both inside and outside the building.

It's an old-fashioned kind of childhood, with a constantly changing supply of playmates as children arrive, leave, go to school and come back from school.

It does mean that some of the places in our building are not the tidiest or the quietest or the cleanest.

Toys litter the atrium, the kids' room goes through cycles of neatness and chaos, and the patio outside the dining-room is littered with tiny bicycles and tricycles.

But I'd rather hear the shouts of children playing and trip over lego in the hallways than see kids lying on the couch texting instead of talking.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pacific Gardeners Like to Partay!

Wow! September has come and it's as if the folks at Pacific Gardens have woken from a long summertime slumber. There are so many events, work bees and what our irrepressible Roz calls "partays" that I can hardly keep track of them all.

We've already had one work bee last Saturday, where PGCCers tackled dust and dirt and weeds and windows with a vengeance, and were rewarded with a delicious lunch prepared by one of our newest residents, Carla.

Tomorrow night we're having an outdoor barbecue potluck - most likely the last of the season, alas - followed by an all-ages games night with Scrabble, Encore, and the big favourites, Catan and Magic the Gathering.

Saturday John and I will be at the Harvest Festival. Pacific Gardens will be joining other community groups promoting local food, permaculture, organic gardening, and sustainability.

There'll be great food and music, loads of displays, a petting zoo for the kids, a farmer's market, and hundreds of people attending the festival, which is held on Wesley Street in Nanaimo's Old City Quarter.

The biggest event of the month is our fourth anniversary party on Sept. 21st, with a concert by New Zealand folk singer Anna Van Riel, a special anniversary cake by our Myriam, and a visit by cohousing guru Chuck Durrett.

The following Monday night we're having a Mexican-themed potluck party to welcome our students.  Raul, one of our Mexican students, will play the piano and sing, and we'll definitely have salsa, if not tequila!

But we're not done yet.  On Sept. 25th, Chad and Susana will give a presentation on their tour this spring of cohousing communities on the west coast, and Bill and Sharon will do one on their visit to Prairie Sky, a Calgary cohousing community.

Finally, on Saturday, Sept. 28th, we'll have another work bee, this one starting with a hearty potluck breakfast to give us fuel for all those indoor and outdoor chores.

You never have to worry about having a social life when you're living at Pacific Gardens!


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Musical Kettles at Pacific Gardens

People at Pacific Gardens like to share, it is true.  And that's a good thing.  But sometimes it can get very confusing.

Take for example, our musical tea kettles.  No, I don't mean that they sing, or anything like that.

It's just that they have been moving around like people in a game of musical chairs.

It all started when Roz moved out of Mia's place to an upstairs apartment (we also have games of musical tenants).

She'd been using Mia's tea kettle when she lived downstairs, but now that she was in a new place, she didn't have one.

No worries, I said.  We have two tea kettles in our dining hall's kitchen; one big one and one small one. Roz could take the small one.

I can't do that, said Roz, horrified.  People use those tea kettles all the time - how could she deprive community members of their use of even one tea kettle!

So Mia let Roz use her tea kettle until she could buy her a new one - actually, a used one from a thrift store, as is Mia's wont.

But that meant Mia wouldn't have a tea kettle of her own to make those all-important cuppas.

So I lent her my stylish stainless steel tea kettle.  But that meant I didn't have one.

In an act of wanton self-interest, I went into the kitchen and took the little tea kettle for myself, community members be damned!

And that's where the game of musical tea kettles now sits.  Roz has Mia's; Mia has mine; and I have the one belonging to the community.

It should get sorted out soon.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sorry For The Inconvenience

For several months now I've had a picture from the front page of one of our local newspapers posted on my fridge for inspiration.

It's of an Idle No More demonstration held in downtown Nanaimo on a cold day in January this year, attended by hundreds of people.

What inspires me about it is the look on the faces of the people - proud, defiant, resolute, and happy.

Central to the photo is a young woman with her son, holding a sign that says, "Sorry for The Inconvenience - We Are Trying To Change The World".

And to me, that says it all. It speaks to my values, and to those in our cohousing community of Pacific Gardens.

It is inconvenient living in cohousing sometimes, but that inconvenience changes you, and in doing so, changes the community, both here and in the larger world.

I've written here before about the rock-polisher effect of living in cohousing - how rubbing up against other people and their views wears down your sharp edges.

That can be uncomfortable, especially when it forces you to learn things about yourself that you didn't know before. But it makes you grow.

The biggest sharp-edged rock we keep bumping up against at Pacific Gardens is the difficulty of doing what's best for the common good.

We've all been brought up in a society that tells us we should have what we want when we want it, even if it's at the expense of the well-being of others.

