Wildscapes Workshop

Neighborly get-togethers

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Sometimes worlds collide in the best of ways, and your neighbors become your happy-hour buddies. (Illustration: behance.net/runamokstudios)

When Nancy Ehrenkranz moved into her Museum District townhome five years ago, she had no idea that along with making a new home, she was making a new set of friends.

“It’s not something I ever expected,” the writer and marketing consultant says. “I’ve never had this before. But it’s cool to have neighbors you would choose as friends.”

It all started when Kathryn McNeil, the president of the Houston Theater District who was already living on Nancy’s new street,  offered to introduce Nancy to her new neighbors – six in total. “That’s our core group,” Nancy says, noting that they’ve added a few newcomers in recent years.

“We’re all independent, and we all had puppies,” she says, explaining how the neighbors connected. “You’d see each other out front, walking the dogs, and we all got along beautifully. We started getting together for dinner, and now we have this routine.”

The neighbors get together every few months for progressive dinners, where one neighbor hosts appetizers, then everyone moves to another home for dinner, and they all move again to another home for dessert.

“We’re all outspoken,” Nancy says, “and we have some funny conversations.”

One can only imagine. Just on the one block, neighbors include Nancy and Kathryn, plus an impressive mix of other arts- and community-minded people: Geri Hooks, who owns Hooks-Epstein Galleries; Fred Perkins and Mac Hoak, who own the interior design store Mecox; Guy Hagstette, the architect and urban planner who created Discovery Green and led the effort to transform Buffalo Bayou, and his partner Doug Lawing; Steve Roddy, founder and director of the Houston Children’s Chorus; and Roni McMurtrey, the recently retired owner of McMurtrey Gallery.

“Such interesting people with such interesting lives and stories,” Nancy says. “We learn about the city and arts and nonprofits and theater. It’s crazy we all live one next to the other. These are all people who are making a difference in our community, and it’s quite a neat thing.”

Gatherings usually start when someone says, “We haven’t gotten together in a while,” or, “Hey, it’s so-and-so’s birthday,” or when two neighbors run into each other walking dogs and say, “We need to do a dinner.”

Nancy says that’s when they start comparing dates via email or text. Once the date is set, “We sort of plan the menu,” Nancy says. “If it’s at my house, I’ll say I’m going to make a pork loin, and someone else will say, ‘I’ll bring a salad,’ and someone else will offer to bring dessert.

“We’re not best friends, but it’s really lovely.”

Happy hours with neighbors can go from all-out planned to less so for Dee Dee Dochen, owner of DDD Marketing Communications. “We go from organized to semi-organized, to spontaneous,” she says. In the “organized” category, her neighbors on Rice Boulevard – two blocks of it – have coordinated a block party for the past 14 years. That started when “a couple of guys said, ‘We’re thinking about having a block party, and it would be fun to have music.’ I said, ‘I’m actually in a band.’ And we have played for the block party every year since.”

In the semi-organized category: the block’s women’s happy hours. “We call ourselves the WORBS – Women of Rice Blvd. We like acronyms.” (The block party is called FORBS – Friends of Rice Blvd.)

WORBS get together a couple of times a year in different people’s homes. “It’s all women, and we have a great time,” Dee Dee says. “People volunteer to organize them. The last one we had, the host had beautiful food and wine. But we typically pot-luck it. It’s like, okay, everyone bring something. Or we’ll order pizza and everyone chips in. Sometimes we just do appetizers.”

On the spontaneous end of the spectrum, Dee Dee says, “It’s almost like all our backyards are connected. It’s not a surprise to see people sitting on their front porch with a glass of wine. Families, singles, little kids, grown kids – it doesn’t matter, but everyone comes out.”

Dee Dee says her street has an “open-door, open-heart policy. We are a main street, and there are pros and cons with that. But it is such a welcoming street. We have keys to each other’s homes, we feel safe.

“I remember when I was looking at my house, my realtor said, ‘I sure hope you like people, because if not, you’re not going to like this neighborhood.’”

Looks like Dee Dee and Nancy both wound up on the right blocks.

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