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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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Knowing Your Neighbors Can Save Your Life – 9 Ways to Get Neighborly

Do you know your neighbors? Many studies document the value of  knowing your neighbors to overall health and well-being. Neighboring can save your life.

A University of Minnesota study  found that older adults who have had a stroke have a better survival rate if they have a “cohesive neighborhood” as defined by neighbor interactions. The incidence of strokes did not differ but survival rate did.

Researchers from Brigham Young University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at data from 148 studies and found a correlation between social relationships and death rates. Looking at research on more than 300,000 men and women from developed countries, they found that those without social connections  had a 50% higher odds of death during the follow up period of the study. (The researchers reported that this is about the same mortality difference as between smokers and non-smokers.)

Watch this two-minute video on the impact of knowing your neighbors as found by the Arizona Health Survey:

Who’s on your block?
Unfortunately, the benefits of neighboring aren’t always making it to or appreciated on the street. In 2010, the Pew Research Center released a report on how neighbors communicate. 28% knew none of their neighbors by name. 46% of Americans talked face-to-face with neighbors about community issues in the prior 12 months, so more than half did not. A full year is a long time to go without talking face-to-face with a neighbor about life in your shared community.

While there are a growing number of people keeping track of neighborhood activities via digital tools like blogs, email, Facebook, and other social media, can that really take the place of a chat over the back fence or a holiday gathering of neighbors?

Unfortunately, opportunities to neighbor have been designed out of our communities. We pull up to our garages, open the door remotely and enter the house without any human interactions. And what happened to front porches in close proximity to sidewalks? Television and computers, of course, have also sucked up time and relationships. What’s a person who wants to know her or his neighbors to do?

When “Neighbor” is a verb
We’re lucky. “Neighbor” is a verb on our block. Throughout the year, we find lots of reasons to gather – holidays, bottling of a new batch of beer, root beer float weather – friendships and community are built year round.

Here are a few ideas for building community and relationships with your neighbors. Feel free to add your own to the comment section.

Chinese or Lunar New Year – Celebrate Chinese New Year by inviting your neighbors out for dinner at your favorite Chinese restaurant to celebrate the New Year. Call ahead and reserve a large table. No one has to clean house or do the dishes afterwards. Wear red for good luck. Gung hay fat choy!

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day with Our Neighbors

St. Patrick’s Day – Our neighbor, Susan, invites the neighbors in for Irish Coffee, soda bread and shamrock cookies to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. By March, we’ve all spent way too much time indoors. It’s a nice opportunity to see everyone, share catch up on family news and view how much the children have grown.

Summer potluck – Open your yard or get permission to close your street for a neighborhood potluck. Collect ample picnic tables and ask everyone to bring their own chairs. We did a potluck for 20 neighbors and other friends last year with an Italian theme and assigned courses but it doesn’t have to be that formal.

Ready to serve the neighbors

A few of 20 or so neighbors gathering for summer floats

Root beer floats – Each summer, we invite our neighbors over for root beer floats on the patio. It is a really simple, affordable and fun way to entertain. We still haven’t reached consensus on whether you put the ice cream or root beer into the glass first. Either way, they taste great!

Halloween –After the little (and not so little) goblins have stopped ringing doorbells, our neighbor, Janis, has the neighbors in for hot cider and gingerbread. It’s a lovely way to catch up on news of the block and wind down after a wild evening of costumes and candy.

Holiday cookie exchange

Holiday Cookie bake – This takes some preparation but is a fun way to kick off the holidays. Invite neighbors to make a large batch of their favorite cookies. Each participant will then choose a collection of cookies. Our neighbor, Caitlyn, had cute boxes and ribbons prepared for us. See 5.5 Reasons to do a Cookie Bake.

Year-round Opportunities

The Super Scrabble Board - Quadruple Points and Extra Q's and Z's!

