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Posts Tagged ‘hostess with the mostess boundary issues’

We have a security system in our house and two of the sensors have low batteries. Which I know because the keypad at which we control the alarm beeps to alert me of the danger. And living with low batteries is really dangerous, according to the keypad, because even though I key in a code that should let it know, “I hear you, I get it, I will call the security company right away,” it feels the need to remind me every two hours on the button. Irritating during the day, but MUCH WORSE in the middle of the night.

And of course the security company can’t send someone out right away. I mean, I GET IT. It’s just low batteries! But they can’t come until THURSDAY and that means THREE NIGHTS of getting up every two hours to key in my code and reassure the system that I AM AWARE OF THE BATTERY SITUATION AND MY IMMINENT DEMISE.

The keypad is in our bedroom. Of course, it does not bother my husband one little bit; he doesn’t even stir when it beeps.

Anyway, I am here to update you on one of my goals/aspirations for the New Year. I have ALREADY had friends over for dinner!

This is a big deal to me. You see, I like having people over to our house. I mean, in theory. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy being friendly. But man, in practiceI find it SUPER difficult.

First, even though I KNOW that it really doesn’t matter, I get all panicky about the state of my house. Is it clean enough? Is it tidy enough? Does our house smell funny? These worries send me into a cleaning frenzy prior to having someone over, which stresses me out. And I start thinking about all the projects that I want to complete – what about our horrible, mostly-destroyed ottoman? and our not-painted baseboards? and the missing kick panels on our kitchen cabinets? – and wondering if I should try to paint the fireplace before people come over and it’s ridiculous and makes me feel out of breath and frazzled.

And then there’s the food. I dither over the meal plan for weeks. (In this most recent case, we only invited people over a few days in advance, so I didn’t have to dither long.) Have I considered all their food restrictions/likes/dislikes? Have I come up with a balanced meal? No one ever seems to EAT salad if I make one, but does it need to be there to give the impression that I care about vegetables? Am I making enoughfood? (This is probably one of my biggest concerns.) Do I have a good variety of drink options?

It’s all ridiculous. When I go to someone else’s house for dinner, all I think about is whether there will be a tomato-free option. I don’t care whether they have Diet Coke or gin or a freaking salad. But for some reason, I am incapable of applying the same standards to myself. I am incapable of seeing my guests (whom I probably like! and likely think are good, easy-going, non-judgmental people!) as people who are more interested in hanging out with me and my husband than in eating a gourmet meal in an immaculate, newly-updated home.

I KNOW it is ridiculous.

And yet.

So we had this family over to dinner. We have wanted to invite them over for a long time; they’ve had us over twice, once for a playdate, once for a meal slash playdate, and it’s high time we reciprocated. And this past weekend, we were all free. I dithered only slightly over even inviting them, but I pressed forward.

I decided I would make chili, which is an easy, make-ahead type of meal (I don’t like having to cook while guests are here; it detracts from the socializing, plus people [nicely! thoughtfully!] want to help and I do not like that). But then almost immediately, I decided to make twokinds of chili – a spicy ground beef chili with a tomato base and a mild white chicken chili– both for sake of variety and in case our guests had differing spice tolerances and meat preferences. I cajoled my husband into making chocolate chip cookies. And then, to make life even more difficult on myself, I made guacamole and salsa, so we could have them (with chips) as appetizers. Before our guests arrives, I prepared a bunch of toppings for the chili (diced onions, diced tomatoes, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeno). The white chili was a crockpot option, so I started that early in the day. And the red chili tastes better the longer it cooks, so I started that a couple of hours before our guests arrived.

One of my biggest detractions from having people over is that my husband does not share my same level of preparation anxiety. You might think this would be a good thing, but so far in our marriage, it is not. This is not only because he does not understand how I feel in the days/hours leading up to having people over. It is because we clash on executing the actual preparations, and I end up doing (or at least feeling like I am doing) the bulk of the prep. And that makes me feel overwhelmed, overworked, misunderstood, frazzled, stressed, and put-upon. And frustrated and grouchy with my husband. Which is not really the mindset you want to have a fun, effervescent evening with friends.

