The 6 HAPPY GIFTS I received at my block party

The fire pit was blazing as I waited for my first neighbor to arrive at my block party.

The fire pit was blazing and I waited for my first neighbor to arrive at my block party.

Last April, I set a goal for myself to have one neighbor over for dinner, once a month for 12 months. And, not just any neighbors, but neighbors that I didn’t already know or know very well.

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the biggest challenge in all that: how do I go about inviting people over for dinner that I don’t even know? I mean, how would it come across if I simply knocked on someone’s door and said, “Hi. I’m your neighbor. I don’t know you. Wanna come for dinner?” In a city where making eye contact can often be iffy, doesn’t the thought of doing that bring you to the point of nervous poopies?  Might as well just put my ‘needy dork hat’ on and march down the middle of the street, right?

Well, anyway, that’s a big reason why I wanted to try to pull together a block party. It would provide a casual, ‘non-threatening’ opportunity to make some first introductions and have more than just a passing ‘mailbox’ conversation with neighbors I didn’t know very well. So, I pulled on my big girl panties and decided to take a risk. I canvassed my street with invites to my backyard for coffee and S’mores.

One week’s notice.  And what happened? Continue reading

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Top 3 reasons why fall is a GREAT time to host a block party

Autumn in Seattle is a great time to host a block party.

Did you know that this summer marked the 30th anniversary of National Night Out (NNO)?  August 5, to be exact.  Did you know that in 2013 more than 1,400 neighborhoods in and around greater Seattle held some kind of block party for National Night Out?  I had no idea until a few friends and connections recently shared about their NNO neighborhood block parties this summer.

The National Association of Town Watch (NATW) introduced NNO to launch an effort to promote crime prevention, police-community partnerships, and neighborhood camaraderie.  The city of Seattle and its surrounding suburbs are heavily invested in encouraging these gatherings to bring neighbors together, welcome new neighbors, talk about crime prevention efforts and just have a great time together. That’s pretty cool for a city thought of as occasionally frosty.

A friend of mine has been hosting NNO in her neighborhood for the past 6 years. She did it the first time simply because she thought it would be a great way to get to know her neighbors. She, like many of us, worked for many years before having children then, suddenly, she’s home with a child and looks around and doesn’t know anyone.  It was time to change that.

So, she got on her town’s website, registered her event, and canvassed her neighborhood with a simply flyer.

I Was Inspired for 3 Big Reasons

Well, I have to say that I was inspired by her story – and a couple of others I’ll share in the coming weeks – enough to try doing a block party of my own. No, it’s not National Night Out and No, it’s not summer.  But I think fall is a GREAT time to host a block party in Seattle. Why? Continue reading

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I BELIEVE The 12th MAN can MELT the Seattle Freeze!

“How cool would it be if, 30 years from now, we’re sitting with our kids and grandkids and telling them about how we did something extraordinary?”

Seattle Seahawks Middle Linebacker Bobby Wagner

12thartistic

This summer when my interview with Rachel Belle from The Ron and Don Show aired on KIRO Radio, both hosts commented that they didn’t think the Seattle Freeze existed anymore.  They felt that ever since the 12th Man phenomenon swept through our great city, the Freeze was history.  Rachel disagreed, the story aired and it became further thought for discussion.

Two weeks ago I received an email from someone in response to the Issaquah Reporter article about my blog which said: “Thank you so much for talking about the ‘Seattle Freeze.’ I moved here from the (East Coast) many years ago and have had one heck of a time making friends here…I’ve never quite been able to figure out the people here – polite, but just not all that friendly.”

Sorry, Ron. Sorry, Don.  I’m grieved to say that The Seattle Freeze did not disappear with the firestorm of the 12th Man and pockets of Puget Sound remain mighty chilly.

But I do believe that the collective energy and enthusiasm of the Seattle Seahawks 12th Man can act as a catalyst to ignite our city and spread a chain reaction of connection and community.  Here’s how: Continue reading

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My ode to the Pioneer Woman and the Barefoot Contessa

My friend Lisa whipped up the Barefoot Contessa's Lemon Poundcake for our interview with KIRO Radio's Rachel Belle.  Can you say yum?

My friend Lisa whipped up the Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Poundcake for our interview with KIRO Radio’s Rachel Belle. Can you say yum? And Lisa’s version comes complete with a beautiful crochet decoration! :)

Earlier this week I told you all about my neighbor and friend Lisa and her new adventure to start expanding her relationship circle by hosting crocheting workshops in her home. (See full story below) Once again, if you have an interest in attending one of Lisa’s workshops, you can get on her email list at lisaminton@live.com.

