As schedules shift for “back to school” even for those without children, the transition can feel a bit overwhelming for some. The harvest season is winding down and soon, Mother Nature will begin the practice of closing up for a short nap.
Years ago, I read an inspiring article in a magazine about how a woman brought her neighborhood closer together by hosting a monthly “soup night”. It was essentially an open house offered up to her neighbors. They didn’t need to bring anything and could stop quickly for a bite between activities if need be, or linger with others from the neighborhood. It sounded so amazing. And soup is so easy–it can even be made ahead and frozen. It is a limited season–just a few dates. One in September, October and November; but can also be picked up again for January, February, March and maybe April if it’s “soup season” near you then. It sounded so wonderful. My house was under renovation at the time (and therefore unsafe for children) and then we were thrust into moving 5 times in 2 years due to relocation. We are not yet settled, but I am embarking on “soup night” where I am and hoping that someone else carries on the tradition when we go.
The thing is this: so many differences seem to disappear when we can be together in a new context. I have seen this first-hand when I opt-in to the post-meeting social activities of more business-oriented groups I belong to. Seeing people in a different setting with different things to talk about suddenly builds commonalities that didn’t previously exist–things that help to bond people and get them through difficulties with a better eye for compromise.
Above and beyond that–what a wonderful way to get to know your neighbors.
Here are some tips on doing this for yourself–taken both from the Sunset article but also from Barbara at These Things who’d read the same article and already implemented soup night:
- Pick a regular day and time, like the 3rd Monday of the month from 6-7:30. Making the time short (with a definite ending) made folks more likely to come on a weeknight, because they weren’t commiting to much more than dinner time itself. I also tried to make it clear that drop-ins were welcome–coming from 6:30-7:00 was fine. Barbara even had disposable coffee cups available for “to go” orders. She once had a dad come with his children then took soup home for his ill wife.
- Deliver invitations and reminders. Barbara wrote the first invitation explaining the concept (and listing three dates), and delivered them in person. Every month she delivered or dropped off a small reminder slip close to the day.
- Invite everyone. I intend to invite every neighbor whose house I can see from my front door, or that our property touches–plus a few very close-by friends.
- DO NOT REQUIRE AN RSVP. This was a little scary, but people are more likely to come if they don’t have to commit far ahead. Your initial invitation can state that RSVP’s are welcome, but not required. The article says to expect 1/3 to 1/2 of those invited to attend. Barbara added up the possibilities (about 52), and she had about 1/2 that each time. And don’t panic: soups usually freeze well if you have extra.
- DO NOT REQUIRE FAMILIES TO BRING ANYTHING. You provide soup, garnishes, and drinks (water, lemonade, tea–simple, inexpensive). Barbara wrote that no one had to bring anything, but that they could bring bread or fruit if they wanted to. Almost everyone brought something. This is definitely hospitality rather than entertaining. It’s a simple welcome and sharing, and the casualness and simplicity undoubtedly makes folks more willing to come.
- Barbara always had 2 soups, but not the same amount of each. One evening she made a lot of taco soup (served with chips, cheese, sour cream, and sweet onions) and a smaller amount of cream of fresh asparagus. Consider making one of the soups vegetarian or dairy-free (although that might not be important for your neighborhood).
- Work ahead. Many soups can be made a day or two early (at least part way) or even made way ahead and frozen. Garnishes can also be prepped ahead. This does not have to be hours of last minute work, and if it were, how would you survive more than one Soup Night?
- Keep the soups warm on the stove, label them, and let people help themselves. If you use disposable paper bowls, you may need to double them because soup is hot!
I hope you will consider hosting a few soup nights in your home for your neighborhood. And if you do, I hope you’ll let me know how it went!