How do we best celebrate Mother’s Day after losing our mom?

Since early childhood, I called my mom “Vovvy”.  My dad was “Zazzy”. My siblings and I arrived at these nicknames after our youngest cousin David couldn’t pronounce his syllables correctly. We spent a weekend listening and laughing at his conversations to “Gwammah” and “Dzadzy”. Somehow, we morphed that into calling our parents Vovvy and Zazzy, and it stuck.  This weekend will be my first Mother’s Day without my mom.  Without “Vovvy.”

my first Mother's Day after losing my mom

My mom, Kathryn (right), and her sister, Delphine (left). Weren’t they both a dish?

As my mom’s last years were spent declining into the abyss of dementia, before her death last February I had been losing her over and over again for 7 years. Years filled with difficult decisions and ever deeper levels of sadness.

Those days are now gradually moving behind me and this Mother’s Day I’m looking to honor my mother in new ways. My faith tells me she is now with God, with Jesus. No more pain, no more disappointments, no more memory loss. Just eternity stretched out before her with unlimited joyful possibilities. This Mother’s Day I celebrate her eternal happiness.

This weekend I am free to reflect on her very best years, and the very best memories:

Of walking arm in arm at the mall when we would go school shopping together.


Of her capacity to make a 4-gallon bowl of potatoes salad that we would eat on for an entire weekend at the beach.


The way she and my dad would stand on the porch waiting for their grandkids to arrive.


The way they would stand on the porch waving goodbye watching as I drove away after every visit home I made as an adult.


The first time she sang a solo at church: “It’s Time To Pray” from the musical “I love America”.


Her capacity to listen.


Her capacity to tell the most inappropriate jokes. To our pastor.


The uproarious sound of her laughter that could fill a room.


Her capacity to know the very worst behaviors of her children, and still love them unconditionally.

Each mom hopes to embrace and incorporate the very best she learned from her mother. I love to remember – and hope that I have inherited – my mom’s crazy side. Her Irish roots instilled a love of humor, crazy loud fun, and good times with friends and family.

I remember the time she came to visit me at college. We attended a homecoming concert that included an alumni playing a classical song on this huge, grand pipe organ, playing only with his feet on the foot pedals. Not being “high church” people, we got the giggles at the sound and spectacle of it all. While the ‘church ladies’ in front of us looked over their shoulders and gave us the evil stink eye, my mom leaned over to me and said “oh, get the hook!” We laughed so hard we cried.

Nature's bouquet - just in time for Mother's Day.

Nature’s bouquet – just in time for Mother’s Day.

I remember her friends in our neighborhood, and the many times I heard her laughing with Linda, talking for hours on the phone with Tina, enjoying a cup of coffee with Gladys and visiting Mrs. Rittenburg, a mostly housebound elderly lady who called my mom “Sunshine.”

I remember her best friend, Evie, a friendship that spanned 60 years.

With all of those memories in my heart and mind, I will honor and celebrate my mom by getting up each and every day and choosing life, embracing each day as an opportunity to learn, to laugh, to love, to strive and to thrive. To never give up or give in to disappointment.  To pursue my gifts, my passions, my interests and make an investment in my family and my friends.

To live a life of not just happiness, but of purpose.  Isn’t that what every mom wants for her children?

I will celebrate Mother’s Day by remembering the very best of my mom and all that she invested in me. That part of her will never die, not if I don’t let it.

I love you, Vovvy.

Happy Mother’s Day.

My mom and I on vacation in Maui, 1994.

My mom and I on vacation in Maui, 1994.

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7 Secrets I’ve Learned from my Seattle Neighbors

Whenever we attempt something new chances are we’ll learn something new.  In the last 12 months of my quest to thaw the Seattle Freeze in my own neighborhood I’ve learned a few ‘trade secrets’ other Seattleites may want to use to increase connection with their neighbors. Some I’ve learned by trial and error, some I’ve picked up from those who’ve posted great comments on the blog.

PineappleSecret #1: Plan Ahead!

Confession: I am the Queen of the Last-Minute Invite. As an extroverted extrovert, I tend to make the silly assumption that people want to hang out.  All the time.  On a moment’s notice.  What was I thinking?  Early on I made the mistake of thinking that a week or less is ample notice for inviting people to dinner.  Uh, wrong.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  it is not at all odd – in fact it is preferred – to give your Seattle neighbors about 3-week’s advance notice for a dinner invite if you expect their calendar to be open. No exaggeration. Seattleites do not think it odd that you’re inviting them 3 weeks out. In fact, they appreciate it.

Secret #2: Don’t have everyone over for dinner in one night!

