Americans gobble up parties and social events like Christmas, New Year’s, and the Super Bowl. But I wonder how many home entertainers are the hyperventilating hostess like me. I wish I could say she’s a costume character I invented almost two decades ago when I first confessed to being her. Nope. The hyperventilating hostess is no alter-ego. On many a social occasion, she IS me.
I’m the gal who when guests are about to arrive, I find myself all at the same time blow drying my hair, brushing my teeth, staring at my stressed face in the mirror, and racing through a pleading prayer of “pleasedon’tcomeearly, pleasedon’tcomeearly.” I am the woman who always mad dashes and multitasks my way toward the entertaining finish line.
In my crazed convivial crunch, I sometimes chuckle to myself at the absurdity of my fussing and fumbling to get everything just right for a group of friends who’d accept me with damp hair and broccoli sticking in my teeth.
Hostess with the Mostess?
As I’m preparing this weekend to host my 25th or so Oscars party for former co-workers, I am reminded of a magazine article that I once wrote about my tendency to seek perfection in my entertaining. I sure have eased up on my party preparations over the years, but I still have my air-gasping moments of trying to do it all before company arrives.
So take a minute and enjoy my updated “Confessions of a Hyperventilating Hostess” article. Learning to bend and flex in your hospitality is one gift to give yourself . . . and your guests. And I hope the next party you host is more about kicking back with loved ones and less about kicking into overload. So get off your feet and bon appétit!
I confess. I’m the woman who nearly hyperventilates whenever I expect guests. We won’t talk about what I do when people show up unannounced. Before company comes to my door, I’m the woman who painstakingly inspects the top of the toaster for crumbs and the top of the fridge for dust. (One never knows when a tall, handsome, single man may show up!)
Yes, I’m the woman who frets about smudges on the freezer door handle, a wrinkle in the guest bath towels, and lumpy pillows in the spare bedroom. When it comes to entertaining, a bazillion thoughts zip through my frazzled mind: Is the toilet paper rolling from the correct side? What if the ice cubes in each glass melt before we sit down to eat? Did I donate all those wire hangers in the coat closet?
I can hear Jesus’ words from the book of Luke ringing in my ears, “Martha, Martha . . . .” But wait. Was He referring to Martha Sisterofmary or Martha Stewart, organized sister of perfected elegance and home decor? I’m a bit . . . okay, maybe quite a bit . . . like Martha of old who “was distracted with all her preparations.” I know it’s admirable to practice hospitality, but I’m leery of any word whose derivative spells h-o-s-p-i-t-a-l. And with some of my cooking, there may be a correlation.
So here I sit with a borrowed stack of books about creative hospitality and marthastewart.com on my laptop. My goal? To better understand the how to open my home to others without becoming a harried hostess. I even have a vintage collection of Martha Stewart Living magazines, and according to her calendar for today I should be washing the north side of my house with bleach solution to prevent mildew; and soon it will be time to make quince jelly and pear butter. Hmmm…here’s an article on making your own cloth napkins. Martha’s really pushing it now.
Martha Stewart Wannabes
When it comes to napkins for my guests, I still use simple paper ones. But hey, at least I use the two-ply. Maybe someday after I learn to decipher the “mercerized, woven jacquard” language, I’ll give in. For now I’m holding out for the no-wash, no-iron cloth napkins that know how to fold themselves into fancy patterns.
So Martha, Martha, don’t talk to me about fanning napkins or stuffing them into crystal goblets. Who’s got time for that when you’re dusting crumbs off the toaster and rummaging through closets for wooden hangers?
Yet I do have an artistic flair. One Easter brunch I used floral paper napkins, although no one seemed to care. I think they were more intrigued with my ketchup dilemma. At brunches does one dare serve ketchup straight from the plastic squeeze bottle? No one seemed to mind at my last deck barbecue, but this was a religious holiday! In a pinch, I relied on my hostess instincts: Not if the flip-top is broken. So I oozed some ketchup into a pressed-glass compote (i.e. old jam jar) and added a clean spoon. Whew! It’s amazing what you can get away with when your guests are crunching down on their dried-out ham.
Or how can I forget my party where I burned garlic toast under the oven’s broiler. You can still see the charred outline of the bread slices on that warped cookie sheet. Yep, my culinary and hospitality feats include introducing guests to my fire extinguisher. Makes me wonder: Do I need extra home owner’s insurance for entertaining?
