Cindy La Ferle on November 2nd, 2012
A smiling face is half the meal” – Latvian proverb
Now that November’s here, shelter magazines are already featuring stories on holiday entertaining. Here’s a favorite essay from Writing Home – reprinted with the hope that it will set the tone for a more relaxed holiday season at your house ….
The Secret of Stress-free Dinner Parties
My friend Pam knows the real secret of successful entertaining, and I wish I could be more like her.
Pam doesn’t spend weeks obsessing over what she’ll serve for dinner, nor does she turn her life inside-out when a carload of company arrives from Cincinnati for the weekend. And it’s not that she doesn’t care. Pam and her husband, Steve, genuinely enjoy hosting friends and family, which partly explains how they make it look so effortless.
I like to remember the winter evening my husband and I were invited to their home for an impromptu dinner with another couple.
“Wear something comfy, and don’t expect anything fancy,” Pam warned us. “We’re just having a casual meal before the holiday rush.” But that didn’t mean beer and pizza on paper plates. This was a real celebration of friendship.
Pam had dressed her table with a navy blue cloth and a simple homemade centerpiece of apples, tangerines, and pears. Around the fruit she lit a few votive candles. Before lifting a fork or a wine glass, Pam asked that we all join hands and give thanks for our years of friendship and the chance to slow down long enough to eat a meal together.
As promised, for dinner she served comfort food, including roast pork, a vegetable casserole, and spicy baked apples for dessert. The whole evening, in fact, was cozy and relaxed and nourishing — and Pam insisted she enjoyed it all as much as we did.
“We wouldn’t entertain as often if we felt we had to make a big deal out of it,” she told me.
I’m still trying to break the habit of making “a big deal” out of hosting company. The folks we typically entertain, after all, don’t expect a major production. But like many women I know, I was brainwashed into thinking that making dinner for company is synonymous with staging a photo shoot for a shelter magazine. I worry that my guests will scrutinize my housekeeping and discover my inner slob. And while I love to cook, I still worry that anything I serve, whether it’s meatloaf or Lobster Newberg, won’t turn out like the photos in the cookbook.
Of course, my feelings of culinary insecurity always rise like bread dough at holiday time.
Come fall, even before I’ve folded up the Halloween ghosts, I’m already fretting about Christmas decorations and turkey recipes. By mid-November, everything on my to-do list starts leaping around in my head like a chorus of nervous elves. And by the time the holidays are over, I’m thanking heaven that they are OVER.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Fussy entertaining puts everyone on edge and creates just as much pressure for guests as it does for the host. The quickest way back to sanity is to remind ourselves that most people are easily pleased with home cooking and real conversation. We don’t have to own Waterford crystal or serve meals worthy of a four-star chef. And the ones who truly enjoy our company aren’t judging us by our napkin rings.
Sharing an evening with good friends is a gift in itself when the occasion is heartfelt, the presentation simple. Pam and Steve figured this out a long time ago, and that’s why it’s always such a pleasure to gather at their table. — Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on January 19th, 2012
We have too little time to waste it in relationships that are not equal and mutually rewarding. Exchanging energy nourishes our souls.”
— Sue Patton Theole in The Woman’s Book of Spirit
In addition to getting my mother adjusted to assisted living — still a challenge — I’m devoting the month of January to organizing clutter. For starters, I bought a portable day planner for keeping track of my mother’s insurance info and medical appointments, plus dozens of other notes to myself.
The new planner now combines my personal data with my mother’s, all in one handy notebook that fits in my purse. While transferring names and numbers to the new pages, I remembered the following essay from my book, Writing Home. It was first published in a local column when I was a younger mom with a school-age child.
August 15, 1999; Reprinted from Writing Home.
Some things will always defy our control. Keeping a kid in the same shoe size for more than six months is one example; maintaining a neat, fully updated address book from one year to the next is another. I’m talking about the old-fashioned (not electronic) address books that keep us in social contact — the dog-eared pages we’ve crammed with birthday reminders, letters to answer, and cards announcing new addresses for relocated loved ones.
My own address book is a bit confusing, even to my husband, but it does have a system. For example, one page might be scribbled with little arrows and codes referencing another section of the book (“Look under H/Hill”). This usually means that someone has remarried and changed her name, or that a cousin has left for college or moved to his own apartment.
No matter how badly it’s organized, my address book is irreplaceable, especially during emergencies. This hit me seven years ago after my father died. One of the first things my mother and I did was comb through our address books to locate former coworkers, distant cousins, and old friends who needed to be notified of Dad’s passing. Each name, each address, was a chapter in my father’s history.
Your own address book is probably a chronicle of your ever-evolving relationships — an autobiography in progress. And since relationships are inherently messy, it stands to reason that your address book is messy too. Flipping through mine recently, I made the following observations:
– Reflecting the national average, many of my friends are divorced or working on second marriages.
– Divorce often forces us to choose between friends who used to be a couple.
– Having kids makes a huge difference in our social circle, not to mention the restaurants we frequent.
– The more people we know and love, the harder it is to send birthday cards on time.
– As we age, the line between friends and family starts to blur.
Catching up on the phone last week, Margaret, my former college roommate, and I decided that our midlife definition of “old friends” covers people we’ve known and loved unconditionally for at least half of our lives. They’re the first ones we call when the biopsy results come back or our kids win the big tournament at school.
That’s not to say I undervalue the various gifts my newer friends bring to the table. Some are skilled counselors or tireless cheerleaders; others are better at listening than advice-giving. One brings comic relief to every party, while another is the perfect companion for a silent retreat at a monastery. All have expanded my outlook and enriched my life, and I look forward to our future together.
But I’ve also found that while most of us change or evolve over time, our friendships don’t always change or evolve with us. One friend and I drifted so far apart in our interests that we might just as well have moved to opposite sides of the planet. Another disappeared without a trace after a heartrending divorce.
While every relationship has its low points, the stronger ones survive conflict as well as change of address. But I’ve learned it’s never healthy to cling to an alliance that has turned draining, one-sided, negligent, or destructive. As Emerson said, friendship should offer mutual “aid and comfort” through all of life’s passages. I think it should be fun, too.
A few people with whom I’ve lost touch or parted company are still listed in my address book. At one time, those relationships filled crucial gaps in my life and helped shape the person I am today. I still feel twinges of regret whenever I pause at the pages showing their names and numbers. And because there are a few good memories also attached to those names, I can’t quite bring myself to erase them. – Cindy La Ferle
Click here to read another column I wrote last spring on the benefits of maintaining healthy friendships.
– Writing Home can be purchased at Amazon.com and is available at the Yellow Door Art Market in downtown Berkley, MI. –