Bridging social and cultural divides one community at a time

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Documenting the Women’s March in Cheyenne, Wyoming was a big eye opener for me.

What’s been on my mind lately is how intentional communities can help bridge socio-economic divides. Over the years, I have learned that my influence is pretty much confined to communities and organizations that are closest to me.

What spurred me?

Rather than sitting back and arm-chair-quarterbacking, I prefer to be a part of the action. I was 15 when my activist efficacy began to develop. Being from Wyoming, my early influences were Republican. I’m still atoning for my first vote being for Richard Nixon in 1972, but I digress.

Back in January, I wanted to make last minute plans to check out the Washington DC Women’s March that followed Inauguration Day 2017. I facebooked east coast friends and colleagues, but their basements and couches were spoken for by others making the trek.

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Around 2,000 participated in the Cheyenne, Wyoming Women’s March.

I had friends and neighbors who attended the main DC event and other marches around the country and resigned to sitting this one out. Meanwhile, a friend and colleague who, at the time, directed a Laramie, Wyoming-based activist organization asked me to document Women’s Marchers heading to nearby Cheyenne – my hometown. I make documentary movies, mostly about social change topics.

I hopped on the charter bus packed with mostly women, their allies and a bunch of signs and placards. We rumbled over Sherman Hill to Cheyenne where we unloaded and trekked up Capitol Avenue to the Wyoming Supreme Court Building lawn along with a 2,000 others.

Not a big crowd compared to metropolitan urban area standards, but for a city of 60,000 it was a gigantic turnout. Besides that, it was familiar being in my hometown.

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I joined a bus load of Wyoming women and their allies walking in the Women’s March in January 2017.

It was surprising to see and visit with friends who turned out – some long lost from childhood, some not so much – mostly colleagues. We shared insights about social oppression, which is the last thing I expected to be talking about with high school classmates.

Noting that social change efforts are happening in a conservative place like Wyoming, it was then I decided to use what little influence I have to bridge socio-economic divides.

I live in a cohousing community – dubbed by some of my neighbors as a grand social experiment. After living here for a few years and volunteering for the National Cohousing Association, I’m convinced that intentional communities – including cohousing – are one way to help bridge cultural and socio-economic divides one community at a time.

The aura around various aspects of social and economic “privilege” is subtle, having experienced it most of my life. Breaking into a cohousing community hasn’t been easy, particularly since I didn’t know much about it in the first place.

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My grandfather living in Wyoming was detained in California after Executive Order 9066 was signed.

Being a Japanese-American Baby Boomer, I grew up under the post World War II anti-Asian sentiment. My grandfather and uncle were detained in California shortly after FDR signed Executive Order 9066. My aunt was able to get them released back to the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.

Later, while in college in Boston, my aunt wasn’t allowed into Canada due to sedition laws.  While I may speak proper English with an American accent and am a third-generation Yankees fan, I continue to find myself as the brunt of privilege, which is a separate story.

My partner in crime, Diana, and I moved here from a nearby market-rate two-story townhouse  a few years after the cohousing community had formed, was developed and occupied. A home in the community became available when the owner died. It was ground floor, no stairs and wheelchair accessible, which turned out to be important when I was in rehab recovering from a debilitating illness. Turned out, cohousing was a better fit than I imagined.

The founding group self selected themselves and were in the swing of things by the time we joined the community, which was good and bad. It was good in that we didn’t have to be involved with the organizational nuts-and-bolts decs-and-docs furniture-selection phase. It was bad in that the community was in a rhythm and not very open to new voices and ideas.

Since I’m usually one to jump right in and roll up my sleeves, it was pretty clear that my newbie role was to sit back and watch. Even today, I only participate at the minimum level and waiting on the sidelines until it’s my turn. That’s starting to happen with some of the founding shakers and movers backing off for one reason or another making way for newer neighbors like me.

A house is a house, but the community part is an entirely different component compared to the traditional subdivision structure where neighbors can choose to stick to themselves, paint their garage any color they want and otherwise bowl alone.

Complicating the social culture is that of market rate vs. affordable housing owners. The city housing authority provided free/cheap land to developers in exchange for 40% affordable homes. We were able to qualify for the local government affordable housing program and soon learned what it’s like to be “one of them.”

Collaborating with 3 dozen strangers over the years set in their ways is hard work. It’s a trick juggling regular life and community life and figuring out the balance. Having bought and sold two market rate homes we soon found that living in a house that is governed by a different set of rules was a big eye-opener.

Affordable homeowners are restricted by a set of rules in exchange for the low purchase prices. Some examples, appreciation values are limited compared to market rate-units, as are sales prices.

Being part of an affordable housing program, coupled with stereotypes about people who reside in affordable housing creates oppressive language – “charity cases,” “think different”, “lower class,” “no pride,” “don’t fit in,” ad nauseum. Those are long-engrained attitudes that are difficult to reverse even for the most progressive and socially aware.

For background, a cohousing community consists of individuals and families that choose to work with a developer to build a cohesive neighborhood consisting of privately owned homes and shared common spaces. Everyone lives independently, but share in some of the chores of maintaining their community.

How can cohousing bridge the cultural and socio-economic divide?

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Marches and speeches are the start, social change begins when individuals act.

The current political climate doesn’t help things. Whether liberal or conservative, the national mood amplifies how individuals deal with their own perceptions about differences among people with regards to protected classes of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and subjective measures like social and economic class perceptions.

