Last night's Great Oak anniversary party was great fun. It started off with a talent show - 3 different kid dance troupes (one of our adult members is a dancer and she's been mentoring all the kids), an amazing marimba performance, a Dadaist opera consisting of four people each reading a different list of spam subject lines simultaneously, a couple of songs (okay, that really underplays the bizareness that was J doing the boat song from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), two "pet demonstrations" (a rainbow boa and and a bearded dragon) and the piece de resistance - a stupid human trick from A, who's special talent is the ability to throw grapes up in the air, catch them in his mouth, and chipmunk them in his cheeks while he catches other grapes. Clearly he works well with an audience, since he managed to blow his previous record of 17 out of the water, getting up to 25 this time! (He thinks the grapes were a little smaller this time.) Totally wacky. I'm trying to figure out a culinary talent I can demonstrate in three minutes next year... Spun sugar? Flambee?

The (previously unnamed) Great Oak band played "The Great Oak Show" (to the tune of the Muppet Show) to open things up, and then - in the middle of the talent show - debuted their long overdue name with an original song. Name suggestions have abounded over the last year (the band was launched at last year's talent show) but I have no idea where the one they finally selected came from. The name of the Great Oak band is.... drum roll please... "Mister Ma'am."

We paused to take our annual group photo, then finished up the talent show. After that, the band played a set and Liam danced with great joy and abandon. This kid LOVES live music - we need to figure out how to get him out to see more of it. In the pause between songs, he'd be demanding the next one. "More music, more music!" And the dance moves - man, he was funny. When M stepped in for an Elvis song, Liam mimicked her holding the microphone - it was totally awesome. We'd given Liam a late nap, so he was able to stay all the way through to the end of the band - just after 9 pm. He did sit on my lap for the last three songs, though - little guy was pooped, but didn't want to leave.

Couple of great cohousing moments - Eric was sitting next to A and her 1 year old son M. At some point I look over, and there's Eric with M happily sitting on his lap. "Why do you have M?" I asked. "He just decided to come over." And this isn't a family or a baby that we have a lot of interaction with beyond just our usual day to day meals etc. Similarly, when Liam and I were out dancing our fannies off, no fewer than 3 different kids came running up to me to grab my hands and dance. It really is a village.

One not so great cohousing moment - I took over that huge tray of candy at the start of the festivities, but I should have waited and put it out after the talent show. All of the adults were busy paying attention to that, and the unmonitored teens and pre-teens at at least half of what I brought, including nearly all of the chocolate covered pieces. Annoying.
So, as many of you know, I live in Great Oak Cohousing. We're just down the road from Sunward Cohousing, and right next to us is the newest cohousing community in town - Touchstone. One of our members put a webcam in their window to record the construction progress at Touchstone, and now he's turned it into a video that covers a period of just over a year. It's really neat to watch.
After my last post ("To Sleep or Not to Sleep") I went upstairs and took a bath. Then I lied down in bed for a little while, but my mind was racing too much to go to sleep. Taking the advice of [ profile] encorecrazay and [ profile] minnehaha - caffeine now, sleep later - seemed like the best course of action. Unfortunately, the only caffeine we had in the house was (blech) diet. (I don't drink coffee or tea.)

Cohousing to the rescue! I sent out an email to the community list and Ted responded to tell me that there was Coke in his garage and gave me his access code. Suitably caffeinated, I made it into work, although I can definitely tell I am not going to be a very functional worker this afternoon. I think I will go to my meeting and do some administrative things I need to do - like fill out my timesheet - then maybe head home a little early. It would be better if I could start typing up notes from yesterday's site visit, but we'll see.
We've finally succumbed to peer pressure. I think we are the last Great Oak household not to do anything with their yard, and it was getting kind of embarrassing.

So today Eric rented a rototiller and dug up a bunch of our yard. Which is an awful lot of yard, since we have the longest sidewalk in the whole community. Tomorrow we need to finish digging out the last few tufts of grass and stuff. Then we're going to hopefully finish the task that started us down this role, which is putting in a path that will enable us to bypass our exceptionally long sidewalk when we go to and from the common house. We've been cutting across the grass ever since we moved in, which accounts in part for the sorry shape it was in. That and the cruddy quality of the dirt we live on. And the fact that we never, you know, water or anything.

