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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

Yesterday we had a Parent Appreciation Luncheon at Carla’s school and I am still reeling from the experience.  Reeling may not be the right word. Perhaps “steeped in self pity” is more accurate, I’m not sure, I am destined to fail at all things including appropriate word choice.

At the top of the luncheon, all the kids in the entire grade got up and did a little song and dance routine. It was very cute. And then they got to usher us to our seats in the cafeteria and then we all ate lunch(eon) together. There was a lot of down time at the beginning while the teachers corralled all the kiddos and got them pointed in the right direction. Which meant that there was plenty of time for me to be SUPER socially awkward and inept and anxious about it.

Let’s just get one frustrating thing out of the way right up front, which is that my husband wasn’t able to make it to the luncheon. And yes, he’s on call, and yes, I’m sure there were single parents in the mix, and even in the case of two-parent households, I’m sure that other parents weren’t able to make it, and/or they have been at their jobs longer than my husband has been at his and feel more comfortable taking off in the middle of the day and/or have spouses who were more persistent about reminding them to find some way to take the time off, but it SEEMED like every child there had two parents except Carla, including two other physicians, which at baseline made me a) feel guilty and b) feel lonely. If my husband had been there, I could have at least talked exclusively to him, instead of sitting there mentally rending my garments as I tried desperately to gather the courage to go talk to someone.

While we were waiting for the kids to set up, I saw another mom that I have been friendly with in the past. If I’m being honest, I wish she were my best friend: she’s so lovely and put together and smart and friendly and kind. She started talking to me, which was nice. But then one of her friends came up to us, and the two of them started talking, and I started to panic. Was I supposed to join in the conversation, about things they have in common and about which I know nothing? Was I supposed to excuse myself and go… stand in a corner? I ended up doing neither, and just stood there silently with what I hoped was a calm, friendly, I’m-a-good-listener smile plastered on my face and nodded along with them. They were nice about it, making eye contact with me occasionally as though I were part of the conversation. It’s not like I was entirely mute; I tried to make interested-sounding noises even though I was much too panicked to focus on what they were saying. And then another friend of theirs came up and joined in and I just kept standing there, my anxiety flinging itself against the inside of my brain like a fish trying to escape its tank, and I tried to ask questions where I could – but they were obviously “I am making conversation” questions and not “I’m part of the conversation” questions, you know? – and tried to laugh and continue to make “I’m totally taking part in this discussion” noises. And the cafeteria was super hot and I started sweating and I became uncomfortably aware of the inside of my mouth and how my breath could not be great even though I definitely brushed and flossed before I came. And I didn’t know the other moms at all, or who their kids were, and – as is always the case anyway – I couldn’t figure out the rhythm of the conversation well enough to interject with a new subject or a related anecdote or a pertinent question. Not that I could properly follow along with the conversation anyway; as I mentioned before, I was too focused on all the THINGS going on in my head to focus on what they were saying.

Finally, a teacher called us to attention and we got to watch the kids’ little performance, which was a nice break. The ladies I’d been “talking with” drifted off to find their spouses and I stood by myself, clutching my sweater (why had I brought a sweater when clearly I’d entered one of the flaming hottest circles of hell???) and my purse and my desire to leave immediately and/or melt into the floor.

And then it was “luncheon” time, and once again I had to navigate the extreme horror of talking to a parent I don’t know that well. This time, across the table. Unfortunately, this parent was either as shy/uncomfortable as I am, or she had already written me off as no use to her. So my lame attempts at conversation were met with single word answers and apparent disinterest. You’d think this would be a good thing! Lets me off the hook, right? But instead, I kept trying to make lame small talk because I wanted her to like me. Obviously she wasn’t talking to me because she’d written me off as Not Worthy of Her Time, right? Okay, okay, so possibly she was having her own inner freak out about having to talk to me and fending off similar worries. Either way, I don’t hold it against her.

Fortunately, Carla was with me at this point, so I could direct most of my attention to her. But as we lunched, I was very aware of all the other parents in the room, laughing and chatting and having a great time. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who doesn’t like groups/crowds/forcible mingling. But it never FEELS like there are others. Instead, it feels like everyone else finds social interaction super easy, and, not only that, but fun, which I find incomprehensible. I long for “easy.” Fun is a pipe dream.

Finally, when I was able to escape, I ran into a couple of familiar couples on the way down the hall. They are all super nice and friendly, but they were in couples, and seemed to be talking to each other, and plus one of the women was the woman whose friend-group I’d horned in on earlier and she was almost certainly done with conversational babysitting, so I tried to smile and make nice friendly noises, but then I motored on past to leave the school and get in my car and go far far away. And as I was doing that, I was mentally chiding myself for avoiding them instead of trying to interact with them. You can’t make friends with people if you dart past them every time you see them! Friendships are not built on awkward smiles and waves and “have a great day”s tossed over your shoulder! (Why not, though?)

And I DO wish I were friends with more of the parents at Carla’s school. So many of them seem great! But the way you get to know people is by talking to them during these school events, and I get so flustered and self-conscious that I just can’t do it. It’s moderately okay one on one, but when there are two or more people, I stop being able to think. I have no idea how to join the flow of conversation. I have no idea what to say. I often walk past little clusters of moms in the hallway after drop off and wonder what in the hell are they talking about?!?! I have no clue, absolutely none.

