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I am renewing my lease today for another year at my apartment. My tiny apartment in the crowded neighborhood with terrible parking. I thought I would be out of there by now. I’m not sure that I planned to make that happen; it was just a meandering thought.

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(It looked so huge…when it was empty)

So here I am again, facing another year in a space that makes having people over particularly challenging.

When I had been in the apartment about a year, a friend who used to come to all my parties said, “You haven’t had a party in a while. When’s the next one?” And I didn’t have an answer. It didn’t seem like a big deal to invite 15 people over when I had a big kitchen and an extra bedroom for books and television. But with the office and the kitchen overflow and the living room all crammed into one room, we start tripping over one another when there are just six guests. There were only four of us Sunday night, and I still had to hop up on the couch at one point to let someone pass by.

The thought of the cookie party where at one point we had forty-something people present makes me want to crawl under the table and hide.

I am not willing to go another year without a party, though, so I’ve been thinking – what if the parties were all-day, come-and-go affairs instead of events with a beginning, middle, and end?

For example, when Maggie and I had Pie Weekend, we told people to come over any time. Sure, there were times that were busier than others, but we got to host small groups of people throughout the weekend, and it was fun. As an added bonus, people just ate whatever we had available at the time they visited (and we literally baked pies all weekend), so the pressure of having enough was off. Having enough was not a problem.

I’ve already started brainstorming the types of parties I would like to have:

  • Hemingway Day – Held on or around July 21 (Hemingway’s birthday), the menu would be simple but good (like his sentences) and laden with alcohol (like…well…Hemingway).
  • St. Patrick’s Day – A day of Irish food and drink, but really just an excuse to start my birthday celebration a day early.
  • Cookie Weekend – Some weekend in early-to-mid-December, combining my favorite things about cookie party (dress up, bring your own tin, and for the love of all that is holy take these cookies!) with my favorite things about pie weekend (communal baking and drinking).
  • Write-ins – Bring your work in progress, whether it’s a story, poem, art piece, etc., and spend some time on it, drinking good coffee or tea and eating delicious things while you work.

So we will see what this next year brings. It could be a failure. But it could be wonderful.

Cheese

I just sat here for ten minutes trying to come up with a witty title for this post. But then I said to myself, “Self, it’s finals week. Forget the wit and move on.”

Today, I’m going to talk about cheese.

I’ve been reading cookbooks lately – even more so than usual – and the recipes that get me the most excited are the ones where cheese is a significant part of the show. So when Andi suggested to our writing group that we write about cheese this week, I knew I could meet that challenge.

I love cheese.

I love the way it melts and oozes. I love the way it binds things together in my favorite baked comfort foods. I’ve already written my ode to goat cheese, but today, I bring you ten things I’m excited to try with cheese when classes are finished and I have time to cook again.

  1. Harvest Breakfast Braid – So I’m totally going to replace the cranberries with dried apricots and replace the apples with peaches (because seasons), but this looks delicious.
  2. Goat. Cheese. Risotto. If a person were to design the perfect comfort food for me, this would be it. And if I manage to have leftover risotto (because no to the fast risotto…just no)…
  3. Kale and Goat Cheese Risotto Cakes – I would like to think that I would make these for appetizers to share. But that would require me NOT to eat all the risotto and then NOT to eat all the fried things before the guests arrived. This might be the greatest feat of willpower I have ever conquered.
  4. Ham and Gruyere Thumbprints – A savory answer to one of my favorite cookies. We might skip the ham.
  5. Mediterranean Dip – Oh, feta. I love you so.
  6. Pizza Pasta Casserole – One big bucket of happiness.
  7. Caprese Skillet Eggs – I love this for sentimental multiple reasons. First, I just love a caprese anything. It’s hard to mess that up. Second, I love eggs. Third, one skillet = easy cleanup. This is something I would make when I wake up late enough to still want breakfast but it’s almost time for lunch.
  8. Breakfast Enchiladas – They had me at “cheese sauce.” And “enchiladas.” And “breakfast.” Basically, they just have me.
  9. Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta – WHAT?! There’s at least three kinds of happiness in that dish.
  10. Any (or all) of these grilled cheese sandwiches – Think you can’t improve on just bread and cheese? Click on that link and bask in the glory of how wrong you are. Deliciously, fantastically wrong.

What are some of your favorite things to do with cheese?

This week and next are the last two weeks of the semester (praise the lord hallelujah amen). This is what my free time looks like:

  • Grading
  • Cleaning to procrastinate grading
  • Putting on an episode of Big Bang Theory so that I can stay awake long enough to eat and then falling asleep on the couch in a weird position in the second half of the episode, causing me to wake up disoriented and sore an hour or so later
  • Grading some more
  • Daydreaming about all the things I will get accomplished when I am down to just one job for the summer
  • Making lists so that I don’t forget all the things I want to accomplish when I am down to just one job for the summer
  • Adding things like “eat snow cones” and “give myself a weekly pedicure” to the lists, because priorities
  • More grading
  • Frozen pizza, sandwiches, and cereal
  • Daydreaming about the food I’m going to make when I have time for more than frozen pizza, sandwiches, and cereal
  • Thinking, “Surely I am almost finished with grading…oh…nope,” followed by having a sad moment.

