Thursday, March 31, 2016: Being good neighbours

I’ve been working this evening designing an invitation to Vancouver Cohousing’s Kensington neighbourhood for a block party. The photo shows some of the images I’m using.

When we were seeking support from local residents for our rezoning application in late 2012 and early 2013, we said we were going to be great neighbours. I’m a member of our external relations committee and at a meeting this week I proposed that it was time to be neighbourly.

We’ll open our gates for a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon, offer refreshments and tours, and get to know the people into whose world we have landed, perhaps like a spaceship from another planet to some of them.

After all, we’ve created a multi-family complex with 31 units housing 51 adults and 18 children right smack in the midst of a single-family neighbourhood. Many of us remark that we continue to be amazed we actually made it happen. It’s real and we’re living here.

• • • • • • •

One reason I’ve been able to blog daily has been a drought in the flow of the editing work I do on contract. But this evening a 120,000-word report landed in my inbox and I’ve got a week to polish it. You may not see posts from me every day, or some posts may be pretty short and sweet, like this one.



Wednesday, March 30, 2016: Solar, so good

On an appropriately bright, sunny afternoon, more than 100 people visited Vancouver Cohousing today for the showcase of BC’s first cooperatively owned community solar energy project.

In the main photo, you can see 15 of the 90 photovoltaic panels on our rooftops that are generating clean power for use in our common areas, such as the common house and parkade.


Many of us took advantage of free salted caramel ice cream, supplied by Earnest Ice Cream – owned by fellow cohouser Ben Ernst – an investor in SolShare Energy, which created the project. SolShare is a subsidiary of Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative.


SolShare co-founder Rob Baxter described some of the technical aspects of the project. The 23 kW photovoltaic plant officially began generating clean, pollution-free electricity at the end of January 2016.


Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer gives a dreamcatcher to J-M Toriel, on behalf of Vancouver Cohousing. (Heather Mann photo)

Fellow cohouser J-M Toriel spearheaded the effort to bring solar panels to Vancouver Cohousing. I’m going to piggyback on cohouser Heather Mann’s email to our community this evening: “J-M introduced the event and speakers, and shared joy and pride on behalf of Vancouver Cohousing for being the pioneers to implement solar panels through this financing strategy in all of BC. Rob Baxter proceeded to explain how the solar panels were financed: through local investors buying shares in SolShare, who will earn dividends on their investments as Vancouver Cohousing uses the solar energy.

“Andrea Reimer of City Council acknowledged the effort of Vancouver Cohousing in forging toward its dream, ‘even though the negotiations involved in working toward your dream may at times have felt like a nightmare.’ She gifted us with a dreamcatcher on behalf of the City.

“Bullfrog Power, Canada’s leading green energy provider, also shared their excitement to involved in this significant event,” Heather wrote. “Bullfrog Power originally financed the solar panels through a loan to SolShare before investors bought in.

“Following the speeches, guests were invited to mingle, tour our facilities, and soak up the sun.

“I felt inspired by the vision of a green energy future, and proud to be part of such a forward-thinking community,” Heather wrote. “J-M, along with many of you who worked to pursue this vision, should feel very proud indeed. Today’s event sent out ripples into the greater community for what is possible.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016: Being on radio

When I arrived home from being on Roundhouse Radio, Taryn said there was a surprise by my front door. I was delighted to find a package of seeds for growing gai lan, one of my favourite Asian greens. It’s one more example of  loving kindness in my Vancouver Cohousing community, something I talked a lot about when I was interviewed on the Janice & Cory show (weekdays, 3-6 p.m. on 98.3).

After a lifetime in journalism, it’s always strange not to be the one asking the questions. I’ve often found mistakes in stories written or broadcast about something I’m involved in. But an on-air interview offers the opportunity to really tell your own story.

Co-hosts Janice Ungaro and Cory Ashworth were warm, enthusiastic and genuinely interested in knowing more about cohousing. The first question was whether “cohousing” was just a 2016 name for “co-op”. While both embrace a more collaborative lifestyle than the mainstream,  an essential difference is that co-ops in B.C. are generally rentals, while people in cohousing have strata title to their own homes clustered around common areas.

