Tiny House Cohousing?

green creek rv park

The Green Creek Hotel and RV park is the model for tiny house cohousing infrastructure. On the horizon is the Smith Mansion, which has an odd history.

On the road in Wyoming last week one night was spent at the Green Creek Inn and RV park. If you’ve stayed in camping / RV parks there’s, generally, an area set aside for semi-permanent places for longer-stay RVers.

In Wyoming, they are seasonal park workers, oil and gas field workers, hard-core hunters and fishers.

There’s been talk about low cost housing types for Millennials paying off student debt, seniors seeking nursing home alternatives and marginalized populations like homeless vets.

Forms of cooperative and collaborative approaches float to the surface. Tiny houses are low cost to construct and lots of them can be crammed onto a piece of ground. As such, there are cities that are building tiny houses for the homeless population.

A few years ago, I helped organize a Regional Cohousing Conference in Boulder. There were around 90 people in attendance from the US, Canada and Australia with various interests in this collaborative housing form.

This is tiny house that is 21' by 8.5' in size with a fairly tall ceiling.

This is tiny house that is 21′ by 8.5′ in size with a fairly tall ceiling.

In a past life, I used to be a city planner in Wyoming and a member the Boulder Planning Board in Colorado, as well as the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley in Longmont. I studied ecological biology and environmental politics as an undergrad and grad student. How to live a balanced life in both the human and natural environments has always been an interest of mine.

The cohousing idea is a little bit about the buildings, but it’s more about setting up an old fashioned sense of community in which residents participate in the design, character and culture of their neighborhoods. With an itinerant population like homeless people, creating a sense of community would be a challenge.

The cohousing idea originated in Scandanavia, which is a bit more communal and socialistic than in the US. Here, cohousing tries to adapt communal tenets into the “rugged individualism” of America.

The pitfalls of that evolution was the main topic of the Regional Cohousing Conference which was entitled “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I’ve written a post or two about those issues.

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This is a 500 sq ft tiny house that has a 1-car garage and a balcony.

Over the past few years, interest in “tiny houses” has been growing. That is, people choosing to live in homes that are from 200 to 600 sq ft in size.

They are generally built on a “flat bed” and can be wheeled around from place to place, but also can be built on a foundation, but that kicks in an entirely different set of building requirements. Tiny houses on skids or wheels fall into the land use category of mobile homes.

They are far different than your standard mobile home. Regular mobile homes can be the size of stick built houses that incorporate some space saving design features. If you google “tiny house” lots of websites and images pop up.

How about this idea – a cohousing community  that consists of tiny houses?

It makes sense to me.

The biggest hurdle for traditional cohousing, as well as regular housing, for that matter, is money.

Cohousing homes are houses with no lot lines with the development and individual houses

Cohousing homes are houses with no lot lines with the development and individual houses “designed” with input by the resident / community members. This home in Silver Sage Village recently sold for $750,000.

Money for land, money for the development. Because cost is such a huge factor, homes are constructed that maximize profit. This generally means expensive houses crammed onto a tiny space. How about the opposite – inexpensive houses on tiny spaces, that results in more open spaces?

Tiny houses cost anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 and can be parked in friends’ back yards. They are often built with sweat equity. There’s a cable tv show about downsizing baby boomers, young couples and individuals making the move to drop out of the “bigger is better” society. Some tiny homeowners want to be more mobile, others are sedentary.

With tiny houses, a cohousing organizer wouldn’t need near as much space as a typical coho development. It would depend on the rules, but a tiny house development would likely be more transient.

Utilities could be “hook ups” like in an RV park. Decisions would have to be made, based on political jurisdiction about individual septic or a septic field or central wastewater collection; individual water cisterns or central water.

I would think there would be some amenities like streets, sidewalks, open space, in addition to the common house.

This is the interior of a tiny house that through innovative design maximizes the space.

This is the interior of a tiny house that through innovative design maximizes the space.

At the typical RV park, the longer-stay “residents” have access to the common showers / restrooms, laundry, the little store and breakfast available to the overnight campers.

I can envision a common house that is more permanent, though. As a monetary hedge against potentially higher turnover rates, the common house could be mixed use with community amenities like the open dining area, kitchen, laundry facilities, TV room, guest rooms, with business tenants or owners like a convenience store, coffee shop, business offices, laundromat and the like.

I happened to be at a commercial development in Highlands Ranch – a ‘burb of Denver. There was high and medium density housing on the back side and mixed use / commercial fronting on the main drag and a strip mall with convenient services like coffee shops and kitschy stores that also included large box retail which require lots of parking.

Highlands Ranch is more known as a typical “cul de sac” nation and not as a “sustainable” community – intentional ir not.