Scrabble – Invite your neighbors over for a Scrabble “tournament.” Ask them to bring their Scrabble games and divide the group into tables. Another option is to play “Super Scrabble.” When I heard that Super Scrabble existed, I hustled (okay, I asked my husband to hustle) to a toy store to buy the game. It has an oversized board and extra letters (2 “z’s” and “q’s”!). We play Singing Scrabble with it with six people. After you make a word, you have to sing a song related to it. (Yes, adult beverages help to “loosen” the vocal cords and singing inhibitions!) Scrabble lovers should really enjoy the version of the game. Banagrams, Bunco, there are lots of options.

Book group - great use of a deck on a summer day!

A key ingredient to a successful gathering!

Book group – One friend lives on a block with its own book group. Take a poll of your neighbors to see if there is interest and the types of books they prefer to read.

Cooking up hops for a new brew

Happy Brewing or Happy Hour – We seem to have lots of home brewers in the neighborhood. They have created the “29th Street Brewers Guild” which gathers to help bottle (and taste) beer. Our neighbor, Jerrad, is especially generous with beer tastings. Another friend lives on a cul-de-sac where neighbors raise a flag to say happy hour has started. Consider the possibilities!

One of my heroes, the late Jane Jacobs (author of Death and Life of Great American Cities) wrote “In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks do children learn – if they learn it at all – the first fundamental of successful city life: People must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other.”

We are so in this world together. It’s up to us to be the congenial neighbors we’ve been waiting for, and to pass on those neighboring skills to our children and grandchildren.

June 26, 2012   No Comments

8 Tips for a Memorable Wine and Cheese Tasting Party

Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.
M. F. K. Fisher

Looking for a reason to gather your friends for a unique evening? What about an evening of wine and cheese tasting?

Our co-host, Jim

Friends Jim and Joyce recently hosted an educational, tasty and increasingly jovial evening that featured nine wines paired with matching cheeses. Thank you to Jim, Joyce and all the other participants! Here are some tips gleaned from the party:

1. Start with a wine steward. Jim and Joyce worked with Ernie, the sommelier at their neighborhood Fred Meyer, to choose the four whites and five red wines featured for the evening.

2. Coordinate with a cheese specialist. After choosing the wines, our hosts worked with Berry of Trader Joe’s in Vancouver to pick the cheeses that best matched the wines.

3. Create a fact sheet about each wine. Jim shared information about each wine including the winery location, vintage and a description of the wine. Fact sheets were on the table and available for guests to take home.

Fact sheet for the Argentinian red

4. Label the cheeses. Each cheese was tagged by type with its matching wine.

Asiago with rosemary - paired with the Chardonnays

5. Provide wine glass labels. I, for one, always lose my wine glass. No one could do that with Joyce’s special paper wine glass labels, which are available online at Wine Compliments No more misplaced wine glasses!

Where is MY glass? No more lost glasses with these paper labels

6. Start with the whites. (Our hosts had a light white wine, Oisly-Thésée Les Gourmets 2009 Sauvignon, available to all upon arrival. This gave us something to drink while waiting for all the participants to arrive.) You want to go from dry to sweet whites, and light to full-bodied reds. Provide new glasses when switching from whites to reds.

Serving the cheese

7. Provide a pitcher of water and a dump bucket. The water will allow tasters to rinse glasses between tastes. The dump bucket? It speaks for itself but, frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to toss out good wine and it was ALL good wine!

8. Serve more food after the tasting. To avoid sending guests who have been consuming fabulous wines out into the driving public, serve food, coffee and conversation AFTER the tasting. Our hosts served us wonderful quiches, salads and coffee.

Salad and quiche

Perfect post-tasting dinner

What wines did we taste? Here is the delectable list in serving order:

Mezzacorona (Italy) 2009 Pinot Grigio

Vino Noceto (California) 2010 Pinot Grigio (award-winning, fruity, sweet, my favorite white)

Peachy Canyon Winery (California) 2008 Zinfandel

Blackstone Winery (California) 2008 Zinfandel

Davis Bynum Winery (California) 2006 Chardonnay

Gordon Brothers 2006 (Washington State) Chardonnay

Don Tiburcio Bodega Benegas Winery (Argentina) 2007 Red Wine

Estancia Winery (California) 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Jones of Washington Estate Vineyard (Washington State) 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

The final, nearly empty line up

The best wine? Personally, I would move to Argentina for Malbecs so I loved the red wine of Don Tiburcio Bodega Benegas Winery. All the wines were excellent. This is the one of the group that I would take to my final picnic.