I described the loving connections and sharing, and how we’ve made all our decisions by 100 percent consensus. Cory said I was blowing their minds and basically wondered what planet I was from. I did make it clear when asked that we are not a cult, just people who want to know our neighbours better in a close-knit community.

I’m loyal to CBC Radio 1 and the BBC World Service, but now I’ve added Roundhouse Radio to my go-to radio stations. Roundhouse launched last fall and describes itself as “a commercial station with a community focus, serving the needs of the people who live, work and play in the City of Vancouver. Focusing on intelligent conversations from a unique, hyper-local perspective, Roundhouse provides content important to the lives of everyone who is engaged with this city.”

Their hip studios are at 714 Alexander St. in Railtown, and every last Tuesday of the month there are free bicycle mini tune-ups outside their front door provided by Union Street Cycle. And if you register with the Vancouver Police Department’s “Project 529” bike recovery app, you can ride by and pick up the ID shield for your bike.


With co-hosts Cory Ashworth and Janice Ungaro at Roundhouse Radio. (Devon Taylor photo)

• • • • • •

Club 69 loses another member: Patty Duke


Oscar-winning actor Patty Duke has died at age 69. She was born Anna Marie Pearce in Queens, New York, on Dec. 14, 1946. As reported by Associated Press:

Duke’s agent, Mitchell Stubbs, says the actress died early Tuesday morning of sepsis from a ruptured intestine. She died in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, according to Teri Weigel, the publicist for her son, actor Sean Astin.

Duke found early success playing the young Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker first on Broadway, then in the acclaimed 1962 film version for which she won her Oscar at age 16, both with Anne Bancroft as Helen’s teacher, Annie Sullivan.

Then in 1963, she burst on the TV scene starring in a sitcom, The Patty Duke Show, which aired for three seasons. She played dual roles under an unconventional premise: as identical cousins living in Brooklyn, New York.

In 2015, she would play twin roles again: as a pair of grandmas on an episode of Liv and Maddie, a series on the Disney Channel.

In her 1988 memoir, Call Me Anna, Duke wrote of her bipolar condition and its diagnosis only six years earlier, and of the treatment that subsequently stabilized her life. The book became a 1990 TV film in which she starred, and she became an activist for mental health causes, helping to de-stigmatize bipolar disorder.

• • • • • •


A rainbow reflected on my front door.

Monday, March 28, 2016: First community dinner

Today was the first of our organized community meals in the common house, prepared and served by our members. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we could glimpse the mountains through the lounge windows. Almost 40 Vancouver Cohousers sat down for a delicious dinner of red lentil dahl, naan bread, rice and salad.

It was a lovely opportunity to chat with folks who share this amazing place. At my table, we caught up with how settling in is progressing and discussed how we had first become involved in the project. On the other  hand, Margot (pictured below) was more focused on her food.


We’ve been organized into crews of three to shop, chop, cook and clean for dinners on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and a weekend brunch. This evening, Nicole sent an email on behalf of the fellow members of her crew, Britta and Barry, with some lessons and insights from the first meal.

The first thing is to look at larger teams. “There were five of us (thanks for bringing friends Britta!!) cooking/setting up nonstop for two hours and I started prepping the meal at 2 pm,” Nicole wrote. “So the teams may want to plan to start earlier or have more people per team. Or just have waiting diners to help set up. This is assuming of course that you will have as many people at your meal that we had tonight. Smaller groups will obviously take less time.”

There has been a lot of discussion about the price of the common meals. “Tonight’s meal was one of the cheapest that you could make and at $5 a head we made just over $35 above our cost,” Nicole said. Costs will come down once we finish setting up our pantry and buy supplies in bulk. Clearly, our common meals are a work in progress.

Sunday, March 27, 2016: Enchanting evening

Tonight’s monthly Chanting & Chocolate was delicious. The music was so beautiful  – one the participants, José, said he felt transported to another realm. I love my band and continue to be amazed that these superb musicians want to play with me.

This post’s feature photo was shot by photographer Anita Laura Fonseca at February’s chant evening. She said it will be part of her exhibit at an interfaith conference called Encountering the Other that will happen in May at Vancouver School of Theology where she studies. She’s photographing clergy and rituals from different traditions.

