Look Closely at 2015. What Do You See?

When you reflect on the highlights of your 2015, what do you see?

This thought came to mind when I received this incredibly fun gift from my neighbor shown below. It’s the second Christmas she’s done this. Look closely.  At first glance it’s a beautiful and colorful Christmas tree ornament. A lovely gift unto itself. But when you look more closely you’ll see she invested some time putting together a mini-montage of all of the book jackets of the books we read together in our neighborhood book club.

For the second straight Christmas, my neighbor Sue has made these ornaments for the gals in our neighborhood book club. How cool is that?

For the second straight Christmas, my neighbor Sue has made these ornaments for the gals in our neighborhood book club. How cool is that?

Now I ask you, is that Pinterest worthy or what?  Beyond that, it’s a wonderful reminder of our discussions and of time well spent together as neighbors and as friends.

As I look closely at my 2015, it was a year that began with the loss of my mother; a lot to process, a lot that needed healing. I was grateful, however, to be given a beautiful spring and summer of play and rest with friends, neighbors and my husband and son; a lot to be grateful for.

As the year moved into fall, I was given a couple of amazing opportunities to serve clients who are all about serving others – certainly a passion of mine. A lot to invest good energy into, a lot of opportunity to bring my skill set to the table to help move their missions forward: Higher Ground Men’s Conference & Rent The ToyChest.

As fall moved toward the holidays, I received a surprising phone call from Julie Ellenhorn who leads the Neighborhood Outreach Division at the City of Bellevue. She asked if I would come and share my neighboring story at a new conference they’re putting together in May, all about encouraging neighborliness and community.  Why yes, Julie, yes I’d be delighted to do that. :)

And then December rolled in. May I take a moment to brag on my neighbors as I close out 2015?  In the land of The Seattle Freeze, my family received no less than 7 bags/boxes of homemade baked holiday goodies, 3 invitations to holiday cocktail parties and 1 lovely post-Christmas dinner – all from my neighbors. Yes, inviting is a gift, inviting is contagious, and neighboring is alive and well when we simply live life with a little intention.

As you look at your 2015, what do you see? I hope you see people: a warm circle of relationship with friends and neighbors, and neighbors who have become friends.

Wishing any soul in the Greater Seattle area who should stumble upon this blog post the moxie to set a goal for their 2016 for good things to grow in their neck of the woods.  Neighboring can happen, even in Seattle. All it takes is just deciding to do it.

With great gratitude, Happy New Year!

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3 necessities for weathering a Seattle power outage

I have lived my entire life in the Pacific Northwest and I have never awoke to a thunder and lightning storm in December.   Until today.

As this latest El Nino continues its dicey dance with record flooding and wind storms we all need to be prepared for the subsequent power outages this winter.  There are many online lists http://www.ready.gov/power-outage of how to best prepare for a power outage, including items we should all have on hand (batteries, generators, non-perishable foods, etc.).

But I would argue there are three additional necessities EVERY Pacific Northwesterner should have at the ready to ensure the best possible outcome the next time your power goes out.

Before giving the list, I’d like to share a story of some friends who recently lived the list:

“We had a big appreciation dinner planned for one of our teams at church. My husband, David ( a former chef),  had purchased and prepped all the food and was in the process of cooking gumbo in a large pot on the propane burner outside.

It ended up being a super windy day with mixed sun and rain. It ended up being the day of the widespread power outage last fall and we lost power. The place where we planned to have the party lost power AND lost use of water from a tree falling on their pump house.

Well: What to do with food for 40+ people when your refrigerator isn’t functioning? We decided to invite a few of the people it was meant for to begin with (one of them brought desert to share) AND walk around the neighborhood and invited our neighbors, many of whom don’t really know us.

HiegelFeast

A few showed up and had some delicious food and great conversation. It started raining just as people started showing up, so we just sat in our camp chairs in the garage with the garage doors open. Certainly not beautiful aesthetically — but relationally, it was the best!

For a couple of the families we sensed were shy about coming over, we packaged up care packages of gumbo and simply delivered them to their doors.

We found it was a great way to share and to open up relationships within our neighborhood.”            -Amy

What can we learn from Amy’s story? 

