Managing the Household

A Series on

Managing the Household

by Manager, Chris Highland

Christmas 2013-12

“Why Would Anyone Choose to LEAVE Tam House”?

Yes, a surprising question!  From time to time there are people who decide, due to personal, family or health concerns, that they need to leave Tam.  Sometimes this is a very sad thing.  The whole house experiences some grief and loss.  Their housemate is deeply missed.

Then, shockingly, there are some who move on because they have chosen to ignore or forget the basis of living in Tam House:  respect, cooperation, harmony and sense of family.  

In the five years I’ve been the manager I have had to “exit” (that is, terminate the lease of) too many people.  As I often say, this is the worst part of my job!  No one EVER wants to tell a senior resident that they have to go.  Personally, I came to this work to do two main things:  To bring people into the houses, and, to help keep the peace so that people want to stay!  The last thing we want to do is give someone their “exit papers.”

So, why would ANYONE choose to leave?  Well, here are the TOP REASONS people “choose” by their actions–their behavior–to leave:

-They can’t or won’t let go of anger (inciting arguments is one way this shows its ugly head)

-They can’t or won’t follow simple, basic rules everyone else follows (smoking on the property is one glaring example)

-They can’t or won’t cooperate with management, showing resistance or open defiance to even simple requests (though our staff and board are committed to working cooperatively with every resident)

-They can’t seem to understand what “common space” and “sharing” is all about (makes us wonder why they never learned to share in school; stuffing a hall closet with their own “stuff” is something we’ve seen)

-They simply have a bad attitude that affects (and infects) everyone around them (what we call a bad case of the Grumps; makes the whole house walk on pins and needles)

Usually a person’s behavior is a mixture of these things.  It becomes fairly clear they simply don’t appreciate Tam House.  They don’t appreciate what they have.  Their actions say loud and clear:  “I don’t want to live here.”  They are obviously CHOOSING to leave.

At this stage, after attempts to reason, after warnings (verbal and written), the person is given their letter and they have to move out.

By the way, this is one clear reason we now ask every potential candidate to fill out a detailed questionaire prior to the first interview.  We want to know what a person thinks about some of these important issues, and what they are willing to commit to. This benefits them, and everyone else in the house.

Choosing to live in Tam House is a serious decision.  It needs to be a wise choice. We want people who will Choose to Stay rather than Leave! 

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“Small (but Significant) Contributions”

ROSS VALLEY ROTARY, longterm friends of Tam House, just brought us a check for $500 to help cover upgrade expenses for our wireless networks in both houses. Another generous gift to be grateful for!

And each day residents are contributing in SBS (“small but significant”) ways that everyone can acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate!

Here are just a few ways people are giving of themselves, their time and their resources to make Tam House an even happier place to live:

MARCIA and PENNY have been tending the plants and vegetable garden at Tam Two. LISA and SUSAN have been active with the garden in Tam One. Because of their efforts, we will have a good crop of tomatoes, beans, herbs and other tasty salad fixings throughout the year! (Marcia’s daughter Donelle has paid for a gardener to help with a few things and she paid for other plants and soil).

ALEX has purchased and prepared some dishes for Tam One, some of those expenses out of his own pocket.

SANDY, LISA and ROBERT (T1) as well as John (T2) have cooked specialties for their houses too.

MICHAEL, JUNE and MARCIA have baked yummy treats to share.

BOB in Tam One makes sure all garbage, compost and recycling bins get taken out and replaced each week. He also volunteers to help residents who are moving in or moving out.

ANNETTE offered her quilts to brighten up the walls of the living room and hallway area in Tam One.

SUSAN, who has serious physical challenges, has been committed to keeping the wood floors clean in Tam Two. HUGH in Tam One is her counterpart, mopping the dining room floor every evening.

JOY vacuums the front room in Tam Two once each week.

JUNE actually enjoys sweeping the sidewalk around Tam Two on a regular basis.

BOARD MEMBERS continue to bring many wonderful foods to our barbecues and happily pay for the band to entertain!

So many “little’ ways that add up to Big Contributions! Each person deserves Big Thanks!

Have we overlooked anyone? Maybe YOU are contributing in “SBS Ways” and we should all know that and thank you for it. Please let us know. It’s ok to toot your own horn when it comes to giving beyond normal chores.

Did I forget to say it LOUD and CLEAR enough?. . . THANKS to each one of You!

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“Welcoming New Residents”

We had a stretch when all I could say to people who called was “Sorry, we’re full, but send in your application. . . our applicant list is always open.”  In the last few months, rooms opened up and soon we’ll have 21 residents again.

We have a fairly good process for bringing new folks in.  Initial conversations with the manager; a tour of the houses; interview with the manager and a board member; financial and criminal background checks; calling former landlords; sharing a social hour and dinner with the house; hearing the responses from residents; a final conversation and decision.  This process works well.  Look who we have living here!  

Whenever new women and men come to Tam House I’m sensitive to what they find.  I look around with new eyes and notice more things, like a spot on a rug or a weed patch or a toaster that needs a quick polish.  I suppose that’s just me, but I try to put myself in the place of a new person who will call Tam “home.”  Wouldn’t I like to find things neat, clean and treated with respect?

Since an important part of my job is to “support the peace and harmony” in both houses, I also encourage a welcoming of residents that includes these questions:

-will our new resident be treated with an extra bit of kindness and respect as they settle in?

-will they be invited to “ease in” to the simple chores everyone does to help the household?

-will they be given equal space in refrigerators, freezers, cabinets and closets?

-will they be welcome to sit where they wish at the dinner table, where there are no “assigned or reserved” seats?  (this may be especially important for people with hearing impairments so they can participate in conversations and not feel excluded)

-will our new resident feel they are, from the very beginning, a “full and equal” member of the household, contributing their own personal gifts right alongside everyone else?