Because tiny houses are small, neighbors would be more likely to frequent the common house, than in some traditional cohousing communities in which homes are the same as in suburbia with large living rooms, utility rooms, large kitchens. Neighbors go in their house and you don’t see them again.

Sarah Susanka says that buying a home strictly for

Sarah Susanka says that buying a home strictly for “resale” value isn’t the best choice.

There are the unfounded housing characteristics necessary for resale, as espoused by Sarah Susanka author of “Not So Big House.”

Susanka, who is also an architect, says that the sense of “home” has less to do with quantity and everything to do with quality. She points out that we feel “at home” in our houses when where we live reflects who we are in our hearts.

I heard her speak at Denver University a few years ago. The examples that stuck with me are those of the “den” and “dining room.” She asked the huge audience about who uses their den and who eats in the dining room. Not many hands went up.

I’d say that, for the most part, communities still have a bias AGAINST mobile home parks and hold the “trailer trash” stereotype. In a place like Boulder, there would be an uproar about this as a form of affordable housing. The best place to try this out would be where land is inexpensive and there is less of an elitist attitude.

At the coho conference, I was talking to a fellow filmmaker from Minnesota, who also lives in cohousing, about the idea of tiny house cohousing.

I’ll plant the seed here, but it may take me developing the idea in order for me to document it.

lincoln court old postcard

Click on the Lincoln Court image to check out and download the draft business plan.

As it turns out, I am trying to get interest in a mixed use intentional community located in Cheyenne, Wyoming called the Lincoln Court. We had our first informational meeting with participants naming “tiny houses” as one of the possible land uses, along with cohousing, apartments, coworking offices, gallery and performance space and studios.

The project is moving forward with a draft business plan available. Check it out. The project is planning for a tiny house village to diversity apartments, and two affordable cohousing projects offering stick-built town houses and cottages.

Anyone interested in building a tiny house in a cohousing community?

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This article was originally published in December 2014, but updated, in part due to a wordpress glitch that obliterated the story.

The ‘Aging Gratefully’ in cohousing film series now streaming – rent or buy

alan mri machine

Book a personal appearance by “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Good Health and Good Neighbors” filmmaker Alan O’Hashi who will screen the film and facilitate a discussion. $$$ is deductible and negotiable!

The “Aging Gratefully in Cohousing” documentary series is now streaming. There are currently three films related to growing old in an intentional community.

You can also book a screening for your community or general audience by obtaining a screening license for a nominal donation.

To purchase or rent, click on the Video On Demand (VOD) links below:

“Aging Gratefully: The Power of Good Health and Good Neighbors” (Run Time: 50min – 2017) Filmmaker and Silver Sage Village senior cohousing resident Alan O’Hashi is mostly recovered from his death bed illness in 2013.

DSCN2046 As a result of that experience he’s become much more aware of his health. One of his neighbors circulated information about a research study at the University of Colorado about the effects of exercise on brain health.

Curious, he was selected to be a research subject. To measure success, one of the criteria is emotional health and strength of relationship building.

Does living in a cohousing community be an added benefit to physical exercise? He interviewed six residents of newly-formed Germantown Commons to find out their motivations to living in cohousing and whether living intentionally with neighbors was a positive experience and what physical activities happen in a group setting.

Germantown Commons featured residents:

  • Essie Sappenfield (retired)
  • Doug Luckes (still working)
  • Suzanne Glasgow (still working)
  • Sarah Carroll (single mom)
  • Chris Corby (still working)
  • Ginger Lange (retired)
  • Vicki Metzgar (retired)

Also Appearing:

  • Bryan Bowen, AIA (Caddis Architects)
  • Angela Bryan PhD ( Principal Investigator CU FORCE study)
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Book a personal appearance by “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Culture and Traditions” filmmaker Alan O’Hashi who will screen the film and facilitate a discussion about his experiences. $$$ is deductible and negotiable.

“Aging Gratefully: The Power of Culture and Traditions” (Run Time: 30 min – 2017) My latest trek took me to South Africa where I’m investigating a third documentary in the Aging Gratefully series.

There’s an intentional community being formed in the Town of Memel and the Township of Zamani in the South African Free State Province by a friend and colleague, Steven Ablondi and his wife Cindy Burns. Steve and I serve on the National Cohousing Association board of directors.

I tagged along with the Memel Global Community architect and my across the street neighbor Bryan Bowen and a couple of his crew, Jamison and Molly. Bryan lives in the Wild Sage Cohousing community in Boulder.

I embedded myself with a local buy named Shakes in the Black African community and even though it was only for a couple days, I gained quite a bit of insight into the cultural dynamics, which are not unlike those I encounter among my Northern Arapaho tribal member friends.

