Won’t you be my neighbor? Oh, wait. You already are!

Today’s post is from long-time Seattle area marketing communications maven Karen Cramer.  Karen and I got connected through the University of Washington’s continuing education program.  Karen recently had the most delightful experience indicative of what it means to ‘live warmly’ in one’s community.  I know you will enjoy this incredible story:

More than 15 years ago, my husband and I moved our young family to an old farming community northeast of Seattle in the sweet, beautiful Snoqualmie Valley. We’ve raised our children here, worked in the schools, and shoveled mud in huge ditches alongside other community members because someone’s farm house was in danger. We are grateful to have enjoyed countless pancake breakfasts at the firehouse, hamburgers in the cul-de-sac with neighbors, and the opportunity to bring Haunted-and-Hopped-Up-On-Sugar Halloween and Winter Fairyland to life each holiday season with treats, decorations, and lighting displays that rival the over-the-top traditions in Christmas with the Kranks.

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail at early fall.

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail at early fall.

We’ve contributed to and benefited from small town, highly engaged community life. The kind of life and engagement I envied and fantasized about as a child while we drove through little towns on the way to our next new home stop during my dad’s military career. We have considered moving countless times for convenience sake but worry about the deep loss we’d feel in leaving this community and the rich ties we’ve built over the years. That’s right, folks. We have it good.

The Seattle Freeze?

If you’d have asked me about the Seattle Freeze six months ago, I might not have taken the inquiry very seriously. Or at least not thought it applied in my world. And I might have given myself far too much credit. On a beautiful summer day this year – the Fourth of July to be exact – we were given a gift: an opportunity to experience what it means to open up to strangers, welcome them in, and truly invite them to be part of our lives.

Here’s what happened… Continue reading

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The CRAZY, AMAZING COINCIDENCE that happened at my first coffee klatch! Get your Kleenex ready…

Organizing a coffee klatch is an excellent way to meet your neighbors in a casual setting. A great step toward thawing the Seattle Freeze.

Organizing a coffee klatch is an excellent way to meet your neighbors in a casual setting. A great step toward thawing the Seattle Freeze.

On my continuing mission to challenge myself to be intentional about exploring the many ways Seattleites might open up their friendship circles, I decided to try my hand at organizing a neighborhood coffee klatch. I think there was one in my neighborhood years ago, but it faded out about the time we moved in.  I have such amazing timing, I know.

The Invitee List & Quick Details

To build my invitee list I combed through neighborhood and school directories for published email addresses of women in my neighborhood. Yes, this one was targeted at women, sorry guys.  I also scoured my own Outlook account to look for gals I might have served on a neighborhood or school committee with but didn’t really know them very well. And, of course, I invited neighbors that I already knew – aka ‘the peeps’. As I did this one mid-week, I targeted stay-at-home and work-from-home women.

For this venture I used Evite to keep things über simple and organized. I emailed the invite to a list of 22 neighborhood gals, with about a week’s notice prior to the klatch.

Six gals were able to attend. Several more were thankful for the invite, and although they had other commitments they made a point to say “please let me know when you have the next one.”

And, do you want to know the CRAZY, AMAZING COINCIDENCE that happened at my inaugural neighborhood coffee klatch? Continue reading

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One Inspiring “Night Out”

This pig may have seen better days, but he hosted a great time for one North Seattle neighborhood!

This pig may have seen better days, but he hosted a great time for one North Seattle neighborhood!

Last week I shared my celebration with you about taking the risk to organize a block party with just one week’s notice, the result of which was getting the opportunity to meet five neighbors I didn’t yet know. Along with several neighbors I do know, we all enjoyed a casual evening of new connections. It really was awesome.

I was inspired to try this after hearing about three National Night Out block parties via friends and blog followers who were willing to share their stories with me. A couple of weeks ago, I connected with Kristine, a Bellingham transplant who now resides in North Seattle. She has been organizing a NNO block party in her neighborhood for the past seven years.  What started out as a simple potluck, grew this year to include a parade and a roasted pig. How did this all come together? Continue reading

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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


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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