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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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.


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. Continue reading

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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! Continue reading

Posted in Connecting, Neighboring | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Family, Recipes | Tagged , , | 2 Comments