As this story develops, how Native American tribes could incorporate cohousing concepts into its growing housing demand will also be investigated. There are generations-long traditional tribal cultures that have a norm about multi-generational care for elders. Does it it makes any sense to form intentional communities around these customs?

This is a 30 minutes pilot of my visit shot mainly on an iPhone 6s and I’m not sure if anything will come of this story. What do you think?

Memel Global Community featured denizens:

  • Steven Ablondi (cofounder)
  • Bryan Bowen (Caddis Architects)
  • Shakes Mafanela (SheWins sports coordinator)
  • Marley Hauser (SheWins volunteer)
  • Pieter Lombaard (Binary Film Works)
alan shoveling

Book a personal appearance by “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” filmmaker Alan O’Hashi who will screen the film and facilitate a discussion about his experiences. $$$ is deductible and negotiable!

“Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” (Run Time: 51min – 2015) In the first of the series, what if 25 senior citizens decided to grow old together in a cohousing community? Learn about their illness, angst, and fun times while owning and maintaining 16 condos, a common house and community gardens.

Cohousing is a collaborative living arrangement. Residents own their own homes, live private lives but share in the ownership and upkeep of common spaces such the garden and common house.

It’s a challenging way to live, but living together more intentionally is a hedge against being alone and isolated through the twilight years of life.

Filmmaker and Silver Sage Village resident Alan O’Hashi was on his death bed in December 2013. Following a 6 week hospital and rehab stay and a month of home confinement, he joined a yoga community to regain his strength, but learned more about himself than just getting healthier.

Through his reflections, he recounts his continuing recovery and weaves those experiences with the perspectives of neighbors with Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and those who find themselves in supportive neighborly care giving roles.

Cohousing pioneers Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett and gerontologist Anne Glass phD offer their perspectives about senior cohousing living.

jim brownie bbqerSilver Sage Village featured residents:

  • Lindy Cook (nurse)
  • John Huyler (facilitator)
  • Henry and Jean Kroll (retired from San Francisco)
  • Dan Knifong (retired professor)
  • Jim Leach (Silver Sage Village developer)
  • Margaret Porter (retired federal government)

Also Appearing:

  • Anne Glass phD (University of North Carolina Wilmington Gerontology Program Coordinator)
  • Chuck Durrett AIA (McCamant and Durrett Architects)
  • Katie McCamant (The Cohousing Company)
  • Larissa Ortiz (teacher The Little Yoga Studio)

The Denver Post published a story prior to “Aging Gratefully” production beginning and KGNU radio did a story about it post production

If you have questions about purchase, rental or booking a screening, email Boulder Community Media

Cheyenne Frontier Days and the weekend I was a ‘Carny’

carny cfd

Carny Anise was my mentor many years ago when I worked at the Bill Hame’s Show during Cheyenne Frontier Days.Cheyenne Frontier Days is again upon us. It happens the last full week in July, and an extra weekend. I’ve been away from Cheyenne for many years, but still manage to make to CFD for at least a few days each July.

Cheyenne Frontier Days happens again next week. I don’t know if I’ve missed one. I’ll be coming back from a job near Thermopolis and will be getting some men and women on the street interviews with CFD volunteers for the Volunteer Crisis Fund tribute I produce each year.

I like to be a part of the action.

There are a bunch of locals who could care less about CFD and leave town during the busiest time of the year.

My mom was big into CFD. She used to sing in a group called the Dearies organized through her women’s club. They sang old time songs and rode in the parade, as did my sister and i. Later, we sold pop at the parade, which I’ll write about later.

Back when I was a newspaper columnist in Lander, I wondered what it was like to work in a carnival and decided to give it a go. I had a pretty good experience and can see how people get addicted to that vagabond lifestyle. Turns out that the TV and movie business is a lot like the carny life. This is my account of that weekend.

Pink Floyd’s “Money” filled the clear, still evening surrounding the double ferris wheel across from the balloon dart game booth at the Frontier Park carnival where I worked for the Bill Hames Show.

Running off to join the carnival was something I’d always wanted to try and there’s no better time than the present. Getting a stranger to hand you their money with the chance nothing will be given in return is entrepreneurship in its purist form.

It’s now 7:30 pm on a busy Saturday night during CFD and I met Wes who had traveled with the show for many years. He finished his supper and escorted me across the Midway where I was introduced to Dozier Simmons.

He and his wife, Angelyn, manage a half dozen games for Kelley’s Concessions out of Alabama and one of several companies affiliated with the Hames Company.

“Here’s a shirt and badge. This is Anice. Just do what she does,” Dozier said as I pulled the blue knit polo shirt over my head.