Forget the Ice Cubes . . . Just Chill Out
To assuage my hospitality jitters, I once interviewed a number of authors of hospitality books and one of them wisely shared, “Hospitality is really about making your friends feel that you want them in your home. You have invited people to enjoy them. They won’t really care if things are not perfect. So you need to keep your sense of humor and relax.”
Now that I can do. I may not be fond of wadding cloth napkins so they artfully spill from a Depression-glass epergne. And I may not be an aficionada of cooking with tahini sauce, but I do enjoy my friends — and we have fun together. My guest book reminds me that maybe I’m hospitable after all. “Good movie, good food, good time, good friend! Who could ask for more??! Beth’s Bed and Breakfast is one of my all-time favorite places!” writes one friend.
“It’s great having a home away from home; thanks for always being here for me,” writes another. And one comment that reminds me to let go of stodgy furniture rules: “Thanks for your hospitality—I love your couches and am so thankful to be able to put my feet on them.”
Letting your company put their feet up, and sitting at their feet if appropriate, is the spirit. No worries about crumbs on the toaster, no hyperventilating if the ice cubes melt. That’s a spirit of hospitality most of us can model.
Now, about that dust on the fridge and the toilet paper in the guest bathroom . . . .
Bending Tip of the Day: Chill out and place people before perfectionism.
Beth, I enjoyed this one as I am a Martha. However, being 63 and living in Georgia seven years and having many friends from church come over for meals I realize just knowing they want to come over to be with me and Wayne and talk for three hours about everything is what is important. I do the pre-meal adjustments but not nearly like I did when I was younger. I have to laugh as I’m going to Arizona to be with my brother and family in their house tomorrow for a week and know perhaps they did a glance over before I come.
Aileen, isn’t it refreshing to know that we can leave our younger-than-60 expectations and rules behind? I wrote that original article several years ago when I was still trapped in my hostess perfectionism. It seems like I always forget something along the way when I entertain these days. And as you now know, it’s totally okay. I love that your friends just want to hang out for hours with Wayne and you. Of course they do! If I lived closer, I’d be there too, maybe even sitting like a Mary at your feet listening and laughing right along with everyone else. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your wise words!
Beth, this is such an affirming post for me! I definitely share your anxieties in preparing for guests (even two). After I make sure the guest bathroom is spotless I close the door and post an “OUT OF ORDER” note on the door so my spouse will not dare to go in! Even water spots in my glass sink are unacceptable. Good for you for entertaining despite your anxiety. After all guests really don’t notice crumbs or dust because they enjoy your hospitality and being invited out!! Enjoy your party❣️
Shar, I love your honesty! And your perfectly practical “Out of Order” sign is creative and makes me chuckle. I think we do ease up on ourselves over time because we’ve come to realize our guests (even family members) don’t even notice the small details, the dust, the water spots. They truly just want to be with us. Maybe when we show that we are not perfect hostesses, it helps our guests to realize they can relax and not be perfect when we are in their homes. I think God’s grace goes a long way in our entertaining and in our relationships. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences, Shar!
Beth – I literally laughed out loud when reading “It’s amazing what you can get away with when your guests are crunching down on their dried-out ham.” WOW – God KEEPS bringing Luke 10:41, 42 to my attention recently. Oh, to sit and hang out with Jesus; the relationship will never be taken away. Oh to chill with Jesus. THANKS for the truth amidst your humor.
Oh, Debbie, I love that you liked that dried-out ham line. It really happened. We won’t talk about the time my mashed potatoes for a Christmas meal were way beyond lumpy and the turkey still pink inside. Sigh. Thank you for bringing us back to what really matters: just chillin’ with Jesus, just hanging with the incredible family and friends that He created. By the way, I ALWAYS love hanging out with the Krumlands and you make entertaining so natural and comfortable. (And, I have never once tried to look on top of your fridge, even with my stellar height.)
This is perfect, Beth Beth!!! And if German blood courses through your veins, you have no choice but to be a hyperventilating hostess…just like me. I can say this as I recall, just a few days ago, welcoming guests to our Superbowl party/dinner with wet hair and no socks on.
Edie, my wunderbar die Frau. You made me smile over your wet hair and bare feet. Heavens! I’m sure your friends just walked right on in and made themselves at home like I do so often. (Or, like I did later that night.) None of us care if you’re still putting yourself together when your parties start. I think we’ve all been there and that helps us ease up on entertaining expectations of others. Thank you for sharing your most recent real-life party experience. I know your guests were more focused on your fabulous food that your yet-to-dry hair and little twinkle toes.