Frequently the weather invites us be outside on these warm "winter" evenings and we find ourselves in the front yard where Dash likes to scoot back and forth on his Weerol. It seems we are never without the company of our neighbors for long. Erica or Jeremiah might already be outside walking their dogs or checking the mail, or come out to chat when they hear us; Melissa and Kristian might walk down as they get home from work and bring their son to play with Dash. And there are a handful of others that we regularly see on our walks and with whom we're finding friendships.
Chris and I always head inside for dinner after these impromptu hang outs feeling happier than when we came outside. We remark how lucky we are to have the neighbors we do and that we really should do more to cultivate the amazing community we have right on our street. And so this year we're doing something about it.
During a wee hour nursing session a few weeks ago, I read this article (recommended by Sara) about a couple who instituted a weekly dinner to reclaim their lives from being too busy to see friends. The author declared the simple, weekly dinners their "little attempt to spend more time with our village." This was just the nudge I needed and the next day I emailed Erica and Melissa to tell them Chris and I wanted to start having more casual dinners - the kind where the food will be simple but good, where we won't sweep our floors (and I won't worry about it) and where guests don't need to bring anything but themselves and maybe a willingness to take a turn holding the baby or reading to a toddler.
This past Friday I made a double batch of veggie pot pie and we welcomed six neighbors into our home for dinner. Together with my family of four we had ten people (seven adults, two toddlers and a baby) for dinner. Our older neighbor who lives alone came and brought wine. Dashiell immediately insisted that he "sit!" and read to him. Melissa's husband arrived just in time for dinner after coaching a volleyball practice. The toddlers pushed trucks, shrieked and shared a cookie for dessert.
Declaring that the dinners would be casual gave me permission to (mostly) let go of expectations and the stress I sometimes have before hosting a get together. I didn't worry that we can't fit everyone around our dining room table (three people ate in the kitchen). I didn't worry that I forgot to put out water glasses or that my veggie pot pie had a faint purple hue because of the purple carrots I used.
Our loose plan is to host a neighbor dinner once a month, perhaps on an established day like the third Friday of the month to avoid trying to coordinate the schedules of three busy families. Meals that are easy to make ahead of time and that feed a crowd will be on the menu. I'm thinking of spaghetti and these mushroom "meat"balls for the next one. For now I think we'll keep the guest list to the same people we invited for the first dinner and maybe as my confidence in hosting grows we could extend the invitation to others.
After we said goodbye to everyone on Friday we closed the front door and Chris looked at me and said, "I loved that so much." Which was exactly what I was thinking.
P.S. Love this photo that Erica snapped.