I feel like I am being unfair, here, because my husband does not get a say on this blog. He cannot represent for you his own feelings, or catalog for you all the things he does to prepare. So please understand that you are getting a one-sided view of things.

On this particular day, I made a list of the things we needed to do before our guests arrived at four. We’d gone out the night before, and ended up sleeping in until NINE. Which put me immediately into a panic. My husband started out by saying that we had PLENTY of time, and so I tried to adopt that mindset and chill out a little. I gave him two projects: making the cookies (he’d made the dough the day before, so he just needed to bake the cookies) and making the white chili. And he had to get himself showered/dressed. He also wanted, separately, to go to a store and get something; I forget what, but it was on sale or something and he had to get it that day.

I unloaded the dishwasher while he made himself coffee. I made Carla’s breakfast while he made himself breakfast. I tidied up the kitchen table, which had become cluttered with Stuff. I asked him if he wanted me to dice the vegetables for the white chili and he said yes. I did that. I rinsed Carla’s breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I looked at the clock. The chili was supposed to be cooking for 6 hours, and we were nearing 11:00, so I just made the white chili myself. My husband went upstairs to do… I don’t know. Probably something very important and useful, like paying bills. (This sounds snarky but it is not meant to be; I am honestly trying very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.)I got Carla dressed. I had made the guacamole and salsa the previous day, so I started dicing and chopping the toppings for the chili while my husband made lunch. I made lunch for Carla and coaxed her into eating it. I cleaned up lunch. I went and took a shower. I came downstairs and noted that I was supposed to make a roux for the white chili, to thicken it. My husband said it wasn’t necessary. I looked at the clock and told my husband he needed to get going. (He and I have VERY different understandings of time.) He went and took a shower. I made the red chili. He left for his errand, which I extended because I wanted him to grab me some flowers for the dinner table. It was an hour and a half until four, when our guests were to arrive. I encouraged Carla to move her toys from the living room to her bedroom. I chopped more things. I realized that we didn’t have enough spoons for dinner, so I ran the dishwasher through a quick cycle. I dried my hair and put on makeup. I cleaned up the kitchen. I ran a load of dish towels. The white chili was very watery. My husband was still gone, so I texted him asking if I should do the roux. Carla was running around asking, every five minutes, when her friend would arrive. I worried about drinks; I didn’t know if this couple drinks alcohol, so I had brought home a six-pack of unobjectionable beer and I had a bottle of wine in the fridge just in case. I worried about the kids – Carla won’t eat chili, but my friend said her kids eat anything… but what if they don’t? I washed some berries and some cherry tomatoes. I texted my husband to also grab some La Croix and a box of macaroni and cheese at the store. I unloaded the dishwasher. My husband texted me pictures of flowers and I picked a bouquet for him to bring home. I put out the salsa, chips, and guacamole. I cleaned out the sink. I fretted over whether I needed to cut some vegetables to put out with the chips. I decided against it. My husband got home with about fifteen minutes to spare. I asked him to choose some music for people to listen to. He said he wanted to put the football game on. I asked him to put music on the Amazon Echo while the game was on mute. I cut and arranged the flowers. I asked about the roux again. My husband looked at the chili and agreed it was watery. He started the roux. I cleaned off the counter. This is the most boring catalog of menial tasks ever. I realized I had failed to brush my teeth at all that day, so I ran upstairs to brush them. Carla shrieked that her friend was here. I snapped at my husband to put some music on like I’d already asked him to. He whisked the roux while Carla and I opened the door and invited our friends in.

I felt like I was busy every single second. (Is this a NORMAL level of busy? Are other people this busy in the day leading up to their dinner for guests?) (I don’t think so. Sometimes we go to dinner at the house of friends who were out at the zoo all day or had a birthday party just prior to having us over or who just said goodbye to week-long houseguests the night before. I COULD NEVER DO THOSE THINGS. I need to have plenty of space between guests, first of all. And then I also need the WHOLE DAY to complete my anxious preparations.)