While I’m not a crocheter (not even sure that’s a dictionary word), Lisa and I do share several common interests.  Continue reading

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Crafters have connection in the bag

Crocheting. Knitting. Quilting.  While these handiworks go back for generations, they are as popular – or more popular – today.  This isn’t grandma’s afghans or table doilies we’re talking about.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at that bag Hollywood actress Julia Roberts is carrying in this photo. Chances are she knitted it herself, as it has become well known that Ms. Roberts passes the time between takes on movie sets by knitting.

Julia Roberts Knitting Bag

Actress Julia Roberts is known for being an avid knitter, creating all types of projects while on breaks during film productions.

Crochet Maven

My neighbor and friend, Lisa, is a proactive person when it comes to connecting.  She’s the person who first looped me into our neighborhood Bunco club and she has done her share of volunteer work at her sons’ schools and on our neighborhood home owners board.

She is also quite the crochet maven.  “Crocheting is very therapeutic for me,” Lisa shared.  “I can actually relax enough to ‘think’ while I’m doing it.”  I’ve seen Lisa’s work first hand and it is amazing.  Crochet is Lisa’s ING –  that seemingly solitary activity that she has decided to turn into a BING – a tool to get connected. This summer she decided to launch crochet workshops in her home as a springboard for reaching out and building more connection within her community.

And do you want to know her big secret about how she’s doing that? Continue reading

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Best dinner ever: Colonel John’s Flank Steak

Colonel John's Flank Steak is the perfect dinner when entertaining neighborhood guests.  It's so simple and so delicious!

Colonel John’s Flank Steak is the perfect dinner when entertaining neighborhood guests. It’s so simple and so delicious!

As you’re getting to know your neighbors, one perplexing question that seems to come up is “what do I feed them for dinner?” If there’s one rule to abide by when entertaining in Seattle it’s keep it simple, keep it casual. We Seattleites are not ones to put on airs.

I recall one time when Jaz and I went to eat at one of Seattle’s great restaurants, The Canlis, for a special evening out.  Jaz put on a suit and I treated myself to a new dress.  During the evening, second-generation owner Chris Canlis made his way to each table to ensure their hallmark customer service.  I’ll never forget when he stopped at our table and asked us how our meal was, and then added with a chuckle: “thank you for dressing for dinner.  It’s a lost art in Seattle.” We totally busted out laughing.

Yeah, we don’t get gussied up for dinner very often in the Emerald City, do we?  So, in keeping with that mindset, when having my neighbors over for dinner I’m doing the same: casual, simple.  If you get too fancy you could run the risk of making your neighbors feel uncomfortable, or possibly make them feel like they could never return the favor because the stress of ‘putting on the dog’ would overwhelm them.

The favorite casual meal at our house is Colonel John’s Flank Steak.

I introduced you to Colonel John and Betty, my wonderful in-laws, last Tuesday.  They enjoy family credit for originally finding the flank streak recipe in the Stars and Stripes newspaper while the family was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.  Originally called “Flank Steak Bourbon County,” the bourbon in the marinade allows constant basting while cooking, enhancing the flavor.  Even when my son only wanted Kraft Mac-n-Cheese or hot dogs for dinner, the first time he tried this flank steak it became his immediate favorite.  And so it goes with the rest of the family.

So, now, I share it with you, my blog family.  The sun is coming back out this weekend – why not invite a neighbor over and grill up a meal together?

Colonel John’s Flank Steak.  Tell me if it isn’t the best flank steak you’ve ever had.  Go on, I dare ya.

For the marinade:

  • 2/3c soy sauce (garden variety)
  • 1/3c bourbon whiskey (we use Jim Beam)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger (or 2 tsp grated fresh ginger, if you’re into that)
  • 1 tbs  ground black pepper
  • 2/3c hot water

Directions:  Score or pierce the flank steak about a dozen times on each side. Toss the meat into a gallon-size plastic ziplock bag, pour the marinade over it, zip it shut.  Leave out on the counter for two hours. Walk away. Do nothing. Put your feet up. Open the Cab Sav and let it breathe.

GRILLING:  Everyone who grills has their own method: gas or briquettes, preferred doneness, etc.  I’ll share how WE do it on our Gas Grill to achieve a perfectly Medium to Medium Rare Flank Steak. To note, during winter months a broiler can work in a pinch.