The political climate makes it okay to unmask deep held oppressive beliefs and at the same time, forces others to step out of their boxes and learn how to be allies for people they may or may not know.

Unless communities and their members are intentional about unpacking their self-perceptions of privilege, “on the job” training can cause hard feelings. In my experience over the years, facilitating and being facilitated about diversity issues oppressors don’t like to be called on their sh*t by the oppressed.

I’ve learned to choose my fights, but it’s hard to let comments and passive aggressive behavior slide. Cultural competency is a long, ongoing process and it takes some stumbling and falling, losing friends and making new ones.

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At a recent conference, diversity on the screen and behind the camera was one of the topics discussed

I’ve been presenting at a lot of different meetings lately. I just returned from an arts conference and a project outreaching to Native American youth, before that on an audio/video expo panel discussion that evolved into conversation with the audience about diversity, before that cultural competency workshops at a Tennessee affordable housing conference and the national cohousing conference.

The topic is certainly of interest to people, but these presentations were very high level “add-ons” to the content, with polite discussions. I was approached by attendees who agreed that they intellectually understand the importance of being more inclusive, but didn’t know how to change themselves and subsequently their organizations. They were eager to learn.

Feedback like that is encouraging, and I’m hoping folks got up out of their seats went home and began conversations in their groups, communities and organizations about what they can do to help close social and cultural divides.

What if each of us changes the way we look at the world and how we accept people who are different from ourselves?

The simple answer is to infuse cultural competency into the day-to-day tasks of the community. Cohousing communities are operated and maintained by the residents who join teams to manage the common house, maintain the common open space and the finances.

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The National Cohousing Association has national and regional conferences at which topics of diversity are standard on the meeting agenda

cohousing vision statement has some mention of “valuing diversity.” When I talk with forming communities, I ask them to have frank and honest discussions about what influenced their views about diversity and some ways the vision can be implemented. Governance based on shared responsibility, rotated leadership, and adopted community norms about accountability are big departures from majority rule and top-down decision making.

There’s an entire industry that has cropped up around consensus decision-making, cultural competency and meeting facilitation.

That’s easier said than done, but if carried out efficiently, inclusivity happens without a “program,” diversity training or more meetings.

In my experience, settling into any neighborhood is stressful enough. What if you’re asked to jump right into discussing personal issues and views around the American Dream, money, race, class, gender identity and sexual preference? That adds an even more complex layer to neighborliness. I’d say mostly on the governance level when talking about home owner association fees, decisions about when individual “rights” end and the community “good” begins.

The best things about cohousing are the neighbors and the worst things about cohousing are the neighbors.

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of positive things about living in a community – plenty of really great neighborly support if a ride is needed to the store, or help needed to move furniture, care giving for sick neighbors. Friendships are formed, informal barbecues happen spontaneously and formal community events are planned around holidays.

I’m also lay-developing an intentional community in Cheyenne, where those discussions will take place and will be key to forming a resilient group of neighbors. Alas, those discussions have made it as far as the facebook page and haven’t popped up on the radar screen ahead of water, curb, gutter and street construction issues.

I’ve taught cultural competency and diversity workshops over the past 15 years. Most recently, I’ve adapted the curricula for intentional community audiences. At least from the feedback I’ve received, participants gained a better understanding that while the bricks and mortar of cohousing are buildings where residents live, the members who form a community are the most important aspect. The intentional community mantle can overlay any housing configuration.

While my cohousing living experience hasn’t been perfect – maybe none of them are – the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though some may be on the petty side, they might as well be matters of life and death.

The upshot? If there’s a community configuration that enables conversation among divergent opinions, intentionality is a good thing, but individual effort must be put into understanding the perspectives of others and changing personal courses of action.

Social change through cohousing is a steep uphill climb constrained by American social/cultural norms.

The American Dream, bigger being better. We are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and make it to the top. Community founding members should have frank discussions among themselves about why cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.

Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together. The only group to fully self-select who will be in the community, are the founding members. People may intellectually “value diversity”, but diversity doesn’t always play out, considering the typical cohouser is white, educated, high income and high-perceived social class and a woman.

Forming community members should discuss what they would be willing to give up – attitudinally and/or financially – to include diverse members. In one of my training sessions, I met a couple people from a forming community that is having this discussion and they decided to take some of the capital gains from their personal home sales to buy down houses to make them more affordable.

Reaching out to people different from oneself is a challenge and cultural brokers may need to be engaged. In my workshops, for example, attendees practice ways they can look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to only believing inclusivity is a good idea.

Personal introspection doesn’t end once the houses are constructed and residents unpack their boxes. Over time, the community evolves and residents need to keep unpacking their personal histories and values as families move, people pass away and new neighbors arrive.

While fair housing laws preclude discrimination, communities can provide information about the community, expectations of membership in the Homeowners Association (HOA).

Professional and lay cohousing developers can choose to make personal transformations. There are markets other than those of the “typical” cohouser, particularly in gentrifying and abandoned neighborhoods. Culturally competent developers expand their markets by finding easier outreach paths into diverse communities.

As a cultural broker myself, I know that the approach gets results and opens doors without the appearance of “tokenism.”

What are some next steps?

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Hang out with people who are outside your usual circles.

Step out of your comfort zones to start.

Who do you sit next to in church? Sit next to a stranger.

Who do you call to go out for coffee? Ask someone you’ve wanted to get to know better.

Do you stand up as an ally? Take a risk when you hear offensive comments in the grocery store line.

