Making Connections

Yesterday afternoon, I was working away in my office when I noticed the sounds of a basketball — bounce, bounce, bounce, thunk, swish!, bounce — on my driveway. We actually have two hoops here, one slightly lower than standard height and one toddler sized. But I was the only one home at the time, and, yes, my fingers were still perched above my keyboard. When I went to the front door to see what I could see, there was a group of five or six kids in my driveway, most about Middle School age, a couple Elementary, but I didn’t recognize any of them. I admit, at first I was just a little startled that someone would randomly think to play ball in someone else’s driveway. When I opened the front door to check on them, one of the boys looked up at me with that recognition in his eyes that said, “Shoot! I didn’t even think about what we were doing!” Then he said, quite simply, “Do you want us to leave?”

So there I was, on the brink of a choice: I could be that old fuddy-duddy in the neighborhood who all the kids are scared of and shoo them away, snarling something to the effect of “You’re smashing all my plants!” OR I could use the opportunity to a) give the kids a safe place to play (we have a nice big driveway), b) encourage these kids to be kids by playing outside instead of locked away on video games and c) start on that first step of creating community. We haven’t been in the neighborhood long, so we really don’t know very many people, including kids, since we’re not quite in school yet. When we moved in, it was getting to be the colder months, so there wasn’t much outside activity. One of our neighbors came over to introduce themselves with a plate of Christmas cookies (always welcome in our house!) and we periodically see another neighbor out in his yard, though infrequently. So my family is the one that is out in the front yard all the time, kids loud enough for all around us to hear, making the noises associated with playing baseball, trucks, soccer, bubble blowing, riding bikes, etc. We’ve seen another little boy down the street a couple of times, just briefly, and my eldest will often do whatever he can to be outside when he sees the other boy, trying to work up the courage to ask him to play.

So in answer to their question, “Do you want us to leave?”, I moved the car out of the driveway, got out some of our balls and encouraged them to play. After they had played for a while and then gone on their way, I went out again to collect the balls and heard a call from down the street. And what do you know, it was one of the basketball players, calling out to say, “Thanks again!” – the same little boy my son has been hoping to play with. I wish my kids had been home at the time. We’ll have to have them over for some basketball again soon!

Community is something that takes time. It takes being open. It takes starting the conversation. We’ve lived in a number of different communities throughout the years, some with more of a sense of neighborhood than others, but what I’ve always noticed is that once we start approaching people, even with just a simple “hello!”, the dialogue will flow. Community will be what you make of it and how open you are to encouraging it. Here are my tips for creating community wherever you are:

  1. Smile and say hello – it may sound silly, but it is amazing to me how many people keep their heads down and shut each other out with their body language.
  2. Provide opportunity to interact with your neighbors – whether it is playing/weeding/looking at clouds, whatever, get outside and let people see who you are and your personality. It is much easier to approach someone if they are already outside and don’t appear to be cranky, rude or too busy.
  3. Ask for help or advice – if you have a neighbor who has a beautiful garden, ask them for tips! Even if you aren’t a big gardener yourself, people love to talk about things they are knowledgeable about and it will open the dialogue up to other subjects.
  4. Don’t be rude – realize that especially children can sometimes do things, like running across your grass or playing basketball without asking, without intending to cause any harm and often it is just because they don’t know. If someone does something you don’t want them to, talk to them in a calm manner and come at it from the angle that they probably didn’t know better. You’ll be amazed at how much better others respond when you are kind (usually).
  5. If you’re up for it, put together a neighborhood picnic some sunny Sunday afternoon. Set the grill up on your driveway and either post some signs up a few days before or just tell anyone walking by, “Grill is going if you want anything cooked!”
  6. If you have kids, get to know the other kids in the neighborhood. Not only does this help you know what types of friends your children are hanging out with, but you may also find some responsible babysitters.

We can make community wherever we go. All it takes is one commonality and a willingness of spirit.

