Boy, it’s such a gamble when you move somewhere, isn’t it? You can fall in love with a house relatively easily, but most houses also come with neighbors and I’m sure we all could tell tales.
In our first rented home, our neighbors snarkily rolled their eyes at our first DIY attempts: a trio of small bookcases. “Cinder block and plywood–that’s all you need–I learned that a LONG time ago”. Her know-it-all advice fell flat on our newlywed ears and 17 years later, those bookcases are still scattered about our home having never once been out of use or lacking in favor.
In our first purchased home, the neighbors across the street would gather in their driveways on weekend nights and drink and play music and generally be loud and obnoxious. I’d hover at my infant son’s window, growling at their noise, hoping they wouldn’t wake my baby with their inability to properly utilize a backyard.
In our second home, the people behind us had what they called a Rhodesian Ridgeback but what I knew to be a Pit Bull that would bark constantly from the terror of being cruelly left outside during nighttime thunderstorms and in a final act of desperation, he would leap the 6′ cinderblock wall and roam our yard uninvited, perhaps looking for nicer people.
So when we bought this house, we were braced for anything. We’d certainly seen a variety of questionable neighbors by this time. Yet what we have come to learn is that truly, we are surrounded by the very most wonderful people we could have found.
Take for example my neighbor Elise. Even though she graciously brought us a bottle of wine and a book on Oregon day trips with kids (SO thoughtful!) when we first arrived, as with all good things, it took some time for us to really get to know each other. She was a charter member of a book club I started that became a ladies dinner movie night –a group that has been meeting for about 7 years now. Sometimes when she gets home from work, we walk our dogs around the block together; venting about our days, laughing about the crazy things that happened, supporting each other through challenges. On summer weekends, we do a “long walk” route– about a 9 mile loop . We walk, stop for Starbucks, walk some more, then collapse when we finally get home.
In all that time together, Elise has become so very much more than my neighbor–she has become one of my very closest and most trusted friends. Elise is a mental health professional and as a result, is the most grounded, calm, reassuring, compassionately honest, and accepting person I think I have ever met. She has picked me up and talked me down. She has supported me, given me perspective, and challenged me to be a better version of myself. Usually, she nods or laughs in agreement with what I say, and sometimes, only just sometimes, there is a beat of silence that says without recrimination or judgement, “perhaps you may want to rethink that last bit” and I know that a little reevaluation may be in order. By knowing her and listening to how she works through challenging issues, I have learned how to think more clearly and find the courage to speak my mind more clearly and calmly, in a way that is not at all hostile, yet that demands to be heard and respected.
The past eight years of my life have been rife with challenge–more densely action-packed (and usually not in a good way) than any other chapter of my life and she has been my stalwart friend throughout. I honestly don’t think I’d have the perspective that I do, the calm that I do, the courage that I do, without her sage companionship. Elise came into my life exactly when I most needed her and I know without a doubt that she will always be one of my very dearest friends.
Today it was my great honor to make a cake for Elise’s holiday party at work. As we talked through the options in my kitchen we settled quickly on something that is equal parts seasonal and simple, and deliciously indulgent in its sum total: Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream and Smashed Peppermints.
There is something quintessentially wintry about a dark chocolate cake and white buttercream–it’s a bit tuxedo-esque I think. The chocolate of the cake and the white chocolate of the buttercream balance each other out and the smashed peppermints are a sly, deconstructionist wink at Christmas tradition.
I think it’s the perfect way to celebrate a holiday that slides in just before the gate of another year crashes down, to just stop and breathe a little bit with people we enjoy, and to rest in the Christmas spirit of giving and receiving intangible gifts that make our lives more meaningful. Like friendship.