Of Hillary, The Donald, and My Neighborhood Book Club

Don’t worry ladies. No one is being outed. 😉

I do not write about politics, so if my title grabbed your attention thinking it was one more blogger issuing a heated verbal blast about the coming election, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

I write about community. About friendship. About finding that elusive thing called ‘meaningful connection’ in a city known for being “nice, but aloof.”

A neighborhood book club is a great place to thaw the Seattle FreezeLast week my neighborhood book club met to discuss An American Dervish.  It’s a first novel by Ayad Akhtar about a Pakistani-American family circa 1980s set in Milwaukie, Wisconsin, and their varied levels of devoutness and personal experiences with their Muslim faith and how it impacted their individual and collective lives.  It’s an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. And it definitely launched a great discussion.

From that discussion, our conversation led to Muslims in the Middle East to Muslims in America to racism to the current state of American politics. And then, of course, to Hillary and The Donald.

In my book club we have Republicans who would just as soon stick a needle in their eye before they would vote for Donald Trump for president.

In my book club we have pretty ardent Democrats who, while disappointed Bernie didn’t get the nomination, will still lean into Hillary.

In my book club we have people who think Hillary is awful. In my book club we have people who think Hillary is great.

In my book club we have someone who thinks it might be time to launch a “Middle” party. People who swing neither left nor right, who will develop a platform of “I know we disagree, but I bet we can agree on enough to get the country moving forward again.”

In my book club, we have patriots. In my book club, we have ex-patriots living here from overseas who are not yet citizens and will not vote in November, but are taking it all in nonetheless.

In my book club we are friends and all viewpoints are welcome.  In my book club we don’t try to change another person’s opinion or viewpoint, even if we decidedly disagree. Rather, we say “I hear what you’re saying and I respect that, I would also just say that from where I sit I believe ……(fill in the blank)”.

When you’re friends, when you invest the time to be more than people who pass at the mailbox, you should be able to engage in conversations about varying viewpoints without repercussion. That should be our norm. And while our US Congress and so much of our current political system seems to have forgotten this, we don’t have to. And where we live, in our neighborhoods, is where much of real life truly happens. I believe we can reclaim the American ideal of pluralism right in our living rooms. We can be passionate about, respect and contribute to real conversation, sharing in the give and take of different ideas and ideals with one another, and not simply be yet another fire hose of acidic opinion on social media.

I love the women in my neighborhood book club. We are diverse in our convictions, faith practices, family histories and, yes, in our politics. But we have a commonality of community, of friendship, of knowing what’s really important. We understand and practice respect.

I may sound like a broken record, but I highly recommend starting or joining a neighborhood book club. It is a fantastic way to move toward and invest in one another and build real friendships with those who live in close proximity. A book club is a place for ideas to be shared and discussed. A place to disagree without fear of being labeled. A place to be known. A place to be accepted.

A neighborhood book club is an ideal place to thwart The Seattle Freeze. And maybe, just maybe, it’s also a great place for us move toward one another and lean into sometimes difficult conversations. And perhaps if enough of us do this, together we’ll discover new ideas, rather than just develop new arguments, about how to solve some of the daunting issues that are ailing our local communities as well as our great country.

And, together, we can find a positive, healthy way forward.

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4 fun ideas to build connection in your neighborhood this summer

Summer officially arrives next Monday and SUMMER IN SEATTLE is the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy being neighborly. I discovered two years ago that by being intentional and organizing just one thing each month during the summer, the frequency of events really helped jump-start and enhance connection with my neighbors.  I’ve been having a ball ever since!

Here are Four Easy and Outrageously Fun Gatherings Anyone Can Pull Together to Jump-Start Community in Their Neighborhood

1. Summer S’mores Soireeblock parties are pect for s'mores and getting to know your neighbors

National S’mores Day is celebrated annually on August 10, but every Pacific Northwesterner knows that the best time to enjoy the gooey, chocolatey, fire-roasted confection is ALWAYS. Everyone loves a S’more, so LEAN INTO IT and organize a S’mores party.  Don’t have an outdoor fire pit? How about tossing some briquettes in a little hibachi in your driveway or condo common area? I can testify that you can even get a great toast on a marshmallow over a gas grill or indoor gas stove (I will NOT be denied).  In any fashion – a warm summer evening or even beneath a little Seattle drizzle – S’mores are a delicious gathering opportunity that kids love and that bring out the kid in all of us.

