Back in the Saddle in Phoenix

Apologies for the delay in any new postings. Needless to say it has been a hectic month since our return to Phoenix but not without some cool developments. For one thing, it has finally gotten a little cooler here. Thank God.

We submitted a proposal to be considered as speakers at the National Cohousing Conference next June in Washington DC. We won’t know whether we have been selected until late November but it would be a great opportunity to share some of the lessons learned on our road trip.  We are still assimilating the material, reviewing the videos and notes. We gathered alot of information so it will take a while to process into some coherent form.

We are also meeting with local architects who are doing some cool things around sustainable building for residential application. We are headed out to Taliesin West on Wednesday to tour a pre-fab home that has received national recognition. We believe that there will be a continued trend in smaller more sustainable footprints for homes in the future.  We think this will impact how people will create
community living” as well.

The two chicks were recently interviewed by a journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism interested in cohousing. Not sure whether that interview will be shown anywhere, but will keep you posted if it does.

We are working on getting funding for the next leg of our research where we intend to interview 25 communities in California, 9 in Oregon and 12 in Washington. Ideally we would like to get that accomplished by March 2012.

Both Donna and I want to thank you again for your support and encouragement

Happy Fall.


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Thanks for filling our Tank!

The Two Chicks are on our way home writing from Macy’s – our favorite coffee shop in Flagstaff. We have driven 2,500 miles over 4 states, visited 16 communities, gathered 17 hours of video and filled two notebooks full of best practices we have seen in community habitats. It has been an amazing journey and we have both grown and learned a lot together.

Our minds are racing with ideas and impressions. Our hearts full of the hospitality and receptivity of the people we met on the road. And we are so grateful to all our friends who supported us along the way.

Claudia, aka tall chick, would like to personally thank my “mission control” crew back in Phoenix for watching over my house and my two cats, Coco and Java. Special recognition goes to my neighbor Bob Loomis or “Uncle Bob” for his “cat-a-log” that meticulously records the coming and goings of people and felines set to military time. You are a rock star, always willing to step in when I travel. I also want to acknowledge Liah Holtzman and Lance P for keeping my cats and TV company and during my absence.  Suzanne Walden-Wells thanks for being part of the TLC crew despite your busy schedule. Without all your support this chick could not have gone on this adventure with such peace of mind.

While on the road we would like to thank Kate and Anthony Mark for your sweet and generous hospitality during our stay in Boulder. It was wonderful to connect after such a long time and just pick up where we left off. Even though it was a brief visit, it was right on “the mark.”

Huge thanks to my Sante Fe family starting with the lovely Luisa Kolker who let us park the Guppy at her estrogen casita, use her shower and encouraged us to go two-steppin. So much fun. It was great to see Marianne Ober who is planning to move to Portland, OR in a few weeks. We hope  your move goes smoothly and we will be sure to look you up when we go through Oregon.  Last but not least, thanks to Ray Ristorcelli for being witness to the unfolding of this project right from its inception and offering advice, encouragement and support in only the way you can. Hands off and gloves on, I can count on you with all ten fingers.

The Two Chicks want to personally recognize the people who responded to the “Gas up the Guppy” campaign for your generous contributions whether is was financial or otherwise. In no particular order: Lynn Rice, Paula Shoup, Luisa Kolker, Ray Ristorcelli, Suzanne Wells, Barb Breckenfeld, Liah Holtzman, Sarara, Aunt CoCo, my sisters Diane and  Debra Niemann (big thanks – LOVE you both), Lisa Forner, Sharron & Arie Louie, Amy & Gene Urban ( thanks for the loan of the flip video camera and your blogging expertise) Lance P, DS Black, David White, Wil Heywood, Bradd Holcomb, Kimberly Nickerson, Toni Dusik, Nora Perlmutter, John Johnson, John Hogan, Ron Baron, Randy Gerdes, Nancy Barhydt-Wezenaar, Niki Brownell, Patti Rowdabaugh, Cynthia Woody (cliff bars are almost all gone), Lisa Nicodemus and all the friends that sent us good wishes through emails and blog responses!!!

This trip could not have happened the way it did, were it not for the huge act of trust and generosity of Cliff DeVlieg who let us use his Roadtrek. Neither of us have ever done anything like this and we took great care of his beloved Guppy and it served us well. There has been much laughter as we learned to navigate the Guppy inside and out.

I would also like to acknowledge the other chick, Donna who has been the perfect traveling companion. Thank God for her techie saavy, expert navigation ability, design eye, easy going nature, cleanliness, proofreading and organizational skills. I am also grateful you for not snoring or moving during sleep. The trip would not have been nearly as fun or as easy with her easy temperament and flexibility. We made a great team and kept each other going.

