Thursday, 29 December 2011

Top 10 Tips For Hosting! AKA The Things We Wish We Knew Sooner!

This is part 2 of a blog about hosting/guesting that came out of a discussion with my friend C.  Here's Part 1, if you missed it. are some ways we find ourselves in a rut when we host and here are some great ways out of them!

#1 - OMG - you're not ready when the guests arrive!  This has happened to you.  The doorbell rings and you are in your pi's or your sweats.  Oops.  Now what?  Right.  So - RULE:  one hour before the party is called to start you go in the shower NO MATTER WHAT.  No matter what you are doing, stop and go get ready.  No matter what.  No matter what.  Seriously.  You will come back to it.  If people are coming at 7, stop at 6 and get in the shower.  You may not be 100% when the first guest arrives, but you will be at last 90%.  Now, if you can pull it together sooner, do.  But don't leave it for later.  If you are co-hosting and can tag team - leaving one person to greet the first guests, that's great.  If not, be sure you are wearing clothes and not a towel with wet hair when the guests arrive.  Don't lie - it's happened.

#2 - Make a playlist (and check it twice)!  I'm a big believer in making playlists for each event I do.  It allows me to set the mood and not worry about music all night.  With an iPod or a computer's iTunes, you can pre-program the party from quiet to it's peak to quiet again.  I am also a big fan of  letting a good playlist run on shuffle.  I usually do one-two hours more music than the actual event to allow for skipping songs that seem to come on at inopportune moments!  Do a pre-party test to make sure that it's all working!

#3 - Do a party rundown.  I'm a schedule person.  I like to be realistic about what I can accomplish in a given time period.  (Well, within reason - I'm a bit of a chronic over-reacher, but I self-monitor!)  A list is great, but it doesn't tell you when you're going to do things, and usually at some point, you abandon the list, or it splits off into different lists, or you've just run out of time!  I like to do a rundown of whatever event I'm doing, that includes mine, and other's (if any) tasks at specific times - when to pick up pre-ordered items, when to put what in the oven, when to cook what, when to take the cheese out of the fridge, when to put the beverages in the fridge, when to start the music.  Start from the party time and work backwards.   It helps me stay organized without panicking.  (I generally expect to run 15-30 minutes behind schedule - if I'm running on or ahead of schedule, I check everything again to make sure I've not forgotten anything.)

#4 - Leave the easiest stuff for last, whenever possible.  Final touches on decorations, place settings or buffets, putting out ice, prepping lemons and limes, garnishing platters are awesome things to do at the last minute.  Not awesome things to do at the last minute:  major cooking (messy!), cheese plates (cheese wants to be room temperature when you serve - not refrigerator temperature), last-minute supermarket runs (being home when the guests come is a pretty good thing!).  Like everything in life - you'll feel best if you do the hard stuff first!

#5 - Include options.  Lots of people are gluten free, meat free, wheat free, alcohol free and many people have food allergies.  Make sure to have some foods that don't have meat or dairy, and don't rely exclusively on bread products (pizza, crackers, bread, pot pies, pigs in blankets, sandwiches).  Have some sparkling water for people who don't drink alcohol, or stay away from sugars.  It doesn't have to be harder, or more expensive if you plan in advance.  One option is to separate foods so people can combine them in a way that works for them.  I also love using fruits or vegetables instead of bread or crackers with cheese - pear slices, cucumber slices, roasted tomatoes, sliced cooked potatoes - all can be an alternative.  Non-dairy alternative spreads can be as easy as hummus, tapenade, caponata, pesto (w/o parmesan!).  I like to be sure I have at least one thing that everyone can eat or drink on hand.  Don't go crazy - if someone can only drink sulfite-free wine, they should probably bring it themselves.  You don't have to make the party perfect for everyone, but it's always good if you can not make it unpleasant for anyone!

#6 - Check the fridge and the oven one last time as the guests arrive.  I find there is always one item I am about to forget to serve.  (Previous to implementing the double-check, I'd usually find the item after the party or the next day.)

