Bree, Bree, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

If you want to ruin a potentially meaningful relationship, pretend that any time is a great time to tell a neighbor about your values. Then notice how it affects their motivation to get to know youIMG_1744

A Story

I moved here and instantly marveled at my neighbor’s veggie garden. I blurted that she was saving the planet and inspiring others by growing her food without pesticides.  It had an effect…

She was reminded of me every time she shopped. Every time she ate out.  Every time she saw certain ads.  Every time certain things were up for voting.

And because I was a new neighbor, those thoughts were about how different we are. Not because we’re actually all that different, but because, in the season best for fostering a healthy little seed of a friendship, I poured a ‘should’ on it.  She ‘should’ feel virtuous for gardening…

Soil that is too rich in nutrients ‘burns’ germinating seeds. Just so, reasoning that is too rich – more rich than necessary – can burn a friendship that already has all it needs to thrive.


Foster Friendship First

You see: to my neighbor, the word ‘organic’ just means ‘expensive’. She loves to watch things grow.  She likes to experiment and test her knowledge over time as to what will grow well, and what she can do about that.  She grows for fun, and to stretch her money, and although she’d never tell a stranger this, it’s become a healing, near-spiritual practice.

Whether or not intended to flatter or support her, my enthusiasm seemed abstract – even fictional – compared to hers. Telling her she was doing ‘the right thing’… I’d lost sight of her as a creative, resourceful, and whole person.  I took the connection for granted, and came off as someone more focused on affecting people than showing affection.


Alternate Ending

Thankfully, that’s not what actually happened. Forgive me for telling the scary version, but we have reasoned together that that would have happened if I’d made a different choice all those years ago…

I actually did manage to keep my zealous/optimistic/personal reasoning to myself and just get my hands dirty – and I’m so glad I did! Instead, I focused on what she was growing, what she loves about gardening, and asking whether there were ways I could help and perhaps indirectly learn to garden, too.

Even if the world would be better if more people knew their neighbors and/or gardened… So what?  I’m the only ‘more people’ I’m in charge of.


Enrichment Over Time

I learned enough from her to start a plot of my own in a spot near the sidewalk that would introduce me to more neighbors, still. But more importantly, I learned to embody the sheer curiosity and delight that sustain my dear neighbor and me, regardless of our gardens’ effect on the planet.  And I gained an invaluable friend.

We have been close for years, now. One of the many precious aspects of our friendship is that we can disagree without it threatening the relationship; we value and seek out one another’s perspectives on decisions large and small, and we support each other through all kinds of seasons.

Friendship is a rewarding enough reason to be a good friend.

And if you actually do it, you might agree that gardening is enough reason to garden, too.


Who’s Near You?

Please share stories this brought up for you, below!

If you can’t think of one, perhaps you’ll find yourself taking your eyes off the screen and taking a quick walk right now to jog your memory.

Perhaps you’ll see a neighbor doing something you admire.  In a perfect world, what obstacle(s) would you be able to transcend so you can just get to know your neighbor and their true motivation?

Nice to Meet You. This is Sorrel.

“Look at this –what do you call it? It’s huge!”

“Sorrel.” I surprised myself by knowing.

“I don’t eat it. It’s beautiful, but it grows too well. You can have it all. Let’s rip it out.” My neighbor heaved her pitch fork closer, ready to jab.

sor·rel (noun) salad plant a sharp-tasting plant of the dock family. Genus: Rumex Use: salad greens, medicines.
sor·rel (noun)
salad plant
a sharp-tasting plant of the dock family.
Genus: Rumex
Use: salad greens, medicines.

Admiring the fantastic bush of pointed, red-veined greens from the garden path, sadness flashed.

First off, it’s so beautiful.

Second off, I can’t eat that much sorrel right now – it’s not its own salad, just a topping!  If we left it, it’d stay fresh for when I can get around to eating it bit by bit… but it’ll be weeks before my lettuces yield salad.  And, like she said, the sorrel GROWS.

I lifted my own fork high,
having picked and balanced my way to our project, stepping from stone to stone.

After forkedly tilting the huge bushel from her side to mine, I straddled the hunk of rooted, long leaves, grabbed ’em good by the base, back and arms long, crotch close to the ground. My neighbor warned, but I boasted, half kiddingly: “I’m learning to relax everything else and test the surprising strength of thighs.”

After a throttling moment, my center of gravity shot up into the air, and only by holding my heavy harvest out far in front of me could some balance be regained. We laughed.  Dirt scattered.  It’s fun to be surprised.182_1584

Now it’s in a bucket just outside my door. I know I could go on Facebook and invite potential friends all over Fremont/Wallingford to pick them up… but it’s not about getting rid of it, nor meeting neighbors 100 doors down.

And sorrel is not about to abate hunger or malnutrition at the food bank, unfamiliar as it is.

I’d rather go for a walk around the block and dare whatever neighbors I meet to taste sorrel; see from there. Novel, quirky experiences make memories.  Pure-flamed conversations can fortify existing bonds.

Finding any excuse to become familiar to those nearest remains, for me, a use-the-strongest-muscle-for-the-job, laughing, rooting affair.

Bird – an experience

Perhaps my jaw looks dangerous to this little budgie, like a looming mountain cliff jutting out above him. His weight barely affects the shape of my knit turtleneck. Meanwhile, my fleshy, jaw-flapping, 10-pound head swivels above his be-feathered, barely-there body.

It’s wild. He’s wild, in a way, though surprisingly tame. But what’s wild is that my body’s less solid than I thought.

