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Being a Guest on Fourth of July

Being a Guest on Fourth of July

I was fortunate to spend my Fourth of July weekend as the guest of a couple who live in a lovely home on Chesapeake Bay. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, about two hours before my hosts’ annual Fourth of July celebration began. I had been asked to arrive early, get settled, and help with a few chores.

Our hosts provide crabs and corn while everyone else brings a side and their beverage of choice. This leads me to a hosting issue which I hear frequently. When hosting such an event is it better to assign sides or let the chips (and dips) fall where they may? If it’s a large event such as this, I like the free-form event. Folks get to make their specialties and if someone doesn’t show up, there isn’t a hole at the table that the hostess may feel obligated to fill at the last minute. But I know it bothers some folks to have too much of one thing and not enough of another. In this case we had a lot of pasta salad and one guest was heard to remark, “With a little planning this wouldn’t have happened.” I guess my thought is, who cares? Thoughts?

Several couples spent the night and I was in charge of breakfast Sunday morning. As usual we had an assortment of diets including vegetarian, pescitarian, and pregnant. With the help of another guest I made a huge load of bacon, pancakes, homemade blackberry syrup, fruit salad, and watermelon salad. For future reference, that combination seemed to work really well. Two of the couples peeled off to go home and the remaining six people spent a relaxing day puddling around in the water and eating leftovers.

On Monday we gave our hosts a break and went to Calvert Cliffs along with the other remaining guest couple. I almost hate to promote it, but this is an amazing 4 mile hike along a shaded path through forest and bordering several different ecosystems. You end up at a small swimming beach on the Bay with an amazing view of the cliffs. It’s also dog friendly, and our Boston Terrier swam for the first time. We headed about seven miles down Route 2 to Soloman’s Island for lunch. Again, found a dog friendly restaurant with shade and really good sandwiches. That night we took our hosts out to dinner. Really nice day.

On Tuesday, one couple went to check out Chesapeake Beach, two of us went to a small-town parade, and two of “us” stayed on the couch all day watching Robocop movies. I love a parade, there’s something about gathering with other people on Main Street America and complaining about their children that I enjoy. That night the other couple treated us all to pizza.

We could see fireworks from different localities from our hosts’ backyard every night. I also love fireworks.

This trip reinforced several of my best practices.
1) When you have a group staying at your house for several days, it’s helpful if people can entertain themselves, at least during the day.
2) It’s OK for people to do different things. Guests shouldn’t be pressured to participate in activities that don’t interest them. When someone on vacation is forced to do something they don’t want….it shows and takes away from the enjoyment of others.
3) Don’t complain or make negative comments about anything. If there is a serious safety or comfort problem, don’t whine about it, suggest a solution. “I know we need some room in the fridge. Mind if I toss this mayonnaise-based salad that was out on the sun for 10 hours?” “I know it’s just me, but do you mind if I turn the AC down just a couple of degrees?” You know stuff like that.
4) If you bring a pet, take responsibility for it! The first night, my bad cat woke everyone up at 5:00 am yowling in the hallway. Once again, my apologies.

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend.

Thank you for visiting.

Visiting the New Baby…Istiqbal

Visiting the New Baby…Istiqbal

When a child is born in Kuwai the extended family traditionally hosts a party called an Istiqbal. I must assume Istiqbals vary with income, health of child, and other factors. I can only speak definitively to those celebrations I attended.

Often an Istiqbal is held within two days of the baby’s birth in the hospital and it’s a BDD (Big Damn Deal). This is a catered event held in open-house style over a three to four hour time period. The mother is dressed up in a fancy peignoir (something Lana Turner, Doris Day, or Anette Funicello might wear in a movie) with full makeup and hair, tucked into a great big fancy hospital bed with a lacey coverlet. Servers pass fancy chocolates, finger sandwiches, and beverages among the dozens of guests wandering around the room, cooing at the baby, congratulating the extended family, and catching up with one another. The father and immediate family members form sort of a reception line to greet folks and receive congratulations. How is this achieved in a hospital room you may ask?

This particular hospital had maternity suites that resemble something you’d find at an MGM Grand, but bigger and fancier. If the family needs more room for an Istiqbal, or wants a more formal venue, this hospital has a grand hall which I wandered into by mistake when it was not in use. It’s a reception hall with the fancy bed at one end, chairs lining the walls, crystal chandeliers, gilded mirrors, and all other manner of ritzy stuff. I was relieved to hear the actual birth is still a private affair.

