“The weather outside is frightful…”
Unless you’re a die-hard skier or possibly a snowman, you might remember the first three months of 2014 as the Winter of Our Discontent.
Blizzardy winds, icy sidewalks and gray skies that weren’t gonna clear up. First the winter blahs. Then the winter blues.
As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun (even when the sun’s hiding). We are painfully aware—like the beleaguered snow-trudgers in Game of Thrones—that winter is coming.
So, consider the choices: tough it out or seek ways to beat the blues. In our neighborhood, even on days when folks don’t want to travel far from home and hearth, they’re happy to make a short trek to our winter block party.
How we do our party could easily work elsewhere. Before serious cabin fever sets in, we start planning. the party. Somehow, looking forward to getting together makes the frigid months ahead seem less grim, and well, kind of cheery.
Using the same general formula, our annual gathering has always been a smash hit. We enthusiastically encourage other Mt. Lebanon neighborhoods to try warming up 2015 with potluck parties of their own. It’s a fun way to melt the ice around our town’s front doors. Better yet: such gatherings can both deepen old neighborhood ties and create new ones.
“…but the fire is so delightful…”
All you need is a willing host, a working fireplace (and/or lots of candles) and homebound neighbors happy to walk a few feet, even through snow, with potluck contributions and possibly a bottle or two. Parking’s never a problem. And babysitters are just a few doors away.
“ and since we’ve no place to go…”
Our “neighborhood” includes parts of Magnolia Place as well as Mabrick, Baywood, Lebanon and Florida avenues. Easy walking distance to Washington Road—Mt. Lebanon’s “inner city.” As with every neighborhood, generations of dwellers come and go. In our 48 years on Magnolia, we’ve seen the mix change often. And that’s the joy of bringing together brand-newcomers with long-timers. Put people of diverse ages and interests into a confined space around a food-laden table and a makeshift bar and watch what develops. Energy. Laughter. Swapped recipes. And yes, friendships—sometimes for life. Here is a how-to based on the Magnolia experience. Feel free to borrow from us and add your own touches.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: host needed In our neighborhood, it’s the Gordons. Our pleasure. And now, after a number of years, our tradition. We also act as Mission Control—again, by choice—with date selection, invitations, strategies, etc. But this is crucial: everyone who wants to be part of the party pitches in. And the hosts could easily rotate from year to year.
PICK THE DATE two months in advance. Sunday nights at the end of February or early March help puncture winter weariness. Enlist a few key neighbors who can be counted on to help with serving and other tasks. Like our backyard neighbor Michelle Dreyfuss, who genuinely enjoys meeting and greeting nibblers from a perch in our kitchen. We also make sure teens will be on hand to help with name tags, coats and cleanup (for small wages and the joy of making their parents proud.)
WHO’S INVITED? We invite people mostly because they live near us—not by whether we know them or not. Through the years, a few friends of friends as well as newcomers from nearby avenues have come via other neighbors’ requests. We also ask our mail carrier (who, alas, couldn’t make it last winter) and our Mt. Lebanon Commissioner (who could).
SEND SAVE THE DATE EMAILS About six weeks in advance, send “Hi Neighbor” messages with a cartoon or tag line to set a casual mood. Include a request for email addresses of neighbors not listed in the “To” bar. Ask who’s new in the neighborhood to offer a special welcome greeting.
CREATE INVITATIONS EARLY. We like the homemade kind, but Constant Contact or Evites could also work. Request a response with essentials: name/address/ phone/email. To avoid 12 versions of lasagna, include the possibilities and ask people to specify what they’re bringing—appetizer, bread, main dish, salad, dessert. When it comes to drinks, that depends on the neighborhood. The host could supply soft drinks and make wine or beer BYO—whatever works for you. Distribute cheery invitations at least four weeks before the party. Here’s how our message begins: “We in Mt. Lebanon’s ‘inner city’ have wonderfully talented, interesting and especially nice neighbors—you among them. Let’s welcome our new neighbors and get re-acquainted with some old-timers, (though none as old as we).”
Before my husband, Marshall, and I became creaky octogenarians, we personally went door to door through ice, snow and sleet. We now hire neighborhood teens to put invitations in doorways and are cheerfully surprised when they refuse payment. The offer still stands.
TO DO LIST
- Shopping Paper and plastic goods, beverages.
- Helpers Double-check who is available and willing.
- Table set-ups Table coverings, dishes, utensils, centerpieces.
- Light-ups Fireplace logs, candles (Be careful candles aren’t placed where people
can knock them over or get burned).
- Housekeeping Have a place for winter coats, boots (to be taken by teens).
Good idea to have a shovel or two on hand.
- Tasks Print assignments for teens and adult volunteers (greeter, take coats, name tags, etc., with a brief orientation before guests arrive.)
- Name tags with pens
- Decorations Reflect your theme—It’s a Lovely Day in the Neighborhood, Love Thy Neighbor.
- Get-acquainted games (Optional) We traditionally hand out “Who Lives Around Here?” sheets with teasers about guests’ professions, hobbies, travels, families, etc. People guess who’s who, and it makes for lively discoveries. Kid helpers were excited to learn that our neighbor, actor Jeff Howell, plays Bob Cratchit in CLO’s A Christmas Carol.
Those rough guidelines worked well last year when 60-plus neighbors crowded tables topped with bowls brimming with pastas, salads, appetizers and gooey desserts.
The best fun, however, is in devising your neighborhood’s path to midwinter cheer. And while you’re enjoying a warm and friendly evening, don’t think spring; instead, for one special night remember the refrain of Vaughn Monroe’s 1946 #1 hit…