Hey, Neighbor!

What kind of place do you live in? An apartment? Condo? Town house? Perhaps you’re two shakes shy of the Looney bin? I live in a house. It is a nice sized house with my aunt, my son and all of our hopes and dreams. I don’t think it really matters which one you occupy, because (with the exception of a ranch, farm or villa), we all have neighbors. You know, those people who live near us, around us and sometimes above or below us. As you might know by now, I like definitions, so let’s see what we find.

neigh·bor: noun \ˈnā-bər\

Definition of NEIGHBOR

1: one living or located near another

2: fellow man

Our first Neighbor. Mr. Rogers.

Say it with me: naaaaaay-burr. Do you know your neighbors? Have you met or introduced yourselves to them? WHY NOT? Without attempting to know your neighbors you cannot live an all-inclusive happy life at home. Bear with me here and read what I have to say.

Neighbors bring something to the table that shouldn’t be dismissed and that is comfort, security and possible friendship. They provide a valuable service that should not be disregarded. We should all get to know our neighbors. We should communicate with them and in special occasions, we should like and appreciate them.

My grandma used to refer to a time when her family lived with unlocked doors. They lived in a rural area of Oklahoma and the only people around were not only known, but were welcome. She said they “had no reason” to lock the doors. Doesn’t that seem almost surreal? I have known such environments and even fostered one of my own. Growing up, the bestie’s house remained unlocked and still does during normal hours. And when I had my own apartment, in a very small complex, my front door was also unlocked during normal hours.

It seems that as time passes and we become familiar with the events of the world, we start to fear the “possible”. Of course, we are always changed after a situation or tragedy. My aunt’s apartment was once broken into. She wasn’t home, she moved shortly thereafter, but she remains uneasy and uncomfortable. As most people do, which is entirely understandable.

However, this is not about burglaries or other crimes. This is not about leaving your door unlocked. This is about simple neighbor maintenance. When you share a neighborhood, share streets and yards, you should share other things too. You don’t have to share your innermost things, just exercise kindness and courteousness because it can only serve to benefit you and yours in the future. So, are you ready to talk about being neighborly? Ok! Let’s do it.