After the chanting, we hung out downstairs for tea and the triple-chocolate brownies I bake at home. I’ve been hosting monthly chant evenings since 2004, interrupted only when I went to live in Uganda. The donations we receive support the education of five orphans from the community where I lived.


Bringing farm-fresh, organic produce to us

One of my visions for Vancouver Cohousing was that because we have 31 households, a truck full of organic fruits and vegetables would come to our door so we could shop onsite. Well, a variation of that dream is bearing fruit, so to speak.

Olive sent out a community email about participating in a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program. If 10 households sign up, Earth Apple Farm in Abbotsford will deliver weekly harvest boxes right to us.

The farm’s website says the program “recognizes the importance of the relationship between producer and consumer and is based on the understanding that operating a small-scale sustainable farm is a community-oriented endeavour. Both farmer and consumer share responsibility in both the benefits (fresh, local, healthy and ethically grown produce) and risks (bad weather, illness, pests) that are inherently involved in the practice of organic farming. The consumer gives the farmer one easy payment in the spring when the biggest expenses (leases, seed, fertilizer, equipment maintenance/repair, rentals, tilling, etc) are incurred by the farmer and the CSA member benefits from a weekly supply of the freshest and tastiest produce throughout the growing season.”



Saturday, March 26, 2016: Plugged in

This weekend, I’ve traded cars with Ben, a neighbour at Vancouver Cohousing. He has an all-electric BMW i3 and was going on a trip with his wife Olive and daughter Margot beyond the vehicle’s range of 130 to 160 km (80 to 100 miles).

I’m not entirely new to driving a car with an electric motor. I had a Toyota Prius from 2005-2009 before I sold it and went off to live in Uganda. When I got back, I didn’t have quite enough money for another Prius and bought a Honda Fit. I’ve missed feeling that I’m part of the solution.

Driving the i3 is an adventure. When I step on the accelerator (can’t really say you’re stepping on the gas) it has immediate and surprising power. And when I take my foot right off, it pretty much stops right away, unless I’m on a downward slope. And whereas the Prius was silent idling and under 15 kmh, the i3 is totally quiet throughout your drive. There’s no instrument cluster and instead a screen ahead of the driver, plus a larger widescreen display in the centre of the dashboard for navigation and other features.

Between drives, the i3 is plugged into a charging station. At our cohousing parkade, we have two, brought to us by one of our members, J-M, whose company Big Green Island installs chargers in residential garages.

I’m not quite ready for an all-electric. At 69, my priority is accident-avoidance systems. I’m hoping that by the time I get into a new vehicle, there will be a plug-in hybrid with those systems and all-wheel drive that won’t cost a fortune. In the meantime, I really should dust off my bicycle and get pedalling.

Friday, March 25, 2016: On the terrace

With the better weather, I’ve begun using the first furniture I bought for my cohousing home – a patio bistro set. When we moved in four weeks ago tonight I placed it a few feet from my place along a common walkway that’s mostly covered. I call it “the terrace”. When the clouds clear there’s a lovely view of the mountains; when its cloudy I can still see what’s happening in the courtyard.

I’ve been enjoying my morning protein smoothie or lunch on the terrace. It’s very near the entrance and today a surprise visitor arrived at the gate, a woman named Pat who’s been trying to get cohousing going in Halifax for 10 years. I gave her a tour around the complex and answered her questions.

I see raising consciousness about cohousing as a viable housing alternative as part of our community’s mission. At the same time, we don’t want to be inundated with tours, especially as we settle in and organize how we’ll be sharing our space.

One example of organizing is community meals. After we filled in our preferences for meal days in a Doodle poll, they’re set for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and alternating Saturdays and Sundays for a weekend brunch, all in the “great room” in the common house, spilling out into the courtyard in good weather.

We’ve also filled in our preferences on an online spreadsheet for when we’ll be part of a three-person team to shop, chop, cook and clean up for meal. My first turn will come on Monday, April 11. I’m excited.