It’s always great to see the way 21 people answer these questions in the daily living together that makes Tam House one of the most welcoming places we’ve seen!

{I asked one of our residents to offer a few thoughts on handling anger in the house.  This person discussed the issue with another resident and the following is the result.  Thanks, you two!}

“Anger Management Challenges and Tools”

Humans in relationship will inevitably face moments of disagreement or conflict. When faced with this, it may be useful to reframe, weigh its importance. Will the course of human events be altered if I don’t get my way right now?

One of my teachers has described such situations as the ringing of a dharma bell, a call to self-reflection. I find most of us don’t seem to place enough value on equanimity, carelessly throwing it out to prevail in this or that confrontation. Rightness, like Truth, is a double-edged sword. Is winning this argument worth the price of my equanimity?

An early discovery upon moving to Tam House (if you’re new to group living), may be an encounter with your own reaction to running into other’s boundaries or having your own boundaries violated. This need might arise when one resident deems that the noise created by another resident is annoyingly disruptive or comments made about another is intrusive or purposely hurtful to another.

This can foster a flourishing hands-on classroom for improving anger management skills that benefit all residents.

Certain personality types find the notion of being perfect as we are to be very foreign and feel quite compelled to follow a high internal standard of behavior. Consequently, they are rather righteous when others don’t live up to this standard and these boundaries need to be defended. The weapon (tool) of choice for this personality type is anger and waging the epic Good Fight. Our emotions and energy rise as manifested in loud voices and hostile body language. This go-to response seems to be the only weapon/tool we can invoke because it is all we know that we have. After all, we have used it for years!

With a commitment to a non-confrontational response, new possibilities may emerge. One possibility is to ask the other in this situation the question: “What Is the issue”? This may evoke the feeling of not standing up to defend our view of “right,” but are instead merely rolling over or surrendering. While surrendering makes huge sense sometimes, it is hard to embrace when we are defending ourselves!

Another non-confrontational approach is negotiation. Here we have a path that avoids surrendering and might lead to “win-win” resolution. However, this makes us uncomfortable as we might hear the other party say what we don’t like. And, we fear it might makes us vulnerable, unlike when we simply [respond] with anger.

Those of other personality types may also resort to anger first, but also be more aware of other possibilities. Anger is a very intense emotion, and once it’s up and going, it’s pretty much too late to control it. However, if you feel it rising, a change of focus of attention to the breath can interrupt the surge. It’s a fact that you can’t be angry and have relaxed breathing.

Yoga teaches that breath control equals control of fear (and anger). Allow yourself to notice that the emotion anger has it’s own story to it. The story fans the flames. The emotion itself will pass in 90 seconds; just breathe through it. So, if you catch the anger welling up inside you, respond by first exhaling your breath and then breath in. The resulting calm will open up a pallet of opportunities to resolve the situation.

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“The more we do for others, the better we feel!”

A resident wrote those words to me in response to the Upworthy video I recently sent out about the skateboarder and the construction worker (if you haven’t seen it, I recommend taking a few minutes to watch).  The resident had a few tears over that.  So did I.  People doing unexpected good things for others can have that effect sometimes! 

This resident went on to say they are making some personal changes in behavior and outlook:

“I have resolved to stop criticizing and complaining. Now, I have to ‘stay on my toes’ and not forget.”

These sound like good lessons for community!  Honest, positive, constructive, healthy, cooperative.

This reflective resident had one more piece of wisdom to share with me (and maybe with you?):

“There has been only one person in the house that ‘bothered’ me, and now I can happily say the feelings are gone. I try to remember that ‘everyone does the best that they can with the knowledge they have’ so judging is wrong — how would I do in the same circumstance?”

I thanked our resident for expressing these simple but sound reflections.  I know the whole house will benefit from these thoughts and conversations.

Maybe you have some thoughts we can pass along?

This time of year, in this season, may be the best time to discuss the good things we’re learning about ourselves, about Life.  Maybe ANY season is the best to do that!

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“Where Do We Go (after we die)?”

As all of us sadly know, our resident and friend Neill just passed away.  Most of us are aware that Neill was a storyteller for years, charming children and adults with his favorite tales.  He didn’t “officially” tell stories anymore, yet Neill was a storyteller nonetheless. 

Neill was a bibliophile–he loved his books, especially books on spirituality, consciousness and “divine things.”  Though he knew that some of us didn’t share his rather wild investigations into the “mysteries of the universe,” he shared them anyway, knowing we would listen, smile and wonder along with him (I’m mostly speaking personally here).

Over the time I knew him, Neill wondered quite a bit about death–what comes after.  He wanted to be with his wife who had already “gone over,” but he was intrigued by what that meant.  What awaits us “on the other side”?  Are we “pure consciousness” in a body?  What is “God” and does our belief really matter?  What is Reality?  Neill had, you know, simple questions!

What I most appreciated about Neill was his almost childlike curiosity.  Life was all one big story to him, I think.  Or. . .life WAS the Storyteller, and we’re all just children listening (or not) and learning (or not).  I sometimes felt that Neill was soaking in as much as he could from his daily experiences and his readings, delighted in what Life was teaching him, and the questions those lessons would shake up.

People like Neill (and there are a few others among our residents and board members) keep us wondering, questioning, delighting in the strange beauty of living.  Folks like Neill can be disturbing and troubling sometimes, bringing new thoughts or old (repressed?) ideas to mind–perhaps things we’d rather not think about.  Like death.

Yet death wasn’t something to fear for Neill, and it wasn’t really the big question.  How to live and live well–that was the big one.  Where do we go? wasn’t as important as, Where do we go with our lives, our thoughts, our kindness, our love?