He hops around, scurrying left and right around the edge of my tall collar, trying, perhaps, to find a skin tag or flaw to pick at as love-birds do. “I think he likes your hair” says his Mamma, my neighbor, from the sofa.

I lower the chin-length half of my hair where Freddie can reach it, seems to nibble it, but leaves it undamaged, not even kinked. I am wild, in that I’m expecting there to be a sad or painful ramification for our meeting – I feel strange and on-edge.  Is that wild… or estranged?

My jaw feels strange—non-existent, in a sense. I am trying to see through my own face to be able to look down at Freddie, but that’s not why.  It’s a nerve-ending thing. I think I can map out exactly where each tooth, molar, and muscle’s nerves run. It’s as if that’s all that’s real about me – they’re all tingly and sensitive. Flesh like space between feathers.

I feel nervous – but magical – around Fred.

Have you had transformative experiences
thanks to a neighbor-pet?


Please share in the comments!

A Visiting Culture

One bathroom in every Dutch home I’ve been to is equipped with one of these: first and last thought of the day is of your loved ones.   [click to print yours]
The Dutch have an inspiring tradition on birthdays. You just turn up on your friends’ doorstep, and they are at the door to welcome you in and take your coat—on their own birthday.

Inside, guests seated in a room-sized circle are entertaining themselves, having many conversations at once, while the ‘jarige’ (the one adding a year, or ‘year-ee’) serves everyone coffee and pastry.  It’s their pleasure.

Gifts are unwrapped upon receipt.
There is no pinnacle song, candle, or surprise.
Conversations are lively—not tidy units.

Since everyone is seated, your visit takes place among an ever-changing constellation of people who settle into still-warm seats and bid farewell to those leaving in order of arrival.  When it’s your turn to make room, you, too, go around to –ever so briefly– shake everyone’s hand, just as when you arrived.

Some remind you of when you will next be together –most within a month at another mutual friend’s birthday.  Via whoever will see a mutual friend first, you send love, well-wishes, and so forth.  Then you congratulate the ‘year-ee’ one more time as you leave.

A Dutch birthday attendee is not like an extra on a set: my visit, however brief, assured me and others: I’m alright.  Otherwise, I could soon expect fruit, flowers, and well-wishing callers, myself…

Feel the centeredness of community –it’s personal.

Does this inspire how you celebrate life –or conversation?

Rolling Home

I’m on a train home (to Seattle) from Ontario after a Christmas where my Dad had all his kids and grandkids together — for the first time in 25 years.  There were 4 other family reunions, each unique, to take advantage of that fact.  It was a whirlwind.

I basically did the opposite of my husband, who had the peaceful, a-materialistic non-Christmas we usually enjoy together.

I conscience sacrificing future generations’ comfort for my own, this Christmas.

My Dutch sister was double-crossing the Atlantic anyway, and I’m overjoyed to have met her kids.  I savored my brother and his family, as well as my Dad & stepmom, who visibly revel in grandparenthood.

Obviously, my favorite moments were the moving, meaningful ones — regardless of the emotions shared.  I’m glad the poo-ha left room for what I wanted most for Christmas: simple celebrations of our interconnectedness.

I just want to put it out there that “Home for Christmas” can mean something other than your parents’ or your own house.  To me, it also means a whole village around each of us — a constellation of care.

Three weeks ago, on that first train out of Seattle heading all the way East, what I missed viscerally was my neighborhood — the place in the world where I practice belonging most.

(Hand-written en route on January 4th)

A Little Less Passion, Please?

Can they see it?  No.  But there’s a reason it’s called ‘eyes glazing over’ — there’s an elusive, a visual-seeming cue they were supposed to pick up on, but you don’t know how to convey “you lost me” without interrupting or walking away or outright rolling your eyes.  And you aren’t about to hurt their feelings just because you think they might be… weird.

So you don’t care about _____ (fill in the blank).  You don’t know much about it, or don’t like it, and generally wonder what others get out of talking about it with you.  They sure don’t get to hear about what you’re passionate about.  They sure don’t get positive feedback.  They sure don’t get… YOU.

If you’ve ever felt like this in conversation with a neighbor, I would be surprised if it didn’t occur to you to resolve to avoid this (or them) in future.  As honored as you should perhaps feel that they’re investing their time in you, it feels more like you’re being used or not seen.  It hurts a bit, actually, beneath all the glazed-overness goo.  You want out, and if you stay, it’s so you have choices in future.  The name of the game now is ‘escape.’


Have you ever been that person?
Have you ever learned later that someone’s “eyes glazed over” but you took all the cues the wrong way, and wish they’d stopped you?
Have you ever thanked a great friend for reaching out and touching you to let you know your own eyes had glazed over then your passion for a subject left them behind?  Wasn’t that disarming?

Well, it’s impossible to avoid going overboard altogether, but here are some tips for what to do when you’re not sure it’s happening:

♪♫ A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Compassion-in-Action, Please ♪♫

I know you have your moral imperatives, or pet peeves.
They’re what motivated you to slow down and…  ….   …to heave
a big sigh, turn to neighbors, turn to ‘just anyone’
so you could feel like your outreach could reach ‘everyone’.

But I don’t care if you dare live completely plastic free!
(You’re my personal hero!) I still dare you to be
patient…  <sigh>  …Very patient and wise.
Note the glazing of eyes.
Learn to chit-chat;
and to combat
only internal lies.

Lies like “everyone should” and “if only ___ then”…
If you love fiction so much then pick up a pen.
Pen a novel.  Is it novel?  Or are you just mourning
that this neighbor IS who you were destined to meet ever since this morning?