#7 - Don't start drinking until your guests do - at the earliest.  For obvious reasons.

#8 - The art of the disengage - You know the guest - the let's catch up right now I haven't seen you in 2 years cause I can't make plans but now that I'm here I want to hang out with you, you, only you and besides I don't know anybody else while you're trying to host a room full of people.  Yeah.  That person.  What to do?  As a host/hostess, you will eventually be saved by the bell -- the doorbell, the phone ringing, or some other necessary task to attend to.  However, sometimes that is not soon enough.  You are standing there holding two coats to put away, 3 drinks to distribute and your friend is now telling you about having to put down her sick cat.  There are some moments you just have to stay present to - if the guest is oversharing (for the situation), dampening the general party mood, or just super-needy, you may have to ride it out.  If the guest is socialy clingy, not a great party person, or otherwise uncomfortable, there are ways out.

Introducing guests to each other is always the best strategy.  As soon as a guest comes in, I like to make sure they have at least 1 other person to talk to.  Throughout the event, it's great to keep introducing people to each other.  This makes for a great partier, easier entertaining in the future, and sometimes some interesting things occur.  If another guest comes up to you while the monopolizing guest is monologuing, it's a great opportunity to introduce them, and after a conversation takes hold, excuse yourself to attend to your hosting duties.  If not, then it's really okay to say, "I'm so sorry - I would love to hear about this, and talk to you more, but I've got to (check the oven, chill the champagne, run away to Fiji)..."  You may also try things like, "May I freshen your drink?" - which will change the mood and possibly your location - or "I would love to hear about this - I've got to do something in the kitchen, feel free to join me if you don't mind that I'm going to work while you talk" -- usually they will get the message, and if not, at least you can continue being a host!

#9 - How to make the party over - so...if you're like me, people don't want to leave your parties.  The subtle hints don't seem to work.  You get up and start clearing things, or doing dishes (which seems rude, but oh well).  Your roommate/co-host/partner goes to sleep.  Still, there are stragglers.  A secret I learned way too late - make coffee.  Apparently, coffee is the international symbol for 'the party is basically over,' everything after this is just you having coffee, tea, an after-dinner drink and leaving.  Yup.  The amazing thing is - it works. Even for a cocktail party, one where you didn't serve dinner.  Even if no one actually wants coffee. (Hint:  make it anyway, it's the making of it that seems to do the trick.)  This means you need coffee, some kinds of creamer and sweeteners, decaf something, and tea on hand.  But it's worth it.  You'll never need enough for everyone, so don't sweat it too much.

#10 - Lastly - have fun yourself!  The best way to make a party great is to enjoy it - the people, the food, the drinks, the entertainment.  Laugh a lot and enjoy the energy you've created.

Feel free to leave your tips below!

Monday, 26 December 2011

Quote of the Week - Chopra

"The shadow exerts its power by making the darkness seem like the light."

Found this one to be interesting.  It is certainly true of a kind of movie villain that we fall for - say Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger's Jokers.  We know they are bad, but they are so much more interesting than the good guys. I mean who do you want to hang out with -- fake gravelly-voiced Christian Bale or Michael Keaton, or somebody who knows how to make you laugh?  Bruce Wayne is sure rich, but b-o-r-i-n-g.  As was the 6-minute Dark Knight Rises teaser trailer.  But that's just me.  The boys all seemed to like it.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Don't Be That Guest! A Hostesses' Guide To Being A Great Guest!

Oh - I was so meant to do this blog weeks ago, after a conversation with C about hosting and guesting, but I forgot.  It's holiday time, and honestly -- these are things you need to know!

You may think you don't do these things, but probably you do.   I even do some of them when I'm the guest and not the host.  I don't mean to, but there it is.
Add caption we go...there's an invisible "please" before each of these -- we are, after all, here to serve you.