Social justice marches and political elections may be personal inciting incidents that bring people together.

Whether or not you choose to take on the difficult task of becoming more culturally competent, it’s when individuals collaborate and alter their behaviors that bridges are built to close social and cultural divides – one community at a time.

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June 2014 – Acupuncture and Yoga

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My friend and colleague Michael Conti shot some yoga footage for my “Aging Gratefully” documentary series.

It’s been about a year since I started to hit the wall. No energy, lost a lot of weight. I even missed the Mighty Fudge Halloween party last year. As an update, I’ve noticed a few things lately.

My hair has become quite curly. My across the sidewalk, Jim, got a haircut, which is notice that I need a haircut. I usually let it grow out fairly long, but this time around it was curling up in the back.

I asked Riley at my haircut place about it. She said that there isn’t any hard evidence, but she has noticed that as men’s hair gets grayer, it starts to get curlier. She said, in her experience, it’s mostly men and fewer women.

Since I’ve been getting acupuncture every week, I thought it might have something to do with that. Apparently straight hair follicles are different that curly hair follicles and they get changed.

The last few weeks, my acupuncture treatments have included electro-stimulation for the Post Herpetic Neuralgia that’s settled into my left scalp and forehead.

In my case, e-stim entails an acupuncture treatment known as “surrounding the dragon.” Needles are placed into several points – generally on the crest of my head, on the eyebrow, in the cheek and in the temple-area. Micro-power leads are attached and low current flows through.

My observation, only two of the acupuncture practitioners I’ve seen are okay with the e-stim treatment. All the others see it as “non-traditional” which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Electric fish were used by the ancient Egyptians to relieve pain. The fish were placed over wounds. In the 1930s, acupuncturists in China refined the treatment using the acupuncture needles and batteries.

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Electro-stimulation treatment at the Southwest Acupuncture College

It is more of a Dr. Frankenstein – type treatment, but seems to work pretty well for me, but maybe the e-stim caused my hair to curl like when getting too close to lightning causes hair to stand on end.

The acupuncture clinic has also been aggressively treating my Interstitial Pneumonia. According to acupuncture theory, the lungs and skin are closely related since they are both exposed to the air.

I’ve been going to acupuncture since May. I don’t know if the treatments have been doing any good, but there has been remarkable improvement based on my x-rays.

The first one was taken when I was first transported to the Intensive Care Unit before the biopsy surgery in December.

My tissue samples were sent to the University of Michigan and turned out I had some exotic but “everyday bug” that was controlled by archaic sulfa drugs. Back in the early days of HIV, it was the type of pneumonia AIDS patients would get.

I was on high doses of steroids when I was carried from the hospital to the ambulance and taken to rehab. When I was released and a little stronger, the March xray showed pretty good improvement.

I was then tapered off the steroids and began acupuncture.

The second X-ray was taken later this summer after I’ve had 12 weeks of acupuncture treatments. My lung doctor continues to be amazed at my recovery, since in his view at the time, I should be dead by now.

I’ve been melding old world medicine in the forms of acupuncture at the acupuncture college clinic for my lung problems, neti pot flushing to rinse out my sinuses, gin soaked raisins for joint pain; with modern medicine through my insurance HMO.

I've been melding old world medicine like acupuncture with modern medicine.

I’ve been melding old world medicine like acupuncture with modern medicine.

The reason I’ve stayed with the same insurance carrier over the years is the HMO is one-stop shopping. I’ve had the same primary care doctor for many years and access to others in his group if I can’t get in to see him.

The main downside is the hospital and emergency services are located 15 miles away. That was a big hassle when I was laid up early in 2013 – 2014.

Anyway, there was a NPR radio segment on “Science Friday” yesterday about how smartphone apps are changing how health care is accessed.

That’s been very handy for me.

The Kaiser Permanente smartphone app is very handy for keeping track of my health.

The Kaiser Permanente smartphone app is very handy for keeping track of my health.

I use the KP app on the phone which is the same user inner face as the computer. I can access my health records, write to my docs. On the computer I can make and cancel appointments.

The best part is being able to communicate by email with my doctors. Over the past year, I’ve developed a long list of them from the main doctor, to surgeons to rheumatologists, to pulmonologists. They’re all pretty good at writing back and that saves on co-pays and trips to their offices.

It’s amazing what they can tell from blood tests.

In addition to keeping track with the app, I’ve been able to combine old world and new world medicine together successfully. I downloaded my health record and put it in my acupuncture health file.

That’s been useful since the herbalists there are able to see how my regular doctors have been treating me and can suggest acupuncture and herbal alternatives. KP offers acupuncture, but its clinic is pretty far to the east of me so I haven’t tried it.

There are also phone apps for acupuncture meridians.

There are also phone apps for acupuncture meridians.

The Southwest Acupuncture College Clinic is a lot like an HMO. Based on a patient’s needs, there are a variety of practices offered from acupuncture – needles, moxabustion; body work – shiatsu, tuina, cupping; herbal medicine; pain management and combinations of those practices. I have a smartphone app about the acupuncture meridians.

I’ve heard about people who refuse to use modern medicine in favor of traditional remedies.

There’s a reason people used to die when they were 40.

There’s room for both approaches in the same treatments. My post herpetic neuralgia got better with acupuncture and electrical stimulation and blood letting. My Kaiser doc put me on prescription drug neurontin and the combo has been reducing the pain.

