From Act of Faith to Beacon of Hope

From earlier in the week …


It’s Monday morning and we’re on a high from a weekend-long collaborative design workshop. Guided by a professional facilitator, our CoHousing Houston community worked with our architects to align on a shared vision for the common amenities in our project. It was a surprisingly exhilarating experience for so many hours spent parked in front of a Zoom screen.

This would be a tall order under any circumstances for any group of people with relatively little shared history, mostly zero experience living in community and still stubbing our toes on working with consensus.

When you layer in 2020 COVID dynamics it might seem like a stretch too far. We haven’t even met our post-COVID new joiners in person. Lively pot-luck social-cum-business gatherings have been downgraded to the flatness and boxiness of Zoom galleries with tightly scripted agendas.

I’m mystified by this uplifted feeling after ten hours of Zooming with 18 people. I was fully expecting to be depleted and cranky at best and thoughts of “I can’t do this any longer” at worst.

So what happened?

Investing significant time and treasure in the early stages of a forming cohousing community is an act of faith. A core group of us have been working on this for over three years now. We had finally reached the point where we had land under contract, the legal structure was in place a date was set for the signing of legal documents plus the first sizable down payments made, and the timetable for face-to-face design workshop weekends was fixed in our calendars.

It was all systems GO, then the COVID lockdown burst in on the scene.

Do we postpone? Do we slow down? The answer was a resounding NO. We will not be deterred. Let’s press ahead. We have great momentum. Carpe diem, and all that — and anyway, this virus thing won’t last forever.

“Onward through the fog”, as they like to say in Austin, Texas.

Four months later, we’re Zoom-weary, we miss the contagious energy of a group gathering, some are technology frazzled and others are suffering financial fears. The idea of even seeing people face-to-face, let alone living in a closer community together is seeming more and more remote and nostalgic. It’s a like a faded painting which we can no longer visualize in its original vibrant colors.

Yet we carry on in faith.

Then this virtual design weekend happened. I’m sure if we were honest about it, nobody was really looking forward to all those hours staring at the tidy framed grid of Zoom screens. Ugh.

Yet we all showed up ready to participate.

We very quickly found ourselves imagineering an oasis of community living.

This was going to be better than expected …

We shared pictures of communal dinning and living. We dreamed of shared drinks on the rooftop terrace overlooking the treetops of the neighborhood at sunset. We placed ourselves in the meditation space, the reading nooks and even hanging out around a pool. We felt the joy of bumping into each other in the mail room, distracting someone cooking in the community kitchen and shooing the noisy youngsters into the kids cave after dinner.  We dreamed of group woodworking and ceramic projects and borrowing bikes from each other.

We spent the whole weekend living in a world we long for and cannot see being lived out anywhere on the planet right now. It’s a world filled with the things we have given up these past few months.

It’s a place where we can channel our dreams for a better future.

So many of our social institutions and structures are being eroded by lack of connections. What will be left standing on the other side of the pandemic? All the places that have knit us together — what can we count on still being there? Even some of the basic foundations of our society like classrooms, churches, concerts, plays — what will they look like?

We can’t predict or control many of these broader outcomes, but this weekend we brought to life a sparkly alternative to an otherwise bleak forecast. We can see this more clearly now, we can see the road map to getting there and we can visualize a vibrant oasis with us in it.

What had felt like an act of faith in a risky social experiment has morphed into a beacon of hope.

It’s called CoHousing Houston. We believe we can make this happen.

If you’re curious, check us out at or under cohousinghouston on Facebook. There’s room for more!


Time to rewire “temporary”

Note to self:

2020 is half over. It’s time to get out of idle and shift into gear again.

Enough of “waiting” to pick up and carry on … until this …

Enough of “postponing” life events … until that …

Enough of “suspending” connections … until the other …

I’ve been thinking this is temporary. Just wait it out. Soon enough we will be able to pick up where we left off, and carry on as usual — mostly. In the meantime, four months have flown by and it’s looking like we’re in this for the long-haul. A nebulous soon has turned into a nebulous distant future – maybe even 2021. I’m pushing myself to consider this possibility – while also not having a panic attack about it.

Do I want to continue living like this another year? Absolutely not.

