garden dinner party!

It’s no secret that I like a good party. I especially like to throw a good party. It involves lots of my favorite things: food, drinks, shiny things and my friends.

I am also a Leo. I am bossy and a control freak about certain things. When it came time to decide what to do for this year’s birthday, there was only one thing that came to mind – the long-dreamed of Garden Dinner Party.

We have a small house. I can fit 10 at our table if I have to. The first Thanksgiving, I added a long folding table and we had maybe 15-20? Definitely packed them in there. But I’d always wanted to do a big outdoor dinner, very French/Italian countryside style. So I bit the bullet, told The Geek a very abbreviated version of my plan (and held my breath; he doesn’t enjoy this sort of thing), and sent out the invites to 20 of my best people.

They pretty much all thought I was crazy. But I had a vision, dammit, and IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. At first, I was on the fence about whether to do it in the back yard or the front. The back yard is a hot damn mess. Turns out it would require more time and motivation than I was willing to commit to it. Plus the front yard is smaller and more cozy, and already pretty usable.

So this is how you throw a Garden Dinner Party for Eighteen.

I had the vision in my head already, so I set out finding the pieces and making lists. I decided to order 2 6′ tables, white wooden chairs, linens, wine glasses, champagne coupes and silverware. (Originally the plan was to serve champagne and a cocktail, but as I got into it I had to give up the cocktail dream. That’s just too much to do for 18 people. So I compromised and served vino verde in those champagne coupes since it’s a little fizzy.) I have plenty of vintage platters and vases, and a fair amount of candle holders which I augmented on the cheap at Value Village. Add in my mixed vintage china and I was set for the table.

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One end of the table is at the end of the yard which is still pretty rough. So I thought I’d try to block that off with some sort of fabric curtains. I ended up using mosquito netting that I cut into panels. It was about $50, but I can reuse it. I also moved my jasmine plant down there to further block the ‘view”. I ordered two strings of solar powered lights that I added across the fabric panels and I was so excited when they actually came on! The finishing touch were some of those glass ball candle holders that you can use for air plants – I hung those here and there for more atmosphere.

I was going for a Rustic Vintage look, I guess you could call it. So I bought some burlap that I cut into table runners. I think it balanced out the pink napkins and glass candle holders  and went well with white tablecloths. My friend Carolyn came over the day before and demonstrated her awesome napkin folding skills! Add in a couple of printed menus and place cards and ta da!

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On to the food. The dinner menu included:Mixed Greens and Herbs, Grilled Parmesan Polenta, Tomato Confit, Herbed White Beans, Pork Tenderloin and Chocolate Semifreddo for dessert. The key to something like this: DO AHEAD as much as you can. And keep it simple, stupid. Hence the ditching of the cocktail.  The only things I HAD to make the day of the party were the two appetizers: greek skewers with feta, cucumber, olive and mint, and goat cheese with sauteed red grapes, and also the main course of grilled pork tenderloins. I brined that for a few hours, grilled it and let it rest, and then finished the polenta on the grill. I had made ahead the polenta with parmesan and let it set so I could slice it. I also prepped the salad dressing so that when Farmer Fels arrived with their luscious salad makings from their Mezza Luna Farms, it would be easy to throw the salad together. I made the semifreddo in individual jam jars rather than the usual loaf pan so I could avoid the slicing. I just threw one on a plate with a Pirouette cookie and done!

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I have to say the stars were really all aligned. Although the raining until noon thing did cause some concern, it did clear up and was even warm! Things to consider for next time: the beans did not seem as popular as the rest so I might try something else. And we only ended up with 16 guests – if the other two had come, we may have run out of food. AND I realized in the nick of time that I actually needed 2 8′ tables so I managed to change that. Things that worked: renting the stuff was awesome. Not cheap, but pretty handy. Assembling all my plates, etc. in the house a few days before and planning what food would go where. Serving two platters of everything.

It took some planning and more than a little luck, but it was a spectacular birthday. Thanks to my fantastic guests for putting on your party clothes! It will be hard to top!

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just right

You guys. We did it.

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Moms

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Mmm, snacks!

Dinner!

Dinner!

