It’s time for an analog revolution

Yes, it’s me. After more than a year of silence, I’m still here. I’m still neighboring.

I haven’t blogged in the past year because I didn’t have much new to share. I’m continuing to enjoy great connections with my neighbors via shared meals, book clubbing, enjoying invitations and big cups of coffee together. Always lots of coffee.

This week, in fact, I began my third year of my neighborhood coffee klatch. And, as most of the awesome ladies left about 2 hours after the ‘official end time,’ I think it’s safe to say they’re continuing to enjoy it as much as I am.

A stunning truth

During the four hours of our conversation and java jitters, a truth was shared about our neighborhood that stunned me. When my husband and I moved in 17 years ago every block in our neighborhood had a captain. The captains took point on welcoming a new neighbor with a personal note and a copy of the neighborhood directory. Throughout the year they’d deliver paper flyers to everyone’s porch announcing block parties, HOA meetings, the annual garage sale and Easter egg hunts.

Then everything went online.

A website and email system was created for efficiency and the hope that, as with everything in the digital age, 24/7 availability of information would help neighbors be more informed. 

But it seems that an inadvertent casualty in our digital efforts is the diminished perceived need for the analog touch of our block captains. In 2000, we had 17 block captains covering 17 blocks. Today? We have 4. Is this true in your neighborhood too?

The information-internet-social media age boasts its ability to ‘connect us to the world.’ Yet in reality it appears to be increasing our isolation and making us measurably less happy. With everything now readily available online, have we lost the need to walk outside our doors and share information directly with our neighbors?  While we’ve been busy patting ourselves on the back for ‘going digital’ and ‘saving trees’ have we, in fact, actually lost the thing we need most: the need to communicate and build authentic relationship with one another face to face?

Seattle’s relational dichotomy

Last January, a social media fueled movement saw an estimated 120,000 people join the Women’s March in Seattle, standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity to publicly and passionately defend women’s rights. That SAME WEEK, the Seattle Times published yet another article about The Seattle Freeze, quoting people’s relational isolation after relocating to Seattle:

“Everyone talks about their cool outdoor hobbies but nobody actually includes you.”

“People here keep to themselves, unless you’re part of their pack.”

“In Seattle, it’s harder to get to know people. Often, I feel like I make good connections that just don’t develop into an actual friendship.”

We Seattleites have a dichotomous relational nature. We’re eager to march shoulder to shoulder alongside thousands of strangers but we’re not so inclined to actually build a friendship with the person who lives next door. Why is that?

It’s time for an analog revolution – for ourselves, for our children

In the September issue of The Atlantic,  San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge penned a disturbing piece Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? in which she unpacks her study about teens in America becoming more relationally isolated as a result of “doing life” on their digital devices. They are spending time with friends less, dating less and have a much higher propensity to ‘feel lonely’ or depressed than previous generations. They’re withdrawing into a digital world of pseudo-relationship and pseudo-social life comparisons.

Are we ready to put down these stupid phones and tablets and step forward to be a block captain? On September 15, the Seattle Times published a great opinion piece by Cary Bozeman, a former mayor of Bellevue and Bremerton, in which he writes

“I have come to believe that the local neighborhood might be the most effective and powerful tool we have today that can impact the quality of our lives.”

I couldn’t agree more.

p.s.: While I haven’t written this past year, my blog has continued to receive traffic from individuals finding me through varied internet searches.  By far, the number one blog post searched for and found? “How we overcome sadness when that great neighbor moves away.”  In our highly mobile culture, people all around us are searching for meaningful connection. Perhaps they’re searching for us.

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Flowers? Tomatoes? Mystery Fruit? What you might already have that could trigger a chain reaction of neighborliness

I love stories of unexpected kindness.  My neighbor, Tracey, who moved here with her family from England two years ago, recently shared a wonderful example of such kindness on her Facebook page.

When they moved into their home, they inherited a lovely tree that sits in their front yard near the sidewalk. Each summer, it produces fruit. A ‘mystery fruit’.  Truly, she (and the rest of us) didn’t know exactly what it was, just that it was edible and delicious.

Last week she and her family picked the fruit and decided they had far too much for their own family, so they decided to share it with their neighbors.

What happened next was awesome. (From her Facebook page):

“We love living here – but every now and again something happens to make me realize just how lucky we are. We picked the fruit from the tree in our front yard and left them outside with a sign informing people to help themselves. Just now the doorbell rang and on the step was a man I didn’t know and his 3-year-old daughter. He handed me this basket of plums, with a card, and said it was to thank me for the fruit he took the other weekend. How wonderful!”


What do I have, versus what can I do?

So often in my own quest to build community, I admittedly make things more complicated than they need to be.  I often think ‘What can I do?’ Or ‘What can I organize?’ sending me on a journey to find just the right invitations, planning a detailed event, a menu of food, and wracking my brain to determine just the right date that works for everyone.

As I reflected on Tracey’s Mystery Fruit Experience, I thought that perhaps it might be time for me to change the question from “What Can I Do?” to “What do I already have that I can share?”

I already have a backyard, a fire pit and space for several dozen people. Did I really need to run to 3 stores yesterday trying to find just-the-right fall-looking party invites to place on my neighbors’ front porches between 3-5pm on a Sunday afternoon for a 3rd annual block party? Clearly, I have issues.

What do we already have that we can easily and generously share?

  • Late-summer lavender that could be harvested and tied in little gift bundles?
  • Garden vegetables, flowers or fruit?
  • A ladder, power tools, or a cold beer?

So often, isn’t it really the everyday things of life that, when shared, become the important things? Time. A smile. A word of encouragement. A craft or skill. A simple meal.  A listening ear. We all have a “Mystery Fruit” to share; something that we already have in abundance. What is yours?

As summer comes to a close and the clouds have started rolling in, let’s think about those easy things we can share with our neighbors – both the legacy friends, and the new family that moved in over the summer.  Let’s think about sharing those special “Fruits” that help bring a little more light to the long Northwest winter; those gifts, when given out of plenty, may start or continue a change reaction of neighborliness in each of our communities.

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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. Continue reading

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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
block 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. Continue reading

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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 Continue reading

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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!)

Continue reading

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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? Continue reading

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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! Continue reading

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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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