Because he was constantly considering these immense issues, Neill didn’t sweat the small stuff very much.  This could cause irritation!  Take “the crumbs.”  Neill would make a sandwich and leave a minor mess on the counter.  If the “mess manager” (me) would see that first, I would have to act as the “reminder in chief” and ask Neill to come back and clean it up.  “Others use the dining room, Neill.  Everyone has to clean up after themselves.”  He would always come back a little reluctantly, sheepishly repeating that his wife used to do that for him.  He knew that was understood, but he also knew that line wouldn’t cut it living in community.  And he valued his community very much, crumbs and all.   

I will always remember his smile, standing in the open door of the office, explaining some fresh concept of existence.  “Neill, you’re blowing my mind again!”  He enjoyed that; I think he really enjoyed that.

Neill was often “standing in the doorway.”  And, perhaps, he still is.  Who can say?  Well, Neill would, if he was still with us (in that way).  Some people leave wild wonderings hanging in the room.  And sometimes those wonderfully odd things are a lot like crumbs on the counter.

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Driftwood and Stones

Driftwood and Stones

“Good People to Live With”

Every resident who comes into Tam House is carefully screened with several formal and informal interviews, a reception and dinner with current residents, and of course a background check (financial, criminal, former landlord). We’re proud of the fact that most of our choices (and those who choose Tam House) work out quite well. Most people become very good housemates to share a home with.

In the series of questions our board representative and manager ask each candidate, one question is usually the most interesting, even the most fun! We ask,

“What are your strongest qualities that you would contribute to the household”?

I think you may find it insightful to read the list of responses we have heard (can you find your own words? if not, what would you say now?):

“I have a positive attitude. Gentleness. I know how to fit in.”
“Warm. Welcoming. Open. Caring. Engaging social skills.”
“Even-minded. More cheerful than most. I don’t pass clouds around. Even-disposition.”
“People person. Upbeat. Humor.”
“Looking for pleasantness. Thoughtful. Believe in mutuality.”
“Personable. Like to get along. Open to learn from others.
Responsible for myself. Give back respect I expect.”
“Respectful. Friendly. Helpful. People person.”
“Sense of humor. Never confrontational. Not crabby. Listener.”
“Integrity. Empathy. Working on love. Know how to apologize.”
“Basically a happy person. Sense of humor. Nice to be around.”
“Easy to get along with. I like people. Sense of humor. Compassionate. Give what I want to receive.”
“I get along with others and have fun doing that.
I think of brotherhood and sisterhood.”
“Understanding. Compassionate. Easy to talk to. I respect space.”
“Peacefulness. I believe in finding consensus. I like sharing a cup of tea with another person. I’m a good listener.”

Now, wouldn’t YOU like to live with this group of people?!
Aren’t you glad that you DO?!

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Taking a Breath Together

Seeing Different Perspectives

“Addressing Anger Appropriately”

A resident recently told me they were amazed that people get along so well in the house.  I agreed!  And I appreciated hearing this person speak so well of others and recognize the fact that most of the time people are living together very harmoniously.  That was sure good to hear.  And, I have often said that it is remarkable so many can get along so well day in and day out sharing close space.  Everyone should be proud of this.  This is a great strength of Tam living.

Then this resident went on to say they are concerned about some who have a lot of anger and “authority issues.”  No surprise.  I assured this person that this is certainly “on my radar.”

It’s not easy sharing a household!  We all know that.  With all the good things that go on day after day it can be challenging to keep the peace and hold the household in harmony.  Some handle conflicts and tensions very differently than others.  Some avoid conflict as much as possible.  Others seem to stir it up.  Some try to mediate.  Others seem to agitate.  It’s commendable that in many instances residents have worked out issues between others in reasonable, healthy ways.

Unfortunately, at times the house feels “under a cloud.”  I have heard people say things like, “Sometimes I feel I’m walking on eggshells” or “When someone’s upset I just let it go and stay away” or “I’m always afraid someone’s going to blow up” or “I don’t sit by that person because we don’t get along.”  These unhappy comments should be heard and taken seriously since these feelings and attitudes affect everyone.

In the last months I have been asked to step in to mediate unresolved conflicts.  This is a part of my job and usually I don’t mind helping if I can. The standard procedure is for residents to work things out themselves, but I understand that this is not always possible in more serious cases.

The goal is always:  household harmony.  People come to Tam House to live together peaceably and cooperatively.  No one wants to live in uncomfortable tension.  If and when this peaceful environment is shaken or disrupted, it has to be addressed immediately and decisively.  The hope is that problems are resolved and everyone can move on with contentment.  When there is no resolution, for the sake of the whole house, something has to change.  We have asked people to leave Tam House if they cannot make those changes.  This is sad but necessary at times.

When anger issues come up–and we know they will come up (we all get angry sometimes)–there are appropriate ways of handling that. . .and inappropriate ways.  Most of us know what is appropriate in Tam House.  And, we can all use a reminder once in a while:

Appropriate:  if you get angry, take a deep breath, think before you speak

Inappropriate:  react aggressively, try to intimidate, acting in a threatening manner

Appropriate:  discuss the issue reasonably in a calm voice; listen to the other person

Inappropriate:  raise your voice, argue, cuss or call names

Appropriate:  address the problem immediately in a healthy manner (preferably in private)

Inappropriate:  let the problem fester and turn into something bigger

Appropriate:  kindly speak up when someone is being IN-appropriate; address the issue responsibly

Inappropriate:  stay silent and suffer, try to ignore it, or let others suffer with the problem

It’s really great to see so many appropriate responses by reasonable adults.  And we will continue to address inappropriate behavior for the sake of all.

