a hell of a party

The Geek and I spent last weekend in Wenatchee, about 2 1/2 hours east of Seattle . My friend Jeff and his fiance Wai  are getting married in September.  His brother Mike is the best man, and Mike’s wife Jen is the matron of honor.  We were conned asked nicely to co-host a couples’ shower in their honor. Given that I can’t resist bossing organizing a party, of course I said yes.  Hence the madness began.

Originally, it was going to be a happy hour sort of thing.  Appetizers and drinks.  Pretty simple.  And boring.  So we upped the ante.  Dinner! Al fresco!  Family style for 25 people!  We went back and forth on the logistics of tables and food.  Could it be done?

Jen was in charge of decor and Mike and I discussed menu options for nearly a month. Eventually we came around to the vision of an Italian dinner.  Jen wrangled long tables and rented chairs and linens, and borrowed plates, etc. to make up the difference in what she already had.  Mike and I settled on the menu.  I even printed it up all fancy to put on the tables, but of course forgot that along with the placecards.

We went over Friday night to start getting ready,  which consisted of mainly of Mike doing prep work for his courses and us deciding that grappa is disgusting and had no place on the berries for the cake.  Bright and early Saturday, the real craziness began.  The Geek washed the greens and I made the Herbfarm dressing, then Jen and I ran out for pedicures and supplies at Costco and Safeway.  Once back, I made the cornmeal olive oil cake which would be served with balsamic strawberries and whipped cream.  Said cream was supposed to be whipped with mascarpone cheese, also forgotten in Seattle.  Dammit. No one seemed to mind. I was a bit nervous about the cake – I’d made it before but not as a half-sheet version.  I multiplied the recipe by 2.5 which resulted in some funky measurements, and I have to say I wasn’t very precise.  Tasted great though!

Next was outside setup.  We had 3 long tables, but needed to augment with their patio table so people wouldn’t be smushed.  That worked fine once we added linens and chairs, and the lanterns and flowers.  Looked great! We enlisted the aid of the two oldest kids for table setting, who looked up some fancy napkin folding instructions and got to work.

slave labor

Jen setting the table

We hit the wall about this point due to lack of food – Mike to the rescue with some tasty sandwiches.  All the while manning the oven and grill with his porchetta (Italian pork roast), cranberry beans, and watermelon gazpacho. He even made fresh ricotta for the crostini!  He’s a machine in the kitchen! Time for me and The Geek to cut a boat load of strawberries and stuff some endive with gorgonzola to be drizzled with chestnut honey and toasted pine nuts.

We finished setting up the bar outside, which include me having to empty the cooler (big enough for me to fit in) so that I could drag it from the upper yard into the lower section and then replace everything that had been in it. Did I mention that The Geek threw his back out loading a keg into someone’s car on Friday?  He could barely walk by this point, let alone heave a giant cooler around.

bar goodies

Time to get our party duds on and christen the event with a shot of tequila with Jen! (This part is highly recommended.)

We greeted people with a choice of a Watermelon Blush, a festive bubbly drink of watermelon juice, St. Germain (an elderflower liquer), dashes of Peychauds bitters and topped with Prosecco, or a Negroni, a vintage Italian cocktail of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin.  Not for the faint of heart – that Campari is bitter stuff.  Guests noshed on appetizers of the stuffed endive, crostini with fresh ricotta, frozen grape kabobs and watermelon gazpacho.  Sadly, the olives were forgotten in the frig.  Yes, I forgot many things.  Thankfully, nothing major.

hey there!

let's get this party started!

After an hour or so of mingling/getting their cocktail on, guests sat down to a first course of mixed greens with Herbfarm dressing, a very simple starter.  It should be said that the food had to be brought downstairs to be served, and given that we could only carry 4 or so plates at a time, it was painful the next day.  Mike was busily roasting green beans and slicing porchetta – all prettily arranged on 3 platters, along with three bowls of cranberry beans and three baskets of homemeade focaccia.  Everyone oohed and ahhed, and dug in to some very tasty food and wine.

porchetta and roasted green beans with fennel

Time to clear (and thanks to a couple of guests who helped out in this area) and get on with the game!  Jeff and Wai weren’t too sure about this, but since we weren’t doing gifts, there had to be something showery!  So we came up with our version of the Almost-Newlywed Game.  10 questions for both of them, and the winner got to take the bag of *ahem* bedroom accessories that Jen so carefully picked out.  They were great sports and everyone laughed a lot.

bride and groom

Back upstairs for the dessert plating, which I had intended to serve at the table, but several people had to cut out early and others were up and about so most ate theirs standing.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and it was a great dessert for a group that large.  Sadly though, since we weren’t at the table it was a little tricky to get the sparkling muscat out to go with it, so I walked around with that for those who were interested.

Darkness fell and most left, leaving us hardcore folks (read, JunkBelly members and wives) around the fire pit, and the hosts pretty well exhausted. But proud and happy it a) went so well and b) was over.  The clean up could wait til morning.