“The object of the game is to buy a dart for a dollar, bust a balloon for your choice of a small mirror. Five wins for a large mirror,” Anice explained.

“Mirror” is a misnomer since the prizes are non-reflective square pieces of glass with pictures silk-screened on the back.

“I’m just part time – a couple nights a week. I live in Englewood and work at a print shop in Denver. I share a motel room in Cheyenne with one of the other women and her boy friend. I used to work full time, but the guy I was with beat me up and I left the show a couple years ago. Dozier asked if I’d work for him again,” she said while tying a knot in one of the spare balloons.

The game is really rough on the fingers.

Each of the mirrors slips into a cardboard sleeve to protect the paint and prevent patron injuries.

No matter how careful, I still managed to slice little cuts where I never thought had any useful purpose like on the index finger cuticle which gets irritated each time a balloon stem gets tied off.

My hands bled the entire weekend.

Tonight there’s another woman working with us named Amber. “I’m trained as a nurse and working here until something opens up in town,” she said.

Amber was tenderly limping around the area in obvious pain. “It’s not my foot, it’s my back. I was shot in the abdomen and it hit a disc on the way out,” she pulled up her shirt and showed the scars. “I ruptured another disc moving a box of these mirrors and have to have surgery again.”

After I arrived, the counter was divided up into thirds, “Amber takes the first third, I’ll take the middle and you take the other end,” Anice said with authority, since it’s her joint. I was the newbie and was at the end of the lineup.

There’s an infinitely long imaginary line separating each of the sections, sort of like the invisible cylinder above a basketball hoop used to determine goal tending.

Common courtesy is to avoid cross-hawking. Taking a fellow carny’s business is counter productive. Anice advices me, “If you pull that stunt on one of the guys who’s traveling with the show, he’ll knock the hell out of you. I’m just telling this to you for your own good, if you decide to do this again.”

The dart game marks are pretty easy to spot: biker types wearing all black and mirror shades – “Hey buddy, I’ve got an Ozzy mirror that would go great with the Ozzy T-shirt you’re wearing;” pre-adolescent boys minus parents with their fists gripped around several one dollar bills – “Do you play Little League? Then this game is a cinch. Bust one and win a Bon Jovi mirror;” young touchy- feely couples – “Hey pal, why don’t you be a gentleman and win her another one of these cute panda bear mirrors;” grandparents escorting grandchildren too short to see over the counter – “Tell you what, I’ll let him stand on the edge here so he can  be equal to the taller kids.”

The Simmonses stop by to pick our money on their regular rounds. This time, Dozier has a swelled up eye and skinned up elbows. “Some college kid from Colorado punched him out over there. The police took him away,” Angelyn said in a scornful southern drawl.

The carnival business is tough. I didn’t run into any trouble.

Of course the dart game is pretty easy to win, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who miss.

Losers are bad for business.

As soon as someone misses, the crowd disperses as if in mass thinking, “Yes, this game is somehow rigged.”

The hours on your feet are long and the mental intensity high.

At midnight, there’s only one more hour to go and even Anice’s bark is complacent. The smiles become forced.

When you get busy, you have to keep up the endless personal chatter with everyone waiting in line while you’re locating the right mirror or putting up more balloons so they don’t leave. Everyone who plays is a potential return customer.

It’s closing time.

Dozier calls my name, “See you at 10 in the morning. We’re each paid a percentage of our individual take. I inflated 150 balloons today and my jaw aches.

Angelyn hands me $31.00.

It’s now Sunday, the last day of CFD and the crowd is much smaller. When the rodeo lets out, there’s a brief surge. No night show tonight, either. Tomorrow  is a work day for the locals and many of the tourists are either gone or out of money.

Amber called in sick this morning and arrived late in the afternoon. I noticed she’s working another joint across the way and worry that I encroached on her balloon dart game turf.

Anice and I spend the morning chatting between marks. It being Sunday, religion dominates the discussion. Anice is a born again Christian and feels carnival witnessing is part of her calling. There’s a Shroud of Turin mirror which is very popular today – both sizes.

A young drifter asks me if it’s okay to stow his bag under the counter. He’s looking for Dozier to ask him for a job. The next big stop is the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. We hit it off, probably because I didn’t rifle through his stuff.

He turned out to be real hard worker.

The food isn’t very appetizing and I chose to go without, which proved to be a mistake.

By nightfall the marks are getting tired and not as eager to play. Women and kids just ask to buy a mirror.

“No they’re not for sale. There’s more personal satisfaction in throwing the dart.”

Men try to get better terms and ask “How about three darts for a dollar, or two wins for the large mirror?”