So often conflicts arise because although we want to change the world, we don't want to change ourselves, because it's too inconvenient and uncomfortable.

And that's why I keep looking at that photo, so I'll be inspired to change my own world, even if it is inconvenient.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Our Community Veggie Bowl Over-Floweth!

It's the season of harvest on Vancouver Island, and with our abundant gardens, there's loads to share.  It's hard to leave a friend's house without having to take a zucchini!

Even local businesses will have a box of squashes - and the ever-prolific zucchinis - outside their door, with a "Free to a good home" sign on it.

At Pacific Gardens, we all share in the bounty - lettuces, cucumbers, zucchinis, squash, berries of all kinds - with beets and tomatoes soon to come.

One of our young Mums, Tanis, recently sent this message out to us all.  I just love it, because it so beautifully illustrates what our community is like.

"Hello Neighbours,
I've left my giant steel salad bowl on the dining room table and labelled it the "Community Veggie Bowl" to share with everyone. Most of the veggies are coming out of the Community Garden. I have to thank all the fine folks who are working hard in the community garden who continue to work hard up for everyone to share, and most especially thank Carla for her patience and understanding that I am indeed a half-assed gardener.....hahaha, ;) 

Carla is my garden hero who waters all the plants to make sure they grow big and strong so we can harvest our veggies for all to share.  I barely water my own garden, so thank you Carla, you make those squashes grow big!!! 

Please check the big bowl for goodies from the garden, I try to share the surplus every few days, and if you have any surplus to share from your garden (are we tired of zucchini and cucumbers yet? teeheehee!) please add it to the bowl to share! :)

Has anyone tried the mystery squash yet? have we decided what it is? or is it some funky hybrid? There are many more growing so I hope they're edible! :)

Thanks all, it's a huge pleasure spending time in the garden, sharing growing tips, laughing, and inspiring one another with seeds and dreams of next years harvest. I feel so fortunate!

Best wishes


Verily, our community veggie bowl over-floweth at Pacific Gardens!


Monday, August 19, 2013

In the Wedding Tent at Sooke Harbour House

Last week I spent a whole day in the wedding tent at Sooke Harbour House.  No, I wasn't getting married (the supply of 60-something women far exceeds the demand).

I was learning about meeting facilitation in cohousing communities.

Now, to some of you, that may seem about as exciting as watching paint dry, but when Diana Leafe Christian is the one leading the workshop, it's never dull.

Christian, or DLC as she's known in cohousing circles, travels the world giving workshops on how to create community, and there's a reason for that.

She's really good.  And what makes her so good is that she is down-to-earth, pragmatic, and principled, as well as very, very funny.

But while she poked fun at some of the more obstructionist folks she has encountered at community meetings, she was also compassionate.

She pointed out that when people block proposals, it can sometimes come from a place of fear, and we should remember that.

There's so much I could say about what I did learn, but it would take at least four or five blog postings, and that might be a bit much!

I certainly acquired skills that will be useful in any meeting, such as how to tactfully handle someone who speaks too long, or is disruptive.

Most of all, I learned how important the role of the facilitator is to good meetings, and how critical it is that they be a servant of the group.

I'm now hoping to try my hand at being a facilitator, which will be a stretch for this impatient cohouser.

I'll let you know how this latest rock-polishing development works!


Friday, August 9, 2013

Keeping Safe in a Friendly Place

When we first envisioned what kind of community Pacific Gardens would be, we wanted it to be open, welcoming and inclusive.

Many of us were condo refugees, wanting to escape the gated community mentality of developments where security was more important than neighbourliness.

So when we moved into Pacific Gardens, we expected to be able to sit back and relax in our new, comfortable environment. Keeping our home safe and secure would be no problem.

Alas, our ideals have come up against the realities of modern-day life, and it's been a struggle for us to come to terms with our need to keep safe while still being a friendly place.

There have been two incidents in recent months that brought this home to us.  The first involved someone we all liked and trusted, who took advantage of our openness to take what didn't belong to him.

The second was a more simple but equally fraught example.  A person showed up on our property looking for another resident, but unbeknownst to us, was a stalker.

We dealt with these in two ways.  First, we held two community circles to help us process our feelings about the betrayal of our trust by the resident who had been our friend, but stole from us.

Second, we initiated new security procedures and reinforced ones we already had, such as not letting in someone you don't know and not leaving outside doors propped open.

We also changed locks and security codes, put up notices asking that doors not be left open, and asked that people clear it with residents before letting in uninvited guests.

So how are we any different from other condos then, if this is what we have to do?  Well, plenty.  For starters, everyone was kept informed, so the rumour-mill didn't go into over-drive.

