Monday, April 6, 2015

Face to Face

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Remember pot luck? It was this thing where neighbors got together and everyone brought something. People ate and visited and caught up on all the gossip, kids played, and sometimes confidences were shared.

But sociologists believe that today we are less socially engaged than previous generations, that we spend too much time on Facebook and not enough time face-to-face, and that this has serious consequences for both our civic and personal health. When I read in Real Simple Magazine that a Philadelphia writer named Sarah Grey had started a tradition called Friday Night Meatballs, I was intrigued. There's a lovely paradox here--she used Facebook to invite people for real-life get-togethers. She blogged about the experience, the blog went viral, and now there are Friday Night Meatball dinners all over the country.

This made me examine our own social life. Friends and neighbors often drop in at our house for tea or wine or impromptu meals, but we don't do much on a regular schedule, the sort of things that build a sense of tradition and security. But the only regular thing on my calendar is "Hair Party." Two girlfriends and I go to the same hairdresser, who is also a friend and works from her home. We make our appointments together every five weeks, usually for late Friday afternoon, and we rotate who brings wine and snacks. We spend a good few hours catching up on everyone's news, and we all look forward to it enormously.

So why not do more? It doesn't have to be dinner. It could be bridge night (although I don't know a single person who plays bridge these days...) or quilting bees, or kids' play dates. It doesn't matter. What does is the fact that we are all enriched by regular real-life face-to-face contact. I want to institute regular Sunday dinners, maybe once a month (start small!). What about you, Reds? Do you have regular social get-togethers?

HALLIE EPHRON: I PLAY BRIDGE! We've been getting together with the same two opponents for decades. Once a month. Once upon a time I had a writing group to go to, and a book group, and I threw dinner parties (I love to cook and eat my own cooking.)

Now we see friends, but not so much casually and more often we meet at a restaurant. And can I count going to my fitness center for my favorite class where I get to reconnect with lots of casual friends?

Here's what I miss. Phone calls with friends. Now if the phone rings 99% of the time it's a robocall or sales or scam. The Do Not Call list is a joke. 

Here's what I cherish: Facetime or Skype with my kids and grandbaby. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I have been thinking about this SO much. Time goes by so quickly, and suddenly I feel that very strongly. Dinners with friends are so precious to me--but they go by so fast, and not one every gets to talk. I am beginning to think there needs to be female friend lunches--which I never do, because I'm always at work. And more more more dinners. I'd love to have movie nights, or theme dinner nights, but the key is-- no competition. That's the attraction of put luck, right? Theoretically.

Phone calls? Not me, so much. And I will confess that when I am on the phone sometimes I am reading emails at the same time, so nothing is very satisfactory. SO I avoid it.

One problem is that everyone's schedules are so crazy---whenever we try to make plans, it's like this big elaborate email flurry to try to find a date that everyone is available, and that turns out to be months away. I always tell our friends: We are great spur-or-the-moment--if you have a free Friday, call us that afternoon! 
The "time is going by" thing is truly haunting me.

RHYS BOWEN: I'm the sort of person who needs to be with friends and/or family. I have a group of women I've hiked with once a week since 1982 and they are my primary therapists as well as almost-sisters. I have another group I sing with in church. When we moved to Arizona I felt really disconnected with only daughter and family at first. But now we seem to have quite a hectic social life here. Dinners, travel club, new church choir, English girlfriend, fun American girlfriend both of whom I can laugh with. So important

I have writer/mystery world friends I love to see--Barbara Peters, Jackie Winspear, Cara Black. We get together quite often. .

Also I will talk with my children on the phone for at least an hour at a time, much to John's despair "You spoke to her two days ago. What can you possibly have to talk about?"

And yes, Hank--the time going by thing haunts me too, especially as John's age creeps up (well, mine too I suppose, but I choose not to think about that.)

LUCY BURDETTE: We seem to have a very busy social life while in Key West--though it sounds similar to you, Rhys, we worked hard to meet people so we would feel at home here. I serve on the board of the Friends of the Library and we are busy with our church and lots of neighbors and friends. And being that Key West is such a splendid place to visit in winter, we see many friends and relatives that way too. When in Connecticut, we have a supper club with 5 other couples, which is kind of like a potluck, only a little fancier:). And my writers group pals and reliable critique buddies, Ang and Chris, come over every 2 weeks. Honestly, I have to cook for people because I have an obligation to post a new recipe every Thursday at Mystery Lovers Kitchen! And I do treasure my online friends, like the amazing Jungle Red Writers. I'd love to see much more of you guys!

everyone brought something. People ate and visited and caught up on all the gossip, kids played, and sometimes confidences were shared.

