Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More on Good Neighbors

You may recall that assignments are like a crop-dusting pesticide to the tiny little bug of my creativity.

Evidently that goes for self-imposed assignments, as well as those given by others.

Because it took an emergency appendectomy to prompt me to fulfill my promise to write another post about building community in your neighborhood.

The bad part:

Feeling like I was in Stage Two of Labor, (note to new readers: I'm not pregnant) wondering when I'd be getting my epidural, I drove myself to the E.R. on Saturday night, pulling over periodically to barf my innards into a large plastic bowl. Never before have I felt such pain. (And let it be known, I have birthed three babies!) Official Diagnosis: Nasticus Useless Appendicus. The miscreant organ was medically evicted on Sunday morning, while a church choir sang and a preacher swooned over the operating room radio.

The good part:

Dierdre took my girls to the all-church picnic at a neighboring park.

Beth & Ramadan brought us a delicious meal, including rosemary chicken, Newman's lemonade and iced-tea, and potato chips for the kids.

Tricia brought over a delicious vat of lentil soup and homemade cornbread.

Angele took Sylvia & Eli for a dinner-included playdate.

Ruth brought the best chicken & rice soup that I have ever had, apologizing that it was too salty (but not knowing that salt is the Love of My Life!)

My parents, my fellow-preschool-board-members, and my co-workers all sent me flowers!

AND... my children all went to preschool or Kindergarten for the week, and I took the week off from work to recover (does this explain all of the comments I've been leaving on your blogs this week?)

Which leads me back to my assignment, which is to share with you ways to get to know your neighbors and build community in your neighborhood, so that you, too, can have good soup when you get your appendix removed so that you, too, feel a sense of belonging where you live.

1. Start a neighborhood group

Odds are that some of your interests match up with your neighbors' interests. I find it is much easier to get to know my neighbors while we're sharing something in common. Thus I've initiated:

a) a neighborhood Green Group that meets monthly to discuss environmentally friendly living ideas as well as to use our collective power to influence policies;

b) a neighborhood Play Group of mostly moms (but Tobin does go sometimes!) that meets weekly (with hosting responsibilities rotating);

c) a Babysitting Co-Op, which grew out of the relationships formed in the playgroup (we exchange points instead of money for eachothers' babysitting services, and log everything on a cool webpage the Tobin created);

d) a neighborhood Book Club, that meets monthly under the pretext of discussing a book (when in reality we mostly just chat and catch up in a luxurious kid-free environment).

These are the groups I've started, but the possibilities are endless for what you could do: Poker Club, Football Night, Tree-Planting Days, Neighborhood Clean-Up, Sewing or Knitting Night, etc.

Do you have extra fruit on your trees? Invite your neighbors over for a plum picking party (like my neighbor Tricia did), promising that if they help you pick, you'll give them some of the spoils you make.

2. Do nice things for your neighbors and create traditions with your children at the same time.

a) Do your children create as much useless art-project junk as mine? Put it to good use. Ask your child which neighbor she'd like to surprise with that beautiful drawing, and walk it on over. This is especially nice if you have an elderly neighbor who isn't already swamped with her own kids' drawings, but can also help break the ice if there is a new kid on the block who you'd like your child to meet.

b) Celebrate May Day! Distribute May Day baskets to your neighbors. This is cheap, fun, and will keep your children busy for days. You can create the basket by cutting down the edges of a 1/2 gallon milk carton and then papering and decorating the sides. Fill with flowers from your garden and deliver to your neighbors' door. My girls love this tradition, as do our neighbors who now watch for the girls coming up their stoops on May 1st.

c) Invite the neighbors over to carve pumpkins at your house. And not just the kids. Never underestimate the joy of an 80-year-old carving a pumpkin.

3. Offer your kind services to your elderly neighbors.

a) If you're making a trip to the drug store, call your elderly neighbor and ask if she needs anything while you're there. Better yet, if you have the time, invite her to come along.

b) Mow your elderly neighbor's parking strip while you're doing your own.

c) Offer your phone number to you elderly neighbors and exchange numbers with their family when you see them stopping by to visit. You never know when you'll need to reach them, and they'll rest easier knowing someone is close by to check on Grandma should she have any trouble.

4. Organize a community-building event in your neighborhood.

Most cities have grant money available for neighborhood improvements. Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods is just waiting to give away money (to those who properly fill out the forms).

a) Invite your neighbors over and brainstorm what project you'd like to take on. It could include: a parking circle to slow down traffic; a painting on the street in your intersection; converting someone's parking strip into a community space (think meeting place; park bench; book exchange; solar-powered tea station, whatever)!

b) Link up with other organizations in your city to do your part to support your neighborhood (tree-planting in your parking strip, participating in a food drive, or helping remove grafitti).