Second, we had an opportunity to talk about how we felt, and work through our feelings of fear, anger and hurt, which went a long way towards healing the community.

And finally, we took practical steps to remedy the problem, with input from the relevant committees and the community.

And that's the difference with cohousing communities. It's not that bad things don't happen here - they do.

But we come together as a community to deal with them, and that makes us all stronger - and safer.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Adventures in Recycling at Pacific Gardens

When I first arrived at Pacific Gardens, I thought I knew everything there was to know about recycling. I was wrong.

I soon learned from our indefatigable recycling team, Mia and Gloria, that there is an art as well as a science to recycling, about which you never stop learning.

It's not enough that you separate your recyclables, crush your cardboard boxes, wash out your soy and dairy containers, and rinse your refundables.

You have to put the right item in the right box, and figuring that out can sometimes be a puzzle, even for the most dedicated.

For example, last week we had the mystery of the fertilizer bags.  Someone had put the bags in the bin for soft plastics, but had not emptied them out.

I was delegated to send out an e-mail to try and discover the culprit.  This caused great consternation amongst the garden group, as we don't use chemical fertilizers - ever.

Who could have been using that stuff on our gardens? Well, it turned out that the bags had been full of ordinary garden dirt and mulch, so no worries as to the contents, at least.

Then Roz e-mailed me. She had put them in the garbage first, but then Mia, who hates putting anything in the garbage if there's any chance it can be recycled, rescued them and put them in the recycling.

The mystery was solved. I told Roz I would give her the golden garbage bag award for rightly putting the bags where they belonged!


Friday, July 26, 2013

The Kids' Room.

There had been some complaints that the kids were starting to graffiti up the walls in the common space.

Mia thought that the kids needed a creative outlet. So Tanis and Mia helped the kids draw silhouettes of themselves on the walls in the kids’ room.

And the kids decorated themselves with their own personal touch.




But I feared that a one day outlet may not fix the issue.

I suggested painting frames on the wall.

Then the kids could be excited to display their works of art on the walls. If they draw on paper for the frames, or worst case scenario,  in the frames,  it still keeps the scribbling off of the atrium walls and instead, inside of the kids’ playroom.

So, Mykl and I painted these up:


And it had the intended effect.  So far…

Here are some of the kids drawing pictures to put in the frames.



The impromptu-ness of friendships in co-housing.

I unabashedly love Pacific Gardens Cohousing.

I love that after I finish my shift of work I can walk out of my front door and find someone to corner for tea, or drinks, or a discussion.

I love that Roz made me a birthday breakfast this morning. Crepe Suzette and mimosas. :)

I love that I can be in my garden and get invited to supper on the back patio.

I love that Mia puts on these teas to help people network and to help Jane learn English.

I love that Kaj works so tirelessly to make this place beautiful. All while having a generous sense of humour about it all.

I love that I can skip out back and snack on some of the raspberries in the back patch.

Or that I can grab some green onions from the community herb garden.

Or that someone will leave a big bag of lettuce to share when their garden is over-producing.

I love that people have such a forgiving attitude.

My children recently swiped a cardboard box that they found in the atrium during pot luck last Thursday and turned it into a cat condo. An email the next morning revealed that that box had been set aside to sort out someone’s recycling. My boys learned that objects found in the atrium aren’t free for the taking. Even if it is something as “unimportant” as a cardboard box.

I don’t attend these really, but I love that someone starts a fire and that it acts as a beacon for others to come and congregate.

I love that the kids have randomly inspired dance parties.

I love that the kids LOVE to be in nature so much.

I love my new family here in Pacific Gardens.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Raising Sparrows In My Deck at Pacific Gardens

Every morning I am awakened by the loud chirping of baby birds. This is usually around dawn and then goes on for the rest of the day. It is quite a chorus and they are very persistent in making their needs known…more food please!! This is the second family of house sparrows being raised in the birdhouse on our deck. I have been fascinated watching the various comings and goings of the parents.

Dad, the more colourful one, often sits on the top of the birdhouse or on the eaves of the house and seems to keep watch. As there are some cats around, I think this is a wise move. Mom comes flying in with some tasty morsel and as soon as she does, Dad flies off. They seem to come and go in rotation. I have found that they work amazingly well as a team. Both are feeding the young and take their responsibilities very seriously.

I am now learning of their different calls. The parents have a more mature kind of chirp and Dad seems to show off with a variety of very melodic tones. Sometimes he is very loud and boisterous. Other females have been hanging around, so I’m not sure if he is trying to attract them, or say keep away from my babies!! The babies are not melodic, just loud and wanting attention. It is just like the young of all species, that they cry or make lots of noise when they are hungry. So interesting to watch what happens in nature, and see that humans behave in the same way.