And then I go home and feel horrible, as I did yesterday. And the bad feelings remain. I feel lonely and isolated, which are terrible feelings to begin with. But then I also feel culpable, because it’s my own fault I don’t have friends. It can’t be THAT hard! Other people do it all the time! There must be something wrong with me that I am always and forever on the outside.

Hence the pity party.

We have a big Parent Breakfast coming up, as part of the kids’ transition into kindergarten. (KINDERGARTEN. Let’s reserve that panic attack for another post.) So I anticipate more of the same sweaty awkwardness and wallflowering and self-loathing to follow in a few short days! Yay!

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Sometimes I think one of my love languages is Buying Gifts. That’s probably not the right term but I don’t feel like walking down the hall to get the book and read it. Also, I think “love language” refers to how you prefer to be treated, not how you treat others – and I don’t particularly like receiving gifts, so maybe love language is not the right term at all.

Let’s start over:

I LIKE TO BUY GIFTS FOR PEOPLE.

However, I also possess a distinctly challenging personality trait that makes it difficult to actually BUY GIFTS FOR PEOPLE. What I’m saying is that I have severe gift-giving anxiety (undiagnosed). So what happens is I get all excited about buying someone a present… and then I get all weird and hand-wringy about it.

Here’s my normal thought process:

1. This is the perfect occasion to buy a gift for Person In My Life!

2a. Yay! I have a great idea for what to get PIML, too!

2b. Crud. I have NO IDEA what to buy.

3a. Is it too expensive? Maybe I shouldn’t get it.

3b. Nothing seems right. Maybe I shouldn’t get anything.

4. No! Don’t be like that! Allow yourself to give in to your positive intention!

5a. You’re totally right! The gift is in my shopping cart!

5b. You’re totally right! Spend way too much time finding the perfect gift and then finally adding it to my shopping cart!

6. Wait a second. What if PIML doesn’t like the gift?

7. What if PIML feels uncomfortable that I got a gift at all? Maybe it’s for a weird occasion or the PIML doesn’t think we’re that close or the gift itself is weird?

8. What if PIML thinks the gift is too expensive?

9. What if PIML thinks the gift is too cheap?

10. What if PIML feels beholden to me after receiving a gift? Or now feels obligated to buy ME a gift?

11. What if this changes my relationship with PIML?

12. Okay, there’s no real need to buy the gift right this second. Just take a step back and think about it.

13. ** time passes **

14. Crap. Now it is way too late to send a gift.

I would like to say, in a non-blaming way, that my husband plays a role in this process as well. He is usually of the opinion, “You don’t NEED to get a gift for that person!” Which is true! Always! No one needs a gift! But then I start doubting whether I should get a gift for that person, if it’s weird or overstepping or whatever (see Steps 6-11) above. When the gift is from both of us, that also adds a wrinkle to the gift-giving process, because then I feel like I should consult with my husband about what the gift should be, how much it should cost, etc. And that takes time, and some back and forth, and so Step 13 stretches out and out and out until we crash right into Step 14.

As long as I’m confessing things, I might as well let you know that sometimes I actually DO purchase the gift. And THEN I go through Steps 6-11. And the gift just sits there, forever and ever. The same can be said for cards. I buy them, then never send them. WHYYYYYYY.

This is a trait that I really dislike about myself. It is a variation on one of my other Most Reviled Personal Traits, which is procrastination. It has prevented me, in the past, from sending wedding gifts and baby gifts and sympathy cards that I really SHOULD HAVE. Missed opportunities that probably made a negative impression on or caused hurt feelings for the would-be recipient. Which causes me anxiety as well, plus embarrassment and guilt. I have dabbled with the idea of being A Person Who Doesn’t Send Gifts, which is a fine, perfectly reasonable person to be. But that hasn’t really STUCK.

So! Brisk clap! I am trying to combat my gift-giving anxiety. And this summer, I have had some success, I think!

  • Wedding gift for my cousin and her new wife
  • High school graduation present for my cousin
  • College graduation present for my other cousin
  • Birthday present for my daughter’s best friend
Birthday gift 1

I think it was this one. May have been something similar but not exact, though. (image from amazon.com)

  • Birthday present for another of my daughter’s friends
Birthday gift 2

Again, I can’t remember if it was exactly this one or not. (image from amazon.com)

  • Cute his and hers barware for a friend’s engagement
Engagement Gift

I do wish they were the same size/type of glass because it kind of seems like it’s insinuating that the woman should drink LESS than the man, although I admit I don’t know whether they hold the same amount of liquid that’s what it SEEMS to be saying, judgmental much glasses? but WHATEVER. They were cute. My friend and her fiancé drink beer. The end. (image from katespade.com)

  • Baby present plus older brother present for a friend’s new baby girl

(clothing image from nordstrom.com; book and Melissa & Doug puzzle set images from amazon.com)

  • Baby present plus older sister present for another friend’s new baby boy

FOX IN SUNGLASSES SWEATER. (clothing images from nordstrom.com; book and princess castle tent images from amazon.com)

  • Interesting bookmark for a friend
Bookmark

The one I got is NOT this one, but very similar. (image from mitercraft.com)

  • Housewarming gift for a friend
Housewarming Gift

Not exactly this, but CANDLES from WickHabit. (image from etsy.com)

  • Thank-you gifts for my daughter’s daycare teachers (cute personalized tumbler plus a $5 Starbucks gift card)
Teacher Gift

These are from the LuckyLilyDesigns Etsy shop and they EXACTLY as cute in person. I love them. (image from etsy.com)

  • And I am planning to (once I talk to my husband about it and help him move beyond his [possible] [likely] inclination to NOT do it) get cookies or chocolates or doughnuts or something for the entire daycare staff on my daughter’s last day, but I haven’t gotten beyond the Step 2b fretting-about-the-gift-possibilities stage on that yet.

