Writing 201 challenges us to write an instructional piece. After a great deal of pondering, I thought I’d better let Loolie do the talking.
My cousin Faye Beth called a week or two ago all in a dither. She and her husband Lee are part of a warm group of friends–there are seven couples–who always spend New Year’s Eve together. This year, after six years of enjoying other people’s hospitality, it is Faye Beth and Lee’s turn to host.
“Oh, honey,” she said on the phone. “You have got to help me. I haven’t had the folks over for New Year’s in so long. I want everything to be PERFECT.”
I should mention that, growing up, we used to joke that Faye Beth’s initials really stood for Fuss Budget.
“Calm down,” I said, kindly. “I’ll help you through this!” I was already mentally preparing menus and putting together playlists; I love planning.
“Oh, that’s great!” sighed Faye Beth. “Probably email is best, don’t you think?”
“Email?” I repeated, a bit confused–weren’t we already discussing?
“Yes, email,” said Faye Beth. “That way your friend Loolie can send me the recipes and lists and stuff and I can print them out.”
I said, flatly, “You want Loolie’s advice on how to give a party.”
“Well, yes,” said Faye Beth. “You’re always saying how much fun it is to visit her. And remember when we all went to her house for your anniversary? And she painted all those thrift store goblets with that little saying and your names and the date? I still have that goblet. And we had such fun that night!”
I was deflated–I actually think I throw a pretty nice party myself–but she was right: we DID have a great time that night. We always have a great time when Loolie throws a get-together, even when we leave committed to some cause we’d never thought about supporting. Loolie has that knack of making you feel very, very comfortable and very, very special all at once.
So I gave Faye Beth the email address, and I made her promise she’d share. Faye may be a fuss budget, but she’s a generous, promise-keeping fuss budget. She CC-ed me on her correspondence with Loolie, which they moved to FaceBook Messenger, because it was just easier for them. In case you might be planning to entertain on New Year’s, I thought I’d share it with you here. If you can sort out the sage advice from the extra conversation, you might find some really useful ideas.
FB: Hello, Loolie! I hope you remember me, Pam’s cousin Faye Beth! I was hoping I could get your advice on throwing a really memorable New Year’s Eve party. Your parties are always such fun! Are you too busy? Would you mind???????
L: Pam told me you’d be emailing. I’m glad to help, but can you be specific about what you want to know?
FB: Well, do I need to decide on a THEME? Like decorations and stuff? And how about food? And it seems like we ought to have some kind of games or entertainment. I’ve got like 5,000 ideas and I just can’t settle.
L: Well, my theory is ‘simple but special.’ New Year’s is great because the house is already decorated for Christmas. Don’t I remember that you guys always put that wonderful train set up around the tree,—were they your grandpa’s old trains? I wouldn’t worry about doing different decorations for New Year’s–just let your Christmas stuff shine. And turn the train on!
FB: Oh, great idea! We put that train up every year, but I don’t think we’ve turned it on since the kids were little. Maybe I’ll hang a little sign on the boxcar that says, “Express Train to 2015.”
L: That would be cute. For food, I try to have something very traditional and something really good but simple. Did you ever have Hoppin’ John? Down south, they believe it’s good luck to eat it on New Year’s. It’s got rice and bacon and black eyed peas–and the recipe I use has got a nice little kick to it! It’s from the Lee Brothers’ cookbook. My friends all love it. The recipe’s on line. Here, I’ll paste the link: http://www.culinate.com/books/collections/all_books/The+Lee+Bros.+Southern+Cookbook/hoppin_john
FB: Thank you! I read that through and I think it sounds great. What would go with it, though?
L: Well, I’d keep the rest of the meal a little laid back and simple. What if you roasted up a whole pork loin, and sliced it into thin slices? I’d do a big leafy green salad and really good crusty bread and a fancy dessert. And put cookies out, of course.
FB: That’s a great menu, and not too fussy. I can handle that! I have a wonderful cheesecake recipe that makes two big pies; I think I’ll do that for dessert.
L: Oh, yum. Be sure to make real whipped cream as long as you’re being decadent!
FB: I will! What would you do about entertainment, Loolie?
L: Well, a lot depends on your friends. We’ve done all kinds of things, from playing Twister to playing Password. Are they card players? Are they crafty?