So, yeah. The days of endless projects and prep are over. I survived and lived to tell about it.

Thanks for your kind words here and on Facebook about my last post. You guys are the best. And in other news, I just saw the before photos of the kitchen – SCARY. A reveal post soon.

missing

One day, about six months ago, I was signing The Girl Child up for a two week stint at Camp Colman, where she spent two weeks last year and had a great time. I wanted The Boy Child to go this year, too. He’s never been, and as it was such a great experience and a big part of my teenage years, I wanted him to have that opportunity, too.

He was less than excited. Or any other positive word that one would care to insert. One could accurately say he dreaded it. And was not afraid to let us know it.

The Boy Child is an introverted sort. He also has an unhealthy attachment to his Xbox and Steam accounts – even more reason in my eyes for a week away. We tried to encourage him by reminding him that his sister had a great time last year, and would be there at the same time. He had friends going as well. He was not amused.

All this to say – it’s been almost a kid-free week in our house. At first, in the abstract, this sounded like a splendid plan. A whole week! Peace! Productivity! A stroke of brilliance on my part! The first time we’ve ever been without at least one child for this long. (There was a 3 day weekend in San Francisco for a certain joint 40th birthday party, but that’s it.)

Yes, it is the god’s honest truth that they drive me insane on a regular basis. Safe to say, a daily basis. That I worry about them constantly. That I nag too much and hug not enough.

Turns out, a week is a long time, people. Our house is deadly quiet. Yes, the Geek and I talk to each other, but it is still so, so quiet. No one asking if they can  eat another unhealthy thing. No one talking to his friends through headphones and trying to buy things that don’t exist in real life. No girl cracking her knuckles or the tap tap tap of texting.

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like for people who have careers, real jobs that satisfy some essential part of them. And then I remember that my real job, the thing I am sometimes best at, is being a mom. Even though I suck at it at least half the time, it is the thing that satisfies me.

And I miss it – I miss them. At first, I thought, “This is what it would be like without kids. If we’d never had any”. But that’s not true. Because if we’d never had any, we wouldn’t know what it feels like to miss them. To miss them like a part of our own selves is gone. The best part.

Saturday, one half of the best part of me comes home. I hope he had some fun and maybe learned that he can do a lot of things he never thought he could. After I’m done squeezing him, I hope he tells me all those things. The squeezing might take a while.

One uncertain, one ready to go

One uncertain, one ready to go

one off the list

Disclaimer:  The following photos may not be suitable for you orderly types. Consider yourself warned.

We have lived in this house for nearly 5 years. As has been previously mentioned, it is small. There are two storage closets – one we use for linens, and the other for everything else. Well, besides the massive piles of stuff in the garage. Ahem.

The catch-all closet has been mostly disgusting for those 5 years. It was previously the home of the furnace, and so is long and narrow, not very accessible for the retrieving of things that lodge there. We tended to merely pile new things on top of old things and hope for the best. (Shutting the door really fast helps, too.) It has shelves running the length of one wall, a strange hole to nowhere and a really nasty floor.

Finally, I’d had enough. It was embarrassing and a big waste of space when we have no space to waste.

So. I sprung this plan on the Geek, perhaps unfairly. But I really thought it would be an easy project! While he was at work,  I started excavation. (Here is where you squeamish types may want to scroll down. And disregard that rogue sock.)

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Yep. Uncensored. I know. So bad. door open closeup

Note that disgusting floor.

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By the way, that orange stuff is cough syrup. And this is what it looked like nekkid.

The Geek tore down those shelves and it was off to Home Depot for paint, floor tiles and pegboard/baskets! It took several coats of primer and paint to cover some random stains, and though I do wish I’d gotten a different color now, I can live with it. It’s clean at least.

Check it out!

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New floor tiles! No more hole to nowhere! Fresh walls! Baskets for everything!

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Look at that! A sunscreen basket! A tooth care basket! Household odds and ends! Nail care! Seriously, I just stood there and gaped at it for a good 5 minutes. And I made my dinner guests do the same.

I think to really optimize the space I need to get one of those wire baskets that slides onto a shelf, to go on the lower shelf. But damn! Big smooches to the Geek for doing the floor and walls.