So. I think I am making some progress, considering that I am TERRIBLE AT GIVING GIFTS.

Oh, yes. Looking specifically at the teacher thank-yous and the baby gifts up there, I realize ANOTHER aspect of my gift-giving issues: Sometimes, I start to go overboard. I get Christmas Stocking Syndrome, and start panicking about “what if it’s not enough?” and “maybe I should just throw this last little thing in here” and “oh look at this cute little extra that would be so fun!” That is how the Starbucks gift cards got added to the teacher presents (what if they hate the tumblers? what if this is a case of “you should have just given a gift card”?) and how the little board books got added to the baby presents (oh but they are under $6! And this is Carla’s FAVORITE story when she was a baby!). (And also how I added a bottle of nail polish and a tub of EOS lip balm – which is the same duo I got from a dear friend after I had Carla – to my Amazon order so I could add a little mother-self-care giftlet to each baby gift.) Giving in to Christmas Stocking Syndrome feels good at the time, but then afterward makes me worry – yet again – that I’ve been too flamboyant or overly aggressive with my gifting.

But! I am going to ignore my CSS Panic about the baby and teacher gifts and MOVE FORWARD!

In the interest of full disclosure, the engagement gift, baby gifts, and bookmark have all been purchased but not actually wrapped or sent to the recipients yet. The housewarming gift (which will be candles, from Wick Habit) has not yet been purchased. And two of the three teacher gifts are wrapped but won’t be handed out until my daughter’s last day at daycare.

PHEW. Now that I see that list, I feel both happy and relieved and also a little bit ACK! because that is a lot of money. BUT. I think each of those gifts was appropriate and I don’t think any of them was too expensive if taken singularly. And anyway, one should not think too much of TOTAL COST lest it dampen the generous impulse!

I am going to go wrap the engagement gift and then put the bookmark in the mail RIGHT NOW!

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It is really too late to fret about this now, because it’s HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND, but that means I’m in Prime Fretting Headspace.

We are having Carla’s birthday party this weekend, and TWENTY PEOPLE will be here. Okay, eighteen. But that’s VERY CLOSE TO TWENTY. I have never had so many people at my house before.

Things that I am fretting over:

1. The Food: Because my husband has kindly and gently pointed out that one of the reasons I find entertaining so stressful, we are outsourcing the food. We are getting a big sandwich tray, along with some pasta salad, and some chips. I am TRYING to resist the urge to make homemade guacamole and salsa. We’ll see if I succeed.

I also really REALLY wanted to make macarons, but my husband gently and kindly persuaded me not to. And he’s right: they are time intensive and also finicky and I can imagine the feet not setting correctly and feeling frustrated and panicked. So. No macarons. Instead, we are ordering an ice cream cake.

Will we have enough food? Will people like it?

And what about alcohol? How much beer and wine do you need to buy for twelve adults? We don’t have anything resembling a cooler, so I bought two big plastic tubs from Target for $5.99 apiece that I’m planning to fill with ice and drinks.

Besides beer and wine, what’s appropriate to offer as drinks? I got some bottled water (although Target didn’t have EITHER Dasani or Aquafina – my preferred brands – and I had to buy Ice Mountain instead) and a box of fun-sounding La Croix. We have tons of diet soda already, but we don’t drink non-diet soda. Do we need to buy any?

2. The Décor: This is supposed to be a birthday party, so I want it to be somewhat festive. But I also don’t want to go too overboard. My ORIGINAL idea was to match the decorations to Carla’s dress, which is orange and blue and white.

 

Birthday dress

It’s from Gymboree and it looks like I’m going to have to IRON the hem.

So I got some navy blue plates and cups and napkins and tablecloth and balloons and a “Happy Birthday” banner from Target. And some of those little poof things you hang from the ceiling. And a little banner for the cake. Man, Target really knows how to get you to spend a LOT of money on single-use stuff.

Blue party supplies

Image from Target.com

But I cannot find coordinating ORANGE decorations anywhere! Even my local Party Place only had about five orange balloons. I guess that will have to be enough.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did find the following from Amazon. But they are asking $12.95 for eight settings. Target charges $2.00 for 10 9-inch plates, $3.00 for 10 cups, $2.00 for 20 napkins.

Orange plates

Image from Amazon.com

Dammit, now I see that Target has orange party supplies ONLINE, so I could have ordered them! But now I am out of time! ACK.

And I was going to do blue macarons and orange macarons. But THAT’S not happening. So now I’m feeling like the décor will be half-assed.

3. The State of My House, Indoors and Outdoors: My house is my house, right? But whenever actual PEOPLE are going to spend time here, I start worrying about whether it is too shabby or too dirty or too cramped. Do we have enough chairs? No, no we don’t. Is there enough room in the living room? Nope, not at all.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and we can divide our time between inside and being in the backyard. I mean, I am REALLY counting on being able to throw all six of the kids into the yard so they can play.

