Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Here are some piles of wood chips (left) and logs (right):

And here is the machine that is uprooting and moving trees:

I took a great video of the process of a large tree coming down right by Miller Avenue, and it took an hour to load onto this blog. But then it didn't play here, so I deleted it. Maybe I'll find a way later. Keith, the man who is working the machines, is very good at what he is doing. But be warned that if you want to go and look, be sure to stay across the road. Keith is not willing to let anyone onto the Prairie Hill property while he is working, for safety reasons.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Here We Go!

At last, preparing the site for future construction! Two big machines have appeared on the lower part of Prairie Hill, and perhaps by afternoon they will have begun "clearing and grubbing".

The plan is to complete this work in the next few days, all dependent on the weather. The engineers have staked out the ground:

We have talked to the folks at Wood Products, who are doing the clearing, and they will work with us to save poles for later use: for growing shitaki mushrooms, lining paths, making play equipment, and whatever other use we can come up with. They will also chip the rest of the wood to be used for mulch and soil amendment.

Marcia and Nan were up at the top of Prairie Hill this morning, marking a number of trees to be saved. We chose a whole grove of cottonwood trees as well as a couple ash. The cottonwoods especially seem to love the growing conditions there, and it will be lovely to have large trees on our land from the very first. We'll be planting hundreds of trees and shrubs in the near future, and it will be an adventure to choose them, care for them, and watch them mature. In the meantime, when we long for the shade of a mature tree, we will only have to climb up to our garden and orchard area to enjoy these native cottonwoods.

Our actual building site (the lower half of our piece of land) used to be a cornfield years ago. More recently it has been lying fallow, and volunteer shrubs, trees and other plants have settled in. We feel sad to have to take out these small trees especially, but will do our best to honor them: first by appreciating what they have contributed to the ecosystem by providing nesting and food for birds, stability to the hillside, oxygen for our air, shelter for plants and animals, and more healthy soil structure.  And once they're uprooted, we plan on using their chips and branches in our community.

We'll keep you posted as work on the land progresses!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Meet Another Prairie Hill Cohousing Member - Michele "Chris" McNabb

Here's Michele's bio:

As a Marine Corps ‘brat’ my family pulled up stakes every 2 or 3 years, so I never really had a home town or knew extended family members, but I did have the experience of learning how to adapt to new environments.  We finally settled in California, where I received a BA and MA in Scandinavian Languages and Literatures from UC-Berkeley.  However, travel had firmly rooted itself in my blood,
and as an adult I lived in Denmark (my ‘soul home’), Spain, Canada and Lebanon before coming to the Midwest in 1979.  When my 2 sons were in school, I upgraded an interesting hobby by getting a Masters in Library & Information Science, specializing in genealogy and local history collections. After positions in Illinois and Indiana, I’ll be retiring in mid-summer 2016 from the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa, where I’ve been the librarian/genealogist/translator for 14 years.

I had originally planned on being a ‘vagabond’ after retirement, but gradually I realized that I needed a home base to return to, preferably in a city with a major university, as well as a sense of community, since my friends and family are spread all over the globe.  I have been interested in environmental issues since the 1970s and became familiar with cohousing in the 1980s, when several of my friends in Denmark chose that kind of living arrangement.  My family got to experience cohousing on a small scale when we lived in a 5-family shared farmhouse outside of Copenhagen for 8 months. When I heard about the Prairie Hill Cohousing project, it seemed like the perfect answer to my retirement dream, and I and my 3 cats look forward to downsizing and living a more simple life.

After retiring I intend to continue doing freelance work as a translator and genealogist.  Besides genealogy, traveling and languages, I’m an avid reader, especially of Scandinavian series mysteries or those written by or featuring women, and I also like films and theatre and hope to find some kindred souls among my Prairie Hill neighbors.   I also like to bowl as well as to dig in the dirt, although I’m anything but a systematic gardener.  After many years of living by and for myself I look forward to sharing work, play and new experiences with my neighbors and hopefully will have something to offer them.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Visioning Space in Small Footprints

Last night a number of us met at the Schwab Auditorium in the Coralville Library. We wanted to get a feel for how different sizes of houses and rooms felt. It's fine to say that you're moving into an 800 square foot home; you may feel great about the idea of downsizing: freedom from stuff, less to take care of, easier to heat and cool, being easier on the planet. But how does that space feel?

The Schwab Auditorium is a very large room, and we were lucky that the chairs were already pulled to the side.  After measuring and marking Prairie Hill's three "footprints", we crawled around on the floor with painters tape, lining out the outside perimeters of a 645 square foot apartment, an 800 square foot one, and our largest, 945 square feet.

Then we could walk around in the spaces, and while referring to printouts of the floor plans, we could go from the entrance of our future home to the kitchen, sit in the living room, hang out on the porch, and imagine what it will be like with windows, furniture, and people. It was enlightening.

What I learned is that my future space, 800 square feet, is plenty big for me. In fact, participating in this activity has made me even more eager to get this project done so that we can move in!

Stay tuned for information on our next field trip, which will be a hike from Prairie Hill to the University Hospital and other places close-by.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Field Trip to see an IKEA kitchen

Who knew that seeing a remodeled kitchen would be so popular? Around 25 people arrived at Mark Cannon's apartment last Saturday afternoon to admire his beautiful renovations. Beforehand, many of us gathered at the Bread Garden to eat lunch and share recent developments on the Prairie Hill Cohousing project. Here are some pictures of both events:

Above you see us crowded into the Bread Garden, looking at site plans and catching up with each other.

