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Invitation to Breathe

I’m working on Feast this month. I’ve changed the title to “From Fret to Feast: Entertaining for the Socially Reluctant,” because that seems to be the theme of most of the essays. There were other perspectives I’ve toyed with – entertaining as a single person, entertaining in small spaces, entertaining on a budget – and those perspectives are present in small doses. They weave their way into several of the snippets on party activities and stress.

But there is a distinct moment in the planning stages of every party I host. While I’ve never regretted having people over, and I usually have a great time when I do, I know there is going to be a time when my introvert heart digs her heels in and says, “Nope.” There is a moment during planning that I just want to scrap it all. There is a point where I throw my hands up and say, “What am I doing? I don’t like swarms of people. What am I thinking? Why am I doing this?!” I have even been known to rant to myself (or my co-planner) aloud.

This freak-out passes pretty quickly, but it always happens. So I am basically writing a manual to talk myself (and others like me) down when it does. Step one of talking myself down is to breathe.

The freak-out happened this week. I’m not even planning an event. I’m just writing a book about planning events. Last night, instead of writing, I poured myself a glass of wine and ranted, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m never going to finish this. It’s so dull. I am running out of time (which is ridiculous, because my timeline is pretty fluid).” Then I went to bed and dreamed of dancing chocolate bars, which I think is an appropriate metaphor for my life right now. It’s chock full of whimsical, random, WTF moments.

So now is the time to breathe.

When I’m planning a party, a breather looks like taking a shower and going to a movie or going out to dinner. In writing, a breather looks like a break. I’m going to put Feast aside for a week and a half (until Sunday, July 26, to be exact). I am going to use my normally scheduled writing time to read, schedule some blog posts, and take care of some things in my personal life that I really want to be present for. I may jot down notes or play around with menus (spoiler alert – eight meals and general party ideas to go along with them will be a part of Feast, which I think is the most exciting thing of all), but mostly, I will be focused elsewhere.

Is there an area of your life where you need to breathe? I invite you to do so. What does that look like for you?

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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.

magnificott

(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.

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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!

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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.

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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:

Suzanne-49

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!

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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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Today’s (and next week’s) installment of my Invitation to the Table series is a sneak peak at the Feast e-book (coming…eventually…to an e-reader merchant near you). For the next two weeks, we are going to talk about respect, because it’s not always just about whether you are invited or not.  Sometimes, it’s how you’re invited that counts.

Today, I am going to discuss how to be respectful as the person doing the inviting.

The behaviors that constitute respect can differ from person to person. What I consider respectful of my time (i.e., give me adequate notice) might not be as important or even feasible with someone who likes to be more spontaneous. So even with the following guidelines, keep in mind that you might have to adjust your tactics for the individuals involved. Invitation should be as much – if not more – about the invitee as it is about the inviter.

Showing respect to your guests is threefold:

  1. Respecting their time
  2. Respecting their needs
  3. Respecting their decision

First, let’s talk about time. People are busy. We may not like that we are busy, but the fact remains that we are. So the first part of respect is trying not to stress the guests out any more than their life already does by waiting too late to invite them. You don’t have to give people six weeks notice to have them over for dinner, but three days might be nice. Having a party? Send out the original invitation a month in advance. You can send a reminder the week of the party if you think people might have forgotten, but respect their time enough to give them a chance to plan ahead if they need to do so.

Another aspect of respecting people’s time is fighting the urge to talk it to death. I know it’s tempting to post every detail of the planning process on Facebook and Instagram feeds. And people will click “like” and encourage you when you do this.

But I’m going to go ahead and say what a lot of them are thinking, even as they click – there are such things as too much information and too many questions.

I appreciate one or two reminders. I appreciate directions to the event and generally knowing what to expect and specifically knowing what I should bring. I do not appreciate (read: I despise) ten thousand pictures or “Aren’t you excited?!?!” queries or ten reminders (seriously – who is that forgetful? And if they are, do they not have a calendar in their phone that could remind them and save the rest of us the pain?). The extent to which you badger me about your party is inversely proportional to my ultimate desire to attend.

Next – what are their needs? This isn’t always an easy question to answer, because a party’s existence is probably a result of the planner’s own needs. You have something to celebrate. You are launching a new business, and the kickoff needs to build your clientele. You haven’t seen them in a while, and you miss them. There’s nothing wrong with any of these motivations.

But what about your guests?

Celebrating a birthday or new baby or new marriage are usually incentive enough for friends and family to attend, particularly since these events traditionally involve cake. But if you are having a destination wedding, maybe keep in mind that some of your guests may have to choose between attending your wedding and buying appropriate clothes to wear to it, and getting you that fancy blender on your registry. No matter what they decide, remember to be gracious.

If you are having them over for dinner, what would they like to eat? Are they allergic to anything? Do they have special dietary needs? Do they recognize pot pie as the abomination that it is and would have a hard time being nice about it if you inexplicably chose to serve it?

If you are launching a business, how will that business serve them? I have been a direct sales consultant and have attended enough direct sales launch parties to last a lifetime. Your friends may be excited for you, but unless you are prepared to be satisfied with their one-time attendance and a token purchase, you need to make it all about them. And the truth is that your friends who don’t cook probably will not ever host a Pampered Chef party. Accept this, and again – be gracious.

Last, listen to their answer (or lack thereof).  Some people will RSVP with a “yes” right away. There are a myriad of other answers you may get, though. Learn to pay attention to them.

Most people will either not RSVP at all (I have feelings about this – tune in next week) or will RSVP “maybe.” Correct interpretation of these (non)replies can vary greatly. If it’s for dinner or something I obviously need a head count to plan for – I assume no if there’s no reply.  I will follow up with the aforementioned reminders, but I will fight the urge to overdo it just to force an answer. For a casual party where one more (or one fewer) attendee won’t make much of a difference, I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing it, but I still don’t expect to see them at the party. That way, I am not disappointed if they don’t show up and pleasantly surprised if they do, making it easy for me to treat them respectfully either way.

Some people will RSVP with a “no.” Take this as a definite decline. Do not try to talk them into it. Do not harass them by demanding that they tell you why. Their true answer might be that they just don’t want to because that fills up the one free night they have that month, but they may feel obligated to make up an excuse because you have pressed them for a reason. Awkward.


These general concepts translate to other types of invitations as well. If you are inviting someone to share their voice or be part of a process, you still need to respect their time, their needs, and their decision.

Are you giving them ample time to prepare their thoughts and make their decision, or did you spring it on them? Giving people plenty of time to decide (not to mention arrange their own busy schedule, secure childcare, familiarize themselves with the event and other participants in the event, etc.) is imperative if you want them to know that they are on your first-choice guest list.

What’s in it for them? Pay attention to the impression you are making. Are they invited because you value what they have to say, or are they just invited to serve your agenda? If the former, what specific things are you doing to communicate that it’s their voice you want, even (or better yet – especially) if it is a dissenting one. If the latter, reconsider your priorities. People are not props, and it’s disrespectful to use them as such.

And finally, respect their decision. Your platform/event/blog series/committee might be enriched by their voice in a way that no one else could do it. You might think they are the perfect person to join. But you don’t get to make their life decisions. Just because the match seems perfect on your end, that doesn’t automatically mean that it works for them on their end. They may decline because they have a prior engagement. They may decline because they have said yes to so many other things, and they know how to set healthy boundaries for themselves. They may decline because they don’t think it’s a good match and they just don’t want to do it. Their reason is not your concern (or your business); their answer is. Hear it; believe it; respect it.

What are some ways you have been respected (or disrespected) by someone who extended you an invitation?

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