Our plan is to do the path this weekend. Next weekend we'll get some topsoil, and put mulch over it all. Then we'll just plant a little bit at a time - we don't have any master plan going in, and that way we can just spend a little bit of money at a time too. We're open to suggestions or ideas from gardeners, so feel free to chime in!
Today we had a big celebration for the 4th of July. The (as yet unnamed) band played a couple of sets, there were water balloons and tie dye, and the usual a big potluck dinner. We set off Diet Coke and Mentos rockets. I had a great conversation with one neighbor about parenting and discipline and bedtimes. I sat out on the common house green with another mom, chatting and rolling around on the grass with our toddlers. After dinner Liam kept me dancing to the band until they stopped. It was just so nice to be surrounded by friends and neighbors, comfortable and happy. They're setting off fireworks and having a bonfire out on the playfield now, but Liam is asleep and I'm not far behind him.
Got home from the airport just as dinner was finishing up. I'd met up with Eric and Liam playing outside and exchanged hugs and kisses and the like. Liam wanted to nurse (of course) but I needed to eat, so we multitasked, sitting at a dining room table so I could eat while he nursed. (And looked up at me from time to time, giving an excited "mama!" each time.) The cohousing moment is that I had two separate people stop to say how nice it was to see a toddler nursing so happily. Such a supportive environment, compared to all the other horror stories I here about toddlers nursing in public. I was still dressed in business attire, and Kelly commented on how I looked such the part of a modern "have-it-all" woman - nursling on one hip, briefcase at the other.

It was very good to get home and see Liam (and Eric, of course, but he doesn't change so much in two days...) I missed my little guy a lot! Tomorrow is supposed to be my day off, so I think I'll take advantage of it to spend some time with him in the morning before dropping him off at daycare. And I might go into work anyway - I have work to do, and we can use the extra money.
Why yes, yes I did.

I'm newly in charge of scheduling the meals workers for my cohousing community. Back in March, I sent a list of my needs to the work committee. I thought I'd double checked all my numbers, but apparently not.

Because I undereported the number of meal workers I needed for the upcoming season by, well, a bunch. I know exactly what I did - multiplied 13 by 4 to get 42 instead of 52. "Math is hard - let's go shopping!" And since I calculated all of the other jobs by the number of head cooks, I ended up short on assistant cooks and cleaners as well. And to think we were all patting ourselves on the back for so successfully cutting down on the number of community work hours this season. Now I know why.

I just sent a big "I fucked up" email to the work committee. I'm suggesting that we ask for volunteers to work the extra shifts, then cancel a few meals over the summer to make up the difference between the shortfall and any volunteer labor we're able to acquire. And to say I have egg on my face right now is putting it mildly.

I need an "I'm stupid" icon.
For the last two years there's been a community Easter egg hunt, so I'd just assumed there'd be one this year as well. But as the week wore on and there was nothing on the email list about it, I figured the usual organizers were too busy. I kept meaning to send out an email offering to help, but my own week was very busy, and next thing I knew it was Saturday night and too late to do anything about it. Neither Eric nor I are religious, although we were both raised nominally Christian so have fond secular memories of egg hunts and Christmas trees etc. I thought Liam would adore hunting for eggs, but it felt a little weird to "celebrate" Easter on our own. And then we just ran out of time anyway, and I figured we'd just wait until next year - it's not like Liam would realize he was missing anything.

So I was very pleased and surprised to find out that there was going to be a community egg hunt after all! I was still in bed, waking up slowly from my sleep in day, when I heard Eric tell Liam that he needed to get clothes on so they could go to the common house and look for eggs! Hooray! This gave me the incentive to get out of bed, and we all trooped over to the common house plaza to start the hunt.

Liam was as excited about it as I'd hoped, and was one of the last kids to give up on finding "more eggs!" Unfortunately, it's a chilly morning. I'm still cold, and we've been home for over and hour. Brrr.

Click for more pictures.

I love the way we can share our traditions and celebrate with each other at Great Oak. The same people who organized the 75-person Passover Seder last night (with live rock band, I might add) were out hunting eggs this morning.
So, one of the cool things about living at Great Oak is that we get a lot of wildlife in the neighborhood. Bigger things, like deer, foxes, coyotes, and rabbits, and littler things, like the near plague levels of grasshoppers we're seeing this year. This post is about some of our smaller companions - the frogs! About every other day, we find a tiny little tree frog hanging out on our porch. Most frequently, we've found them perched on top of our doorbell, of all places. It's a lighted doorbell, and we think they like the warmth.