2. Cookies in the Cul de Sac

Delivering cookies for the holidays is a great way to bless your neighbors.Last year my neighbor Jenny coordinated “Cookies in the Cul-de-Sac” for National Night Out. NNO is always the first Tuesday in August, and it’s a GREAT opportunity to pull a block or two of your neighbors together. Lots of people really get into it and organize robust block parties, but if you’re just getting started with neighboring, keep it simple!  Cookies in the Cul de Sac is a great, easy-to-pull-together way to, well, pull people together.

What’s that you say? You don’t have a cul-de-sac?  Well, how about:

  1. Donuts in the Driveway
  2. Goodies in the Garage
  3. Parfaits by The Pool (“I mean, who doesn’t like a parfait?” said Donkey….)
  4. Pita bites on the Patio
  5. Chocolates in the Common Room
  6. Rice Krispy Treats on the Rooftop
  7. Munchies at My Place

You get the idea. National Night Out is Tuesday, August 2 – there are a bazillion ways to do it easy and do it well.

3. A Mid-Summer Night’s Sip

Toasting-Wine-GlassesWhile the grapes are grown elsewhere, Puget Sound hosts 125+ wineries, tasting rooms and wine bars. Why not pick up a bottle or two of these distinctive varietals and host a casual “Sip & Appetizer” evening?  Think of it as doing your part to “buy local”. Ahem.

This past weekend, I ‘converted’ my Neighborhood Coffee Klatch into a “Summer Sip.” For just two hours Sunday afternoon (4p-6p, which is traditionally ‘cocktail hour’) I invited my neighbor gals over for an informal sip.  I invited them to either bring a bottle or bring a nosh, and the evening was fantastic. Lots of easy sharing, lots of connection, and even though is was the last ‘klatch of the season’ (we don’t meet during the summer) three women were able to attend for their very first time. Summer + Wine + Great Neighbors = Nirvana in Seattle.

If you’re not one for big parties, you can always keep it simple and have a great time with just a few neighbors.  Several years ago my friend Jane wanted to buck the trend of “the front porch being replaced with the back patio,” so she created a casual gathering spot on the pathway to her front door. She christened it “The Rock Lounge”.  She and her neighbors regularly gather throughout the summer for a glass of wine to relax and connect.

For A Mid-Summer Night’s Sip you could certainly coordinate an on-site babysitter for those with grade-school aged children. After all – the goal for the evening is NOT to get lit, but to get connected. #DrinkResponsibly!

And, if you don’t drink?  No problem!  How about after a long Saturday of yard work you simply walk across the street or next door with an ice-cold fridge-pack of soda and offer one to your equally sweaty neighbors?  Not every connection with our neighbors needs to be formalized to be meaningful. Enjoy a cold sip together and get caught up on a bit of one another’s lives.

4. Exercise Reciprocity

A friend of mine once said that he thought part of the Seattle Freeze issue was due to a measurable ‘lack of reciprocity.’  He said that, in fact, for every 10 times (or more) his family had hosted something at their home, they had maybe received 1 invite back (and, to note, they’re really cool, well-liked people so don’t go thinking they’re just people with issues).

Could your summer community building goals include one that’s a simple thank-you-in-return invitation?   Few things communicate a genuine interest more than an invitation to dinner.  Dinner provides time for longer conversation, and for listening. Think about inviting to dinner that person or family that you’d like to “invite back” or say “thank you” to for a kindness they’ve given to you.  When we give the gift of our time – time that is often pressured and over-scheduled – it speaks volumes to how much we value that person.  In that space, deeper connection is born.

Summer is here.  Let’s set some goals, enjoy some gatherings and start a connection-revival in our Greater Seattle neighborhoods.

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Thawing the Seattle Freeze One Invite at a Time

On May 21, I was honored to speak at the City of Bellevue’s inaugural Neighborhoods Conference about my journey to “thaw the Seattle Freeze” by being intentional about getting to know – and building relationships with – my neighbors.  If you’d like to take a peek at my presentation, the video is below. After some great words by the Mayor of Bellevue and a gracious introduction by Bellevue Neighborhoods Outreach Director Mike McCormick Huentelman, my talk starts at about 16:45.