DEBS: Hallie, I am so impressed--and envious-- that you play bridge! My parents were avid 42 players and played regularly with two sets of aunts and uncles all through my childhood. I grew up to the sound of dominoes clicking, but I was never very good at at, and now would be hopeless. 

Hank, yes, time passing, and if we don't make time--or find time--now, when will we?  We are all so busy, which I guess is a good thing, because wouldn't it be dreadful to have nothing to do? But when we make time for friends and family and neighbors we're never sorry that we did.

(Our lovely Easter dinner was only slightly marred yesterday by my daughter cutting a big chunk out of her finger with a mandolin... What's a holiday dinner without a crisis? Now that's a good subject for another blog!)

But I must say, as important as in-person time may be, I feel very enriched by all of you who show up on Jungle Red every day. We are a community, too.

Readers, what about you? What are your face-to-face get together traditions?


  1. Time really does sneak by a whole lot faster than seems possible.
    Pot-luck suppers are so much fun; I always enjoy them. And there's a group of women from our church get together regularly, too.
    I hardly ever talk on the phone unless I’m talking to the girls; of course, those are the conversations I love. Otherwise, I am not a phone person at all.
    But getting together is always good; generally we end up here because I am the one who likes to cook . . . .

  2. Potlucks are alive and well in my corner of the world! We have monthly social Quaker potlucks, at different members' homes. Yesterday's Easter feast was a kind of potluck, with three other people bringing dishes to contribute. (Hope your daughter's finger is okay!)

    I love the idea of Hair Party! I'm part of a monthly Friday night Flick Chicks group. 6 or so of us have been gathering for almost twenty years. We drink wine and eat potluck appetizers, then put a movie in. These days sometimes we don't get to the movie, and just use the time to catch up with each other.

    I talk on the phone every week with each of my sons, neither of whom lives nearby, and with my sisters less frequently. I cherish those calls.

  3. Yes, I can't tell you haw much Jungle REd means to me…it's real are a big difference in my life.

    I continue to realize you have to actively MAKE time for these things--or else the time just goes by.

  4. We have a block party every summer (everybody brings a dish to pass and it's BYO booze-- and sometimes shared wine-- and BYO something for the grill). They block off our street at both ends, people pull chairs and tables into the middle of the street, and the dogs and kids roam free in an ordinarily off-limits area.

    Our funky congregation has a potluck dinner once a month. I usually bring grapes.

  5. I read Jungle Reds religiously -not as much for the content - as - for the sense and warmth of your bonding and community! This is a rara avis in current life! How wonderful it would be if all blog groups did what you do --- maybe it will catch on - in time - if only more people realized the importance of togetherness and sharing the way you folks do! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  6. Potluck dinners are alive and well here also in my little rural mountain neighborhood. We have two occasions that are sacrosanct - a big bonfire around Halloween and our neighborhood Christmas party. There are others through the year, but none are etched in stone like those two.

  7. Aside from my critique group and my SinC chapter, I don't have a lot of friends. Friends to hang out with, I mean. I tell people frequently "I'm friendly with a lot of people, but not friends." Defining that as "come over or go grab a cup of tea/coffee and talk." My husband and kids have busier social lives than I do.

    I'd love to have a big Jungle Red supper party. Except I think it would have to be a lot longer than "supper." An all-day hangout?

  8. Jungle Reds may not be face to face, but it is like that to me. It's where I go to meet up with friends. There's a little history to that.

    When I first became disabled a huge difference in my relationships began. Even with people who knew me well, the changes were there. The way we interacted socially was different. They were too nice. Or unable to accept my new limitations.

    People stopped inviting me into their homes and started to suggest they come to my house. They usually say it is for my convenience, even when I say I'd really like to visit and it would be a nice reason to get out of the house. Then they suggest we meet somewhere, but never at their house.

    One exception in all these years is my college English professor and her husband who have remained close to my husband and me since I graduated college. They live in California, but we have been invited to their house more than we've been invited anywhere else.

    After a few years of information gathering the evidence points to my wheelchair. Even family members don't want my wheelchair in their house. It apparently brings in dirt and wind and puts massive holes in walls and throws dishes on the floor and the wrath of the gods sends haboobs as special punishment to my friends and relatives.

    Then I discovered Jungle Red Writers, and my chair isn't really in this relationship at all. I can talk about it, but you don't treat me any differently. And when we meet at a book festival you can comment on it, or come near it, and it is just okay somehow.

    I have a good telephone friend now, too. And it is not a surprise to me that I met her through one of you Reds… so these are different a little, but they are social and very valuable.

