Thursday, November 7, 2013

Busyness blob

I write a weekly column called “Neighborberry.”

I post these essays on my blog a few weeks after each one is released. 

The publishers get first dibs. :)

If you would like to see "Neighborberry" in your local paper/website, please tell the editor to email me at Thanks so much! 

Busyness blob (released August 2, 2013)

By Kris Kolk

When neighbors experience life-changing troubles, why do we struggle to help? I think it’s because we are overrun with meaningless time hogs. We need to take control and smack busyness around a bit.

Following are three scenarios which are typical and unfortunate.

A woman hopes her cancer treatment works as her coworker hopes to find strawberry-scented hair conditioner at the salon.

A mother argues with her daughter about buying a new cell phone while en route to a candlelight vigil honoring a teenage suicide victim.

An elderly man sits alone in front of a TV dinner. During that same hour, the family next door fusses about too many phone calls at suppertime.

Jumping from one task to another, we plant marigolds by the mailbox, buy a plain white t-shirt for a school project, and groom the dog as he whines about it. After decades of this lifestyle, I’ve learned something important: busyness is like basement storage. It will grow to the size of its container.

When I was in my early 20s, I attended college full-time. I also had a part-time job and a boyfriend. I barely had time to bleach my hair with lemon juice, get my colors analyzed (I’m an “autumn”), or line my shoes against the wall in an orderly fashion like strappy, kitten-heeled soldiers. I accomplished it all, though, and was proud of my time management skills.

I lived according to the dictates of glossy magazine essays. I knew the seven ways to host a bodacious birthday bash and how to be the envy of women in a fitting room. I never saw headlines about helping others. If there was an article about producing a pinochle party for a playful nursing home populace, I missed it.

Splurging on ourselves is encouraged in our culture, but we must earn enough to fund the things we are told we deserve. This is a madman’s merry-go-round. In reality, having enough money for indulgences is a luxury. Many families would be satisfied for a chance at survival. Work and worry take a toll. It is no wonder most of us are exhausted and have little extra time.

Focusing on one another, especially in times of need, is an underestimated pleasure. It is low-cost, family-friendly, and much more fulfilling than acquiring things. It has the power to provide passion and is quite addictive. Use it to replace any bad habit or vice.

Be warned that becoming aware of our neighbors’ problems is often eye-opening and sometimes shocking. Therefore, we must protect our own inner joy. The mission is not to join the number of people wallowing in muck but to share our cheer and happiness with those navigating the darkness. Just having a compassionate person acknowledge and respect their situation provides valuable therapy.

I can call a friend who is battling cancer and listen while she vents frustrations. In addition to the tests and procedures, sick people need somewhere for their thoughts to land. That I can provide.

A family’s grief from losing a child will never go away. Yet there are many details to arrange during this time. Casseroles are helpful, but if we dig deeper, we may find school books need returned and siblings need a babysitter.

I understand we all must tend to necessities. I also realize that charities, faith-based services, and social programs exist for a reason; but these facilities are struggling. Helping at the neighborhood level relieves some of their burden. All it takes to help the guy next door is a spare moment and some forethought.

The next time busyness tries to boss your around, wrestle it to the ground. Declare: “After supper I’m not going to give the dog a bath. I’m going to take this apple crumble to Mr. Pivens instead.”

Mr. Pivens will be grateful and the dog will thank you, too.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at Email her at .

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Meet the neighbors before raccoons attack

Meet the neighbors before raccoons attack (released July 26, 2013)
By Kris Kolk

Would your neighbor come to your aid in an emergency? Helping one another sounds good in theory, but one recent occasion prompted me to reconsider this basic directive.

When I am unable to sleep, I obsess over thoughts which rarely cross my mind during the day. From wondering if I remembered to coil the hose to speculating whether week-old chicken casserole has spoiled, distress comes easily at two o’clock in the morning.

One sleepless night when the rest of the family was away, I pondered what would happen if raccoons attacked me in my bed. I practically convinced myself that raccoons had already settled downstairs with some Perry Mason reruns and dicey chicken casserole.