The babies kept inside the birdhouse for the longest time and I could only hear them. Now I see a beak peeking out every once in awhile, but as soon as they hear me open the door, they retreat and there isn’t a peep out of the babies. I am always amazed how they learn to keep quiet when they perceive danger. Who taught them? The Pacific Chorus Frogs do that as well. They can be making a huge racket and as soon as a car drives in or our footsteps crunch on the gravel, there is total silence. Amazing co-ordination!

I realized that in this hot weather our pond has dried up, so there isn’t fresh water readily available to the birds. I put out two water dishes with rocks in them, so they can drink and bathe while tending to the babies. I envision a very tall bird-bath in my garden, one that cats can’t access, but it will serve all the birds, bees, butterflies that regularly visit my flowers.

These baby birds are lucky that both parents are able to take care of them and keep feeding those hungry bellies. When one or both die, it probably means the death of the babies. That is one reason I don’t like to see domestic cats killing birds, as the cats don’t need the food, but they are having a devastating effect on the world-wide song bird population.

The most vulnerable time will be when the babies are flopping around, sometimes on the ground, while they exercise their wings and try to get air-borne. It is still summer, who knows, maybe this romantic couple will try for another family as soon as these babies leave the nest. They were certainly amorous when they found the nest box. It has been so much fun raising a family on my deck. I hope they make it!


Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Home Truth Learned in a Community Circle

I know I tend to present a rather sunny picture of how we all get along here, but to be honest, it isn't always great.

Sometimes life at Pacific Gardens is not so pacific - in fact, it can get downright mean and miserable. Lately the most miserable bit has been our meetings.

They've started late, been cancelled at the last minute, and gone over time.  Agendas have come out late, or been hijacked.

People have shouted at each other, belittled others (ouch!), repeatedly blocked resolution of issues, and used intimidation to get their own way.

It's pretty distressing for those of us who believe in consensus and cooperation.  So we're trying to get help from facilitators in other cohousing communities.

But in the meantime, Bill called for a Community Circle to talk about meetings and participation.  A meeting to talk about meetings, you ask - why would you do that?

Because Community Circles are different.  They're held together by what is known as the four intentions.  The first is listening from the heart.

No judging, just accepting and seeking understanding as each person speaks their own truth in the circle, giving them your full attention.

The second is speaking from the heart, telling your own story, using "I" statements, if you choose words. Sometimes silence says what you really feel.

The third is being lean of speech.  No need to repeat what others say. This is one intention that several members of our group have difficulties with!

The final intention is spontaneity.  Don't plan what you're going to say in response to what someone else is saying. Just speak from the heart and all will be well.

So, each speaker holding an eagle feather, we talked about what bothered us about the meetings.  People don't listen. They keep blocking. There's power struggles.

Round the feather went, and then it came to David Li. Still learning to speak English, he struggled to express himself, but each time he held the feather, the message was the same.

He loved this place.  It was warm, like a family.  It was so beautiful, with the gardens, and the pond, and the wild ducks, and the deer.  He was happy to live here.

David gave us a home truth that evening. Assume best intent, and you will be happy. And it made me think, maybe that was the problem with our meetings.

We went into them from a negative place.  Perhaps all the negative events in the larger world were affecting our collective psyches, and we couldn't see what we had here.

But David could see it, and in the way of the circle, he gave that gift to us. And that gives me hope that we will get through this storm, as we have others.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Green Thumbs in a Green Place

When I first moved here almost four years ago, Pacific Gardens did not look like a garden - it looked like the Gobi desert.

My moving van got stuck in a dust-filled rut trying to reach my door.  Clouds of brown dust hung over the grounds. Not a flower or blade of grass could be seen.

But now I look out and see a clover-studded green lawn, berry-laden bushes, and garden beds full of lettuce, kale, chard and other veggies.

Flowers of every colour and description appear in profusion - red, orange, yellow, mauve, white - with purple lavender in each front  garden.

It took the work of many green thumbs to make this a green place, and a great deal of determination to make it so beautiful.

We were not well-served by those who were supposed to help us build Pacific Gardens and create our landscaping.

An unscrupulous contractor took away the rich topsoil from the years of farming on our site to another development they were working on nearby.

The thin soil that they left was littered with stones, sticks, and bits of plastic and debris left over from the construction.

The person hired to lay down a form of permanent rye grass for our lawn gave us a variety that grew faster than weeds - and had some in it.

Plants were put in the wrong place.  Those that needed strong sunlight were put in shaded areas, those that needed a dark, cool place were placed in hot sunny ones.

Some died; others had strange blights or diseases. Some were just wrong for what we wanted, which were indigenous and food-producing plants.