But the deck is… well, if we are being charitable, it is “distressed” at best. And the latticework that ostensibly keeps creatures from setting up apartments under the deck is very beat up. The long side that faces the yard has fallen in completely, and it looks terrible. But THAT’S not going to be different by this weekend.

And I have been spending ALL SUMMER searching for cushions for our rag-tag collection of seating on the deck with NO LUCK. So finally this past weekend, in a panic, I ordered some things that might (fingers crossed) work, and those are going to arrive tomorrow HOPEFULLY.

What if it RAINS? What in heaven’s name will I do with six toddlers? I suppose I could spend a couple of hours making the basement more child-friendly, and just toss them all down there.

4. Entertainment for the Kids: I think here is one area where I am allowing COMPARISONS to freak me out. We recently went to a birthday party where the kids were all playing outside while the adults were eating and drinking. And somehow THAT party has become The Benchmark, and I know – I KNOW – Carla’s party won’t measure up.

It was her best friend’s party. And they have different circumstances than we do. A much larger house and yard, for one thing. And a nanny-share situation that means they have a TON of toys. But the party included: a massive trampoline, a bounce house, a mini-swimming pool, and a sprinkler.

We just don’t have those things, and nor would I want ANY of them, really. But since we DON’T have any of those things, I am fretting about what the kids will DO outside.

My mother-in-law has apparently bought us some sort of sprinkling apparatus. We have a small water table. Carla has a little tiny play structure with a small slide and a little hidey-hole underneath. She has a table with benches and an umbrella. She has a mini-trampoline that one person can use. There are various balls and bats and a little lawnmower. I think the kids will have things to play with. No one is going to be standing in the middle of the yard, staring in boredom at the grass.

I didn’t feel like doing gift bags (is this the wrong way to go?), but I did get every child a bubble wand. So they can play with bubbles.

Is this enough?

I am fighting the urge to hire a magician or that guy who comes equipped with turtles and armadillos and an alligator.

5. The Mix of People: We have invited:

  • Family A: One of our closest friend families. One of our family friend families. A family of close friends.
  • Family B: Another family that we’ve known for years but don’t see as often.
  • Family C: Another family that we’ve known for years, and frankly I would LOVE to get to know them better, but until now we have only seen them when our parents and their parents get together.
  • Family D: My husband’s parents.
  • Family E: The parents of Family C.

So… Family A and Family B have met once or twice. Family C obviously knows Family D and Family E. We know everyone. But will they all find things to talk about? Will Family C feel awkward/left out? Will the Families of Parents feel like they are just there as add-ons? Will all our kids get along?

I am trying very hard to remember that MANY people are not as socially anxious as I am. And that Family A and Family B – at least – are super friendly and outgoing and can talk to anyone. And Family C is super nice and friendly, although I can’t speak to whether they are introverts or not.

The other thing I am trying to remember is that if I were the guest at a similar party, I would soothe my own anxiety by knowing I could just talk to my husband or play with my kid if it felt too awkward with the other adults. People DO this kind of thing all the time. They all said “yes!” when I invited them; they are grown ups; they know what they are getting into; EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

Once I have made it through this list, I loop back to whether the house is clean enough. We are having a cleaning person come Friday to clean, and that will take care of surface things like vacuuming and toilets and such. But then I think about things like, Oh no! Our baseboards are still green! And, The grout in our tile is horrendous! And, Why haven’t we hung up those six paintings on the wall yet? But am I going to paint the baseboards or clean the grout or magically hang a gallery wall of paintings in the next two days? No, no I am not.

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We are having guests over for dinner in a couple of weeks, and they have some food limitations. It is making meal planning a challenge – but a FUN challenge, because I want to find the correct combination of things that will make it enjoyable for them. The limitations are as follows:

  • One family member has celiac disease and cannot eat gluten.
  • One family member cannot eat milk products.
  • One family member is vegetarian.

I keep thinking of The Perfect Food! and then realizing it is totally not perfect. (Mushroom lasagna! I’ll just use gluten free noodles! Oh wait. Cheese.) The best option I have come up with is a make-your-own-sandwich bar, where we provide lots of meats and cheeses and veggies and breads – and include some gluten-free rolls on a separate plate. But… then again, what might a vegetarian eat on a sandwich? Marinated portabellas? I don’t like sandwiches, so I am not really the best person to plan a sandwich bar, I guess.

Maybe what I am talking myself into is, in fact, a big SALAD bar. Then I can completely skip the bread issue by not having ANY and I can include some chickpeas and kidney beans as proteins for the vegetarian?

But I am learning that gluten is a sneaky bugger, and so I will need to be really careful that none of the dressings have gluten. And now I am thinking, sadly, that maybe children will not be as diggety-down with the salad bar as the adults might be. I can picture my daughter eating a handful of cherry tomatoes and then filling her plate with air. She eats air most days, so it wouldn’t be a big departure but I try not to purposely make food I KNOW she won’t eat.

Okay. So we could… grill hot-dogs and hamburgers and some meat-free burgers or portabella steaks. (I read that hotdogs can have gluten, so I will need to be on the lookout for that.) And have gluten-free buns. And gluten-free-mac-and-cheese for the kids. That seems doable, I suppose. The problem is, always, the weather. Which may or may not cooperate. I would rather have an inside-the-house kind of option, I guess. That also ensures that my husband isn’t stuck at the grill all night.