  1. Welcome. Would you believe that when we moved into this house, our neighbors (and now our friends) welcomed us to the neighborhood with a plate of homemade cupcakes? Seriously. The lady of the house and her two little ones came over with big smiles, a warm hello and a plate of chocolate cupcakes. “We just wanted to welcome you guys to the neighborhood”. When was the last time you heard of someone doing that? Did someone do it for you? Have you done it for another? It was such a wonderful gesture. It was a few weeks later that I returned their plate with my own homemade goodies. We’ve continued this interaction for five years now. I’m so glad she started it. It certainly made us feel welcome. It sparked a neighbor-friendship that has grown and thrived throughout every day, week, month and year. We’ve shared ideas, recipes and I made her family true fans of Red Velvet cake.
  1. Be cordial. Now, I’m not saying that you should bake for everyone on the block and certainly don’t bake for each and every apartment that becomes vacant and then occupied. That is, if you bake at all. But, please, do these things:
    1. Smile. Yes, smile. It’s not hard, it’s not expensive and it goes a long way.
    2. Wave/Nod. When people look at you, wave. Or nod. If they wave to you, wave back. Or nod. It’s easy to establish boundaries and set the parameters of a potential relationship. You don’t have to invite them in for tea and cookies, just be cordial.
    3. Introduce yourself. You don’t have to share your life story, but just say “Hi. I’m Tanisha. Welcome.” If you feel uncomfortable with this, then just say “Hi. Welcome.” I cannot find a reasonable excuse to NOT say “Hi” to someone, but that’s just me.
  1. Maintenance. Take care of your home. If you can’t afford the upkeep, you should probably move. I know it sounds harsh, but don’t move into the white picket fence neighborhood and park a car on the lawn, let the grass dry up and allow the pool to turn into your own little bayou in the backyard. You tarnish the entire area. Again, I know it sounds harsh, but you need to be aware of where you’re moving and what you can maintain. If you can only afford to pay the internal bills and cannot afford the external maintenance, you’ve moved into the wrong area. Sad? Yes, but true. Landscape. If not, then landscape. There’s just no way around it. Hire a professional. If you can’t pay for it, do it yourself. If you can’t do either of those, check with your neighbors. Perhaps one of the local kids will mow the lawn or rake the leaves. Attempt! To match the yards around you.
  1. Pick your fruit. If you have fruit bearing trees, when they fruit, pick them. If you do not enjoy the fruit or do not know what to do with it, share it with your neighbors. The key point is to NOT allow your lemon tree to turn into a moldy festering pile of pseudo-lemons spoiling and oozing in your yard. It’s a waste, it’s unattractive, stinky and it attracts critters. No one wants critters.
    1. If you share your fruit, you are not entitled to the by-product. However, if you receive some fruit, you should share the by-product. It’s just the neighborly thing to do. Capicé?
    2. If none of these options is favorable to your taste, chop down the tree.
  1. Pick your papers. Do you receive the newspapers? Do you read them? Or do you leave them in the driveway to collect as if no one lives there? If you receive them, no one truly cares if you read them, collect the coupons or throw them in the trash, just do not leave them in the driveway. It doesn’t give an illusion, it’s a straight out statement: We. Don’t. Care.
  1. Pick UP after your dog. We, as a whole, really need to be conscious of our pets. Where I live, there are two rules to a dog. 1) in your yard or 2) on a leash. Anything beyond that is trouble for you. Also, where I live, you’re required to pick up after your dog. It’s your dog, it’s your responsibility and it is should not be the problem or the worry of your neighbors. Truly. I don’t have a dog, therefore, I do not want to pick up after a dog. Nor do I want your dog “watering” my plants and flowers. Please and thank you.
    1. I’d like to add my own twist in regards to spaying or neutering your pet. I am not a bleeding heart for every cat or dog. Nor any pet for that matter, but enough is enough. There are so many unwanted pets wandering the streets. If you do not want the worry and responsibility of caring for, getting shots for, naming and picking up after a litter of offspring, spay or neuter. If you’re not going to keep your pet in your yard or on a leash, spay or neuter. Please.
    2. Also, if you keep your dog in your yard never to be seen, you still need to pick up after it. A heaping pile of dog poo is nuclear in the summer heat. It’s better for all of us, especially your dog and anyone who lives downwind.
  1. Rare and/or dangerous pets are exactly that: rare and/or dangerous. Treat them as such. Check on them, double check on them and then check again. You run a huge risk having something rare and/or dangerous in your home. You run an unfathomable risk having something rare/or dangerous outside of your home. Be conscious of what you are exposing yourself and your neighbors to. If the risk is too high, return it or sell it.
  1. Prepare for parties. We all like parties, don’t we? My favorites are family oriented backyard hooplahs with lots of food, music, kids and fun. That’s what I like. My neighbors might not be so fond. If you’re going to have a party, be conscious of your party.
    1. Parties are unpredictable. Accept responsibility for your home, your guests and everything related and included. That means parking, drinking, smoking, laughing, yelling, fighting and eating. If you have a zero tolerance policy on any of the above, MAKE IT KNOWN to your guests before arrival.
    2. Keep your party at your house. Don’t let your guests wander the streets and disrupt your neighbors.
    3. Warn your guests about parking. You know where you live. If you live in a cul de sac, tell your guests. If you live on a one-way street, tell your guests. Give them an idea where to park and be certain to tell your guests to be mindful and respectful of your neighbors.
    4. Keep your bathroom stocked with necessities. Please. For all of us.
    5. In the event your party is spectacular (as we would all like for them to be) make sure you stay within your boundaries. If your boundaries find themselves expanded, make sure you conduct yourself accordingly. Here’s an example: my friend’s dad has a great party house. I’ve been there many times and stayed until wee hours of the morning. While out and about one night, he and the other bar-goers were having such a good time they didn’t want it to end. So, being the host that he is, he invited the bar back to his home. They kept the party going until well beyond reasonable. The next day, my friend’s dad purchased bottles of champagne and sparkling cider and personally delivered them to his neighbors with his sincerest apologies. His neighbors were not only surprised, they were appreciative and honored. He showed that he was conscious that they existed, could have been disturbed and that he wasn’t so much regretful as he was apologetic. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen again, but if it does, I’m sure they will be calm about it.
  1. Mind your music. Whether it’s from your home, your car, or your teenager’s garage band… mind your music. This is coming from a music lover! But the fact is, not everyone enjoys and appreciates music the way I do. And eve\n if they do love and appreciate it, our tastes and preferences are varied. Just be mindful. Not everyone wants to hear Nina Simone belt out “Where the Chilly Winds Don’t Blow” at the highest volume during the latest hours.
  1. Return what is not yours. Isn’t it amazing how a ball always ends up in the backyard? Kids. Give the ball back. Don’t keep it for your grandkids, don’t throw it away, give it back. Please. For some of us, that ball has been at our house for a total of 3.7 seconds and now it’s in your yard. Please return it or for the love of all things holy, or this boy (my boy) is going to rant, rave, scream and cry about it for the next week because he knows it’s in your yard. He doesn’t understand that I can’t just hop the fence, fight off your German shepherd and get the ball. So, please, just give it back. Thank you.
  1. The Pros. Now, when you’ve got neighbors that you know and trust, you have someone to pick up those papers when you’re vacationing, someone to check the mail for you, pull your trash out and to even hold a spare key in case both of you get locked out. You have someone from whom you can borrow milk or sugar when you’re in a jam. Someone to help you fix a flat, change a tire or get the sandbags off the leaky roof. You have a friend.