For a lot of people, this could have been really discouraging.  For our Pacific Gardeners, it was a challenge - and one they met.

They planted, they weeded, they watered, they mowed, they mulched, they moved plants and shrubs and even trees.

They composted with a vengeance.  They called on friends in Nanaimo and beyond for donations of manure and straw and grass clippings and leaves.

The city of Nanaimo donated a small mountain of topsoil, which took many, many full wheelbarrows and shovels to move to the garden beds.

Kaj built a roomy shed for all the tools and equipment, making sure not to disturb a bird's nest that got built inside while he was constructing it!

The result of all that hard work is plain to see, with a herb garden, raised beds, vegetables galore, a plethora of flowers, and happy birds and bees too.

As a non-gardener, I have observed this happening, and am awed and incredibly grateful for the transformation of what was a desert into a blooming garden.

To all the green thumbs at Pacific Gardens, thank you so much!

This is just another reason why I love living here.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Doing the Dirty Work in a Cohousing Community

Sometimes there's just no way you can avoid doing the dirty work in a cohousing community, and Pacific Gardens sure needed it.

Weeds were taking over the gardens.  The compost bin was over-flowing.  Crayon and pencil marks decorated the walls.

Windows had a patina of grunge.  The new equipment for the playground had remained un-asembled for too long.

The window-sills needed dusting, the pot-holes in the driveway filling, and the dryer vents in the common laundry vacuuming.

Augggh!  It's bad enough having to do the housework in your own place, let alone in the Common House.

So how do you get people to do this stuff?  Well, it ain't easy.  We have tried several strategies in the almost four years we've been living here.

We drew up a Community Contribution list with all the chores on it, and the name of the person to contact if you were interested in tackling one.

Hmm. Not too many takers with that approach.

So, then we decided to have a Community Contribution System Team, whose members would gently - but firmly - encourage people to do their fair share.

Alas, no-one wanted to be a cohousing enforcer.

And then Kari came to the rescue.  She sent out an e-mail saying we were having a work-bee this weekend, and put up notices.

She asked for volunteers to provide snacks and drinks, as well as child-care. A list for what needed to be done both inside and outside appeared.

And here's the amazing thing.  With just two days' notice, on the first really sunny day of the summer, and a long weekend, people  turned out.

Not a whole lot, but the ones who did worked very hard, and the building and the grounds look fabulous. The day ended with a terrific potluck.

Not all the chores got done, of course - the crayon marks are still there, and some of the tasks requiring heavy lifting need a champion.

But the community - from age four-and-a-half to 81 - pulled together and gave our beautiful home some long-needed tender loving care. Wow!

It's another reason why I love living here.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fun and Games at Pacific Gardens!

We had our first-ever Pacific Gardens Olympics last weekend, and what an event it was!

We started with a games night in the dining-room Friday night, since the rain prevented us from having a bonfire outside. But we still had lots of fun.

Myriam and Trey taught Ron and myself the intricacies of Catan, which I can only describe as a game of Capitalism Lite.

Despite my total confusion about the rules, I managed to become a road-builder and developer, but Trey and Ron really impressed with their canny entrepreneurship.

Then we joined the grown-ups for a game of Battle of the Sexes.  The women absolutely trounced the men - although it was a bit rigged, as there were five of us to three of them.

Saturday the rain stopped (sort of), and the sun came out (almost), and we had the intergenerational games outside.  I'll let the pictures tell the story.

Myriam leads the way!

Eggs-acting throws by Trey and Joel!

Don't spill that water! 

Great bowling form by Anna!

A victory for the team!

And there were loads of tasty treats provided - including liqueurs for the exhausted adults afterwards!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strange and beautiful ideas about cohousing

Trying to explain what cohousing is can be difficult at times.  People have some of the strangest ideas about our cohousing home!

They can't figure out if it's a co-op, a commune, or a condo. But Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community has elements of these and more.

Most often folks assume it's a co-op, and no matter how many times we correct them, they still call it that. But we own our units, not rent them.

We are an intentional community, though, like a co-op, and we manage our own affairs, just like co-ops do, with a board and committees to run things, and meetings where residents make decisions.

Often people think cohousing is like a 1960s-style commune, with hippie residents who wear tie-dyed shirts and birkenstocks, eat crunchy granola, and grow B.C. bud in the backyard.

We do share common space, like our dining-room, music room, and exercise room, but we grow fruits and veggies in our organic gardens, like the strawberries Mykl picked today!

The residents certainly can't be stereotyped.  We have nurses, students, a yoga instructor, a former ESL teacher, a retired naval officer, a meteorologist, and a chef, to name a few.

