Neighborliness in a Soup

An email came into my inbox a few weeks ago announcing an initiative called City Suppers. The goal of the program—co-sponsored by City Gallery, Harrison Center for the Arts, and Indiana Humanities—was simply to promote neighborliness by way of soup. On a particular night, everyone citywide was encouraged to sign up to host their neighbors for a simple dinner.

Of course, I loved this idea.

As it turned out, my spouse and I had been talking about having a casual neighborhood get-together for a while. City Suppers gave us the impetus to actually do it—not to mention a deadline to get the house clean.

In my neck of the woods, we define “neighbor” rather loosely as “anyone else who lives in Irvington or thereabouts.” So we invited an assortment of folks—some from just around the corner and some from further afield.

Around our table

A few of those who gathered around our table

Some had never met each other, and others had known each other a long time. Ages ranged from 1 year old to “I’ll never tell.”

We gathered around our table for a convivial evening. I made minestrone and bought some locally made focaccia and cheese. (Everyone seemed terrifically happy with the soup, which we call “peasant food” at our house—nothing all that fancy, but hearty, economical, and flavorful.) Guests brought wine, salad, and desserts. Truly mouthwatering desserts.

But the tasty, nourishing meal was really just an excuse for conversation and connection.

Life can be a full plate most of the time. So full that it seems hard to find the time for this kind of thing. In our neighborhood we have often socialized around shared projects. It was a novel change of pace to connect over a meal instead of at a meeting or work party.

We enjoyed it so much that we’re making more peasant food tonight and having different neighbors over. We’ll go to Russia instead of Italy, with borscht, rye bread, and beer. (Incidentally I traded with another neighbor—my chili peppers for her beets—for the starring veggie of the borscht. Our version of the “cup of sugar.”)

And bonus: the house is still pretty clean. Not that that matters—I figure if we waited till the perfect time to have people over, it would never happen. So why not just do it?

How about you—what’s your favorite way to connect with your neighbors? Is there something you’d like to initiate with the people living near you, but have been putting off? Why not get it going? It could be just the thing to warm a chilly winter night.

On the Solstice, Contemplating Home

On the longest day of the year, one week after leaving Playa, I’ve been thinking about all that “home” means to me. I loved Oregon’s pristine natural beauty. But I couldn’t wait to come home and walk the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood. Taking my dog Marley for a walk was high on my list on my first morning back.

It’s not perfect here. There’s litter, unlike in Lake County, OR, and sadly many of the neighborhood ash trees are not treated for emerald ash borer, so they are dying—a distressing sight. Poison ivy is rampant in untended corners. Plus it’s really damned humid. But I still walk along with my heart singing “home,” loving the big sycamores and tulip poplars, enjoying all those daylilies and clematis vines, sampling a mulberry here and there.

And getting the latest scoop. Down the street, my big softie neighbor still has the pit bull who wandered into his yard—the one he swore he wouldn’t keep. Farther on, the retiree who always complimented me on my dog (Lord, how that poodle can prance) tells me he and his wife are moving to a condo after 47 years here, but a young family up the street will be moving in. I learn about another neighbor’s dog’s bout with pneumonia. And so on.

Walking is one of the ways I savor my neighborhood, but it’s not the only way. About the second thing I did that day was ride my bike with Judy to the kickoff of the Irvington Folk Festival, a weeklong extravaganza that opened with an outdoor bluegrass concert. I’m no bluegrass aficionado, though I love a good Rocky Top as much as the next person. What I went for, and got, was the people.

In the crowd were Rosemary, and also Laura, two women who helped me found the Irvington Green Initiative years ago. Also our neighbor Pat, who told us of a possible grant for a native plant/foraging project we’ve been scheming.

We sat with Heidi and Mike, longtime gardening buddies who happened to bike up at the same time as we did, midconcert. Behind us were Jerome and his family. That was fortuitous, because I could update him on our sweetgum tree. (Arborist Jerome has a business called Tree-Centric, which I’ve blogged about before. A few weeks ago he assessed our ailing sweetgum, taking soil samples and cutting away girdling roots. The cost of his professional expertise? A loaf of homebaked bread.)

Jerome offered both his strawberry patch and serviceberry grove for picking. Though the strawberries were done, here's the lovely haul of serviceberries my friends and I made that morning.

Jerome offered both his strawberry patch and serviceberry grove for picking. Though the strawberries were done, here’s the lovely haul of serviceberries my friends and I made that morning.

Somehow, over the years, my roots have grown deep in this place. I grieve with friends who lost their 13-year-old German Shepherd, one of a gang of Marley met in the park as a pup. I pick mulberries and serviceberries (some from Jerome’s yard) while chatting with good friends. My yoga buddies welcome me back vociferously. I barter for Thai massage from a neighbor.

All that, plus (last night) hearing local musicians rock out, after eating at the new deli that sources everything it can locally.

How did I get so lucky? I don’t know, but I’ll contemplate the answer while biking to the park for the folk festival’s finale (and, bonus: alternative gift fair).

