On this page:
  • The economics of entertaining at home
  • Thinking about how to celebrate my 30th birthday

The economics of entertaining at home

Last Saturday, we hosted a dinner party at our house. There were eight people, including me and W-. For starters, we served broccoli and cauliflower crudites with blue cheese dip and home-made hummus. For the main course, we served vegetarian chili and chicken curry, accompanied by naan bread and basmati rice. People brought dessert: halva, chocolates, sesame snacks, buns, and all sorts of assorted goodies. The party went from 7:00 to 11:30 or so, and we had tons of fun chatting about storytelling, university advice, and whatever else came to mind. After the party, we had a week of leftovers to feast on. I estimate that we ate just a third of the food prepared.

Ingredients bought for the party: $52.81 total
Home ingredients used: Approximately $10 (one pack of chickpeas, half a pack of black beans, half a pack of red beans, three packs of curry paste, assorted spices)
Estimated cost of party: ~$63 / 3 (as we only ate a third of the food available) = ~$21 total, or ~$3 each

plus the cost of whatever desserts people shared, of which we probably ate a fifth. Maybe a total of $4 each, for the whole meal + desserts?

I don’t think you can find a restaurant in Toronto where people can eat such a spread for $4, or stay for so long and chat with such ease without the waiters trying to drop hints about freeing up tables. ;) Nor could you find a restaurant with such friendly cats, I think – Luke was _such_ a charmer, immediately identifying the cat fans and climbing onto their laps for a good purr.

I traded time for these savings, of course, but not as much time as one might expect. Pre-cooking the beans using a pressure cooker took up most of my Friday evening, which was a good time to relax and unwind. Chopping everything up for all the meals took an hour, and cooking both the chili and the curry took another hour and a half – during which I was learning more about cooking, thinking about what was going on in the week, and planning what I wanted to do next. (And listening to bouncy Japanese pop songs…) Time well spent.

And the conversation and company? Priceless.

If we had more chairs, or found some way to squeeze more people into the house (in an elegant way that doesn’t mean some people are privileged enough to sit at the table while everyone else just stands around ;) ),I can easily scale up. It seems that the time and money I spent on the get-together could scale up to 24 people, and even more if we decided to make it a well-organized pot-luck get-together.

What would this house look like with 24 people in it? Where would people sit? How would we deal with the coats and shoes? Someday I’ll figure that out. =)

Tonight I’m attending a dinner get-together for recent hires in my department. The pre-set menu is $30 per person. Now that I look at that sum, I’m thinking, “I could host a quite a dinner party for that amount!” ;)

Thinking about how to celebrate my 30th birthday

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I’m looking forward to my thirties – a third of the way to my goal of being a totally awesome 90-year-old! I’m almost done with reviewing the past ten years and updating my collection of blog highlights, and I’m looking forward to getting some clarity on what’s coming up next too.

Birthday celebrations are an excellent excuse to get together with people. I feel a little weird inviting people to come and spend a few hours with me and a bunch of other people I know. I tend to get stressed out by the process of getting other people gifts (or guiltily donating things people have given me), so I’d rather not receive gifts. But I’ve been part of wonderful parties before, so I can think about what made those parties awesome, and what I can learn to have even better parties.

My favourite parties were the ones I had with my closest friends back home. We never needed an excuse. Sometimes I’d invite people over to hang out, or to watch a movie, or to play a game. I really liked those because my friends were all good friends with each other, so there were lots of crazy conversations and in-jokes. Even after I moved to Canada, I loved how they’d sometimes have ice cream parties and other get-togethers, patching me in through Skype. I miss them a lot.

When I lived at Graduate House, I often invited people over for a barbecue. There was a large outdoor party area with plenty of seats. Since many of my friends were also in graduate school, we had relaxed conversations under the stars. Graduate House was really convenient because most of the people I knew lived there or close by, and it was a short walk from a downtown subway stop.

I moved to my first apartment and celebrated my 24th birthday there. I didn’t have chairs and the bare walls echoed the noise, but people sat on cushions on the floor and we had a lot of fun.

After I moved in with W-, it took me a while to get around to having parties. Still, I had the occasional tea party – a casual, conversation-filled open house that was usually my excuse to bake far too many goodies. I had one of these every 2-3 months, which felt pretty infrequent (but it’s still more often than people invite me over, so I guess that counts for something). My favourite of these was when the conversation gelled and I got to learn all sorts of interesting things about my new friends.

I’ve had larger parties here as well. I remember scrambling to wash extra saucers! =) We set out mats and cushions on the deck, and people hung out there as well as in the kitchen.

Our home has more space than my first apartment. (The kitchen’s about the size of the main living area I had back then!) We have two bathrooms. So why am I not having more people over? Let me think about my excuses and how to work around them.