You are welcome to laugh at my expense at my “oops, where are my glasses” outburst at less than a minute in. :O

A sincere thank you to Julie Ellenhorn and Carol Ross from the Bellevue Neighborhoods Outreach team for finding my blog and reaching out to me. You were so wonderful to work with!  The conference gave me an incredible opportunity to meet so many thoughtful people who care about the greater Bellevue community; it was inspiring.

And, of course, thank you to my neighbors whom I’ve met, enjoyed gallons of coffee with, bbq’d with, dined with, and laughed and cried with during the past two years.  You continue to bring joy to my journey and I sincerely look forward to our continued friendships in the years to come.

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Why Coffee Klatches Work: Low Investment, High Return

A couple of years ago I read a great article by columnist and author David Brooks in which he said that if he were given $500 million dollars he’d spend it setting up places that would cultivate friendships.  Why?

Brooks wrote: “…friendship is not in great shape in America today. In 1985, people tended to have about three really close friends, according to the General Social Survey. By 2004, according to research done at Duke University and the University of Arizona, they were reporting they had only two close confidants. The number of people who say they have no close confidants at all has tripled over that time.”

Few would argue against the belief that we need friendships.

“In the first place,” Brooks said, “friendship helps people make better judgments. So much of deep friendship is thinking through problems together: what job to take; whom to marry. Friendship allows you to see your own life but with a second sympathetic self.”

Developing adult friendships in this modern age is a challenge. But I believe, and I’ve experienced, that a simple cup of coffee can begin to conquer that challenge.

If you haven’t yet, would you think about starting a coffee klatch in your neighborhood? 

Organizing a neighborhood coffee klatch is a great way to begin to thaw the Seattle Freeze in your neighborhood.

Coffee mugs, check. Some fruit & muffins to nibble on, check. Perfect kitchen? Nope (and not necessary!)

I have found mine to be a continuous source of meeting new friends, all of whom live within walking distance of my home.

Whether you host a klatch on weekdays or weekends (either works), a quick push of the vacuum, a quick email invitation and the making of a pot of coffee is all you need to invest to bring people together to start a conversation. AND, it’s a low-investment ‘yes’ for your neighbors as well.

This last weekend I hosted another gathering of my Neighborhood Coffee Klatch. I chose a Saturday this time to make it accessible for the gals who work full-time and can’t make it on a weekday morning.

Each time we’ve gathered, the group has included original owners, those who’ve lived here 10+ years, and some who’ve moved here within the last year. That tells me that a desire to connect is not just about who’s in the current ‘freshman class’ of the neighborhood, but confirmation that we all share a genuine desire to be known in our corner of the world.

Five women that had been on my Evite list since last August were able to attend Saturday for the first time.  One of the ladies said two things that summed up the importance of the Klatch experience for me:

  1. “Thank you for not giving up on me.”
  2. “Thank you for making it so easy for us.”

An invitation for a cup of coffee is about as low-intensity and non-threatening of an invitation as it gets. You’re not asking your neighbors to do anything, bring anything (although many do), or prepare anything: just show up for a cuppa Joe and the possibility of some nice conversation.

There's no need to bake up a storm for your neighborhood coffee klatch. Keep is simple and just pick up some bakery muffins and fresh fruit.

There’s no need to bake up a storm for your neighborhood coffee klatch. Keep is simple and just pick up some bakery muffins and fresh fruit.

Don’t give up on your neighbors who may not initially respond to an invitation. Chances are, they’ve got as hectic of a schedule as you have.  If they want to connect, they WILL come when they can.  The women that were able to attend our klatch for the first time on Saturday were so delighted to finally be free to come; they were so happy to see neighbors ‘they hadn’t seen in years’ and a few even offered ‘would you like some of us to host occasionally? You shouldn’t have to do all the work.’  I’m all for that. 🙂

Connection is a basic human need and I increasingly believe that there’s a war against it as we all battle for free time in our lives.  We are busy, busy people. I’m frequently seeing statistics and speeches by leadership consultants that verify what so many are feeling: people are feeling pressed to work longer and harder, to do more with less, to be available via Smart Phones 24/7 to ‘handle it’, ‘improve it’ or at the very least ‘weigh in on it.’ After work, we are constantly in motion delivering kids to music lessons, sports, tutors and scheduled play dates.