I confess. After about the fifth wine, I lost track of the cheeses. Best idea: pick your wines and then talk to your local cheese buyer for pairing suggestions. Joyce and Jim wisely used their consultant at Trader Joe’s.

Want to do this party on a budget? To preserve your checking account, create the wine list and then assign a bottle to each guest to bring. Ask each person to put together the fact sheet and give a brief lecture on the wine. This WILL generate a FUN evening!

A votre sante!

April 10, 2011   1 Comment

What do deer, snowmen, butterflies and angels have in common?

Question: What do deer, snowmen, butterflies and angels have in common?

Answer: They are all featured at this year’s Festival of Trees. And they all make stunning decorations for the holidays.

I just previewed the trees from the Vancouver Rotary Foundation’s 15th Annual Festival of Trees, which kicks off at noon on Friday, November 26 at Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver. Placed among the vintage airplanes, the trees look great! (Full disclosure, I’m a member of the Vancouver Rotary Foundation Board of Directors so I’m a little unobjective about the event!)

Watching the decorators work their magic on their trees (some fresh, some artificial, some flocked, some not), I learned a lot about how to create a beautiful tree or other holiday decor.

Here are a few of the many lessons I learned:

1. Start with a theme.

One tree has a charming “birds of a feather” theme. Another features snowmen. A third is covered with charming ornaments related to deer. Could I come up with a theme from my mishmash of ornaments? Possibly.

A theme can start with a snowman.

2. Work with a color scheme.

Each Festival tree has a definite color scheme. I love warm colors and copper is a great base color to start with like the tree “Sylvan Revelry.” Reds and blacks can make a dramatic statement.

Copper, olive green and off white make a beautiful color scheme.

Red and black add drama and elegance to a tree.

3. Get your decorations in a row before starting.
All Festival decorators seem to be very organized, with their lights and ornaments spread out on long tables. Maybe it’s time to cover a table with my decorations to inventory what I own, what I should toss, what might look better on a gift package than on a tree and which ornaments could be fun to add to a wreath or garland.

Don't hang one ornament until you are organized!

Do an inventory of your ornaments before you start.

4. Put the lights on first and feel free to mix them.

I knew that lights should go on the tree first. But it never occurred to me that you could mix different kinds of lights. One Festival tree has mixed strands of small white lights with blue snowflake lights for a charming look.

A mix of white lights and blue snowflakes illuminate this tree.

5. Go elegant.

Flowers. Butterflies. Birds. Ribbon. Words. All can bring an elegance to your tree.

Bejeweled butterfly ornaments can help create a stunningtree.

Joy is what your holiday decor should be about!

6. Go whimsical.

There are some very silly and fun decorations out there. One of the Festival trees is covered with hilarious deer ornaments.

A charming deer ornament.

Yet another deer!

A matching deer top completes the tree.

7. Make your own tree topper.

The days of a lone star on top of the tree are gone. Make something fun or unusual to crown your creation.

The decorator made this top for her snowman-themed tree.

Add vertical elegance to the top of your tree.

8. You can’t go wrong with birds.

Okay, it goes without saying that birds and trees belong together. So why not do a tree that focuses on our feathered friends like one of the Festival creations?

A charming feathered ornament.

Another feathered friend.

Owlet ornaments.

Every bird-themed tree needs a bird house.

9. Pull it all together.

Think about your complete picture. Do you want a matching wreath and gift wrap to go with your tree? Check out this Zebra-themed design.

A fully coordinated theme and look for your tree.

10. For more ideas, you need to visit Vancouver Rotary Foundation Festival of Trees!

The trees will be on display at Pearson Air Museum on Friday, November 26, noon to 9 p.m.; Saturday, November 27, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, November 28, Noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Other events include the Community Tree Lighting on Friday night at 5:30 p.m. at Esther Short Park followed by the Vancouver Pops Concert at the Hilton at 7 p.m. Runners and walkers will enjoy Hot Buttered Run and Kids Kandy Kane Race on Sunday at Pearson Air Museum at 10 a.m. (Fees, registration and details at Energy Events)

See you at Vancouver Rotary Foundation Festival of Trees!