  • It’s cluttered. Having people over is a good excuse to declutter and clean up, and people are fine with a lived-in home. Besides, moving things around can work wonders for opening up space. Maybe we can move the kitchen table outside, for example? That requires disassembly, but it might be worth it. People can stand around in the kitchen or hang out on the deck.
  • There’s not enough seating. In a pinch, we manage to fit ten people around the kitchen table. Now that we’ve rebuilt the deck stairs (I helped!), we can put a few more chairs on the deck as well. Maybe we can get extra chairs and store them in the shed when they’re not in use.
  • The cats might get in the way. You’d expect the cats to hide with unfamiliar company – except Luke loves attention and Neko’s curious (but still tetchy, so guests sometimes get nipped if they get too close to her). And then cat hair! We’ve thought about keeping them in the basement with some food and water during parties, although some of our guests like playing with the cats, so maybe they can join us at the end.
  • Food. I like cooking, although sometimes it’s hit-or-miss, and I’m never quite sure about inflicting my experiments on people. (Although I guess that’s how you know who your friends are! Winking smile ) Since I don’t get firm RSVPs, I tend to prepare things that we can enjoy throughout the week even if no one shows up. I should stop worrying about filling everyone up. I’ve gone to fun parties that had mostly chips to snack on. People are used to pot luck or barbecue. I can always pick up party platters or order in.
  • Drink. Neither W- nor I drink alcohol (or intend to any time soon), so I’m pretty clueless about something that a lot of people enjoy or expect at parties. BYOB can help, I guess, especially if we can get someone to take stuff home afterwards. (Alternatively, we could cook with the remaining alcohol, I guess…) I rarely drink anything other than water, so I don’t have a good handle on
  • Frugality on behalf of others. I keep projecting my frugality onto other people, especially as other people might be in more difficult situations. =) It’s much cheaper to cook rather than to eat out, so I don’t want to organize a party at a restaurant where everyone will be eating out – I’d rather cook for everyone, or have a potluck dinner.
  • Timing. I asked a friend for advice, and he said many good parties run until 2 AM or something like that. I’m usually in bed by midnight. So… maybe I’m an afternoon or dinner party sort of person, even if it means not being able to join the deep discussions that often happen late at night.
  • Don’t want to accidentally offend someone. Sleeping Beauty’s problem? Her parents forgot to invite one fairy, who then threw a fit. While I don’t think anyone’s going to be quite that vindictive (or magical), I still worry about forgetting to invite someone and accidentally sending the wrong message.

A good number of excuses… I have to remember that even though I regularly feel insecure about hosting, I still have get-togethers pretty frequently, and people come. (Even though I’m usually semi-anxiously twiddling my thumbs at 1pm – maybe I should move to a 2pm start time?) I live ten minutes from the subway station, even if it’s a subway station a bit far from downtown.

I think it will help to reflect on why I want to bring people together in the first place. What are my reasons for having birthday parties and other get-togethers?

  • To thank people. People are awesome and helpful and inspiring. Feeding them and sharing what I’ve learned from them are small things I can do to say thanks. I don’t have one-on-one lunches or coffees with people nearly enough because I don’t want to impose on their schedule (although maybe that’s something else I should practise), but an open house is voluntary. I’m working on a big gratitude map thanking people for various ways they’ve helped me over the past ten years, and I’m looking forward to having that printed at a large scale. =) (That’ll also answer the “How do you know Sacha?” question!)
  • To hear from people. People don’t blog nearly as often as I do, so if I want to find out what’s going on in their lives, I have to ask, or I have to give them an opportunity to tell me. Sometimes I can help out, sometimes I learn things, sometimes it’s just interesting to find out what’s going on with other people.
  • To bring awesome people together, and to learn from their conversations. Maybe it’s weird, but I’m usually the quiet one at my own parties. =) I like listening, especially as people bring out aspects in other people that I might never come across myself. I sometimes prompt people with questions if I know they know something that other people might find useful.
  • To pick people’s brains for ideas and next steps. It’s good to let people know what you’re planning, since they’ll often have great ideas and tips. =)
  • To celebrate with lots of good food. Salads! Fruits! Baked yummies! Things that people would probably not make for themselves (or things I might not make on my own)! Many of my friends are single, so cooking can be difficult, but we enjoy cooking and are set up well for it. If there’s anything left over, I can always pack it up and stash it in the freezer.

What would it look like if I could get better at having parties?

  • I have a flexible plan for having parties. I know where the table and chairs go, where I’m going to put food, where to put drinks and snacks so that conversations flow, what some go-to snacks are so that I can get that sorted out easily. I have checklists so that I don’t forget things in the scramble. (Must remember to get ice next time…)
  • I have parties more regularly. Maybe once every two months, and maybe with a core group that also hosts during the other times?
  • I trust people more. I don’t have to worry too much about keeping conversations balanced or food flowing. I trust that people will adapt, taking care of newcomers and bringing them in without pushing them too hard.
  • We have a few more seats available, and can sustain conversation in another seating area – maybe on the deck, with the deck chairs that we built. We tend to crowd the kitchen because the living room is too dark, although maybe we can sort that out with better lighting (must replace the bare light that’s in that room).

I want to have virtual parties too, like the ones we had back then… I wonder what that would be like, especially with something like Google Hangout.

So, party. =) I don’t know what life will quite be like in the next couple of weeks, but maybe if I’m ambitious, I could try having an in-person party near my birthday. More conservatively, I could have it closer to the end of the month. Summer, so we can snack on plenty of fruits, and the barbecue will be handy too.

Thoughts? Tips? Does everyone else just Get It when it comes to parties, and am I the only one geekily trying to figure stuff out? =)