Does this mean, I’m going to cast all care to the wind and sport mask-less bravado? Also, absolutely not.

I’m working on re-wiring my own personal internal thinking about how I arrange my life. Staying within the bounds of COVID safety to do all the things I want to do, involves greater effort, greater planning and greater discomfort. Thus far, I’ve made rather lazy and comfort-seeking decisions behind the veil of caution, comfort and lack of urgency.

Rejecting Zoom invites, because I might self-combust if I have to sit in front of the screen another hour. Not making the effort to arrange for creative outings, because … well … it takes effort. Forgetting to call people I would normally collide with in my daily comings and goings, because out of sight is out of mind. Dragging my feet to invite others to social distance with me, because it’s hot and buggy outside these days – and muggy too on the Texas gulf coast. Pushing things off til tomorrow, because there’s no sense of urgency for today.

Do I want to be taking inventory at the end of 2020, and see the whole year was a holding pattern? Maybe one year is fleeting in the grand scheme of time, but the sands of time on my personal clock are not endless.

I need a paradigm shift. I don’t have lots of answers yet, but I know “Awareness is the greatest agent for change” – thanks for that thought Eckhardt Tolle.

On a whim, I cycled by a friend’s condo yesterday, called her on the phone and asked her to step out on the balcony. She’s not in a position to social distance, so we waved and chatted on the phone. Even though she was 14 floors up and I was standing on a busy street corner, it felt more real and intimate than a Zoom session. More of this …

It gave me a real bounce. I hope it did her too.

The spontaneous balcony visit was on the way home from a patio coffee shop visit with a friend I haven’t seen in person since late last year. It was a multi-sensory technicolor experience compared to the flat world of emails and Facebook posts. We could laugh, catch up, wander down assorted paths of conversation, recycle topics, chatter and debate and go back-and-forth in real-time. More of this too …

It was invigorating for me. I hope she feels the same.

Working on it …

Non-Zoom ideas most welcome 🙂

My closet is atrophying

I got an email last week from a charity group that periodically drives by and picks up ‘gently used’ articles of clothing and household goods. I guess they’re also back in business, so I clicked YES. In January — another lifetime ago — I came up with a respectable load, but surely I can scrounge around and find a few more things for them.

It turns out maybe not.

There has been little action in my closet the past 3 months. Nothing new coming in. No Spring sales to tempt me when I’m out in the world. No new fun, fresh additions to push out some of the tired-looking dated fashions from earlier years. Most of my clothes are untouched, collecting dust and wondering what their purpose in life is.

There’s a small jumble of Athleta, lululemon, Under Armour, leggings, tops, etc. in one corner that experiences a daily turnover. If I ever change out of these before getting into bed at night, there’s a small collection of casual REI-Columbia-esque styled skirts, pants and blouses for that interim window that spans supper, evening Zoom calls and the nightly neighborhood stroll. All of the above could fit in a miniature carry-on.

I can’t give away any of those essentials — I don’t even consider whether these over-used items bring me ‘joy’ or not, they are my life right now. Sorry Marie Kondo.

What about all the other stuff? Will I ever surface from this endless recycling of the same old comfy, stretchy, sameness?

I touch the flowing dresses, high heels, swishy skirts, crisp blouses, smart dress pants and wonder when I will put them on again. Will it be this year, or will I skip this season entirely? Maybe I should just dump them all and start anew — after COVID? I’m definitely too cheap for that and besides don’t have the energy to rethink new clothes. I’d better keep them for now.

Clothing has become less and less interesting the longer I hang around the house. It’s rather like eating the same meal every day – after a while you lose your appetite.

Maybe I’ll dig around in the kitchen next for some household goods to donate. That probably won’t yield much either. The kitchen has been running on overdrive — we’ve been using e-v-e-r-y-thing in there these days.

