Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Around the Campfire: Lessons Learned From Finally Meeting My Neighbors

Love this guest post from my dear Sister in Law, Erin Smith, on the power of an simple, spontaneous get together to build community.


"My husband and I are guilty of nicknaming our neighbors.  We live in close proximity not to the Johnsons, Garcias, and Potters, but to the “Secret Millionaire,” the “People with the Mean Dog,” and the “Family with Ridiculously Loud Cars.” 
 
We’ve made up monikers for the majority of our neighbors either because we can’t remember what they said when we were introduced, or, I’m sad to say, because we simply have just not made an effort to meet them.  Don’t get me wrong—we’re friendly.  We wave and say hi to everyone regardless of whether we’ve met them or not.  But sometimes after waving to the same stranger day after day, it just makes sense to meet them.  And give them a real name.
 
Backyard fires are all the rage around here.  Nearly every house in the neighborhood has a fire pit, and last weekend our neighbors invited us and several other families over for s’mores and conversation.  We were able to put REAL names to faces, learn more about our neighbors than just the kind of car they drive, and hear interesting tidbits about what our neighborhood was like before we moved in.  It was a good time all around, and such a simple thing to do.  With or without the s’mores, a fire establishes a laid back atmosphere and immediately eliminates any pressure that might exist say over a dinner table or game night. 
 
If you live in an area where you’re permitted to have fires in your yard, try inviting over some neighbors you don’t know very well and see what happens.  I have a feeling you will be as pleasantly surprised as we were."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Too Much Stuff?

Do you have too much stuff? Are you drowning in a sea of your own clutter? And/or is there something you need/want that you can't afford to buy? Are you sick of having to allocate a budget for clothes or other appliances and household items that just take up too much space in your home?

Here are 3 strategies for reducing clutter and having a more communal approach to stuff:

Lend/borrow.
Do you have a growing collection of books or DVD's? An industrial strength lawnmower? An unused instrument? Power tools?  Lend them to someone who you know could use them.  And, rethink buying every item you need to use.  Instead consider borrowing from a friend, family member, or neighbor.  It reduces clutter, it's good for the environment, and your pocket book, too.

Trade.
Host a clothing swap with your neighbors, swap babysitting, rearrange furniture. Offer your old book case for a neighbor's old coffee table.

Gift/Pass on.
Is there something you own that don't need or want anymore that you know could make someone else's life easier or better.  Stop holding onto it and give it away.  You'll appreciate the extra space in your own home and you'll make someone else's day.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Problem With This Vs. That

Something has been bothering me lately.  The recent debate with Bill Nye the Science Guy and creationist Ken Ham has little soundbite infographics erupting all over my Facebook feed.  


It’s convenient to believe the opposing team is less educated, less thoughtful, less engaged with the world than you are.  But, if creationist are really the blubbering idiots the media makes them out to be, then how is this a worthy debate.  Why are so many ‘team science’ people even engaging in a dialogue?  Is it to truly learn something from the opposing side or is it just to obliterate a perceived opponent.  If it’s the latter, I wonder...


What’s the REAL issue?  If the facts really are irrefutable, why not let the facts speak for themselves?  Why even engage in the debate?  I have to wonder, if the debate really has nothing to do with the age of the earth or the origin of our ancestors, but instead is rooted in questions like:


Does God exist?
Why are we here?
What is our purpose?


Because the truth is, those question do not have scientific, provable answers. Their answers exist beyond the bounds of what’s rational or reasonable.  So, instead, we seek answers to questions about the age of the earth, and our relationship to it.


What are your motives?  Is it to truly learn something or is it simply to make your point?


What is the point?
Before engaging in the debate, ask yourself, what you stand to gain from engaging in the debate?  Again, most often when I engage in a debate it’s because I want to be right.  But, I think the true point of discussion and debate is to learn from one another.


