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!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Forest of Fierce Women Is A-Growing

We recently welcomed 20 new "residents" to Prairie Hill. They arrived a few weeks ago with bare roots and lots of promise. They are, in fact, 20 small red bud trees we bought from the State Forest Nursery and planted on the slope to the east of the stacked flats. Within 10 days they had sprouted healthy bundles of leaves and we knew they needed names to reflect their determination to thrive. The membership was asked to suggest the names of powerful women who showed the same determination.

The young trees were christened with the names of 8 women of color, 7 outspoken environmentalists, several authors, a medieval queen, an explorer, a jurist, many social justice activists, a poet, three moms of Prairie Hill members, and a dad (because we can always use a good man).

Members were asked to adopt a tree and see that it is well cared for. Be sure to come by next spring to see Jane Goodall, Amelia Earhart, Michelle Obama, Shirley Chisholm, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Coretta Scott King, Jane Adams, Rachel Carson, Wangari Matai, Damita Brown, Maya Angelou, Mary Agnes Chase, Sojourner Truth, Joan Baez, Boadicia, Rosa Park, Lily Bailey, Nadine Gault, Fay Davis, and Alfred Fawcett in full bloom!

Donna Rupp

Monday, July 2, 2018

Exterior-Scapes Emerging

Donna's garden has had a mysterious visitor

 Helping hands make light work

Front porch getting populated with plants

Pictures by Michele McNabb

Friday, June 29, 2018

Prairie Hill Open House - July 29th!

Prairie Hill announces an open house celebration! Come join us!! And help us spread the word! Here are the details:

Prairie Hill, Iowa's first cohousing community, is now open! Come celebrate this major milestone with us at a community open house from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, July 29.
  • Visit our cozy energy-efficient homes
  • Learn about the sustainability features that make this project unique
  • Tour the common house kitchen, dining room, kids’ playroom, and sunny guestrooms
  • Nibble tasty snacks!
  • Bring the kids! Games and fun for all!
Hope to see you there!
Prairie Hill Community Open House
Sunday, July 29

1:00-4:00 p.m.
Prairie Hill
140 Prairie Hill Lane, Iowa City 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Learning to Live Together

So many living things make up our environment. Looking out my window here on our family farm, there is green everywhere. From the upstairs windows, waving leaves fill the scene with vitality and color. On the ground, grasses and other herbaceous friends cover the earth. And below that, there are billions of friendly soil microbes, earthworms, and all manner of unseen residents. Birds sing from their perches in the trees. A gentle breeze carries insects through the air. For an entire square mile this morning, here on the farm, I am the only human being. But my living community will change very soon. I'll be moving to Prairie Hill.

Out here in the country, it is easier to see the inter-relationships between all living and non-living aspects of the world. Everywhere there is diversity, every plant with its own niche, its own purpose. All living beings find ways to live together, even benefit from each other. There are vast webs of communication invisible to us. In contrast, people predominate in the city. And yet at Prairie Hill we want to live in a peaceful and respectful relationship with the natural world, the non-human world. Fortunately, we have many guides in this. Much has been discovered about ecological relationships. Intent and awareness can help to inform how we relate to the wider non-human world around us. At least in some circles, this kind of wide thinking is in vogue and we will feel supported and encouraged to live sustainably.

However, the most challenging aspect of community may turn out to be the relationships between the people living together, learning how to put our personal preferences aside sometimes in favor of the health of the whole. Our culture does not encourage us to think this way. In fact, we are a country of fierce individualists. We treasure our freedom. And our capitalistic economy emphasizes competing against each other for financial gain instead of cooperating. We're immersed in this worldview from the time we're born, if we live in the United States: individualism and competition. I know this has been true for me, even though my Quaker upbringing gave me views into other ways of seeing the world. I love my independence here on the farm. And I breathed in competition in school, in sports and in the family system from an early age. So here I am, preparing to live in a community in which cooperation is the accepted mode of relating.

I know cooperation is the right direction to be heading. Look where competition and individualism have gotten us! We badly need to find different ways of living. Surely if we can send people to the moon, can communicate instantaneously across the planet, we can find ways of living peacefully together. It has been done before, thousands, millions of times. We can get back to a healthier way of living. And so at Prairie Hill we are engaged in the process of finding structures that help us to think holistically. When an issue comes up for decision-making, not only do we think about our own personal preference, but also try to think about how this decision will affect everyone---other members, plants, animals, climate, the air, the ground, everything. It is not always easy. Sometimes we get bent out of shape because our personal pet project appears to not be embraced by everyone, and we have to back off. As we build community, we need to keep finding better ways to communicate so that everyone feels safe to express their opinion. There are challenges. But I have to say that though it is a bit risky to commit to getting along with your neighbors instead of pulling off in isolation, it feels so much better. We at Prairie Hill are committed to making this respectful cooperation not only work, but work beautifully. We're in it for the long haul.

Nan Fawcett

Thursday, June 7, 2018

June 20th Event: Introduction to Sociocracy

There is so much happening at Prairie Hill right now. With the first eight residents living in our new homes, and more to join us soon, our days are very full. We're opening our doors to the larger community with an opportunity that came along because Jerry Koch-Gonzalez is driving through Iowa City on June 20. We're coming out of the garden to put together an introduction to Sociocracy with Jerry, who is program manager for Sociocracy for All. He lives in a cohousing community in Amherst, Massachusetts and he says, "We are serious about spreading Sociocracy to give everyone the opportunity to share power in a healthy way."