Block parties are GREAT for getting acquainted with a lot of neighbors on one night; dinner parties are not!  One blog subscriber told me about a seriously CRAZY dinner party she had with her neighbors.  She wanted to have some neighbors over for dinner that had just moved in a couple of months previous.  But when she got ready to invite them, she felt a little “guilt twinge” that she hadn’t yet invited over some other neighbors that had moved in across the street two years previous. So, guilt won that round and she ended up inviting both of them.  And they each had 3-4 kids. And she and her husband have 3 kids. IT WAS A ZOO.  Forget conversation; the whole night she was just trying to keep the spaghetti off the dining room wall.

When moving from acquaintance to inviting a neighbor over for dinner, plan a dinner party with just one neighbor at a time. If you want to invite two neighbors, either stick with empty nesters or hire a sitter!  Even with a sitter, keep the ceiling at six adults.  More than six and your introverts will start dissolving into the wallpaper.  #TrustMe

Secret #3: Don’t take a “no, thank you” personally

In a culture that is constantly moving with the wind in our hair, sitting down over a meal – or even a cup of coffee – is a gift. But in this day and age you can count on it taking a while to get some people to unwrap that gift.  I still have neighbors, one year into this journey, with whom I’m still trying to find a time that works for both of us to have them over for dinner. No joke.

Since launching a coffee klatch last fall, each time we’ve met it’s been a different group, with maybe 1-2 people who were able to attend a previous klatch. People are busy and schedules change on a dime.  DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Don’t focus on who can’t make it. Rather, celebrate who says “yes” and seize the opportunity to get to know them better.

Secret #4: Inviting is Contagious

Not every lesson I learned was difficult; some lessons have been downright encouraging.  I’ve learned that by simply practicing the Discipline of Inviting, I think I’m seeing a shift in our neighborhood culture.  I’m hearing about neighbors inviting other neighbors over for tea. I’ve seen families heading to another neighbor’s for dinner. I’ve been asked “when are we going to have another one of those block parties? It’s great to catch up with everyone.”

Certainly I’m not the first neighbor to extend an invite – that would be ridiculously egotistical of me to think that, especially since I was INVITED to participate in a neighborhood Bunko group and a neighborhood Book Club.  But I’m feeling a shift in the frequency of invitations.

Maybe when we get intentional about inviting our neighbors to connect, the neighborhood culture itself starts to believe that ‘inviting is a safe thing to do here’ and, thus, encourages more inviting? I think yes.

Secret #5: Inviting is a Gift. 

Whether or not a neighbor has been able to attend, many are so appreciative of just getting the invite.

  • I’ve gotten hugs from neighbors while out for an evening walk who said “oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it – we had family in town – but thank you! I hope I can make it next time.”
  • I’ve gotten a knock on my door from a neighbor just coming over to say thank you.
  • I have a neighbor who said they’d been ‘burned’ in friendships in the past, but my invites and blog have encouraged them to start fresh and take some risks.

Even with some neighbors who’ve yet been able to make it over for a dinner, coffee klatch, block party or other thing – I talk to them more when we’re all outside doing yard work or bump into one another at the mailbox.  I’ve gotten really nice voicemails and emails expressing sincere thanks for the invite, and ‘hope to make it next time.’

I believe the Discipline of Inviting opens doors to further conversations.

Secret #6: Not every neighbor wants to connect. But many do.

Yes, I still have neighbors on my street, in both directions, whom I’ve never met. They didn’t respond to my block party invite or my Seahawks Tailgate party. I wouldn’t know them if I passed them at the grocery store. But I HAVE met a lot of them, and I am grateful for those whose lives are in a place where they are able to connect and want to be known in our neighborhood.

For those that I’ve not yet met, I’m committed to stop categorizing people based on first impressions or responses. We never know what’s going on in people’s lives until we get to know them.  And we never know when an opportunity might present itself to connect in the future.

Secret #7: Anyone can do this.

My goal with this journey was simply to put the pineapple out on the front porch and do my best to make sure the people on my street weren’t feeling victim to the Seattle Freeze.  I just started doing some inviting. Nothing magical, nothing extraordinary.  Nothing that anyone else couldn’t do.  I hope more neighbors have felt welcomed, connected and happy to be a part of our neighborhood. I certainly am enjoying getting to know them and seeing them get to know one another.

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5 Steps to Thawing the Seattle Freeze in Your Neighborhood

One year ago today I declared war on the Seattle Freeze. Yep – it’s been a year.

I had reached a point of being genuinely grieved when I kept hearing that Seattleites were ‘friendly but aloof’.  That people who moved here from different communities, states or even countries felt like they could never ‘break in’ to established social networks or make real friendships.

