Review: Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall

When we moved to our cul-de-sac in the suburbs, I didn’t realize how intertwined our lives would be with our actual neighbors. My daughters dash across the street, inviting themselves into the house of their best friend. (I’m told this is ok because “we actually family, mom!”) Our neighbor two houses down keeps a stash of crackers at the ready for Elle, who only likes what Judi offers. When I called an ambulance to rush Frank to the hospital last October, I got texts from my neighbors, checking in and with offers to help in all manner of ways.

White and red text on a faded background of wildflowers in a forest.
Text reads: "Our neighbors––the people right in front of us––are not those we choose, but those we can choose to treasure."
Alexandra Kuykendall, Loving My Actual Neighbor

These relationships didn’t happen overnight. They took time and intentionality. It meant bringing my book out front so that we’d interact with folks coming and going. It meant accepting offers of dinner during tax season and hanging out in pajamas and sweats on snow days. Now I see these neighbors as an integral part of our family’s rhythms but I also recognize the work that went into opening our lives to our neighbors.

In her newest book, Loving My Actual Neighbor, Alexandra Kuykendall sees the need to love our actual, right next door neighbors as well. In a divided world, remembering to love the people who live along our daily routes is important. We don’t really get to choose our neighbors and so getting to know them and immersing ourselves in their lives is a practical way to break down walls and misconceptions.

She says, “Our neighbors––the people right in front of us––are not those we choose but those we can choose to treasure.”

Alexandra Kuykendall, “Loving My Actual Neighbor”

This is easier said than done and Alex offers seven practical stories and steps in Loving My Actual Neighbor. From asking questions to actively listening and honing our empathy, Alex grounds her steps in story and scripture, reminding us that loving our neighbor is the most important of the commandments. Each chapter ends with a call to action, a reflection, steps to practice, and a scripture to guide you on the journey.

Loving our neighbors can be overwhelming, for a myriad of reasons from perfectionism to social anxiety. Alex takes the guesswork out of connection and helps dismantle the idea that loving our neighbors is something out of the realm of possibility.

If you have neighbors, you need to read this book. Alex will encourage you, push you, and help you remember that loving our neighbors can become second-nature. And what a gift that is.

What are ways you love your actual neighbors? What are some challenges in loving the people right next door?

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon,any purchase you make supports this site.

Backyard Justice

Last week, I returned to the University of Denver for the first time in over 10 years. I’ve signed up to take a month-long enrichment course and the class is located in the same building as my grad school classes. I pulled up a desk to the circle and took out my notebook. As I went to swing the hinged desk over my chair, I noticed that I had selected a right-handed desk. No problem! I scanned the room for a left-handed version, but none were to be found. I propped my notebook in my lap and took notes in the slightly awkward but totally manageable way I had learned long ago.

BackyardBeing left-handed in a right-handed world is not an injustice. My rights aren’t being removed; it’s annoying but not threatening. But it reminds me of ways in which injustice starts. Often, it can begin as a minor annoyance, but it stems from the fact that those who make decisions make them for the majority of the population. Rather than design ambidextrous desks, the expectation is for left-handers to adapt.

Of course, this is an incredibly trivial example of injustice. However, my goal is to open my eyes to see those seemingly minor “inconveniences.” It’s easy to bring my blood to a boil when outrageous discrimination and acts of injustice occur. But what about all those minor situations in which people are slowly dehumanized and made to feel less-than? Those all build up and create something that is much more complex and harder to dismantle than the big issues.

This month, I’ll be joining with hundreds of other writers to participate in the Write 31 Days challenge. The goal is to write every single day for the month of October. Short, long, pictures, ideas – the rules are loose and the purpose is to have fun and improve the craft of writing.

I’ll be writing about Backyard Justice for these 31 days. What does practicing justice in the space of my own home look like? I’m not an activist – I’m constrained by nap time and school pickup and the life of a mom of little kids. But, that doesn’t mean that I can’t practice justice. I’ll be using Micah 6:8 as a guide:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? (NRSV)

I hope you’ll join me on this journey!

And, if you’re a writer and interested in joining the challenge, link up over here! You have until October 6th to join the community.

Best Friends Forever!

I’m honored to be over at my friend, Debby’s to kick off her series on friendship. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll join the conversation over at her place!

ElleWhen we moved into this neighborhood, we couldn’t have known what awaited us, just across the street. If we had been able to include neighbor profiles in our search criteria, I couldn’t have imagined better. A family with a daughter, just a few months younger than our oldest? How perfect!

Now, hardly a day goes by without these girls yelling out windows, running into open garages, insisting on playdates. They yell through the street, Best Friends Forever!!! and hug and fight and grapple their way through each playtime. No matter how much tattling has happened or how many times feelings were hurt, we always leave with a massive bear hug and the declaration of Best Friends Forever!

I’ve never experienced a childhood best friend. Across the street from our house was a church parking lot and a kind old lady who collected elephant figurines. Read the rest over at Debby’s!

