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News from Prairie Hill

“A surprising cluster of novels and fairytales are set in the snow. Our knowledge of winter is a fragment of childhood, almost innate … The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive. Dormice laying on fat to hibernate, swallows navigating to South Africa, trees blazing out the final weeks of autumn. It is all very well to survive the abundant months of spring and summer, but in winter, we witness the full glory of nature’s flourishing in lean times.

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.

–Katherine May from Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Wintering is a Crucible

By Valerie Bowman

I grew up in Keokuk, Iowa, only an hour and a half’s drive from here. I loved winter. Snowmen made with my childhood playmates, sledding followed by hot cocoa, and mittens warming up on the black register from the furnace in the basement. Walking a block to the frozen pond in Rand Park to ice skate, play crack the whip, warm up around a bonfire and then limp home on my skates. Snow angels, snowball fights, snow forts. As I got older, the magic of winter started to fade a little and I started to see it as a season of slippery streets, slush and grayness. It lasted way too long, and I was so ready for spring by the first of March.

I was happy to leave the Midwest for sunny California in 1983 when my husband and I moved there for a newspaper job. We loved that the flowers bloomed all year long. We didn’t even take the trips to the mountains that our friends did to play in the snow. We did have one extraordinary weekend cross-country skiing adventure with friends in the Sequoia National Forest.

After thirty years spent in Southern and Northern California, we started considering a return to the Midwest to become pioneers in the first cohousing community in Iowa. Much of the hard work had already been done by the founders and the extra draw was that our granddaughter and her family live here. The only obstacle: Winter. We made a trip here to visit. The temperature on the night before we left to fly home plunged to 19 degrees below zero. Our car started so we could get to the airport, and the winter coats we had purchased kept us toasty warm. We decided we could do this and we’re so glad we did.

Now, we embrace winter and “we witness the full glory of nature’s flourishing in lean times,” as Katherine May says. We welcome the chance to follow the tracks of the animals we share this land with. The deer paths up the snowy slope, the signs of the rabbits burrowing into the drainpipes and the birds’ lacy patterns in the snow. The sight of the eagles who fly into the woods on the hill outside our kitchen window. The resident red-tailed hawk who sits sentry in a hackberry tree. The kids sledding down the hillside. The bare trees frosted with snow or hoarfrost. Wintering has become a time of transformation.  

Cohousing documentary on FilmScene website

Prairie Hill is sponsoring a free screening of The Best of Both Worlds, a short documentary that gives a glimpse into cohousing life. The film will be available online from Friday, Feb. 5 through Thursday, Feb. 18. Get a free ticket to the film on the FilmScene website. See why cohousing makes so much sense.

Upcoming events on Zoom

Iowa City Public Library hosts Prairie Hill spotlight
Wednesday, February 17
7:00 p.m.

Prairie Hill residents Annie Tucker and Samantha Keehn will be the guests on this Iowa City Public Library featured event. Annie can speak to the history of the Prairie Hill project—she serves on the Board of Managers and has been involved since the beginning. Sam and her wife Jen are relative newcomers, but as parents of young kids they've quickly become experts in the role the community plays in family life. Click here to register and get the link for this free event.

Weekend Brunch Meet and Greet
Saturday, February 20
10:00-11:30 a.m.

Grab a cup of coffee and join us for this casual event. Chat with Prairie Hill residents and meet others interested in living here. To get a link to this event, send a text to Val Bowman at 916-751-9188 or write to us at

Information Meeting
Wednesday, March 3
6:00-7:30 p.m.

Come learn more about cohousing. Talk to some of the people who live at Prairie Hill. Find out why they like it. To get the link, send a text to Val Bowman at 916-751-9188 or write to us at

Downsizing Is All About Letting Go

by Daniel O’Rourke

Once everything was lined up to move to Prairie Hill and I had secured my chosen unit, I was left with the daunting task of reducing my earth footprint from 2,000 square feet in San Diego, where I had lived for 38 years, to 800 square feet.

I always joked I had the depression-era mentality of a farmer, rationalizing that I kept stuff, just in case. While my Dad was aging, he saved old TV Guides, plastic ice cream containers, glass jars and all the newspapers, which became a home for the happy mice on the porch. I worried I was an up-to-date version of him. Theatre tickets, programs, old letters, surfing magazines, books, pamphlets, 40 years of cards from all occasions. My stuff was cool and important, historical. His was just junk.

We're not the Kennedys

Then a friend quipped one day: collectors are just hoarders with good storage. Am I a hoarder in denial? I tried to get honest. Feeling guilty, I’d make light of my pack-rat behavior. I joked with my sister, “We’re Irish but we’re not the Kennedys. People aren’t really interested in our stuff.” She agreed. So, I was there at the crossroads with the big questions – what goes and what stays?

Marie Kondo, who’s built a little Japanese empire telling people how to declutter and get organized, has been a guiding light in my darkness with too many possessions. Kondo sets the tone by asking what you absolutely love, and what gives you joy? Read her book The Life Saving Magic of Tidying Up or just watch her inspiring Netflix series Tidying Up.  She makes an amazing point: clutter and stuff burdens us emotionally, it affects our relationships. Letting go of things we don’t need and tidying up gives us and our family happiness and joy.

It gets easier!

If you believe you’re going to feel better later, the disbursement gets easier and easier. I gave some of my favorite things to friends. Selling on Craigslist worked well for me. When I found a buyer, I’d gift them a bag of odds and ends as a bonus, or another piece of furniture that was hard to sell. They loved me for it. Yay! More stuff out the door.

Furniture went back to the consignment stores. The Amvets would take anything! I put rickety furniture, strange objects and my ratty, old comic book collection out on the street, nicely displayed, with a sign that said, “Take Me Home, I’m FREE!!” Overnight, everything miraculously disappeared.

Some things were like old friends I’d had for years. I anguished about our separation. But I found solace in just taking a photo of a beloved object before letting it go. Turning long cherished objects into a digital keepsake, absolved of curatorial responsibility, I could look at them, love them, and feel grateful we were once together. My prized Eastlake Civil War desk moved on to its next owner.

It does spark joy

As any savvy traveler will attest, traveling light makes the trip much easier. So, I viewed moving to Iowa City as just another trip. Like all my other trips to Iowa over the years, this time I was just going to stay a little longer. We’re all tourists in this life anyway. We’re all just passing through.

Surprisingly, now that I’m here with my well-chosen artifacts, I do feel so much better. The dread of downsizing is gone. I did it! I do dearly love what survived the move. As I unpack my boxes, I continue to find more stuff I can give away. Marie Kondo is right. The benefits of decluttering, getting organized and letting go does result in a sense of joy. Go for the joy. Enjoy downsizing and just let it go. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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Iowa City Cohousing · 140 Prairie Hill Ln · Iowa City, IA 52246-2029 · USA

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