I invite each resident (and other readers) to read through these Ten Tips to Tame Your Temper, a check list from the Mayo Clinic.  If you know you have a problem with managing your anger, seek help.  That would be better than having to seek new housing.

Together we Create and Keep the Peace.

Thank you!

Chris

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Warm Welcome!

Warm Welcome!

“New Year Wishes, Hopes, Intentions. . .”

A Happy, Healthy New Year to All!

As 2014 dawns, I’m reminded that we can spend our lives looking backward, looking forward or simply being in the present moment.  It’s our choice.

Here are a few wishes I have for the New Year. . .and for each new day, each moment.  I’m sure you have your own to add!

*We will each discover one new thing about ourselves, a new talent, a new interest, and share it

*We will all learn more about each other and encourage the Good in all

*We will be open to learning something new about Nature, the Planet, our Bigger Home

*We will discover new ways of connecting the Great Message of Tam House with the World

*We will complain less and complement more

*We will hold some wonderful Gatherings of Both Houses and Celebrate the New Deck!

*We will resolve any differences with respect, good intentions and a commitment to harmony

*We will happily contribute just a bit more to making our home a more pleasant place to live and thrive

*We will try to be more sensitive to the fact that we are not the only one with challenges, pain and quiet suffering, helping each other to bear the weight as best we can

*We will tease out more of what it means to be INTER-dependent even as we become better at responsible IN-dependence

*We will continue to build a home and a household one living brick at a time

*We will refrain from complaining when it finally starts Raining!!

Thank you for sharing my wishes and yours!

Chris

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Leaf with Light

“Seasons and Holidays”

We’ve all felt the change, the chill in the night air, the winds whirling the painted leaves.  Fall arrives like an old friend, a visitor who brings a few gifts with the warmth of companionship.  Next to knock at the door:  The Giving Days of November and December.  

For me, and perhaps for you and other residents of Tam House, the change of seasons brings the gifts of reflection as well as expectation.  We reflect on our year, the new things in our lives (both good and not so good).  We reflect on the new faces in the household, and some no longer our housemates.  But what do we expect at this time?  What do we expect of others, of ourselves?  

No doubt we all have different thoughts and feelings about seasons and holidays.  For some of us, this time of year brings up old memories we’d rather leave in the bottom of a closet or back of a drawer.  Those who have experienced loss in the cold fall and winter months are not always ready for the chill to return.  Some may feel their heart is in storage somewhere.  That can be hard to handle.  

Bearing (burying?) our past doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate a little, to enjoy some fellowship and a sip of good cheer.  But it also might mean we aren’t “into” the traditions quite so much.  We are reflective and well aware of the expectations.  We expect others to expect us to celebrate and sing and rejoice.  We’re fine with another person “doing the holidays” in a festive manner, but we are hoping our low level of interest will not disappoint too much.  For some, the holidays aren’t really “holydays” anymore.  That’s ok.  And it’s ok to “get into the spirit” too, with an awareness of others.  

Let’s be honest (in this season of honesty).  We have people in our houses who get depressed.  We have some housemates who have major illnesses, physical and financial challenges and family matters that weigh heavily throughout the year but perhaps especially now.  Being sensitive and mindful of the feelings of others is so important, particularly when those feelings are raw and hearts are vulnerable.  We have people who have lost spouses and other loved ones, who have lost homes or jobs or some precious treasure.  We have housemates who simply carry a lot of “stuff” on their life’s journey.  Who are we to add to the burden or make the load heavier?  It’s good to keep in mind that each person holds some silent suffering.  We’re not the only one.  

Truth is, we are aware of some major sadness housed with us.  Yet, thankfully, we can find tremendous gladness as well, if we pay attention.  Some call the approaching months the “Season of Light” (Hanukkah and Christmas are built around that theme).  A kind word or thoughtful gesture may be the greatest gift we can offer.

Let’s share some light and lightheartedness this year.  If we keep it light, maybe we won’t expect so much from one day or one season.  We might choose to give a little more of those non-material things that cost nothing, but can mean the world to another and make us smile and feel lighter, whatever it says on the calendar. 

Happy EDIAH (Every Day is a Holiday)!

Chris

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Highland-drop at the center

“The Meaning of Monthly Meetings”

After a recent house meeting one resident told me these gatherings are the primary time of the month when they feel they are truly part of a community.  While I have been manager, facilitating these circles each month has been a privilege.  Though they can be challenging at times when “issues” arise, for the most part I think that our meetings are productive and encouraging.  From what I hear, a majority of others feel the same.

Suppertime around the common table is a primary commitment in Tam House and can offer great conversation, deep or light discussion, laughter and stories of the day.  House meetings take the goodwill of the evening gatherings, the daily interaction of residents with each other and with staff, and add all the other “business” of the household, bringing it all out in the open for honest, respectful discussion and decision-making.

House meetings are an important priority for all persons who choose the communal, shared housing way of life at Tam House.  It is expected that each and every resident will make monthly meetings not only a priority to attend but a commitment to participate.  Consider this:  there are 720 hours in a month.  The house asks for 1 (one) hour.

Of course, life happens:  exceptional special events, important family matters, illness and emergencies come up.  All we ask is that a resident give good notice to be excused from the priority commitment to their fellow housemates.  Missing a meeting because “I forgot” or because of a “scheduling conflict” isn’t respectful to the rest of the house.  If you choose not to attend, your presence will be missed and your valued voice will not be heard.  If you choose not to participate, your unique contribution (voiced in your initial interview) will be lost.

Reality check:  In the past, some have avoided “facing the issues” that the whole household needs to face together.  Some people (no longer with us) saw house meetings as opportunities to be contentious and self-centered.  Other times, a resident will casually venture in during the meeting or simply “skip out” because “something came up.”  Remember, we’re only asking for an hour of time, which is valuable for everyone!

