Name: Joyce Geisler.
Hometown: Bellingham, since 2005.
Good situation: Geisler has found a living arrangement that balances privacy with companionship.
She lives in a one-bedroom, one-bath mother-in-law apartment in the lower level of her son and daughter-in-law's house in Bellingham.
Unsettled: Before she moved to Whatcom County, Geisler had come to a time in her life when her four children were spread along the West and East coasts, her friends were retiring away from her hometown of Lakeville, Mass., and, as a widow, she was living alone.
Knew the region: Her oldest son, Marc Geisler, and his wife, Dawn Dietrich, are both professors at Western Washington University. They moved to Bellingham in 1992, and Geisler had visited them often and grown to like the Northwest.
"I was tired of living by myself," she says, so Marc persuaded her to live with him, his wife and their two children in the spare space in their house.
Dietrich says she and her husband didn't initially consider having someone live with them when they bought the house, but "we had this space, and it worked out perfectly."
Sharing expenses: Joyce Geisler says the arrangement lets her help with the grandchildren. It also helps the family economize by sharing household expenses.
In place of rent, Geisler helped pay for the mother-in-law renovations, pays for half of the monthly bills and helps care for the grandkids.
"It is mostly an exchange of services," she says.
For instance, when her son and daughter-in-law are both busy, "I am like a taxi for the children, but my son and daughter-in-law are good about not abusing that."
Respecting privacy: Making the arrangement work relies on respecting people's boundaries.
"We get on each other's nerves like any family, and we have the stresses of any family," Dietrich says. "I think we are very good at respecting each other's privacy."
Childhood experience: Joyce Geisler learned early what it's like to live with relatives. Growing up, her family lived with her mother's mother and two of her aunts who had never married.
Living with extended family was common during World War II, she says, and the arrangement helped spark an interest for what would become her 30-year-career as a high school French teacher.
Her father was French-Canadian, and "the adults in the house spoke in French to one another whenever they didn't want the children to know what they were talking about," she says.
When she started to study the language in high school, she fell in love with it.
Time with the grandkids: Geisler talks to her grandchildren in French and helps with their homework, giving them their own experience of living with extended family. Her grandchildren are constantly coming down to visit, so they are involved in each other's lives on a daily basis.
With her 13-year-old granddaughter, Zoe, Geisler says, "I'm her study buddy."
And she and her 11-year-old grandson, Ari, watch cooking shows together.
"I never would have been this close with this set of grandchildren," Geisler says.
Daughter-in-law's perspective: For Dietrich, the main upside of the arrangement is having her children live close to their grandmother.
"What I've learned, come to realize, and be thankful for, is that we are able to have this close multigenerational relationship in our family," she says.
Making friends: Moving across the country was a big change for Geisler, but she adds, "I did prepare myself for the rain."
Even though she had an established life in Massachusetts, she has built a new life in Bellingham with new friends who grew up elsewhere but are from the same era.
"I was very lucky that my son lived near a retired Western Washington University professor who took me into her circle of friends," Geisler says.
She also attends a French conversational group at the Firehouse Café every Saturday, which, she says, would not have been available in her small hometown.
Gabriella Corrigan is a Bellingham freelance writer.