We could do a taco bar… but we did that the last time we had this family over, and I had black beans as the non-meat protein and even though my vegetarian guest was super gracious and didn’t say ANYTHING, I don’t think it was the most satisfying meal. Plus, I have served tacos the last two times we have hosted people (two separate families, don’t worry) and I am kind of sick of them. I want to flex my hostessing muscles, you know?

I was playing around with the idea of a make-your-own-pizza kind of thing, with gluten-free crust as an option… and providing a bunch of meats and cheeses and vegetables and sauces… But I wonder if the absolutely delicious-sounding-to-ME idea of a rosemary and onion and thin-sliced potato pizza would actually appeal to the dairy-free guest. Plus, the logistics of getting everybody’s pizza into the oven at once or on a rotation that wouldn’t mean half of the people are starving makes me feel a little panicky. Possibly I could make small pizzas for the kids and then two large pizzas for the grown-ups? And both could be vegetarian and dairy free? THAT might be fun!

Then we get to dessert. I am planning to make macarons with jam filling, because they tick all the boxes. And I was thinking about buying a few pints of ice cream (we have a local ice creamery that makes vegan ice cream, which is gluten and dairy free) and having some sprinkles (although around here they are called “jimmies”) and chocolate flakes available. The kids would like that, I think.

I really really like this family. Our kids get along. We have a great time together. And it would be so nice if I could gain some comfort with cooking for them, so we’re not always trying to wrangle our kids at restaurants or having to bring in takeout. And, of course, on the flip side, it would be really nice if they could see me as a TRUSTWORTHY host, who would have things they can ALL eat, things that taste decent and are filling.

I suppose the smart thing would be to just call my friend and ASK HER, but I a) want to figure this out myself and b) don’t want to put her in the situation of being all, “Oh, whatever you do will be fine!” and then not enjoying herself.

So: Do YOU have any experience in making meals for anyone with the above food restrictions? Do you have any experience BEING the person with food restrictions? Do you think my pizza idea is totally crazy? HELP.

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So there’s this other little incident – no, it’s too small to call an incident… it’s more like a minor interaction – that’s been niggling at me lately. It’s not something I’ve been actively worrying over. More like, every once in a while it will pop into my head and I’ll roll it around a few times before something else takes its place.

It falls into the realm of etiquette, I suppose, or social graces. And it’s not a Big Deal, by any means. It’s just one of those things where I wish I knew the right way to behave, in case I encounter it again.

Anyway: Let’s say you have a group of friends who get together once a month or so at one friend’s house. We do this for my book club (although it’s been a woefully long time since we’ve met), and the host cooks a meal and the guests bring wine. Every guest brings a bottle of wine. Every time. This works GREAT, in my opinion.

But let’s say that YOUR group is less wine-focused. Not to say they don’t like alcohol! Oh no! But there’s a different understanding with this group. Or maybe it’s a lack of understanding. Or I don’t know.

So the host cooks a meal, and the guests bring… whatever they want.

Of course the guests always ASK, “What can I bring?” And the host always says, “Nothing! Just yourself!” But the guests feel (and I am 100% guilty of feeling this way!) like they can’t show up empty handed, so they bring something. Like cookies. Or chips. Or Bloody Mary mix. Or whatever. Sometimes wine isn’t an option!

Let me give you a real-life example. My husband and I were the hosts, and we hosted brunch. So we made a French toast casserole and some other carbs – seriously, there was nothing in the way of meat or fruit or vegetable ANYWHERE, not even eggs – and we had Champagne and orange juice and we were all set. And the guests all asked what they could bring and I said nothing, just yourselves… and then they showed up with stuff.

One guest brought… Champagne and orange juice. Another brought some sort of delicious pastry. Another brought some other sort of delicious pastry. And so on down the line. Seriously, carbs out the EARS.

It is my understanding that the number one rule of hosting etiquette is to make your guests feel comfortable, so even though I’d made enough food for all of us to eat twice, I popped open the extra Champagne and extra orange juice and set out plates and flatware for the additional pastries. The more the merrier, right?

Plus, I am an extremely picky eater. Doesn’t hurt my feelings if you want to bring something you KNOW you will like, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings if that’s all you end up eating.

The non-incident/minor interaction was that, at the end of the day, when the guests had left and my husband and I were surveying the carb carnage of our kitchen, I spotted one of the boxes of fancy pastries that one guest had brought: totally unopened. And it was a store-bought thing, so at least she hadn’t made it with her own two hands. But still, she saw it at the store and thought it looked good; she spent her money on it. And no one even OPENED IT. Ack.

As I roll this over and over in my head on occasion, I usually roll around to feeling like it’s okay, that truly no feelings were probably hurt. I was busy trying to keep glasses full and plates full and babies fed, and I just overlooked that little pastry box and I am sure my guest understood.

But this raises two questions:

1. If someone brings food or a beverage to a non-potluck dinner you prepare, even though you expressly said “Nothing! Just bring yourself!”, are you obligated to put it out?