When this tradition was first described to me I was horrified. It sounded cruel to put a new mother through such a fuss shortly after giving birth. But the new moms I met explained that it’s actually really nice for a number of reasons. In most cases, everything is done for you by your family members or the hospital staff. All you have to do is lie in bed, look nice, and take compliments on your beautiful new baby. If you need to excuse yourself for the myriad reasons a new mom might, there is an adjoining room in which to do so. It is understood that well-wishers will visit the new baby only during the Istqbal and not at other times during the hospital stay or when mother and baby come home. This relieves the new mom of “pop in visits” and having to entertain multiple times over a period of weeks or months. Once I looked at it this way, it made more sense.

I was fortunate to attend two of these celebrations during my visit. One was at the hospital and one was at a private home. I must say, the hospital party seemed like a lot less work for the new mom and her family.

In general, the birth of a child in Kuwait seemed more like an occasion for multi-generational celebration and less like a medical procedure than it does in the States. I liked that. But I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with all those people pawing my newborn and giving me unsolicited advice. If there is unsolicited advice to be given, I refer to be the giver not the receiver. Also I would look ridiculous in a fluffy peignoir.

This is my last post about my trip to Kuwait and I thank my hosts and hostess, all three generations, from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you for taking the journey with me,


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House Guests and Graduations…Don’t Invite Ted Koppel!

House Guests and Graduations…Don’t Invite Ted Koppel!

When I graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism (please don’t use the acronym), Ted Koppel was our keynote speaker. As you can imagine, those of us in the audience from Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Journalism were thrilled to have him there and cheered wildly. He looked right at our section and said, “Thanks. But there are still no jobs for you out there.” So you’re telling me, my family invested all this money to go to a really expensive private school and THIS is my going away gift!

Turns out I was employable, but it took a lot of time, effort, and low paying jobs to get to a point where I was existing above the poverty line. I’m sure Jenna Bush is a really lovely person but I hope she’ll understand that I shudder when I see her on national television then think of myself at my first professional gig working part time for minimum wage in a former key kiosk that had been turned into an all-news radio station. “Now Kiki,” you might say. “That sounds like sour grapes.” You’re damn right it is!

But what were we talking about….ah yes, house guests and graduation.

I’ve hosted a lot of graduation parties and the house guests that come with them and here’s my take.

When your host is throwing a party, the basic rules of etiquette are just a little different. You need to understand that you are not the main attraction and that your host has a lot going on. Try to make yourself useful, but if your host turns down help, graciously fade into the background, or better yet find something to do outside of the house.

Fend for yourself as much as possible. “Please don’t bother with breakfast for us. We saw this coffee shop down the street we can’t wait to try.”

Don’t make suggestions regarding the arrangements unless you were part of the planning, this is obnoxious.

Don’t provide food unless specifically asked. Chances are there is a menu planned and your offering might screw things up.

Put all your stuff in your designated area, preferably behind a closed door.

Don’t make demands of your host. They probably don’t have time to stop and set up the ironing board for you. This has actually happened to me on several occasions. And in my house who knows where the ironing board is, do I even have an ironing board?

Our eldest niece is a good example of a handy thing to have around for a party. First of all, she’ll do whatever you ask without question. One time I handed her a pair of pants to hem. Second of all, she’s really good at getting other “helpful” guests out of your hair. “Sweetie, would you help Aunt Agnes gather some lovely flowers in that meadow ten miles away?” “Why certainly Auntie, I’d be glad to do that.” This is actually not far from the truth.

Don’t get in the way of the caterers if they have them. In my case, the “caterer” is my sister. Guests tend to treat her like she’s free to chat. She is, but wait until the food is out and she’s holding a glass of wine or cold beer…that’s your sign to approach.

Make an effort to talk to guests who seem shy or socially awkward. This is incredibly helpful to your host. You obviously have something in common to get the conversation going.

When the party is over, offer to clean up but be sure to follow the host’s instructions carefully. You don’t want to throw out the good paper plates by accident.

Getting back to Ted Koppel, try really hard to say only positive things to and about the graduate.

Things not to say:

“I’ve heard the job market is really awful.”

“How you gonna pay off all those student loans?”

“I hear they’re hiring greeters at Walmart.” Not that there’s anything wrong with this job, it’s just an overused meme.

“So you’ve moved back in with the folks? How long is that going to last?”

“Let me tell you about my wildly successful child who had a full time job with benefits even before graduation!”

Here’s my favorite: “You got a degree in Broadcast Journalism?  So you’re going to work fast food, huh?”

You get the idea.

Congratulations to all the graduates and their families who read this. I wish you well. The only piece of advice I have is to keep your sense of humor. It’s even more important than your degree.

Thank you for visiting,


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