This neighbor’s so-called ignorance or insensitivity,
or their disinterest in what you find fascinating is exactly
what we need:
they’re divergent, see?
Is there diversity
in the society
you’d like to see?
Accept you’ll disagree.

But They’re Wrong!

…OK…  You needn’t suffer long.

  1. stop, breathe, “wipe the glaze off,” and listen to their tone
  2. ask about the feeling, ask them to help you hone in
    on the source of their passion, what experience they had
  3. ask what led them to share it with you…? why the tad
    of urgency(?) or trust in you(?) (instead of “why me?”
    try “what’s up in your life right now that you so want me to see?”)

Be surprised at the results.  Even if you can’t interrupt
if you guess at feelings, guess why they’re sharing, you might find they abrupt-
ly make more sense, or pause thoughtfully, or thank you for your letting
them bend your ear.
They may tell you here
“there’s more…” but they’re forgetting.

They’re so Quiet…

If you’re rambling, do the same thing for yourself:

  1. is (s)he quiet ’cause (s)he’s listening in spite of him-/herself?
    Breathe, stop (forego criticism!!) tell them
  2. “I get so excited
    (or upset or whatever the case may be) “when that topic is ignited.
    Thanks. I bent your ear
    — but how DID we end up here?”
    …insert awkward pause while they help you remember…
  3. “Ah!” share why this came up for you, allow yourself to feel tender
    asking them: “what, exactly, happened just now, did I loose you?
    I want to honor your thoughts, give you space, meet you–not abuse you!” 😀

Again, be amazed at your results, and try to remember:
You have us to lick your wounds with, so do it: dare be tender!

The best chief is not the one
who persuades people to his point of view.
It is instead the one
in whose presence most people find it easiest to arrive at the truth”.

~Mohawk Wisdom

If leadership is meaning-making in a community of practice,
then finding out what the meaning is of conversing at all – of connecting at all –
DURING the very conversations that, over time, become your shared language,
is a necessary skill for birthing the community of practice.
It is similar in importance to a parent’s skill at attending to an infant’s needs,
singing, muttering, or giving words to her feelings, and their own.

Gently interrupt, or at least take time out to ask yourself –optimistically– why you’re speaking/listening.
What could a higher good be in this sharing?
Is simple listening what is requested?
How is our allowing each other to be so very different good for each of us; humanizing?

This is leadership.  Welcome to the club.

How About Dinner at *Your* House?

I know a few people in this place:

It’s supposed to be their turn.  I feel foolish (and, oddly enough, a bit rude) at the idea of inviting neighbors over for dinner AGAIN—before they take their turn.  And it feel stubborn or curmudgeonly not to.  Should I give up?  Remind them?  I feel awful.”

Woah, let’s take a step back: Perhaps you chatted for years, or cut straight to the chase, but you actually had a neighbor over for dinner.  Congrats!  They loved your idea.  They showed up.  You shared food, you enjoyed it, and everyone agreed to do it again. –Didn’t they say it should be their turn next? It was long ago, and now…hands_twiddling_thumbs_fast_lg_nwm

You’re Waiting…

You’ve felt inclined to invite them a second time in a row, to just do tea, or go for a walk together. But you are questioning everything now: is this failure to take turns a cruel social cue?  Did they *not* have fun? like your meal?

Like a good meal left out too long, something smells ‘off’… Are you being taken a bit for granted?  Don’t they know you’ve got a life?!  Don’t they know you’re as busy (implied: and as desirable a person) as they are?

You try to dismiss your secret, tentative judgments. Like food scraps; you refuse to ingest them.  You scrape these kinds of thoughts off ’f your plate and into the compost bin of your mind.  But there’s piles of this crap, and as you deal with the mess, but avoid the source of it, an unspeakable questioning of yourself comes up: you question whether you’re a good judge of character, of authenticity, or of potential.  🙁

What a stressful idea!!  🙁

All this reminds me of my choice of life partner… and dish-washing. More on that later.

Sky’s Full of Pie

Before you accuse your neighbor of promising you pie made of sky, or accuse yourself of being a bad judge of character, consider how new you are at this neighbor-focus. Take a deep breath.

Consider how new your neighbors are at neighbor-focus.  Deep breath.

Oh! how new we all are at actively prioritizing neighbors – neighbors living with us in this day and age!  Deep, deep breaths…

"Scratch the surface of a cynic and you'll find a dreamer who mistook ideals for expectations.”
-____(asking my source for his source)____

Don’t Give Up!

I would bet money that your neighbors DO want to do dinner again—really badly. I bet they had a great time.  I bet they’re sad at the delay, too.  And like everyone, they have a million reasons to feel insecure or hold off on novelty.  Reasons that are Not. About. You. 

Please, help me serve you your own love on a silver platter – a clean, shiny, reflective one.

First, Do Last Night’s (Mental) Dishes

Shall we allow your feelings to get stinky, slimy, and unrecognizable in the kitchen-corner of your heart? Or shall we take 15 minutes now—or next time you do dishes—to salvage the ‘ick’ as precious compost, and cut through the grime to the appetizing truth?

In the midst of a happy marriage, as if cluttering up the buffet of life, I was mildly lonely and upset every day, several teeny tiny moments a day –over dishes. Every time there were dishes, issues about fairness welled up.  They were silent, most times, but they were there every time.  I longed for collaboration, turn-taking, enjoying learning from each other, care…  We had it in many other parts of shared life, but the dishes… somehow brought up my doubts.  I’ll share a process that helped me.  This process could nourish and sustain your generous, amazing inner chef!