As I see it, here are the primary reasons house meetings are so important:

1)  To be fully present for each other without distraction

2)  To listen to each other and for each voice to be heard

3)  To practice the respectful communication foundational to Tam House

4)  To “air” problems, conflicts and concerns so they can be addressed and resolved in a healthy manner by reasonable, independent adults.

5)  To stay fully informed about issues and announcements affecting the entire household, the association, the property and staff.

6)  As the resident said, this is the main moment of the month to sense and experience the “community” each person chooses to join when they come to Tam House.

7)  You may have your own house meeting comment to add!

Thank you for being an active, committed participant in your monthly House Meeting!

Chris

September 2013

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“Tam Travelers”

This summer a number of residents have been traveling to amazing places far and wide.  Alex enjoyed time in Paris, Annette in Benicia, Carolyn in Oregon, Elliott in the High Sierra, Joy in Seattle, Marda in Vancouver, June in Los Angeles, Michael in New York, Bob in San Diego, Gill in Nevada at Lake Tahoe.  Martin took his family to the Grand Canyon and Chris toured Boston and Canada with family.  And I know some board members had adventures too.  The world comes to Tam. . .and Tam goes to the world!

A few years ago I put pins on a map showing where all of our residents were born or raised.  The result was a bit stunning.  Folks have come to us from all over America and from cities and towns in Canada, Ireland and Italy.  Martin is from Mexico.  Now we have a resident who originally lived in South Africa!

In our recent receptions for new residents Gill and Jim we discovered, once again, that there is a richness of life experience in our houses.  Sometimes I think, If only we knew. . . .  If only we knew more stories of more lives of women and men who travel to Tam House.  What would we learn?  Would we be more understanding?  Would we be a little more compassionate and tolerant?  No doubt all our lives would be richer.

Because of our diversity of life stories, we are often surprised by some new bit of information.  We discover one of our housemates sings in a choir; one serves as a chaplain for their congregation; one plays guitar very nicely; one works with children and another with international students; several have spent significant time in meditation retreats; another was a priest and another went to seminary; one worked with migrant workers and another wrote for a famous magazine.  And there is so much more to hear about!  This summer, a new park was opened a few blocks away by filmmaker George Lucas.  Shortly after that event, on the 40th anniversary of “American Graffiti,” we found out that Neill’s daughter was IN the film. . .in one of the most memorable moments in the film!

This makes me think of Bob, one of our most energetic residents, who has been tending tomatoes for the house and picking pears from our tree (for Alex and Zandra to make tasty pear desserts).  Bob came in one day with two nectarines!  No one even knew we HAD a nectarine tree in the yard and our longest-in-residence Carolyn said she had never seen a nectarine on that tree!  You discover Something New Every Day!

So, I guess it’s time for me to once again put out my Blog Begging Bowl and ask residents, board and staff to share STORIES, PHOTOS, REFLECTIONS and MORE so the rest of us can gain more knowledge and insight into YOU as a Tam Traveler.

Please consider sharing more of your lifestory, your interests, your Tam experience, with the rest of us.

We’re waiting. . . and. . .

The World is waiting too!

Chris

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“Tam Circles”

As of this week, I have been Manager of both houses for three years.  Thank you!  I mean, thank you to the RVEHA board that hired me and stands beside me month by month, and thank you to the many residents who have welcomed and supported my sometimes fumbling attempts to “manage” this wonderful experiment we call Tam!  In a sense, coming to work here was a full circle, since I first came in to the house 30 years ago.

Over these years I have had countless discussions with individuals and groups in both Tam One and Tam Two, and enjoyed some great conversations with gatherings of residents at dinner and in house meetings.  I have listened and learned quite a bit.   I have observed the ways small circles form around ideas, topics and interests.  When these small circles become exclusive cliques they are unhelpful, even destructive to the household.  But when they are positive, creative and inviting. . .they enhance the Life of the Whole Tam Circle.

People come to Tam to be a part of something, to participate, to contribute, to feel connected to others.  While private time is essential and necessary, women and men choose to make Tam their Home because we are “communal,” “family-style,” and “cooperative and collaborative.”  Those who isolate or show little interest in their housemates simply don’t last long in a household where it is a joy to share life with others, where belonging is celebrated.

As Emerson reminded us, circles are natural.  Shared housing seems to generate spirals and circular things.  Here and there I see a few who like movies and some who like music (such as opera).  I see a few who identify with spiritual or political groups (when not divisive, these can be spirited and informative).  Others show interest in reading, others in news and current events.  A few like to create things with their hands (from quilts to carpentry!).  Some like to garden and grow things. Some enjoy children or grandchildren in work and play.  We have a nice bunch of curious people. . .and I mean that in a very good way!  Learning is truly lifelong and learning from each other and the big wide world out there keeps our brains exercised and keeps us all on our toes (one former resident loved to dance and another loved to play bocce).

So, I’ve been wondering (I wonder a lot).  I wonder if the houses are ready to try some new ways of nurturing the Life of the Household.  I wonder if any of the suggestions on the little chart below would be of interest?  Maybe you, or a board member, would like to form or facilitate a circle?  Would you take a look, think about it and let me know?  Let’s discuss this a bit at our upcoming house meetings, ok?  Once again, these are only suggestions. . .and participation in the circles would of course be completely voluntary.

Thank you for being a participant, a valuable contributor, to the deepening Circle of Tam!

Chris

Tam-Circles

*

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“Perspective”

This past Sunday I walked beside about 50 people in a memorial procession through San Rafael (maybe you saw this in the Marin IJ).  We walked from Albert Park (by the baseball diamond and bocce courts) to St. Raphael’s Mission to remember all the people who have died homeless in Marin.  After laying flowers at the church, we read off over one hundred names, many I knew, faces I remember.