I like to explain to people that we live in a condo, but cohousing is the concept that guides our physical design and the way we choose to live here.

That means the focus is on social interaction. We each have our own kitchens - but they have windows that face out to the inner atrium, so we can see our neighbours.

We cook our own meals, but we like to share them with the rest of the community in our weekly dinner potlucks and our popular weekend brunches.

Most of us have our own television sets, but we like to gather in the dining-room once in a while to watch a movie with our neighbours, or have a games night with both kids and adults.

The reason those of us who pioneered this cohousing development wanted to have a place like Pacific Gardens is because we wanted to know our neighbours.

So, we do have our privacy, but not to the point where we are socially isolated, surrounded by people we don't know and have never met, as so many are today.

To us, living apart from others is the really strange idea!


Friday, June 21, 2013

These days, I am feeling really overwhelmed with community love for my Pacific Gardens Community.

It’s just been a great and crazy week.

Some craziness here made me decide (after months of thinking about it) to step down from my role as chair of the Happy Kids Committee. The circumstances are not really something worth repeating but I was very pleased by the number of people who wanted to use it as a learning opportunity about what went wrong and why and how other committees can be better supported in the future.

It is so inspiring to me that a community will acknowledge that something isn’t working and work to fix it.

I am also having a great week Community wise.

I had a little cocktail party to celebrate my newly dressed balcony last Saturday. We listened to a nice mix on Songza and chatted by the light of the lanterns until midnight.

A friend dropped by a big bag of salad from her garden for me yesterday.

On Tuesday I shared pre-dinner cocktails with some lovely ladies on the back patio.

And last night we had a birthday potluck. My kids were the only kids who attended this week and they loved being able to be the helpers who wheeled out the Birthday cakes.

Then after pot luck (and the clean up) five of us snuggled in for a movie night on the Dining Hall couches.

And now I am planning for the Olympics this weekend as a Community building activity that also doubles as a celebration of the first day of Summer. Happy Litha everyone!

Tonight was supposed to be our opening ceremonies aka. our Bon Fire. But we are pretty rained out right now so I am turning it into a community game night instead.

I was sick on Wednesday and lost a whole day of prepping and am now scrambling a bit to accumulate the articles needed for the weekend, but it’s all good because I am happy and excited.
I hope we get a good turn out and some sushine!


Strawberry patch.

The gardens here are fantastic.

I am not going to say that here is no work involved in growing food on the island but I can say that with longer growing seasons and plenty of rain and sunshine that the bulk of it is done for itself.

This is my strawberry patch:



Right now I am getting two bowls like this every couple of days. Time to can some syrups and jams.



Friday, June 14, 2013

Music of the Spheres at Pacific Gardens

Philosophers from ancient times used to believe that there was something called the Music of the Spheres - a unique musical hum emitted by the Sun, Moon and planets.

Sometimes I think Pacific Gardens has its own music of the spheres, made up of all the musical offerings in our building's history to create a multi-layered fabric of sound.

There are so many examples.  Last week I was walking through the dining-room and there was Matt playing his guitar in one of the most amazing jazz renditions of "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" I've ever heard.

I've heard David Li's rich, warm baritone as he sings Happy Birthday in Mandarin, followed by Mia's enthusiastic and slightly off-key version in Dutch, and Mykl's romantic rendition sung to Laura on her birthday.

Gerry plays the drums, David Weston the harp, violin and guitar.  I have fond memories of Krissy who taught Braeden piano lessons and played jazz piano in swinging Diana Krall-style.

Then there's all the musical events we've had in our dining-room.  Dennis Lakusta's fabulous house concert, Paul and Jess's irresistably-danceable acoustic rock, and the group of Nanaimo folk musicians who jammed here on a regular basis.

And the singers - it's almost a given that if you live at Pacific Gardens, there's someone in a choir, performing in a concert or heading off to a hootenanny or a choral practice.

We have people in Everybody Sings, the Malaspina Choir, Nanaimo Sings!, the Island Soul Choir, the Vancouver Island Symphonic Chorus, the Nanaimo Folk Connection, church choirs, you name it.

And there's the hum of music from everyone's own CD collection, which you can hear as you walk by people's units or from the CD player in the dining-room that's almost always on.

For a music-lover like myself, this is another reason why I love living here!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cleaning bees and breakfast potlucks

This is a bit dated but...I wanted to share it anyways.

Our community puts on these little potluck breakfasts seasonally (if they happen more frequently than that, I am oblivious to it).

It’s a nice change to the evening potlucks. The energy is so different at these. Quiet, calm, relaxed.

After the potluck they host a cleaning bee. And this time they had planned a soup and muffin lunch afterwards as well. It was delicious soup and John made bread with local wheat that he had freshly ground.