Lessons learned:

Don’t even attempt this without at least 3 people, and those people better like each other. You could get away with less if you had it catered.  (Before this party came up, I’d been considering an outdoor dinner party for an event in September. I’d still do it, but I might get some of the food from another source like Whole Foods, or make everything ahead so it could just bake the day of.  I know guests would volunteer to help, but I just want them to be guests. And normally I would never consider outsourcing food, but in some cases you have to compromise.  I’d do it if it meant I could have everyone there I wanted.)

Keep it simple, and do ahead.  Food and setup.  See above re at least three people.

Have at least one person in charge of greeting and the bar.  It’s weird if guests walk in and you are madly scrambling in the kitchen.  Someone needs to handle the drinks. A few spare older kids are handy for errands like replacing the La-Cucuracha-singing bottle opener.

Mike would serve the gazpacho as a first course next time, to slow the dinner pacing down. And I think maybe doing the dessert before the game would have kept people seated for dessert, making more of a finish to the meal.

Finally: an endeavor this ambitious could have gone horribly wrong at any time. I know Jen was a bit stressed about table set up and Mike was a little cranky in the kitchen.  To be expected – it’s a lot of pressure.  All the pre-planning paid off, despite minor glitches like menu and mascarpone being forgotten. But really what made it work was the teamwork – we all knew what had to be done and kept the end vision in mind.  A Tuscan evening in the garden with good friends and food.

Something to celebrate, for sure.


What I am about to write may possibly offend some people. I am OK with that.

When I was in high school, I went to Camp River Ranch for a month two summers in a row, training to be a counselor.  This is a Girl Scout camp, and those months were two of the greatest of my life.  One of my fellow CIT’s came to me with a confession and a book.  The confession – she was gay; the book – Ruby Fruit Jungle.  I remember feeling honored to be the one she told, without knowing why.   I never read the book but it must have been in my stuff.  When I got home, my mother mentioned something to me about the book, something along the lines of “was someone making you do something you don’t want to do”.  I said no, it was a friend’s book and she never brought it up again.  Turns out quite a few of my fellows CIT’s were gay, as well as the counselors I would eventually work with.

I don’t know why it never occurred to me that there should be something wrong with someone being gay. It was certainly never mentioned one way or another at home. But I know now that to some people, there IS something wrong with it.  Even though it has NOTHING to do with them.

In college, I met some of my best friends. Turns out that the boys love other boys, and the girls have been together longer than any couple I know – gay or straight.  They are gay, and some of the best people on this planet. I am so lucky to know them and call them my friends. Would I be friends with them if they weren’t gay? Maybe – but they wouldn’t be the same person, would they. It’s part of who they are – that struggle, more for some than others.

Which is why it makes me so damn mad when a new bar opens up that happens to cater to a gay clientele and gets turned down by a printing company based on morals.  When people argue that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  Isn’t it really about being with the person you love?  And how does two men or two women being married affect any other STRAIGHT person’s marriage?  I will never understand that argument.

It is why the bar sponsors a gay softball team.  Because the people I know are loyal and loving, generous and hilarious. They are just like you and me, but the boys like boys and the girls like girls.  Big deal.

They are part of my family.  I can’t imagine my life without them. And those that dismiss them, that judge them without knowing them, they don’t know what they are missing.

Here’s to pride. And my gays.


another day

A friend called me Eeyore last week.  Apparently I’ve been doing a lot of whining lately.  It brought me up short, since I’m usually a “glass half full” girl.

I realized I probably have been whining a lot. A habit I do not want to encourage.  I also realized that while some people appear to have lives that look perfect from the outside in, a good chunk of them are just trying to get by, like us.

If our biggest problems are the guy talking on his cell phone on the bus, or finding the other person left the gas tank empty, or our favorite shirt is still in the washer or the dishes are piled as high as my head, I think we’ll survive. Or even a day like today when I have to call the vet because Jack’s hot spot suddenly seems bigger, not better, and we’ll find out if the transmission code for the car means a new transmission, and take care of some business BS with the state, I will try to muddle through sans whining.

Because I will remember that my teenaged daughter still wants me to braid her hair and my opinions on make-up (ironic) and that she wrote her Dad a really great letter for Father’s Day. I will remember that my 10-year-old son still wants to hold my hand. I managed to make a really tasty cake even though I was missing several crucial ingredients.  My tomatoes have blooms (though let’s be honest – this summer, may never get fruit). I will walk up to my little house from the bus and get happy when I see the color of it and our yard full of flowers (and miscellaneous junk).  I will call the vet and take care of Jack, the car is still under warranty (I hope), and the state, well, that is what it is.

We will do it with the best friends in the world from college and school and the bar.  One of my oldest friends, Jay, has started a little project he calls “Barnraisers”.  A group of us who will gather from time to time to help each other out.  We had our inaugural dinner Saturday night.  Even if we never do a project, having dinners like that will go a long way to preserving our mental health – surrounded by friends old and new, listening to Jay wax poetic about our histories (not sure how truthful all his stories are, since I know the ones about me are slightly, ahem, embellished) . It makes me warm and fuzzy – these people, some of whom barely know us, would answer the call if we needed real help.

