Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How we attract a crowd: A fire in our front yard!

21st century hospitality has been on my mind, and in the last post I shared some ideas on how to break free from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). It has occurred to me that for many people, the idea of hosting a sit-down meal might be biting off more than they could chew, so to speak.

So, I want to set the record straight: showing hospitality does NOT have to be a four-course meal, it does NOT have to take place at a your table, it does NOT have to include the entire family, and it does NOT necessarily require you to invite people inside your home.

Allow me to elaborate:

I was once a stay-at-home mom with a baby, a toddler, a mountain of laundry, and cheerios in my bra (if I was even wearing one). I would find a lonely stay-at-home mom--someone who had just left the working world, someone who was new to the area, or someone that just needed to escape her own house. I'd ask her to come over and bring her kids. She did not mind the mess; she was gratified that someone else lives the way she does. We let all the children run amok while I folded laundry and visited about ear infections and overpriced baby food. Kraft Mac 'n Cheese and milk was the lunch menu. By the time my friend left, we both felt better, the kids were tired from running around, and the pile of laundry was greatly diminished.

Jeff is a man who likes to home-brew beer. But instead of keeping the bounty for himself, he invites male friends over for beer-tasting. I leave for Barnes and Noble to drink a Frappuchino and read a scholarly periodical (People magazine) and Mika and Macy go to bed. Jeff sets out some chips, nuts, and some beer glasses. He invites random neighbors, co-workers, running buddies, and anyone else he think might enjoy a night out. One co-worker from India who had only been in the country a week showed up to our house with a huge smile on his face. He proclaimed Jeff "my first American friend!" Priceless.

What requires no menu, pre-planning, RSVPs, or ever a semi-clean house? A marshmallow roast in our cul-de-sac! This is how it goes down: We start a fire in our pit and set out some chairs. We raid our stock of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate bars, and put them on a table with a pitcher of water and some plastic cups. The girls knock loudly on our friends' and neighbors' doors and invite them to congregate on our front lawn. Jeff sends out a text to friends with a simple message: "marshmallow roast." Everyone knows that means that they are welcome to come hang out with us in our front yard.

Our Golden Retrievers serve as the welcoming committee. There is no set arrival or departure time. People come and go at their leisure. They're welcome to invite others to come along. We encourage the kids to bring their bikes, balls, and skateboards so they can play in the cul-de-sac while the adults visit. We never know who will show up or how many--it is part of the fun. We may have a dozen people or we may have forty.

There is something magical about standing shoulder to shoulder with others on a chilly fall night while you gaze at marshmallows browning on an crackling open fire. The squeals and laughter of children playing tag coexist with easy conversation between old and new friends. People tend to relax and unwind as the skies grow dark and the moon and stars provide a glorious canopy for our informal gathering. There is no agenda; our only hope is that we communicate to each person, "we are so glad you are here to share this evening with us!"

A couple of hours before one of our roasts, I was probably tired and looking forward to a leisurely evening in front of the TV. Most likely, I reluctantly succumbed to the pleading of Macy, our extrovert, to host yet another marshmallow roast. But, by the time everyone heads home and the embers on the fire die down, I feel rejuvenated, connected, and without any regrets. The effort made by us is small, but the pay-off in terms of community is huge.

By the way, we live at 617 Ashford in Coppell; if you ever see a fire at the end of our cul-de-sac, don't call 911! Instead, please stop by to chat and enjoy a s'more! We look forward to meeting you!!!