Neighbors: What is My Next Move?

Now that I have successfully delivered my “neighbor gifts” to my neighbors, I’m considering what my follow-up action is going to be. We live on the corner of two cul-de-sacs and that convenience of a meeting point is not lost on me. I think that a block party is just the right fit for my next big mission to my neighborhood.

A bonus to this block party idea is that I could easily resource people from my church small group to help me in this endeavor. My husband and I joined this group because they have put their faith into action. In past discussions of what our small group could accomplish on a fellowship night, others have even brought up the block party idea as a way to draw others to a Christian fellowship and get-to-know-you experience.

I feel that more than stating we are going to accomplish this is knowing whether people would attend. What do you think is the best way to draw people out of their homes? Is it a flyer to pass/mail out or a personal invitation the night of the shindig? What do we offer – a full on meal extraordinaire or simple snacks?

I have to say, I’m a bit worried it will turn into a block party for the kids in the neighborhood. I want to make sure adults come too. How do you think I can best make this happen?

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‘Tis the Season to Love My Neighbors: Part Three

Neighbor gifts

The first house I lingered…second house, nobody was home…the third house, I caught him at his mailbox….the fourth house was warm and responsive….the fifth house – they were just perplexed…the sixth house was conversational…the seventh house, I was interrupting, but they were still gracious.

Thus began my delivery of my “neighbor gifts.”  My two oldest children tagged along and each had her and his job.  My daughter was the gift-handing-out helper and my son was the doorbell helper, at least when he could reach it!  Beforehand, I psyched up the kids to get them ready to give out our presents.  I coached them to sing out “Merry Christmas” when the neighbor opened his or her door.  This worked only after my daughter warmed up to the experience and pulled her head away from its seemingly permanent spot of her cheek to my rear cheek.

Once we passed the first eight houses (number eight was another ding-dong reverberating through empty halls), we moved on to the other street on which our house resides.  It was upon crossing this threshold that I realized I had counted two less than what I needed to drop off at all the houses! Unbeknown to me, new neighbors had bought the house that was literally finished that week – and they were moving in that day.  I definitely couldn’t be passing out gifts to each house and not stop there; they could be watching me and seeing me pass their house with nothing just didn’t seem, for lack of a better word, “neighborly”.  I sweated my deficient planning as the kids skipped along to the next house.

Two sweet kids answered the door at number nine on our stop.  At the previous empty houses, I had left the baggies on their doorsteps.  At house number ten, I had just seen its occupants drive away and knew they weren’t home.  I have also blogged about getting to know this neighbor before and our long get-to-know-you.  I decided I would come back if I had enough.  The next house, eleven, scared my kids into number twelve’s yard; when my son pushed the doorbell a Labrador, who looked as if it was going to scratch the glass out of the windows when it jumped on them, ferociously barked – and I just decided not to leave anything there.  It probably set us back another few years into getting a dog, so we’re even.

I loved coming to house number twelve.  This is the house of my neighbor who has children at the same school for which I work.  My daughter and one of the children are in the same class.  The children answered the door, and you would have thought we were Santa to the little boy in my daughter’s class.  He was talking so fast about how happy he was to see Lexi and how much he wanted to come play outside with her, but couldn’t.  It definitely made the lingering too long at house number one, perplexed looks at number six, and the vicious dog at number eleven, all worth the entire experience.

We moved on to number thirteen, which I could tell was a dud from the street.  All the windows were dark, and so again, I cheated and said I would come back if I had enough left.  From the outside, number fourteen looked like at least four, licensed drivers were home, but no one answered – and I wondered if they were like me, who pretends that no one is home if I don’t want to answer the door.  My daughter was one step ahead of me and placed a gift at their door.  I didn’t want to confuse her more by implementing my “come back if we have enough” rules, and let it slide.   At house number fifteen we were greeted by a young woman who was friendly and thanked us for braving the neighborhood.  She had children, but didn’t say how old.  I’d guess they were really young.  We finally came upon the brand new neighbors.  The man was pulling out in his truck and had curiously eyed my gift basket, so I approached him at his car window.  It was really awkward, and I felt like a fool, but I welcomed him and his family to the neighborhood and we chatted about how quickly they had moved in to the home.  Even before its completion, they had a contract on the house.  I hope my gift giving might have cemented their love of our little neighborhood.

The next two houses didn’t answer, which helped because I was down to my last two gifts.  The last house was probably the most gregarious and loquacious.  She introduced herself, her soon-to-be husband, and her teenage daughter, who all came to the door.  We talked about how they had met my husband – no news flash here – and also wanted to get out around our streets and really get to know everyone.  By this time, my children were touching all of her Christmas decorations – which look amazing – and I was able to really open up and explain myself and my mission to my neighbors.  Warmly they congratulated me on getting outside and braving the houses with unknown entities behind locked doors.  They encouraged me to get out more, and thanked me for the gift before we departed.

