Tuesday, December 18, 2018

It's Happening!

From Annie Tucker, whose home (and her husband David's) is on the left of this duplex:

When I was little and would draw a house, I'd draw a square and then a triangle on top for the roof. When a house is being built, the trusses are what make the triangle shape. Today the trusses are being put up on our unit. Now we can see the beginning of the walls AND the roof! Very exciting!!

And on Wednesday, more progress:

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Making Astragalus Tincture

I used to raise medicinal and culinary herbs from my farm in Cedar County, sell them at the Iowa City Farmers Market, and give workshops about how to make them into medicines. Just recently a friend of Prairie Hill gave us a valuable gift: a bucket-full of astragalus roots. Astragalus is an important herb, and takes years to grow to harvest time. The most common form of medicine made from astragalus roots is a tincture. And so Jeanette, Val and I made a gallon of astragalus tincture one Sunday afternoon. This will be enough to keep everyone at Prairie Hill healthy for years to come!

First the roots were scrubbed clean, then dried enough so there was no surface water. Then we cut them into small pieces and/or peeled off the bark in strips, whatever we could do to expose the greatest amount of root to the other ingredient, 151 proof Everclear. This is the strongest, most potent alcohol sold here in Iowa City.

Once we cut up the roots, we filled a gallon glass jar to the top with the roots. The few that were left looked like they had some potential to start new plants, so I planted them in my front yard. The ones in the jar were then covered with the Everclear. The three large bottles of the alcohol were exactly enough to get to the top of the jar. That seemed a good sign somehow, and we smiled.

Now the tincture sits on a shelf in our common house pantry, waiting for at least three months for the medicinal part of the roots to leach into the Everclear. Sometime in the spring, we'll decant the tincture, and then anyone who wants some can have a little dropper-bottle of it to put in their medicine cabinet. Since you use only a few drops at a time, this huge quantity should last well into the 2020's.

Here are some of the benefits of astragalus:

  • Immune system booster
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Slows or prevents growth of tumors
  • Protects cardiovascular system
  • Relieves insulin resistance related to diabetes
  • Slows the progress of kidney disease.
As with most medicinal herbs, astragalus tends to nourish and support the body in a wider way than the targeted and dramatic action of drugs. So it's effects are gradual. And since you take only a few drops at a time, it is a safe addition to the preventive helpers we all call on.

Nan Fawcett

Surviving the Blizzard

Note: your blog host has gotten too busy this past month, and good posts like this one have been waiting to go up. This post was written by Val Bowman a week ago. But tonight it is snowing again!

Winter storm or 'near blizzard' conditions predicted for today. So far it's just rain. We took Kara to a Days Inn near the airport in Des Moines a day early for her flight home to California tonight. But when I look out my window, I see Jeanette walking Cooper and Sophie, the new tree in Donna's yard decorated with lights, a beacon in the early morning light, and the woods at the top of the hill that shelters any number of small animal friends. Later today I will walk a few steps to Nan's house for a massage and later we'll gather in the Common House kitchen to make a tincture of astragalus with her. And tonight we'll walk carefully up the hill (holding the railing) to Marcia's house to watch Strangers in Good Company.

As I was writing this, John called me to the window to see our Osprey hawk! Posing on Dick's truck and then flying to the top of our light pole which overlooks my bird feeder. No breakfast diners there, thank goodness. Life at Prairie Hill.

Blizzard Tips:

  • Stay indoors during the storm. Prolonged exposure to cold can cause hypothermia.
  • Walk and drive carefully on icy sidewalks and roads. Many injuries and accidents are caused by slippery conditions.
  • Before driving, let someone know your destination, route, and expected time of arrival. If your car gets stuck, it'll be easier to find you
  • If you lose feeling and color in your nose, ears, hands or feet, cover the exposed area, avoid rubbing your skin, and seek medical help immediately. You may have frostbite.
  • When shoveling snow, take breaks and lift lighter loads. Working too hard can lead to heart attacks.
  • Stay dry. Wet clothes make you lose body heat, increasing your risk of hypothermia.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Snow and Pumpkins!

