Saturday afternoon we had just finished lugging the last of the grocery bags into the house and were starting to put everything away when the telephone rang.
It was my dad and my stepmom.
They had been shopping at the mall near our house and decided to swing by and say "Hello" before driving home to their town about 20 minutes away.
They were sitting outside of the house in their car when they called.
Of course we invited them right in and I had my daughter answer the door while I quickly ran into the bathroom with a fresh tub of Lysol wipes for a fast spruce up. Charlie was armed with the dustmop almost instantaneously and with stealthlike maneuvers he moved through the downstairs chasing rogue dustbunnies.
As they made themselves comfortable at the kitchen counter, I realized that the birthday cake I had picked up for my sister in law was sitting right out in front of them. I also realized that I had 3 bouquets of fresh cut flowers laying there waiting to be arranged.
It was obvious we were going to have company that evening and since our company was to be my brother and his family, it only made sense to ask them to stay.
They, of course, were elated at the invitation and decided to join us.
It was no big idea adding 2 more to our party of 8 - I had bought a large amount of meat for my Beef Barley Soup and picked up a good sized boule. I decided to whip up a quick garden salad as added insurance for full tummies.
Problem was, they arrived a few hours before my brother was intended to. We had some light chores we were planning on doing before company came (like clean the bathroom and dustmop the floors!) and we wouldn't be eating until after 7pm. Since I tend to be a perfectionist, my head was spinning.
Maintaining my composure, I cracked open some wine and whipped out my wooden bread boards. I sliced up a block of Monterey Jack I fortunately had on hand and put out some crackers. I arranged the flowers while chatting, got the soup cooking on the stove, and quickly set a nice, but simple table.
Dinner was delicious, the conversation and laughs fulfilling, and the drinks flowed. Dad called me Sunday afternoon to thank me for having them and to tell me what a wonderful time they had. He said, "I don't know how you do it, but I always love being in your home. It's always the most wonderful time."
I was definitely blushing on the other end of the line, but it got me thinking about how people entertain.
I've been to homes where the host and hostess never even offer you a drink in a party setting (is it a help yourself buffet? I don't see a bar... Awkward.) or have meals planned when you're a weekend guest (Gah! I'm starving over here!).
On the other hand, we've gone to dinner where the hosts put out an amazing spread, whether simple or complex, the conversation flows as freely as the wine and the next thing you know it's after midnight and your children are passed out on couches all over the house.
I think entertaining is an art. And every artist has their favorite tools.
I have a few items in my repertoire that I rely on for moments like these ~ when I want to put my best foot forward in a pinch.
A simple cloth napkin takes a table to another level even when paired with dinnerware as simple and utilitarian as the white ones from Williams Sonoma. I have had mine for close to ten years now and have gifted them to people for holidays and housewarmings. They make food look great and go with any style or color.
Pretty wine glasses make any gathering feel special without feeling "stiff" or too formal. Stemless ones are casual perfection. I already mentioned how I used one of my wooden boards to serve some cheese and crackers ~ they are used relentlessly around here!
And my best idea of them all?
Many, many years ago I purchased a set of inexpensive flatware from a big box retailer. I think I paid less than $40 for a 38 piece set. I keep it in a drawer by my table linens and use it for dinner parties every time we entertain.
It makes it a little more special than my everyday, I never have to worry that every.single.piece is clean and ready for the gathering, and they all go right into the dishwasher at the end. No fuss like sterling or silver plate.
Take that, Martha.
How do you like to entertain? Do you have certain "go-to" items you always use?