At 10:00 pm the place comes to a screeching halt.

The air is finally quiet.

The neon lights stop flashing.

“Let’s get this place cleaned up. I want it to look like we were never here!”, Juanita screams to three kids in charge of sweeping the asphalt parking lot.

Juanita runs the joint across from ours in which softballs are tossed into a milk can to win a Spuds McKenzie stuffed toy.

The women who operate each of the joints are the informal lead workers supervising the “slough” which is the carnival dismantling process.

There are a dozen of us sloughing. All the prize stock is bagged and locked in the water race trailer.

The dart game trailer is hitched to the panel truck and hauled out.

The parking lot is empty.

It’s now 2:15 am.

Dozier hands me $50 and says, “We’ll see you next year.”

I earned enough to make a deal with another CFD vendor and ended up buying a pool cue from him.

Carnival inner circles are tough to break into and I felt like I gained a little respect among my fellow carnies by paying my initiation dues all the way through the slough.

Next time I do this, I’ll remember a pair of gloves – and eat more often!

Not that there’s anything wrong with that

elway xxxiii

Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway in Super Bowl XXXIII

The Broncos fresh off a win in Super Bowl 50 are looking for a quarterback now that Peyton Manning is hanging up his spurs. His back-up, Brock Osweiler is on to greener prairies in Texas leaving the team’s General Manager, John Elway, in a lurch.

I’m sure Elway can relate to the quarterback replacement dilemma after his retirement following the Super Bowl XXXIII win which brings me to my story.

In 1999, I was doing some consulting work for a non-profit in Boulder called Rock the Planet that used mountain climbing as a metaphor for positive youth development.

The group sent me on a field trip to attend a climbing wall convention in New York City.

It was the dead of winter. I made arrangements to stay with one of my college classmates who still lives on the upper westside between Broadway and Central Park on 72nd.

A couple days before my visit, he called and said he was deathly ill with a cold and made arrangements for me to stay at one of his friend’s short term rentals in Greenwich Village.

I arrived and was greeted by Jon who escorted me to the little studio, that he rented to me for a couple hundred bucks for the weekend. It was cozy but cold. By the time the steam heated up the small place, it was time for me to leave.

I don’t recall anything about the meeting I attended, but it was Super Bowl Sunday and the Broncos were playing. I didn’t know the neighborhood that well, since I normally stay a little further uptown at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Near my room was a bar – or what looked like a bar. There wasn’t a prominent sign. Since neither of the New York teams were playing, I suspected the crowd would be light.

When I walked through the door, the place was rocking – loud music, people dancing. There was a TV behind the bar. I elbowed my way through the crowd, and sat down on an empty stool and ordered a beer. I asked the bartender to put on the game.

Meanwhile a couple guys walked over and sat down and struck up a conversation wondering what I was doing there. We had a couple laughs before they disappeared into the crowd.

Eventually, I noticed that the bar was not only full of mostly men, which wasn’t unusual, but there were men dancing with men and guys making out with guys in the booths.

Stonewall1

The Stonewall Inn was ground zero for the modern day gay rights movement.

Turned out, I had stumbled upon the infamous and now famous Stonewall Inn.

Back in the summer of 1969, it became the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. In those days, police routinely raided gay bars, but on June 28th of that year, nobody cooperated and a riot broke out. The following morning thousands joined a protest on Christopher Street.

My college friend is gay and while frat brothers at a small Presbyterian college in the middle of Nebraska, sexual orientation wasn’t of much concern since it was an assumed heterosexual world there. I didn’t learn that my ‘mate was gay until we were well out of school.

Back in the late 1980s when I was living in Lander, Wyoming, I was out drinking with a buddy. After the bars closed we went over to his place. That was the first and only time I had been propositioned by a man. I told him I prefer women. He made it sound like being gay was a choice and tried to talk me into it,  “You might like it,” he said.

I told him I prefer women.

That was that.

I imagined he felt the same as when I was when a woman turned down my proposition. My sexual exploits aren’t anything to write home about. I don’t imagine they are much different that the rest of the people I’ve hung around with over the years.

What may be different, I do have a documentary movie in mind about personal classified ads and online dating. I’m of the age where I’ve had success and failures with both. I’m now getting up the nerve to ask some of the women I’ve met through those means whether they’d be willing to share their experiences  – not necessarily experiences with me, though.

I watched a documentary on HBO about gay online dating which included some bizarre stories.

The Stonewall Inn will probably be a part of this project in someway, but i probably won’t get around to it until the next Super Bowl because I’ll have to make a pilgrimage there.