I like my own cooking and rarely eat out, so I don’t know how often I’ll be eating these meals (they’re not compulsory), especially after seeing the cost would be $7 per adult. A number of members wrote emails suggesting that was a bit high, so it has been reduced to $5. We’re experimenting as we go along to see what works. I love how we listen to each other.

Note: Students of Japanese etiquette may have noticed my faux pas in the photo. Chopsticks should rest along the sides of a bowl, never inside, which is reserved for the ritual after a cremation when family members pluck out bits of bone that weren’t consumed in the flames.



Thursday, March 24, 2016: Justice?

I woke up this morning to the news that the judge in the Jian Ghomeshi trial was delivering his verdict. Ghomeshi is the disgraced former CBC Radio host on trial for sexual assault and choking. Following the Globe and Mail‘s live blog from the Toronto courthouse, my heart sank with every post.

Justice William Horkins savaged what he called the inconsistencies and deception in the testimony of the three women complainants, acquitting Ghomeshi on all counts. This will put a chill on the willingness of future sexual assault victims to come forward and press charges. Canada needs to end the punishing style of questioning witnesses called “whacking”.

What will it take to bring about this change? Social protests, petitions, lobbying, political pressure, investigative reporting? A combination of all those? Whatever it takes to stop revictimizing the victims.

After the verdict, The Globe reported on the heated debate over how the justice system deals with sexual assault. By the evening, there were protest rallies in Toronto and Vancouver.

I can only hope there will be a different result when Ghomeshi faces another sexual assault trial in June.

Ghomeshi Trial 20160204
Protesters outside the Toronto courthouse. (Frank Gunn/CP)




Wednesday, March 23, 2016: Twisted

Tonight I skipped Purim celebrations to catch a preview screening of The Lobster with my buddy Roni. We both deeply regret watching this brutal, cruel and sometimes funny film, and not leaving sooner than we did.

It was raining hard when I arrived at the 5th Avenue Cinemas at 6:15 for the 7 o’clock screening. Already there was a long line-up outside. We didn’t arrive soon enough to get the seats at the very back that Roni prefers so we sat in the balcony. Did I miss the memo that it’s OK in the balcony to loudly yak all through the trailers until the opening credits roll?

Here’s a synopsis of the British film: In a near-future society, single people must find a mate within 45 days or be transformed into an animal of their choice. Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, The Lobster won 93 percent approval from critics as reported on the Rotten Tomatoes website, and the trailers looked appealing, that love would conquer all.

Well, not exactly. Too much bloody violence for both of us and we escaped as a scene of self-mutilation was about to play out. The Lobster opens Friday. Unless you have a taste for the macabre, give it a pass.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016: East Side, West Side

Since the 1980s I’ve been living on Vancouver’s West Side, where everything from homes to halibut is pricey. Now I’m on the more diverse and cheaper East Side. This afternoon, I got a good dose of the differences at the 88 Supermarket, a mere six-minute walk away from Vancouver Cohousing at East 32nd and Victoria Drive.

Like a number of other shops on Victoria, the 88 has fresh whole fish, which are harder to find on the West Side. The supermarket also has an amazing variety of Asian and western foods at excellent prices. A neighbour at my Kerrisdale apartment building drives over from the West Side for the savings.

It’s much the same story all along Victoria Drive, which includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Cambodian, Burmese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Turkish businesses. For someone who loves ethnic foods, it’s a fun place to be. This morning, my yoga teacher Karen recommended the coconut shakes and Rickety Rickshaw Bowls at Chau VeggieExpress.

Organics are harder to find on Victoria Drive. At 88, I bought a clamshell of mixed organic greens, and they have a few other organic products. For more choice, I go to Famous Foods on Kingsway, a 12-minute walk or three-minute bike ride. There are other organic produce places more of a car ride away.

Victoria Drive has more attractions than places to eat and grocery shop. I get $7.99 haircuts at Ben and I’ve seen manicure-pedicure specials for $25. My bank, Vancity Savings Credit Union, and favourite drug store, London Drugs, are a short walk away. There are shoe repair shops, printers, bakeries and the South Vancouver Community Policing Centre, which is offering us a safety audit. We’re in a great neighbourhood.