A Neighborhood Coffee Klatch can give just right amount of low-demand structure and frequency (I do mine every 6-8 weeks) that is attractive to busy lives. It’s not a club, per se, with expectations, but more of a ‘drop-in-when-you-can-we’d-love-to-see-you’ kind of vibe. Yet every time I have one, I see it also provides an opportunity for ‘beyond the mailbox’ conversations, and opportunities to develop friendships beyond the Klatch meeting itself.

The housing boom has returned to Seattle in full force. 

If your neck of the woods is as dotted with For Sale signs as mine, we’re on the cusp of yet another big wave of new home buyers & neighbors.   Think about organizing a Coffee Klatch in your neighborhood.  Think about using the summer to perhaps find one other neighbor who’d like to partner with you to get it started.

I have found that it truly is a delight to bring people together and watch friendships develop, for myself and others. And now, more than in generations past, people are feeling more disconnected and pressed for time and are in need of EASY, LOW INVESTMENT opportunities to connect and find new friendships.

A Cup Of Coffee.  Think About It.




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Will Bellevue Set the Standard for Thawing the Seattle Freeze?

Two years ago I Declared War on The Seattle Freeze. After growing tired of hearing that phrase repeatedly, I set out to get proactive about getting to know my neighbors – and what a joy the last two years has been!  Block parties, BBQs, coffee klatches and the simple act of having a neighbor over for dinner have brought a meaningful connection to my neighborhood that previously didn’t exist.  Along this journey I’ve connected with others who share a passion for neighboring, friendship and community.

But I never thought that one of the ‘like-minded people’ I would connect with would be an ENTIRE CITY.

The City of Bellevue Better Together Neighborhoods Conference

Bellevue Neighborhoods

I’ve been invited to share my journey of HAPPY NEIGHBORING at the City of Bellevue’s inaugural Neighborhoods Conference – Better TogetherSaturday, May 21 at Bellevue City Hall. Community advocates, civic specialists and Bellevue residents are coming together for a day focused on inspiring those who live and work in Bellevue to catch a vision of community and seek to be champions of neighborhood involvement. Will you join us?

I’m so excited to share my journey.

If you’ve ever wondered “how do people get to know their neighbors in Bellevue?” (or anywhere in Greater Seattle), I’ll be sharing my story of overcoming my own anxieties and insecurities about getting to know my neighbors that I had never met, even though I had lived next to them for more than 10 years! I found that so many people are just waiting for a catalyst, waiting for someone to extend an invitation! I can’t wait to share about the interesting people I’ve met and the warm conversations and experiences I’ve had in the last two years, simply by being intentional about extending (and accepting) a few invitations.

I’m so excited about what I’ll learn.

The Bellevue Neighborhoods Conference features over 20 workshops ranging in topics such as pro-active neighboring and community building, embracing our diversity and working through language barriers, emergency preparedness, becoming a community leader and more.  I know that in my own neighborhood, I’m getting to know people who have moved here from all over the world. The majority of Bellevue’s recent growth is coming from individuals and families who are foreign-born. More and more, there are language and cultural differences that can create challenges for us to get to know one another. I want to know how to get over these barriers to ensure my neighbors feel welcome when they move into my neck of the woods.

I’m so excited to be your monkey in the cage. Huh?

A few years ago, the world of psychology decided to head in a relatively uncharted direction and began to study what truly makes people HAPPY. (For so long, psychologists had focused primarily on what makes people depressed or destructive.) There’s a pretty well-known study in which researchers put a monkey in a high-stress situation to test his stress hormone levels. They put him in a cage and then amped up loud noises, lights flashing, etc. and then afterward measured his stress hormones and heart rate.  Can you imagine?

Then, they did the EXACT SAME TEST only this time they opened up the cage and put in another monkey.  Same loud noises, same flashing lights and more ensued.  And the result?

When they measured the monkey’s stress hormones again, they were REDUCED BY HALF. Just because the monkey had a buddy in with him.

What the science of positive psychology confirmed with that and other tests is the simple understanding of what previous generations knew so well: We are, in fact, BETTER TOGETHER. The stresses of everyday life can be managed better – and we can be HAPPIER – when we live life interdependent with one another, with meaningful relationships; when we live as a community of good neighbors.