They're beautiful frogs, with lots of neat colors and patterns.
Click to see the frogs )
The green one is my favorite so far. One day we actually found a frog on the inside of our screen door, up at eye level. We've no idea how it got there. It was a pretty mottled light green/blue - too bad I didn't get a picture of it before I had a group of neighborhood boys come and rescue it. Another night we found one of the cats batting at one in the corner - it must have hopped inside when we had the door open. One time there was a frog on the door handle! Last night there was another on the doorbell, but it was late, and I was tired, so no picture.
Bonus pictures - really cool moth )
One of our neighbors just got the job of his dreams, so we've got yet another unit up for sale at Great Oak. Right now we've got a 2-bedroom with walk out basement and deck, and a 3 bedroom (not a walkout) with a fenced backyard. If you or anyone you know is interested in living in cohousing, let me know. The 2-bedroom is low $200,000s, and the 3-bedroom probably mid-$200,000s.
The brunch went spectacularly well. We ended up with a few late signups and just a couple of no-shows (Krysta, what happened to you?) so we ended up with about 60 people or so, including kids. Food purchases were about spot on - we ended up with a little too much bread and cheese, and ran out of potatoes and bacon (but not until the main block of people had passed through the buffet - it was just the late arrivals that missed out). We spent within our budget, so made about $300-$350.

We started cooking and prepping this morning at 8:30 or so, and were ready to go just a few minutes after 11. Of course, my work was only partly done, as I'd volunteered to cook omelettes to order. I didn't do a count, but I'm guessing I cooked about 40-45. Took me about an hour and half from start to finish. I had three pans on the go at a time. As people came to the front of the line I'd butter up a pan, then add whatever fillings they wanted - tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, scallions, asparagus, or ham. I'd saute that until the veggies were ready, then add a ladleful of eggs. Stir the eggs into the center and redistribute the liquid underneath, add the cheese (cheddar or goat) when it was mostly done, then trifold it onto a plate. I got lots of comments on how impressive it was, but really, my omelette making technique pretty much sucks. I had a hard time getting my temperatures right, so I had lots of overbrowned eggs. One of my pans was not as non-stick as I would have liked, so I had some sticking, although I only ended up scrambling one guy's eggs when it became clear an omelette as *not* happening in that pan. I've always been impressed by those guys at omelette bars at restaurant buffets, and I'm even more so now. And apparently people were commenting on how tasty and moist the omelettes were - I'm not afraid to leave the eggs a touch runny in the center, and let the leftover heat cook it on the way to the table.

We had a bunch of community members and their friends and relatives, but also a large number of people (probably about 12-18) that were from a church that a few of our neighbors attend. For most, this was their first look at cohousing, and they were pretty impressed. They got a tour of Great Oak and Touchstone after brunch. If Touchstone gets any sales out of this, we're going to ask for a finder's fee for the other half of the money we need for the food processor.

Eric made many more coffee drinks than he expected he would, probably about 30 cappucinos, lattes and espressos. As for me, I drank one or two more mimosas than was perhaps wise, but I LOVE mimosas - they are my downfall.

Fun, fun, fun. I'd do it again. Or something different, a dinner maybe. My co-organizers/cooks were great to work with - very organized, very skilled, with similar approaches to how to do this sort of thing, so we worked really well together.
Cooked common meal last night. Cook's Illustrated "Ultimate Veggie Burger." It was a good recipe, but a bit too complex for the constraints of common meal, I think. Especially when I was down one assistant cook and ended up co-cooking (just two people, but with a longer time committment). Although, to be fair, we also had a bunch of people pitch in, and it still required working in fits and spurts all day long.

Here's the process: cook lentils, drain them, spread out on paper toweled cookie sheets to soak up as much water as possible. Soak bulgur in boiling water. Drain, press through a mesh strainer to get out as much water as possible. (Are you seeing a trend here? The idea is that the key to a good veggie burger is controlling the moisture content.) Okay, next step, dice up onions, leeks and celery and saute them until carmelized and dry. Slice mushrooms, saute until golden brown. Now, get out your food processor. Pulse raw cashews until very finely chopped. Mix them in to the rest of the ingredients, along with some mayonaise. Then (nope, not done yet) pulse the mixture in batches in the food processor until it's cohesive. Stir in some panko breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Then, form it into patties. Finally, grill (or cook on the stovetop).

See what I mean? LOTS of steps.

I also made some hamburgers for any timid meat eaters who didn't want to try the veggie burgers, along with 20 lbs of potato salad (at least 5 lbs too much, as it turned out). And some green salad. Dessert was easy, as it was Willa's 10th birthday, so we just had cake and ice cream.