No More “Long Hard Slog”

Several readers told me that Tearing up an Ancestral Contract resonated with them. Here’s another inheritance I’m reevaluating: the much-vaunted Protestant work ethic.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad I have a strong work ethic. I’m grateful that the folks in my lineage weren’t afraid of hard work, and that I inherited a bit of that spirit. I like to buckle down and get things done.

Saturday my neighbors and I participated in the Great Indy Cleanup. Photo by Heidi Unger.

Saturday my neighbors and I participated in the Great Indy Cleanup. Photo by Heidi Unger.

But sometimes, work isn’t the thing that is needed. Maybe it’s play. Maybe it’s stillness. Maybe it’s receiving. Maybe it’s rest.

I have known this, of course, in my head. But to really bring that knowledge into the body and energy field? That’s a different thing than intellectual understanding.

I completed two big projects a few weeks ago. I’d spent several weeks extremely focused, with most days quite regimented in order to fit everything in. And it felt good to work hard and get to the finish line.

With the deadlines past, I enjoyed a few leisurely days. It was hard not to feel like I was shirking. I worried that I was not getting important work done. I’d grown accustomed to pushing. So if I allowed myself to enjoy a slower pace, a few long walks in the sunshine, something felt “off.”

Redbud blossom photo by Heidi Unger.

Redbud blossom photo by Heidi Unger.

But I knew I didn’t want to live the rest of my life constantly driving myself beyond my capacity, as has been my habit lo these many years. I remembered the energetic principles I’ve been learning from energy healer friends like Merry Henn and Dawn Ryan. And I took a look at some core beliefs.

I’ve practiced self-testing my energy field (also known as muscle testing) for several years. At this point the skill is reliable enough to serve me in all kinds of capacities. For example, I can test my resonance with various beliefs.

The residual effect of my inherited work ethic manifests like this:

  • “It is impossible for me to be happy and rested and still meet my commitments.”
  • “I must work to the point of exhaustion in order to get my work done.”
  • “I must push my body to the point of illness to prove my worth.”

All of these statements “tested strong,” meaning my energy body resonated a big YES to each of these unhealthy beliefs. But these beliefs no longer serve me. I wanted to change them at an energetic level.

I used Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to quickly shift them, then rechecked: They tested weak. I worked with variations of the statements and did more rounds of EFT. Eventually I came upon:

  • “It is impossible to live in tune with my life purpose and feel happy and rested.”
  • “Aligning with my life purpose is a long, hard slog.”
  • “I must disregard my body’s need for rest if I intend to fulfill my life purpose.”

Well! I shifted these too, until I resonated something completely different. I now equate fulfilling my life purpose with deep joy and ease, a healthy body, connection, flow, and other such deliciousness.

Clowning with invasive garlic mustard. My job at the cleanup was to pull it.

Clowning with invasive garlic mustard. My job at the cleanup was to pull it.

What about you—what contracts and core beliefs are you holding or releasing?

(Interested in learning a simple way to self-test? Check out this video.)

Communal

When the sun comes up on these clear mornings, the sky behind the snowcovered trees tints palest tangerine. There’s a beautiful stillness in a frozen world.

Daybreak in the Arctic Vortex

Daybreak in the Arctic Vortex

Something about going through an extreme weather event is lovely in its communal nature. For the second day we are snowed in. We can’t drive out of our alley, and any outings on foot are necessarily short because of extreme wind chills.

So we’ve been keeping tabs on the goings-on in our little burg via a Facebook neighbors’ group.

The dangerous cold and deep snow have given us a glimpse of just how neighborly people are in our quirky neighborhood. I have seen many a plea for help go answered, and many an unsolicited offer appear. Just now someone offered to pick up items on her way home from work if anyone is in dire need. Earlier there was a shout-out to “the awesome guy driving a Caterpillar bobcat and helping people dig out their cars from the aftermath of the plows.”

Someone even asked for—and got—advice on how to get her dog to do his business in this brutal weather. I didn’t read the entire thread, but apparently it was a hoot, discussing canine toileting habits in great detail.

People are offering safe havens, rides to emergency rooms and shelters, and space heaters for those whose furnaces are on the blink. They’re doing for each other in large and small ways—taking baked goods over, walking each other through the crises of burst pipes and power outages, helping everyone feel less alone.

I’m sure this behavior is replicated in many places, much of it never posted anywhere. I didn’t post that the fellow on the corner shoveled not just his walk but the neighbor’s between us, and the guy on the alley behind us helped clear our driveway, but they did, and I thank them.

Dangerous and beautiful

Dangerous and beautiful

Even though I’m tired of being clenched up from cold, tired of the worry over potentially losing power or the furnace konking out (again), part of me relishes these days, both for the astonishing view out my window and for the weird conviviality online.

Part of me wants to put off snowmelt, with its godawful mud and piles of blackened leftover snow. Part of me never wants this communal experience to end.