By the way, the Stonewall was hoppin’ by the time the confetti was flying at the end of Super Bowl XXXIII. I was the only one who cared that the Broncos beat the Atlanta Falcons 34 – 19. I got on the train and went uptown to Sardi’s to celebrate.

Last meals – eat drink and be merry!

It’s a toss up for my “last breakfast”. I had eggs over easy, bacon, rice and pancakes at the 20th Street Cafe in Denver.

I spend quite a lot of time on the road traveling around mostly to other towns in Wyoming.

I haven’t had any death-defying driving experiences nor any close calls other than a couple 360 degree black ice spins.

A couple weeks ago I was driving back from Riverton and made a stop in Rawlins for snacks and gas.

The clerk informed me that I-80 east and west were both closed due to snow and blowing snow.

It was calm, sunny and warm in Rawlins, but I was stuck at the Econo-Lodge there for the night. Even as Econo-Lodges go, this one was desolate.

Might as well make the best of it.

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My “last lunch” pork noodles at the 20th Street Cafe in Denver.

I cruised around downtown which has improved over the years. I had a chili relleno at a small Mexican place and went back to the room, if that’s what you want to call it. The Econo-Lodge was more of an Econo-Fridge. The heater hadn’t been on for quite some time.

Closed roads are a growth industry in Wyoming.

The interstate was closed down because there was no more room along the route to accommodate any more trucks, let alone passenger cars.

Pizza Hut advertises on the room keys, bored, I decided to order my “go to” Canadian bacon and mushroom thin crust with extra cheese. I was able to eat half of it. The cable was pretty good in Rawlins – there’s not much to do there in the middle of the week in the dead of an early snow storm.

I stopped at this Tex Mex place in downtown Rawlins. I was impressed with the offering of TopoChico agua mineral.

I stopped at this Tex Mex place in downtown Rawlins. I was impressed with the offering of TopoChico agua mineral.

At 2am, the REEEEE REEEEE REEEEE! screeched out on the cable TV. The roads were open. I would still wait to get out around 10am when the sun is higher.

I gobbled the rest of the cold pizza and downed a warmed over cup of yesterday’s coffee before getting on the road.

It was a bumper to bumper parking lot from Wolcott Junction to Laramie. Traffic was stopped by an accident on the westbound lane. It took three hours to go 90 miles.

I-80 was officially closed when I was driving back from Riverton recently. White knuckle driving is an art form in Wyoming.

I-80 was officially closed when I was driving back from Riverton recently. White knuckle driving is an art form in Wyoming.

Wyoming winter driving takes some getting used to. If you can successfully drive in Wyoming during even a small snowstorm, you can drive anywhere.

Riverton, like most other Wyoming communities, is centrally isolated from just about every place else when the weather gets nasty.

I grew up in Cheyenne and let me tell you, if you’ve never experienced a blizzard in southeast Wyoming, I always felt lucky about living in Lander and now Boulder along the front range foothills.

It’s so nice to wake up, look out the window and notice that the snow has fallen into neat little piles on tops of fence posts and not rudely strewn about in seven-foot- high drifts.

I’ve met several people in my travels who have been to Wyoming. Besides having visited Yellowstone Park, the second most frequent comment is, “Oh, yeah, one winter during the War, my train was stranded in Cheyenne at the depot while going to California.”

Midway was probably a fonder memory than Wyoming.

Icky John C'Hair explains the traditional Northern Arapaho bison uses to Wind River Reservation students.

Icky John C’Hair explains the traditional Northern Arapaho bison uses to Wind River Reservation students.

I was in Riverton to document a traditional Northern Arapaho bison ceremony. This was my third trip to the Wind River Indian Reservation in three weeks.

It was a successful hunt and ceremony, which is the subject of another post. I was anxious to get back on the road but didn’t check the road reports.

Hmmm.

Under most circumstances, I’m a calm and collected driver, but when the interstate suddenly disappears in a puff of white, it’s quite a different story.

Luckily, I didn’t get stuck on the interstate and it closed behind me. I’ve been stuck back in the days before cell phones and GPS.

Back in those days, it was cassette tapes and Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra tunes soothing me while my car pounded through invisible snow drifts and crept around several 18-wheeler convoys near Elk Mountain.

White knuckles.

Disgruntled travelers examining their jack-knifed u-Haul trailer and contorted semi0truck silhouettes in the media strip made me realize how out of control these drives can be.

I can’t imagine being killed by a wild and crazy trucker or freezing to death knowing my last meal was cold pizza and day-old coffee.

My romanticism has me eating bacon, eggs over easy with a pancake for my last breakfast at the Red Willow in the Wind River Casino; pork noodles from the 20th Street Cafe as my last lunch; and steak and lobster from Svilar’s in Hudson, Wyoming.