What an experience! I completed my tour and was able to remember some names as well!  The best part was seeing how excited my kids were to complete our mission.  I think a “block-party” may be my next project once it really warms up and all our kids can be outside.  I’m excited for the future and what God will do through me as I reach out.

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A couple of days after, I received a package of Chex mix with a Christmas card from one of the houses where people weren’t home!

‘Tis the Season to Love my Neighbors: Part Two

Ever since my first success at introducing myself to my neighbors, I’ve wanted to repeat that action tenfold. I have made the effort to reach out to others on our streets (we live on a corner), but haven’t made great strides in what I am now calling my “Neighbor Project” in conversations with my friends who have read my blog. With the Christmas season fast approaching, and our little neighborhood getting brighter and brighter with each addition of lights trimming roofs and blow-up Santas riding motorcycles, I have wanted to do something special for my neighbors that would definitely make me get outside and take more action.

Although I now know I must get out of the house, I tried to convince myself to do all sorts of things that didn’t actually involve me getting further than my mailbox. At one time in the last few months, I thought it would be a good idea to send our Christmas card to each neighbor. I persuaded my unconscious to agree that mailing out a card with random kids’ pictures on it that said their names and Seth and my name on it wouldn’t be creepy or anonymous. I even considered getting a picture of Seth and I from when we hadn’t had kids yet and Seth’s face wasn’t so red and my gut wasn’t so hang-y, then putting this picture in with our Christmas card. That way, I could reason, I wasn’t just sending a card with some kids’ faces on it. I was going to write a note about how much I hope to get to know them and then pay forty-five cents for each of the eighteen houses on our streets, so the mailman could take them from my mailbox, back to the post office, and then return them to my neighborhood…without me having to meet anyone! My introversion would win and I would be doing a good deed too!

But then I thought if I’m going to pay eight dollars and ten cents to mail something out to people that live RIGHT NEXT TO ME that I would be insane and not really be completing the purpose of my Neighbor Project.

Thus, the pfeffernussen. The pahfeffernewessan…a…what? Actually, you pronounce it “fef-er-noose-n”. Instead, I decided that I would use that eight dollars to buy some flour, sugar, milk, butter, and a slew of spicy ingredients that make up a heavenly cookie that my father made my sister, mother, and I at Christmastime each year. There are a variety of ways to make this cookie; it’s usually coin sized or smaller. When I made it a few years back, when I was teaching, my students always thought I was eating dog food because it was made that small. I fondly remember my dad once trying to speed up the process of making the ropes you have to roll out before cutting each tiny piece. The Play-Doh noodle-maker set seemed a perfectly quick way to make the ropes. After that Christmas, however, we didn’t ever use that Play-Doh toy again and instead went back to the old, annoyingly lethargic method of hand-rolling and slicing.

Once I realized that my card sending would not be the best method of meeting my neighbors, I set towards making my pfeffernussen. It is ready to go. I made these cute tags to explain that I wasn’t gifting dog food.

My art skills are quite limited...

My art skills are quite limited…

I’m going to also place a sticker on the back that has our names, but most importantly, I’m going to take them to my neighbors.  No joke, typing “take” just now gave me a mini-heart attack.  I know I’ve had success in the past, but just like anyone who freaks out when they take a test, past success doesn’t always mean I won’t sweat this one in front of me.

The good thing is that I’ll have my kids with me.  I plan on doing this sometime in the evening this week.  If my “here you go person I’ve never met, have a cookie from a stranger” goes south, I can at least count on my kids to say something too cute or funny and relieve some of the pressure.   Hopefully, they’ll run from each neighbor’s to the next.  Or maybe, I’ll meet a future friend.

I’m going to do this.  I’m going to do this.  Does saying it a million times in your head make it better?  I’m going to do this.  Wish me luck!

 

Neighbors: My Children

As we prepare for our Thanksgiving holidays with family five hours north of us, I’m reminded of needing to take special care of my children, my little live-in neighbors.  You see, I know the upcoming drive is going to be rough.  They’re going to want to get out of their carseats and they’re going to scream when we don’t let them.  They’re going to need to go to the bathroom fifty times and we’re going to have to stop each time if we want to save the upholstery in our car.  They’re going to fight because, “Emry touched my foot!” or “Lexi said I was a bother, not a brother!”  The baby is just going to scream, because she does that randomly when you least expect it.  This drive is  going to test my mothering skills and my ability to stay calm – which is a feat in itself.

