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(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

All this dog walking we’ve been doing lately is a great way to slow down and really see the neighborhood where we live. When my daughter and I first started walking our little pack of three, her puppy, Patches, garnered much of our attention. Not sure how often I really noticed the surroundings. But now that he’s about to turn five months’ old, we’re all settling into routines. That leaves more time for us to pay attention to more than just the dogs.

We tend to amble around without a pattern, especially to keep the puppy from thinking he knows where we are going. Why should he be any different than we are? Even if we choose to walk the dogs to a specific place in order to complete an errand, we don’t often choose the same path. We set off on an “expotition”—in the words of Winnie the Pooh and friends.

I love living in an older neighborhood laid out in a grid. Every block as well as every house on that block is different. Not only that but properties range from very well kept-up to, well, not kept-up at all. That’s just the potluck of living in a town developed one house or a few at a time, mostly before most people thought about master planning communities. If you know anything about me, you know I think potluck=you take what you get—and that’s most often a good thing.

Each walk we take leads us to discover another house that surprises us in some way—a bold color combination, a unique original style, or a creative response to adding space to a home built before most homeowners expected more than 1,000 square feet to satisfy their needs. People can mock our town as a “hood” all they want, but some real jewels add sparkle to the neighborhoods, either in traditional ways or “would have never thought of that” ways.

Part of why walking around these spaces feels like home to me is because so many of my nearby streets remind me of the small town where I often explored streets on foot and/or wheels or the one where I did so with my cousins when I visited my grandparents. Those were streets where real people lived and where putting on airs and “keeping up with the Joneses” was the stuff of seeing who could get wet laundry out to dry on the line earliest and whose flowers and produce might do best at the county fair. These were not homes where people thought spending money in showy ways was clever, but rather that thrifty living and taking a creative—and wise—approach to making do was how the clever amongst them had survived the Great Depression.

Most people who live in the homes in my town either do not have the means to spend in big ways or still believe in the value of a dollar taught to us by previous generations. We choose to live here in this old school place with its old school values because we want to do so—even if that means putting up with not everything around us being just so.

And during these now-hot days of August, I especially appreciate the opportunity to drink in the kind of growth that comes from my neighbors’ diligent attention to tending their colorful flowers. At the same time, I also notice the kind of growth that comes from ignoring weeds—something that will eventually be handled through encounters with city code enforcement officials.

Potluck—that’s what we get here, without the tightly held parameters of HOA control and without the sameness of master planning. These daily walks of late remind me just how much the ordinary as well as extraordinary that surrounds me and my humble abode satisfies my hunger for beauty. Not every dish is pleasing, but the overwhelming bounty and variety at the table provide just the sustenance I need to fill me up.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Sometimes life is too serious—which calls for one of those rants that reveals all too much of about the ranter. And given that people love to have gatherings around the holidays, this is just the time for talking about one of my not-that-important pet peeves: when people want to organize potlucks.

No—potlucks are not supposed to be organized. And it’s not just me that says so.

potluck or pot luck adv phr: Come on and dine pot luck modifier : pot-luck supper n phr A meal composed of odds and ends of leftovers, or of whatever turns up (1600+)

Kipfer, Barbara Ann., Ph.D., and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D., eds. Dictionary of American Slang. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

Come on, live a little! So what if you get too many desserts or salads or whatever. A potluck isn’t about telling people what to bring or knowing exactly who is bringing what. You know what it is about? Everyone coming together to share whatever they brought.

Believe it or not, it’s not really about the food. That may seem like heresy to people who love to load up their plates, but, in my mind, what really matters is the fellowship with other people. Sure, I am not a “foodie” who really cares about the variety, but I think the culture of a potluck is more about getting together with others while casually sharing food than sharing food while getting together with others.

That may not sound like such a distinction, but it is to me as someone who is not that comfortable in the kitchen. I don’t want to be so stressed about preparing for a potluck that I forget to get excited about the people who will be eating the food with me. And I especially don’t want to be told exactly what I’m supposed to bring—can I tell you how often the Ls are supposed to bring salads—which is about as far from my area of expertise as I can get. Ask me for a salad, and I’ll likely bring you a bagged salad or a relish plate from the grocery store.

What I want to bring is the same thing every time—that way I know what I’m doing and I know what I bring you is going to be good. You see, practice really does make perfect. By now, not only do people expect me to bring my chile relleno casserole, but also, they always make sure that mine is one of the first dishes to run out. You get to eat something I make well and I get to focus more on people than logistics.

Am I in a rut? Oh yes, I am. Do I really care? No. Don’t worry, I still take risks in other areas of my life—you know, like not knowing exactly how many desserts, salads, and main dishes will be at a potluck.

My favorite risky potluck happened when my book club chose red foods as the dinner theme for discussing The Red Tent. Not sure we got to sample all the food groups that night, but that watermelon certainly did go well with the red wine. Don’t even know what all we discussed that night but what I do remember is the high energy and joyful mood surrounding that particular get-together. We were really living right that night, spending time with our good friends while eating whatever turned up.

Coming together to dine really is what a potluck is all about.

P.S. I’ll just ignore that I’ve just admitted that my own potluck contribution is anything but a surprise despite my saying potlucks should be all about surprise. I guess you can know exactly what this particular who is bringing after all.

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