We knew it was coming, and true to forecast the ground was covered with light snow this morning, the first we've had this winter. For some of us, the first we've seen at Prairie Hill.

The Jack-o-lanterns still decorating our land and buildings (see the one on the retaining wall above), have a white cap. But they remind us of our first Halloween just a week ago:

Scary faces lined Prairie Hill Lane, luring trick-or-treaters to the common house.

"Prairie Bill" showed the way.

Here are some of the Halloween Team:
Val, Donna, Marcia, Craig, and
Prairie Bill behind.

Michele easily won the Best Costume award

For our first year in residence on Halloween, our turn-out was small but happy. Three families. Next year we'll hope for more. In the meantime, it was fun for us!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Adventure in Composting - A New Beginning

One of the first things we did here at Prairie Hill, once there were residents living (and eating) here, was to fence off a small compost pile up at the top of our site, near the upper garden. We wanted to keep our "garbage" instead of hauling it away, and let it turn into a fertile supplement for our land.  What we found, over the months, was that access to this compost pile was more difficult than anyone wanted: up a steep hill. It discouraged some of us from using it.

We recently took a field trip to the Iowa City Landfill, where they have a wonderful composting section. Below, you can see a huge pile of partly-done compost being turned by the large machine on the right:

We saw a number of piles, each at a different stage of decomposition:

We learned that air ventilation is important to having a successful compost operation, as well as a mixture of ingredients: some wetter garbage from the kitchen, some drier grasses and yard "waste". Jane Wilch, head of the Iowa City compost program, gave us a tour through the composting grounds, and forwarded us much information to help us with our own smaller composting efforts.

And now, for the past several days, we have been using a new compost bin, built by several members with some plans using pallets, a low-cost and relatively easy construction. This bin is located just northwest of the common house, by the recycling and trash platform.
It has plenty of room for air circulation, a gate that makes turning the compost easier, and sufficient space for our community's kitchen and yard waste. And best of all, it's a short walk from any of our homes, with no steep path to get there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Walking through our Parks

Yesterday, after walking up the hill to dump our kitchen compost into the community compost pile, I took a stroll through Benton Hill Park. It was the best thing I did all day.

This is a 3.5-acre park with a variety of hackberry and oak trees, a pre-school playgound and a small shelter. There I was, alone with bushy-tailed squirrels, playful rabbits, sparrows, finches and fresh air, right in my own backyard. Benton Hill Park, founded by the city nearly 20 years ago, sits atop Prairie Hill Cohousing at the intersection of Benton Street and Miller Avenue.

I read somewhere that Iowa City has 50 parks. I am delighted that we see one of them when we look out our windows. It is one of the myriad benefits of living in the Iowa City Cohousing community. Having moved from Northern California six months ago, I was drawn by the idea of having a park nearby, but I didn't realize how easy it would be to be in nature.

We have enjoyed several two-mile walks around the lake at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, a five-minute drive from our home. And, in the past week or so, we have been exploring Willow Creek Park, off Benton Street. The winding and wide walking trails seem to be endless and offer walks across the creek on several small bridges.

This morning's walk there was glorious because of the warm sun and the canopy of trees brightened by yellow, red and orange leaves. And, we made a new discovery -- the oak sculptures created by Russian artist Valery Kovalev, who visited Iowa City a number of times in the 1990's, A plaque there explains that the five Willow Creek sculptures represent just a portion of the work he left here.

The most evocative of the sculptures is titled "Zoya," a tribute to Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya, a revered martyr of the Soviet Union, who gave her life fighting the Nazi Army during World War II. The sculpture was donated to the people of Iowa City by Khristofor and Marianna Agassandian.

We also came across a stone tribute to donors and volunteers who have contributed to Iowa City's Hospice program, situated in a shady grove also featuring rose bushes.

It's as if Iowa City's parks are calling to us to meander through and find our way to more treasures.

