My new neighbor calls me over to come see the birthday cupcakes she’s made for her husband.
I start laughing out loud when I see them.
She and her children have made little grills with kabobs, steaks, hotdogs, and even hamburgers with cheese on top–all made out of candy. If you look closely, you’ll even see the glowing embers of flames (red sprinkles!). You’ll even see the fine grill marks on the caramel cream steak.
I love these cupcakes! I’m adding them to my list of whimsical things that make life a little lighter. Right beside my green apple and hamburger cupcakes, I’m listing one more: On the Grill.
Late last night, she invites our family over for this “Grill Out.” My children sneak across the street in pajamas, and we follow behind as lightening streaks the sky over the mountains. We share cupcakes and ice-cream and celebrate a dad’s birthday.
I remember–especially this 9/11 weekend–how thankful I am for this great nation and the simplicity of family, neighbors, and sharing cupcakes. I learned that horrible day that we can’t take a single moment for granted. Something about eating whimsical cupcakes puts me in that state of thankfulness. What a privilege to sit around a table with friends, eating cupcakes and sharing our lives!
Living with flair means you Grill Out with cupcakes.
Journal: What little thing are you thankful for this 9-11 weekend?
This morning, we invite some neighbors to join us for our Saturday Morning Pancakes. My artistic neighbor sees the pancakes and immediately makes a homemade stencil so we can decorate them. We relax, drink coffee, and decorate snowman pancakes in the chaos of powdered sugar and syrup.
So there we are, eating our art, and discussing such topics as multiple universes, our thoughts about God, and whether or not technology acts like an autonomous organism. We have smart neighbors. I love the kinds of conversations these neighbors inspire. They can get a whole group talking and thinking.
Meanwhile, I have a film student (who happens to be in my writing class) stopping by to take footage of our neighborhood fitness group for a promotional video about running. Normally, the neighbors meet on Monday nights and walk to school every morning, but we have to reproduce a Saturday Morning Fitness Group for his video. I call neighbors at the absolute last minute and tell them we are running around in my front yard. Could they come by with their children–real quick–and help out my film student? I know this is a little, you know, chaotic.
They come. Without question, they come.
And they welcome the chaos. You have to–when you want to build authentic community–welcome some chaos, some last minute plans. I’ve learned I need to make the space in my life for the possibility of last minute plans. I need to schedule large blocks of nothing.
As some of us finish our snowman pancakes and coffee, others gather in the front yard, and still others hang out in the living room. I haven’t even vacuumed yet. Saturday cleaning day will now be Sunday cleaning day. I overhear neighborhood plans to have a Giant Gingerbread House Making Party. We don’t know when this will happen, and yes, it will be chaotic.
But just send out the call. We’ll come. Without question, we’ll come.
Down the big hill and towards the school, some new neighbors moved in last Spring. I met them once, and since then, our paths have not crossed. Nobody on my street really knows them.
Our community holds Trick-or-Treating on Thursday night, and as we approach this new family’s house last night, we are already freezing in the darkness as wind whips underneath our costumes. Then, I see a sign in the yard. It says: “Wecome! Come in for Hot Chocolate, Cider, Coffee, Tea, and Donuts.” Like a beacon of warmth and cheer, that house glows from the sidewalk.
We can’t resist. We swarm the place. We stay awhile.
The family nobody knows cleaned out their garage and turned it into a little barn with tables and chairs for neighbors to rest during Trick-or Treating. The couple dressed up as farmers, and as they pour cider and pass out donuts to us–strangers–they laugh and smile and introduce themselves.
The family none of us knows is now the family that everybody knows.
This family models how to enter a community with flair. The next time I feel lonely, left out, or unknown because I’m the new kid on the block, I’m not going to wait around for the Welcome Wagon. I’m going to make a sign, clear a space, and offer the kind of hospitality that folks can’t resist. The kind of hospitality that makes people stay awhile.
I love my neighborhood.
We can’t find the mountain trail for our evening hike.
Some kids pass by. One calls out: “You looking for something?” We describe the trail. He nods. “Follow me. I can show you.”
He delivers us to our destination. He mentions different paths to avoid and various landmarks to spot. Then he returns to his friends. He didn’t have to help. There was no reward for him. He was just helpful.
The boy had flair. Would I have done that for somebody?
I thought about who might be lost and needs me to say, “Follow me. I can show you.”
1. The mistake people make with their sauce is not letting it simmer long enough. No rush here with my sauce or my life.
2. As I listed ingredients learned from my first Italian cooking lesson, my Italian Mama neighbor leaned over my shoulder and said: “Don’t forget the most important ingredient.” She paused, closed her eyes, put her hand over her heart, and said:
“You must put on your Bruce Springsteen music.”
Italian Mamas have soundtracks–undercurrents– of passion, good hearts, and kitchen talent. What soundtrack, what undercurrent, flows beneath my life?