Listen, I am pretty sure that on the other end of things, the being-a-guest end, etiquette guidelines (which I have…somewhere. I just don’t feel like clomping upstairs and rooting around in my bookshelves to find the appropriate book. Am lazy.) say that you should bring food/wine as a hostess gift and NOT expect it to be added to the menu plan. Your host has planned a specific meal, so you shouldn’t expect that your offering be anything but a gift for the host to enjoy after the fact. That is how I approach bringing things: this wine is for you to enjoy as you see fit. If that means opening it right now, so be it! If you want to save it until later and guzzle it up before you face the pile of dishes your guests created, that’s fine too!

But… I guess I lean toward putting the food out. Because I don’t know that other people have heard of that guideline. Certainly I have been in situations where someone provided wine and was miffed when she didn’t get to drink it during the dinner party. Or even concerned that the host didn’t like the gift.

If the host’s ULTIMATE goal is to make the guest feel comfortable, then I would put the food/wine out even at odds with my own planning rather than cause any potential disappointment or concern or hurt feelings.

It can be frustrating, though, if you have a special bottle of wine you want your guests to taste. Or if you spent all day making cupcakes, and now they have to share the spotlight with a guest’s handmade chocolate truffles or whatever.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can deter people from bringing things. I have even tried the thing where you give them a specific item to bring: “Please bring a side dish. Please bring chips. Please bring beer or wine.” And they inevitably bring MORE THAN THAT.

WHY ARE PEOPLE SO GENEROUS AND NICE?!

Which brings me to my next question…

2. When can I comfortably LISTEN to the host and just NOT BRING ANYTHING?

My husband and I met with our group of friends again recently, and we went back and forth over what to bring. Should he make cookies? No, because what if our hostess made a special dessert? Should we bring wine? Seemed out of place for the meal we were having. What about bringing nothing? No, that seemed wrong – the hostess brought something when she was a guest at our house.

But of course, the hostess had prepared the entire meal, from bread to main course to dessert, and had plenty of drink options to boot. (We ended up bringing store-bought cookies, with the intention to offer them as a hostess gift rather than to expect they get set out with the food. But they were set out with the food anyway.) She certainly didn’t need our contribution. And we see her so often (once a month) that I know we’ll “repay” her for all the time and money she spent.

It just seems pointless and exhausting to keep bringing things that the host doesn’t want.

Of course, it seems LESS pointless if you are the only guest who shows up empty handed. But maybe if you do it enough, at enough houses, you will either get your message across or you will be booted from the group.

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Good morning, Internet! I am going to make a studious attempt at not talking about food in this post!

* I woke up at 5:55 this morning to the sound of howling wind and shrieking rain. (Rain doesn’t technically shriek, but I felt like it needed a descriptor so as not to feel left out.) I drifted back to sleep only to be re-awakened at 6:20ish by a suspicious chair-tumbling-over-in-the-wind sound. My husband peered out the window and saw nothing. Once I woke up (considerably later, though under perplexing circumstances STAY TUNED), I checked out all of the windows and couldn’t see anything that would have made such a noise. The two chairs on our front porch were upright. So were the 10,000 chairs on the back deck. I didn’t spot any rogue chairs that had blown over from the neighbors’ either. So WHAT MADE THE NOISE?

* Remember a long time ago (or 60-odd words ago) when I told you I woke up for good under perplexing circumstances? I was jostled out of sleep about 10 minutes before my alarm went off (fist of anger!) by the sound of two people talking. It seemed like they were standing right below my window, in the space between my house and the neighbor’s. I listened very closely but I could not make out what they were saying. Never one to pass up an opportunity to eavesdrop on stinky pre-alarm wakers (Word really wants to correct “wakers” to “wankers,” which I appreciate, but no), I crept over to the window and peered out the side of the shade.

Nothing. No one was standing below my window, having a Seriously Early Conversation.

But I could still hear the voices: a strident, whining woman and a calmer man. So I looked out the front window, straining to see down the street on either side.

Nothing.

What was it, Internet? Was my neighbor having a Very Loud Discussion with a lady friend in the room directly opposite my bedroom? Was he listening to an annoying morning talk show at top blast while he showered? Was someone hiding under the eaves of my porch, trying to torment me into waking up before I wanted to? WAS IT GHOSTS?

* Speaking of my neighborhood. The house across the street and one to the right has frequent visitors. Or, if not visitors, frequent Car Overflow. A white pickup or a brown sedan or both are regularly parked along the curb in front of this house. Right in front of the sign that says “No Parking This Side of Street.”

It must be terrible to deal with BOTH Car Overflow AND sign illiteracy.

* As you know, I’ve been pretty terrible about showing you pictures of my house. There are two reasons for this: 1. I haven’t really DONE anything to the house. There’s one room (coincidentally, the smallest room in the house next to the powder room) that’s NEARLY finished… And yet we just can’t seem to hang the picture that will complete the thing. (Also, the longer it sits there, nearly finished, the more I think that we need to do some rearranging of book shelves.) Anyway, it’s hard to get excited about writing a House Post when the rooms still look half- or un-finished.

2. The only room I seem to be able to write about is the master bathroom. Which is perfectly functional and which we will not redecorate in ANY WAY for many years. It’s perfectly fine and while we may replace the toilet sooner rather than later (who wants to see a toilet before and after?!?!), the rest of it is going to Stay The Same until we have enough money to replace the tile and the shower. Which may be never, if I’m being honest.