I've been trying some kitchen remedies like gin - infused raisins for joint pain.

I’ve been trying some kitchen remedies like gin – infused raisins for joint pain.

Lately, I’ve heard about soaking golden raisins in gin for joint pain and arthritis. I haven’t asked my medical docs about it, but will report to them if I find it effective.

I made up a batch and have been eating nine gin-infused raisins daily.

I’ll report back any changes in my stiff fingers battered up from sports abuse and autoimmunity. A couple of my friends have reported that the raisin – gin concoction was effective.

The Little Yoga Studio is, in fact little, but has a great welcoming environment for beginners to expert yoga practitioners.

The Little Yoga Studio is, in fact little, but has a great welcoming environment for beginners to expert yoga practitioners.

My Kaiser doc did recommend the Neil Med / Neti Pot. I bought the starter kit for a couple bucks at the pharmacy and it worked instantly for my sinus dripping / nonallergic rhinitis. I use it a couple times a day with a couple shots of the prescription flonase in the morning.

Did I mention I’ve been going class at the Little Yoga Studio two or three times a week?

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 2: Lindy Cook and Alan O'Hashi pull weeds from the garden of the community with other residents September 2, 2015 at Silver Sage Village. The active adult cohousing community for those 55 or older is setup like a usual condo community with every person having their own place, but the sense of community is what is unique. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 2: Lindy Cook and Alan O’Hashi pull weeds from the garden of the community with other residents September 2, 2015 at Silver Sage Village. The active adult cohousing community for those 55 or older is setup like a usual condo community with every person having their own place, but the sense of community is what is unique. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

A month or so ago, a Denver Post reporter caught wind of the documentary I’m making about “aging in community”. The principle photography is done, but there are a couple stories that need updating and I’m gathering up some photos for extra coverage.

The movie is based on my “aha” experiences and perspectives learned after being pretty sick to the point of having the “end of life” and drastic “heart lung transplant” conversations with my doctors back during the summer of 2014. My colleague interviewed some of my Silver Sage Village neighbors about their perspectives about aging in an intentional community like cohousing.

The Denver Post article came out yesterday – the beginning of Labor Day weekend. There’s another chapter in this saga which marks the one year anniversary of me taking yoga classes.

In this town, that shouldn’t be too earth shattering at all. For a Wyomingite, it’s not the usual way to while away the hours. There’s an advertisement to attract former Wyoming people back to the state that says something to the effect that “we have latte’s and yoga” which are why an expat like myself should move back.

Yee Haw – git a long little downward facing dogie!

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A “dogie” is a neglected calf that is eventually rescued and looked after.

Over the past 10 years or so, one of my annual missions is to take footage of all the entertainment along the Bolder Boulder route. The 2014 acid test was whether or not I could complete my usual task and finish the 10K. All went well, but I needed to take a swig of O2 going up the Folsom Street hill into the stadium.

A month later, I was given the okay to put the supplemental oxygen aside while weaning off of the prednisone. My chest x-ray in June wasn’t that great, and my lung doctor wasn’t very optimistic at all. That’s when I also started with aggressive treatments at the Southwest Acupuncture College Boulder Campus. I attribute my miraculous recovery to that, which is another story.

In retrospect, the Bolder Boulder probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do, since my percent of oxygen was around 80 percent, which was pretty good, considering a couple months earlier it was in the 60s and 70s. I had gained back some of the 37 pounds I lost laying in the hospital for a month and half and I noticed the lost weight right a way since my inner knees didn’t ache.

Anyway, I was still very weak and had trouble lifting the milk jug out of the fridge and still not very stable on my feet, having taken a tumble on the step going into Silver Sage Village. I finally could push the clutch pedal on the Eurovan and I started driving, which also wasn’t a very good idea.

My occupational therapist had me trying to do push ups against the wall and half push ups on the floor. I couldn’t do either. Sit ups were painful because of the scarring from the leaky intestine ulcer that was also repaired. I didn’t want to lift weights or go to a gym. The OT couldn’t do anything more for me. When I relearned how to walk and my gait was straight, she turned me loose.

I was picking something up at McGuckin Hardware on the Sunday afternoon before Labor Day. I noticed the The Little Yoga Studio next door. There was a woman inside working on the computer at the front desk. They were closed, but she told me to take a schedule from the box by the door.

Being a Boulder guy, I wasn’t a yoga guy. Many years ago, Comcast used to have Core Power Yoga on TV in the mornings. I did that for awhile, then the practice started to include weights and equipment, which seemed out of context.

That gave me some knowledge and experience with the basic poses. Since my body was totally out of whack, I thought yoga would be more balanced than going to a gym, plus I only needed a mat – although I had sticker shock when I saw mats cost as much as $85. I needed to get stronger and more flexible. Shortly after Labor Day I made my first visit.

I really didn’t know what to expect since it was my first time in organized yoga practice, I thought it was more meditative, but I have come to learn that the Americanized versions of yoga are very different from it’s 5,000 year old traditional roots in south Asia. I was also surprised to learn that yoga in America is an 18 billion dollar a year industry. The yoga industrial complex includes, clothing, mats, equipment, food. In Boulder, you can’t turn around without your water bottle whacking into a yoga teacher.

Ronald McYoga

Ronald McYoga

I got a deal for yoga at one of the other studios in town. Turns out that was part of a yoga franchise – McYoga. It was a huge place with showers, a store with branded merchandise. That wasn’t for me – some of the same teachers work there, too.