These most recent dinner guests are newish friends, so we don’t know them super well. So while I was chatting with them and munching on chips, I was worrying about whether they’d like the food, and whether it was weird that I’d planned for us to all sit down at the table together. And I was fretting about timing – I’d planned for the kids to play for an hour or two, and then we’d sit down to eat; but was that making them wait too long? How long would they want to stay? Should we set up Guitar Hero for them to play? Should I try to herd everyone into the living room?

Carla was at Excitement Level 8 Billion, which translated into lots of running and shrieking and leaping off furniture. So I was also fretting about whether I was being too restrictive of the kids or not restrictive enough. Was it okay that we kind of shuttled the kids into the basement and all the grown ups stayed upstairs? Would they have preferred if we interacted with the kids more?

They left fairly early (seven thirty?), which of course made me worry that they weren’t having fun. But… it also seems like a reasonable amount of time for people to stay? I don’t know.

And the wife helped me clean everything up which makes me very uncomfortable. But she was very swift and practiced at it, so I didn’t even really have a chance to protest.

I think the dinner went okay? We had plenty to talk about, people ate the food, the kids had a raucous time which I think likely translates into fun. But man.

I really need to find some way to make it less stressful.

Some people think the way to make it less stressful is to not stress about it  but that is really terrible advice coming, I suspect, from people like my husband who are naturally low-stress people. I cannot help it. My mind begins whirring and if I don’t address the whirring it grows louder until it drowns out all other functions.

Some people might think I should just do it more often. But the anxiety around hosting happens even with people who come over ALL THE TIME – like my parents and in-laws, who come over several times a year between them, and with family friends that we have over for dinner four or five times a year or so (we swap houses every couple of months, so they are hosting us just as often). I am telling you, IT DOES NOT GET EASIER WITH PRACTICE. (The only thing that gets easier is that I worry less about the state of my home with frequent guests, because they have already seen it.)

The techniques I’ve tried, with, as you see, little success are:

  • Make things as simple as possible. (I need to work on keepingthem as simple as possible.)
  • Do as many things in advance as possible.
  • Enlist family members to help – and assign them specific tasks. (Possibly I need to also assign specific times, too.)
  • Try to only address things that are reasonable to address (i.e. NOT painting my fireplace).
  • Remind myself over and over that as a guest at other people’s homes, I don’t care about half the things I worry about people caring about.

We met a new couple a few weeks ago and I promptly asked the wife for her number so I could ask them to dinner and then actually followed up. They are coming for dinner in a few weeks. Which gives me AMPLE TIME to stress…. Or to come up with some real techniques for NOT stressing.

What do you do, to ensure that you are low-stress when you have guests over? What are your techniques for keeping things simple and fun? Should I just never invite people over again? That last one seems good, except for the dinner that’s already on the books. And I might as well TRY to overcome this Preparation Anxiety, because I inevitably start wishing I could throw a dinner party or something. WHY DOES MY BRAIN HAVE TO BE THE WAY THAT IT IS?

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Halloween is not even a week in the rear-view and I’m already dashing headlong into Thanksgiving preparations! It’s coming up in two weeks, people! This is not a drill!

This morning in a fit of… something, probably lack of desire to exercise… I took down and put away all the Halloween decorations and replaced them with my meager Thanksgiving decorations.

I love decorating for the season, and I really enjoy Fall Décor specifically, but I have a very hard time paying $25 for a wooden pumpkin, even if it’s handpainted, and even if I really like the pumpkin and pine for it each year at this time. Oh well. I keep it in my Etsy shopping cart for annual admiration, hoping each year that the shop will have a massive sale and I’ll be able to get it for $10.