Do you have a worthy opponent?  If the answer to this is no, then I would ask you to consider WHY you believe your opponent is not worthy?  (Perhaps this question will lead you to consider your own bias and prejudice.) If you cannot arrive at a point where you think the person sitting across from you is worthy, I would argue you should not engage in the debate at all.  Believing that someone else is the problem and that you yourself are not, means you are suggesting you also cannot and are not part of the solution.  It’s a cop out.


Is your position in this argument more important to you than the person/people with whom you’re arguing?
I hate when an opponent is made to look like a fool.  This happens so often in our culture, that we don’t even think twice about the price of this kind of social bullying.  But, for instance, when it comes to something like the vaccine debate, I am so sad to see the way that both sides portray one another.  I want to believe that all parents involved are doing their best to make informed decisions about their children.  And, yes, the stakes are high for making the ‘wrong’ choice- but the people making those choices are doing so with the information and resources available to them-in order to do what they believe is best.  What if we started with that assumption when entering a debate.  How would the conversation look different? What would we learn?


Are you actually listening to the person with whom you’re debating, or simply looking for loopholes in their argument to disprove or discredit them? Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  It’s only from that place that you will learn anything, and it’s only from that place your ‘opponent’ will be able to hear anything you say.


Are you preaching to the choir?  After the evolution vs. science debate, I found my Facebook feed was blowing up with people posting memes and infographics blasting creationists.  In every case, the images posted racked up lots of support.  Tons of likes and lots of comments to support the idea that the creationists in the debate were idiots and fools.  I often find this is a case with a hot button issue.  We speak and write about issues that we’re passionate about only when we’re sure the audience we’re speaking with will receive the information and agree with us.  The problem is, you rarely learn anything from people who are exactly like you.  It’s our differences and our attempts to engage with and understand one another that help us to learn and grow.

Loved this piece on the issue.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

8 Signs You're Fat Shaming Your Daughter (And Why You Need to Stop)

8 Signs You’re Fat Shaming Your Daughter
If you’re doing any one of these things, stop now!  Our daughters, as much as our sons, deserve a life free from judgment and shame.  Women and girls deserve to be seen and heard, and not reduced to objects.


Here are 8 signs you’re fat shaming your daughter:


You put your daughter on diets. Forbid certain foods on the basis of her weight. Or, worst of all, call her out for eating foods you disapprove of.


You voice your contempt of your own body openly in front of your daughter, in hopes you can influence your daughter’s treatment of her own body.


You compare your body with your daughter’s. (EVEN if and when you do so in what you think is a positive way, “I wish I were thin, like YOU.  Your body is perfect, I’m such a fatty.”)


You withhold affection or approval of your daughter as a form of discipline.


You talk about celebrities weight gain and loss when watching television programs or movies.


You discuss friends or family members weight and appearance.


You compliment/criticize your daughter for her clothes, shoes, hair, body more than any other characteristic or accomplishment.

You compliment/criticize your female friends/family/acquaintances more than any other characteristic or accomplishment.

I believe that this is happening in many homes where parents are well-meaning and are loving, kind people who do not know better. We all know that there are societal pay-offs for girls who are attractive. Parents want what's best for the kids, and on a sub-conscious level, I think at times, that leads them to push unrealistic standards of attractiveness on their daughters. But at what cost? 


Together, we can stop fat shaming and the objectification of women and girls. Think of the time and energy girls and women waste everyday feeling bad about perfectly healthy, beautiful bodies because of the intense scrutiny society places on us to be thin and 'flawless.' Let's rise up as a community of people who will not stand for this form of societal bullying. It starts in our own homes.


Monday, February 10, 2014

5 Signs You Should Be Giving More

If you’re like me, you may have made New Year’s resolutions to be more generous- and I don’t just mean with money. Mean with everything: time, space, money, resources.  But how do you know if you’re giving enough?  Sure, it would be nice to be generous simply for altruistic reasons, but most of us are far more self-serving than that!  If you’re struggling with even feeling motivated to give, here are signs I’ve found extremely helpful in identifying when it may be time to simplify, live with less, and yes, GIVE more.