If none of that convinced you, let me share one last tidbit. A most important and convincing tidbit. You might be familiar with the phrase:

“Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself”

Moses.. receiving the Ten Commandments.

Does that sound familiar to you at all? It should! It’s in the Bible. It’s concept is part of the Ten Commandments. The phrase itself is repeated and stressed many times over throughout the Bible. I believe it is the essential ingredient in the Golden Rule. You’re familiar with that concept aren’t you?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Both of these concepts are older than anyone you or I have ever known. They have stood the test of time. These ideas have been used to devise laws and as a basis for punishments. They are key to the care and concern of the human spirit and mind and are representative of the status of the human condition. If you didn’t know it then, you can’t say you don’t know it now. Treat others as you would want them to treat you. Common courtesy. If that’s not enough, do it because God said so.

I was going to end with “in short, what I’m saying is”, but as you have probably come to know, nothing I say is “short”. And what “I’m saying” is what I’ve said and what you read. I am a self-proclaimed non-expert on everything. I am not trained or certified in neighbor relations. I can only tell you that this neighborhood and these people are some of the nicest and friendliest I’ve ever known. The majority of them have introduced themselves at one time or another and always share a smile or a wave (except for that one lady who I hope somehow finds this website, blog and post and knows it’s about her).

There is a couple that walks their dogs in the morning and we’ve only exchanged “hey howdys” and a little chatter about their dogs. But I wouldn’t be worried to ask them for a jump for my car, a cup of sugar or to use their phone. There are several seniors that walk in the morning and always seem anxious and eager to share their brisk morning smile and energetic waves. These people are technically strangers because I don’t know much beyond their walking routines. But, we share a common thread. We live in the same area, we share the same streets and zip code. We are neighbors. We should conduct ourselves as such. So should you.

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the house that keeps on giving

a house is not a home. as so elegantly sung by the late luther vandross (thanks, mama, i love you for that song). it is a structure built with the intention and desire to one day be purchased and fulfill it’s destiny to actually become a home. some houses struggle their entire existence trying to become a home. i have been blessed to know many “homes” during my time. my mama’s house, my gramma’s house and my aunt’s house– no matter where they have been or will be, will always be my home(s). but i am lucky enough to have another home. it belongs to my best friend’s parents. they have been married for twenty-five years. they are both retired but have a busy social life and still manage to take care of their parents, their kids and the Three Grandkid-teers. this is a story about the home that they made, provided and shared. a home unlike any other.