For a little history, I was the Street Chaplain from 1995 to 2005 and led dozens of memorial services for people who died living outside.  We knew people, younger and older, who were hit by cars, drowned, murdered, committed suicide or died of cancer, diabetes or advanced age.  For some, their bodies simply gave out; they were worn down by a tough and dangerous life.  Our team and board of directors were committed to never forgetting these people who were often ignored or judged or easily forgotten by our communities.

In 1997, I spoke with a Zen Buddhist Priest friend and arranged to have a small Japanese maple tree brought from Green Gulch.  I spoke with the Catholic Priest I knew at St. Raphael’s and he invited us to plant the tree right in front of the church.  One of our young guys on the street rolled the tree in a wheelbarrow through town as a hundred or so silently walked the sidewalks until we reached the corner of Fifth and A.  There, we dug and planted and watered; we set a stone in the ground to commemorate the event; we sang songs and heard poems, prayers, chants and songs from the street and from Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Pagans and others.  Different ages and races, rich and poor.  Each and every person gathering into a large circle to “celebrate the lives” of friends and strangers who passed away as no one should ever pass away.  Gone, but not forgotten.

Sixteen years have passed since we planted that little tree and set the stone beneath it. A younger Chaplain now leads the procession.  People ring bells, strum guitars, bang drums and slowly walk a few blocks carrying colorful flowers.  Priests and Rabbis and Ministers and family members and people who live in the alleys and bushes.  People who have beautiful homes and those with nothing but a backpack and sleeping bag.  Sixteen years. . .and there are more names on the list to read outloud, and remember.

As of August, I have been the Manager of the two Tam houses for three years.  Our board is “ecumenical” with representatives of at least three congregations and Rotary.  We’ve welcomed residents from many backgrounds, faiths and no faiths.  We’ve opened doors to people who were once homeless (as I was, that’s another story!) and to people who once had nice houses.  Tam House is a melting pot (of Martin’s stew!) just as the Street Chaplaincy was and continues to be for human beings, our neighbors, who are, as we say, “housing challenged.”  Haven’t we ALL been, at one time or another!

For me, it’s all a matter of perspective.  Our view of “housing” or something called “home” is shaped by our experience.  What is your experience?  Does that shape who you are somehow?  I would guess it does.  And my search for home over the years has brought me to meet a large circle of others who are searching too.  We say “Tam is Home. . .Tam is Community, like Family.”  And we hope that is true, even in some imperfect way.  We know the households are always changing and people come and go.  Yet, our perspectives are sharpened by each unique person, by what each brings into the house, by the story they tell. . .and we are all better for it.

Today, I appreciate having a roof over my head a little more.  The memorial walk is always a good reminder of what to be grateful for.  I suspect you have much to be grateful for as well.  When we share the gratefulness, I know we will all find new perspectives, clearer viewpoints and learn to appreciate each day, and each other, a bit more.  Don’t you think so?

Chris

*

For Reflection

For Reflection

“Tam Suites?”

What makes Tam House different than any other model of housing?  Here are some things I’ve been thinking of since our recent house meetings.

Those who choose to live here know that Tam is very different from:

An Apartment House:  A person lives in a private apartment, doesn’t have to interact with anyone else and isn’t asked to do anything but pay their rent to a landlord who only cares about collecting money.  Maintenance people and janitors handle all cleaning and repairs.

A Boarding House:  Short-term sharing of a house with little commitment to others while sometimes eating meals together.

A Hotel:  Temporary accommodations.  Expect service from maids and bellhops and a 24/7 front desk.  No relationship with anyone in the hotel is expected.

A Motel:  A bed for a night or two.  In and out.

A Room to Share in a Private Home:  Share a house with another person or two.  This can be a good choice, provided there is mutual understanding and people get along in shared space.

Assisted Living or Supportive Housing:  Nurses, social workers, doctors, physical and mental therapy, caregivers, chaplains, etc, etc.  Not a place for Independent Adults.

{Of course, everyone’s ideal is living alone in our own home.  That’s another story, but it may be good to keep in mind all the responsibilities for upkeep, the high expenses and the isolation of living by oneself}

It should be obvious to all our residents what makes Tam House a very different living experience from these.  Anyone coming to Tam is interviewed, signs a lease and is handed “Living Together in Tam House” all of which make clear the uniqueness and expectations of shared, communal, co-housing.

Do we collect rents?  Of course.  As a non-profit, RVEHA depends on rents to pay our bills and keep costs down to maintain a responsible budget.  This is why we need to keep our rooms full as much as possible.  Yet, unlike a for-profit hotel or motel, we are not only concerned about filling space.  We are mainly concerned with finding appropriate residents who fully understand what makes us different than all the other choices in housing.  We are continually looking for people who value the Tam Choice.

Are we landlords?  We are a “housing association” with a manager and active board.  We are responsible for managing, but managing what?  Yes, we have two houses and properties to manage.  And. . .we are Managing the Households in Cooperation with Residents.  This is a major uniqueness of Tam House and a proven model that works. . .when everyone respectfully and responsibly cooperates.  The evidence of this cooperative management is the monthly house meetings, the manager’s weekly dinners with both houses, our personable cooks who aim to please, the manager’s office hours and responsiveness to house needs (by phone, email and in person) and management’s role as “peacekeeper” and mediator when necessary.  And let’s not forget the constant volunteer service by our board of directors (sharing dinners, organizing parties and work days, giving their time all year as “emergency backup”, etc).  These are qualities of the Tam House model not found in other housing options.  At Tam House, many committed people in the community happily Care and Give, Give and Care, month after month, year after year.  