I better get with eating, drinking and being merry.

Be nice to your mail carrier this holiday season

christmas seals

Christmas seals appeared on all my parent’s cards they sent out during the holiday season.

I stopped to chat with the postman as he was locking up the Silver Sage Village mail boxes. I get a few things by 1st class mail, but it’s mostly bills and junk.

Today was no different as the mail ended up in the circular file headed to the recycling bin. The other day I got a letter from the IRS saying I owe a few bucks. Maybe government agencies are obliged to use hard copy and resort to first class mail.

“Things have been really crazy. We made a deal with Amazon and now have 40 percent of their business,” he lamented. “That, plus everyone has started mailing a lot earlier this year.”

Like November 1.

The post office, unlike FedEx and UPS delivers on Christmas and Sundays. He said some days he starts at 7am and doesn’t get finished until 10pm and mail is getting delivered at odd times.

What about “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

“Oh, that’s still true, but this month the mail just gets delivered later! We’ll get it figured out eventually.”

I’ve been selling a bunch of stuff on eBay which also must have a deal with the postal service. On all packages, I get a postage discount, plus I don’t have to go to stand in line at the post office and can have the occasional chat with the postman.

Every year, I plan to send out hard copy Christmas cards, and every year I don’t get around to it. Fifty cents for a stamp and fifty cents for the card – a buck to send a greeting and well wishes is a pretty good deal.

I remember when I was young, my parents sent out Christmas cards every year. That tradition included going to the post office and picking out just the perfect stamps for that year’s mailing.

It was also a time to make donations to fight tuberculosis and putting those on the envelope was also signs of the season.

I don’t even remember mailing packages. Once in a while something would be sent to my aunt in Washington DC, but she generally came back to Cheyenne for Christmas. She always brought with her “big city” gifts like Godiva ch0colate, sweaters from Lord and Taylor.

These days, all that fancy stuff is now very common and available in malls.

We’ve become mass society.

The Baby Boomer diaspora also contributes to the package shipping explosion. When my grandparents died, my uncles and aunts didn’t come around as much any more. That meant my cousins didn’t come to town much either.

Any presents had to be mailed. That was all before FedEx and UPS. When all the cousins were in high school, the unwritten rule was, no more gifts.

I really don’t send stuff out, but now that I’m getting to the point in life that I’m downsizing, I’m selling stuff on eBay. Why on earth I held on to that Charlies Angels lunch box, I’ll never know (although I still have a crush on Kate Jackson) but someone will enjoy having it gathering dust on their shelves.

The few holiday greetings I’ve sent out are gift cards to amazon.com or event tickets. As long as there are kids, there will be a demand for unnecessary stuff. The cycle seems to keep going and going.

Even if I don’t get around to sending out cards this year, I’ll at least be nice to my mail carrier this holiday season.

By the way, I learned that this quote which has become the US Postal Service motto was written by Greek historian Herodotus, 503 B.C. The words are inscribed on the General Post Office facility on 33rd Street and 8th Avenue in New York City.

What a long strange trip it still is – aging better together and the power of community

Auntie Jeannie is standing on the right end next to my mother. Alison is sitting second from the right, Alison's sister Leslie is being held by Auntie Elsie.

Auntie Jeannie is standing on the right end next to my mother. Alison is sitting second from the right, Alison’s sister Leslie is being held by Auntie Elsie.

I got a call from my cousin, Alison, yesterday. These days, whenever relatives call, there’s generally some sort of family emergency. This time, Alison told me her mother – my Auntie Jeannie – had passed away. She had a stroke while sleeping and didn’t wake up. My condolences go out to my cousins Alison and Leslie and her sisters Carol Lou and Janice.

I’ve been attending funerals lately. Last week, it was for Eastern Shoshone tribal elder and one of my mentors Starr Weed in Fort Washakie.

It was my first open casket wake. I don’t know what I expected, but it was solemn and heart breaking. One of Starr’s grandsons, Layha Spoonhunter, was one of my Wind River Tribal College film students. His class project was an oral history of Starr. I felt for him and his mom, Wilma, who is married to my former boss, Harvey, and his aunt Elaine who organizes the Gift of the Waters Pageant in Thermopolis.

A month or so ago, my Uncle Rich died. He had quite a few home health care workers supporting him after he returned from the hospital. He was a 442nd war veteran and in Army Intelligence. He was too small in stature for combat. I also learned after he died, my Aunt Sadako was moved to an assisted living place in Cheyenne.

I live in the Silver Sage Village senior cohousing community in North Boulder. There have been murmurs about it, but just recently the community began discussing “aging in community” which has been on my mind quite a bit, lately.