in the thirty plus years that i have been a part of their family, i suspect that i have spent years at their house. i don’t know the exact number, but it’s safe to say that it would rival the actual number of hours that i spent at my own home. for as long as i can remember, the front door has been unlocked during normal operating hours. the front yard has not changed that much, and neither has the house for that matter. the only things that i can actually recall being changed affect the aesthetics of the house: the windows, the paint, several screen doors (not for pretty, but because of big headed, strong willed canines) and the decorations. it is now as it has always been — simple, warm and inviting.

the queen of the castle is meticulous. there is a method to her madness and if you don’t know it, you’ll soon find out. she likes her things “just so” and her things like it too. they are used to her and will unknowingly tattle-tell, if and when, you misplace or abuse them. she will see what you have done before you do. confess. it’s in your best interest. the king of the castle is laid back. not much bothers him that i’ve come to find. together, they manage their household seamless and flawlessly.

i grew up across the street, hence the amount of time i spent there. it’s a great house to grow up in and i have always known that. but recently, i had the opportunity to stay there for a week. the king and queen were away on travel. they provide weekly childcare for their three youngest grandchildren. with them out of town, the responsibility fell upon Nanny. the queen’s mom. but she’s eighty-four and while she can handle herself, expecting her to care for the two toddlers is outside of the comfort range. that’s where i came in. i agreed to house/baby/granny-sit in order to ensure comfort, ease of mind and a change of pace for all involved. what an adventure. so there’s Nanny, my SweetHeart Callie, her little brother the MadMan AJ and their littler cousin the PetiteSweet Emmie. not to mention, that i had with me my effervescent and energetic four-year-old SuperBoy Kenneth and me. whew. if there was ever a place to watch and care for a senior citizen, elementary schooler, preschooler, two toddlers, three dogs, a guinea pig and a betta fish.. it’s this house. thank the lord for the house on BlahBlah Street!

let’s start with a sorta-tour of the premises. the front yard is large and accommodating. there is enough play room and comfort room to watch the kids out front. through the front door is the formal living room. it’s formal. the furniture is white and there are lots of fragile breakable ceramic and glass items in there. stay out. it’s not a request, it’s an order. just don’t go in there or be in there unless it’s christmas eve and you’re with the rest of the family opening presents. moving on.. leaving the formal living room takes you to the formal dining room. again, it’s formal. stay out. unless it’s your birthday, they’re having a party for you and it’s time to blow out the candles. the formal dining room gives way to the family dining area. it’s cozy and comfortable and centrally located. from there you can go one of two ways, into the tv room or into the kitchen. there is a den, respectively known as “the tv room” and it holds one of the four televisions in the home, the fireplace and a pool table. yes, a pool table. the bestie and i used to play pool for hours. now it’s covered with plastic and serves as the queen’s craft table. uuummmm, don’t move her stuff. 😀 i don’t want you to think that she’s mean or territorial, she’s the queen. it’s her castle and she has rules and regulations. she is extremely generous and kind. it is because of the queen that the house is able to give relentlessly. technically it’s all her, and she just uses the house to share her love.

the tv room and family dinner table are right off the best room in the house… the kitchen! i love kitchens. all kitchens. they truly are the heart of the home. besides the appliances, you’re more than likely going to find Nanny in the kitchen. she cooks and bakes constantly. you will also find any and everything you could possibly want to eat. there is always cereal. probably four different kinds as well as a variety of milks to choose from. there is a fruit basket that is never empty. the most astounding part to me is that it always has apples, oranges and bananas. how awesome and healthy is that? it makes me smile just to think about it. the children will have good eating habits, even without their knowledge or effort. there are several other items that are a staple including yogurt, jell-o, popsicles, tortilla chips, a microwave meal or six, low-fat popcorn and sandwich fixins. oh, and a fifty-gallon bag of shredded cheese. again i say, how awesome is that? and what a great place to grow up in. there is now, and has always been a ‘snack drawer’. it’s what the bestie and her brother used to pick their lunch box treats from. it’s moved locations a couple of times, but it seems to multiply when your back is turned. it is never close to empty and always full of variety. more awesomeness.