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My book bag runneth over.

Another thing I’m doing is taking a two-week break from the Invitation Series. It will return on May 19.

Ah, May 19. What a glorious day that will be. Sun shining, birds chirping, no classes. I’m so ready for the break.

Grieving injustice. Fighting the patriarchy. Talking to the kids about issues, ideas, and intersectionality.

You know – the usual.

Another April down. That’s a relief. I gave it the good college try with the April Love Instagram challenge, but I have missed the last week or so. I sure do have a lot of pictures of blankets on my Instagram. My MeMaw would be so proud.

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Words

It was a slow reading month but a good writing month. I finished the books for two of my three book clubs – Nora Webster and Unbroken – and I read Tara Owens’s Embracing the Body and Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse SabbathI enjoyed them all, especially the latter two. I wrote almost 35,000 words on Feast, which was not as many as I wanted, but I’m satisfied and still on schedule to finish in May!

Part of the reason that I wrote more slowly than planned is that I am at the stage of writing where I usually start getting better ideas for titles, which is to say that I’m having a lot more fun with it. What started as simply “Feast” has finally taken on its personality. I am currently sitting at “From Fret to Feast: Entertaining for the Socially Awkward.”

I’ve hosted a couple of people for my Invitation to the Table series, and I would love to host more. Submissions are still open!

Wellness

This week has been consumed with Nepal and Baltimore. There is so much &%^#%@ in the world. I am grieved and angry and anxious and restless, and so is my body. I need to find a way to engage and listen and process and still be able to sleep and keep food down. Haven’t done that very well this month.

Watching

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Hilarious. And awful. But awesome. I’m not sure how I would feel about it if I had escaped from a cult myself. But I watched the whole season in one sitting.

I have also enjoyed the Felines of New York. As a fan of Humans of New York and cat pictures, I am surprised that I didn’t think of this first.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s this weird thing. I’m not saying that I would actually text a goat picture to someone. Nor am I suggesting that anyone else do such a ridiculous thing. But if I were to get a message with a goat picture and a caption that said something like “Have a goat day,” I would not be sad about it.

Please don’t text me goat pictures. It would be funny the first time (okay – the first ten times. I really do enjoy goats.). But I can see it going into overkill very quickly.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Join us and tell us what you are into this month!

I can’t talk about what it means to be invited to the table today. Today, the fact that so many are shoved, beaten, shot, and barred from it weighs too heavily.

I can leave you with a few things I’m reading. That the images that get the most coverage are the ones aimed to condemn the violence of people destroying property but not the violence of people destroying lives is infuriating. That the peaceful protests of the majority are downplayed because it upsets the us-vs.-them narrative is unacceptable.

Karen Walrond – To my white friends who struggle with what to say

Lasana Hotep, via BKNation – “When people speak to the racial dynamics in these situations, they find themselves accused of ‘playing the race card’—a tactic that puts the victims of police violence on the defensive. We need to ask the question: How did the race card get in the deck?”

Orioles’ COO John Angelos defends protesters.

Andi Cumbo-Floyd on the importance of checking our privilege in these conversations.

If icons are part of your prayer life, consider some of Devin Allen’s images when you talk to Jesus about this.  And support Allen’s art.

Ugh. White people. Where are the people calling them animals?

Ta-Nehisi Coates – “When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse.” (thanks to A’driane Nieves for the link)

Jesse Williams – “Police and policies have been rioting on our bodies; destroying people & property every single day of your lives. But here you come….When the beaten, marinated in centuries of trauma, pain & distress, manage to muster a response, here you come squealing; revealing.”

Read. Share these stories of brutality being bought off and shoved under the rug. Question what’s going on in your town.

Rooster

Yesterday, I was planning today’s invitation post and put out a casual call to my fellow writers in the Coterie and the Andilit community for suggestions of books on entertaining/hospitality or cookbooks written by people of color, and they delivered. So now I’m buried in books and having the best time, and I’ll get back to you on that next week. Today, the group prompt from Andilit ties in nicely to invitation.

Somewhere in my neighborhood there lives a rooster.

He crows every morning between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. He might crow at other times, but I live around ten thousand college students who think they have to yell any time they’re awake (apparently), so if he does I don’t hear it. But at 6:30 in the morning, it’s blissfully quiet, and that’s when I hear him.

During the week, I’m already awake by the time he crows, but on Saturday and Sunday, he wakes me up. On those days, I lie in bed with my eyes closed and pretend that I live on a farm.

I imagine first that the hint of sunlight-to-come teasing the edges of my curtains is coming to me from across a field or a grove of trees instead of fighting its way over the top of the monstrosity of a building next door.

I imagine that my bedroom is in a farmhouse and look forward to having my morning coffee on the back porch.