So, I set out to see what I could do to perhaps warm the social weather in my own neighborhood.  I would try and invite one neighbor that I didn’t yet know well or know  at all over to my home for dinner (or other meal) each month for 12 months. And, I would blog about it to hold myself accountable.

How did I do?

Celebrating one year of thawing the Seattle Freeze in my neighborhood

In the last 12 months I have had the privilege and the pleasure of meeting and getting to know better 16 additional neighbors.  And I have had the most marvelous time doing it.

In the hopes that sometime in the not so distant future more people in this beautiful city of ours – (i.e.: beyond my loyal 57 subscribers and the occasional Facebook referral) reach a point where they want to be more intentional about getting to know their neighbors, I thought I’d spend a few weeks unpacking what I did, what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned along the way.

So, if you are a Seattleite or recent transplant to the Emerald City and you’ve stumbled upon this blog and want to take on the Freeze, here’s my recommendation of:

5 Steps to Thaw the Seattle Freeze in Your Neighborhood:

Step 1: Get The Phat Over Yourself

I had to admit that my biggest hindrance to finding connection in my neighborhood was often myself.  I copped an attitude early on when people didn’t respond the way I first expect them to (see:  “My 20-Mile March to Dinner #1″). I think we all can torpedo opportunities to connect based on our assumptions about people (see: “KIRO’s Rachel Belle and the weird Seattle Freeze habits that torpedo potential connection”).  We give up when we feel a door close.  Don’t get me wrong: I won’t deny that there’s some truth to “The Freeze,” but in what other arena of life (college, work, dating, kids) do we simply stop trying to move forward when we face a few challenges? For me, it was time to change my stinking thinking.

Step 2: Be Intentional.

Our daily schedules are whacked. We are living in an age of busyness. Our accepted culture of long work hours, over-parenting and the seeming inability to have breathing room in our calendars definitely hinders meaningful connections happening organically, even on the street where we live.  I had to decide connection was important and so I set a goal. Developing meaningful friendships takes time and rarely as adults does it happen accidentally.  Decide it’s important to you and decide what you’re willing to do about it.

Step 3: Cast A Wide Net

If there’s ONE TOOL that I would recommend over and over again as the first building block to getting to know your neighbors it’s this:  Organize a block party.  It’s a great, low-key first step to make introductions. When faced with getting to know neighbors I had never even met before, I scratched my head and said “how in the world am I going to do that? Knock on their front door, introduce myself and invite them to dinner?” Uh, no. Instead, I organized a casual fall coffee bar/block party and through it met 5 neighbors for the first time!


National Night Out is coming August 4: ORGANIZE A NEIGHBORHOOD BLOCK PARTY! DO IT!  You will not regret it.

Step 4: Start Some Kind of Neighborhood Club

In order to move from neighbor to acquaintance to friendship, I highly recommend starting a neighborhood book club, coffee klatch, bunko club or some kind of affinity group (scrapbooking, crocheting, running, etc) so you’ll have a structure in place that will create an opportunity to spend regular time together.  Friendship is a gradual process that needs frequency and time. We all have those friendships that started instantly because we had French class together in college or we met at camp as kids. But, as we’ve moved into adulthood those instant affinities become rare. Most friendships develop over time. Lots of time. Start something in your neighborhood that encourages consistent connection and conversation.

Step 5: Manage Your Expectations

Not everyone will want to connect. And that’s OK. Rather than remaining stuck in my old attitude of “what’s with everyone?” I decided to assume the best of my neighbors and realize that we’re all at different places at different times. At any given season in our lives busy schedules, family activities, or perhaps even a chronic illness or caring for an aging parent can put such demands on our schedules that carving out time to make new friendships just isn’t realistic.

But seasons change. Don’t give up on your neighbors. Keep inviting. You’ll be amazed at what might happen.

How do I know this? Recently my next door neighbor commented that what I’ve started has made the increase in connection in our neighborhood “feel palpable.”

More on that next week.

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Earth Day 2015: Are you ‘greener’ than your neighbor?

Take a look to see how you rate in regards to being an Earth-friendly neighbor.  #EarthDay

Earth Day Infographic Green Practices

Happy Earth Day 2015!



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Beware the Seattle Introvert

There are those who believe that the Seattle Freeze is simply a bi-product of Seattle having a higher percentage of introverts than other large metropolitan cities.  Ok.

Well, for what it’s worth, in my journey of getting to know my neighbors better I have found that regardless of introvert or extrovert, people (neighbors) enjoy connecting. True, they all may not need or want as much connection as myself (an extroverted extrovert), but this past year I have not only INVITED neighbors over for dinner (who tell me they are more introverted), but I have also been INVITED TO THEIR HOMES for dinner.  So there.

