When we decided to move to Pittsburgh for a year,

to help take care of granddaughter Lydia,

we thought it would be important to have a place of our own.

The more intimate the work, the greater the need for two-family-privacy, was the idea.

So we moved into one apartment and later into another.

But as the house renovation project 

unfolded and Kate, Nik, and Lydia moved into their new space,

we offered to move in with them to the third floor.

They said yes enthusiastically.

Stairwell between second and third floors. "The Club House" entrance.

Stairwell between second and third floors. The door below has a lion knocker and is sometimes called “Narnia.” Also “The Club House.”

Everything in our third-floor space is simple.

Our "closet" consists of two racks and dressers from Ikea.

Our “closet” consists of two racks and dressers from Ikea.

We aren’t complete minimalists, like our writer friend Laurie Buchanan, 

and we could never claim to be Tiny House Foodies, like Carmen Shenk.

New book that explains how to create great meals in a 120 square-foot space!

New Tiny House Foodie book that explains how to create great meals in a 120 square-foot space! (Gotta love that radish dog on the cover!)

But we have a new appreciation of their deliberate choices to pare down to the basics.

We often look around us in our 1000 square feet of space and say,

“All we need is here.”

The Amish have a simple solution for how to house grandparents:

just add another addition to the farm house

or build a small house nearby called

the “Dawdi Haus” or grandparent house.

If you go to Apple Creek, OH, you can stay in an AirBnB version.

So “dawdi haus” is one more name we sometimes give our space.

But self-sufficiency is one thing. Privacy is another.

How is the close proximity to our family members working out?

From our perspective, great!

We don’t eavesdrop or feel claustrophobic.

We’ve taken a dozen trips and kept our regular work schedules.

Stuart and I each have work stations on the third floor.

Stuart and I each have work stations on the third floor.

Technology helps.

We can “babysit” at night while Lydia sleeps downstairs,

the monitor on her crib allowing us to be sure she is safe.

We use texts extensively to communicate during the day, whether from the first floor to the third floor or

from one building to another.

Every day is different as we offer our services on a “most needed” basis:

errands, cooking, childcare, laundry, or cleaning.

We also get to host others.

Last week my college friends stayed in two of Kate and Nik’s AirBnB units,

and we had a blast exploring Pittsburgh and playing with Lydia.

Tina, Mary, and Gloria traveled to Pittsburgh and made Lydia and me very happy.

Tina, Mary, and Gloria traveled to Pittsburgh and made Lydia and me very happy. Can you tell we are singing, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”?

When we leave in a month, we are going to miss this view.

Penn Avenue and Fairmount, looking toward East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Penn Avenue and Fairmount, looking toward East Liberty Presbyterian Church.


We hope Kate, Nik, and Lydia have benefited as much as we have with this arrangement.

They are quick to express gratitude in many ways great and small.


The sign in our window the last time we returned from a trip.

The sign in our window the last time we returned from a trip.

My friend Rachel Miller is doing another version of shared residency.

She has children scattered in two places: New York City and Austin, TX.

She’s retired in Brooklyn, which is a city she loves,

but she knows she won’t always be able to run up and down three flights of stairs there.

She and her daughter have found a creative solution to both now and later needs. Here’s how she describes the decision her daughter’s family made:

They decided that their one car garage, which was just a “catchall” could be turned into a Mommie Haus for about half the price of many of the tiny houses. I was surprised with the level of relief I felt to take care of this now, and not wait until there is an emergency in the future. So, we feel we have the best of two worlds. I have a place in Brooklyn that I will keep for as long as I can but when I do go to TX, I have my own space.

I have a feeling that many of my friends of a certain age, and many young families, are having similar conversations.

What creative housing arrangements are you aware of?

What do you think makes the best space for older-age living? I’d love to have your comments below.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on April 29, 2018 at 1:45 am

    Your children are very fortunate to have you with them and help them out! Of course, knowing that this isn’t permanent, makes it a bit easier, but one year is a big commitment. It also tells me that you and Stuart work well together when you are able to live in a small space harmoniously. Your children will miss you when you go back home!

    • Shirley Showalter on April 29, 2018 at 3:13 pm

      Ha, Elfrieda, you are right about tight spaces requiring cooperation. Fortunately, we’ve had practice in rubbing off the edges of our relationship for many years. 🙂 We will all miss each other when this stage of life comes to an end. Thanks for starting the conversation here.

  2. Shirley B Yoder on April 29, 2018 at 7:02 am

    You and Stuart raised a good daughter.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 29, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Aw, Shirley, thanks. We’ll make sure Kate sees your comment. She is indeed a very good daughter.

  3. Laurie Buchanan on April 29, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Shirley — You KNOW how much I relished reading this post. I ate it up with a spoon! My favorite part? Narnia! You can’t beat that with a stick!

    • Shirley Showalter on April 29, 2018 at 3:16 pm

      Narnia was Kate’s idea. I should have included a picture of the lion knocker. You would love it. This experience gives me even greater appreciation for your approach to life, Laurie.

  4. Marian Beaman on April 29, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    You and Stuart have made wise choices all your lives. And you always treasure serving as granny/grampy/nannies for your two children.