You’re welcome tall chick…your fearless maneuvering of the guppy especially in tight places, such as the streets in Sante Fe- qualify you for the hallowed trucker belt buckle. Your amazing enthusiasm to take charge as the “Guppy Gourmet” with meal planning and preparation was greatly appreciated as was your bold spirit to do karoake, 2-steppin or any other challenge that arose. I’m so glad we share the same sense of humor. I still chuckle at some of our escapades–move over Lucy and Ethel! Thank you for your writings, as tired as we were from interviewing and downloading – you still manged to hit the keyboard! Ditto on the compliments, right back at you tall chick – can’t wait for our next leg of the adventure!

So this is the last post for this part of our roadtrip. There will be other musings and reports as we pull together our research.

Until then, stay well and remember, “chicks rule.”

signing off – Claudia and Donna

Posted in Greetings from the Guppy | 4 Comments

It Grows as it Goes…

Ramada Patio

Crescit eundo, translated from Latin, it means “it grows as it goes” and is the New Mexico State slogan and could also be the perfect mantra for Tres Placitas del Rio, the last community we visited on our itinerary. This eleven home community is just down the street from The Commons and yet a world entirely of its own.

We parked the Guppy by the handpainted guest sign hung on the chain link fence and walked along the “backside” of the community that showed the eclectic mix of architecture. Each house was owner designed and often built, another distinction from other cohousing communities we visited.

We sat down with Lynn Gerry in her backyard, who at 68 was one of the older residents there and among the first to buy and build in 1997.

Tres Placitas is situated along a tree lined dry river bed on 2.5 acres and the residents share a large open space that face the mountains. There is a community garden, barn with goats and chickens, kids playground and multi-level terrace/ramada area that serves as the primary gathering area during the summer months. This was the only cohousing community we visited that did not have a Common House. So instead the community members adapted and gather in each other’s homes for meeting and shared meals. The residents also make a point to go on a vacation retreat in Colorado once a year just to have fun and generate community spirit: something they’ve been doing for seven years now.

Lynn stressed that it takes real effort to live so closely together especially given the eclectic mix of the members. “We are not an affluent community, ” says Lynn. “We are comprised of hard working socially conscious, creative types with a shared commitment for living together harmoniously on the land and each other.”

So much like the blanket thrown on an outside bench with it’s faded colors and patterns, this community has found a way to weave itself together with it’s uniqueness and individual expression in a way that works. And like the saying, “it grows as it goes…”

Posted in Greetings from the Guppy, New Mexico | 2 Comments

A Touch of Grace

Common House

Our visit to ElderGrace Friday morning was spontaneous and unplanned. We hadn’t planned to visit this community, because in the intentional communities website, it is listed as forming. However, when we were at Commons, we were told that the community was built and the next morning we called the number on their website. We were greeted by Pam, an energetic and vibrant woman. She happened to pick up the phone while cleaning the Common House and invited us to stop by.

This community is just under a year old and a joint venture with the Community Housing Trust in order to offer affordable housing to the 55 plus population in Sante Fe. The community has sold 25 of the 27 units since it opened in October 2009. More were sold but that was before the recession and people were not able to sell their homes.

Pam shared with us that she had lived in cohousing for over ten years back on the East Coast and said, ” it was very much like living in a dorm.” She showed us her 900 s.f.          1- bedroom unit which felt spacious, light and airy.  She was able to qualify for the “affordability” price and get it for 138k instead of the 190k market rate. The medium home sale price in Sante Fe is around $350k so this is a very good deal for elders on fixed incomes.

The demographics at Elder Grace are about 15 single women and 5 couples, substantiating our theory that there would be a higher women ratio. The units were designed for energy efficiency and Pam’s utility bill (both gas and electric) was around $50 a month.

As she toured us around you could see how new the project was with the strappling young trees and not fully formed community garden. The houses were aligned in linear fashion, not the most ideal placements but pragmatic for the site.

Common House Kitchen

We asked her how she felt about the age restriction. She said she missed the energy of children. She was a teacher and is now a grandmother and loves having kids around. In addition to their energy, there is a benefit to having young people to help in some of the community work.

Pam recently joined the National Board of Cohousing and was very intrigued with our research and suggestions. We left giving her big hugs and promising to stay in touch. Later that day we both received a lovely email from her addressed to another Board member introducing her to us. Meeting Pam was truly a touch of grace in action…

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An Uncommon Beauty

We sat down with Karin Roth, a sixty something resident at The Commons on the Alameda on a gorgeous afternoon in Sante Fe. There was some set up going on around us as people prepared for the community supper, something they do twice a week. Karin and her husband Dick moved there in 1994 after retiring and are original owners although not founding members. Eleven of the original 28 homeowners still live there.