My initial reasons for going to yoga class a couple times a weak were totally health and medical related. Some of the teachers give little dharma lessons at the beginning of the class.

At the beginning of one class the teacher gave a bit of a rant about how westernized yoga moved away from the traditional tenets, which wasn’t a good thing. and that there should be more attention paid to the original teachings.

That brought to mind an NPR radio story I heard six or seven years before, about a group in Fairhope, Alabama that wanted to take the original spirituality out of yoga and replace it with Christian spirituality, since they liked the asana part – physical aspects – of yoga, but not the meditative part.

At the time, that struck me as odd.

Now that I have more of an interest it really strikes me as odd.

I also remember this story because I mnemonically link it to a former basketball player from Fairhope who played at Wyoming named Quentin Higgins.

Afterwards, I talked to the teacher about this, and turns out there’s quite a bit of information out there about the topic of non-yoga yoga. I watched a documentary called “Yoga, Inc.” which was mostly about the lawsuit between yoga mogul Bikram Choudhury and some of his teachers about unauthorized uses of his yoga pose sequences.

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Om

The yoga classes are helpful for me physically. I was going a couple times a week with a day of recovery time in between. I now try to get there four or five consecutive times with a couple days of rest between. But also, I want to be around the practice more which is insightful. My journalistic curiosity always gets and best of me and I’m now researching American yoga for another documentary project.

I’m learning that horse has left the barn and there must be some other angle that hasn’t dawned on me yet about putting yoga back into yoga. I talked with a pal of mine about it. He said that whether India repatriates yoga is important from a historical perspective, but from a yoga perspective, he said, “Any yoga is good yoga.”

This Santa Claus is the nexus between Christmas and yoga.

This Santa Claus is the nexus between Christmas and yoga.

The reason I like the Little Yoga Studio is because the teachers tell a story to go along with the day’s class.

Today the teacher mused that the December holiday season pushes everyone to be extroverts which can be stressful. For introverts like me it was fitting that the day’s practice focused on grounding. It was helpful for me mentally and physically.

Considering last year on Christmas and New Years, I was flat on my back at the Good Samaritan Hospital recovering from emergency surgery, I’m much better.

My robot care givers - monitors that check out how I was doing at any moment.

My robot care givers – monitors that check out how I was doing at any moment.

I really can’t remember what I did on Christmas 2013 since I had undiagnosed sepsis and had no appetite, lost 30 pounds, apparently pretty drugged up.

This December holiday season, a friend of mine, Med, is in rehab at Manor Care in north Boulder and likely there over Christmas and New Years.

I pop in on him whenever I drive by.

From experience, being laid up is lonely and because of societal pressure the holidays seem to be lonelier than all the other lonely days in confinement.

I was at Manor Care in Denver and was in a craft class where we painted Bronco balls.

I was at Manor Care in Denver and was in a craft class where we painted Bronco balls.

I did two weeks time at the Manor Care in Denver after my four-week hospital stint. When I stop by to see Med, there are certain sights and smells that bring back fond memories, which is a little strange to me.

I was finally sprung from there in time for the Super Bowl. Wheel chair and walker restricted.

This Christmas I’m mostly back to health and fully upright. Yoga has helped me regain my strength and balance. I now find myself over-reacting to “symptoms” that I notice in myself. You hear about people who “over-use” the medical care system and now I know why – prevention is the best medicine.

I’m now one of those people.

Fortunately, my doctors are open to consultations using email and phone calls. It’s amazing to me how much they can tell from blood tests. I am grateful for all the health care providers from the CNAs and docs who kept me alive. They barely keep a person kicking, but that’s good enough.

My Coca Cola Santa doll makes an appearance once a year.

My Coca Cola Santa doll makes an appearance once a year.

Even though I prefer to live in the present, I do have some remnants of Christmas past including a stocking made by my mom and a Santa Claus from my dad. He worked for Coca Cola for 40 years and passed Santa dolls around the neighborhood.

Back in the day, Coke was known for the Santa Claus Christmas ads – now culturally incorrect.

He only gets out of the box for a week or so every year and he’s still in pretty good condition.

The Coke tree ornaments in the image are also Coke advertising premiums.

The cat from the angel-cam. The angel was a project of my mom's.

The cat from the angel-cam. The angel was a project of my mom’s.

My mom had craftsy Christmas projects every year. I still have a crocheted angel that hangs atop the tree. She must have starched then ironed it.

Both my parents are gone now and so have the Christmas traditions.

Coming up with new traditions is easier said than done.

Waiting outside The Little Yoga Studio.

Waiting outside The Little Yoga Studio.

For those of you who have your parents still around, spend some time talking about the future and not just about estate planning but more importantly tradition planning.

Before you have family meetings like this, I suggest taking some yoga classes.

Today, looser hips and thighs have made me more aware of my root chakra – bring on the Christmas havoc!

Meanwhile, I’ll be continuing to “age in c(OM)unity”.

Lincoln Court affordable housing will be in nobody’s back yard

lincoln court development plan 2017

After a couple meetings with the city of Cheyenne planning office, the Lincoln Court mixed use affordable housing project is making some headway. Click on the image to read the latest.

I’m leaving for Nashville in a few hours to participate on a panel at the Tennessee Governor’s Conference on Affordable Housing.

Part of my presentation was about the Lincoln Court mixed use affordable housing project I’m pushing in my hometown of Cheyenne. Based on what I learned at an informational meeting last week about the project, my entire presentation is changed.