And the cooking's not done yet. Today I went to Meijer and bought brunch makings for 50+ people. Later, Eric and Liam and I went down to Kerrytown to pick up the last few things. 4 lbs of bacon from Sparrow Meats. 4 lbs of cheese and 4 loaves of bread from Zingerman's. 3 bottles of sparkling wine for Mimosas. Coffee. I spent as much on my three bags of food from Kerrytown as I did at Meijer! So far I've spent about $275 of my $300 food budget, and we still need to pick up some fresh local berries at the farmer's market tomorrow. But I think we have enough food. Probably too much, which is why I took 6 late signups today.

You'd think after all this common meal cooking I'd be confidant about my quantities, but I've never done a brunch, so... I think it will be fine, though. Our baker is cooking up sweet rolls and muffins and banana bread tonight. Katie is making up a huge batch of crepes. She'll make fillings tomorrow. We'll alsol do the potatoes, the bacon, the veggie sausage, the fruit and prep all the vegetables for the omelette bar. The omelette bar is my thing - I'll be working the stove, making omelettes to order. Eric will be the barista, making espressos and cappucinos (and bartending the champagne for mimosas, probably).

Should be fun, and we'll raise about $300 towards the purchase of our food processor. But I'll be glad to have a break from cooking for a little while.
This Saturday is the fundraising brunch at Great Oak that I wrote about in my journal a while back. Some of you had expressed possible interest, so this is just a reminder and request for confirmation on attendance. RSVPs needed by Thursday afternoon.
We're holding a fundraising brunch at Great Oak to collect money for the purchase of a restaurant size and quality food processor for the common kitchen, and you're invited!

Saturday, July 30th, 2005
11 am - 1 pm
Great Oak Common House

$12 for adults, kid price TBA (no more than $6, probably less)

The menu:
Omelettes, made to order with your choice of fillings (prepared by yours truly)
Crepes with a variety of sweet and savory fillings
Assorted pastries (muffins, breads, bagels) and things to put on them
Scrambled eggs
Veggie Sausage
Breakfast potatoes
Beautiful berries and other fruits
An assortment of lovely cheeses
And a few surprises...

To drink we'll have various juices, mimosas for those who like a champagne brunch, coffee, and cappucinos and espressos served up by our own barista, [ profile] eviljohn.

Please let me know if you're interested in attending! It should be a tasty and convivial event.


Jul. 14th, 2005 12:01 pm
Ahh, a little momentary panic is good for heart, right?

Liam is down for his nap, so I went out to the deck to fill up his wading pool so it would have time to warm up for later. We have the airconditioning on, so I closed the door behind me. I finished with the pool and tried to go inside, only to discover that the door wouldn't open and I was trapped on the deck! I'd totally forgotten that last week we'd discovered something wrong with the latch and hadn't fixed it yet.

Luckily I live in cohousing and there are lots of people around during the day. There wasn't anyone out in the back, but I could see Tim and Melisa's windows open several houses down, so I shouted out "Tim, Melisa, HELP!" which got their attention and they came to rescue me. Liam slept through the whole thing, thankfully.


What a day!

Jul. 2nd, 2005 08:07 pm
Busy, busy, tiring day today. After Liam's morning nap we went downtown for some book shopping at Dawntreader and Borders. Met up with Holly and Brian and Maya and had lunch at Afternoon Delight. Liam fell asleep on the ride home and slept just long enough that he wouldn't go down for his afternoon nap. Which was a bit of a problem, because today Great Oak was the site of a picnic for members of People's Food Co-op. It was definitely a win-win experience - they got a great location for their events, and we got to market the whole cohousing concept to people who are more likely than average to be interested. There were tours of Great Oak and Sunward as well as Touchstone. I was running two GO tours at 4 and 4:40, which is why Liam's lack of nap was rather problematic.

But despite the nappage issue, Liam had a great afternoon. He was the first kid to play in the newly refilled community sandbox. He hung out with Judith while I did the first tour, then I took him along for most of the second tour, handing him off to Roz for a little while at the end. My tour groups were pretty good, and it was fun leading the tours - I love showing people around and telling them all about cohousing. Liam and I wandered over to Touchstone to check them out - I don't like the units as much as ours, but I'm sure it will be a great place to live. We ate some potluck picnic food, then Liam played in the craft supplies while we listened to the drum circle.

I'd told Holly and Brian about the event, so they came to join in. A couple of families I know from Mothering Arts are PFC members and were there, so that was a pleasant surprise and I got to catch up with them a little bit.