November 24, 2010   No Comments

5.5 Reasons to Do a Cookie Exchange – Hint: It’s Not Just About the Cookies

I have a confession. I HATE to make cookies. I have never enjoyed mixing dough. I’m impatient when the little darlings are in the oven. And we have a vintage Wedgewood stove from the 1950s which is strong on design and collectability, but has a runaway thermostat. Turn your back and your cookies are deflagrating at 500+ degrees.

So why did I, a total morning person, stay up until midnight last night, mixing batch after batch of high-cal morsels, starting over with brand new ingredients (thanks for going to the store, Gary) after discovering a weevil, artfully (sort of) twisting red and white dough into candy cane shapes, while totally trashing my kitchen with powdered sugar and wayward flour? Because I LOVE my neighbors and am willing to wrangle with my oven and stay up past my usual 9:15 bedtime to hang out with them at a cookie exchange. And, of course, it was worth it.

Get the flash player here:

Our neighbors Caitlyn, Jerrad, and Ivy are incredibly creative. They set up a lovely gathering with boxes, ribbon and decorative stamps for packaging the cookies plus lots of appetizers and drinks. With each of us bringing six dozen cookies, the table was thoroughly bedecked with holiday treats.

Why do a cookie exchange? Our neighbors came up with lots of reasons. Here are 5.5 of our favorites:

1. You get to find out what is happening in the neighborhood. Who is performing in concert with her madrigal group? Who is having squirrel problems? Why was a neighbor taken to the hospital in an ambulance? You don’t learn these things in the newspaper or on Facebook.

2. You get to see how much the children have grown. Our little exchange had a 3.5-year-old, a toddler and two babies, including a month-old new neighbor who mostly slept through the evening. Our neighborhood is attracting young families. It’s fun to see how much their kids change over the years.

3. You get to welcome new neighbors. We were delighted that our newest neighbors joined us.

4. You see your neighbors’ latest remodeling projects, and get ideas for your own home. Most of our houses are 80 to 100-years-old. Believe me, we are all regularly updating and looking for cool ideas.

5. You can escape from reality tv to real life. Getting to know your neighbors is reality, not the latest television show.

5.5. In the words of the Cookie Monster, “Cookie!” Somebody said “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.” We’ll be slowly savoring ours so we should have a balanced diet through Christmas. Thank you, Caitlyn, Jerrad, and Ivy!

December 20, 2009   6 Comments

Getting to Know Your Neighbors with Root Beer Floats

When we grew up in (dare I say it) the 1950s and 1960s, everyone knew everyone else on the block. Parents, kids, dogs, cats, no creature was overlooked. Barbeques and block parties were the norm. Now we often hear people say that they want to meet their neighbors but don’t quite know how to do it. It seems like many neighborhoods are designed for the least human contact possible. Drive into the garage, enter the house and there is no opportunity to even casually neighbor.

We are lucky that many on our street like to get together. Each year, we have a Root Beer Float Social on the patio for our neighbors. Twenty-five of us gathered on a warm Sunday in July. This was a multi-generational affair with the ages ranging from 9 months to 90+.

Get the flash player here:

We always ask the proverbial question: What comes first – the ice cream or the root beer? We never seem to reach consensus on this question. We just keep pouring and scooping, scooping and pouring.

June 20 marked the 90th anniversary of A&W Root Beer, which started in Lodi, California. How lucky that A&W was the chosen brand at our party this year!

In the true spirit of Martha Stewart, here is your supply list if you choose to gather your neighbors for root beer floats: invitations (personally delivered, please), regular and diet root beer, regular and light vanilla ice cream, ice, straws, long spoons, glasses or cups, napkins, a pitcher of water for those few who don’t drink root beer, lots of good cheer. Buy plenty. We always end up with unopened ice cream and soda. This year’s recipient was Share House men’s shelter in downtown Vancouver.

Happy Birthday, A&W! Thank you for all those great root beet floats! And thanks to our neighbors who really make our neighborhood a great place to live!

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September 3, 2009   No Comments