What about you? Did you have a best friend and a child? Are you a Best Friends Forever sort of friend or a seasonal friend?

Review: The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell + Giveaway

When we moved to this cul-de-sac, a friend posted an Instagram picture with the hashtag #frontyardpeople. I was intrigued. Our neighborhood is one where front yard living is alive and well. Judi often sits on her porch and if we can’t find our girls, there’s a 90% chance they’re sitting with Judi. Another neighbor’s grandkids and our girls have formed a little bike gang, speeding through the street and down the spillways. Because of this front yard mentality, we have gotten to know our amazing neighbors.

_140_245_Book.2295.coverSo when I heard that Kristin Schell, founder of #frontyardpeople had written a book about her turquoise table and the start of this movement, I knew I had to read it. The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard is a timely and important book. In an age where we are constantly connected but not necessarily face-to-face, meeting people takes a lot of intention.

I’ve read other books about the importance of hospitality but this one grabbed my attention fully. Perhaps is that Schell offers such grace in the journey. She shares her own stories – both relatable successes and failures – as she found her rhythm living in her front yard. She also shares the stories of others living life with their neighbors and through this mix she gives permission to find your own path. For some, an actual turquoise picnic table in the front yard is a perfect tool to start conversations. For others, creating an intentional time to be outside may be how they connect. Schell reminds us that we are all different and our neighborhoods are different, so to try and recreate something exactly most likely won’t work.

Not only is this beautiful book filled with stories, but it’s also formatted as a guide to living an intentional life. Schell has prompts and questions to help the reader get started on a journey of living life communally. She also includes favorite recipes with each chapter to help inspire gathering around the table.

The book is filled with bright pictures and offers plenty of space for reflection. I think because it’s published as a “gift edition,” the idea of living out hospitality is acknowledged in the actual pages and style of this publication. If it hadn’t been printed as a gift book, I’m not sure I would have connected as deeply – the act of reading this book captures the idea of simple hospitality.

With summertime starting, it’s a natural time to move some of our regular activities to our front yard. Perhaps we’ll start small, with sitting on the front porch once or twice a week after bedtime. Perhaps we’ll grow bigger, with front yard barbecues and gatherings. However this plays out, I’m thankful that we live in a front yard neighborhood, and I know The Turquoise Table will infuse new ideas into our community.

What’s your neighborhood like? Do you think it would be easy to start a front yard community?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Turquoise Table. Leave a comment about your experience connecting with neighbors and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, June 9, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Midwinter Lifesavers

It’s that time of year. January and its resolutions and catching up is over, February the longest shortest month of the year is ahead. Tax season is looming. It’s a good time to stop and remember all the things that are saving my life this winter.

Last year, my list included walking and the Mamaroo; the year before the list had a TV show and nesting into our new home. This year, we’re in a different stage with the girls and a different season as a family. In many ways, things seem a lot easier and we’re in a good life-groove. In other ways, the girls miss Frank a lot more, which makes this time of year and its schedule tougher for him.

I’m loving this practice of taking note and reflecting on the things that are saving us right now. So, in no particular order, here are my new lifesavers:

1) Cooking Classes
For Christmas this year, I gave Frank a series of 3 Sur la Table classes called Becoming a Confident Chef. Each Tuesday we met with others to chop, sauté, and learn all those skills that make cooking easier. Having a set date night three weeks in a row, right before tax season was probably the best gift I could have given. I could see making this an annual tradition. Bonus? We made friends with our hotplate partners and have already had dinner at their house. Serendipities definitely save my life!

img_32922) Neighbors
This made my list last year and I hope it will make my list every year. Our neighbors are truly incredible and I’m so thankful to have a community during these cold, hibernating months. From texting with my across-the-street friend to shoveling snow with our neighbor who owns a snowblower to checking in with Elle’s favorite, “Jooji” I remember that we have people in close proximity who are looking out for our family. It’s pretty incredible.

3) Facebook
I know, these past few months have seen most people renouncing Facebook and closing their accounts. (At least, temporarily.) And, while I’ve put tighter boundaries on my consumption, I am thankful for this crazy online world. I’m inspired by my friends who are out marching and protesting. I’m stretched by my friends who pose different opinions. And I’m reminded that ultimately, we are all in this together. I’m not sure I would remember that without this loud conglomeration of strong opinions all in one place.

4) Whole30 Habits
It’s been about 3 months since we finished our Whole30 challenge. In that time, we went back to Philadelphia for a week, had a month of holiday celebrations, and have started scheduling dinners and brunches with friends before tax season really hits. And through it all, we’ve been pretty good. Of course, we’ve had more alcohol, eaten more cake, and have ordered pizza for movie night. But we’ve also kept a fairly good meal planning schedule and have included a lot of our favorite Whole30 recipes in the rotation. I’m sure we’ll be doing a reset in May, but I also feel like we’re starting tax season with healthier habits in place.