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

In two weeks, April 29, it will be one year since I “Declared War On The Seattle Freeze.”  In two weeks I’ll unpack what I did, what I learned and where I go from here.  Until then, I thought I’d celebrate my introvert friends by sharing some fun insights I came across from another blog called “Introvert, Dear.”  Blogger Jenn Granneman shares her “9 Rules For Being Friends With An Introvert” in this whimsical (yet truthful) blog post about what she needs her friends to know if they want to enjoy a friendship with her. Continue reading

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Ham for Easter? Really?

This weekend is Easter Sunday.

While the BunnyMan will be paying a visit to most hobbit holes with grade-school-aged children, for a major part of the globe Easter is a religious (Christian) holiday that pauses to recognize the Messiah’s arduous suffering on the cross and culminates in a great celebration of the day that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Jesus. A man Christians around the world believe willingly suffered for all mankind. Jesus. Born of the House of David, of the nation of Israel.

Jesus. A good Jewish boy who kept the law, didn’t work on the Sabbath, honored his parents. He lived a perfect life. And, of course, as a good Jewish man he never ate pork.

And so, just so I’m clear here, the majority of people in America who celebrate the religious Easter will sit around a table this Sunday and eat what? Ham. Continue reading

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Is Facebook making a liar out of you?

This past weekend was my mother’s memorial service. A wonderfully tearful time of reflection mixed with giant breaths of gratitude for the number of extended family and longtime friends of her’s who came to say ‘she was a great lady; she was a great friend. We will miss her.’

It was naturally also a time for me to get caught up with a few folks that I’ve known since my childhood – old neighbors, longtime friends from the church my family and I attended during my growing up years.

And then I had a conversation with a good friend – one of those longtime friends – that stopped me in my tracks. I have always felt a good connection with my friend. We grew up around the corner from each other, attended the same church as kids, went to the same high school, I was an attendant in her wedding, we share longtime mutual friends. She is an amazing vocalist and she sang at my mom’s service. Certainly, we have lived in different cities for quite some time, but we still know the ‘goings on’ of one another’s lives.

And then she said, “The last time I actually saw you in person was at your wedding.”  More than 15 years ago. What?  No. That can’t be.

Oh, it be. Continue reading

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LIFE: It Takes A Village

Spring brings new beginnings

Several years ago I found myself in a place of feeling like every facet of my life felt like ‘work.’  Have you ever felt that way?  That no matter what you had your finger in, it just became more investment than reward, more negotiation than resolve, more conflict than peace. More work.

Sharing this with a good friend, his response was to encourage me to “take some time and practice gratitude.  Write down everything you are grateful for right now in your life.”

My first reaction was “Oh, thank you Mr. Solution-Oriented Male.”  (I’ll own up – he was my pastor.) That’s NOT what I wanted to hear.  In fact, I didn’t want to have to DO one more thing.

Yet, within a week or so of that conversation I found myself traveling for work (which I was not happy about). Having some free time one evening, my friend’s recommendation was ringing in my ears so I bought a journal and started writing down what I was grateful for.

At first it was a great struggle.  But then, I changed the ‘what’ to ‘who’.  And then the writing became easy.  I began writing down the names of so many friends.  Friends from childhood that were still good friends.  Friends from my late twenties that I met during a season in a social organization. Friends from my faith community. Friends at work. Friends that had moved away but we still stayed in touch.

SpringBeginnings1By the time I finished writing and looked at my long list, my heart was indeed grateful. My mind began to clear and I began to have a fresh perspective on changes I could make in my life to lessen the ‘work.’

Thank God for my friends.

Today I’m embracing and returning to that much-needed gratitude exercise.  Last week, after a 7-year decent into Alzheimer’s, my mother passed away. Continue reading

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Neighboring: don’t underestimate our ‘Friends of the Road’

What free gift could you give a friend or neighbor this Valentine’s Day?

Friendship is a broad word that, when you break it down, describes the intentional actions of giving and receiving with another human being for mutual benefit. It occurs when, ideally, people equally invest in one another.

What word or gift could you give a friend this Valentine's Day?

Sometimes I think this Seattle Freeze comes from the fact that we live in a time when people move pretty frequently and the thought of ‘investing’ in neighbors feels potentially ‘emptying’ rather than ‘fueling’. Continue reading

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You know you’re turning 50 when…

…You need your reading glasses not only to read The Seattle Times but to decipher the items on your dinner plate.

…Y2K is the last date you remember having a recognizable waistline.

… Your chief career goal is to retire early enough so that your Social Security benefits are grandfathered-in before the government goes bankrupt.

… Someone mentions “50 Shades of Grey” and your first thought is not a spicey novel, but the number of black turtlenecks in your closet (see Nora Ephron’s “I feel bad about my neck” ). Continue reading

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