We are having a great time living and working at Prairie Hill Cohousing. We have helped others move in, planted trees and weeded by the hour shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors. And, we are learning that only minutes away, endless new adventures in nature are waiting.

John Bowman

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Week of Sunny Skies and PROGRESS!!

Finally the ground is dry enough to begin work on the retaining wall behind the new duplex:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Things Are Happening at Prairie Hill!

A Second Garage Building Is Going Up.  One day this week, Jim (yellow T-shirt and foreman of our construction team) was laying out the materials for a new garage on the ground. The next day he and Tom (grey T-shirt) were raising the structure. Here they are on the third day.

And here they are on the fourth day, which was in the 40's.

And by the end of the day, the building already looked like this!

Meanwhile, our Detention Basin, despite many, many inches of rain falling in the last couple of weeks, has been functioning well. We've watched with interest as several families of ducks have enjoyed the water. You can see in the background the mound of dirt for the excavation of our next building, a one-story duplex.

The duplex is going on this site, just below and to the south of the completed two-story duplex.

Here's a closer shot of that completed duplex. Barb and Del have moved into the south side, with the other side still available to a new cohousing member.

Here's a photo of our second completed two-story duplex. John has moved into his new home on the left, and the one on the right is as yet unsold.

The herbs and flowers in the new raised beds at the upper entrance of the common house are still going strong, but temperatures are due to get into the 20's this coming week. It's a good time for us to harvest, and also to plant trees and shrubs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Tasty Tuesdays - The Beginning of our Meals Together

When we were in the planning stages of our community, we often talked about how great it would be to have at least a couple meals a week together in the common house. Only a few people to make a meal for all of us, and a relaxing social time at the end of the day. Since residents started moving in this past spring, we have had some potlucks, but our regular meals in the common house didn't happen until last week. Tuesday seemed to be a good day for a regular eating event, and our Tasty Tuesday offering has officially begun.

Three members members carried off preparation of the first meal, which consisted of two kinds of soup, two kinds of home-baked bread, apple crisp and ice cream. It was a hit! (See picture above) So last night the same three prepared the second Tasty Tuesday meal: rice with four stir-fry options (veggies and tofu, veggies and chicken, veggies and shrimp, and just veggies) with home-made fortune cookies for dessert. It was a hit too! At this point, it looks like this will be a continuing tradition. The initial three cooks have agreed to prepare one more Tuesday meal, and then are looking for other adventurous souls to take on the task.

We have a spacious and well-equipped kitchen, and once we start spreading the Tasty Tuesday preparation around among us, we'll all be getting experience with cooking there. Clean-up after the meal is also a great way to get acquainted with our kitchen, and both Tuesdays our clean-up volunteers worked smoothly and efficiently to leave the space ready for the next project.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Football Parking for a Good Cause

The Prairie Hill Land Committee has been trying to figure out how to fund a garden shed. We have two tillers, a trimmer, and various other kinds of equipment, yet it has all been sitting out under canvas in the rain for the last several months. Clearly this is not a good long-term situation!

Then we had an idea. We are relatively close to the Hawkeye football stadium, and football is big in Iowa City. Since we have more parking than we need right now, we decided to sell parking spots for the fall football games. It took awhile to find an arrangement that all members felt comfortable with, so our final decision was to not allow tailgating, not offer bathrooms, and require that parkers leave the spot an hour after the game is over. With these stipulations, we were all willing to give it a try. This morning was our second game Saturday, and we made room for 52 cars! At $15/car, we are on the way to funding our garden shed, and having fun at the same time!

Photos by Michele McNabb

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Magical Evening at Prairie Hill

I am a plant lover. Plants seem to be my familiars. They are one continuing theme in my life. Even though I've lived many places and worked at different things, plants have always been an essential part of my home base. At least that has been true since I became pregnant with my first child many years ago. Somehow that event changed me into a nurturing person. Before that, I had not really noticed plants. But while I was waiting for my daughter to be born, I began filling our house with plants I'd started from cuttings of my friends' plants. And it has never stopped.

