A confession (eek…not a good start!) – in my first post, I said that I’d be sharing my 40 before forty list (aka “The List”) with you all in this post. But, as the cliche goes, a woman is allowed to change her mind. So instead of sharing The List in its entirety at this point, I’ve decided to only share a few items at a time. Why? Well, I reckon it’s like reading a book – if you know at the beginning of the book what every chapter is going to be about, it takes away from the adventure and exploration of the reading journey. And while I don’t for a minute presuppose that this blog is going to be as much of an adventure for you as it is for me, the principle remains 🙂 So I’ll only be revealing one or two items on The List at a time.
Having already revealed the first item on The List last week (being to start my blog – so far, so good), the second item I took on was to throw a dinner party. I can just hear your exclamations now – A dinner party? Is that all? How can something so small and easy make it onto The List, particularly given that we seem to be surrounded by domestic goddesses who can throw a dinner party for forty people with a click of their fingers? Alas, I’m not one of those and hence, not so small and easy a task for me.
I used to have dinner parties frequently, and ironically this was when I lived in various tiny apartments where the space (or lack thereof) was certainly not conducive to such. Notwithstanding the enforced “coziness” of those situations, I loved having people over and if you could read the grains and stains of my diningroom table, you would see a procession of friends and family gathered around the table over the years, eating, drinking, laughing and solving the problems of the world late into the night.
I even had a signature dish! (I bet that surprised you!) My sublime individual chicken pies, made with chicken, feta, spinach, love and a few other secret ingredients were demanded at my dinner parties (polite requests had long since gone out the window). In fact, during those years, my friends dubbed my home at that time “The Real Home of the Chicken Pie”. (For those of you that don’t live in Joburg – there is a place out on the Lanseria road, virtually in the middle of nowhere, called The Home of the Chicken Pie – where the chicken pies are legendary (apparently second only to mine, according to my friends 🙂 )
Where did the dinner parties go and what changed? Well, a number of things – but perhaps the biggest influence was that I was unfortunately sick for an extended period from early 2012 (the details of which I won’t belabour this post with), but which in short resulted in me being somewhat less social and more withdrawn for a fair period of time, and left me with a fragile sense of self. Hence, even after moving into my beautiful new home nearly two years ago where I have stacks more space including a refurbished, light, bright and welcoming diningroom, my dinner table remained forlornly expectant.
Which brings me to the seemingly innocuous “throw a dinner party in your gorgeous new dining room” contributed to The List, by my friend, Nicky. As soon as I read it, I knew it was time. I didn’t need any further encouragement – I set the date, sent out the invites and we were in business!
Or so I thought…
There were first a couple of unexpected disappointment hurdles to overcome, most pertinently related to my invited guests. After first one, then two, then more people declined my invitation, I couldn’t quite quell the insecure voice in my head that was berating me for even trying to step out and organize the dinner in the first place, effectively setting myself up for disappointment (or so that little voice said). And somehow that voice wasn’t appeased by the fact that all of these people had perfectly understandable reasons for being unable to join me. It eventually took a frank discussion over the obligatory glass of wine with my friend, Penny (who was incidentally one of my invited guests who had accepted my dinner invitation) to realise that my negative emotions were because I was focusing on the people who couldn’t attend, rather than focusing on those who could attend – the awesome friends and family who had excitedly rsvp’d that they’d love to join me! Lightbulb moment… shift your focus, and your emotions shift too – a valuable lesson, thanks Penny!
So back to the dinner party, held on Saturday evening, the 14th of November 2015. I bought all the ingredients that morning for my chicken pies, veggies and salad, picked up some freshly baked bread and bought (way too much) wine and champagne, as everyone knows that good wine and bubbles are a prerequisite for a dinner party (actually, for any party, actually…for anything at all 🙂
To put my preparation into context – you should know that I’m not the most organised person in the world. When it comes to travel, for example, one of the reasons I enjoy travelling with Nicky is because, whether it’s in the morning leaving the hotel, or when we’re leaving any place, or at the airport or any other appropriate time, she double-checks with me that I’ve got everything I need (or have done whatever needs to be done), and she does it without judgment, and with a smile. (And given that I get impatient with myself and get myself into a bit of a frenzy, that is always most welcome (and calming)). So, I decided I was going to be organised for this dinner party and do things in advance. I started cooking early, set the table early, and put the drinks on ice. But despite being relatively organised in getting ready for the evening, there was a certain point in the afternoon while I was cooking when I became extremely anxious and had to take myself outside to the patio in the fresh air, take a few deep breaths and give myself a good talking to! What reason was there for the anxiety attack, you may ask? Well to me, inviting people for dinner is not just inviting a few people into some bricks and mortar and giving them some food. It’s about inviting people into your space, both physical and metaphorical. It’s about opening your front door, but then more importantly opening your arms and your heart, and making yourself vulnerable by having people in your personal space. Vulnerability is scary – very scary. And this vulnerability and the fear of opening yourself and your “space” in a personal and intimate way, simple as it may sound, was the reason the years had passed without any further gatherings around my diningroom table.
Having dealt with the anxiety (through a couple of deep breaths and an encouraging chat with a friend (thanks Ingrid!), I scurried around according to my meticulously planned schedule, unsuspecting of course that about a half hour before my guests’ ETA, Penny called asking if they could come early, as they were in the area already. Of course I said yes, but naturally warned them that I was not quite ready. They promptly arrived about eighteen seconds later (they really WERE in the neighbourhood!), and I opened the door to them in my shorts, t-shirt and barefoot – not exactly the picture of a glamorous hostess. I took them through to the patio, brought a bottle of bubbly and glasses through and asked them to look after themselves for a few minutes. Once again – not the best way to start off an evening where you had hoped to be organised and calm and a textbook hostess! And before I could even return to the kitchen to carry on where I had left off, the next guests (being my brother, Craig and my amazingly gorgeous niece, Abi) arrived similarly early. It was clear that there was no part of this evening that was going to go according to my timing schedule!
But by the time my next two guests arrived – despite me still running around barefoot and all organisation thrown out the window by then – there was already lots of talking, laughing, drinking of bubbles and every other good thing amongst my guests settled in on a beautiful summer’s evening on the patio. Suffice to say that, although I would have liked to be more “present” during the first hour or two of my dinner party (as I would have been if I’d been more organised), it was still lots of fun and my guests ably got on with themselves and each other.
The actual dinner was awesome – my chicken pies were a hit (as expected, I venture to say – I’m glad I haven’t lost the magic touch), the veggie dish was virtually licked clean and my guests confirmed that my home is still The Real Home of the Chicken Pie – high praise indeed!
But as you would guess, the dinner really wasn’t about the food. I can’t adequately describe the joyous feeling of having such special people gathered around my table that night…at a point I just sat back, was quiet, and took a moment to look around me, and savour each and every individual around that dinner table. I had made myself vulnerable – I had opened my home, my arms and my heart – and my guests filled all three of those to overflowing. So to Keith, Penny, Nicky, Max, Craig and Abi…thank you! I don’t think you realised what an important and special role you played that evening for me – I love you all.
My guests left with full tummies, and (hopefully) full hearts. And the ones that couldn’t make my dinner party? I’ll have them around around another time – because it was nothing personal that they couldn’t join that night – it was just legitimate stuff (particularly at this time of the year, when everyone’s social calendar is so booked up). Plus – that gives me a reason to have another dinner party and to introduce some more people to The Real Home of the Chicken Pie 🙂 So check your inbox – The Real Home of the Chicken Pie has re-opened its doors and is sending invitations out.