To best prepare for the next Pacific Northwest power outage, I recommend keeping on hand the follow three things in your personal toolkit:

1) An attitude that sees a problem as an opportunity

Have you ever prepared for a big dinner or event and then suddenly things go sideways?  There was a great story in the news last month about a woman whose wedding was called off at the last-minute. Her solution? She didn’t let bitterness win out. Instead, she shared all of the pre-purchased reception food with the homeless in her community.

Rather than getting frustrated about all the food and all the effort that had already been invested and potentially wasted, my friends looked at the power outage as how can we make the best of this?  Our neighborhoods are filled with new arrivals, the elderly, small children and of course (because we’re Seattle) the family that’s lived down the street for 7 years and we’ve never met them.  When the power goes out, everyone feels a little off kilter. Use it as an opportunity to say hello or otherwise re-connect. See the possibility, not just the problem.

2) A solid pair of all-weather shoes and sturdy knuckles

That’s pretty much all you’ll need to move out your front door and onto your neighbor’s front porch. And knock.  Yes, there is always the possibility of that one or two neighbors who will look at you like you’re a traveling salesman and feel suspicious of your intent.  BUT many more will appreciate the gesture and it can open up the possibility of further connection.  It’s completely OK to show up empty-handed when your heart is full of compassion and concern.

3) A desire to give out of recognizing plenty

We all have more than we think we do. When the power goes out, don’t we first focus on what we have?  Perhaps for the next outage, we can take an inventory of what we have to share.  Do you have extra firewood, batteries, blankets?  Do you have a gas stove top that you can offer a neighbor if they’d like to come over and cook on it?

Do you have some board games and a kitchen table?  Several years ago when my son was teensy, our neighborhood endured the power outage of 2008. You’ll remember it if you lived here. Three days and nights of no power and no electric heat.  Well, what we did have was two gas and one natural burning fireplaces and a gas stove top.  Our friends  – who had none of the above – came over and ‘camped out’ with us for those three days and it became a part of our family lore.  Hours of board games, cooking and meals together with no computers, no television and only a hand-crank-generated radio for intermittent news updates. It was one of the best times ever!

So, the next time the power goes out, think about using it as an opportunity to check-in on your neighbors.  You never know what family memories you might be creating.

 

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Let There Be Peace On Earth, And Let It Begin…. With Coffee

At my recent Neighborhood Coffee Klatch, the participants noticed something wonderfully unique: in attendance that morning there were just as many multi-national transplants as there were ‘Yanks’.  Our neighborhood is growing to be a true melting pot of many different countries and cultures.

AND WE FEEL GREAT ABOUT IT.

Peace on Earth can start with a simple cup of coffee

Photo taken from coffeedrinker.net  I’m totally with Santa on this one.

The growing diversity of my suburban neighborhood is beautiful; it’s as beautiful a landscape as I’ve always imagined the diversity of America was at the turn of the last century.  The tech boom is changing who ‘we’ are. And we can take advantage of this newest migration and build a beautiful legacy for Seattle.

The Christian faith embraces The Great Commission, to “go into all the world” and give people Good News that they are beloved by God, that they matter, that they are forgiven.  Well, if you’re a person of faith living in this area, you might consider saving yourself the cost of the airfare, because “the world is coming to Seattle.”

If you want to bring about Peace on Earth, I encourage you to start by stepping outside your front door. My suburban Seattle neighborhood is not an anomaly. As our tech boom continues people are moving here from all over the country and from all over the world, bringing with them different cultures, languages, beliefs and social customs. And they’re moving right next door to you.

Can we launch from our reputation for inclusiveness and extend that to our next-door neighbors?

The women at my Klatch love the idea that our children are growing up in an environment where diversity is the norm. Having friends from diverse backgrounds creates an opportunity to become an adult that is not fearful of people who are different from you. Fear is a key destroyer of Peace.

We can be neighbors across our differences and our children can grow up living “Peace on Earth,” not just wearing it on t-shirts or writing in on holiday cards.

I hope this holiday season can be a beginning of Peace on Earth in your neighborhood.

