It was five years ago that we moved into our tiny half-a-house in East Vancouver. I know this because the bank keeps calling to remind me that our mortgage needs to be renewed. Thanks for that.
I remember walking into the impossibly overpriced home for the first time, wondering (a) if we would be able to service the soul-crushing Vancouver mortgage, and (b) whether we could ever learn to live with the flashing green traffic signal that penetrated even the tiniest crack in the blinds. Beyond that, we loved everything else about the place.
I loved that the first thing we ever put in our fridge was the bottle of homemade eggnog given to us by our neighbour John, who lives two doors up the street with his wife, Deb. I loved that I'd already met Bob and Charles, who occupied the other half of the duplex, at a CBC Radio broadcast that took place years earlier in their home. They welcomed us and told us that just because we hadn't yet moved in, we shouldn't expect to be off the hook for the "dine around."
Long before the Vancouver Foundation or anyone else decided to do more to connect people to their communities, we had the dine around.
It was a tradition that began 10 years ago, when six new neighbours opened their homes during the holiday season.
The idea was that on a predetermined night during the holidays, everyone involved prepared and served one course of what, in the end, would be a fabulous meal. This involved some degree of planning and co-ordination. It did not require a framework for engagement.
We missed the first year because we hadn't yet moved in officially.
The second year I was ready, with red wine and cinnamon short ribs, and lamb popsicles cribbed from Vikram Vij's cookbook. I also made my first pakora. I was trying to demonstrate that I was serious.
Since then, Bob and Charles have introduced us to the world of exotic meats with sliced ostrich laid out on a block of salt, camel chili and kangaroo.
Susan and David (both professionally employed in the catering business) upped the ante every year when it came to food. Martina and Sham, Trevor and Widya – all had something delicious and original to contribute. The people we bought the house from, Kim and Tri, come back year after year with their kids, whose early growth spurts remain notched into a bathroom door frame in our home.
Deb and John mix inspired martinis and we, en masse, year after year make our way from house to house with glasses in hand.
Some of the faces have changed and some new ones have been added.
This year, the dine around, according to my count, has grown to as many as 30 people, some of whom still live in the neighbourhood, as well as those who have moved away and now fall into the "alumni" category.
There are no civic celebration grants. No street closures are required. We pick a date, send a few e-mails around and it happens.
Just a few years ago, I was someone who craved the anonymity of an apartment building, and breathed a sigh of relief every time I got the chance to ride in an empty elevator and close the door behind me without encountering a soul.
Now I turn on to my street with the hope that John will be mowing his lawn so we can chat, or that when I'm taking the garbage out Josh will pull up on his bike. Bob and Charles occasionally knock on the kitchen window with dessert or a glass of wine. In a pinch, some of our neighbours will even babysit.
I get that this sort of thing may not be for everyone. I never thought it would be for me.
Maybe I'm going soft.
We're not talking about a commune, or an ashram here.
We're talking about being neighbourly.
You ought to try it.