Around 6:45 I was beat, and new Liam needed an early bedtime because of the nap thing. So we headed home. He complained briefly when we came inside, but then fell to playing quiety and solitarily in the play room - I think he needed a break from the people. Shortly after 7 it was bedtime, and his little sleepy self fell fast asleep while nursing. I don't think I'll be far behind him - I was really tired this afternoon and planning to lie down during the afternoon nap that never came, so an early bedtime would seem to be in order.
Tonight was the second gathering of the Great Oak wine club I started. I finished all of my glasses, which was definitely a little too much wine - I'm feeling kinda squiffy. Especially not surprising given that I got so little sleep last night, what with the teething. Tonight will probably be another night like that, which I'm totally dreading.

10 people for tonight's meeting. Tonight we did red varietals - Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The Merlot and the Cab were definitely the favorites, even for me. They were also slightly more expensive than the others - $12.99 vs $8.99 and $9.99, so one wonders if that might have made a diff. And of course, we were tasting these just with bread - the syrah and pinot would have shown better with food.

Details on the wines, in case anyone cares:
2002 J Lohr Paso Robles Merlot
2003 Crosspoint Montery County Pinot Noir
2001 Pierano Estate Vineyards Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon
2002 Domaine des Blagueurs Syrah-Sirrah

General consensus is to do a varietal next time - probably Cabernet Sauvignon, since it was well liked this time and is so popular and grown in so many places. Up until now I've been trying to keep the prices in the same ballpark, but next time I'll mix it up a little - definitely the Two-Buck Chuck Cab, plus a decent Bordeaux, then maybe a couple of Californians.

Well, I should get to bed while I'm still riding this tipsy feeling. Drinking wine before bed actually makes me sleep worse in the long run, but right now I think it would help put me out. Well, that and the fact that I only got about 4 hours last night, with my longest stretch being two hours.
Today is our spring work day at Great Oak. Twice a year we have a big day where we try to get as many people from the community involved in special projects. Some of the things on today's list included planting a bunch of trees and other plantings in the various community gardens, steamcleaning the common house chairs, caulking and painting the common house, etc.

I signed up to be the food coordinator for the day. We asked people to make a contribution towards a snack table, and I'm responsible for keeping that organized. Plus I ordered pizza for lunch, and did the set up and clean up from that. This is a pretty easy job to do with Liam, especially since a couple of the community kids were having fun playing with him this morning. After lunch I brought him home and put him down for a nap - he got a short and early nap today, so he was very ready and fell asleep nursing.

Eric's out caulking and painting the common house trim. In a few minutes I'm going to swap off with him and let him listen to the baby monitor while I run up to Meijer - someone donated $20 towards snacks, so I thought it would be great to get some popsicles or little ice cream bars as a midafternoon treat for everybody working out in the hot sun.
After having a fun conversation about wine at a common meal a couple weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to start a Great Oak Wine Club. Tonight was our first gathering. We have a mix of people with a lot of experience and not much experience at all. I'm taking the lead and facilitating the first couple of gatherings, and after that we'll see where the group wants to go - we had lots of ideas being thrown around tonight.

For tonight's theme I focused on white varietals. I bought four bottles of wine, aiming for wines that were characteristic examples of their grape. We had the Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Reisling (very German in style, and more in my price point than the Germans the store had), a Bogle Chardonnay as an example of the classic overoaked, buttery California style, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and a Pinot Grigio, because I wanted a fourth wine and thought it was more well known than, say, Gewurztraminer.

We had 12 people in total, including Eric and I. There are another 3 or so people who are interested, but weren't able to make tonight's gathering - if we get everyone, we're going to max out the tasting capacity of a single bottle. Everyone seemed to have a really good time! We tasted all of the wines blind, so people could try to guess which was which. I read out descriptions of the various varieties for people who are new to wine. It's harder that it sounds - I don't think anybody got them all right. I nailed the Sauvignon Blanc and the Reisling, which are two of my favorite varieties, but mixed up the Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay - not surprising as they were the two I had the least experience with. Most everyone brought their own glasses, and I put out all 14 of mine to get everyone to four glasses each. One of the things people really liked was the opportunity to go back and forth and taste the different wines as they compared directly to each other, and to go back as they aged a little over the hour long tasting. We used masking tape to label the glasses and the wines by number until we revealed what was what at the end.

Next month we'll do red varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz/Syrah and/or Zinfandel - 4 was a nice number). And after that - well, the possibilities are endless. We talked about doing a closer look at one varietal and how it differs around the world, getting someone's guest wine geek from South Africa to come and show us some South African wines, trying out different wines with different foods to see what works and what doesn't...

I'm not so much with attending committee meetings or doing some of the more formal types of community work that living here involves. But doing things like this (and the game night we host, and cooking common meal) helps me feel like I do my part by contributing to the social network that's also important for community living.

I'm up waaaay past my bedtime. Off to join Liam in slumberland.



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