In preparation for our five hour drive, I’ve spent a whole day listening to Christian music, especially my current favorite, “Lead Me” by Sanctus Real.  The lyric, “so Father give me the strength, to be everything I’m called to be, oh Father show me the way to lead them, won’t you lead me?” is especially pertinent.  Beyond the five hour drive, though, I pray this line to help me be a leader in my house to my little live-in neighbors.  I know that I can do nothing without God’s help.

This post is short, but I wanted to touch a bit on something in preparation of a day in which we talk about everything for which we are thankful.  I’m not a “day 1, day 2, day 3: I’m thankful for” fb, twitter, blog poster.”  I’m thankful for the air in my lungs, a new day to experience, my husband, my children, my parents, my sister, and my friends.  I’m thankful that I get to hear screaming and fighting on the way to visit family, because others have lost these noises and would give anything to have them back.  I’m thankful for my readers and those of you who support me.  Most of all, I’m thankful to be one of Christ’s own.

May God bless you in this time of thankfulness!

Neighbors: Reader Advice Needed

I brought up my “neighbor project” in my small group fellowship this evening as an example of the correlation of faith and action.  However, as I reflected, post response, I realized that I really hadn’t done much of late towards my neighbor project.  Short of saying hello to the neighbor at our school Fall Festival, I hadn’t really reached out to any more of the unknown neighbors.  In fact, lately I’ve been kind of not-so-neighborly in my thoughts and words behind the closed front door.

I’ve posted before about the little tyrants [ahem, children] in our neighborhood.  Since new families have moved in, bringing new children with very different learning of what is socially acceptable than I, I’ve slowly fallen backwards into my “curmudgeon next door” ways.  I find myself griping about the kids walking through our yard when there is a perfectly good street three feet away; it’s always too loud outside after hours; the kids just won’t get out of the middle of the street when I’m trying to pull into my garage.  I get so frustrated that I’m frustrated about being frustrated.  I’m ready to be okay with the children doing whatever they do outside and not stressing about it.

What should be my next move?  Do I try to work on my approach to the children in the neighborhood or do I move on to the next unknown neighbor?

Neighbors: Follow Through

I’ve had two successes with my neighbor project since my last post, but I’m hesitant to blog about them.  I don’t want to get to that point where I start to believe that my success has been all me, and I don’t want my readers to believe that about me either.  However, I still would like to share my experiences.

About a week ago, my husband and I were outside with all our kids, enjoying the sunshine and semi-cool weather (it was probably 90 degrees, but in Texas that is cool).  There were two little kids, a girl and a boy, that looked like they were my son’s age.  My husband wandered up the street and began talking to their mom.  I don’t know how he does it – no two minute argument with himself about whether he should go up there and introduce himself – no, he just goes.  Anyway, since he self-initiated, I took it as my opportunity to introduce myself to someone else on our street and as an opportunity to have some material to talk about later!  She was originally from the area, had moved away, and then came back because of the school district – the same reason we moved here; it is highly recognized.  Her children were three year old twins; like I had guessed, the same age as my son.  Yes, I had the previous excitement as I had had before – envisions of birthday parties, same game events to attend, maybe a prom date in my son’s future.  We had a great introductory talk and commiserated about the sugar ants that invade our houses when it is so dry outside.  Our kids played awhile, and then we went our separate ways.  It was so easy, but of course, my husband helped.

I’m starting to see a new confidence about myself evolve.  However, as it does, I’m also starting to be pressed about the follow-through part of introducing yourself to your neighbors.  You can’t build relationships from introductions.  You have to go back.  I’m definitely feeling God’s pressing for me to go back, but what do I do?  Ask to borrow some sugar? Take people their mail?  Do I have to meet all of my neighbors on my street before I start my follow-throughs?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated…

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My second success wasn’t towards a physical neighbor, but rather a random person I met at a playground, so a ‘biblical neighbor’ I will call her.  It was a fellowship night for our small group at church, and we decided to have lunch after church at a local park.  Of course, my son didn’t want to eat – there’s just something about a chance to swing and play that makes a hunger ache not so apparent for kids.  As I ate, I carefully watched him, because I’m just that neurotic.  He had instantly made a friend, because he just talks to anyone, another reason I have to neurotically watch him.  At one point I turned around, and he had begged a woman to put him in a toddler swing and push him.  I could feel my two minute argument with myself beginning:

“go over there and talk to her.”

“No, butt out, she’ll think I’m weird.”

“You could just thank her for pushing your kid.”

“Yeah, I guess, I probably should, but then what do I say?”

Loudly, I said, “oh man, Emry just made that lady push him.”

God replied in the voice of my friend, “well, there’s your opportunity.”