1.   Admit What You’d LIKE

Be compassionate with yourself & tender with your perhaps-shattered hopes: besides food, what did you want from ‘their turn’?  Fairness?  Enthusiasm?  Spontaneity?  Perhaps you wanted to see their place, or you don’t really like cooking, yourself.  Do you feel strapped for time unless food is included?  Right on! Write it down! Takes 3 minutes.

In my dishwashing example:

I want my husband’s solidarity and help.  This doesn’t feel like an effective use of time.  I want the structure of knowing which tasks are mine to do, so that I don’t hesitate and can just get started and stay focused on the task (if it’s my turn) instead of wondering who’s supposed to be doing it, when. 

2.   Allow Your Enthusiasm

After writing for 3 minutes, in the same way you’d talk to a friend, leave that spot completely.  Physically move a few feet away from it, leaving a still-beating after-image of your heart right there in the air.

Now, in a new spot just a few feet to the side, inhabit this:
Wow!  You invited your neighbor to dinner!! !  They said yes!  Were you relieved?!  Did you ‘let yourself go’ a bit budgeting for/preparing the food?  Did a little giddy anticipation arise at the threat -ehr- promise of guests, and motivate you to tidy up/clean house?  Did you feel excited about the relationship?  Did you enjoy your time together and laugh?

Using the back, or a fresh scrap of paper:  Write from your pure joy in sharing a meal at your place, without interruption by the other part. Takes 3 minutes.

In my dishwashing example:

I have good memories of doing “the kitchen dance” as a teen; my sister and I put dishes away while my Mom prepared food—all of us moving around and near one another in smooth, protective, intimate moves… I want to recapture the silent magic of family mind-reading with Jacob.

I have had this feeling all by myself… and it’s so nice, I want to share it.

That’s unloading.

As for loading: I like to arrange the dishes in ways I find logical.  I’m actually joyful to ‘get the most out of a load’ using the tips & tricks I’ve proposed.

So all in all, I enjoy doing the dishwasher.  I want others to enjoy it, too …and I derive a lot of joy/pride doing it a certain way that I think others could enjoy, too.

3.   Sit in the middle.

It’s 3 minutes later.  Admire what you wrote as you move out of your second spot, too, leaving the heart of that matter to carry on, while moving slightly.  This is when you sidle up to wishful-you on your one side, and excited-you on the other—and imagine them still there, present, on either side of you.  Perhaps you’re lighthearted enough to extend one arm onto each of their backs, and give your buddies an encouraging squeeze of gratitude for not interrupting each other for once.

Who are you able to be, there, in the middle, with access to both perspectives?  What occurs to the ‘you’ who enjoying this third, attentive, middle-view?  Don’t write.  Just let yourself muse/mumble out loud.

In my dishwashing example:

Thanks, you guys!  I heard a deep longing for teamwork, and I sense some mourning: perhaps things will simply never be the way they used to be.  Sorry—it’s true.

As for fairness… aren’t there many ways to distribute tasks fairly?  Isn’t it wonderful that I enjoy loading the dishwasher just so, and dancing the kitchen into place when it’s done?

Perhaps my pride in ‘getting the most out of each load’ actually inhibits Jacob, because I’m more enthusiastic, more exacting, more motivated…

…Perhaps this isn’t particularly about what I want from my hubby?  Perhaps it’s more about trusting I can afford to be generous?

The Silver Platter I Promised

Reflection grants you deeper access to your own Joy, and serves it, as I promised, freshly, in each moment, as if on a shiny, silver platter. From inhabiting an un-torn middle that embraces both of your perspectives, your heart will be prepared; your words and deeds more fit for human consumption.  So take the time to make that platter shine. See your oh-so-human reflection in it.  Compassion and respect for yourself bring about something magical between you and your neighbors.

If trusting in ‘magic’ feels scary, meditate.  If keeping the exercise short felt too rushed, expand it: You can resolve to attend to only one ‘mood’ or ‘mode’ at a time on the back-burner of your mind while you go about your day.  (You go about your day in the otherwise regular way.)  …Step one becomes day one, step 2 is day 2, and you’ll feel a metaphysical, more than physical, middle-view on day 3.

The Benefit of Emotional Hygiene

What came of it in my dishwashing example?
After sitting with the parts of me that had been tearing left and right—after consciously inhabiting only one at a time, I became more tender and forgiving of myself –more centered.  This made me more approachable, less bottled-up, and more able to hear & believe my husband.  Turns out, he’s human, too, and also had a lot going on inside, that was puzzling him, too.  A few days after my reflection, without a deadline or a resolution to, we simply addressed the subject of dishes in an un-charged way.  It was different from previous attempts.

He repeated something I’d heard him say before, but this time he said it, the process above had cleared so much of my own anxiety, I could hear him better.

He told me he didn’t really like loading and unloading the machine.  He re-iterated that he enjoys hand-washing fragile items and frequently-used things as a nice break from all the mental work he does. I’d simply dismissed as unbelievable before. My guilt in that department turned to enthusiasm about the machine.

I imagined being the sole person in charge of the dishwasher; loading it up like I’m playing a game to get the most stuff positioned just right; doing my beautiful kitchen dance alone as a celebration of my heritage—time to celebrate far-flung family.  And I’d try to drop my guilt at watching him do the hand-wash items. 

Jacob looked incredulous that this would last long, or work, but he loved the idea of not touching the machine ever again.

Of course we help each other a bit, and take over completely when one of us is unwell, but this is now the standard division of labor at my house.  Who’d’a thunk we’d prefer an ‘unfair’ distribution of tasks where we each only do what we like?  This is really how it works now, in our family—we’re both ecstatic about it, and have been for years.