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Leap of Faith = Leap into Life

You’ll have to forgive my absence from the blogosphere this past week. It’s been a kind of crazy few days. During the past few weeks, my family and I have been looking at a few changes we wanted to make to improve the quality of our lives. One week ago, I officially took a leap of faith. I’m leaving my corporate gig, opting for a smaller paycheck, but one with larger payoff in terms of time spent with my children and more in tune with the kind of life I believe in. I’ll be pursuing some dreams, ideas and adventures; leaping into life!

To me, a “leap of faith” is tied closely with something that I mentioned in my very first post here – “I believe that putting thoughts, dreams and wishes “out there” helps them become more real.” By taking our life’s desires and allowing them to bubble up, past the suffocating depths of “what-if”, escaping the tightening grip of our fears, and pushing them into daylight, giving them wings, no matter how small, they will take flight! No matter what size wings they originally had when first released, by feeding them with possibility, that wingspan will continue to grow until at last it can’t help but make us take flight. The leap of faith becomes a flight of life.

Take heart your dreams. Hear yourself out. Give energy, sustenance and desire to what you believe. Remember, a leap of faith begins with a first step.

Weekends

Weekends were made for sunshine. Weekends were made for laughter and adventures and playing tag and eating good food. Weekends were made for sleeping in and cuddling up. Weekends were made to remind us that life exists outside of weekends, too.

This weekend, I got to be on some great adventures with my children. We went to the Opening Day boat races in Seattle, mesmerized by the cadence of the oars and synchronicity of stroke. We gently cried as the Lorax showed us a world without trees, then rejoiced as the seed of hope began to sprout. We imagined ourselves in all kinds of roles and drew ourselves right into those scenes. We cooked from scratch and tasted the realness of food. We wrestled, colored, danced and read.

I am amazed at the world viewed through the eyes of children! I am amazed even more when I can put aside the adult in me and join in, experiencing first-hand (again) how imagination works.  Having two boys, a lot of mischief around here centers on the cars, bad guys and wrestling sort. My living room can be a jail cell, a battle field, a soccer arena (!!), a house and a distant planet, all in the same afternoon and simply with the adjustment of a cushion here and a way of seeing there.

I highly recommend the next time you hear a little voice pleadingly calling, “Want to play with me, Momma?” you jump up, put on your best cape, and perhaps save the day! You might be surprised with a day or a weekend that will forever be saved in memory banks.

May Challenge

Happy May Day!

Summer is just around the corner. Flowers are blooming, buds are appearing on once-bare branches, moles are popping up in yards in anticipation of tender young shoots to nibble at. If you haven’t already made reservations for many campgrounds, now is the time to seek out the options that remain (most reservable campgrounds open up reservations six months to a year in advance). Even if you can’t get away for an overnight trip, Spring hikes, especially around locations that feed off snow melt, are spectacular!

In fact, I have a challenge for you. Remember those times when you were young, endless hours spent playing outside, getting all kinds of dirty, exploring every nook and cranny you could wiggle into? Spring is the release of pent-up bodies. It is the fresh bursting-forth of life from the Earth. Spring is a time to remember that just outside our windows, the natural world exists. THAT world has been here longer than us and will continue long after we’re gone. Seasons change, and with each change is a new opportunity to focus on the newness of each season, the subtle shift from one mode of life to the next.

Here’s my challenge: One month of getting outside a minimum of three times a week for at least 20 minutes.*

This does not include walking to and from your car. It isn’t the snippet here and there of walking from your office to the coffee shop or taking a smoke break. I hope it would be more than just the time spent begrudgingly mowing lawns or pulling weeds, though if that is your form of enjoyment, it will do. What it is is twenty minutes of just enjoying nature. It is laying back in the grass, examining cloud shapes for animals with your kids or tracking down the frog you hear at dusk each night. It is definitely the hike or camping trip, whether 1 mile or 50. It is embracing even those rainy days with rubber boots and worms abound. Twenty minutes outside, letting nature soak into your skin, feeling the difference between re-circulated, air-conditioned air and what nature uses to tousle your hair. Two times a week (or more if you’re ambitious!) for meaningful interaction with something that isn’t man-made. Your job, your house, your chores – those will still be there when you get back, but nature changes. Go outside! Change with it!