As we’ve seen in an earlier post, “managing the household” is not only the responsibility of the Manager or Board.  People come to Tam House because they are joining a household where each person contributes and participates for the benefit of all.  Where else can people do that?  Not in an apartment or hotel or motel.  What a great opportunity!

Over the course of the last three years we have unfortunately had members who have been unable or unwilling to “contribute and participate for the benefit of all.”  These people are no longer residents.  This is Very Important:  IF we cannot manage to create a harmonious environment in the house, we will not attract new residents or retain residents.  Tam House only “works” when we have a good team of residents who are not merely “tenants” but participants.

So, what kind of contribution and participation is expected in Tam?  Here are a few (you may have others to add):

*To be thoughtful of others, showing kindness and consideration.

*To lend a hand to small things that make the house a home (not simply chores, but participating in cleaning, work days and other efforts to take care of “Our Home”).

*To use common sense and practice an attitude of cooperation.

We know that Tam House is NOT an apartment house, a boarding house, a hotel or motel.  There is no “front desk,” there are no maids or butlers or any servants.  Tam House is not a private home for one or two.

We offer what No One Else Offers! 

We are a Place. . .but we are also a People.

Thank you for being a part of what makes Tam House a Home!

Chris

*

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“Ecumenical”

The Ross Valley Ecumenical Housing Association (RVEHA) has owned and operated Tam House for over 30 years.  I actually came by in 1983, the year I graduated from the seminary down the street.  Now and then a potential resident asks me, “Is this a Religious organization?”  I usually smile and say, “We enjoy support from some congregations as well as Rotary clubs, but we welcome people of many faiths and no faith into our houses.”  I often add, “The word ‘ecumenical’ is an ancient word for managing the house: that is, the World House!”  A bit large for RVEHA to manage!

The other night at dinner (I share a meal with Tam One on Tuesdays and Tam Two on Wednesdays) the six of us at the table were discussing the news of the day.  Someone mentioned women in Jerusalem being attacked for praying at the Western Wall.  One said they’d been to Israel and that fanaticism can be found in all religions.  Lots of agreement there.  Then another expressed sadness that “kids can’t even say ‘God’ in school anymore.”  Someone asked, “Which God are we talking about?”  Another asked if we thought young people “get enough religion taught at home anymore.”  Someone responded, “It depends on what religion you mean.”  Several of us offered opinions.  Someone was wondering how the “fish on Fridays” tradition started and our curiosity took us in several directions with no clear answer.  It was a calm, informative conversation.  No arguments.  No “winners and losers.”  Many smiles and a few laughs.  Simply an interesting topic for a few minutes while eating Martin’s tasty burritos.

Not long ago I heard a resident say, “We aren’t allowed to talk about Religion, Politics or Sex at dinner.”  Folks were a bit stunned–and so was I.  All eyes turned to me and I just shook my head and replied, “That isn’t a rule.  If people can share a peaceful meal with respectful discussion, that’s what matters.”  I reminded them that during the election season there were no big problems with differences in opinion.  Then someone made a joke about the subject of sex and we all laughed.

When one resident decides they want to stand on a soapbox about some issue, a few get upset and others go back to eating their dinner, cleaning up or having friendly chats.  Having to be “right” or getting “preachy” has never worked in our houses.  People sure have some strong opinions, and that’s fine, when those opinions are expressed with respect for other viewpoints, among housemates in small spaces.  As wise folks remind us, we have one mouth but two ears. . .we’re meant to listen more than talk!  We all have a lot to learn from each and every member of the household who has something interesting to offer.

This is the strength and the beauty of Tam House.  Diverse people with many backgrounds, experiences and interests!  I sometimes smile considering we have (as residents and board members) Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Jews, Masons, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Spiritual followers, Freethinkers and former This and That-ers, as well as a number who are Not Religious and “Not Sure I Really Care” folks.  And we have quite a spectrum of political views!  There’s something quite wonderful about all of these “people of age” living under one roof, sharing meals and chores and daily life together.  Living with. . .and beyond. . .the differences.  A good model, wouldn’t you say?

The Association began with this kind of creative cooperation, putting aside divergent opinions to direct attention and energy and resources to a common task:  opening houses where people could live in peace together.  Simple.  The true “ecumenical” spirit.  This is who we are.  Not so bad, is it?

Chris

*

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“Back to Basics”

Some residents get a little stirred up about “rules” sometimes.  “So many RULES!  Why are there so many Rules?”  Ahhh.  Then I take a deep breath and put the record back on the old phonograph.  As it spins I hear myself say, once again, “Well, there really aren’t that many rules, they’re pretty basic–and we actually call them Living Together in Tam House.  They’re guides for keeping harmony and safety and health in the house.  It all comes down to Respect.  If everyone always respected each other and the house, we wouldn’t need ANY rules.”  When someone still doesn’t get it (actually, most people DO get it), I find another old record that plays this tune:  “Have you heard of the Co-Words?   Let me tell you about the Co-Words.”  Then we have a light and fun moment listing our favorite words around here:

Cooperation; communication; courtesy; collaboration; common sense; consideration; community, etc, etc.

We are reminded that Tam House is CO-Housing!

And then the questioner, with a big smile on their face, says, “Oh, Yes!  Now I get it!  Now I understand what it’s all about.  Thank you so very much for reminding me!”  Well, I admit, they aren’t usually quite so enthusiastic.  But, there is a flash of understanding.  So. . .we go on to see what Living the Co-Words really means, day in and day out.  Not so easy is it?

We can all name examples of the co-words in action:  someone says a word or uses a tone of voice that troubles another person and there is a respectful conversation and an apology; several people help clean the dining area and dishes together; someone sweeps up a spill or some leaves another might slip on; a person cleans up after themselves after breakfast; one notices the living room needs a quick vacuum or dusting.  Some of these are “little things.”  But in close living, little things are part of daily life and they are important because everyone benefits.