So WHY is that the room that I want to discuss at great length? Why not the dining room, which we are going to redo in February? Why not the kitchen, which ALREADY has some nice before-and-afters? Why not the basement, which is STILL painted in primary colors? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

* We – much like most of the country, I’d guess – are having Wackadoo Weather. It snows… then it rains and the snow melts. Then it’s sunny and feels like spring. Then there’s a Thunderstorm Warning. Then it snows again and everything gets a thick, six-inch coat of white.

I’m not complaining. I’d take this wacky changeableness ANY DAY over Constant Grey. But it is perplexing.

* I spent part of this weekend scouring the internet for two books I couldn’t remember. I found them BOTH, so I am going to tell you about it so that I NEVER FORGET THEM AGAIN.

Both are books from my childhood. In both cases, all I remembered about the books were two key details.  (Full disclosure: I have ALREADY forgotten the name of one of them. So I need to pop over to GoodReads to check.)

The first book was a ghost story. I remembered that the main character’s name was Zoe and she had an imaginary friend. That is ALL. (Why did I want to find this book about which I remember next to nothing? Well, I think I liked it, back when I was a kid. Plus, it is aggravating when one’s memory fails.)

For a long time, I tried looking up other ghost stories I read as a kid (man, I loved Betty Ren Wright) and using Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature to look for the Forgotten Book.

This did not work. Although it did fill me with nostalgia for the time when I could spend hours reading ghost stories.

So I Googled “book imaginary friend Zoe” and TADA! Google showed me exactly what I was looking for: Stonewords: A Ghost Story by Pam Conrad.

The other book is one I’ve been trying to remember for YEARS. I distinctly remember wanting to track it down in grad school, when one of my colleagues did a paper on Dare Wright. Dare Wright wrote a book called The Lonely Doll, and it sounded ever so slightly like a book I’d read as a kid.

The book I’d read as a kid was about a wooden doll who bought a human at the human store and mistreated her much in the way a human owner would abuse a doll. I’ve idly searched Amazon off and on for keywords like “doll buys human,” “doll owns girl,” “wooden doll,” “mean doll,” etc. No luck!

Finally, this weekend, I had a niggling little memory that the doll’s name was Gert. Or Gertrude. Typing “Gertrude doll” into Amazon’s search field yielding the book Gertrude’s Child by Richard Hughes. SUCCESS!!

Now I need to re-read these books.

 

* We have some flowering shrubbery outside our front door. I mean, it’s not flowering NOW. But I know it DOES flower, since we first saw this house last summer. One of the plants is DEFINITELY a hydrangea. I know this for sure, because I love hydrangeas.

But… I have no idea what the other plants are. Worse? I have no idea how to FIND OUT what the other plants are.

* We really need to get some curtains. I am quite certain our neighbors would agree.

* Blogger has been eating a LOT of my comments recently. I promise I have been better (not GREAT, but better) about commenting lately. But if your blog is on blogger and has a word verification? More often than not, my comments are not posting. I have typed in up to TEN word verifications in an attempt to get ONE comment to post to NO AVAIL.

I don’t think my comments are going to be life changing, or anything. But I do appreciate comments so I like to leave them when I can and MAN IS IT FRUSTRATING for them not to post.

* A cat ran through our backyard the other day. That makes him OUR cat, right?

Well, that’s all the random I have for you today.

How are you, Internet? Did you have a nice weekend? Any random things you need to discuss with me?

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Two weeks of small talk, Internet. That is what’s been going on around here.

Firstly, I joined a women’s service organization. It meets approximately eight million times a month.

Secondish, I went to a wedding where I knew about 5 people. Of the 260 who attended the wedding.

Thirdness, I went to a three-day business conference for networking and fact-finding.

Internet, I am an introvert, through and through. A couple of hours spent meeting new people is enough to make me take to my bed for a week of rest and recuperation and introspection about what an idiot I made of myself and self pity about how no one will ever want to be my friend despite my efforts and consternation about how I nevereverever know how to dress appropriately. (That last one is a lie. If the activity is lying on the couch watching Suits, I can totally dress appropriately. Well, if it’s just me. If you’re there, I will undoubtedly look like an idiot.)

Some people get their energy from being around others; I just don’t. It stresses me out and exhausts me. But I have realized that I need more human interaction. (Aside from the human interaction I’m forced into via work and wedding obligations.) I mean, I see my husband a few hours a day. And, while they make me laugh, Barney and Robin and Lily and Marshall and Ted just aren’t willing to listen to MY problems.  It’s a two-way street, guys.

So I’m trying to put myself out there. And that doesn’t mean just showing up: It means actually putting myself out there – walking up to strangers and smiling and saying hello.

SO STRESSFUL.

But that horrible diving-board moment of plunging into conversation with a stranger is not the worst thing about Putting Myself Out There. Oh no. There are Other Things.

For instance…

The handshake. Internet, no lie: 98% of the population does not know how to shake hands. I have shaken about a thousand hands (hyperbole) in the past two weeks so I feel confident in this assertion. Women, particularly, seem to SUCK at it.

There is the Used Hankie version, in which the Shakee grips the Shaker’s hand much in the way she would grip a hankie that had just received the brunt of a big ol’ Early Fall Cold Blow. Listen, Used Hankie Shakers. I know it’s not fun to smush your sweaty palm into a stranger’s. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the need to snap my fingers at Sharona for a wipe after meeting someone new. BUT YOU DO IT ANYWAY, and you do it with gusto. Firmness. Strength.

But not too much strength.