You’re not content with what you have.
Do you have everything you need and still find yourself coveting a friend’s clothes, car, house, life? When you receive a gift, do you immediately start trying to think of ways you could accumulate more money, food, things? Are you constantly comparing yourself to others?  Do you struggle with feelings of dissatisfaction and ungratefulness? I know it’s counterintuitive, you may be feeling like you need or want MORE but all of these things are actually signs it’s time to start giving. Look around you, instead of asking what you could get out of every given situation, start asking yourself what you could GIVE.


You feel overwhelmed by your own clutter. Is your house filled to the brim with toys, books, crafting supplies, and clothes with the tags still on them? Is the food in your refrigerator going bad because you can’t eat what’s stuffed in it fast enough? Do you routinely overeat? Overspend? Overindulge? All of these are signs of excess.  It’s all too much!  If you’re constantly wasting or frivolously spending the resources you have, it’s a sign you have too much.  If you’re longing for a simpler, freer life, the first step truly is finding ways to live with less and be grateful for what you have. The very best way to do that is by giving.  Set a goal of tackling your clutter. Give away whatever you aren’t truly using. Find ways to invite others to your dinner table. Spend your time and money on things that matter.


You’re bored. Do you have endless access to entertainment? Do you have so many choices you find yourself flipping through channels or scrolling through Facebook statuses instead of paying attention to the people right beside you on the bus, in front of you at the table, across from you at the checkout stand. If you want more adventure in your life, consider living a more adventurous life. How? By giving. Sign up for a local Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  Volunteer at your local elementary school or retirement community. Bring groceries to a disabled neighbor. Host a refugee family in your home. Go to sites like Kiva.org and fund a microloan.  


You’re overscheduled. I know.  You’re wondering how these things can even be related.  But, I believe overscheduling often comes from an underlying anxiety to find purpose. And though you’re spending your time striving, striving, striving, you won’t find purpose in the noise of over-scheduling your life.  Take the energy you have to DO something meaningful and actually DO something meaningful.  GIVE.  Start by tackling your calendar and determining what’s truly important and what you’ve added to the calendar simply to feel important.  Cut the excess, stop wasting your time, and find ways to give back.  Use the money you save on soccer lessons for your kid with two left feet, and invest it in supporting a Compassion International child’s education. Note: I’m not saying extracurricular activities for your child have no meaning, but if you have ‘enrichment’ scheduled every night of the week, it’s time to reconsider and reschedule.


You have a problem...There’s an issue at work, in your neighborhood, in your home that needs to be addressed but instead of stepping up to be a part of the solution, you’ve been complaining, impatient, and passing the buck.  Time to see yourself as part of the solution. Is the yard on the playground of your child’s school completely overgrown?  Organize a Saturday clean up (and find volunteers to host child care and/or get older kids involved.) Tired of never having a seat on the bus because your route is always overcrowded on your way to work? Why not call your local Transportation Department and see what options there are for adding another route?


You feel nagged...Have you ever had a nagging feeling that you should adopt a child? Start a petition? Drop by to check on a friend who’s struggling with depression?  Host a friend in your home who lost their job?  Do you let those moments pass or do you follow up and explore what those feelings might be leading you toward?  I think you’ll find that if you follow those leads, you’ll be giving more AND living more.


If you identify with any one of the signs above, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  I wrote this because I have struggled with a few of these issues myself.  I know from experience that the endless striving and the constant desire for MORE is NOT the answer.  The signs above are meant to help you identify ways that you may be living in excess...use them if they’re helpful, forgive yourself, and then take at least one step toward living a fuller, freer, more generous and grace-filled life today.

Tell me, which of these, if any, challenges you?  Will you take a step?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The 12th Man

If you know me at all, then you know that I am not at all a sports' fan.  Yet, as I've watched my community these past few weeks,  I too, have been swept up in the emotion that accompanies the Superbowl hysteria.