I decided this would be a good opportunity to redirect my heebie-jeebies into a preparedness exercise. This felt productive. It also took the sting out of the fact I was hiding under the covers from imaginary animals.

Raccoons know instinctively that the television should not be used as a babysitter, so I figured they would eventually come looking for me. I would feel persistent tugs on my blanket until finally my eyes would open to find a nursery of adorable bandits piled in my bed.

“I’m bored,” one would say. “My tummy hurts, and there’s nothing to eat in this house,” another would contribute. The thought of this scene gave me goose bumps, but I wasn’t only worried about the raccoons. Since survival would depend on my neighbor’s willingness to get involved, I was more concerned with his impression of me.

You see, if something isn’t fit to wear in public, I wear it to bed. My neon green stirrup pants, circa 1983, often pair with a ratty t-shirt from my husband’s pre-marital days. The pants offer a roomy fit since the elastic in the waistband went brittle. Across the chest of the t-shirt is printed an outdated message of “available.”

For crimped hair, I sleep with ten miniature braids around my head. When I really get going on the beauty routine, I apply lotion and put tube socks on my hands to contain the moisture overnight.

I hoped my neighbor appreciated frugality in nightwear and wouldn’t get nauseated by the dark side of vanity. My life could one day depend on his ability to trust me despite appearances. I needed to create a plan, and I was too nervous to sleep, anyway.

Have you ever seen raccoons in the wild? They waddle. I probably do, too, so my escape strategy hinged on out-toddling the fastest of the gang through my garage door to the yard. I imagined the sequence of events would unfold as follows:

After hearing a woman yell “The raccoons are bored with Perry Mason!” my neighbor would look out his kitchen window. From sleepy eyes, he would spy the neighbor lady trotting towards his house, tripping over a garden hose then getting up again.

My pants would surrender to the added weight of caked mud while tube sock mittens would sabotage every attempt to pull my pants up. I would arrive at my neighbor’s glass patio doors where he would be standing on the other side. His lips would mouth “available” while reading my nightshirt. Through sweat, mud, and ten tiny braids, my eyes would plead into his. He would naturally question my intentions.

My neighbor would assess the situation then his mythology training would kick in. To avoid being turned to stone, he would attempt to look away from who appeared to be Medusa.

At this point, there is a fork in my fantasy road. Perhaps my neighbor would provide refuge in such a situation or maybe the whole thing would just confirm his suspicions that the neighbor lady really is nuts. I fell asleep before visualizing the outcome.

The next morning, I found our television blaring and the refrigerator door open. I noticed a muddy trail from my yard leading to a soccer-ball-sized rock resting against my neighbor’s back door. 

Many tips can be gleaned from that restless night, such as: wear decent nightclothes, discard old chicken casserole, and put the hose away after each use. More importantly, though, get to know the neighbors so they are willing to help when bizarre stuff happens.

You never know when raccoons will come for YOU.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at Email her at

Where bobble heads reign

Where bobble heads reign (released 7/19/13)
By Kris Kolk

My family hosted a yard sale last week. We outwitted spiders and bugs to unearth treasures from the basement. For a few days the house was a frenzied prep zone.

“Sell it all,” was our mantra. My son’s wardrobe got sucked into the fervor. We priced most of his fresh laundry before realizing our mistake.

“If it’s nice, it gets a price,” his siblings and I jingled in unison as he sheltered t-shirts, boxers, and jeans from his yard-sale-possessed family.

While getting change, I told the tellers about our upcoming sale. One of them gave me a sympathetic half-smile. I initially interpreted it as “better you than me,” but shrugged it off. Our till was counted and put into a powder blue plastic toy tackle box, our cash register.

Exhaustion led to giddiness. We were too excited to go to bed at a decent hour on Sale Eve. Clothes were hung. Goods were priced. A stash of empty grocery bags was ready for customers’ loot. We wondered if we forgot any details.

The advertisement listed our hours as seven o’clock until noon. We expected early bird shoppers and agreed on a store policy: sell stuff no matter what the time.

We merchandised in pre-dawn dew. Tables almost buckled under the weight of our inventory. We hung clothes on a rope. A stepladder offered belts, shoes, and purses at a variety of heights.