    Thank you. xoxox

  9. Get togethers at my house--not really. I spend so much time in my house, I want to GET OUT.

    I go to lunch or breakfast a lot, and I take day field trips with a friend or two to historic places or exhibits. My big social outings are poetry readings, which always include food and wine. Big fun, and they welcome me despite my lack of poetry skills.

    It takes effort, admittedly. I had an editorial meeting last week, and I'm the one who suggested we meet in the middle of the state, in a town with a nice restaurant and riverwalk. So we met for 2 hours for business, and spent 4 hours having a good time.

  10. Ouch, Debs! Mandolins should come with those chain metal gloves. They are wicked suckers.

    Hank, that time passing thing has been doing a number on me, as well.

    I have made a concerted effort--which is what it takes, isn't it?--to stay in touch, with friends, with family, and to meet in person so many people with whom I interact on a daily basis online. I've met many of you: Hank (the first!), Hallie, Debs, Edith, Kaye, dear Reine, Rhys (who probably doesn't remember), Julia (and Ross!), Tammy Kaehler, and others.

    Now that my kids are grown, and I'm semi-retired (can't I retire from cooking and cleaning and laundry, please?), and my kids are strewn all over the world: Michigan, Virginia and all-over-Europe, if I want to spend time with anyone I almost always have to go to them. Last year I spent a lot of time in the car, 8,000 miles worth, visiting friends and family around the US. The best was reuniting with my best friend from grade school. We had not even spoken to one another since 1967, until we reconnected on Facebook. It turns out that we are still drawn to one another, and for all the same reasons, plus lots of new ones. Such a blessing.

    I'd really like to have more regular social occasions, but my husband is a spur-of-the-moment guy, combined with being anti-restaurant. It's not easy to manage with all those constraints, so I envy the once-a-week potluck, etc. Two bookclubs is about it, plus a once-a-year "girls' camp" trip to Arizona (that didn't even happen this year).

  11. Meant to add this: my 85-year mother is the poster girl for continuing to get together, and she's almost always the instigator.

    She still gets together with her high school class (1947) once a month, and she takes my much younger aunt with her to another monthly luncheon of alumni from their Catholic girls' high school. She's in a "Friday Night Out" group that meets once a month. Her invitation to the Newcomers' Neighborhood 22 years ago? She's still having dinner with them once a month.

    But the best: Every morning she can she gets up early and goes to a McDonald's on the other side of town for coffee with a group of friends she's been meeting daily for more than 20 years. One of them was a first-grade classmate.

  12. Hank says it: I continue to realize you have to actively MAKE time for these things--or else the time just goes by.

    One lovely thing about being a traveling author is that I Do get to connect in people I've grown to know in social media AND with old old friends. I'm heading to LA next week and plan to have meals with friends I haven't seen for decades. Looking forward to it!

  13. In addition to regular Sunday dinners at my daughter's house, I belong to two book groups, a dinner group (hostess plans, all cook) and a dining-out group. A few years ago, I resolved to invite non-family members to dinner at least once a month, usually a very small group, and this has moved several of them from "friendly with" to "friend."

  14. Great to hear about all the getting together that this group does. I guess Face to face has not disappeared altogether Debs!

    Reine, we're glad to be called your friends here at JRW--actually that goes for every one of you.

    Karen, love hearing about your mother's lively social calendar!

  15. For about a year and a half, I had a group of friends who got together for potluck and games every Saturday. It was wonderful. Then they moved out of state.

    Now, I have a group of friends I play ultimate Frisbee with every Sunday and another couple I go watch Once Upon a Time with on Sunday nights. Sadly, that seems to be the extent of my social life, and I'm not quite sure how to go about changing that right now. It does give more time for reading, however, which is so enjoyable but not a face to face social activity.

  16. The time going by thing, yeah.

    It's an interesting tightrope between not worrying about it--and making sure we do all we can.

  17. I like the IDEA of get togethers. I think it would be fun to have game night of board games and card games and so forth. Or go try different restaurants, etc.
    My personality is that of a loner. Don't get me wrong: I'm very friendly and have friends but I LOVE my alone time and need to have that down time by myself a lot. I'm not a get-together person unless it happens so spontaneously that I'm swept up in the emotion. I've just learned about myself that need that re-energizing time for me so I can go out and conquer the world again the next day. :)

    I do like to hear about others, though.