This might just be the motivation I need to start tackling the garage. Fingers crossed.

resolve

Seriously.

Now that we’ve survived the Holidaze and things are pretty much packed away until next year, I can catch my breath a bit.  And consider 2013.

This isn’t the first time it’s occurred to me that there is entirely too much screen usage in this house. Especially by certain junior members of the household. This became glaringly apparent over Chrismtas break.

They are now completely unable to occupy themselves if there is not a screen of some sort in front of their face. If I told the Boy Child to give the Xbox a break, I’d find him in his room. Watching something on his iTouch. (Normally, he’d be watching YouTube videos of video games, but the iMac is having a rough time of it lately.)

I would not be one bit surprised if webbing hasn’t begun to grow over the top of the Girl Child’s iPhone from her hand. She checks that thing CONSTANTLY. She claims she is multi-tasking.

I am not innocent of this crime, to be sure. BUT I am able to find other enjoyable things to do. I actually SEWED over break. And last night, while muting the gunfire on the Xbox, I READ THREE MAGAZINES. Have to say, it felt great. Peaceful even. I only looked at Facebook like twice, I swear.

So I hereby resolve to be the heavy and institute some sort of screen-free time, for their own good. The Girl Child used to like to write and make art. The Boy Child does enjoy playing Magic, but he needs to find something he can do alone if necessary, to use the rest of his brain that doesn’t involve pushing buttons. We will take a trip to the art store for fresh supplies and see what happens. Hopefully, a little more well-roundedness.

Also more veggies, more exercise, purging, yada yada yada.

But mostly looking forward to gaining some fresh space in the brain for more making and doing things, not just watching other people do them on TV.

Happy 2013.

revelation

Truth be told, there has been an obscene amount of struggle in our house in recent months. I chalked it up to hormones, mostly in a certain 14 year old girl child. The tiniest little thing can spin into an argument about god knows what.

Of course, these problems had nothing to do with ME.  I was only trying to help. With my incessant nattering on about things that don’t really matter, it turns out, or things that really should no longer be MY responsibility.

Two days ago there came a turning point. The Geek had been remarking under his breath whenever me and the girl started talking/arguing (sometimes innocently, it must be said) that “someday my family will get along”. I took this hard. To me it seemed like I was getting the blame, ALL the blame.

So I began thinking. What if all this grief WAS my fault. How could I change things.

Maybe it was a little bit about power, that I am the one in charge. But I never meant for that to happen – I really just forgot to notice that they weren’t small anymore. So I realized I needed to let go. I made a list of things I would no longer control, shifting responsibility and consequences back where they belong – to the people making the choices. The Geek thought this meant I was giving up on them. No, it meant it was time for them to stretch their wings a little and see what happened, showing them that I had faith they would make good decisions (ok, maybe this last bit was a stretch).

So last night, I sat them down and explained that I would no longer tell them when to go to bed, to hurry up and eat before school, to empty out their lunchboxes, to change out of hoochie clothes, to clean up their messes, to do their chores. If they failed to do these things on their own, they would be tired, hungry, get the wrong kind of attention,  find dirty dishes in their bed and the screen going dark if chores were not done.

It seemed to light something within them, this opportunity to consider their options without the reminding and haranguing. Was it perfect on the first night? No, I did issue a chore reminder before screen. I figure there’s an adjustment grace period. There was NO bedtime meltdown with the Girl Child though – I went to bed when she was still up. Her choice. I think I will institute a new rule tonight though – no screens after 9 pm. If they really want to stay up they can read or listen to music, but I really think their brains need to wind down without screens.

One thing I WILL continue to track  is homework. It is non-negotiable, BUT still their responsibility. I made the Boy Child search for answers to his math problems on his own. Guess what? He found them when he didn’t think he could. He is beginning to see improvement in all his work and just maybe starting to believe that he CAN do it. Baby steps.