We’re getting a little press about the Lincoln Court mixed use affordable housing project. It’s a moving target with lots of things happening in the neighborhood with the likely Hitching Post demolition and the Atlas Motel now up for sale.

Project architect and also my across-the-street neighbor Bryan Bowen and I held a couple informational meetings in Cheyenne last week. The first was attended by stakeholders from the city, realtors and lenders.

The second was attended only by the newspaper reporter Austin and photographer Jacob. That was a little disappointing, but based on the comments we sought on social media, it wasn’t surprising.

Both of them have wondered about the lack of affordable housing in Cheyenne. Having been a newspaper reporter, I know that news gatherers aren’t exactly pulling down the big bucks. Jacob reported that he spends 50 percent of his monthly income on housing in Cheyenne. The generally-accepted housing cost is closer to 30 percent.

hitching post 2017

The city shut off the power and water to the Hitching Post Inn signalling a move to demolish the historic hotel.

Based on the intrepid reporters’ observations around Cheyenne, particularly about the, apparently, very active Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) crowd, they, too are skeptical about whether Lincoln Court would actually happen because of the lack of community support for the idea of affordable housing.

Lincoln Court is the perfect project to satisfy the NIMBYs since it is bounded by Highway 30, Missile Drive and the railroad tracks – who in their right minds would want to live there, and to top it off how about 40 mph winds and 40 below?

This is a huge opportunity to anchor the redevelopment with a collaboration among the city, the Hitching Post Inn and the Atlas Motel to return the West End to the vibrant neighborhood it once was.

While comparing Boulder to Cheyenne is “apples and oranges,” Boulder’s Holiday Neighborhood is a strong corollary to what can happen on Cheyenne’s West End. Holiday is bounded by State Highway 93 (Broadway), US Highway 36 (to Estes Park). The surrounding land uses are industrial (peat moss yard), light industrial (garages, car lots, storage), trailer parks (Ponderosa and Meadows), risky recreation (two shooting ranges and a strip club – now closed).

Holiday ended up with over 333 homes with 40 percent permanently affordable on 27 acres. There are data from an affordable housing purveyer called Artspace that when new residents are introduced to slum and blighted areas, the land uses change and become vibrant.

This is generally identified negatively with the concept of gentrification where affordable housing is replaced with high end housing and kitschy boutiques and Starbucks.

What’s great about a place like the West End of Cheyenne is, there will be no displacement of current residents, but rather new ones will be attracted. No historic buildings will be demolished, but new ones built that keep memories alive through historic place making.

There is a huge housing gap not just in Cheyenne, but many places. On social media we asked for input and comments and heard from mostly skeptics about the meaning of “affordable housing” and whether or not the city government was going to lead or muddle through.

When housing is only reliant on market forces to set prices, developers typically nurture a niche that meets the needs of people who earn a good living, are of lower financial risk and able to purchase larger and more expensive houses.

In the absence of community supporting decent housing for all and no agreed upon definition for “affordable” anyone but those with an ability to buy what the market offers are literally left out in the cold. I think there is a WTE article coming out in the near future about people living in substandard conditions.

I’m not saying the public sector has to set up a bureaucracy to deal with affordable housing. One of the objectives of Lincoln Court is to come up with a way to market-regulate permanent affordability.

I have to say that the project is a bit frustrating since there’s a demonstrated need for lower cost housing in Cheyenne. The Lincoln Court wants to meet the heart-felt need to provide affordable and safe homes where individuals and families can thrive.

Winter 2013 – Note to self: don’t get sick in December

In the fall of 2013, I decided to enroll in an Affordable Care Act health insurance policy. Everyone was written a letter by their health insurance companies giving policy holders a little time before then end of the year when all insurance plans expire.

Little did I know how close all those would be to home until I enrolled under ACA and was also a recipient of more than my fair share of medical care during the hectic Obamacare transition period.

For most people, there wasn’t much of a transition if covered on the job or some other public program.

I don’t think most people who have real jobs and a personnel office that annually negotiates group insurance realize that insurance actually lapses at the end of each year keeping coverage, apparently, seamless.

Nor do I think most people in insurance groups bother to read their coverage fine print.

Back when I had a real job, I was surprised to learn that as a single guy, in my group plan, I was covered for maternity care.

But when it was explained to me that to spread around the risk, I am obliged to pay to help cover my colleagues who have families or may want to start one. I viewed it as being a good community member.

This was in the 1970s – 1990s and it has been that way since. Now that I’m self employed, I’ve had to annually negotiate m y policy.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) began to point out what they considered to be unnecessary coverage, like maternity care for single guys.

As a quick primer, the ACA was proposed by President Barrack Obama approved by the US Congress and signed into law March 23, 2010. It set up centralized health insurance exchanges where users who weren’t covered by their employer, the Veteran’s Administration, Medicaid, Medicare, or some other program could sign up for health insurance.

Of the US population in 2015, 49% are covered by their employers, and 43% by some other form of coverage leaving around 8% needing health insurance coverage including self employed people like me.

Other than mandating health insurance for all as a means of diversifying the national insurance pool, there are provisions like not being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and young people being covered under their parents’ policies until they are 26.

I’m one of the self-employed people who has had the same insurance carrier for the past several years. My insurance is routinely “cancelled” when the company annually changed the terms and conditions, deductibles and more times than not raised the premium prices at the end of the year.