“Grrr,” I thought.  “I’m really going to have to do this, aren’t I?”  Sheepishly, I got up and headed that way.  I stepped next to her and took over and said, “thank you for pushing him, he’s relentless.”  She nodded back to me, but didn’t say much more.  We stood there for several minutes, pushing our kids in silence.  “Think Kristel; think of something, anything to say.”

“How old is your son?” I said.

“Oh, he not my son, he my grandson,” she said in broken English.  The woman looked my age, so I was quite shocked.

“Oh, wow” I said, “you look like his mom.”

She smiled and nodded again.  Why did I feel like she didn’t know much English?  Either that or she was really shy, like me.  Then she spoke to her grandson…in Spanish.  ‘Okay, Kristel, you’ve been preparing for this – you’ve written before about “quiero practicar mi Español contigo” – this is your opportunity to do it – hacerlo’.  But I was stuck, what do I say?  I’ve already thanked her for pushing my son, and I inquired about her a bit…what more can I say to this woman whom I’m awkwardly staring at as she pushes her grandson in his swing.  If I don’t say something soon, she’s going to think I’m a freak.  My eyes are sweating as my brain runs around in my head, searching the archives for my conversation topics I can talk about in Spanish.

Finally, “conozco Español un poco.  Necessito praticarlo.”

“Si,” she said.

‘Great, I’ve made a fool of myself; I mispronounced everything I was trying to say.’  I tried to recover.  “Como se dice, “grandson” in Español?” I asked her.

“Nieto,” she said.

“Nieto,” I repeated.  She smiled.  So she either thought, ‘yay, this person is trying to speak Spanish, or LOL, this person is trying to speak Spanish’.   “Y, nieto por ella es ‘nieta?’” I continued.

She confirmed this with a nod.  Then she asked me something really fast, and honest to God, I have no idea what it was.  I nodded back, and for all I know I just said I was King Kong and was breeding baby King Kongs to take over the world.  We pushed the kids some more, and sensing that our conversation might be ending, I said, “gracias por hablando conmigo,” not really remembering if that was correct verbiage or not.  Hopefully she knew what I meant.  I gathered my kids and headed back to excitedly tell my small group my conversation.

I admit that I felt like I should have said something about Jesuschristo.  After I reported my conversation, I started to feel a bit defeated, because I hadn’t used the opportunity to share my experience with God; just to practice my Spanish.  I try to remind myself that it was obeying that made the effort successful.  I won’t ever know if our conversation meant anything to her, but rarely do we ever know the repercussions of our actions towards others.  I hope that the fact that I tried was good enough.  I guess it will all depend on if when the next opportunity comes, that I follow-through.

 

Neighbors: Those Kids

A year ago, I was the neighbor who seemed to be in-training for the Curmudgeon of the Neighborhood title.  I was annoyed when the kids in the area screamed too loudly outside and continuously trekked through our yard as if it was a public sidewalk.  When I came home from a long day, I would grate my teeth and lower my countenance, glaring at the children who were using our driveway as a bike ramp.  On the off chance that I was outside and I caught a midget midway committing any of the aforementioned acts, I would strictly put them in their places, a failed method to teach them respect of others’ property.  After one such attempt, we had black, bike tire marks all over our driveway, while we were also trying to sell our house.  A year ago, the children in our neighborhood were all named Dennis the Menace and I was the female version of Mr. Wilson.

Now that my “Meet the Neighborhood” project has been underway, I’ve attempted to lighten my approach towards these wee folks.  These things they do are still annoying; I’ve just decided to stop harshly reacting to them.

In effort to help my children develop a positive outlook on the neighborhood kids, and form some relationships too, I took them outside this past Saturday to ride their scooters.  Shortly after we ventured outside, a neighbor I haven’t introduced myself to yet came outside with her girls.  I kindly waved to her and watched her daughters race past my kids and I on their bikes.  She was smoking, and while it doesn’t bother me to be around it per se, I just didn’t want to interrupt her smoke break.  Instead, I sat on my driveway and watched all of the kids go around and around.

Eventually, the oldest of the girls came to me and started asking me questions about my kids.  I, in return, asked her about her family and learned that her step-sister was five, Lexi’s age.  I could already envision the summertime hangouts and the girls going to the same school next year.  Possibly a too-soon-to-be-thinking-about-these-things scenario, but I did nonetheless.

It was my first, positive experience with the neighborhood kids and when we finally returned inside, I felt good about myself.  I could start peeling away the “Witch on the Corner” or “Boo Radley-down-the-street” layers that had built up since we’d moved into this area four years ago.  It’s one step in the right direction and an additional step as I dare to go into zones that were so dangerous as I perceived before.