We’re always coming back to basics, aren’t we?  We have to ask ourselves:  Why am I living here?  Why are WE living here?  Is this about ME or about US?  Is this all about Independence or also creative Interdependence?  How can we do things a little better to benefit everyone else?  What is MY contribution to the life and the energy and the goodness and the harmony of this house?  The questions are endless. . .and I suppose they must be–when we’re human. . .and trying, imperfectly, to make something that looks very much like “community.”  In our best moments maybe we realize that Tam House is like a Mini Version of the Planet.  How do we all live in this Big House Together?!

People come and go at Tam House.  We’re really happy when a person can commit to a long-term stay with us, settling into a sense of coming home.  But “life happens” and sometimes folks have to move along.  That can be hard; or a relief.  Yet, each person brings something new and unique to the house.  Each individual enriches the “always evolving community” that we call Tam.  And each one offers new challenges and reveals things we haven’t noticed, things we need to address as a house.  Those we welcome into Tam and who thrive in the house, are mindful, thoughtful folk, who rarely have to think about “rules” or “doing the right thing.”  That simply comes natural to them.

And so, the tunes play on.  We value the Shared Living, where reasonable “Rules” are reasonably welcomed as Guidelines of Responsibility, reminders of What Works and What Really Doesn’t Work in this wonderfully spinning music that is Tam World!

As always, I welcome your comments.

Chris

*

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“Space and Stuff”

Tam House is a very interesting place, isn’t it?  Both houses built on the same foundation, the same vision:  independent, cooperative people of “advanced years” living peaceably in a house together.  Simple idea. . .and things can get a little complicated, can’t they?  No one claims this home choice is easy!

We never want to see anyone take a fall in our houses, but we do see some folks tripping over the same things, time and time again.  Maybe one way to understand this odd phenomenon is to step back (be careful, don’t stumble!) and get a clearer viewpoint.  We consistently see “issues” with people sharing space and stuff.  Or trying to.

Most of us like to be independent, even fiercely independent.  Ok, that can be just fine.  So, we open our doors to some strongly independent people and ask each one to live under the same roof with other strongly independent people.  See any slippery obstacles?  We ask that people not just co-habitate but grow a household together (think of the gardens).  This means, at times, letting go of what “I want” for the betterment of the whole house–another way of saying, Independence is great. . .and here in Tam House, Inter-dependence is even greater!  We make lots of space for that.

You and I see it all the time on the national and international stage.  This constant struggle between “My Way” and “Your Way.”  We seem to have a real hard time finding “Our Way.”  It seems very difficult to find a way to stop fighting over “I’m Right and You’re Wrong.”  Stuff like that.  People living together face this conflict all the time.  One house is a miniature version of the Big Household of the Earth.  That’s a lot of stuff to think about!

Which brings us to Stuff.  In my experience physical stuff is almost always related to mental stuff.  What some call “mental rental space.”  I like that.  What do we rent our brain space to?  What do we stuff in there. . .in the storage closet of our minds?  We all know:  Stuff Happens!  But when stuff becomes a heavy, cluttering burden that weighs a person down, it can quickly become a burden for others, and get in their space.  Space and Stuff are always related, aren’t they?  I guess they have to be related.

So, here’s what I propose (take it, or stuff it. . .in the compost!). The next time someone gets in “Your Space,” or someone gets their stuff in “Your Face,” try not to trip over it.  Try another way, around it, or through it.  Don’t lose your balance.  Remind yourself:  “Self, this is OUR house, we have to manage it together.”  Maybe take a deep breath and let go of what you want and ask what it is your housemate wants, or needs.  The alternative?  Everyone’s tripping!  We can’t have that.  It doesn’t work (some stumbled right out the door and we’ve never seen them again!).

Here’s what I know.  Some who come to live in Tam House have a lifetime of stuff stuffed in the attic and basement of their mind (I suppose we all do).  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of space to hang up some other ideas when our walls are already so thick and covered (see where this is going?).  We may need a mirror on the wall, or another window.  Yet, whatever’s in our stuffing spaces, it’s what we do with that stuff–and that space–that makes all the difference.  I’m no psychiatrist, no “shrink,” but maybe we need to ask ourselves if it’s time to shrink the stuff to fit the space.  Just a suggestion.

You may have some comments or other suggestions of your own.  As I’ve been saying recently, my ears are unlocked.  Haul in your thoughts, your ideas, your stuff.  Let’s see what we have space for.

And maybe we should all keep in mind that Tam House has very limited space, as we all do, for dusty and cluttered attics, closets or basements, spilling out for everyone to see.  If you catch my meaning.

Shrinking together as we grow.

Chris

{you’ll find more stuff in this space before long. . .you may even have some non-stuffy suggestions for the next “Managing the Household”}

2 thoughts on “Managing the Household”

  1. Im reminded of communal living every day I stop by. In the late 60s and early 70s I lived in – wait for it – a communal house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We thought we were quite the thing sharing space, meals, blah blah blah. We had all the same issues and joys that we have at the TAM Houses today. Strong personalities, respect for person, space and feelings, some people did more house care than others, some people tried to push others into poor choice actions. But there were good times, laughing around the dinner table, hysterical tricks on one another, whipped cream fights in the yard, jello in the wading pool. A sense we weren’t in the world on our own. As we left young adulthood and moved on to jobs, divorces, marriages and new challenges, we lost touch with each other. Yet those days are always so strong in my memories. Why? Because we shared something important, and needed and liked one another, and had a shelter from the times for just a little while. Kind of corny, but true. Take care, see you around.

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