5) Listening to My Gut
I’ve made some decisions lately that logically were easy to rethink. But, my gut kept telling me to make space, to slow down, to focus on this moment. It was hard to listen to this tug, but I am so glad I did. I feel like I need to be open to this year. I’m not sure what that means or how that will actually look, but by making these shifts and changes, I feel better positioned for whatever comes about.

What is saving your life right now?

Linked with Modern Mrs. Darcy – check out her linkup for more mid-winter lifesavers!

A Love That Breaks Down Barriers

Imagine “love.” What colors do you see? What shapes? Now, try to think of the word without the color red or a heart. What do you see?

img_2680I often lead students through this exercise at the museum. An effort to understand that artists are constantly making choices – no matter how simple a drawing or painting looks – is a key part of this lesson. This discussion has so many interesting results:

I drew blue circles – because love is never-ending. And the sky is blue. We need love like we need to breathe.

I drew tulips – because there’s a field of tulips by my brother’s house that I love visiting.

It’s green – because green is calming and love should make me feel safe.

How do you view love? Sometimes I have trouble remembering that love does win; that love trumps hate. These days, it seems that those types of phrases are said in such an unloving way – that they’re used as accusations rather than reminders.

When I look to others and see that definition of love, I’m discouraged. It seems that I have to look so hard. When I close my eyes and think about it – really think, beyond hearts and red – I’m not as discouraged. It doesn’t seem so far away.

This second week of Advent, we lit the love candle. Sometimes it’s called the faith candle: A reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem – a journey of faith and love.

We had our neighbors over to decorate the tree and have dinner. We lit the Advent candles, though we left off the devotional. There was something so amazing about starting this second week with these friends of a different faith background. As the girls decorated, we parents talked about Christmas and Bethlehem but from different perspectives.

As we talked about our own traditions this time of year, as made plans for making tree decorating a yearly tradition, love took on a whole new meaning. I am reminded that to love our neighbors is what this is all about. To come together and do life. To talk about our different experiences and celebrate the rich diversity we bring to our conversations.

I need to remember that as we tell stories of the manger. This love was revolutionary. It wasn’t about drawing more us-them lines. It is a radical inclusivity, where love truly does win and conquers hate.

So this week, I focus on a love that breaks down barriers, that doesn’t see differences, that turns the kingdoms of this world upside down.

What are some tangible ways you let love lead in your life? How do you actively break down barriers?

 

Bike Gangs and Spare Grandparents

When we moved to a cul-de-sac in the suburbs, I had no idea how wonderful the cliche would be. On these lazy summer days, when I’m trying to pare back even our fun playdates, our neighbors keep us from being housebound without an event. (Something Bea loves!)

Regularly, kids are out biking and playing. We’ve got neighbors with a daughter Bea’s age as well as grandparents whose grandkids – also Bea’s age – visit regularly. We’ve laughed that we need to get t-shirts made for our neighborhood bike gang, they’re out so often.

IMG_1048I recently discovered that our monitor reaches out front, so while Elle takes her morning nap, Bea and I head outside for some bike riding. I’ll bring a book to read on the driveway while Bea peddles around. But usually, I don’t get much reading done. More often, we all gather outside. The kids help Judy water her flowers, or they’ll abandon their bikes and dig around Connie’s mailbox. They’ll race down the easement toward the empty lots behind the houses.

Adults will gather and we’ll laugh and watch the kids. Right now, we’re at about 50-50 young families-grandparents. At first, I’d apologize for Bea just biking over, barging in, “helping out.” But I’ve found that these neighbors love the young kids. They often talk about how the neighborhood has regained its vitality because of this little bike gang.

One of the things I love most about our neighbors is this diversity in age and life experience. Bea told one neighbor she could be her “spare nana.” She watches their house from her bedroom window and will yell out, I love you, Susie!!! if she emerges from the house. Susie’s grandkids and Bea are inseparable and even reserved Elle will give a smile.

It’s been a reminder for me, too, on the importance of cultivating friends of all ages. While I get so much support and encouragement from moms in the same phase as me and I love having friends who are in that next phase, who give me hope, these women are able to remind me that life is big and these years are quick.

They laugh about over-scheduling and date-nights. We talk tomatoes and gardening. They always know the gossip – both current and the history of our neighborhood. They watch their grandkids with an enthusiasm a mom couldn’t give. They engage with my kids when I’m tired and answer all the questions because they can. They have spare popsicles and toys and are generous with their flowers.

When we were looking at houses, we looked in neighborhoods that were mostly young families in our same phase; we looked at neighborhoods that seemed old and in need of revitalization; we looked at neighborhoods that didn’t have any chairs on the front porch. When we moved into our house, it was in December and front porch living was in hibernation.

Now, in our second summer here, I am thankful for this neighborhood where we landed. For the neighbors who are in our same place in parenting and for the ones who can give perspective and guidance on this journey.

What is your neighborhood like? Do your neighbors gather out front? Is there a diversity in ages or phases of life?