To join the challenge, simply leave a comment. Additionally, track and share your adventures by joining the Facebook page!

*I realize that this challenge may be easier for some than others. For those of you already outside, make a commitment to either a) increase your time (20 minutes too easy? How about 45?) or b) make it your goal to get someone else outside for those 20 minutes! It is a great opportunity to invite the elderly woman down the street to go for a walk, or the friend who you know could simply benefit from some fresh air. The key part of this challenge is that you are consciously focusing on the natural world around you.

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
~Khalil Gibran

Lagom

Ever have one of those moments when you’re in the middle of a thought and suddenly you struggle for the right word or phrase to describe whatever vision it is you are trying to get across? You roll a few words around in your mouth, but none of them are quite right. You know there is a word that exists, that it is somehow eluding the fumbling connection of constants and vowels rushing into your head, vying to be “it”. You slow down, relax, recall whatever threads you can grasp that you associate with that word, and then…

Lagom.

That’s my current “it” word. A Swedish word that has no direct translation, but “is neither too much nor too little; but neither is it just “enough”.”* It is within the realm of comfortable, but not to the point of excess. Lagom can describe everything from possessions to decoration to lifestyle. Within it are notes of embracing what you have, of taking no more than your fair share and ensuring that those behind you have what they need, of allowing room in your life/house/beliefs for things to shift and take new form without being crowded out, of giving things room to breathe.

I like the idea of lagom. It reminds me that I don’t need a dozen towels when two will do (when one is dirty, wash it and put the other up!). It encourages me to invest in the best quality of something that I want to last so that I’m not using as many resources buying one plus replacements of something of lesser quality. It is the timer in my shower letting me know that my body has gotten clean, but there are others in the world who still need water.

Life should be about the balance, of achieving lagom – enough time put in at work to be comfortable, but not so much that you don’t get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Enough food to sate your hunger and thirst, but not so much that your body has to do some “remodeling” to find a place to put it. Enough furnishings in your house that you have what you need and enjoy, but not so much that you can’t even find those pieces you enjoy. Do we really need two refrigerators, five basketballs, 15 sets of sheets and six bedrooms for a family of four?

I can see what you’re thinking. “What if I have a party for ten teams of 2-on-2 basketball over the course of three days? Oh no! I don’t have enough bedrooms!” We have neighbors with fridges and coolers, hotels and community centers these days. If you must have the tournament, creating and working with a community is not only easier, but much more rewarding. And since your free-time opened up once you allowed others to help, how about taking a look at your linen closet?

*My thanks to Alan AtKisson for his essay, “The Lagom Solution” in the book, “Less Is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, A Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness” for finally providing a name to the definition and thought I’ve long embraced and not been able to name, until now.

This I Believe

I believe that life is more than just a series of days.
I believe that moments both large and small make us who we are.
I believe that if you wait for the just the “right” whatever, you’ll be waiting forever.
I believe that putting thoughts, dreams and wishes “out there” helps them become more real.

I believe in shopping local and supporting the arts.
I believe in paying a higher price for a unique item from a small business that I want to see stay in the community.
I believe in investing in the quality of something that will last.
I believe that we must always have access to printed books.

I believe in the balance of technology and nature and that both are vital.
I believe in re-envisioning – objects, articles of clothing, lives.
I believe that it isn’t always the amount of food that harms us, but what is in the food.
I believe that communities are more than just people living on the same block or same state.

I believe that it truly does take a village to raise a child.
I believe that mud, scrapes and silly faces are just as vital to childhood as reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
I believe in not being embarrassed when the neighbors see me turn up the music and dance with my children in the middle of the afternoon.
I believe that the essence of life is connection, exploration and appreciation.