Who knew?

Who knew the awkward, latent turmoil between meals was such an opening to depth and belonging!  I certainly never expected to find, among dishes, a lesson on how wonderfully diverse people can be; how happy, or, indeed, complimentary our quirks.  Such sustenance, all in the space between meals!

If the space has lasted long enough, if you’d like another meal soon, take a risk, and invite them over again, and for support, consider my workshop on the 5 questions.  It’s a subtle-yet-straightforward approach to finding out what your neighbors might be able to mean to you; what they might do for you or others with great joy—to make life sweet, together.  Because even if as those who love to cook often say, the way to a [person]’s heart is through their stomach… you might want to map out some alternate routes between hearts!


I hope the steps in this article were helpful to you…?  I’m trying a new of blogging, so let me know how it feels, either via the space below, or by email!

I’m always looking for more questions, more conundrums, and more celebrations to write about. If you have a ‘neighbor situation’, I want to know!

My First Live On-Air Interview

I was interviewed ‘live’ for 25 minutes on Friday!  This is an unedited recording of the unscripted and immediately broadcast show, including the other guest after me starting at minute 27.

I post this because it has a practical neighborliness exercise 4/5 of the way through… and introduces some other resources you might LOVE and mindsets you might thrive by.  I wish I’d talked more about how wonderful & rewarding neighboring has been!!  I loved her questions –even the ones I didn’t let her finish, or needed her to repeat 🙂

I’m unable to vet the services advertised 15mins into the interview, and I shrug them off.  I’m endeared that I was unapologetic about being my excited, talkative self–100% okay with ‘my weird.’voices of women

Skim the text or listen to the first half (25 minutes) of the show.  Whatever you do…

I plan to handle each topic in shorter, more in-depth blog posts in future.

I’m so grateful for Kris’ focused work, follow-through, and attention to detail.
(I guess she prefers to advertise it as ‘manifesting’
–a supposedly passive word I’m familiar with from my cancer research days.)



Kris Steinnes: Welcome to Voices of Women!
We’re going to talk about how you can create relationships with your neighbors with Briana Barrett-Squirrel.  Briana combines combines her backgrounds in science, research, and holistic education with spiritual resiliency. And through being a Neighbor On Purpose, she fosters real, integrated community, step by step, and on a doable scale: on the scale of a child’s world which means: we can all do it.

Since 2008, Squirrel has committed herself to knowing & loving the 200 people who wake up within 100 yards of her pillow every day, helping neighbors to dream together… and articulate what “local,” “sustainable,” “life-long learning” and “community” might mean for everyone.  And

she’s giving a workshop at
Women of Wisdom,
on Feb 13th, on
the Lost Art of Neighboring.

So you wanna check that out at website, and also, you can check out her website at

So, welcome to the show, Briana.

Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Thanks, Kris.  I’m so glad to be here.  And so glad to be at the conference.  It’s such a unique place.  You know, I’ve been to so many conferences where it’s uni-directional communication. I’m super excited to be at THIS conference.  And on the show.

Kris Steinnes:  That’s great.  Well, first I want to know:  

What drew you to this whole concept
of connecting with your neighbors?

I know, we’ve become so isolated.
I know the people that ___ around my house.
You walk down the street, and
I don’t even see people,
because they’re inside their homes.
Living in Seattle,
we sort of don’t live outside as much,
out on our porches and things.  But

what drew you to this work?

Briana Barrett-Squirrel: I used to not know any of my neighbors, actually, myself, and it was a kind of response to feeling ‘temporary.’  I’m not even from here.  I used to live on the East coast, but before that in the Netherlands, and before that in Canada, for a decade each.  So, I never really knew whether I planned on being anywhere for very long, either.  And I think that stops a lot of people from investing in relationships around them.  Or potential relationships—because if it’s based on neighborhood, it might not be based on having anything else in common.  And that’s kind of scary, to make that investment.

But what drew me to it, was exactly the level of… I wouldn’t call it ‘success’ but of… joy that I found in connecting with random strangers, and asking myself whether it’s really random.  You know: believing that synchronicity orchestrates a lot for us, I might have only been bumping into people that I could love easily, and telling myself ‘oh, look at me, I’m spiritual: I love everybody I meet!’  But… how could I really test whether I really was able to love anyone, except if I wasn’t selecting that group?

Of course, neighbors are selected based on their income, and different— you know: taste for their neighborhood, probably, and there’s a lot of privilege involved in the invisible selection factors.  But being able to turn to the house next door and have, personally, judgments on the size of the house and the extraordinariness of someone’s lifestyle… it really confronted me with the fact that I don’t, actually, (easily) live judgment-free.  And I should try and see how I could… love my neighbors.

Kris Steinnes: Mhm, well, and I read in your introduction: you know 200 people that surround you within 100 yards.  That’s amazing!  How did you set out to do that?

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  I don’t actually KNOW 200. I know that there ARE 200 and I probably don’t bump into all of them, but that’s my estimate of how many people live around ANY ONE Seattleite.  I probably know 50, which is still a large number.  That’s the number of neighbors which were at my wedding (which was a block party) …what was your question again?

Kris Steinnes: Oh, just:

How did you set out to
make those connections?

Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Well, I had, in a spiritual meditation once, years before I moved to this particular neighborhood, I had envisioned: ‘what if the world were already enlightened—what would we still be doing?’  You know: ‘What would the life be like that we would lead together?  We would still get sick, we would still fall and get up again, we would still do life together… What would our conversations be about?’  and I realized: I would be able to turn to my neighbor and ask them for right relationship.

