Sometimes Community is Just Across the Fence

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about Blue Zones, the handful of places on Earth where people tend to live the longest. Westernization is changing the shape of some of these zones (McDonald’s is now thriving in Okinawa, Japan) but the lessons of longevity tend to remain the same – eat well, move your body, find purpose in your life, and surround yourself with community.

Angie and I have been eating a mostly plant-based diet for a few years now. We try to be active, though I know there’s certainly room for improvement in that area. Purpose in life is something I continually struggle with. Though I am happy in most respects, I do not think this is where or what my life is supposed to be, especially with regard to work and family. So that leaves community…something we have yet to find in the 5 years that we’ve lived in TN. Virtual community, yes. Actual community, not so much.

We tried volunteering in areas that we feel passionate about – food waste, hunger elimination, environmental causes, etc. We also tried community activities and groups. There was even a minimalist group that met once. ONCE! We’re not religious so church is not really an option – not that there are any LGBT-friendly churches in our town anyway (I looked). I even considered joining a caregiver’s support group, but nope, there’s not one of those around here either. And with COVID-19 restrictions in place, all of our homesteading meetups have been cancelled and the library is still not hosting many activities.

Family, in a lot of Blue Zones, provides community as well, but I come from a fragmented family (to put it mildly). I’m the central hub in a wheel of people who can’t be in the same room with one another. It’s dysfunctional, I know (and a story for another day). Irregardless, Angie and I function pretty well and we’d like to keep doing so for a long time to come. Thus, the search for community continues. We want to meet and commune with folks who share our love of the simpler things in life, travel, minimalism, good food, and the great outdoors.

Little did we know, there was one such person right next door…

In late 2018, my mom’s longtime neighbors moved out and a new neighbor moved in. Over the next year, we exchanged a few pleasantries with the new neighbor but not much more. We thought she might be a bit of a recluse. This year, our new neighbor has been spending a lot of time outside, sitting under the pear tree, buried in her laptop. She rarely looked up, so again, we thought she just wasn’t that social.

Then one day in May, we were grocery shopping when a woman approached us, waving as if she knew us, and asked if we got our plants covered before the previous night’s freeze. It took me several minutes to figure out that she was my mom’s neighbor. For a long time, we stood in the aisle (out of traffic, of course) and talked. Turns out, she spent all of 2019 renovating the mess inside the house she bought. The previous owners had 3 little boys under the age of 5 and a preteen girl, all living in what once was a 2-bedroom home (they later converted the garage to a bedroom), so needless to say, it was a mess. This year, she was trying to spend more time where she loved to be – outdoors – and all that time on the computer? She recently went back to school.

The first indication that we might be more alike than we once thought was when she put 2 raised beds in her backyard. The next clue, was the chicken coop. You have no idea how long Angie has wanted to put chickens in the backyard! We’ve spent several afternoons chatting across the fence with her and have learned that we share a lot of common interests besides gardening. She loves to travel. She shops the Farmer’s Market. She is super frugal – in fact, she’s not even working right now. She’s a do-it-yourself kind of person. She hikes, paddles, and loves the same parks we do. She recently adopted a little dog to keep it out of the shelter and she once went to Africa to help hand out medical supplies, so I surmise she’s a caring sort of soul.

This week, she was canning pickles and tomatoes outside under a tent. Having just finished a round of pickles ourselves, we popped over for a chat and learned that she had bought a box of tomatoes and cucumbers from the Mennonites in Kentucky for $10/each. Oddly enough, we had just spent the better part of that very morning searching for the Mennonite store, with zero luck. And so it was decided that we would ALL go to Kentucky together next week – a girls’-day-out road trip – and load up her truck with (hopefully) a lot of goodies.

We’re both pretty happy to have found someone that we can have fun with and needless to say, we’re excited to get to know our “new” neighbor even better.

**That is if she doesn’t kill me first. You see, in the middle of writing this post, I ran over her water meter with the lawnmower. It was a freak accident. I was going around a bush on the property line when something stung me. Next thing you know, I was cutting across the neighbor’s yard, taking the water meter with me. She’s out of town right now but I have called the water company for a replacement, which I will definitely pay for if there’s a charge. This has been an awfully expensive year for bites and stings!

#5TF: Good Friends

Five Thought Friday Challenge:  Week 3 – July 8 – July 14, 2017

We spent much of this week in Florida visiting with our friend, Suzanne. It was a quick trip (and a long drive) but totally worth it! It was good to get away for a few days and unwind on the beach, in the company of someone who shares our minimalist beliefs and values. We had such a wonderful trip that it’s hard to narrow it down to just five thoughts, but here goes…

One thing I really enjoyed this week was paddling Stump Pass. Angie pulled her paddleboard out from under the bed before we left and brought it along for the trip. Thankfully, it’s an inflatable board, otherwise I have no idea where we would have put it in our tiny little car. Suzanne and I rented kayaks from Hooked on SUP (the outfitter where we originally took SUP lessons 4 years ago). They now have a rental kiosk at Stump Pass State Park, one of the few places in the area that we have never paddled. The wind was blowing 8-10 MPH but somehow we managed to paddle into it and make our way to the cove where we had a picnic lunch and watched a manatee swim by.

I am grateful for good friends. Suzanne lives less than a mile from the beach and graciously allowed us to stay in her guest room during our trip. She bought us dinner (delicious fish tacos at Sharky’s On The Pier) and invited us to her dad’s birthday party. We were very happy to see her parents again and enjoyed having lunch with them. Over the 2 1/2 days that we were there, we talked, we laughed, we ate, we swam, we paddled, we dreamed, and we just enjoyed each other’s company. We are both very grateful for the hospitality and for the privilege of having such a wonderful friend.

I need to let go of my homesickness. Every time we come back from a trip to Florida, I feel sad. I miss our life there…our friends…our trips to the beach…the slow pace of everyday living. I never want to let go of the dream of someday going back home but in order not to miss out on our life today, I have to let go of the angst I have about not being there now.

We made progress on our 2017 Happiness Project Bucket List by taking a paddle trip and finding another letterbox. We also stayed true to our goal not to buy anything new (unless absolutely necessary). Before leaving for the trip, we had searched online for a life vest for Angie. It’s a requirement in FL that you have a life vest on your paddleboard at all times. We didn’t want to buy a new one just to use a few times this year, yet we knew we needed one, so we opted to wait until we got to FL and check local stores there. As luck would have it, Suzanne had just purchased a life vest for $5 at Goodwill the very day we arrived and we were able to borrow it for the paddle trip. She also helped us out by giving us her old printer. Our printer was on it’s last leg and we were undecided on whether to buy one or use the temperamental one in our apartment’s office. Again we got lucky that Suzanne had just replaced her printer and was going to give the old one to Goodwill.

The funniest thing that happened this week (besides Suzanne trying to paddleboard, Angie and I getting lost looking for tacos in Chattanooga, and Caesar falling in love with a cat named Sue at the boarding kennel) happened while we were waiting for our kayaks at the rental kiosk. The couple that had rented ahead of us had two young boys (probably around 9-10 years old). They had just pulled away from the launch point when we heard one of the boys screaming at the top of his lungs, “Alligator! Alligator! ALLIGATOR! Shark!” The man at the kayak stand ran down to the shoreline to see what was going on. (There are no alligators in the ocean, by the way.) He returned a few minutes later laughing. A manatee had popped its nose up out of the water beside the boy’s kayak. Having never seen a manatee, he freaked out. When we got back from our paddle trip, the rental guy asked if we’d seen any wildlife. I told him that we saw a manatee in the cove. He smiled and said, “You mean an alligator.”

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