#1 - DON'T call/text/email/otherwise HARASS (yes - that's what it is!) the host/hostess an hour before the party call time.  "I'm on my way!"  "oooh - left directions at home - can you text me?"  "I'm not feeling well - so sorry can't make it."  We.  Don't.  Care.  We have 20 (10, 30, whatever) people who are going to come, who did bring their directions, who are descending within an hour and we probably have an hour and a half's worth of stuff left to do and  are probably not showered or dressed.  Stopping to talk, text, or whatever with you, right before the party uses up valuable time.  Most likely, our hands are full of whatever we're making and we can't even grab the phone.  Please - just be on your own recognizance!  If you can't make it, send an apologetic email or text or pick up the phone TOMORROW!  We'll be much happier to talk to you then.  If you've got mad pre-party issues - try calling a few hours ahead.  Please.  (You think you don't do this?  You do. I myself did it to someone yesterday.)

#2 - DON'T be the early guest!  If the party is at 7 and you show up at 6:30 - you have just cost the host/hostess half an hour of prep time!  Talk about panic-making!  Now she/he has to talk to you, get you a beverage, make you feel comfortable, instead of, oh, say, getting dressed for the party?  You can be the early guest if you are the bestie of the host/hostess, if you are co-hosting or willing to do so or if you are there to help.  If you are going to be one of those things, it's nice to say that you are coming early, or need to come early, or ask if it's ok.

#3 - DON'T need to use the oven and other kitchen space and items without clearing it beforehand!  If you need to use the oven - a crucial item there is usually only one of and only able to be at one temperature at a time - let the host/hostess know in advance!  He/she is busy roasting vegetables and you've brought an unbaked quiche!  Oven planning can happen, but not if the host/hostess does not know.  Likewise if you are not bringing the salad, but the ingredients to the salad, and - oh by the way - do you have a salad bowl,  or if you are planning to concoct your special drink on the spot.  It's so difficult trying to accommodate a guest cook in the kitchen when you are already using every possible item and spot.  (If you do need to cook/assemble at the party venue, try to bring the items you need with you - mixer, bowls, etc.)

#4 - DON'T hover in the kitchen (especially early in the party).  This is a bit of a grey area.  If you are the first one there and the host/hostess is in the kitchen, well, where else should you be?  If you are also cooking/assembling, you need to be there.  Don't get underfoot, and don't talk so much that the host/hostess gets distracted from their task.  Or talk so much that they can tune you out!  JK.  Feel free to offer help, but don't expect them to have any idea how to make you helpful.  If there are lots of people in the kitchen, and the host/hostess can just get on with what they need to do (and are not super-crowded in), then it's all okay.  I mean, if everyone is doing it...

#5 - DON'T bring just a bottle of your favorite soda to a pot luck.  Or whatever an alternative equivalent might be.  This happened at a party where many people came together to create an event for someone, and it looked and felt as though the person bringing it just didn't care at all.  If it's a pot luck, chances are the host/hostess will provide basics - or assign them out - and is expecting people to bring something a little more substantial.  Some people really want their drink at a party and need to own that and bring it.  That's great - but the idea of a party where everyone contributes is diversity and sharing.  Now, if your wallet feels empty and this is all you feel you can bring, you know, that is what it is.  You can tell the host/hostess in advance, you can ask if there's something they really need - ice , lemons, limes (all so cheap - around a dollar - less than the soda) - that saves them remembering or a trip to the market.  If you just don't cook and have no food sense, the previous list is also a great one.  Not trying to sound judgmental about what people want to bring, but it felt like an opt-out, or a what's the absolute least I can do choice.