And so, really, my outreach to neighbors, and my putting my heart and my body out there near my home (rather than in places where I know I’ll get along well with people based on shared interests or other things) has been grounded in this method that I’m actually going to introduce people to in my workshop.  It is more complex than just calling it 5 questions, and yet it’s very simple when you think about ‘how do you foster right relationship?’

So: it’s asking for permission to have a relationship, without putting all of your hopes and dreams for a great neighborhood, and the perfect world, into one person.

Basically, my putting myself out there in my neighborhood is my way of getting to a place where it’s comfortable for people to say yes to having that particular conversation from where I get really interested in the relationship.  When I know not only that they know the way that I would like to be treated, but I know the way that that neighbor would like to be treated.

Kris Steinnes:  Mhm, yeah.  And you also mentioned block parties.  We have these block parties.  That’s when we get to meet the people on our block.  We get to know the people that come.  But it’s once a year, and then we kind of forget about that. 

It takes a lot of effort commitment:
“I’m going to get to know these people,
and allow them to see me.”
–what holds people back from doing that?

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  Oh, there are so many things.  I can say, just walking up to someone’s door, I can sense –it’s as if there are layers, wrapped around each home.  The first layer is like: “Why am I even doing this?  Why am I walking up to their door?  Like: is this really important to me?”  so it’s my own, my own barrier, right?  And even if I have reasoned through all of the, like, well:  ‘in my perfect world, I do have relationships with neighbors, I buy local, I can borrow something instead of hopping in a car to drive and pollute to get it… you know: I can share things…’ all of those reasons that you might have TO do something, don’t make you necessarily do it.

What, on my way, even to someone’s door, that I’m determined to meet, or find out if they’re home, I can experience the layer that is like: ‘do they even have people come to this door, or do they use their back door?’  You know.  That insecurity as to whether you’re even approaching them from the right angle.  The layer that is like ‘do they have a dog?  Is it going to bark?  Am I going to alarm everyone in their house?’  The layer behind that, another step closer, is (there are so many layers) “Am I bothering them at the wrong time of day?”  “Do they want neighborhood?  Do they want neighbors in their life?”  There are so many reasons that nobody would ever, probably, tell you that they’re not into it.

And I’ve managed to pay attention to those layers as I step through them, and hold them all in mind as questions.  So when I arrive at the door, if someone does open, I don’t, then, push through and assume that they DO want all the things I do, I ask them genuinely: “Hi, I’m your neighbor from ___” and I’ll point physically so they can know: I’m not very far.  I’m not saying I’m a neighbor when really I’m like, on the other side of what’s called a neighborhood but is really a giant area with the same name but it’s not just their street.

I’ll point, I’ll ask them “How long have you lived here and are you interested in ___” I’ll just ask them all the questions that occurred to me on the way up to the steps.  That takes a lot of practice and vulnerability—willingness to be vulnerable; willingness to be rejected.  I think that stops a lot of us from dating… from any relationships at all!

Kris Steinnes:  Yeah, yeah, that fear of being rejected, and yeah: how is someone gonna take it?  And even when the doorbell rings and you’re not expecting someone, you know, I kinda: I’ll look through the peephole going, “Okay, who is this?”  You know?  I don’t… and there’s some security in that. [Briana:  Mhm!] and then we even have this sort of suspicion, of like: who is this coming to my door?  Who is this?  And we’re so—we’re so on guard. 

I remember one time, walking to my car and I’m in a hurry.  I was in a rush and I wasn’t thinking and a guy walked across the street, straight at me, at an angle.  And I kinda froze, like, it put a little fear in me. And he was just a new neighbor, inviting people to his house for a potluck to get to know the neighbors.  but it so threw me, because I did not expect it.  Especially a man walking up towards a woman very quickly, directly, very direct, you know, crossing the street right towards you, it… going through it I had to apologize to him for my reaction…

Well, this is Kris Steinnes, you’re listening to Voices of Women, and we’ll come right back.  We’re going to take a break and talk more with Briana Barrett-Squirrel.

[break at minute 15]

Kris Steinnes: Welcome back to voices of Women.  I’m talking with Briana Barrett-Squirrel.  So Briana, I think I noticed somewhere,

is Squirrel your nickname?

Briana Barrett-Squirrel: No, it’s my husband’s last name, he’s really… he’s a Squirrel.

Kris Steinnes: Wow! Okay.

[laughter from both]

Kris Steinnes: We’re talking about building these relationships with our neighbors and getting to know them; walking up to a door and, and, and introducing ourselves.  This is so unique in our culture now.  And I’m curious: Have you found—’cause you’ve lived in Canada, you’ve lived in the Netherlands—

have you found any difference
here in the U.S.
than from other countries?

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  Well, I mean, I’ve heard that in Italy, the sense of community and walkability is very high because people spend their time after dinner walking about.  And such cultural traditions would be wonderful to be able to instill in America, but I just don’t think that that’s a goal that’s realistic for an individual.

I’ve set myself up more for neighborliness as a spiritual practice – and neighboring, which is a word that, I think, derives, from the Dutch ‘buurten’.  The ‘buurt’ is the neighborhood.  And ‘buurten’ is making neighborhood into a verb.  So I guess the translation would be neighboring, which is just any time near your house, bumping into neighbors, or actually visiting inside, or, I guess, having them over, if they’re neighbors, I guess that counts.

For me, neighboring was definitely inspired by my homesickness for some aspects of Dutch culture.