I could either take the new plan or be cancelled. I always opted to stick with my carrier, but had to call up every year to see what options I had. Generally, I settled for higher deductibles to keep my payment close to what it was before. In my estimation the insurance industry is a big legal ponzi scheme, if you ask me, but thank God I have health insurance!

… and I knew I wasn’t going to get dinged for a preexisting condition.

People who are shocked or surprised that their policies are routinely changed tossed out letters from their insurance carriers as junk mail.  In March of 2012, I was informed that my insurance would be grandfathered under the ACA if I wanted to go that route – keep my doctor and everything in tact.

Pioneer that I am, I set up an account on the Connect for Colorado Health exchange website and after a few delays and glitches, was a approved for a way better plan from my existing carrier for less price.

So I was “double-covered” with my existing policy and my new ACA policy because I didn’t quite trust the new system.

I finally gained confidence in the ACA and canceled my higher deductible plan which was a good thing.

Politicians have been trying to “Repeal and Replace” Obamacare since its approval. I chuckle when I see the political action committees running ads on TV about the small group of folks who claim to have fallen through the cracks when they didn’t take personal responsibility to take care of their health insurance business during the one-year window during which they had a chance.

Rather than be accountable for their irresponsibility, Obama and all the other socialists are to blame for their current misfortunes.

You know what?

Obamacare, socialism, public / private partnership – whatever you want to call ACA, have nothing to do with reality. Health care reform only has to to do with people like me who were flat on their backs pushing the hospital room call light hoping a nurse’s assistant will come by to empty the urinal or patch a bed sore.

Truth is, Trump, McConnell, Ryan or any other politician can’t help anyone, let alone improving advice individual patients get from their doctors and their staffs. Anyone who disfavors ACA hasn’t been sick lately.

Before I get into the gory details, I have to tip my hat to health care workers in the trenches, namely nurses and certified nurse assistants. The world wouldn’t turn without them. I’ll jump ahead a bit and say that I’d never really had a hospital stay before and after being flat on my back for six weeks.

I couldn’t walk, stand, wipe my butt. The nurses and CNA’s were there to meet my every need, particularly when I got very low and bummed out.

This raises another big topic of self advocacy. Being flat on my back, I was complacent and didn’t advocate for myself as much as I should have. My partner in crime, Diana, was a big advocate. She questioned what was happening and kept on the nurses and doctors, to their annoyance.

She brought over a couple friends and neighbors, Nicki and Evie who also had experience advocating and helped particularly early on when I was first admitted.

I can’t say enough about having a strong advocate. I’m pretty sure, my doctors weren’t waking up in the morning wondering how I was doing.

Over the course of the fall and summer, I was being treated for various types of pneumonia and eventually went to the hospital. I was quite out of it because I had lost a lot of weight – eventually 30 pounds – had no energy or stamina, and no appetite.

What happened next is a bit of a blur, but, my lung doctor did a biopsy to figure out about my pneumonia.

Did I mention the morphine pump?

Meanwhile, I was on steroids which led to a perforated ulcer and stomach contents were leaking into my body cavity causing sepsis. I don’t know this as a fact, but I’ve been told that I was not given much chance of making it through the emergency surgery to patch up the ulcer – mostly because of the lack of eating and general indifference, translated into “failure to thrive.”

I read through my medical record and I was also classified as anorexic. That sounds worse than it is. It means I was very skinny.

So I have this emergency surgery and am being fed pablum through a tube bypassing my stomach and intestines while the ulcer patch heals. This causes me to lose weight and strength. I’m flat on my back between ICU and a regular hospital room and rehab for six weeks.

Since my parents died a few years ago, celebrating the winter holidays have been different every year. I wrote a stage play about this which was produced by Hitching Post Theater a few years back – I’ll have to dig out that story.

This was no different being being in a hospital with the second tier help on duty.

This stint in the hospital was good in that when the biopsy results came back from the University of Michigan, the results figured out about my lung condition as being an auto immune pneumonia now being treated by steroids, which is a good thing – particularly for those of you who had to deal with my hacking and coughing over the summer and fall.

Not so good with the ulcer recovery, I still had a rubber tube sticking out of my stomach that was. removed after a week. So getting to the bottom of my pneumonia was good, the state of my physique, not so good. Then I was kicked out of the hospital.

Meanwhile, I can’t stand, walk or otherwise take care of myself and I’m lifted into a wheel chair and strapped into an ambulance to go to rehab at this place in Denver.

Unable to move on my own, I start sliding out of the wheel chair and bouncing around like a rag doll. I felt like the dead guy, Bernie, in that bad movie “Weekend at Bernies”. The driver pulled over at the cooking school on Quebec and got me repositioned before getting to the rehab center in Glendale, which is a neighborhood in Denver.

The rehab center was an hour from Boulder, served mostly geriatric patients and I was the youngest one there. It was good meeting some folks from Denver.

This rehab center has it figured out. Everybody there gets about an hour or two of rehab each day and the other 22 hours, they feed everyone high protein and lots of carbos. It got a little monotonous plotting out the day based on meal time.

I am totally amazed that I received enough physical and occupational therapy after two weeks to walk out – albeit with a walker, compared to when I arrived as a total invalid.

My diet was simple – eat anything, particularly high protein and sweet stuff – a lot of rare steak and ice cream floats. It takes a long time to gain back wright. I was up 15 pounds during rehab and stabilized after getting 30 pounds chubbier.

