Until last week, five carved pumpkins sat next to the backdoor of Vita House on the window air conditioner, greeting passing visitors. Each of the five women living in Vita carved one of the five pumpkins. Four of the pumpkins flashed smiles. The fifth was mouthless, but impeccably mustachioed.
Vita, an on-campus small group housing unit, is home to juniors Eliza Graber, Emily Hedrick, Ariel Ropp, Kate Widmer and Rosa Wyse. They take the meaning of the word “home” very seriously.
Their home is on the eastern edge of campus with a front door on 12th Street. Inside the back door, which looks out on the parking lot of the music center, a sitting room sports a couch, two chairs and a beanbag the women affectionately call “the foof.” The surrounding walls have maps from each of the women’s home states: Illinois, Iowa, two of Ohio, Pennsylvania and one of Indiana, to represent Goshen. This is their homework room.
“That’s the room you can tell someone to be quiet in,” said Widmer, a Bible and religion major.
Following a narrow, brown, wood-paneled hallway out of the quiet room and past two bedrooms leads to a comfortable multi-functional room that serves as living room, dining room and kitchen. Lush green plants adorn the inoperable fireplace, while posters of classic art and old-fashioned movies decorate the sizeable white walls.
“We really tried to make it feel like home,” said Ropp, who is majoring in communication and psychology.
For the group, making the house feel like a home goes beyond just interior decorating. They call each other family. Almost every Sunday night, Widmer makes popcorn for what they call their “family meeting.” The family meeting is one-half logistical and one-half emotional support, the women said. Widmer said their meetings last about an hour, but the meetings usually transfer into just enjoying each other’s company.
“It’s more intentional than when I’m at home with my family,” Ropp said. “It’s refreshing.”
Hedrick, a Bible and religion major, agreed.
“We really do have a family feel between the five of us,” she said. “We have a house of very different personalities, but it works out.”
Even though the house has gotten along well so far, it also took some pre-planning.
The Sunday before fall semester began, the women gathered at their kitchen table for their first “family” meeting. Widmer brought a three-page agenda to the meeting. Hedrick took four pages of meeting minutes during a meeting that stretched to nearly four hours. A copy of the minutes hangs next to their calendar for quick reference.
“Three and a half hours sounds like a lot,” Hedrick said. “But it’s really efficient instead of having to deal with problems.”
Ropp added, with a laugh: “We set a five-hour block aside [for the first meeting], so we got done in plenty of time.”
In housing arrangements, there are bound to be arguments, with house money as one of the touchy subjects. The Vita women found a unique solution to the money question—they opened a bank account together. They keep a strict budget, managed by Widmer, who keeps every receipt they get in a green folder labeled “coupons.”
“It’s the easiest thing to do in the world,” Widmer said of their account and budget.
“Kate’s intense,” said Hedrick. “She has our entire budget and expenditures on an Excel spreadsheet.”
Each person put in $260 for the semester, roughly $89 a week. All five women have debit cards to the account but Hedrick and Widmer, the official grocery shoppers, use their cards the most. The two women make the weekly trip to the grocery store on Saturday, after gathering the recipe ingredients for the week from their housemates.
It makes sense to eat together, said Hedrick. “Cooking for one is just dumb,” she explained.
Wyse, who is an American Sign Language interpreting major, added, “You don’t have to worry about things in the fridge. Everything is up for grabs.”
So far, the budget has worked. The Vita family has even come in under budget most weeks.
The “family” eats dinner together every single weekday night. Each woman is responsible for cooking one weekday night each week.
“It’s the one hour of the day I really look forward to,” Ropp said.
On a recent night, they baked a frozen pizza in their small oven. It was the first time all semester they ate something precooked for a weeknight dinner. Even the frozen pizza did not escape a homey addition; Hedrick added extra shredded mozzarella cheese before she cooked it. She put oregano and crushed red pepper on the table as extra seasonings.
“Next time I’ll make it homemade, and it’ll be better,” Hedrick said.
After dinner, the women cleared the plates, and the hot water began to boil. It was time for after-dinner tea. The Vita women keep their tea drawer well stocked with everyone’s favorite teas (English Teatime, honey vanilla chamomile, passion fruit, Perfect Peach, Sleepytime and vanilla chai, to name a few). Each woman has a favorite mug.
“We’re kinda tea fiends,” Hedrick said as she passed out pastel pink and green teabag holders.
By Ben Sutter, firstname.lastname@example.org