Like most communities, the Commons has evolved over time with over 20 children ranging in ages. The distribution of ages and couples seems to be in good balance at this point.

Karin shared two issues that the Commons is currently dealing with namely, rainwater collection and putting up a laundry line. Even though things are much easier to naviagate than 16 years ago, getting consensus among the group is still a challenging process. The Commons had one of the lowest HOA fees and seem to be really good in managing their finances. Their placement and system for guest rooms was among the best we had seen anywhere.

Something this community feels it does really well is to celebrate and take care of their children. Many of the parents share in daycare while they work and use a room in the Common House. This lovely blend of old and new is a sign of a healthy community.

Afterwards we walked around the lovely and mature grounds. The community was organied around four “placitas” or quadrants. The homes were all in a pueblo style and there were meandering paths that emptied into enclosed courtyards and views into private courtyards. Most of the landscape was comprised of native vegetation and maintained by the community itself.

When we got back to the Common House the cooking team was bustling to some lively music. There was a mature and lived in feel to this community. One that has aged well over time, showing some wrinkles that have come with living and laughing gracefully.

Posted in Greetings from the Guppy, New Mexico | 1 Comment

The Heart of the Matter at Heartwood

From Colorado Springs we took the seven hour scenic drive through the mountains to our next destination in Bayfield. We got there after dark finding the dirt road into Heartwood–thank god for Donna’s GPS system on her iphone! We let ourselves into the guest quarters of the Common House with the handwritten note on the door that read, “Welcome Donna and friend.”

Common House Front and Patio

We woke early the next morning and went to meet Scott, a former yoga teacher turned real estate investor, who moved into the community with his Belgian wife and young family over a year ago after looking at other cohousing communities in Oregon and New Mexico. He went through a “membership” process that encourages people to attend a number of meetings over a four-month long period to get a real sense of what living there involves. He said that the process is self-selecting and many people opt out.

Heartwood is located 18 miles outside of Durango, Colorado on 300 plus acres of pristine pine forest and pasture land. It is a very rural environment with lots of access to trails for hiking/biking/horses and wildlife, elk, deer, coyote, snakes etc.

There are a total of 24 homes some built with straw bale but most were production homes designed by architect Paula Baker. The architecture had a rustic European feel and the overall sense was one of a small French village in the country. The houses ranged in size from 2,000 s.f duplexes to 2,400 s.f with basements. Four of them were up for sale and Scott mentioned that Heartwood was undergoing a big transition. Only eleven of the original 24 cohousers still lived there. A number of single women over 60 were living there. The community was very aware of this change and were actively discussing it.

Scott then took us to see the inside of the place that he was renting. Despite the small size it was very nicely laid out. Afterwards he introduced us to a neighbor that was moving across the street. He showed us the geodesic greenhouse and the chicken coop. He explained that there was a farm just down the street that was not owned by the community but affiliated. Before heading down there, we went into the community store that sold some of the produce from the farm as well as some other goodies, all on an honor system. We bought some potatoes, plums and onions to support the effort and replenish our dwindling fresh produce supply.

When we got to the farm we stopped and spoke to some of the “interns” who were  harvesting a tomato crop from one of the hothouses. They offered us both one and started sharing their passion for organic farming. They stay on the property in tents and work as volunteers. One 20 something intern showed me the earth ship greenhouse and spoke how passionate he is about organic farming. He would love to continue to stay there, but without some sort of stipend or permanent shelter it would be difficult.

In our travels we found that there were key people in each community who really “tilled the soil” to make that community come together and coalesce. They demonstrated such passion, perseverance and commitment. The “next generation” of cohousers such as Scott are adopting easily to this way of living without all the upfront work, bringing new energy which goes right to the heart of the matter.

Posted in Colorado, Greetings from the Guppy | 2 Comments

New Old Age: Article from The New York Times

While the 2 Chicks were on the road an interesting article ran in the New York Times about 2 weeks ago. Not only does it feature Silver Sage, the 55 Plus cohousing community we visited in Boulder, it also mentions others that are in process. For as many communities as exist there are at least that many forming.

Quoting the Executive Director of

You can see the appeal. “Any of us who’ve looked at the options for senior housing know that they’re not all that attractive,” Mr. Ragland said. Senior cohousing, though, promises the blend of privacy and kinship, plus the support for aging in place, that assisted living or continuing care retirement communities try to provide – but with the residents themselves firmly in charge. From hiring architects to setting pet policies, they run the show.

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