  • Consider hosting a Holiday Coffee (or Tea, if you must 😉
  • Organize a Cookie Exchange
  • Invite the 10 houses closest to yours over for a brief evening of Hot Chocolate or Hot Totties
  • Deliver cookies and a Starbucks gift card to a few people on your block that you’d like to get to know better

I wrote the draft of this post right after my Klatch, feeling full of good things and hopefulness. Then, I had to take a break to take my son to get a haircut. While waiting, I checked my phone and saw the headline that made my heart sink: At Least 14 Dead in San Bernardino Shooting, and I thought Dear God, not again.

The event seemed to mock my little, happy blog. I hesitated to do this post at all, thinking it was so silly in the face of such horrific violence.

But then a second thought came to mind. A favorite, old Christmas Carol:

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.’

Let’s do our best to not let Peace on Earth be relegated only to lofty songs, Hollywood movie endings or the whispers of our dreams.

Let’s purpose together to let Peace on Earth be real. Let’s purpose to not give in to hopelessness, but to embrace what we each can do for one another. Let’s move toward one another in the spirit of friendship.

Let Peace on Earth begin with a simple cup of coffee with our neighbors.

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How we overcome sadness when that great neighbor moves away

When I launched my neighboring journey and blog 18 months ago, I got an insightful comment from someone about one of the possible reasons we Seattleites develop ‘Freeze Mentality’:

“The Seattle Freeze was totally a thing for us when we first arrived, and I didn’t get it… but now, I’ve been here for 5.5 years, and in that time at least two really good friends moved away. There is a definite time investment involved in making friends, so it’s hard when people move away. Now I find myself cynically asking how long people have been here, if they’re planning on staying, and asking about their families “back home” (wherever that may be, stateside or not) before deciding whether I can safely be friends without losing a part of myself when they leave.”   – Annette

Yes, when we invest time in our neighbors, there’s always the looming eventuality that one day they – or we – will move. It will happen to all of us. And it kinda hurts. It doesn’t hurt because we’re offended.  It hurts because we miss them and it can sometimes feel like we’re faced with ‘starting all over again’.

I’ve been there. Last weekend I hosted a breakfast party for our former neighbors Sherry and Hal.  They used to live across the street and have since retired to California. They were in town and I was able to pull a few of ‘the ‘ole gang’ together and enjoy a simple Saturday morning breakfast together.

SherryHal

Sherry and Hal. Great (former) neighbors. We miss them.

Sherry and Hal were great neighbors. For many, many years Sherry and I shared fruitful conversations over our shared love of gardening (she taught me a lot!) and I have strong memories of her azalea hedge blooming each spring.  I will always remember the first time I had “plum pudding” was when she made it for our book club. And I think of her each time my fragrant red rose and lemon day lilies bloom that she gifted me right before she moved.

But perhaps the main reason I’m always eager and grateful to carve out time to connect with Sherry & Hal when they come to town is because Sherry was the first neighbor who came to say hello and welcome me to the neighborhood right after we moved in.

That’s a strong memory. You always remember the first neighbor who made you feel a part of the neighborhood.

As we all enjoyed getting current and solving the world’s problems over breakfast that morning, I was reflecting on the three things about how we deal with losing that great neighbor:

FIRST: You don’t have to lose touch if you don’t want to.

Do you live next door to your best friend from high school? Not likely.  Does the maid of honor or best man from your wedding live right across town? No, they probably live in another state by now.

It’s true: we live in a generation of frequent job relocations and people ‘retiring elsewhere.’

But I would argue that we also live in an age of email, phone calls, texting, Facebook, Instagram and Hallmark for pete’s sake.  Yes, it is sad when our neighbors and friends move.  No longer having them close by for coffee chats, bike rides or occasional pop-ins is a real bummer. But we can choose to stay in touch.   We can all do a better job of connecting with those available to us NOW, as well as taking the initiative once they or we have moved.

SECOND: You can really like and become friends with the new neighbors who replace your old neighbors.