Our Buddy Bubble Breakout to the Beach

Galveston BeachWe swooped in like Ghostbusters with our masks on, armed with bottles of disinfectant spray. After mastering the tricky keypad entry lock, we made haste to open windows and doors. The sea breeze freed the house of any trapped droplets in the air and we expunged the rest with our arsenal of sanitizing weapons of germ destruction. Yes, the owner did assure me that the cleaning service was going to be similarly attentive to disinfecting the place between visitors, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Once the space was claimed for our own, we shed our masks and packed away the disinfectants and proceeded to nest-in. The waves gently churned in the background. Looking out the window there was only a small strip of sand dunes separating us from the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The sea air filled our lungs and our souls. It was a fresh drink of tranquility.

COVID-19 was packed away out of sight in the car — removed from our reality.

The next three days we interspersed reading, napping, cooking, games, and happy hours with l-o-n-g walks on the beach.

The first day we still reacted to our various newsfeeds buzzing on smartphones, but these gradually lost their grip and were left behind. At first we were struck by groupings on the beach with no care for social distancing or masks, but that soon receded from our consciousness too.  Who cares? The conversation drifted to other areas of interest as we allowed the COVID drip-drip to temporarily dry up. Who’s Corona anyway?

With every tide the virus was carried further out to sea. With every walk on the sand we returned closer to nature. With every elaborate cooking event we recaptured a delight in our senses. With every nap we restored a deeper calm.  With every evening sunset we reconnected with the here and now.

We tasted life as we knew it before this virus torpedoed our world, and it was good. I hadn’t realized how much the virus had penetrated my psyche and my overall sense of well-being until I managed to unplug from it. My obsessive FitBit sleep tracking finally yielded the percentages of REM and Deep sleep I strive for. That was a eureka moment. Proof positive of the restorative impact of our COVID breakout.

Now we’re back in the city. The frog is back in the pot of water on the stove — the heat is cranking up again.

I’m planning our next escape retreat. Be well dear readers.

The COVID Dessert Domino Effect

domino effect-2You’re at a fancy restaurant with a big group and the waiter comes to the table to ask if anyone saved room for dessert.

You know how it is … everyone claims they couldn’t possibly eat another bite. 

And then one person says, well, we should at least look at the dessert menu, even if we don’t order anything…

The waiter is at the ready with a stack of menus and distributes them with a knowing smile. They know what’s going to happen next.

One person may order a black coffee while everyone else oohs and yumms and aahs over the selection. Then another hands back the menu declaring they’ll just have a cappuccino, or some other coffee treat to deliver that sugary cap-off to the meal. It’s a tiny crack in the group resolve.

And … then … one person asks if someone wants to share a dessert. Two or three chime in with “sure” they could do that. It’s presented more like a favor to the requester, rather than something they really want to do for themselves. We all know better. The good intentions are starting to crumble.

AND THEN … a spontaneous devil-may-care attitude takes over. All the dominoes collapse. By the time the waiter returns, almost everyone at the table is ordering a dessert, or agreeing to receive an extra utensil to taste some shared deliciousness. We’ll worry about the consequences tomorrow. Today we’re going to have some fun.

There’s always that one original black coffee holdout, who everyone wishes would just leave and not lord over the rest of us with their pious pretensions.

Ever seen that happen?

I feel like we’re all poised at that moment when the waiter arrives with the dessert menu. There are open restaurants on offer, barber shops, hair and nail salons, unlocked malls, State Parks, beaches and more. Yummy! Irresistible! Let’s DO IT.

But wait, I’m still worried about effective social distancing. I’m that person ordering black coffee right now. How long will I be able to keep this up?

I see people around me starting to negotiate and bargain with themselves just like we do with the dessert menu. Just a little taste. I don’t want to miss out on this, or that. And let’s not forget our duty to help resurrect the economy by participating in it again. And OMG the state of my hair or nails!

How long will I remain that person ordering black coffee? The temptations are mounting. I can see a gradually crumbling of resolve. 

Living in an Emotional Pressure Cooker

Pressure CookerI don’t know much about pressure cookers, except that issues with the equipment can lead to super steam blowouts. They can explode, sending flying parts across the room and splattering their contents on anything and anyone within range. Dangerous stuff — so my mom always said, so that was gospel to me.

I feel like our whole house is an emotional pressure cooker these days. It’s pretty reliable and has rarely been known to blow out the top, but we have had a few ‘near misses’ over the past couple of months. Probably the biggest blowout was over where one is supposed to leave the tea towel for drying hands in the kitchen. Too ridiculous to even get into here.