  18. I suspect there is a regional quality to these answers. It would be interesting to pursue that thought somewhere.

    But for me, here in Central Ohio, we have a true potluck at a neighborhood block party once a year, like Ellen K. And I am in a euchre club that meets every other month and is really just an excuse for 8 couples to get together over drinks to eat hors d'oeuvres and desserts. Card playing is way down the priority list. And we all agree that every other month is just the right frequency -- so that by the time it rolls around again, we really WANT to put the effort into making something good, and we really look forward to the conversations.

  19. I hadn't thought much about pot-lucks in a while, so your post, Debs, has brought back some fond memories. When I was growing up, potlucks at church and on Wednesday night during the summer at the country club were always such a great time of community. There was a connection with people that I think is rather absent today. We would also get together with neighbors in the summer for cookouts, eating in the backyards on picnic tables. It didn't have to be a fancy, garden-of-the-month setting, just good people and good food.

    One of my favorite activities is going to lunch or supper with a friend or friends. I have one friend with whom I go out to eat breakfast about twice a month, and we have a blast. Karen, like you, I reunited with an old school chum, and we now take at least one trip a year together. We reunited at a high school reunion, and I have turned her into my book traveling buddy. I attended my first Bouchercon in 2013 with her, the Virginia Festival of the Books last year, and Bouchercon again next fall. We also met up last September with six other girls from our high school reunion, and took a trip to Key West. I'm gravitating towards more and more of these types of activities. My husband works still and a lot, so he doesn't mind if I take off on my adventures with the girls.

    And, meeting the Jungle Red Writers at my first Bouchercon in Albany and finding this blog has given me great pleasure and a treasured community of writers and readers. I look forward to the posts and comments every day.

    Phone calls. Yep, I still make them and receive them. The family and friends I stay in touch with this way are ones that I usually can end up talking to for an hour without realizing it. I try to still have that phone connection because I can remember as a young mother, I felt a bit too harried to spend much time on the phone, and as a result of that, I didn't talk to my mother as much as I would have liked. Now, how I would treasure being able to pick up the phone and call my mother or her call me. One lesson I like to think I've learned is to make time for the people you love in your life. Housework and most other things can wait.

  20. Karen, yes! It was great fun meeting you the time you came to the book fest here in Tucson. I had to miss this year because of Steve's hospitalization. It felt like I was missing a gathering of the clan.

  21. Such interesting answers! It's nice when you can strike a balance, isn't it, between the connections we make online and those that are in person. I love that I've met quite a few of our Reds regulars in person, and I love that our readers feel the same way about us as we do about you!

    Fun stories about high school friends reconnecting. My best friend since 3rd grade is coming to visit the end of next week, but we didn't reconnect through FB. We had lost touch for a few years, in our thirties, but then she saw my first book in her local library and got in touch. Our birthdays are less than a week apart, so now we try to get together to celebrate at least once a year.

    And Reine, yes, our phone friend is very dear. We talk almost every day, and I suspect we would do so if she were across the street instead of across states! :-)

  22. We move frequently, talking about another on the horizon. I have a posse of friends that goes back to High School and we all keep in touch but, and this is funny, we probably wouldn't recognize each other face to face. The area we live in now has been harder to establish a friend group than other places, but while we are here, I shall soldier on!

  23. Dear Jungle Reds, Can you send me via my personal email ( Reine's full name and home email? Thank you. Thelma Straw

  24. Thelma, if you click on my name to the right of the B, it will link you to my info page. There you can click on "Email" and you will open an email form to contact me.

  25. Did anyone check out Friday Night Meatballs? Such a fun idea. I looked up Joe Cleffie's meatball recipe, and think I will try a spaghetti and meatball supper.

  26. Reine, followed your instruction but it did not work. tjstraw

  27. We have a large group of about a dozen families that has camped together every Thanksgiving and occasions in-between for many years. With tongue firmly in cheek, we call ourselves The Yacht Club because, although we are landlocked, a couple of us have ski boats. We represent three generations and are starting on a fourth. It's been remarkable, watching the babies become teenagers and adults with babes of their own..
    We had a last minute fish fry the Saturday before Easter as we hadn't been together for a while and it was a hoot! With the addition of invited guests we had a group of about fifty good friends.
    On a smaller scale, when my husband was alive he used to host Taco Tuesdays, never ever telling me in advance, so I often just had to close some doors and apologize for the mess when I got home from work! I think I was the only one who cared about it.
    A few of us have been talking of starting up a game night so I've been adding to my collection...Things, Cards Against Humanity, Hollywood Game Night, Heads Up and Mexican Train. I guess I need to get this show on the road!
    These friends have been there for each other through all of life's events, mostly for laughs, sometimes to cry together, occasionally bickering, but always generously THERE and life without them would just be...less.

  28. Thelma, I'll email you. Check in a couple of minutes and it should be there.