Welcome Home

October 2004

As a hostess and former caterer, I’ve been known to overplan. It’s taken me a few years – and a few stressful parties – to learn that while clients demand rigid attention to every detail, friends usually prefer just the opposite. In other words, I’ve mellowed out and finally learned to toss “to-do” lists to the wind. (Or at least tuck them into an inconspicuous corner.)

My last party was positively nonchalant. I didn’t ask for RSVPs, I asked everyone to arrive “around 3 p.m.,” and although I did a lot of cooking ahead of time, I consciously forbade myself from elaborate strategic plotting. At three o’clock sharp, I was not ready. But my friends were – streaming through the door in droves as I scrambled to throw on lipstick and comb my hair. There was not so much as a dish on the table, and the vacuum was standing in the middle of the living-room floor. Still, somehow it all felt great. I set people to work filling bowls and moving chairs, somebody fired up the stereo with a long-forgotten CD, and the party was under way.

In the end, it’s all about balance. Great do-it-yourself entertaining is marked by a sweet harmony between the best-laid plans and the whims of the moment, between the work involved and the payoff gleaned, between the vision of the host and the collective will of the assembled friends.