Because our lives are not perfect, none of them.  And we can’t do it alone.

I will remember these things. And be grateful. Every single day, grateful.

steamboat rock

I spent the last 3 days at Steamboat Rock State Park, about 4 hours east and north of Seattle.  It takes its name from a massive basalt rock that  now rises 800 feet above Banks Lake; it was originally an island in the Columbia River bed.   Banks Lake is a man-made 27-mile-long lake formed by the North Dam near Grand Coulee and the Dry Falls Dam near Coulee City.  The landscape here is very different than what we are used to on the West side of the Cascades; when we first camped here last year it I couldn’t get over how much it looked like what I think the moon might look like. It seems very prehistoric.   At first it looks like nothing but brown, but if you look closely at the cliffs in the right light all kinds of colors emerge.  And at this time of year, there are wildflowers blooming in yellows, pinks and purples. And always the gray green of the sage brush.

So flat here! You can see forever

Campground is at the base of Steamboat Rock

Roadside cliff

Sunset warming the cliff colors

At the dock, preparing for a sunset cruise avec cocktails



WIne in one hand, camera in the other


View from our beach

Sunset from our site

Frantz Senior takes us for a boat ride

The Rock from the lake

Blue everywhere

Lake cliffs

Yes, the change of scenery and routine are big reasons for dragging out half the contents of my house four hours east for 3 days with friends. But also, there is this.

My boy


There are a number of things I am qualified to do.  I can teach someone to knit.  I can learn you some quilting, put fabrics together.  Cakes or cookies, I’m your girl.  Mail merge from Word to Excel, some Timberline accounting, done.  Camping reservations carefully plotted 9 months in advance, check.

When my first kid was born, I felt fairly confident that I could handle it.  I am the oldest of 4, and the youngest was born when I was 12, so I had a chunk of experience with babies.  Even after the Boy Child came along and we had to adjust to 2 little ones, we had it covered.

Those kids are now 13 and 10.  And I am here to tell you, that confidence is out the window. I am wholly unqualified for this teenage business.  I came home tonight to a fairly promising start.  Answered a survey question for the Girl Child‘s class.  And then it all went to hell.  I am “a jerk”, because I refused to buy her a new lunchbox to replace the one she let mold grow in due to lack of cleaning.  I “always buy” what her brother wants.  So I snatched her phone and iTouch, the things most precious to her.

Was that the appropriate response? Hell if I know. I DO know that I NEVER would have called my mom a jerk. I don’t call the Girl a jerk, so why does she think it’s ok?  She will mostly likely apologize later, but it’s getting old telling her that while I appreciate the apology, it doesn’t make it all right to do it in the first place.

My theory currently is that she does that here because it’s safe.  I know there is drama at school, where it’s probably even more unwise to call someone a jerk.  Yes, it irritates me to no end and sucks the life right out of me, but she knows she is still loved.

So I just wait this phase out?  Will it get better or worse? Am I teaching her that it’s OK to call someone a jerk? That as long as you apologize it’s OK? Is there a pill for this?

All I can do is take a deep breath and know the next five years will most likely be long ones.  In the meantime, I’ve got some camping gear to clean.

bored and blah

I am in a funk.  For no good reason.

I had a really decent weekend, was very productive in the yard. The bar is doing decently. Kids and hubby are healthy.  Do I need more bran? Definitely some sun would help.  It’s June 1st and I wore my down coat to work. That is wrong. Things that I normally look foward to are just meh, like they’ve lost their gloss.

I tried on clothes last night at Target.  Though I’d like to think they’ve changed their sizing, I fear that is not the case. I am 5’7″ and now weigh about 137, 10 pounds more than when I had the Boy Child 10 years ago.  Last night, I had to admit that makes me a size 10 unless I want to wear Spanx under my shorts. I am not OK with this. So I must get serious about dieting and exercising, which I have never had to do.  I refuse to have back fat.  I suppose these circumstances are not decreasing the funk level.

I am going through a bored phase at work. I like the people I work with, but the work itself is boring and redundant – I do accounting and office type stuff. Not my forte. Yes, I could look for something else, but I’ve been here for TWENTY YEARS, and they let me adjust my hours as I need to for the kids, so I figure what’s the point.  I’ll have to push through this boredom.  Not everyone can have careers they love – SOMEONE has to do the dumb stuff.

See above – lack of sun.  There was just enough this weekend to tease us. Today we are back to crap. My tomatoes are in a holding pattern – I need to put some plastic on to protect them.  Which I forgot to buy at Target last night due to sizing depression.

Yes, I know. My life is pretty good and I have no right to be such a whiner.  I am not prepared to drink myself into a stupor until the funk passes, so I write here and hope you’ll bear with me.

I am hopeful that I can make it until school is over in a few weeks, so we can move into mellow summer mode.  Picnics, swimming, happy hours, weddings, camping, friends. There, see I feel slightly less funky already.  And next weekend, there will be friends, cocktails by the lake and this:

Steamboat Rock

In the meantime, I will medicate with some dark chocolate.  Hang in there, sunless Seattle.