“No early birds yet,” I said, grateful to prepare without distractions. By opening time, a parade of cars started on our street.

“Look, here comes another one,” I’d say. “No, don’t look.” We didn’t want to appear anxious.

Almost every potential customer slowed their car to window shop from the comfort of a front seat. More often than not, the car accelerated and left. We were tired and sweaty and discouraged, too.

I began hoping for just one sale. The kids worked so hard. Our house had been in sale mode for three days and was still a huge mess. Was it all worth it? I was beginning to wonder.

Then a family arrived. Kids poured from the van like clowns from a miniature car. I lost track of how many there were; but one thing was certain: they wanted toys. My kids’ faces glowed as their favorite things were once again appreciated.

These young customers were savvy negotiators. It became apparent that none of them intended on paying full price. Their parents stood behind them, beaming as their offspring were successful in getting discounts just for being so darned cute. I was grateful one car finally stopped, and it felt good to put some quarters in the tackle box.

There was a trickle of customers after that. One man paid us in a fifty-cent piece. I don’t think my kids were impressed but I was excited. Shoppers wanted jewelry, bobble heads and stadium cups, none of which our establishment offered.

We packed leftovers in our pick-up for delivery to the donation drop. Then the most surprising thing happened: swarms of customers arrived. Just as early birds want first dibs at the good stuff, people who arrive after the sale want deals.

I regret allowing the latecomers to peruse what we had already packed. There was a pillaging spirit about them as they ravaged boxes in the hull of our truck while searching for booty. Though they didn’t buy anything, I was relieved when the ransacking concluded.

Our profit was a mere $15. It sounds like it wasn’t worth it; but we did get some of the basement clean, made a substantial donation, and had fun. As we were enjoying our reward of take-out pizzas, my son entered the room. For one moment, I thought I heard a DJ scratching a turntable.

“Are you wearing shorts and leg warmers?” I asked him.

“I hate yard sales,” he said.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at Email her at

Saturday, August 3, 2013

It is party time

“Neighborberry” released on July 5, 2013

It is party time
By Kris Kolk

Someone should get the ball rolling and be neighborly. It might as well be you. If you feel your home isn’t presentable enough for company, try these tips.

“Do I get the grand tour?” a guest might inquire upon arriving. If such a notion gives you twitches, just lie. You may want to rehearse your lines before the party.

“I would love to show you the bedroom, but my boa constrictors, Wilma and Leon, don’t fancy strangers,” you could say. Practice making sweeping motions with your arms to shepherd the nosy one into what you term “the safe part of the house.”

Perhaps you have a bathtub full of something you don’t want others to see, such as dirty dishes or Donny and Marie fan club memorabilia. Just dump those unmentionables into laundry baskets. Shove the baskets in the bedroom with Wilma and Leon. Define this as “organization” and feel good about the day.

Before hosting a party, my grandmother would wash, line-dry and iron her kitchen curtains. As a new bride, I caught myself doing the same thing. Grandma and I shared a chuckle about it. Nowadays, I just smack the top-layer dust out of the curtains with a dishrag.

Has paint peeled and left a 4-foot by 3-foot patch in the shape of The Ukraine on your living room wall? Cover it with construction paper and have the kids draw on it. Tell your guests it would break your heart to remove this precious artwork.

It astounded me to hear that other people clean a few days in advance of a party.  When my kids were young, I would tidy all day; but it always looked like a giant had been shaking our home as if it were a doll house. Pillows and blankets would appear in front of the television. Measuring cups and mixing bowls would be discovered in the baby’s room. Miniature fighter jets would wage wars in my underwear drawer. Though I am not a fan of “ahead of time,” some chores, such as cleaning the refrigerator, are best tackled prior to a gathering.

“Here. I brought you this 36-inch chocolate chip cheesecake,” your friend offers. “You might want to stick it in the fridge until we’re ready for dessert.” It is such a bittersweet moment when a guest contributes something chilled and decadent but also bigger than your pool.

Another help is to put away all the everyday dishes before the get-together. Clean. Dirty. Clean. Dirty. It’s the dishwasher circle of life. But when a party is afoot, an empty dishwasher can save your sanity.