I’ve also heard some blown fuses sparking across the neighborhood from otherwise very quiet and reserved households. And, of course, we’ve all been reading about much more fragile family dynamics that have lead to an increase in domestic violence of all kinds. Also dangerous. Sad.

This isolation isn’t necessarily causing new problems. It’s just pouring gasoline on existing problems that are simmering below the surface. Not to be too flip, but this tea towel issue has been going on for years!

We’re all locked down in this pot together right now. The pressure builds up every now and then. There are very few outlets that feel safe, restorative and nourishing that allow us to get away very far from each other. We’re stuck here with each other.

Our emotions are so commingled, that when our daughter finished her last final today, my husband and I felt as if we had finished too. Whew …

During her practical exam — a “tele-health” appointment with an actor — we were under strict orders to maintain absolute silence in the house for this one hour period. We didn’t think we needed such strong admonishing instructions. We get it that she’s being recorded and evaluated. Of course, I’m not going to knock on your door and shout at you to empty the dryer. Not sure why she was so worried about us – we’re just quiet retired people! Exactly! … she might reply.

Well, half-way through her sacred one hour of required silence, a piece of bread got stuck in the toaster, which sent clouds of smoke billowing through the downstairs. OMG … NOooo … not the smoke alarm! We scurried around frantically opening doors and waving smoke away from the detector within screeching distance of her door. It was like a slapstick routine from an old I Love Lucy show I could never tolerate. Disaster was averted — thank goodness! — or that pot would have blown up all over our happy little nest.  

We all survived. The exams are over. What a relief. I’m sure I’ll sleep much better tonight. She will claim that she was the only person doing all the studying and the only person taking these virtually monitored exams at the desk in her bedroom, but the whole household went through this emotional experience. 

The pressure valve has let off some steam again. We’re going to be ok for a while.




The Zoom Hangover

zoom hangoverBy the end of last week I felt like I had been at a long banquet feast from another era. I had been subjected to a steady stream of courses, while trying to keep up with the various conversation topics, continuously reapplying my lipstick, thanking the hostess, complimenting the chef and musicians, and occasionally being enlisted to perform a party trick of my own. Yes, I’m talking about Zoom!

I l-o-v-e a social gatherings, even a meeting, but these feel too one-dimensional, too straight-jacketed, too stripped of human connection. Simply put, the Zoom-jammed calendar was too exhausting. I felt like I had a hang-over from it all. And … just to set the record straight, no, none of those included one of the now infamous Zoom Happy Hours.

The week Zoom–ed by and by Friday I was bloated. I couldn’t take one more bite of one more course. I needed to push away from the banquet table, my PC in this case, and take a break — give myself a chance to feel hungry for connection again. I hated to miss church on Sunday and was especially sorry to miss the social hour afterwards, but I couldn’t stomach it. I went for a walk instead.

I’m always ready and eager to socialize, so what is it about Zoom that is depleting me so?

Krista Tippett has also been exploring this question in her On Being podcast.  She talks about how when we come together in person, we draw energy from each other, which isn’t being communicated through the screen. We’re not replenishing the basic store of life by being with each other, when we come together in a Zoom call. She goes on to say that this isn’t an ‘introverted’ or ‘extroverted’ thing, rather it’s a ‘human’ thing. Yes, thank you Krista, you nailed it for me. As usual, she’s able to name it so exquisitely that a light bulb comes on for me.

This morning, after a four-day Sabbath from Zoom, I felt refreshed enough to rejoin my Zoom life (code for all my social life outside this house). I’ve had three events thus far today and think I might even be up for the 4th one after dinner tonight. When we first retreated into the lock down, I thought this was going to be a brief interruption in how we interacted, so the approach was to simply zoom-ify my life until we could meet in person again. Don’t slow down, just ‘Carry On’.

I’m rethinking this strategy. We may have to keep this up longer than expected. I have virtual meeting limits I didn’t know about. How many drinks can you have and still walk the straight line? How many Zoom calls can you participate in and still maintain your equilibrium?

I’m going to be working on avoiding future Zoom hangovers.

What’s your limit? Have you hit it yet?