The Dutch have this tradition on birthdays.  They don’t even say ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone on their birthday.  They say ‘Congratulations!’  And as a child there, I would be visiting people, because that’s the tradition; you just show up at their doorstep for coffee and pastry.  And they are the servant that day.  They serve everyone they know, and it’s their pleasure because everyone that you know (this was before Facebook—you know—)if you knew someone well enough to know that it’s their birthday, you would come to their house, and you would go around, first shaking their hand, then the family’s hands, and then everyone who is there.  And often times there were just neighbors who weren’t necessarily close friends that they had tons in common with, but neighbors would come.  But…

the tradition of being of service to the people who you have in your life threw me, because in Canada I had grown up where your birthday was a day people surprised you (or failed to, I guess) and gave you gifts and ‘spoiled’ you.

But I like the idea of being congratulated.  And I never found out—no one can tell you why they congratulate you on your birthday in Holland—but I thought to myself: it might be on surviving… yourself… and it might be also be on thriving in community and gathering this juicy crowd of people!

It’s like the Women of Wisdom conference, but in everyone’s living room, all the time!  And every week, you know someone whose birthday it is and there’s overlap between these circles, so there are conversations that are just, kind of ongoing, depending on who stands up and leaves, because there’s never enough chairs and that defines where you end up sitting.  You could continue that conversation with even the same person, or with someone who knows them well, and pass along greetings, etc.

So, very much inspired by that tradition, I would love to see my neighborhood become one where visiting becomes not something that I do one-on-one so much anymore, but where, 1-on-3, 1-on-5, people start having each other over, [Kris: Mhm.]  —and it’s a normal thing to do frequently.

Kris Steinnes: Yeah.  I know when I grew up (I grew up in Seattle) we were connected by the children in the neighborhood.  Because the kids go visit other people’s homes, so then the parents got to know each other, because they’ve got to know about these kids that you’re playing with, and so there was a greater sense of community, and neighbors, back then, because we knew everybody on our block.  You know: you knew the kids, you knew the parents, and that fostered that. and

you talked about going &
borrowing something.

When I grew up—you were cooking something and you didn’t have enough sugar—you went to your neighbor, and got a cup of sugar.  And you had to return that cup of sugar. And

we do not do that now,
you know.
We run down to the store!

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  Yeah, there’s a pride and an independence that’s a trademark of North-American attitude, which is a tragic response, I think, to the awareness that we DO depend on each other.  I think: the more we realize that we depend on each other, the more self-conscious we can become about it, and one response to that self-consciousness is the ILLUSION of independence.  The illusion that paying someone for something, or paying a gas company for the ability to fly to the store and back, basically, is… is somehow more of an accomplishment than the ability to ask a neighbor and be trusted that the relationship is resilient to that debt.  [Kris: Mhm.]  That social debt.  I feel pretty strongly –and my husband has coined this term for me – that

community is based on need.  And so, the ability to admit that we HAVE needs, and that we need each other, is actually a gift.

When people are willing to be that way, it makes us a gift, because we’re vulnerable.  [Kris: Yeah.]

I’m using that word often, as a positive word.  Because the ability to be vulnerable is the ability to give someone else the opportunity to shine and to say “Wow, you too? Me too!”  [Kris: Yeah.] and it brings us back to what we have—ALL that we have on common.

Kris Steinnes: Yeah, that’s true. And I was thinking, yeah, we feel vulnerable.  We need something.  And to go to a neighbor, who don’t know us very well, probably, until you build that relationship… it’s showing.  Like there’s just this thought of “that’s making me look weak.”  “Oh, I don’t have everything.  I don’t have things that make me sustainable.”

“I have to go ask for help.”
Instead of looking at it
in this other way
that you’re binging about:
as a way of connecting.

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  An opportunity

Kris Steinnes: And an opportunity!
Because people love to give back.
When you ask them.
[Briana:  Yes!]
You know,
if someone asked me…
it makes you feel good!

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  Yeah, and if someone is really determined to build relationships in their neighborhood, they might actually go: “oh I need to just go pretend I need to borrow a cup of sugar at all my neighbors’ houses’ and then suddenly it’s feigned and it’s not a gift, right?  So: actually having a need, actually having it arise naturally, is this beautiful, synchronistic opportunity that—yeah, it’s possible that you might knock on a neighbor’s door and they might not be home and you’ll have to knock on another door, and another, to find that cup of sugar, and so, yeah, it might save you time to go to the store, it might save you embarrassment or frustration…[Kris: yeah, yeah.]  but most of all, it’s saving you the frustratin[g awareness] that you don’t already have the neighborhood you didn’t take the time to build***.  [laughs]  It’s confrontational to find that out.

Kris Steinnes: I just have this thought that

it could be a very fun test to do,
to just go to your neighbors and say:
“You know, I was just baking this cake, and I… it’s…

I’ve got to have it done by a certain time and I wonder if I could borrow a cup of sugar?  Just… just to see people’s reaction, because, I think people would … well… I don’t know.  At my age, I can say when we grew up, people did that, but people don’t do that anymore.  So it’d be interesting to see the reaction, and a chance to get to know some of your neighbors.  It could be an interesting test.  Not that it’s the right thing/way to do it, but 🙂

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  No, I think it’s… you’re guaranteed that people will respond positively.  They will either tell you that they wish they had sugar, or …give you sugar.  Pretty much, that’s my experience.  [Kris: Yeah.]  People are very eager to share, and they’re eager to be connected with.  But your test would be whether you would be willing to go to the neighbors.  And I think the test would fail if it were a fake [Kris: yeah]  but if you were actually resolved to find a need once a week that you could actually meet through neighbors instead of through driving, and dared yourself to ask at least one neighbor for help, that would be a cultivation of that resiliency inside ourselves, of the ability to be ‘rejected’ quoteunquote (which is NOT personal, actually) the ability to take that time, and the prioritizing of these relationships.