I remember the feeling when Sherry and Hal put the for sale sign in their front yard. Ugh. When they sold their house, I really had to work to not get my panties in a twist about whether or not I would like the new people who would move in. ‘What if they’re obnoxious? What if they don’t take care of their yard? What if they have rude kids? What if….’  Oh come on, you’ve done it too  – admit it!  This is Seattle and we love to talk about how open minded and accepting we are, but that’s because we have a reputation for not deeply connecting with ‘newbies’. It’s EASY to be open and accepting when you don’t actually get to know people. (ok. Enough of my soap box…..)

The reality is, after deciding to get the phat over myself, I made a point to walk over and say hello a few time when the ‘NEW’ neighbors first moved in to what I referred to as “Sherry’s and Hal’s house”.

And you know what?  The NEW neighbors are the bomb. Totally fun, totally intelligent, totally great neighbors who have, over time, become friends. My husband and I have enjoyed having them to dinner, bbqs and the like and they are terrific people who add a lot of enjoyment to our neighborhood. So there ya go.

THIRD: You always remember the first person who made you feel welcome and a part of the neighborhood.

For me, that’s Sherry.  She will always remain a special person to me for that simple reason.  

The question is: can each of us be that person for someone else?  New people are moving in everyday from around the country and around the world.  They’ve got questions about local schools, need recommendations for doctors, dentists and landscapers, and some struggle with language barriers.  And with a simple hello and a few invitations, we may find that they also might share a love of books, gardening, crocheting, golf or some other common interest. Many want to plug in. They want to feel included in our circles.

Could you be that first neighbor who reaches out to make them feel welcome?

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An Important Halloween Message From Ms. LeStrange

Hope you enjoy the video. Below are some quick ideas to make this Halloween count in your neighborhood!

Southend Family Offers Hot Chocolate At Halloween To Connect With Parents

For the past few years, one Puyallup family has set up a Hot Chocolate station in front of their house as a way to visit with neighborhood parents while their kids are all trick or treating.

For the past few years, one Puyallup family has set up a Hot Chocolate station in front of their house as a way to visit with neighborhood parents while their kids are all trick or treating.

Here’s a great idea from a member of the EatPlayThaw community:

“We’ve done this a couple of different ways.  Year one, my husband set up an awning, a few chairs, and a table with hot chocolate in carafes. He also setup our fire pit (with the cover on – safety first!) for the parents to sit/stand and chat while the kids went to the surrounding homes for trick or treating.  I stayed inside to answer the door and to keep a supply of hot chocolate going.

Year two, with no threat of rain, we set up similarly but without the awning and we had the candy available outside with the hot chocolate.  Personally, I kind of prefer the kids coming to the door instead, but that means only one of us is out there to meet parents.  People tend to linger a little longer since their kids are occupied walking to nearby doors.

Offering hot chocolate or coffee on Halloween night is a great way to create some community in your neighborhood.

Pre-filling cups (with coffee or hot chocolate) with lids is a great tip for saving time. It also offers your neighbor the option of ‘grab and go’ just in case they need to stay close to their children.

One of our friends had this tip:  Pre-make the hot chocolate and have it ready to go in the cups with lids, for a ‘grab and visit’ opportunity. Also, if you’re using an awning, or heater/firepit and any needed extra lights, set it up as close to the sidewalk as possible to make sure it looks really inviting.

Our street is pretty well-lit, so I prefer not having extra lights.  It is Halloween, after all, and it’s kind of fun to me to be a little darker to add to the ambiance of the day – plus our fire is inviting for cold hands!”

David & Amy, Puyallup

Need Quick Ideas for Halloween Decorations, Jack-O-Lanterns, Party Food or Costumes?  

Make a quick pit stop to my Halloween Pinterest Board where I’ve curated some QUICK AND EASY tricks and treats!

HalloweenTablescape

 

HappyHalloween

 

 

 

 

 

Ms.LeStrange

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The comforting memories of favorite family foods

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 88.  She passed away earlier this year, and to pause and remember her today – and my dad – I’m spending the day with some family.

It’s funny the things that we inherit from our parents and funnier yet the things that we don’t. My brothers got the lion’s share of the musical talent in the family. They’re both incredible musicians and singers – never took formal lessons but both of them can pick up any instrument and play it. I’m a passable singer, but my mom was an amazing soloist.