    When we were searching for a house two years ago, we didn’t look at first in our daughter’s neighborhood, perhaps because we didn’t want to encroach. As we age though, it seems more and more like a great idea, living just 9 blocks from their home. One grandson mows and edges our lawn. The other is a computer whiz. Crista has mentioned with a chuckle that if I end up alone ( ! ) she’ll put me up with the cats. They really love Daisy and Duke in their 5th bedroom, an upstairs suite, so what she’s suggesting would require high-end sacrifice. 🙂

    You will miss the family, especially Lady Lydia, but the purple mountains of Virginia beckon. Jubilacion, your version of Erickson’s generative stage, resonates all through this post, a heartfelt read. Thank you!

    I wonder what is on the horizon for you two. Hmmmm

    • Shirley Showalter on April 29, 2018 at 6:08 pm

      The purple mountains of Virginia are very seductive, Marian, especially when they are the location of one’s first love. We look forward to our favorite treat of “mocha on the deck” both alone, with friends, and family.

      So you too have downsized and moved closer to family. So great that you have help in the form of strong young grandsons! I am struck by the number of people now in the 65-80 year stage of life who are seriously looking at ways to be creative and connected. Without imposing, hoping for win-win solutions. Sounds like you have found one good way to do that.

  5. Kristy on April 30, 2018 at 11:47 am


    • Shirley Showalter on April 30, 2018 at 11:50 am

      Thank you, Kristy!

  6. Janet Givens on May 1, 2018 at 10:04 am

    You are absolutely right, Shirley. This is a topic that hits home— bulls eye in fact. For me, though, I’m the daughter. My mom moved up with us in her RV about ten years ago: RV in the summer (we added a pad with electricity for it) and upstairs in the winter. After a few years of this we pooled our money and built a tiny house (literally) — 380 sq feet, plus loft. She’s still very independent, very active, and in good health. Still stacks our wood each year.

    In the other direction, though we live on 30 acres that requires much stewardship and we’re not getting any more agile, Woody and I are determined to live out our years right here. One son has made noises about moving up, once his kids are out of school, but, as I’ve learned with young people, they often think out loud. I make no plans based on that. Instead, I learn what I can about Vermont’s in-home support infrastructure and continue to live one day at a time.

  7. Shirley Showalter on May 1, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    Thank you, Janet, for sharing this fascinating tale. I have accepted the invitation to go on the board of a continuing care retirement facility near our home in Virginia. I am very interested in the different arrangements people are making, both with their parents and for their own future care.

    Your mom sounds like a great person.Glad you can offer her the same kind of independence and interdependence Stuart and I have had here in Pittsburgh.

  8. Shirley Showalter on May 1, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    Mary Oliver’s poem Storage is most relevant and can be found here. http://asimplelifeafloat.blogspot.com/2016/07/storage-mary-oliver.html

    • Janet Givens on May 1, 2018 at 11:10 pm

      Mary Oliver captures what Woody and I did when we went into the Peace Corps. So much STUFF to weed through, yet it was unexpectedly freeing. There are a few books I now pine for, but not enough to go to the library and get!

      Congratulations on appointment to that board. They are lucky to get you. Two thoughts: When I lived and worked in Ohio in the ’80s, a friend organized a directory of all residential “retirement” homes in Summit County, which had never been done before. I’ve yet to find another county or state that does that. The push now seems to be keeping the person in their own home as long as possible. Though I think an active social life is so important for older folks.

      I hope you’ll share with your readers what you discover as you look more into this.

  9. Greta Holt on May 3, 2018 at 9:27 am

    You and yours have supplanted the tiny house movement and re-planted the idea of family in to our modern, scattered lives. Bless those third floors, garages, and tech.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 3, 2018 at 9:38 am

      Yes, bless them all. And bless the tiny house movement too. Anything that reduces consumerism and builds relationships. Thank you, Greta.

  10. Barbara McDowell Whitt on May 9, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Barbara McD Whitt

    May 1
    http://day1.org/3720-the_rev_dr_randall_k_bush … | The Rev. Dr. Randall K. Bush is senior pastor of East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, also known as the Cathedral of Hope, where he has served since 2006.

    Shirley, your and Stuart’s third floor space in Kate and Nic’s Pittsburgh home has been perfect for the two of you. And little Lydia Ann continues to delight all who know her and know about her.

    I was looking at your window view when I noticed your mention of East Liberty Presbyterian Church. Beginning May 1, I put several tweets and RTs (including two interior photos of the church) on my Twitter account after I discovered that the minister who prompted me to write a letter to the Christian Century, has now been the minister there. He was in Shawnee Mission, KS at the time I wrote the letter, AND William Sloane Coffin came to another church in Kansas the weekend after the letter appeared. As a lay person, I had the privilege of speaking with Rev. Bush at a Presbytery meeting on Satuday morning, and with Dr. Coffin following his sermon on Sunday evening.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 9, 2018 at 11:01 pm

      Well, Barbara, here we go again. Crisscossing connections all across the country. We heard Dr. Bush preach at the Christmas service at East Liberty Presbyterian. And William Sloane Coffin spoke at Goshen College right before I became president, so I also met him. Smail world.

      Thanks for your comments about this year. I know you know the feeling of joy when helping children and grandchildren.

Leave a Comment