FB: Oh, Password sounds like fun; haven’t done that in years. I think we’re beyond the Twister phase, Loolie.
L: Sigh! I hear you! Hell getting old, isn’t it? We do have a special, burn-the-bad-stuff-from-the-old-year tradition we got from a book by Sarah Ban Breathnach quite a few years back.
FB: Oh, that sounds interesting. What do you do?
L: Well, it takes just a little bit of preparation. I go through the Christmas boxes and find one about shoe box size, and I paint it black, so it looks kind of like a coffin. It’s the box where all the bad stuff goes to die! Then, during the party, at about 11:15, I pass around paper and pens. I tell everyone to find a quiet spot where no one can peer over their shoulders, and to write down anything and everything from the past year they’d like to forget or get rid of or just flat out wish had never happened. They fold those up tight, and we put them in the black box. I always save some kind of pretty, flammable ribbon–some years, I’ll tie it up with a bright red ribbon and bow–or maybe silver, if I’ve gotten lots of glitzy wrapping. Then, no matter what the weather, I drag everyone outside to the driveway, and I make a little speech about letting go of all the things we regret or are sad or angry about from the last year. Then we ceremoniously douse the black box with lighter fluid and throw a match on it,and we stand around and watch the bad parts from the old year burn to ashes.
FB: Oh, that sounds like FUN! We’ll have to make sure that no one tipsy plays with the fire and fluid, of course.
L: You’d be surprised how cathartic that is–it really makes you feel good! Then we all go back in the house, and I hand out some really nice, parchment-y kind of paper and matching envelopes, and I ask everyone to write down their hopes and dreams and wishes for the New Year. They seal those up in the envelopes and take them home. I keep ours in the big family Bible that was my grandma’s. At midnight, after the smooching is done, Kerri and I open ours, and read our wishes and dreams from the year before. And you know what? There’s always a lot of them that come true. Some years, all of those wishes have come true. Makes you feel good, knowing that.
FB: I love that idea! So we’ll play games, have a late dinner, and then burn up the old year before our New Year’s toast. What else do I need to know?
L: Let your guests bring stuff! They like to, and they’ll ask. They can bring drinks and snacks–and games, for that matter.
And here’s a little trick I always do, and I really recommend this, Faye Beth. I get up in the morning, and I clean the heck out of the house. I set myself a time limit and I get everything done by noon or so. I set the dining room table with a cloth and a centerpiece, and I get all the dishes and stuff out, and I get anything that can be cooked ahead of time cooked. Then, I go for a nice long walk–outside if the weather’s okay. If not, I go to the mall. I walk for at least two miles, until I feel all stretched out and relaxed.
FB: Oh, a stress buster!
L: YES! Then I come home, take a nice long shower, and get dressed. I make sure I’ve got the games and the box and the paper all handy; I finish up the cooking and tray the cookies; I make sure drinks are chilling and get the ice out. And then I go sit and read for thirty minutes. When the guests come, I’m relaxed. And if I forgot anything, I don’t worry about it–I just get it out or do without–it never turns into a disaster. And you know what–I don’t even worry about the dirty dishes until the next day. (That drives your cousin crazy, by the way!) But I always figure a stressed-out host means no fun for guests.
FB: Oh, Loolie, this is so helpful. I think I have a great plan in mind. Tell you what, I’ll send you pictures if you’d like.
Loolie: I’d love to see pictures! Have fun, Faye Beth!
FB: Thanks, honey!!!
So…guess where I’m going for New Year’s? This won’t be one of those years we fall asleep on the couch by 10 PM and wake up long after the ball has dropped. We might be home before 1 AM on New Year’s Day, 2015, but we’ll be burning up the bad stuff from last year with Faye Beth and Lee, who were kind enough to insist we join their group this year. I’ll bring some holiday ale and a cheese tray, and I’ll watch very carefully to see if Faye Beth can get through this with a minimum of fussing. And I won’t–I promise I won’t–even peek once in her kitchen to check on those dirty dishes.
I’m saving the conversation above, and who knows? Maybe I’ll host the party that ushers 2015 into 2016. Reading Loolie’s advise makes it sounds a lot like fun.