You know who has surprisingly good seasonal décor? Michael’s, that’s who. I usually spend a morning in early fall, or, as seasonal buying seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, in early summer, wandering through Michael’s, admiring the stuffed scarecrows and fabric owls and tabletop gourds. Would my life be vastly improved by tabletops gourds? Probably not, but I imagine them in my life just the same.

(photos from Michaels.com; although they are all on DRASTIC sale they are not available online and very possibly not available in store either; cute nonetheless)

I don’t really know what more I NEED, by way of fall decorations. I have a plain orange pumpkin that I use to bridge the decorating gap between Halloween and fall. I have a table runner with leaves. I have a small wooden pumpkin. I have a small wooden “gratitude tree” from which Carla hangs little paper leaves on which she’s written things she is thankful for. I have a wooden welcome sign for my front door in the shape of a leaf. I removed the jack-o-lantern faces from the pumpkins, so they are sitting on the front stoop, pretending like they were meant to be fall pumpkins and not Halloween pumpkins. I have two or three ceramic leaf bowls that I can never really figure out how to incorporate; they are not quite deep enough to be candy dishes, so I think I generally use them to hold cashews or pistachios when we have Thanksgiving guests. I have a plastic Thanksgiving plate and bowl for Carla, although she may be too big for them. I saved the fall window clings from last year. I have some small wooden leaves that I don’t know how to use – but I’ll find a way, mark my words; I used small wooden pumpkins on all the windows for Halloween and they are fall-ish enough to stay through Thanksgiving.  I have a couple of fall hand towels.

It sounds like more than it is.

Oh! I also have a handful of colorful cloth leaves that I usually toss onto the Thanksgiving table. But this year, I used putty to stick them to my kitchen walls.

I don’t know if I love it; give me a day or so to think about it. (Who am I kidding? Now that they are up they aren’t coming down unless the putty gives up and they fall off themselves.)

What else could I possibly want, right? Especially because I am picky about decorations. I don’t like anything that’s made out of that scratchy material – what is it, sisal? I don’t like anything with words (my “welcome” door sign notwithstanding). I don’t generally like turkeys or pilgrims. Really, I’m a leaf and pumpkin girl, and I tend toward wood. And there are only so many wooden leaves and pumpkins a person can scatter about her house without feeling like they’re closing in.

It’s not just the decor that has me in a frenzy; it’s the food. Thanksgiving is so early this year! My parents arrive a week from Friday, which is very exciting but also makes me feel a little panicked. I need to come up a meal plan for while they’re here. The one thing I know for sure is that we’ll have this chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup for dinner the night before The Big Day. At least I have already ordered my turkey – which reminds me, I need to call and request that my turkey arrive a day earlier; DONE. – and I have dusted off my Thanksgiving Timeline. That helps a teeny little bit. I can’t really do much more until my first round of Thanksgiving shopping.

I am feeling a little bit devil-may-care this year about the food. If you know me at all, you know that I am a Huge Kitchen Control Freak and do not like anyone else in the kitchen with me. But I am also realizing that I don’t actually like any of the food on Thanksgiving – except for the garlic goat cheese mashed potatoes and gravy, which I make by the bucketful – so why should I care so much about working myself to exhaustion while insisting on making the entire meal without ANY help from my family lovingly preparing it all on my own? My mother and father both like to help. Why not let them? Such a novel idea! However, jury’s still out on whether I will actually be able to turn over the reins.

While I am throwing Thanksgiving caution to the wind, I am also contemplating doing things differently. Perhaps if I made a pie I actually like – apple, maybe! or a fall version of this plum torte that I have been dreaming about since I made it this summer – I would enjoy pie! Maybe if I made some sort of wonderful Brussels sprout recipe or a delicious mushroomy mac and cheese, I would be able to fill my plate with more than my traditional pile of mashed potatoes and a slim slice of turkey!