So, what do say – will you join me and your Bellevue neighbors May 21? Together we can encourage one another to continue to be good neighbors, to build great neighborhoods, to be invested citizens and to build the best Bellevue.  We can turn the reputation of The Seattle Freeze on its head and in its place fan the flames of a warm Emerald Glow. Let’s come together to set the standard for neighborliness and community. Let’s live interdependent and connected.


  • For a Bellevue Neighborhoods Better Together Registration packet, contact jellenhorn@bellevuewa.gov or 425.452.5372. Space is limited!
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Regardless of Religion, Easter is an Invitation

When being strategic about proactively getting to know neighbors in Seattle, normally I’d recommend extending an invitation that’s at least 3-6 weeks out from the intended dining date.  I’ve found that people in Greater Seattle are BUSY, and their calendars fill up fast and are often booked several weeks out.

But this year, Easter is early and is, perhaps, catching a lot of people by surprise (like me!). It feels like I just flipped the calendar from the drearyness of February to the blush of March, from the prolonged, dark Seattle winter to the fresh inhale of the Emerald City spring when OOPS…. Easter is this coming Sunday! What could I do on short notice to create a fun day for my family?

Easter Sunday is a great opportunity to invite a neighbor or community member to brunch, lunch or dinner.Well, I took a deep breath and, banking on the possibility that there were other people around me that might have also been caught off guard and had not yet made plans, I jumped on email and sent a couple of quick invitations for Easter Lunch.  BINGO!

To make the event extra fun, I reached out to some families that are the parents of a couple of my son’s ‘besties’, people who I most often connect with via the proverbial ‘drop-off-pick-up’ scenario. People that I always enjoy seeing and I thought – “well, wouldn’t it be nice to spend a large block of time with them?”  Oh yes, yes I think it will. 🙂

Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, Easter can be a time of invitation.  Spring is new life emerging and the hope of longer daylight and new opportunities ahead. Spring is hope.  As Spring emerges, we Seattleites often think of ourselves as moles coming out of the dark, damp earth eager to embrace the sunshine and light. I encourage everyone to take advantage of that desire to re-engage with life.


Make the call, send the email, smack a quick text – whatever it takes to reach out to someone in your neighborhood or community that you’ve been wanting to spend more time with.

Yes, Easter is a religious holiday. A celebration by millions as an invitation to grace, redemption and new life.  It is the celebration of the ultimate ‘do over’. Easter is also an invitation to connect, to move forward. Take it from me: you’re not the only person getting caught by surprise by an early Easter. Turn that surprise on its head and take the initiative to extend an invitation.

A word to people of faith…

A quick awkward question: how many people have you invited to church (for Easter Sunday) in the last several weeks versus the number of people you’ve invited into your home for a cup of coffee or a meal?

If the former far outweighs the latter, perhaps it’s time to turn the balance of that equation on its head? An invitation to church is certainly a gift in itself; my family and I will be celebrating in church this Easter Sunday morning. But an invitation that shows a genuine interest in a person regardless of their religious interests is where friendship and community can be born.  Just something to noodle on.

Extend an invitation to brunch, lunch or dinner to someone for this Easter Sunday.  And don’t forget to hide some eggs.


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The Bane of Busyness: How to Carve Out Time to Carve Out Time?

We Seattleites like to work.  It’s documented, don’t cha know.  Just a couple of years ago Forbes magazine rated Seattle as the #1 Hardest Working City in the United States.

We’re so proud.  And tired.  And wishing we had more time just to carve out time for the other things we’d like to be spending our time doing.

And while some of that is tongue in cheek, there is a reality with so many friends and neighbors that I do life with that the post-recession economy leaves them feeling like they’re working more hours, with less support resources, than they ever have previously.  News flash: life is busy.


I’ve found myself in this space recently (have to confess – not the first time) and I found that when I paused to stop and catch a breath I suddenly realized I was feeling a bit disconnected with my neighbors. YES ME!  To note, I had a lovely December with several holiday gatherings with my neighbors – it was great. But as the calendar flipped to January and the days got darker and shorter, I more often found myself sitting in front of my computer than I did sharing a conversation with a friend or neighbor.

And it really just kinda sucked. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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.


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. Continue reading

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