Friday, August 29, 2008

Martha and Me on the Relaxed Entertaining of Overnight Guests...

I started to write this sometime last week and then dropped it. I'll finish it now and get busy around the house because, this evening, a houseful of guests-- including my absolute favorite young man, Aaron-- will be arriving for the weekend. I hope your Labor Day weekend will be lovely!


Somehow a library issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine ended up in my home in spite of the fact that I've been avoiding it due to its tendency to bring out my worst consumerist and perfectionistic tendencies. I must admit that Martha is talented and creative. She does good food and has some great ideas. I can see why people like her.

As I perused the magazine and read Martha's From My Home to Yours column on the relaxed entertaining of overnight guests, I could only be in awe of Martha, that Wonderwoman of a hostess, unflagging from early morning til late night.

Everything sounds so leisurely and fine for Martha and her guests, and she tells readers just how this is achieved:

Wander around in the morning in robe and slippers if you like. Hang out at the large kitchen table with a cappucino.Take a very early walk or hike (with the dogs). Or maybe a horseback ride. Then have a big, hearty, leisurely sit-down breakfast with all guests at the table (invite the neighbors, too). Make eggs to order and don't forget to pull out your vast selection of teas. And keep that large Italian espresso machine busy!

Then Martha finds many interesting things to do for the day (make sure you have a long list of activities to choose from). Keep your guests' needs in mind at all times, and make sure you have extra sportswear, shoes, and tennis rackets on hand in case last-minute guests have forgotten theirs. (You never know if they'll want to dash out to your private tennis courts for some vigorous early morning volleying!)

You should, according to Martha, thoughtfully consider all meals, carefully balancing the courses and timing. Don't forget snacks and cocktails. Healthy drinks should be served, too, after yoga. And there should always be fresh-baked cookies and fresh-squeezed juice.

Phew! At this point in my reading, I'm feeling like a real wimp of a hostess. If Martha and I were a Venn diagram, there would be no overlap.

When overnight guests come to visit my family, our house is clean and they can expect fresh towels and sheets (on my more accomplished days, I may have even ironed the cotton pillowcases, spraying them first with lavender spray; this, I think, might please Martha!). I've tried to plan ahead and think about logistics, but when people finally arrive at our little home, all bets are off and we take it as it comes.

I can't cook an even half-complicated dinner when we have overnight company because I'm too distracted by the fun conversation and activity to concentrate in the kitchen. I'm likely to leave the chicken out of the chicken pot pie. And with little ones running around, dragging toys and things everywhere, and people in and out and all around, with purses and books and laptops piled on chairs and tables and whatever space is available, the household demeanor is not conducive to a quiet meal before the fireplace (we'd have to crowd in front of the windowless woodstove anyway).

At mealtimes, we do clear the table of debris and pack as many chairs around it as will fit. No elbow room there, but it's cozy! My large espresso machine is a French press that serves 2 1/2 to 3 people at once. And I don't do eggs to order. I basically serve just one thing for breakfast when company is here, and that is often scones or muffins. (Oh, but I'll likely serve fruit or a smoothie, too, so I'm actually doing pretty well here.)

Toward the end of the article, Martha shares her entertaining secret: "I love to cook, but I generally have someone else do all the shopping and on big weekends with many guests, I have someone there to cook so that I can enjoy my company fully."

I've always felt fairly confident in my hunch that Martha wasn't the one scrubbing her toilets or cleaning the bathroom tile grout with a toothbrush. I couldn't imagine there was any way she did all of that cooking and entertaining of guests and then, afterward, went to the kitchen to scrub the tremendous mounds of pans and dishes. And who sweeps the crumbs and wipes up spills and mops the floors? It's not Martha because she is fully enjoying her company, and I think it's good of her to let us know that.

Martha's Relaxed Entertaining Tip: Hire help.

My Relaxed Entertaining Tip: Relax.

And overlook the mess, if necessary. Eat simply. Share the work with family and even guests. Have fun and enjoy your local area, but don't always go, go, go, do, do, do. It's also good to, at least part of the time, just be. Visit. Play games. And you might actually find time to bake those fresh, warm cookies and set out a pot of hot tea.