I’m making a documentary movie about my and my neighbors’ experiences of growing old in cohousing and their thoughts about the future. I’m also helping produce a national conference on the topic that will be held next year May 19 to 21 in Salt Lake City.

My movie won’t be anything earth shattering, but hopefully will give others wanting to start up an intentional community some insight into what to expect. These discussions are about the first ones we’ve had in the five years I’ve been living at Silver Sage Village where the topic has been about something more substantive than maintaining the buildings.

A bunch of people are reading “Being Mortal” by a doctor named Atul Gawande. His basic premise is that modern medicine is good about keeping people alive, while not knowing when it’s time to allow us to die not in a hospital but at home.

Gawande says that in the past, 80 percent of people used to die at home and 20 percent died in a hospital or medical facility. Now that number is reversed with 80 percent dying in a hospital and 20 percent dying at home.

Back to Auntie Jeannie.

I also learned that at 77, she was one of the primary care givers to my Auntie Elsie, well into her 90s. A few months ago, she broke her hip and Jeannie got her settled into a rehab / hospice center as well as helping Sadako get settled into her assisted living apartment. I surmise that what happened was Uncle Rich’s home care workers also did more for Sadako than anyone realized.

I imagine with all this care giving Jeannie was a bit stressed out.

Elders providing care for other elders is becoming common place anymore and a problem.

I can see myself in that boat particularly since my immediate family is strewn all over the place with their own lives and issues and I have no kids.

Like in Jeannie’s case, the work takes more out of the care giver than the patient.

Cohousing is a way to spread some of the load.

Jeannie was married to my Uncle Jake who was the youngest son on my dad’s side that had 13 total kids. It was a very strong extended family and everything revolved around my grand parents house.

Mainly during the summers, everyone would gather various places in Cheyenne and along with the rest of the Japanese community. On Memorial Day there were big picnics and on the 4th of July we all went out to Jeannie’s parents who lived out in the country and blasted off fireworks.

Back then, all the cousins were close, and all the aunts and uncles were close but there was a big diaspora after the grand parents died. We all became adults, had our own lives and lost the closeness we shared as children. Social media has helped keep us connected, but it’s still not the same as it was.

How do more seniors get engaged as caregivers for one another?

I had a brush with death and had a visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come and got a glimpse into my future. What if I couldn’t walk, feed myself, or breathe on my own, flat on my back in a hospital bed?

I can tell you it was lonely.

The hospital was 20 miles away and the rehab place 40 miles away in Denver. I didn’t broadcast that I was laid up but a few neighbors and friends managed to find out and dropped by. I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some editing.

I didn’t realize how doped up I was. A guy can only watch so many “Pawn Stars” reruns before boredom sets in.

I’m happy that I got a second chance to do things differently the next time around. I am grateful to be living at a place like Silver Sage Village. At the urging of Diana Helzer, we sold a place nearby with too many stairs in favor of Silver Sage Village that is on the ground floor with no steps and is fully accessible.

I really didn’t know much of anything about cohousing but am lucky to have neighbors who helped out by bringing by food and helping Diana with some of the care giving like transport in the dead of winter.

The downside of living in cohousing is antithetical to any care giving.

There are many conflicts about the day – to – day management of the place that arise and escalate, some cause hard feelings, but that’s part of life anywhere and shows how fragile community living can be among a whole variety of personality types. The differences seem more pronounced since everyone also is trying to get along.

In my experience, those sorts of relationships have been more work related, but much of living in cohousing is work related and I’ve had to learn how to separate out my personal life here from my business life here.

When I returned to Silver Sage Village after six weeks of hospital and rehab stints, I don’t know how it happened, but neighbors brought by meals and offers of help. I don’t know if neighborliness can be “organized” but however it came about was greatly appreciated. That, along with the layout of the fully accessible condo, was important in my continuing recovery.

It takes a village to raise a child but also takes a village to move an elder towards the end of life.

I don’t expect my neighbors to help me into the shower, or wipe my butt, but I hope they’ll continue to mostly be around.

Gawande talks about the importance of hospice that helps a person be comfortable and provides ways to navigate life.

Do I want my friends and family to be hovering over me out of some sort of self serving sense of duty when I’m delirious and out of it? Is that quality time to be with someone at the last breath?

I’ve put myself into self-imposed hospice now while I still have plenty of breaths left and want to be comfortable in my house living life to it’s fullest. I’d rather be around family and friends while we still have our wits about us.

Here I thought I was out of the event planning business.

Look out for the “Getting the Band Back Together Tour” truckin’ into a town year you – the Cousins Reunion; Cheyenne, Gillette, Lander, Boulder and points in between.

What a long strange trip it still is!