The point is this: You will feel a sense of belonging in your neighborhood if you know your neighbors. You can only know your neighbors if you interact with them. And in this world, you will only interact with them if you make an effort to do so.

Anyone else have ideas? Let me know if you're posting and I'll link you up.

Now get out there and be good neighbors!

And tell your appendix that you love it. Today.


Note to readers: I do realize that there are certain limitations depending on your neighborhood. Your crackhouse neighbor, for example, might not appreciate the May Basket you leave on the doorstep. Still, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't leave one all the same.


painted maypole said...

oh, these are such great ideas! I've been wanting to get to know some of my neighbors better, and my husbnad and I have already started kicking around the idea of having a halloween party. Maybe we'll make it a pumpkin carving party. hmmmm..... Other great ideas, too!

Glad you are feeling better!

Emily said...

Oh, I used to live in a neighborhood where we could do things like this. It was lovely. Have I mentioned I dislike London?

Glad to hear you're on the mend.

jen said...

what a great neighborhood you have. we are just starting to work on that now, and it's going really well (but not to the gorgeous degree you've outlined)

Julie Pippert said...

I feel fortunate to live in a neighborhood that already does all of this...very fortunate. It's not perfect, nothing ever is, but oh how I appreciate and respect the intentions.

Using My Words

Anonymous said...

I am in awe. Just thinking about all those groups made me a little tired, and a lot inspired.

Our neighborhood has a variety of block parties every other month (and then they have parties to plan the parties) and we can't go to all of them. But even attending a couple has heloped us make some friends...

Just yesterday, I drove through the intersection pictured in this post! Did you guys do that? It made me want to park the car, get out, and kiss the pavement. Wow.

Seattle Mamacita said...

i feel lucky to be a part of your hood but yikes I didn't even know you were out with appendicitis I guess that explains why Tobin and the girls were doing chalk with the G two days in a row!!I owe you some banana bread my friend. Glad your feeling better.

Lori said...

I do love our neighborhood. Not even so much just our individual street, but our larger neighborhood. A lot of fun things happen here in "Mayberry."

Thinking of neighbors does make a little weepy though, as our dear neighbor across the street just passed away. He has lived here forever, long before we did, and we miss him so.

So sorry about your emergency appendectomy!! YIKES! It sounds awful!!

slouching mom said...

Oh, I'm glad that pesky appendix is out. Hope you are feeling right as rain by now.

Mamma said...

What terrific ideas.

We're doing a perenial exchange this month. It's our first. I'm hoping it will be a success.

Hope you're feeling better.

alicia said...

Just thinking about all your clubs and activities makes me tired. I don't know how you do it all. It's no wonder that the only way you can get some rest is by having surgery!

These are great ideas. I'll need to see which ones would work in my neighborhood. Unfortunately I don't think we have many elderly in our neighborhood; it's mostly young families. I need a way to make closer relationships w/ these families before initiating a babysitting co-op. I need to make sure they are trustworthy. Any suggestions for those who work full time and can't meet with other parents during the day?

Ally said...

Alicia-- how about inviting folks over for an evening wine-tasting and hiring one of your neighborhood teenagers to watch the kids? Or starting a book club in the evening with No Kids Allowed? You could also start a playgroup on Saturday mornings; keep it simple by meeting at your neighborhood park.

Little Monkies said...

Ok, I am SO freaked out that you had appendicitis. I think I need to go have a glass of wine now.

Love you, miss you, BIG HUG.

P.S. I used to make may baskets as a wee lassie in smallsville OK.

Nancy said...

Ouch -- sorry to hear about your appendix! (shudder)

But it sounds like you live in a wonderful neighborhood. And I can tell you're a great neighbor as well. So nice to hear about neighborhoods like yours, especially in this day and age when it seems harder and harder to forge bonds within the community.

Tranquila Seeker said...

What fantastic ideas for building an interactive neighborhood! I'm sure you know how blessed you are in your community; I can hardly wait until I am in a similar situation. If only the pot-head next door was more open to activities not involving recreational drugs. The Indian (dot, not feather) guy across the way who likes cheep beer and big women may be open for something along the lines of a knitting night, though! ;) It was really quite funny to me to think of trying to create a community with the people in our apartment complex. Though, I would like to start/join a soccer league with all the Hispanic kids and their families. Maybe I should get going on that instead of hiding behind my insecure fears.

I'm sure glad you've rid yourself of that pesky appendix!

Kelly Malloy said...

Great ideas!