This is not new; I have contemplated doing things differently in the past and then stuck with our family traditions. Therein lies the problem, of course: our traditions are so ingrained beloved that we’re not going to change them. Which means that I wouldn’t be lessening the cooking load at all. I am still going to have to make dressing, because it’s my husband’s favorite. I am still going to have to make pumpkin bars, because people want something pumpkin-y at Thanksgiving. And I don’t know that I have enough bandwidth – not to mention enough oven space – to add something else to the mix.

So probably all this wild and reckless and altogether deviant thinking won’t go anywhere, and I’ll do what I’ve always done. It’s fun to think about, though.

The one shake-up I am contemplating that stands the best chance of actually happening is the gravy. I love gravy so very much. And the last time I made it, it was amazing. It was this deep mahogany elixir of the gods that I would have been happy to drink by itself. But it’s finite, you know. And you have to share it with the other people at your Thanksgiving table.

So I’m wondering if I might try to make some gravy in advance. I keep seeing suggestions for doing this, and it doesn’t look terribly hard. I mean, you have to procure chicken or turkey parts/carcass in advance, which troubles me a little. But I could probably buy some chicken wings or legs for not too much money and roast them for the gravy. And I would still make gravy on Thanksgiving Day, don’t you worry. This plan is designed to produce EXTRA gravy, not less work. I want to be eating mashed potatoes and gravy well into December, is what I’m telling you.

Well, I have a little time left to fit it into my Thanksgiving Timeline. If it works out, I’ll let you know.

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Because I firmly believe that my mother and I cannot possibly be the only two people in the world who are the way we are, I am going to make a Vast Generalization about appetizer serving.

There are two kinds of people: The people who put out the entire bag of chips, and the people who put out half of the bag and then refill as necessary.

The people who put out the whole wedge of cheese, and the people who cut a wedge of Brie in half, and put out half and put the other half in the fridge.

The people who put out the whole jar of salsa, and the people who scoop half the jar of salsa into a smaller dish and put the rest in the fridge, adding more salsa from the fridge as the dish gets low.

And on and on.

The reason I am a Refill Person is twofold:

1.) I am germ-averse, and so I don’t like the idea of saving something that other people have been nibbling on. If it’s chips, I don’t want to re-bag a bunch of chips that people’s hands have been in contact with. If it’s dip, I don’t want to put away and then eat something that other people have been dipping (and possibly double-dipping) into.

2.) I don’t want to waste food. If I put the whole container of hummus out on the table and people nibble at it for a couple of hours, I am not going to want to put the rest of it back in the fridge for future consumption. First of all, see item 1 in this list. Secondly, it’s been out in the air, gathering bacteria and getting warm. Yuck. Extra yuck if it’s a mayonnaise/cream based dip. Or guacamole. Or cheese. If I put out only part of what I have to offer, I can always add more without the risk of having to throw away a large portion.

I acknowledge that there’s a disadvantage to being a Refill Person, which is that you need to be constantly vigilant that the chip bowl isn’t getting too empty. And you have to be keenly aware of the Eating Enthusiasm level of your guests – if it’s waning, you either let the bowl empty out, or you only put in a handful of new chips. If it’s still high, you can fill the bowl up to the tippety top again.

Okay, there’s a second disadvantage. In addition to the vigilance, you might end up spending a decent amount of time going back and forth to the kitchen/fridge to refill, which detracts not only from conversation with your guests (potentially a plus, I suppose, depending on the type of people you are entertaining) but (more importantly) from your own snacking.

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The other day my mind was wandering from topic to topic as minds do, and somehow ended up back in summer of 2000 when I decided I was destined to become a lawyer and my mother (a lawyer) decided that I needed some intervention more data points. So she sent me to California to spend some time with my aunt and uncle (both lawyers) to get a sense of whether or not it was the right field for me.

While I was there – touring their offices and going to court with my aunt’s brother (uncle in-law?) – I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s beautiful house in Beverly Hills. The guest room turned out to serve double duty as a TV-watching room for my three cousins. I have no idea how old they were at the time; whatever ages are known for Peak Rambunctiousness. But I remember very clearly that it caused me a great deal of angst to have them eating snacks and jumping around on my bed.