just off the kitchen is the laundry room. the house (more like the queen or Nanny) processes no less than three loads of laundry a day. everything required is conveniently placed within reach. it also has a storage area full of food. yes, more food. the kitchen is full of food and the laundry room is half food, half cleaning supplies. next you’ll enter the “front bathroom”. it’s got a pink theme. always has. it also has two doors which can be confusing and/or embarrassing, depending on what you’re doing in there when the other door opens. there are four bedrooms, one of them is a part-time office. the beds are always made and every room has a ceiling fan to ensure maximum comfort. there are four televisions and a computer in the home. everyone can pretty much watch what they want and not have to fight with or disturb another.

the backyard is complete with plastic playhouse, small swing, things with wheels and a swimming pool with diving board and slide. what could be more inviting? i know! an on hand barbecue and the pool is fenced in so there’s no need to obsess about the kids falling in. the house is constantly telling you:

“you’re safe here. take a load off. you hungry? sleepy? rest. relax, i got you.”

now, if you have yet to be impressed by what i’ve described, take a trip out the back, into the garage and down the stairs. from what i remember, the garage has never held more than one car at a time. the king has his woodcutting hobby down there and of course there’s always storage, but what will catch your eye is the stock pile of food items down there. yes, more food. it’s breathtaking. i’m sure that Sam’s Club buys from her, instead of the other way around. there is so much food. but also, the consumable products: paper towels, paper plates, napkins, plastic cups, ziploc bags and the like. they make clean up with kids quicker and easier and who doesn’t love that? there’s more detergent in the garage than on the whole block. and all of these things add to the comfort of the home. they add to the ambiance and feeling that you are cared for when you’re there and you needn’t worry.

ok, so let’s zoom back in time to the beginning of last week. the king and queen left on tuesday and my aunt dropped us off on BlahBlah Street that afternoon. my son has many allergies and when we stay away, i pack my whole house. we unloaded and started our week-long working-vacation. we entered the house and immediately were harassed by the resident dog family: candy, peachy and mickey. we greeted everyone in the house and Nanny was already cooking dinner. she had promised us a chicken dinner a few weeks earlier but got held up running errands with her grandson. on the menu was fried chicken breasts, nanny-tatoes (kinda like homefries but better), green beans and chocolate covered vanilla cake. whooo hoo! it’s great to be home. my son was too excited to eat. he loves my bestie’s kids and just wanted to be outside running a muck. the rest of us ate and let the weight of the day slip away. the backyard calls to the children. they spend the majority of their time outside. however, it was a little chilly and the sprinklers came on so we corralled them and brought them inside for a movie.

the PetiteSweet, the youngest of the group leaves around dinnertime. both boys were broken hearted. she’s a people watcher and pretty quiet. but she’s quick on her toes. it looked like the two boys were getting physical and a hand came flying her direction, not only did she block it but she responded just as fast with an almost-hit-back. you go, girl! my son had instantly become enamored with her. Callie is his first love. he followed her everywhere to the point of annoyance. they all love each other though. it’s very cute to watch. dinner, movie, baths and bed. we slept in the SweetHeart’s room. she has a guinea pig, named G-force, and he is loud at night.

something about the combination of the guinea pig, the princess bed unlike my own and the realization that no one can say “i love you” louder and more clearly than if they ask you to care for their child(ren), made me not sleep that night. i was excited and a little nervous to wake the next day and have the responsibility of “the house” on my shoulders. eventually i fell asleep and when i woke up, the bestie had gone to work, the SweetHeart was already gone to school and the MadMan was still asleep. it was just Nanny, SuperBoy and i. i found Nanny in the kitchen (duh), drinking her coffee. you can’t get close to Nanny without being offered something to eat or drink, or eat. she wanted to know what i was going to eat. was it cereal? was it toast? was it chocolate covered vanilla cake? what, what was i going to eat?

“nothing right now, Nan, i’m ok.”

she continued… for at least another fifteen minutes. finally she told me:

“you’re makin’ me nervous by not eating! you want me to fix you something? i’ll fix ya whatever ya want, you know that. what can i fix? ya want some pancakes?”

“yes, Nan, pancakes would be awesome.”