When I moved to Prairie Hill less than a month ago, the first thing I did was fill my front yard with plants.

And then the back yard. I moved all my houseplants out onto the covered porch, where they have thrived. It was a rough move for some of my bigger plants, fitting uncomfortably into my little Hyundai. Some branches broke or bent.

My night blooming cereus plant survived but looked pretty scraggly by the time it got here. Though actually, my night blooming cereus always looks scraggly. For most of the year, people probably wonder why I keep it. It is ungainly, stretching every which way, it's succulent leaves and branches not conforming to any tidy posture. But I love it. And when I was watering it on the porch last week, I was delighted to see that despite the stress of the move, it had put out a bud. Wonderful! This only happens once a year, at best.

The bud itself is a phenomenon. It grows right out of the side of a leaf. It is very small at first, but day by day it grows larger and larger, a long stem-like attachment to the leaf and a growing flower-bud on the end. As its name implies, the night blooming cereus only blooms at night. It waits until fully ready (I always expect it to open days before it actually does) and then only begins the process when it is totally dark. And the bloom only lasts one night. By the next morning, it is hanging limp and spent. Prairie Hill residents have been walking by my porch for the past week remarking on the bud. And I have been watching it. By Thursday afternoon, I thought I noticed a slight widening of the surrounding sepals. And I sent out an email: Come to see this tonight at dark! I hoped I was right, that this was indeed the night.

The first visitors arrived at dusk, and the petals were beginning to open just a little. I set up a circle of chairs, popped some popcorn and took out a little table with snacks and drinks. And we watched. And watched.

Soon, accompanied by ahh's and ooh's, it was clear that the petals were unfolding:

And then we waited longer. This requires patience, which is not my strong point. But with other people there, and lots of topics for conversation, the time passed pleasantly. The night was clear and comfortable. And slowly the flower kept unfurling, until finally it was at its fullest, a miracle on the end of the leaf:

This bloom is accompanied by an exotic aroma. Outside, it is pleasant and unobtrusive, but I've heard that if the bloom is enclosed in a home, the aroma can get a little intense. As we sat there spellbound and attentive, we wondered what insect or animal the flower and the aroma and the intricate inner part would be trying to attract in its native setting. A moth? A hummingbird? Something nocturnal, we guessed. And just as we were speculating on this, a huge praying mantis (the first I'd ever seen at Prairie Hill) jumped up on my chair!! We were amazed. The praying mantis is considered a sacred being by the Bushman in Africa, and it was honoring this occasion with a visit.

Here it is (above) after it hopped off my chair and into the grass by the porch. It successfully hid quite quickly, so we don't know if it ever reached the flower, but we did learn from someone's phone that it indeed makes nocturnal flights in search of its mate. (Or a beautiful flower?)

By 10:00, we were ready to go to bed. The blossom would remain open all night, but we were satisfied to have gotten in on its unfolding. And the praying mantis was a bonus. For me, it was a beautiful example of what can happen in community. I'm sure it will be one of many to come.

Nan Fawcett

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Unforseen

"The Unforeseen is what you have to look out for," a wise person once told me. She went on to say that this applies to any change, be it a new job, a new relationship or a move to a new home.

I imagined that "unforeseen" meant those nasty little and sometimes-large negative things that pop up unexpectedly. So when we moved in April from California to our new home in the Iowa City Cohousing community, I tried to prepare for that kind of "unforeseen" with equanimity. What I didn't anticipate were the positive unforeseens.

One of those delights was our "Weed Pulling and Ice Cream Social" last week. One of our neighbors, Nan, who grew up on a West Branch farm, organized about a dozen of us to pull the seed heads off fox tails and other pesky weeds for one hour and then to leave the mosquitoes behind to go into the Common House dining room for ice cream, frozen yogurt and an array of tasty toppings. Nan even laid out sample weeds and photos on a table ("leave the buffalo grass and blue gramma but get everything else."). It was a surprisingly enjoyable way to end the day -- there's not much more satisfying than hearing the sweet music of a fox tail squealing when you carefully pull it from its base before dropping it into a bag. The ice cream reward's not too bad either.