I am a very private person with a strong sense of personal boundaries, not to mention an introvert who needs – NEEDS – time alone to recover and recharge. And being around virtual strangers all day, learning about The Law in It’s Various Forms (my aunt did some sort of real estate law, my uncle did tax law, my uncle-in-law did litigation – I think; it didn’t really stick; clearly The Law was not my jam), away from home/college/familiar territory and routines meant that I was in severe need of my own space. So trying to grab a few minutes alone in my room, only to be bombarded by three noisy humans clambering all over one another was not especially fun. Not to mention feeling like my sheets would be full of goldfish crumbs or whatever they were snacking on/throwing at each other. Blech.

That experience really defined for me one of my personal Key Principles of Hosting: that your guest should have his/her own space. If I have a guest over, I will not for any reason go into the guest room. This is simple, because our guest room really has no purpose outside of baby clothing repository clean laundry dumping ground Guest Room. On the rare occasions during which we have guests, I want them to feel like they truly have a place to call their own.

(Sidebar: Other people don’t feel this way, I acknowledge. I have been a guest in a home where the guest room has a Working Closet, and the hostess feels comfortable coming in to retrieve clothing from that closet whenever she needs to. Which I get! It is her house! But it still makes me uncomfortable. [However, I also come from a place of not wanting people to be in my bedroom EVER, and this woman is comfortable popping into my bedroom to look in the full-length mirror or to borrow my hairdryer from my personal bathroom without asking.] [There is a hairdryer IN THE GUEST BATHROOM!] [Also, many people BRING THEIR OWN HAIRDRYERS when they travel!!!] [People have different comfort levels and different boundaries and different expectations.] [My blood pressure is rising. Kittens. Birds bathing in puddles. Gentle rain. Babies sleeping with their rears in the air.])

The problem is that we have two bathrooms. I mean, this is great, right? One bathroom for me and my husband, one for our guest. But… the non-master bathroom is Carla’s bathroom.

When we have guests, I have tried to be conscious of the Shared Bathroom issue. Instead of leaving Carla’s foam letters and numbers all over the tub as we do on a normal night, I would put them away in the closet. But our guests were still sharing a bathroom with her.

And maybe that’s… not in line with my Hosting Philosophy? Maybe we should have Carla share OUR bathroom the next time guests stay here (which, at the rate we host people, could be in five years)?

I guess this question just popped out at me when I was thinking back with such displeasure at having to share my bedroom with my cousins. Have I been making guests feel uncomfortable by having them share a bathroom with Carla?

Of course, it probably depends a great deal on the guest. But I think if it were ME, staying at someone else’s house, I would want my own space.

This is why I plan to mainly stay at hotels. But the topic of hotels is a whole different post. (Sometimes it is not practical. At my parents’ house, for instance, where the nearest hotel is many miles away. Or at my in-laws’ house, where they have an entire separate WING for guests and the nearest hotel costs $500 a night.)

I would be very interested in how other people approach hosting and guesting. Where do you stow guests at your house? What’s the bathroom situation like? What kind of expectations do YOU have for your situation when you stay with someone else?

And I have Strong Feelings about other aspects of hosting/guesting, but for now I am trying to stick very closely to Issues of Personal Space.

Sigh. I feel like I should qualify things – like I need to say, “Of course, I know this all sounds spoiled and picky! And if someone is kind enough to open her home to me, I should be gracious and grateful for whatever the accommodations are!” And YES. Of COURSE. My dear friend Ilse has invited me and Carla and my husband to her house this summer, and we are going. But Ilse has no guest room, so we’d end up either displacing one of her daughters or on the floor of the living room, and there’s only one bathroom. That situation would make me so uncomfortable, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. So we already have our hotel BOOKED.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that MY hosting/guesting philosophies are purely a result of MY personality. And I am DEEPLY INTERESTED in how other types of people see and handle the same kinds of situations.

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