I will be curious to see how things evolve. I am sure there will still be meltdowns over things for no reason – they are still 12 and 14. At least none of them will be me saying “go to bed!” for the 20th time in one night.

creep

Those who know me well would never say I am a tidy person, much to the consternation of The Geek, whose mother is the Queen of All Things Clean and Tidy. I can remember as a kid doing a big clean of my bedroom once or twice a year. It would stay that way maybe 2 or 3 days before chaos began creeping back in.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy things being in their place. I just didn’t – and don’t – THINK about it much. I have too many other things going on in my head, too many other FUN projects to do. Cleanliness is not at the top of the list.

Unlike my friend Jody, who has been known to vacuum in the middle of a party and whose house is ALWAYS immaculate. For her, cleaning seems to be a hobby. She is unable to just sit, always has at least 2 or 3 things going at once. I think it’s  a chemical thing.

I have long wished that I had some of that chemical for loving to clean, for keeping The Geek happy if nothing else. I still go through occasional spurts of purging and tidying, mainly to make rearranging the house easier. I get bored with the same view from the couch or the same things on the mantle.

Especially in a house as small as ours, purging is necessary. We just don’t have the physical space for stuff. While I have yet to tackle the garage, I have made progress inside recently. The Girl Child’s room is 90% redone, just needing blinds and one more piece of art – reveal to come soon. I ACTUALLY CLEANED OUT THE DESK DRAWERS, a feat for which I think some kind of award should be earned. I decrapified (soon to be trademarked) the corner by the front closet (we won’t talk about the inside of said closet). AND our bedroom has been tidy for about 2 WEEKS IN A ROW. Seriously. It’s a Christmas miracle.

Maybe it’s taken me 45 years to get to this place, but I’m starting to see the appeal of cleaning as sport/hobby. Things feel easier.  A weight has been lifted – I can open those desk drawers without a crushing sense of shame.  I can walk to my side of the bed without tripping on shoes or clothes. I can almost get to the closet but for the temporary boxes of holiday decor and Airsoft weaponry – a sassy combination to be sure.

I am starting to feel like maybe I can maintain this, like maybe it will creep over into the rest of the house – GARAGE. My kids are not getting smaller – Dean will soon be taller than me. We will need that space to live in soon or go crazy.

I like this little glimmer of how clean people live.  I’m not promising anything, but maybe it’s not too late. Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

I still refuse to vacuum during parties. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

scenic beach

I lost my camping mojo after the last trip of last year. Just didn’t think I had it in me for this summer. For the first time in many years, I didn’t stalk parks.wa.gov site 9 months out, waiting to scoop up my favorite sites.

Usually we camp 3 or 4 times in a year, so it was a bit strange not to have any trips on the docket. We watched from the sidelines while friends planned the now-regular trip to Steamboat Rock.

But then Danielle started making rumblings about doing just ONE trip. Surely we had that in us, she said. She would even find the spot. This late in the game that would be a tricky thing. So of course I had to get online and see if there was even anything decent to be had. By this time our visiting friends from Germany and Yinnie and Spike were game too, so we needed either 4 sites or 2 big enough to get cozy on.

There was 2 sites at Scenic Beach State Park. We’d been there before several years ago. It’s an easy trip – a ferry ride from downtown Seattle to Bremerton or Edmonds to Kingston, and then maybe 30 minutes driving. Not too far but seems another lifetime away.

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Anytime a ferry is involved, it instantly becomes both more fun and more work – dealing with the schedules and potential wait times – but it can also mean less time driving.

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The fact that it was a quintessential Seattle summer day didn’t hurt. We didn’t even bring the canopy.

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By some Christmas miracle, we made the first ferry out of Seattle, and pulled up at the ranger station right behind Jim and Kathleen who’d come across at Kingston. And then there was this.

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This is the view out your tent when you don’t need to put on the rainfly, something we’ve never been able to do in maybe 7 years of Seattle camping.

We were gone 4 days, not so many miles but worlds away. Friends met, kids assimilated, and we all took it down a notch. The only decisions to be made were what and when to eat and drink or go to the beach. No screens to look at. I “checked in” on the ferry, and that was it. Much laughing, talking, walking, sitting around the fire.