After being out of captivity since the first week in February 2014 and getting stronger every day I was getting back in to the swing of things. Being self-employed, I had many ongoing projects.

I think it’s also an Asian thing to be totally self reliant – but this experience has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help. Many thanks to Michael and Barbara for keeping mud in my entrepreneurial cracks over the past couple months of my recovery.

After being out of rehab for a week, I attended the Boulder International Film Festival over President’s Day weekend – I’m on the BIFF Board of Directors. It was my first outing “off campus” since Dec. 16th – prior to this, I was in an ambulance, hospital, ambulance, rehab center, in my condo.

I’m also back in the editing booth – I cut together a tribute to Shirley MacLaine that screened Saturday night at the BIFF.

It’s been a big wake up call for me, particularly about big picture issues – mostly around downsizing and relationships with people.

Small picture issues, I’m now more serious about plotting out some exit strategies for projects I head up and handing off projects to others and getting ready to “retire”.

Even though I’m mostly recovered, I’m still planning for a long road ahead, I still consider myself “disabled” and will likely be recovering for awhile. I may be out and about, but I anticipate plenty of limitations.

I still encounter steps and small inclines and places without banisters or elevators that I didn’t notice before.

My message to the politicians? Keep muddling through the ACA because here’s no turning back.

 

 

Silver Sage Village Tree Inventory – August 2017

 

 

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.

cohousing2

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.

Lincoln Court Mixed Use Community housing $200K to $300K

lincoln court old postcard

Click on the post card image to download the draft business plan narrative.

The LINCOLN COURT mixed use development is an ambitious one but meets a variety of community needs. Plans are to develop on the 15 acre Back 40 Subdivision on the West End of Cheyenne, Wyoming consistent with the approved Missile Driver Corridor Plan.

The project is organized by Boulder Community Media dba ECOS. Download a copy of the draft business plan narrative.

The property is adjacent to the former Hitching Post Inn site. The project name is homage to the Lincoln Court, a motor lodge that preceded the Hitching post, which fronted on the Historic Lincoln Highway (US 30).

The Lincoln Court project targets the affordable housing need with purchase price-points between $200,000 to $300,000. The vast majority of those needing housing will be those households who earn between 0 and 80% of the county’s Median Family Income. The project will work with Habitat for Humanity and the Wyoming Community Development Authority (WCDA) programs for first-time home buyers.

Based on a 2017 housing needs survey completed by the WCDA, Laramie county has 9,520 substandard housing units and based on incremental growth, an additional 4,074 dwelling units will be needed by 2020. Out of this need

WCM envisions a project positioned to target those wishing to incorporate more creativity in their business and day-to-day lives seeking to build equity in them selves or improving their housing situations. From a larger community perspective, the project supports and implements Cheyenne and Laramie County community development goals by enhancing the social and cultural experience for current and future residents through a mixed-use creative intentional community and possibly improving blighted property – the LINCOLN COURT alter-ego Hitching Post Inn site. The project also nurtures economic development by providing housing for primary jobs and also space for local low-impact businesses to expand and entrepreneurs to flourish.

Based on a 2014 economic development report by Cheyenne LEADS and a 2017 report by the Wyoming Community Development Authority there is a big need for housing, particularly affordable housing in Cheyenne and Laramie County.

wcdalogo

The WCDA offers down payment assistance programs for affordable housing and first time home buyers.

Lincoln Court offers the full range of benefits to Cheyenne with regards to affordable housing as a key economic development objective:

  • Available housing for all income groups helps a community retain jobs and retail stores, and helps business owners attract and retain quality and reliable workers.
  • The job creation and expansion impact is strongest if workers reside in the community. Employees are able to live near employment centers and thus are better able to report to work on time and have time to improve their job skills or get an education.
  • Improves ability of communities and businesses to attract and retain workers.
  • For a community, housing ties people together. It fosters a sense of place and local identity. It plays an important role in a economic sustainability and development.
  • New construction and management of a property creates new employment and generates multiple ripple effects that strengthen the local economy.
  • Workforce housing creates a more stable environment for children and helps them perform better in school.
  • Enables lower-wage earners to get into a home and begin building equity. A house payment is generally less expensive than rent, which increases disposable income.
  • Helps improve distressed areas and strengthen community and neighborhood pride.
  • Increases property values and property tax revenue to communities.
  • Creates family stability since wage earners work nearby and not commuter-distance away.
  • Housing plays a key role in individual welfare and often represents the single-largest family expense/investment.

The project meets this housing need through a mixed-use development consisting of owner occupied and rental, universally-accessible senior and intergenerational cohousing dwelling units – detached and duplexes, civic and community spaces and appropriate retail that would support the community such as a coffee shop, offices, live-work options. A site map is attached.

The LINCOLN COURT also is interested in innovative continuous care, including intergenerational “green houses” as championed by Bill Thomas for caregivers who could live “on site” in the cohousing community with their disabled family members who need more intensive and specialized health care nearby.

The target market is wide open and consists of intergenerational individuals and families, as well as seniors over 50 years of age, who may be local or from out of town “empty nesters” and wanting to downsize, “vigorous retired” people wanting to stay active and age in a community setting. In support of this, the project will investigate compatible services such as personal care, urgent care.

The project is a public – private partnership with strong private sector partners and the affordable housing component involving participation by local, state and federal government agencies. The project is economically viable with a balance among strong equity from the public and private non-profit sectors, debt financing and sales/lease.