Kris Steinnes: Yeah.  Well, I have a question, because

the full title of your workshop is
“Women’s Work” – the Lost Art of Neighboring. 

And so my question is:

why do you consider it women’s work?

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  No, I don’t. I actually put that in quotation marks, and later I thought maybe I should have put a question mark, because it USED TO BE [Kris: yeah]  —what is now being called women’s work, which was work that only the women could do because the men were the bread-winners, and the women were the social glue.

And you know: the art of neighboring has, in a way, been lost because women’s emancipation has done so much good, but also, no one has valued enough what was being done to step in and say: “we need to pay people to do this” or “we need to still be doing this!  Let’s step up to the plate and DO this!”  [Kris: yeah]  It’s as if it was invisible.  [Kris: Yeah, you’re right.]  and

‘Shadow work’ is what it’s also called.

Kris Steinnes: Well, and women are, we’re, more women are at work now.  Though a lot of women work at home, too, now, but you’re right: people…

our mothers were at home.
They were homemakers

and taking care of the kids and the house and so they were at home, so they did visit with their neighbors.

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  —and they were networkers!  [Kris: Yeah.]  I’ll interject that they were networkers: a lot of it was business-oriented.  A lot of the neighbors were also the clients or the customers of the husband’s business or employer’s business.  And so having neighbors or other people over for dinner was actually a business meeting, also, often times.  [Kris: Mhm.] and it was all more local because it wasn’t all… you know… so thin-spread.

[minute 25]

Kris Steinnes: And one thing I’m curious about is…

in order to do this
& ‘put yourself out there’
is like: showing leadership.

Like, if you wanna start something in your block, you know…

and sometimes there’s just this thought: I would like other people to stick their neck out; other people to organize it. Like: ‘great idea, but… how about somebody else doing it.’
So what do you say?  How can we cultivate that, that sense of, of ownership that everyone—

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  This is my favorite question, and I’ve loved your questions, but this is a beautiful question.

I consider leadership, and there are papers about this, so I’ll quote –ehm, name the title of one, it’s called Making Common Sense, and the sub-title is Leadership as Meaning-Making in a Community of Practice. And the paper, the small book that it is, is just an explanation of that title, because it’s so succinct.

But what I will say, practically, in my neighborhood, I have been asked to “Oh, if you wanna get together neighbors, you should organize a disaster prep party.” Or “if you wanna organize neighbors, you should throw a block party.”  Well, I wrote a manual on how to throw a block party in such a way, that you are not the leader.  Because

it’s very important to not become a leader.
That is the opposite of community fostering.
If you would like neighbors to become the citizens
we would all like to be surrounded by;
if you would like neighbors to become
the friends you would like to have,
you can’t be the initiator of everything.

You might actually be the initiator, in a sense, but I have resolved to be a joiner.

So that’s why.

What I do with neighbors, is I ask them what they would like neighborhood to be. And if they have an idea that resonates with me, which is almost always the case, I will be able to give them the credit for having come up with it, because I only asked them for their wishes and dreams.  And then I can ask them whether they would like any support!

So THEY are the point-person, and I am their support person. And, of course, because I’m meeting so many more neighbors, I can be an invitation infrastructure.  But I can honestly say to a neighbor when I’m talking to them about this: “There’s a neighbor who wants to do ___non-religious caroling___, would you like to come?  Would you like to practice?  Would you like to just be at the practice if you don’t sing?”  And I can honestly say it’s not MY thing.

Kris Steinnes: Yeah, it’s about co-leading!
Briana, we’re running out of time.

Briana Barrett-Squirrel:  Okay, thanks for having me!

Kris Steinnes: So everyone, check out her workshop (the Lost Art of Neighboring, Sat, Feb 13th) at

Yelling Nonviolence

Gogol Bordello - Rock in Rio Madrid 2012
Gogol Bordello – Rock in Rio Madrid 2012

I never had a favorite band — and I claimed not to like ‘angry’ music — until my jaw dropped at Gogol Bordello’s righteous indignation.  I am angry! about

  • inequity,
  • seriousness and superficiality,
  • how heartlessly the hardships of displacement or financial poverty are topped off with discrimination by those of us who suffer spiritual/developmental poverty.

‘Angry’ is not really the right word for Gogol Bordello, though: they are WAAAAAAY too much fun – deep fun.  They call their intellectual yet plain-speak, utterly poetic shanty-rants “gypsy punk.”  Whatever you call it, it’s my go-to, my medicine, whether I’m down or ecstatic.  I now have a favorite kind of music, and it yells in NVC, cries over us/them separation, and soothes the soul:

Of course there is no us and them
But them they do not think the same…
– they do not think the same…
– it’s them who do not think!

They never step on spiritual path,
They paint their faces so differently from ours,
And if you listen closely
That war it never stops
That war it never stops
That war!


The humor and self-conscious irony is apparent to those who know GB’s music.

What ‘war’ do you think is inherent in your or my own culture/language-use?

Please share in the comments!

  • How might one point out separation and injustice without perpetuating it?
  • What attitudes work best in awareness-raising, in your experience?
  • How do you avoid making enemy images for ‘them’, cope with the pain of feeling separate, and expand ‘little us’ to include ‘All = Us’?