Step 1:  Fire up your gas grill to HOT.  Take the meat out of the Ziplock and reserve the marinade.

Step 2: Place the meat on the HOT Grill and let it sear for ONE MINUTE.

Step 3: Turn all of the grill nobs down to LOW, lower the lid and grill the meat for EXACTLY 7 minutes on the first side.

Step 4: Turn all the flames back up to HIGH, flip the flank over and, again, let the meat sear for ONE MINUTE.

Step 5: Turn all knobs to LOW, and grill second side for EXACTLY 7 MINUTES. 

Throughout the entire grilling process, periodically pour some of the reserved marinade over the meat (the bourbon lets you do this safely). 

Final Step:  Remove from the grill and let the meat REST for 20 minutes, covered in foil.  Thinly slice the flank steak across the grain and plate-er-up.

For a garden variety Eat Play Thaw dinner, I recommend pairing Colonel John’s Flank Steak with boiled quartered red potatoes, a simple green salad, and a well-breathed 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon.

As Miss Ina would say, how EZ is that?

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Seattle: if you can connect here, you can connect anywhere

The first time I tried to snow ski was at Mt. Bachelor.  It is a great place to learn to ski because the snow is usually powdery dry, there’s usually a lot of it and the sun is known to make a frequent appearance during winter days.  It’s what skiers describe as “forgiving” conditions.

Then, I skied at Snoqualmie.  Also known by many locals as “Snocrummy” or, in the old days, “Ice Acres.”  Now, I never want to bash a local business, so I will say that I certainly have had many a beautiful day at our Snoqualmie Summit ski area.  It’s close, it’s beautiful.  But, let’s be honest, the words “powdery dry” and “forgiving” are not words that one often uses to describe skiing adventures at the Summit.  You’ve got to work a little harder to cut and turn through the wet snow; you’ve got to toughen up to face the often pelting wind and rain. You’ve got to engage your machismo.

However, I do believe there is an amazing benefit of learning to ski at the Snoqualmie Summit, and it’s this:  if you can ski there you can ski anywhere!  After skiing at the Summit, anywhere else you ski will make you feel like an Olympic star.

Thinking along those lines, I’d like to think that our connection adventure in Seattle holds a similar lesson for all of us who call the Emerald City home.  Living in the midst of the Seattle Freeze I believe that if we can learn to connect here we can connect anywhere!  If we purpose to be connectors now, just think of the relational skills we’ll build in ourselves that we can then take with us anywhere.  Job relocations, health issues, retirement – all of these may befall us leading us to move who knows where.  Life is best lived if we live it with intention.

Role models of living with intention

I am very grateful to say that I have some wonderful role models in my life who have always engaged in life with great intention, wherever they have lived.  And, it would be my pleasure to introduce you to Colonel John and his bride, Betty… my father- and mother-in-law. Continue reading

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In the news and in the wire

It’s been a wonderfully fun week at Eat Play Thaw.  Last Friday I had an excellent dinner with new friends, my blog was featured in the local newspaper – The Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter, and I happened upon an article on GeekWire that for the first time provided some data that shows the Seattle Freeze is real.  Yup.

An excellent dinner with new friends

An excellent dinner with new friends

In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam discusses the many facets that have caused our increasing disconnectedness in American communities (yes, it’s NOT just Seattle).  But evidence shows that there’s one thing that does HELP:  having children.  “Once women and men become mothers and fathers, their purposeful socializing – through churches or synagogues or mosques, through PTAs, through neighborhood watch groups – goes up, up, up. BUT informal socializing with friends goes down.”

OK.  My goal at Eat Play Thaw (see I’m declaring war on the Seattle Freeze) is to help reverse this disconnected trend in Seattle and I’m here to encourage everyone who currently has children to LEVERAGE YOUR PURPOSEFUL SOCIALIZING OPPORTUNITIES – listed above – TO INCREASE INFORMAL SOCIALIZING.  Don’t ignore this significant time in your lives – it can provide a wealth of increased friendship opportunities.

Last Friday, we had a family over for dinner that lives in an adjacent neighborhood.  Our boys are buds at school.  When I first met the mom, I did that “false assumption” thing and assumed because she was outgoing and vivacious that she probably already had a circle of friends and so I put her in the “do not disturb” category.  Well, that was categorically stupid of me.  After she invited my son over for a play date with her son, we had an opportunity to talk further and after a few more conversations I invited her family over for dinner.  It was spectacular.  Our boys connected, we connected and our husbands found affinity in the similar work that they do.  Bingo!