And that's not the only pleasant "unforeseen" we have experienced here this summer. We have helped to plant trees, organize a hugely successful open house, shared the monthly all-member pizza nights, viewed movies together both at Film Scene ("Mr. Rogers") and in our shared living room ("Black Panther"), participated in a festive sing-along in the Common House and played Scrabble with some of our new neighbors.

We've also gotten a taste of how vibrant Iowa City and the surrounding areas are. We have been introduced to the Farmers' Market, several fun eateries such the Leaf Kitchen and the Bread Garden, plus Prairie Lights Books and the best public library we've ever belonged to, walks along the Iowa River, being here for RAGBRAI and welcoming a dozen bicyclists to stay overnight in the Common House, Art Fest (where we saw Joan Osborne and Pieta Brown perform, free), and a magical afternoon at the Iowa Farm Sanctuary in nearby Marengo, where I got to rub the muddy belly of a 250-pound pig named Fern.

So even at my advanced age, I am learning that "unforeseen" needn't be shadowy or scary. It can mean actually having fun pulling weeds. And having seconds of ice cream with friends afterwards.

John Bowman

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Ways Prairie Hill Is "More than a Place"

24 hours at Prairie Hill

7:00 PM  I arrived home from a trip that had been cut shorter than planned, and soon T came up my walk to check that everything was okay. We sat on my front porch and traded stories for a little while.

9:00 AM the next day  M texted to see if we could talk about the agenda for an upcoming meeting. She was at my door 3 minutes later. She mentioned that the porch flowers needed watering every other day, so I volunteered to take turns with her, a 10 minute job at most.

11:00 AM  An email had been sent to the members from C and M. They were going to a movie that evening. "Would anyone like to come along?"  I decided I wanted an evening alone so declined the invitation.

12:00 Noon  I ran into V as my dog Buddy and I started on our noontime walk. She reminded me of the field trip to the animal rescue farm next week. Eight were already signed up to go.

4:00 PM  An email was circulated among current residents with information about caring for our new hardwood floors. Research had been done, and Bona Pro was the suggestion. J "replied all" and said he had a Bona Pro cleaner and would be glad to demonstrate it to anyone who cared to see.

7:00 PM  I got a group email from N. She had just returned from her family farm with bags of sweet corn. Anyone who wanted a few ears could stop by and get it while it was still fresh. I went down to her place, returned a trowel we had borrowed,  picked up the corn and sat and visited on her porch for a short time. T came to get corn and stayed awhile, and M came by as she took her cat for a walk.

While one of the stated advantages of living at Prairie Hill is being able to share resources, it hardly seems an adequate statement. In the last 24 hours I benefited from shared concern, shared time, shared knowledge, shared tools and shared vegetables. I've never lived anywhere like that before.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Our First OPEN HOUSE: A Success!!

Prairie Hill was a happening place last Sunday, with cars backed up on Miller Avenue from both directions! We had a cheerful and interested crowd going through all the buildings here and on up to the garden. Our best count on visitors is more than 350, for that many plates were used, and some folks didn't even get to eat since the food ran out! We were excited and gratified at the turnout.

We offered three different kinds of tours: a site tour explaining the outdoor sustainability features, a tour focusing on community, and one on green building practices used here. Above is Annie Tucker leading the community tour.

 The kids room was a popular spot for children of all ages. Above is Donna Rupp captivating a couple.

And there were even younger folks.

There was music too. This  picture shows our living room full of singers.

And fiddling.

The Yahoo Drummers livened the upper site all afternoon on the porch of the stacked flat.

And there was food! Lots of it.

Some of the food came from the Prairie Hill Garden.

All in all, we're really pleased with this first open house. We learned a lot, and plan to offer open houses on a less grand scale frequently now. Our first Information Meeting of the month will be this coming Saturday afternoon (August 4) at 1:00, and will be followed by a tour of the site.  Spread the word!