That’s when I remembered why we camped in the first place. Yes, it’s a boatload of work, basically bringing the contents of your house with you so you can live in the woods for a few days. But the recharging and resetting of your insides, the living at a different speed and engaging with your family and friends face to face instead of virtually – THAT is why we do it.

Already planning for next summer.

control

Here’s the thing, which will not come as a shock to anyone who knows me.

I am bossy. I like to control whatever I can.  Sometimes so that it gets done right.  Sometimes because someone needs a nudge. Sometimes because it is security.

But it doesn’t always work out well or as planned. And that is a problem. It is exhausting. Beyond stressful. So I have decided to let go of what is no longer possible to control. For my own sanity.

Living with a 14 year old is a constant struggle, I have discovered, in many ways. But the one that irks me the most is the complete and utter lack of academic motivation.  This is a new thing, within the last six months. I have tried many methods to make her see the light – coercion, bribery, guilt, reason. Nothing has worked, or worked for long. Assignments get done, but not turned in. Tests are taken with no apparent studying, judging by the results.  She went from straight A’s to probably being unable to graduate were this high school instead of middle school.  So upon today’s review of The Source, the website where parents and students can track grades, etc., I officially give up.

I have read that this is common for middle-schoolers, but it is no longer worth my time and mental health to continue to nag and berate her. This needs to be something that she decides is important. I will, however, remove phone and internet privileges until things improve. Clearly she needs that time for school work and this cannot be a pattern that continues into high school. Sigh. Deep breath.

I also worry a lot recently about business – things have been off to a slow start at the bar. Alarmingly so. There is not much I can do about this. I post to our Facebook page, I maintain the website, try to make sure customers have a good experience so they will come back, but really, I can’t MAKE someone go there. I have to let that worry go. But it is hard. That affects more than just me.  Things have started to improve recently and I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that it keeps up.  Deeper breaths.

By letting go of these things that are beyond me, I am hoping to have more mental space for things I can control. Like my house. Mentioned many times here as being a disaster zone.  THIS I can fix.

I can make that part of my life tidy and peaceful. I can have clean surfaces and drawers with things I need, not 10 year old bank statements and empty envelopes. I can have freshly painted walls. I can have a garage with a path through it and a plan for the future. I can offload boxes and bags of dead weight.

And then I will have time for things like sewing and canning and making. For peace. I cannot wait.

embracing my inner dane

Greetings, my long lost poppets! It seems so long since last we met.

Spring is afoot here finally. We actually enjoyed our pre-Easter dinner cocktails OUTSIDE, if you can believe it. In Seattle, that is a very uncommon state of affairs in early April.

And April marks another important date in this household. April 19th will make FIVE YEARS of home ownership AND the Girl Child will turn FOURTEEN.  Yes, this one.

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Anyway, back to the house. When we moved in (weird, I TOTALLY thought I did a post about what the house looked like when we bought it, but damned if I could find it. Will have to rectify.)  we painted the dingy main living areas a light blue. And while I still like that, some areas are looking a bit worn and could do with some freshening.  Also, I get bored easily and in a house this small, there aren’t a lot of options for furniture rearranging, so I play with curtains and pillows – easy stuff.

I’ve mostly been a mid-century girl these last few years (a long way from my Shabby Chic 90’s!) and am even more drawn to the crisp clean lines of white walls, with wood furniture and pops of color via textiles or art. Very Scandinavian, which makes sense given the big hunk of Danish blood I’ve got. :) A room like this for example.

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Source: Apartment Therapy

Granted, a lot of these types of rooms have white wood floors and I’m not about to do that. BUT I am planning to redo our blue walls a la Manhattan Nest’s brilliant Daniel. (BTW, LOVE his place. I think I have a little crush.)  So this..

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And this…

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will be white!  And the fireplace a slightly different shade perhaps, in a glossier finish.

No doubt the Geek is hyperventilating with panic right about now. Not to fret. The painting will me AFTER the garage is cleaned out and the house decluttered. The carrot to keep me moving forward on those unpleasant tasks. Swear!

If I don’t get totally burned out, I’ll even paint the kitchen cabinets a light gray and get that damn door fixed and trim painted.  And maybe even this for a certain 14-year-old.

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Source: Bolig

Big plans afoot, people!