That brings me to the I Will Crush You version, in which the Shakee tries to communicate her awesomeness by pulverizing the Shaker’s phalanges. Yes, ladies, my father ALSO gave me many lectures about The Art of the Firm Handshake. But that does not mean that you need to cause physical pain. It does not leave me with the impression of “My, that girl knows how to shake hands! I suspect she will be smart and capable in all things!” No. It leaves me with the impression of pain to which I will respond with a Pavlovian sort of cringe in every future encounter.

Summary: If you are headed into a handshake with the thought, “I am going to leave an impression on you all right. The impression of my giant diamond ring in the flesh of your palm.” you are doing it wrong.

Side Note: Being on the receiving end of so many Horrible Handshakes has left me shaken (ha! dual meaning!) about my own Handshake Aptitude.  And I don’t know if you know this, but it’s almost impossible to shake your own hand in any way approximating reality. Perhaps I need to enlist my husband’s help to make sure I’m neither a Used Hankie nor an I Will Crush You sort of handshaker.

Then there’s the issue of…

Appropriate footwear. Events that primarily revolve around meeting people and/or chitchatting require long periods of standing. Internet, I’ll be straight with you: I’m a sitter.  I don’t wear shoes except to take out the trash and get the mail. And let’s be honest: I make my husband do those things most times.

This is all to say: shoes hurt my feet. Flip flops, sneakers, pumps, wedges, boots, EVEN UGGS. They all hurt my feet if I wear them long enough simply because I have the feet of some sort of coddled Elizabethan princess who gets transported from place to place on a satin litter. So choosing footwear is kind of like picking a night in the stocks vs. a public flogging: painful and humiliating no matter what.

But I have double footwear angst when embarking on a night of Meet-and-Greetery. Because not only do I need something that won’t turn my feet into hamburger meat, I need something cute.

I HAVE NEVER MET A CUTE SHOE THAT WAS COMFORTABLE.

(Confidential to E: I do not have your long legs so please do not suggest I try to pull off a pair of those cute flats you [used to] have a thousand pairs of. FLATS ARE NOT MY FRIEND.)

Listen, if you are about to say something reasonable and sensible like, “Wear something comfortable even if it’s a potato,” stop. First of all, a potato? Really? That doesn’t SOUND comfortable.

Second of all, no. Shoes are major ego-boosters. They make me taller. They make me feel cuter. They make an outfit.  And I know you should want people to Like You for Who You Are. But I sense the up-downs and the critical stares.

I want to look Pulled Together and Stylish when I meet people for the first time. Instead of what I normally look like, which is Chili-Stained Pajama Lady. Because then my weak-tea personality doesn’t have to do the double work of compensating for Crazy-Wear. I prefer my clothes to act as a time-release capsule, wherein strangers meet me thinking that I’m at least exteriorally normal, and then I can expel little bursts of Real Me over time, so as not to send a heart-attack-inducing amount of Real Me coursing straight to the brain. See? This is all for others’ safety.

Anyway, I spend way too much time contemplating footwear before these events. I may even order brand new shoes from Zappos just so I have something to wear to meet strangers. I know. IT IS A SICKNESS. (Thank goodness for free returns, amiright?)

P.S. No matter what I choose, I always end up feeling dowdy. SIGH.

But choosing footwear pales in comparison to…

Entering and leaving a conversation. Oh Internet. You can reach so many levels of awkwardness at an event filled with strangers.

One of those awkward levels is trying to insert yourself into a group of people. Which is sometimes the only option besides hanging out by the buffet table and trying to look really interested in the rye crackers.  Believe me – there is only so much cracker examination you can do before you look like a crazy person.

But it’s so incredibly awkward to walk up to a group of people and join the conversation. Some groups will naturally open up to bring you in. Others will not. But no matter what, you always have a decision: Laugh along heartily with whatever the speaker just said as though you’d been there the whole time or hang awkwardly at the edges, waiting for a lull or a kindly person to draw you in with a question.

It can be equally awkward to leave a group. Saying brightly, “I need a refill!” seems like a good plan. Unless you still have half a drink left. But easing out of the group without a word is simultaneously creepy, insulting to the others, and depressing.

Who am I kidding? I am totally standing over the buffet table, feigning intense fascination with the veggie dip.

And, of course, the silent-but-deadly aspect of meeting people…

Repeating the same boring shit over and over and over and over and over and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I get that small talk has a valuable purpose in life.  But there is only so much “Where are you from? Where’d you go to college? What do you do?” that a girl can take. Seriously.

But I do appreciate the women who are Rapid Fire Question Askers. These women have no qualms about being nosy. (Handy Recognition Tip: These are typically the same women who give you the bone-shattering handshakes. So, you win some, you lose some.)They simply want to get All the Information in the shortest time possible. So they are straightforward and brisk and if you don’t watch yourself, you’ll end up telling them your deepest secrets, your mother’s maiden name, what you ate for lunch last Tuesday, and your bra size. But I like a person who gets down to business.

What I do look forward to is a time when these women are more than strangers. When we can talk about Subjects of Depth. When we can joke with each other. When we can hang out easily, without worrying about subject matter or exit strategies or footwear.

Oh Internet. Why is meeting people as an adult such a horrible, frustrating, embarrassing, exhausting, awkward, heart-pounding enterprise?

And who am I kidding? I’ll always worry about footwear.

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