Know your neighbors. A few decades ago, this was simply a way of life. Residents could easily rattle off the names of every neighbor down the street, along with an abbreviated version of their life stories. Today, you’re lucky to recognize someone who lives a few doors down when you pass them in the grocery store aisle.
Despite the many excuses we all make – Work has been hectic! The kids’ schedules are taking over! The house constantly needs cleaning! – taking the time to build a sense of community is important. And realizing you have a network of people within walking distance who can provide friendship, care, and support is life-changing. We at N2 Publishing believe this, and so does Kristin Schell, author of The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard and creator of the #FrontYardPeople movement.
Though our mediums for building community differ – N2 shares neighbors’ stories through hyper-local publications while Kristin encourages neighbors to share their stories face-to-face around front yard tables – we are, as Kristin says, “clearly singing the same tune.” Our shared end-goal is turning neighborhoods into communities where residents feel connected. So, we are thrilled that Kristin has shared with us a wonderful excerpt from her book (which just launched earlier this month), and hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard
by Kristin Schell
“Are you sure it’s not going to be a problem?” I could almost hear my friend’s teeth gritting through the phone as she desperately hoped I would agree.
“Of course not. Truly, it’s not that big of a deal.” I only half believed hosting a party in my backyard on such short notice would be fine. “Let me talk to Tony and firm up a few details, but we’re good.”
I hung up the phone and raced through the house to find my husband reclined in his zero-gravity chair working methodically on a spreadsheet.
“So, that party I’m hosting on Sunday with Susie? We need to move it here. The plumbing’s delayed on their lake house renovations and won’t be ready in time.”
I was surprised he was that accommodating, as Tony is an extreme introvert who often disappears in the middle of a party to retreat to his room—a challenge for me, given my gift of hospitality and willingness to take the dare to open my life and our home to others.
I gestured to our patio. “Honey, in case you haven’t noticed, we have no backyard furniture. Zilch. Nada. Except those cheap chairs from two summers ago.”
“There’s nothing wrong with those chairs.”
“They’re hideous! But that’s not the point. I need help. We are having a party here, and I have no place for people to sit and eat barbecue.”
“What kind of barbecue?” “Tony!” “Kristin,” he said. “It’s not in our budget to buy expensive backyard furniture.” Heading outside, I paced back and forth across the empty brick patio. Think, Kristin. Think. You need a place for people to gather comfortably. It needs to be welcoming and practical. And it can’t break the bank. Guests shouldn’t sit formally, but casually, for conversation.
I pressed my fingertips hard into my temples, trying to squeeze an answer out of my cluttered brain.
Casual. Like a picnic.
A picnic table. The thought came quickly and with resolution. Then doubt. Where on earth was I going to get a picnic table on such short notice? October was hardly prime picnic season, even in Austin, Texas.
I hurried inside to my laptop and did a quick search on Google for picnic tables.
“Well, how about that?” I caught myself talking aloud. At the top of my search screen was a seventy-two-inch southern yellow pine picnic table at Lowe’s. I added two tables to my cart, opted for the convenient next-day delivery, and clicked Order Now. Crisis solved.
The next morning a delivery truck pulled to the side of my house. Two burly men came to the front door and asked where I wanted them to put the tables.
I followed the men outside and saw they had already unloaded one of the two picnic tables and left it in the front yard near the magnolia tree before realizing it might be a good idea to find out exactly where the heavy wooden tables were headed. I stopped abruptly, barely able to catch my breath when I saw the table sitting in my front yard.
“Oh!” I cupped my hands over my mouth, fingertips resting at the tip of my nose, as in prayer and shock.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” the delivery man asked. “Oh, yes, sorry.” I couldn’t take my eyes off the picnic table. “Where do you want the table?” He wiped his brow with a bandana. “Right there,” I whispered without thinking. “Here? So close to the street?”
“Yes. No!” I slowly came back into the moment. “No. Sorry. I need them in the backyard.” In that moment, I knew. As soon as the party was over, I was going to move that picnic table back to the front yard where it belonged.
But would the family agree? At dinner the next night, I waited for the right moment to casually bring it up. “After the party, what if we put one of the new picnic tables out front, under the magnolia tree, and used it as a gathering place?”
“A picnic table in the front yard?” Our eldest daughter, Anna, seemed intrigued, so I pressed in.
“Why not? What if this is the way we are supposed to live—as front yard people?”
Our son, Will, nodded. “Way to go, Mom. Doing your part to keep Austin weird.”
He didn’t sway me. I barreled on, painting scenarios. What if we moved our afternoon snacks, bubble blowing, messy art projects, barbecue suppers, and all our backyard activities to the front yard?
“Could we have lemonade stands?” Our youngest, Sarah, smiled eagerly.
“Yes, baby!” “It’s kinda dull looking now,” Anna, an artist, observed. “We could paint it,” Ellie, our middle daughter, added quickly. “Absolutely. Something bright and cheery.” My heart was racing with their encouragement. I crawled in bed late that night exhausted but hopeful. I snuggled close to Tony and asked him what he thought of the front-yard table idea.
Reassuringly, he kissed me good night. “I think you’ve already made up your mind.”
I smiled and squeezed his hand. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve been waiting for that table all my life.”
Excerpted from The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell © 2017 Thomas Nelson, www.TheTurquoiseTable.com