hostessAmericans 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!)

Pre-Party Panic

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 Wannabeshostess

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.