Why?  Because of the incredible ability of sporting events to bring people together.  Today, people will be huddled around bars and homes around the country watching their teams compete.  Here in Seattle, because our home team is playing, the hype has been even more palpable.

As we were out about town today, there were even people stationed at the bridges overlooking the freeways holding signs and cheering as passersby honked and waved.  Every car, every house is decorated with Seahawks paraphernalia and the town seems alive with the anticipation of the big game.

Still, the game itself doesn't matter to me, but the sense that people are drawing near to each other because of it is what matters.  And, it makes me wonder what it would look like if we gathered more often as a community to celebrate what those around us were accomplishing?

Can you imagine this kind of hysteria to cheer on a concert cellist, a local filmmaker, a climber?  It would be so fun to live surrounded in that kind of enthusiasm and goodwill toward one another all the time.  I just love this send off  the 12th man gave the Seahawks as they left town for the Superbowl earlier this week.   Just think, how can greet and send off those in your community similarly to support them in what's going in their lives?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

5 Ways to Engage a Stand Offish Neighbor

Meeting new neighbors can be a challenge, especially if you live in a neighborhood where most folks come and go without really saying hi or getting to know each other.   Connecting with neighbors can be even harder, especially when some of your neighbors might appear stand-offish or difficult to reach.  But, most people really are friendly and open to conversation once you get to know them.  The trick is knowing how to engage them.  Here are 5 simple steps.

1) Notice things about your neighbor. I'm not advocating that you stalk a neighbor or get too personal or nosy, but it is a good idea to notice things like an avid gardener's efforts paid off or a new paint color on the family down the street's house. Sometimes small things you observe can be an open door to a conversation starter. "I have always wanted to know what those flowers are..." or "I've never tried growing my tomatoes, but you've made me want to try next summer" or "Wow! I love the gray paint you picked for your house. It really stands out." Most times, people love to talk about the little ongoing projects and hobbies they are involved in. This will give you a chance to hear/know more about them.

2)Kill 'em with kindness...and food, always food. A great way to invite yourself over to someone else's house is to come bearing food. When we first moved to our neighborhood, I brought muffins to each of our three elderly neighbors. They were all so excited. And, though the 3 of them were very close knit with one another, they rarely talked to any of the young families in our neighborhood.  Now, when any one of them is out of their houses- they cross the street (and risk bodily injury with all the little bikes speeding down our hill) to come and say hi.

3) Offer to help OR ask for it. If you know a neighbor is going to be out of town, offer to mow their lawn, take in and out their trash cans, or dog sit. If you are going to be gone,  ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your house. Asking for and giving help builds a relationship of trust and trust is the foundation of true community.

4) Be polite.  In our neighborhood, there are some issues with parking.  People who live on the busy street down the way, park their cars along our street because there is no room for them to park along their own street.  This can cause all sorts of frustrations.  Neighbors will speed off huffily when they can't find a spot, or pin one another in when they are angry or in a rush to get home.  Another friend of mine has a neighbor who writes her anonymous notes about her barking dog- leaving her to feel stressed and helpless all the time.  If you have some similar issue going on in your neighborhood, think twice about how you handle yourself.  If you truly want a  strong, and vibrant community- treat others with love and respect even when it's hard, which sometimes it just is.

5) Be patient. If all of your efforts don't seem to be paying off, and you have a neighbor who is slow to warm, don't push it too much. But, also, don't let up. Sometimes, we give up too easily on people.  Just continuing to say hi, offering the occasional kind gestures, and continuing to notice and acknowledge things about someone will likely eventually lead to an open door.

It can feel like a challenge getting to know your neighbors, especially if some neighbors don't seem like they WANT to be known. But, building a strong, interdependent community is a benefit to everyone. So, don't give up! It might take a little time and lot of heart, but you'll get there.