I imagine what the view from that back porch would be. It’s a conglomerate image of my parents’ farm and vineyards and friends’ gardens and maybe it would look a little like this:

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And once I had finished my coffee, I would go back inside, and there would be my favorite thing about living in a real house with real space and room to entertain.

My dining room table.

This is the best part of my morning dreaming.

I picture elaborate meals I could serve. I see people sitting around the table.

I see myself dusting off all my serving platters to host parties again. I remember times when I met some of my favorite people for the first time at one of my own parties. I picture the get-togethers I used to have – having as many people as I could cram into the space available – encouraging guests to bring their own guests, because there was plenty to go around.

I miss throwing parties.

I miss having the space to welcome a lot of people.

I miss my guests having somewhere to park.

I miss the peace and quiet after they all left.

It would be easy to forget how much I miss living in a place better suited to my soul.

It would be easy, except for the rooster. He thinks he is inviting the morning, but he’s also inviting me to make some space to welcome people in again.

I am still taking submissions for my Invitation to the Table series. Email me your thoughts!

When I talk about invitation, I tend to focus primarily on the responsibilities of the person doing the inviting. The reason for this is that they tend to have most of the power in this conversation, so they have most of the responsibility.

There are other people in this conversation, though, and they also bear some responsibility. Like all relationships, the host-invitee relationship is two-sided.

Today we are focusing on what it means to show respect as the person invited.

It basically boils down to two things:

  1. Respond.
  2. Having responded, be true to your word.

Regarding response –

RSVP. Do it. Yes or no. It’s just not hard. Here’s the process:

  1. You receive an invitation. Congratulations! Someone wants you around for something!
  2. You answer the question – “Do I want to attend?” Be honest. If your answer is “meh” or some deep-seated feeling of dread, go ahead and say no unless it will ruin this relationship to do so (and you also care whether or not you ruin the relationship). If you are already feeling wishy-washy in what is probably that first, most-enthusiastic-you-are-ever-going-to-be-about-it moment, go ahead and decline so that you are not tempted to back out later (i.e., flake – see below).
  3. You answer the question – “Am I able to attend?” Pull out the calendar (and the budget, if necessary), and see if you are available. All the desire to attend in the world is moot if you cannot feasibly make it happen. For example, I might really want to go to my friend’s baby shower in Seattle, but I probably cannot afford the airfare. Or I have a wedding that same weekend in Dallas. So the answer (sadly) is that I must decline.
  4. Answer yes or no. I know that Facebook provides a maybe option. And I confess that I have been guilty of using it. But from the host’s perspective, maybe is a useless answer. That tells them nothing. You have basically said, “I see your request for a response, and I am intentionally not responding in any helpful way.” If the answer really is maybe – i.e., you have to check on something and get back to them – it’s probably better to leave it blank until you can confirm a real answer. Please do so as quickly as possible.

It really is that simple. Yes or no. Make your choice, and the earlier you can make it (so that they’re not having to scramble to go to the store when you suddenly say yes the day before), the better.

After you have made your choice, stick to it. We have all been on the receiving end of a flaky friend, so we all know how much that experience sucks. Respecting the host means trying not to be the cause of that experience.

First, let me be clear on what flaking is not.

It is not flaking to call and say, “I have to cancel. I’m sick.” This is presuming, of course, that you are actually sick. Otherwise, not only are you flaking, you are also lying. You’re flyking, which is the worst possible way to flake.

It is not flaking to text and say, “I have to cancel. ______ is throwing up blood, so we’re going to the ER.” That is an emergency. Please skip my dinner party to take care of that. Also, when you get a chance, text to give me updates, because I’m a worrier. Also, don’t text and drive [/end PSA].

Depending on the event, I would even go so far as to say that it is not flaking to OCCASIONALLY say “I am sorry. I had the worst day at work today, and I cannot be around other people one second longer.” Because there are some people who insist on rigidly sticking to a schedule, even though they come into it knowing that they will have a terrible time, and these people often ruin the good time others could be having with their obvious sullenness. Don’t be that person. You get a pass. Go have a nap or a beer with your TV.

You do not, however, get a pass every week. Frequent flaking inevitably sends a negative message. The message might differ slightly depending on various factors (e.g., type of relationship, length of relationship, etc.), but it ends up sounding something like, “You are not important to me, and I do not respect your time.”

[Aside – frequent declining might also give this impression. If you want to avoid that, but you really cannot fit their specific plan into your schedule, propose a counter offer. Pick another time to hang out so that they know that, while you can’t make their specific event, they are still important to you.]

Basically, the encouragement to not be a flake comes down to respecting your host and respecting yourself. Decide who you want in your life and behave accordingly. If you are making plans out of obligation rather than desire, please reassess your decision to do so. Contrary to popular belief, it is not nicer to string someone along, making and canceling plans with them until they magically pick up on the hint that you really don’t like spending time with them. Some people will never get that message, and the ones that do will resent you for it, because in the long run, it’s really a jerk move. It’s better to make a clean break, even though it might not feel better at the time.


What tips would you give to the person on the receiving end of an invitation?

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