Sometimes I wonder about making time for these cleaning bees. God knows I have a hard enough time keeping my own house clean. It seems silly to go wash windows in community when there is a pile of dishes on my counter. And my weekends are short enough already and that means I have to get up early enough to come up with something to make to bring and … insert more excuses in here…

But, the experience is really worth it.

It gives my kids the chance to give back and also to get to know their neighbours in a more productive way. Anna has been helping Kari all morning and even hours later she won’t leave her side.

It’s a fun way to contribute and to build relationships.

I am making a conscious effort to not sit at the kids’ table at the regular potlucks. It is so nice to spend time with the other adults.

Mia has started a Friday afternoon tea. They are really low key and quiet but it’s been a nice way to round off a work week.

I am glad to see that people are putting more effort into community building.


Community Sharing

There are many people here with wonderful gifts. Some share their gift of celebration with us, others their gift of growing food. Some share their gift of relaxation with us. Others their gift of music and song. Some share their tools and time. Others their love and affection.

It’s wonderful to walk down the atrium and hear Mia’s music playing in the dining hall.

Or Mykl playing his guitar.

Or to pick herbs and kale from the community gardens.

And when I needed to boost my car, to borrow a neighbour’s car to boost mine.

Earlier this month we talked about giving up our car and adopting a car-free lifestyle. Aside from being good for the environment, it would have also been good for the budget and waistline.

I put out an email to select members of the community and asked them for support in this idea. And we were overwhelmed by the response. Three people offered us their vehicles to use. Even frequently.

As a family we do sort of need a car though. There are appointments at the hospital for Trey and there are unexpected trips to the school to drop off a blood glucose monitor. And there are dentist appointments and big grocery shops and then road trips or drive to go hiking or swimming.

When we added up the many things that we wouldn’t actually bother doing if we had to cycle or borrow vehicles we realized how naive we had been. So, at the end of it all we decided that we would keep our car. But we were so grateful for those people who offered to lend us their vehicles so generously.




Friday, June 7, 2013

Party Central at Pacific Gardens!

Maybe it's because of spring, but people at Pacific Gardens have been partying hearty this last month, and it shows no sign of stopping!

First was the Green Party party May 5th with munchies and great dance music provided by a local  acoustic rock duo, Paul and Jess.

Next was the birthday party Tara threw for herself the last weekend in May, with all kinds of good food, a bonfire and general merry-making.

This was followed by Susana's birthday party two nights ago, which featured the same great band, Sharon's super-delicious, gluten-free cake (yes, there is such a thing!) and even more food.

Having a dance band made it extra-special for Susana, who loves to kick up her heels on the dance floor.  As she says, "It is hard to dance and have a sad face!"

But the best is yet to come. Two weeks from now we will have our very own PG Olympics, with a bonfire Friday night, a potluck breakfast the morning after, and a day of races and fun.

Here is the beautiful poster that Myriam designed for it:

We end the month with a Magic The Gathering party for Trey, where we will commemorate his arrival on this plane eight years ago, and feast on cake!

Trey's talented Mom, Myriam, designed another fabulous poster for this event:

Myriam is the creative force behind these last two events.

This is why I love Pacific Gardens!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Beautiful Life

Today I was going to write about the way of the circle, but it has been such a lovely day here at Pacific Gardens that I wanted to celebrate its perfection.

It's been raining off and on for the last few weeks, and yes, I know on Vancouver Island's wet coast, that is to be expected, but not in May, and not for the whole month!

But now it's June, and today was absolutely exquisite. Clear skies, with a balmy breeze wafting the scents of flowers and trees through the air and carrying the sounds of the children playing in our gardens to my patio.

For the first time this year, I hung my laundry on my umbrella clothes dryer, and the warm wind whirled the clothes around like flying flags so that they were dry in less than an hour, smelling of spring.

My neighbour Susana has been away on a special two-week holiday to celebrate her 60th birthday (there's going to be a big birthday bash for her this Wednesday), so she hasn't been able to tend her garden.

The flowers don't seem to mind the neglect.  In fact, they're thriving, growing in profusion, purple, yellow, white and orange, dancing in the breeze while my wind chimes sing all day.

I look out into the gardens and see our spring fashion parade of sun-hats, some floppy, some splendiferous, others bedecked with bandanas or a blossom made of felt, each as unique and quirky as the owner who wears them.

I find balls and badminton rackets and skipping ropes lost in the fast-growing grass, and in the distance I hear Kaj, ear-protectors firmly clamped on, tackling marauding plants with a weed-whacker.