My passion for cooking and entertaining actually came to me via my maternal grandmother. It kinda ‘skipped’ over my mom. My Aunt Delphine got it, but when it came to cooking my mom was more of a what-takes-the-least-amount-of-time-and-makes-a-huge-amount-of-it-so-I-don’t-have-to-do-this-every-night kind of woman. I know. Many of you are thinking “soul sister”.   Continue reading

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Pampered Chef: a springboard for connection. Who knew?

On a day that was raining

And I should have been blue

I did something so wonderfully fun

That you could easily do too!

 

I hosted a Pampered Chef party

7+ freezer meals we each took away.

It was all about food and friendship,

Is there a better way to spend a day?

Kirsten at Pampered Chef

At first I anxiously wondered

“Would people really want to come?”

It’s one of “THOSE kinds of parties?”

To my invite would friends just feel numb?

 

But within just a few minutes

Of a hitting a keystroke for “send”

Six, Seven, Eight pinged YES!

“Absolutely I’ll come, thank you my friend!”

 

I was overwhelmed and overjoyed

I had no idea of such proclivity,

Of so many Pampered Chef mavens out there

Who are looking for just such a festivity!

 

Longtime friends and those that are new

Came to partake in all the fun fixins.

We laughed, we chopped, we connected,

And all I had to provide was my kitchen.

Pampered Chef Party

No, I don’t sell Pampered Chef

That’s the job of my dear friend.

I just love finding new ways to connect,

A passion that seems to have no end.

 

Women, so often we find ourselves stretched

Our families we work hard to please ’em.

And finding time to actually cook?

That’s scarcer than a Mariners winning season!  D’Oh!

 

Increasingly we live disconnected

And we’re thinking of ways to thaw the freeze.

Why not let Pampered Chef do all the work

And you just toss ‘em your keys?

 

Why not start a monthly Pampered Chef group?

A regular gathering for good food and wine.

You could enjoy dinner together,

Letting friendship develop over time.

 

Use Facebook, use your directory

Or put a postcard invite on their porch.

Pampered Chef enthusiasts are lurking everywhere

See if they’re living outside your front door!

 

As the dark days of winter draw nearer

And the Seattle sleet starts to pound on your roof

I pray you won’t let S.A.D. have its way

And you won’t choose to be aloof.

 

Instead, think about taking that risk

The one you’ve been putting on hold.

Now is a great time to open up your heart,

To increase that friendship circle, come on, be bold!

 

I had the greatest time in my kitchen

With new friends and with old.

Think about hosting a Freezer Meal Workshop

You just never know what connection might unfold.

 

Up for another fun limerick? See Becky’s Happy Halloween post “An Important Halloween Message From Ms. LeStrange.” :)

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45 great reasons to use Facebook to start a book club!


So, you want to start a neighborhood book club or a coffee klatch but you’re wondering how.  Pull up a chair. I’ve got an awesome story about a little Facebook comment that launched a neighborhood book club overnight.

We’ve all been there: brand new in a neighborhood. Sometimes we move across town, sometimes from one side of Puget Sound to another, and sometimes from out-of-state or out of the country. Each of us has been ‘the new person’ on the block.

We want to get to know our neighbors; we want to make new friends. But how do we get started? Continue reading

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Why Suicide Prevention Month matters to Seattle, and to me

September is national suicide prevention month. While Seattle is not among the country’s top cities for suicide, we are 6th in the nation for depression.  Couple depression with prolonged stress factors such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment, and a person can venture into unsteady emotional ground.

Because the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has done a great job getting their message out this month, I’ve learned that: Continue reading

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Second Sunday Potlucks: where neighbors become friends

I love hearing about and celebrating what others are doing to intentionally build community right in their own backyards. In the past year, I’ve continued to meet like-minded people who are trying new things. Last spring I met fellow neighboring sojourner, John Crilly, at a conference in Seattle. Following is an excerpt from his own blog post from earlier this year about his family’s experience moving into a new neighborhood, and how a routine potluck brought his neighborhood together: Continue reading

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