#6 - DON'T monopolize your host/hostess!  They know you like them and want to talk to them, or you probably wouldn't have come (unless you need an introduction to that producer, are stalking one of their friends, or need a free meal.)  Here's how it works - you walk in, they take your coat (if you have one) or tell you where to put it and ask you if you want something to drink.  They chat with you for 35 seconds and then they go get your drink (or try to).  Meantime, someone else has arrived and the host/hostess needs to do this whole thing again.  So, if you want to download your whole day, week, year on them, it means 1)  you're standing in the doorway holding your coat and anything you brought to the party (hostess gift, regular gift, bottle of wine food) 2)  you're not getting your drink anytime soon 3) a traffic jam is soon forming 4) you are stressing out your host/hostess.  A good host/hostess will get each guest situated and introduce (or re-introduce) them early to at least one other guest - you should have a starter conversation to work from.  You can go back to your host/hostess later in the party, but again, keep it short.  A good host/hostess is all about making everyone happy - not themselves, and not just you.  There are drinks to be refilled, dirty things to clear.  Of course, if they have a staff, well, that is different - they have a lot more freedom to socialize.  But it's still their job to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable.

#7 - DON'T be the last guest at the party!  Most events have a 4-5 hour life span (maybe not open houses - those can be much longer, or summer bbq/pool parties).  If the event was called for 8pm and it's 2am and you are still there, and everyone else has gone home...GO HOME!  The host/hostess is probably exhausted from shopping, cooking, hosting, chatting.  There is probably tons of clean up to do.  They are probably thinking about their bed while you ask for another scotch.  So...if you're not trying to get with the host or hostess, GO HOME.  If you are trying to get with the host or hostess, well, you really do need to make sure that they are reciprocating.  If you are the last one there and the host/hostess starts cleaning up, either TAKE THE HINT AND GO HOME, or at least, help!  The last guest who won't go, who watches me clean up is always also on my last nerve.  No matter how much I may love you other times, I want you to leave now.  Remember, always leave them wanting more.

That's the list, thanks to me and C, if I didn't forget anything.  While I don't usually use words like "don't" around here, well, it's meant to be helpful.

We also have a list of host/hostess tips.  I'll do that one...soon...if you remind me.

If you've got any tips to add, please put them in the comments!


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Practivist of the Week - Queen Sheba

Editor's note:  It's true - we've been sadly devoid of our weekly practivist features for a while.  Maybe it's cause all those practivists are working too hard to take the time to answer some silly questions.  So, yay to Sheba, who answered the questionnaire I sent her, oh, ages ago.  She's so focused on her practivism, she hasn't at all let you in on how incredibly cool, talented, and hard-working she is, but if you click on her name, you can get to her website.  Then you'll wonder how she even has time for this running stuff.  P.S.  If you know a practivist - or are a practivist - get in touch!

There she is!  Waving and smiling!
Queen Sheba

How old are you, if you don’t mind?

 I mind.

What is the main focus of your practivism at this time and how does that manifest?

Hmmmmm...I've been getting everyone I can think of into running. Losing weight, getting back, or into, shape.  Fighting.  Diabetes and obesity in the African-American community.  I belong to a great national organization called Black Girls Run!

I do NOT own, run, control or manage this organization. I DO volunteer several hours a week as a Speed Training Run Leader and spread the Good Word as an enthusiastic BGR Ambassador.

What route did you take to get here?

I used to run as a child and young adult. Then, every now and then as an adult, when I would start to gain weight.  But, never long enough to make it a habit.

This time last year (October-ish 2010), I was 45lbs. overweight, drinking every night in poetry clubs, eating late night and oversleeping.  (Yes.)  I wasn't exercising at all.

A new friend introduced me to one of their friends that runs ONE race a year: the Publix Half-Marathon in Atlanta and asked me to join her.  I snapped my fingers, literally, and changed my mind on all those self-abusive behaviors.

We started training a few days later.

I changed my eating habits and stopped drinking completely through June 2011 and dropped 30lbs.  No crash diets. I wanted to teach myself, learn how to eat this time.

I didn't meet BGR until late June and have been reppin' us all over the country.

I enjoy being an athlete again and I'm telling everyone about running.

Get in shape. For YOUR life. For the rest of your life.