After dinner I'll join the walking group on an hour-long jaunt around the neighbourhood, and we'll talk about cabbages and kings and whether pigs have wings - and maybe politics.

It's on days like this that I feel I have the most beautiful life ever, and like the speaker at the Sunday service I went to today, am determined to be a radical optimist, full of joy and hope for this flawed but wonderful world we live in.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flourishing in the Second Half of Life

Last weekend I was fortunate to take a course on Aging Well in Community, sponsored by Harbourside Senior Cohousing in Sooke, B.C.

What made it special was not only the setting - the beautiful campus of Royal Roads University, with its exquisite gardens and wild peacocks strutting the grounds - but the people.

They ranged in age from their 50s to their 80's, and although they came from different backgrounds and occupations, everything from a retired RCMP officer to an astrologer, they fit the classic cohousing personality profile.

They were well-travelled, adventurous, constantly seeking out new experiences and challenges - what we at Pacific Gardens would call BURPIES (as distinguished from Yuppies) - bright, under-employed real people.

The purpose of the course was to get us out of denial about aging, and into planning for a positive future by getting real about getting old, and ensuring that we will be able to thrive and flourish during our senior years.

The best way to do that, we learned, was by staying healthy through community.  Social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking, and being involved in shared activities was the key to a happy, healthy old age.

Living in cohousing, I had observed the positive effects of community life on our elderberries, as my sister cohouser Roz has dubbed us, with improvements in both physical and mental health for the elders amongst us since they moved here.

Although the course was put on by members of Harbourside Cohousing, they did not say cohousing was the only option,  but talked about such actions as retrofitting your house to stay at home, or moving in with children.

Another possibility being investigated by one group of people who attended was building an environmentally-sustainable house for themselves and their friends to live in as they aged.

No-one was keen to live in a gated condominium community, or a seniors' home.  We are from the baby boom generation, rather accustomed to making our own choices about how we want to live - and transforming society as we do it!

If all the zoning approvals go through and it gets built, Harbourside Senior Cohousing will be the first of its kind in B.C. and only the second in Canada, leading the way to a new form of aging in place for us active elderberries!


Monday, May 20, 2013

How Community and a Tree-Climbing Cat Cured the Post-Election Blues!

It's hard to believe that it was more than a month ago since I've posted here...but fortunately Myriam has kept everyone up-to-date with what's happening with her beautiful pics of Pacific Gardens in bloom and its newest residents!

I could tell by the number of viewers that politics is not the favourite topic of those who read this blog, so that's a cautionary note for me that not everybody shares my passion for this topic.

I will say that I was both happy and unhappy with what happened, mostly unhappy.  I spent a few days trying to avoid feeling depressed about the election results, without much success.

It didn't help that Nanaimo city council had voted five to four to destroy Colliery Dam Park, one of the jewels in this city and certainly of the Harewood neighbourhood.

So I decided to give up and just wallow in negativity and get it out of my system.The best way to do this, I thought, would be to catch up on all the housework I had neglected during the election campaign.

I tussled with the dust bunnies, tossed out the garbage, sorted the recycling, and scrubbed the ring out of the bathtub. And you know what?  I started feeling better.

It was a case of if you can't clean up the world, you can at least clean up the grunge in the kitchen sink. And while I was vacuuming the grit out of the patio doors, I noticed something.

It was a beautiful spring day, and outside my window, the kids were swinging on the hammock and playing on the lush green grass, and the flowers were starting to bloom again in Susana's garden.

Some robins had built a nest in one of the old apple trees, and their song filled the air of the early evening, fragrant with the smell of grass and blossoms.  But something even  better happened - although it didn't seem that way at first.

A few months go Mykl and Laura had acquired a little tabby kitten, who is now at the stage of prowling outside.  The cat saw those robins, and immediately made a bee-line for the tree.

Up the trunk the feline scooted, tail switching, while the robins flew about in terror trying to protect their nest. The little cat went higher and higher until it was almost at the top of the tree, and then the robins began dive-bombing it.

The cat couldn't go down, and the robins wouldn't give up.  What to do? I rushed outside and got Mykl, who with the help of Kaj, put up the long, tall ladder we use for pruning and gleaning.

Mykly quickly clambered up the tree, and stretched his arm out as far as he could to haul down the recalcitrant kitty, who, despite the dive-bombing birds, was still determined to get at that nest.

So what was it about this little tableau that heartened me?  The coming together of the community members to rescue a cat up a tree?  The determination of the robins to protect their young?

I'm not sure. But it made me happy, and banished those post-election blues.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New residents...

We actually had quite a few new residents this last month. It certainly seemed to be the month of transitions.

But, I am referring to our youngest, fluffiest new residents.


Monday, April 29, 2013