Don’t delay.  Our kids already have affinity with their friends through school, sports, music, all kinds of common interests.  And, we already share a common interest with their friends’ parents:  our kids.  All it takes is the next simple step:  an invitation.

The Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter

I had a wonderful interview with Kelly Montgomery from the Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter about the blog and I’m grateful for her help in getting the word out to others who want to be intentional about connection.  Click here to read the full story.

If you’re new to Eat Play Thaw, click here to listen to a recent interview by KIRO Radio’s Rachel Belle about my journey.

Can a new technology – The Weave – help us thaw the Seattle Freeze?

An article this week on GeekWire spotlighted a new app designed to help people network and connect professionally.  It’s called Weave and I encourage you to check it out.  According to the article: “Weave is an app that allows users to swipe through cards of nearby people that they could potentially meet up with. If two people happen to swipe “yes” with each other, Weave opens up a conversation channel between them to help initiative an in-person conversation. It’s like Tinder, but for networking instead of just dating.”

The GeekWire article also talks about statistical data from Weave showing that, in essence, even when it comes to connecting professionally, Seattle falls far behind other major metropolitan areas.  We seem to be chronic hesitators.  I’ll look forward to watching Weave’s progress to see if it can be a social media tool that actually helps increase fact-to-face connection for Seattleites as opposed to those that encourage us to ‘connect’ remotely at home.

 

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Redmond Chorale brings more than music to its members and community

By Redmond Chorale Board President Ceytha Bruner

This is the third installment of my “ING” to “BING” series, encouraging all of us with individual Seattle “ING” interests (runnING, hikING, cyclING, etc.) to ‘trade up’ to make them a “BING” – an opportunity to connect and expand our lives relationally.  Today’s post is by Redmond Chorale Board President Ceytha Bruner.  She unpacks her journey of joining a new community vocal group and shows us how an “ING” doesn’t have to be a sport.  Her passion for singING  has impacted her life with an expanded circle of friendships.

Getting Started

My heart was pounding. The first piece of music was passed out and my section was asked to “read” the first line. I didn’t even know if I was in the right section!  I was a fraud and was about to be exposed. Oh, I can plunk out a melody on the piano with the best of them, but I couldn’t just look at a piece of music and sing that note.  How does that even happen?

In school I had been a “band goon” and a “drama freak” and choir, from the outside, had seemed too sedate.  Now I was finding out that it was far from sedate, and that making music together in a group is not only hard work, it is magical.

Redmond chorale signs at the city of Redmond's Centennial Celebration

Redmond chorale signs at the city of Redmond’s Centennial Celebration

When I heard that a new choir forming had a two-fold purpose of serving the community and doing concerts, I was intrigued. During that first rehearsal, despite my anxieties, I was hooked.   Today, I enjoy being a part of Redmond’s only community choir, the Redmond Chorale.  It has helped me be a part of the community and nurtured my need to be with others. Continue reading

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Men and Connection: Shoulder to Shoulder, Spoke to Spoke

It’s been documented through research that when it comes to forming deep human relationships, women more often need to connect face-to-face.  Men, however, form equally meaningful friendships connecting ‘shoulder-to-shoulder.’ Or, in some cases, ‘Spoke-to-Spoke.’

Dr. David Bahm riding in the Seattle to Portland cycling race

Dr. David Bahm riding in the Seattle to Portland cycling race

Longtime greater Seattle resident Dr. David Bahm (David) began cycling nearly two decades ago not as a means of connection, but out of a need to ‘get up and get moving.’  A few years out of college found him happily married with two fantastic sons, but also putting on weight and subsequently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“I topped out at 240 lbs. and that just didn’t work for me,” David said. “I got aggressive in the gym and my wife, Ann, helped me out with portion-control.  After I reached my goal weight, I tried getting into running but it just wasn’t really my thing.  I had ridden (a bicycle) a lot as a kid, but stopped once I got to college.”

The Evolution of a Cycling Enthusiast

David thought a second time about cycling and bought a good quality, used road bike on EBay, and began to ride.  “I had a good friend who had been pestering me for years, trying to get me to ride with him,” David said. “So one day I said ‘yes’ and I hooked up with him and a bunch of his cycling buddies.”  From there, David began enjoying cycling more and more, and that group of ‘cycling buddies’ began to evolve to become known as Team Elmer. “My friend had a baseball cap that had Elmer Fudd on it; you could say the name stuck.” Continue reading

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