“goood. i’ll start on um right now.”

she made me a stack of pancakes everyday, for four days straight! they were almost as big as the plate and drenched in butter (i love butter). she made me a stack of four, SuperBoy a stack of two and just one for the MadMan. that’s enough pancakes to satisfy an elephant and enough butter to last for the rest of 2011. death by pancakes. but you won’t catch me complaining, honestly. it was a pleasure and a delight. we should all be so lucky as to be forced to eat fresh pancakes every morning. before i could take the last bite and walk my plate into the kitchen, everything was cleaned up. i couldn’t even tell she made anything and then she was off to do the laundry while telling me to leave my plate in the sink. amazing.

Nanny allows the kids to help her do any and everything. SweetHeart is a junior chef already. she likes to be involved in all cooking processes somewhere along the way, and she doesn’t want your help, just your guidance. she can “do it”.  Nanny let’s the kids sit on the kitchen counter next to her while she instructs them accordingly. she lets the MadMan, a two-year-old, help her with the laundry. it’s the cutest and sweetest thing. he’s standing all tippy-toe on top of the tiny dryer-lent trash can and she hands him the clothes items one-by-one. she’s so patient and easy going. unless you’re refusing breakfast. i aspire to be as sweet, gentle, caring and wonderful as she is.

the days flew by pretty easy. (note: the PetiteSweet is only at the house for a few hours in the afternoon. and she didn’t make it the rest of the week. 😦 we enjoyed our day with her though. we look forward to the next time we see her.) with two boys in the house all day there is a lot of running, screaming and hitting. occasionally spitting, immediately followed by time-out. there was also a lot of “give it, gimme it, stop it” and “mine”. but all-in-all, they are like brothers and play as well as two brothers could. inside, outside, inside, outside and inside. outside. and with them, there are no inside voices. there’s one voice for the both in and outside. and it’s LOUD. they are more entertained by classic animation including tom & jerry and scooby doo than any of the newer, more impressive, pixar created movies. they love them all, but tom & jerry genuinely makes them laugh.

on the second night i proceeded to give SuperBoy a bath, once the water started running the MadMan came around the corner faster than lightning. i think all children have super-sonic hearing. especially if they hear the sounds of something they want to be doing. my son was in the tub and i was getting a towel from under the bathroom sink. i looked up and AJ was already out of his pajama pants.

“i wanna takey baff”

dammitalltohell. now there’s two of them in there. they did pretty good, there was only a quarter of an inch of water across the bathroom floor. it reminded me of this:

we pretty much did this same thing everyday. i got to start each morning with fresh pancakes. i think it was on the third day that both boys were seated and waiting. AJ said “yummy yumma”. if it had been warmer i would have braved the swimming area with the boys. there’s a hot tub that would have held the three of us comfortably. speaking of hot tub.. did i tell you that i found a rawhide dog bone, swimming pool brush head and superman in the bottom of the hot tub. i retrieved the items and gave the superman figurine back to the MadMan only to blink and see him actually throw it and watch superman hit the surface and sink to the bottom. i left him there for a day or so. 😀 as well, i found the fabulous and rootin’est tootin’est cowboy Woody in the hose attachment point of the shop vac. i present to you, exhibit a:

exhibit a

shop vac toy torture

can you see that? here.. lemme help you.

exhibit a zoom-in

the rootin'est tootin'est cowboy

the days flew by almost effortlessly. what a fun time. it wasn’t work at all. nothing out of the ordinary. i was happy to have some time away from my home, to allow my son to have an outing, to give my aunt some personal space, but also to be taken care of by the house, Nanny and the kids. they really took care of me. i left there happier and healthier. it made me grateful for all of the wonderful people that i have in my life. from Nanny all the way down to the PetiteSweet, i am loved. my aunt makes and saves a place for me and my son in her heart and in her home. she’s a saint. my bestie’s family loves me enough to entrust me with their little angels and their sweet sweet gramma’s. i am blessed! i am truly cared for. i hope that if i am ever fortunate enough to purchase a house that i will be able to turn it into a home. a home that will provide and embrace my family and friends for generations to come. a home that can cater to the elderly, small children and a variety of pets. a house that will keep on giving.