Prairie Hill Cohousing has chosen Sociocracy as our governance system. Transparency, equivalence and effectiveness are valued and decisions are made in circles (committees). All voices are heard and decisions are made when there are no remaining "paramount objections," that is, when there is informed consent from all participants. Objections must be reasoned and based on the ability of the objector to work productively toward the goals of the organization. All policy decisions are made by consent.

Citizen Hive, an NGO in Sweden, uses Sociocracy and describes it is this way: "Sociocracy is a holistic approach for inclusive decision-making, efficient governance, and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of your team, project or organization. It fosters empowerment and an attitude where people feel encouraged to experiment, fail, and learn."

Other benefits of Sociocracy:
  • Fosters more trust
  • Encourages individuals to be accountable to the group's agreements, relative to available energy and resources.
  • Helps users evaluate what they do, identify their strengths and growing edges, and aply what they've learned to future projects and collaborations.
  • Focuses on solutions and helps transform potentially painful disagreements into creative opportunities that benefit the whole group.
For information about the June 20th Introduction to Sociocracy or to RSVP, email Michele McNabb,

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Progress on Many Fronts!

The theme for the last several weeks at Prairie Hill has been working together, and stretching ourselves thin with the work required. But the results are inspiring. For instance, our living room has been transformed by beautiful pieces of furniture, a rug, lamps, and expert skill in arrangement by some. We are now having meetings here, as well as just hanging out between tasks. It has a wonderful feel. It is beginning to feel like home.

On another front, we're developing the outside of our community, the land. Up on top of our site, there are more than three acres free of construction. It's a beautiful, high and sunny area, and we have fenced in a generous space for a garden. Already there are kale, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, squash and herbs up in the community part of the garden, and some individuals are also planting on separate plots inside the fencing. We've planted several fruit trees up there, and soon will be "heeling in" 125 small bare-rooted saplings from the state forestry nursery: 25 red oak, 25 white oak, 25 river birch, 25 nannyberry, and 25 redbud. These trees will be protected by the double fencing around our garden area: one sturdy wire fence, and outside that a tall 8' deer fencing net. When construction is finished, we'll have these trees to spread around our site.

Down by Miller Avenue, not only have we planted many flowering trees, but also a large bio-retention cell (see previous blog post). Below you can see that now the area around the cell has been graded, smoothed, and planted with buffalo grass, a deep-rooted alternative to regular lawn grass, not needing mowing. The bio-retention cell has now been planted with a variety of flowering plants that are hardy in both dry and wet conditions. Within the next few weeks, we'll be able to see them rising up over the sides of the cell and brightening the outlook to the east.

Now that our common house is completed, our guest rooms are available, thanks to a crew of dedicated members to set them up. Using contributed beds and other furniture, they are attractive and comfortable, and already several people have come to spend time in them. One guest room is called the Nancy Drew Room, and the other the Grant Wood Room. One of our members has taken on the responsibility for scheduling and organizing the guest room use, and some of our first visitors are shown below, visiting Michele from Denmark!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Val's Birthday Dinner

Val, who just moved to Prairie Hill from California with her husband John, celebrated her birthday with us tonight at Iowa River Landing. Val (dark hair) and John are in the left-hand corner here.

More pictures from Michele:


A New Water Feature at Prairie Hill!

Below is our bioretention cell, a project combining the planning of our engineer and the construction by Forever Green landscapers. It has been waiting for plants for the past several months. Now, finally, a rich variety of plants chosen to do well in this wet and dry location has arrived and a team of us worked together on Friday morning to get these into the soil, right before the rain last night!

About Bioretention Cells:
Bioretention cells are landscaped depressions that capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces to reduce water pollution and stabilize stream flows. Beioretention cells have an engineered and constructed sub-grade to ensure adequate percolation of captured runoff.

Bioretention cells can be used in most settings, including parking lots and residential areas, where soils don't adequately drain. They use plants that can tolerate a wide range of moisture conditions. Native plants are encouraged because they have deep roots and maintain soil quality and pore spaces.

 Craig watering the plants as they were ready.

 David, Nan and Donna getting the plants in their proper places.

David has just finished planting Queen of the Meadow, and is getting ready to plant the next one.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

More current photos from Michele McNabb

Donna continues to refine her front garden, utilizing a downspout to create a water feature.

Welcome mat in the common house

A plethora of chairs and tables for the dining area

Kitchen donations are coming in.

Marcia mapping out where the bio-retention cell plantings go

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I Feel 50!

 I don't know if it is waking up naturally to birdsong at 6:30 am, the glorious spring weather we have been having of late or what, but something in the air around Prairie Hill is certainly invigorating!

 Everywhere one turns, members seem to be spending time here. Attending committee meetings, giving tours to interested parties -- of which we have had a lot lately -- hauling compost or long lengths of hoses uphill to the recently tilled 50' X 50' common garden or threaded through a Common House window down to the street to water our young trees (outdoor faucets not turned on yet). Seeing Nan and Donna planting raspberry bushes and flowers around the site, or Barb and Del painting and installing bike racks in front of the Common House. Members dreaming of and selecting plants for their personal garden spaces, Common House residents waiting for their occupancy permits so they can move in. Planning and dreaming and making decisions. The energy level is palpable!

 From my vantage point up here 'on the hill' it's been educational to observe each day's incremental developments as a pair of duplexes go up right outside my windows, as well as seeing my future townhouse take shape. Such a lot of details that all must fit together to  make a whole. And that's the way our community is working: each one pitching in and lending a hand where needed. And we all sleep well at night!

Michele McNabb