Above is a shot of the sink and cupboards at Mark's home, and below from a different angle

The 1000 square foot apartment had an open design similar to what we're planning at Prairie Hill, and felt spacious and comfortable. In fact, it was hard to leave! Below is a picture looking toward the kitchen from the sitting area.

And here are some new IKEA closets and shelves in their bathroom since the original apartment had only one closet!

Mark told us in fascinating detail about the whole IKEA remodeling project, from bringing 5 carloads of IKEA cabinets, cupboards, and other materials to the house, to putting everything together. He talked about how they made style and color decisions, and how happy they are with the results. We had a wonderful time as we looked around and learned, as well as enjoying unexpected refreshments: 

With all of us crowding into every available space, one resident retired to the safety of the bedroom:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Introducing our Newest Prairie Hill Cohousing Member - Gloria Zmolek!

From Gloria:
I retired from teaching studio art and AP Art History at Linn-Mar High School in June 2015. My main immediate goal for retirement is to spend more time with family and friends. I felt one of the ways to achieve that would be to downsize from my 3 bedroom century old house where I’ve lived for over 30 years and move into a smaller dwelling where I would not have to spend as much time maintaining my property leaving me more time to spend in my community.

I knew I was going to move but I had no idea where until I found out about the Iowa City Cohousing community. I believe living in this community is exactly what I want and need. I cherish my solitude but at the same time, I’m very social. I love the idea that I will be able to have companionship without always having to make prior arrangements or drive across a town to see my friends. How often do people say when running into each other, “We’ll have to get together for lunch” and a year may go by before they even see each other again? The intention is real but because of the physical distance it often tends to not happen.

I grew up in the 50s when our mothers stayed home and met for coffee on a regular basis. I would run to the store for Mrs. Powers, an elderly next door neighbor and would shovel the sidewalks for Dilly and Geraldine because my father said “That’s just what you do.” My neighbor Breezy Jones was a glass blower who blew test tubes for my brother Steve so he could perform his science experiments. We knew all our neighbors and shared lawnmowers and cups of sugar. I know the world has changed but I do believe that cohousing is a way of recreating some of a neighborhood community that supported people as they journeyed through life.

I’m impressed by the diversity, accomplishments and passion of the members who have joined. I’m humbled by all of the hard work of the members who have been working on this project for years. They are people who care about community and the world we live in and I think it will be amazing getting to share my life with them. I will grow.

I’m the mother of two children, Nathan, Seattle, computer programmer by day and tango afficionado by night and Laurel, Sofia, Bulgaria, ELL teacher by day and Bulgarian folk/Salsa dancer by night…….amongst other things. So I’m very happy that there will be guest rooms that will be available for them when they come to visit.

I have worked as a teacher on all levels and a variety of subjects but mostly art. Between teaching gigs, I worked as an independent artist for 18 years in the medium of handmade paper. Current passions include but are not limited to salsa dancing, travel and yoga. I’m currently getting my certification to teach at Hothouse Yoga in Iowa City. Many of my friends are distressed by the fact that I will be moving out of my home because it has been the setting for a lot of really fun parties. I’m glad I will have a common house as an option for gathering with the larger community. I seem to be a verb (Sentence stolen from the title of a book written by F. Buckminster Fuller).

What I'm looking forward to most about being a parent in Cohousing - Scott Roser

Kevin, Cameron and Kara at Wilson's Apple Orchard

When my wife and I joined our cohousing group two years ago, children were not yet in the picture. At the time, the things I looked forward to the most about cohousing were communal gardening, shared meals (I was getting sick of cooking for one or two people), and riding my bike to work. About a year and a half ago, my wife and I became foster parents for two brothers and officially adopted them this last December. Then, about a month ago, we added two more foster children to our family. Since my wife is employed full time and I only work half time, I am the primary parent in our household. Becoming a parent of four has given  me a completely new perspective on the potential benefits of cohousing. Here are the things I am looking forward to most:

  • In cohousing, there will be no shortage of playmates. Our son Cameron (16) is much busier with sports and school than his younger brother Kevin (13). Kevin often complained that he had nothing to do and I felt like I was spending a lot of time trying to keep him occupied. Now that he has two new playmates, I am amazed at how easily the three of them entertain themselves without any input from me.
  • In cohousing, there will be a diversity of playmates. Kevin enjoys playing simpler board games with his eight year old foster brother, but he would probably have more fun playing a more complex board game with older kids. While our new foster daughter enjoys some games with her brothers, I know that she really wishes there was another girl to play with.
  • In cohousing, there will be a diversity of mentors. Kevin likes to play baseball, but I gave up on that sport in 6th grade (mostly because I was terrible at it). Cameron enjoys drawing, but I never made it past stick figures. It would be nice to have easy access to other adults who could teach my kids how to throw a curve ball or how to create a self-portrait.
  • In cohousing, I will be able to swap childcare with other adults. A few weeks ago, our foster daughter had two friends stay overnight. Watching six kids really wasn't much more difficult than watching four.
  • In cohousing, I will have child-care support from other adults. When I was growing up, my parents both had long driving commutes to work. On the flip side, this commute allowed us to live ten minutes from both sets of grandparents. If my parents had to work late or wanted to go out on a date, they had easy access to child-care. In many ways, my wife and I have made the opposite choice; we both ride our bikes to work, but we now live several hours from our parents. My hope is that our cohousing community will function like an extended family with other adults teaching, mentoring, and looking out for the little ones.
In short, I believe that cohousing offers us a new way of being in community that will be more supportive and less lonely for adults and certainly more fun, free-ranging, spontaneous, social and creative for kids.