After Thanksgiving dinner at my home, the dishwasher was busy washing sippy cups and cereal bowls. In the meantime, cranberry relish and turkey gravy hardened on 45 stuck-together plates. As pie was served, Grandpa tried to trade his great-granddaughter a cigarette for her clean fork.

Here’s another do-ahead tip: clean in and around your furniture. Just as soon as a guest gets out a pacifier for the baby, she drops it somewhere deep, dark and scary: under the cushions.

“Let’s move the furniture and look!” a booming voice proclaims while the baby shrieks. You witness in horror four men and an eight-year-old boy lift your couch. Unveiled is a well-established, thriving eco-system of dead and undead bugs, broken crayons, loner socks, fuzzy potato chips—and one pacifier. The scene is so ghastly, the baby stops crying. Her mouth falls agape.

Everyone has areas of their home in need of cleaning or renovation. So what? Confront these insecurities with a sense of humor and dedication to the neighborly crusade. You have the right to share life with friends and family in your own home!

Now, all that’s left to do is poop-scoop the front yard and turn on the one porch light that still works. Be neighborly. Not perfect.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at Email her at

Monday, June 24, 2013

Good and neighborly

This essay is the backbone and essence of Neighborberry and Neighbors About Town:

Good and neighborly
  by Kris Kolk

“I live in a great neighborhood,” an acquaintance told me.

“That’s wonderful,” I said, “What makes it great?”

“Well, the lawns are immaculate and the homes are absolutely gorgeous!” he replied.

“How about the people? Are they nice?” I had to know.

“Um, I don’t know anyone here. Everyone does their own thing,” he said.

My friend was describing a neighborhood full of good neighbors: upstanding and tidy lovers of order and image. However, it sounded as if few were neighborly.

You see, good neighbors can be neighborly and neighborly neighbors can be good. Yet good neighbors and neighborly neighbors have different natures. Sounds like an exercise in logic, but I can explain.

Good neighbors never play loud music and always come to full and complete stops at stop signs.

When the power goes out in Berlin, they get a call from the World Clock people wondering what time it is. Good neighbors are that punctual.

Good neighbors’ cars never smell like spoiled baby formula and catsup. They keep potpourri in the ashtrays and blankets and granola bars in the trunks for emergencies.

 “I have lettuce in my teeth,” a passerby might declare as he primps before the spotless windshield of a good neighbor’s car.

Good neighbors don’t concern themselves with the cloth versus disposable debate because their babies produce no dirty diapers. In the kids’ playroom, each crayon has its own private cubby and the dolls have their own wooden wardrobes.

Good neighbors rotate their dogs’ squeaky toys seasonally and color-code the collars. Their well-groomed canines do not bark, yip, howl or dig.

If you wave at a good neighbor, they may or may not wave back at you.

I don’t claim to always be a good neighbor, but I usually succeed at being neighborly. It’s all about good intentions and treating people with kindness.

Neighborly neighbors don’t tattle to authorities when someone’s grass grows a bit. They realize it may be an indication of a life crisis and consider it their cue to provide any help they can.

Neighborly people may even offer to mow that tall grass thus instilling friendship and goodwill. They know tattling spews fear and suspicion into a neighborhood.

I’m hoping this mouthful catches on: “When good neighbors accuse other neighbors of not being good neighbors, good neighbors are not being neighborly.”

Neighborly people take casseroles to new parents and soup to the sick. They “grab some groceries” for those housebound.

They know all the neighborhood pets and help scour the streets when they get loose. At Halloween, neighborly neighbors enjoy guessing who the princesses and goblins are behind the masks and seize the opportunity to chat with parents.

Recently, I frolicked through my lawn on the way to deliver cookies to a neighbor. I cuddled their dog and dodged riding toys dotting their yard. I waved at every car driving on our street, and I couldn’t have been happier. I rate neighborly living a big thumbs up.

While good neighbors polish their already-pristine garage floors, neighborly neighbors are busy solving the most essential challenge of our time: encouraging humanity to respect one another.