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Beware of “The Year of No”

While I was out last night with some friends, another mutual friend came up to us and when we asked her what she had been up to, she proclaimed that she was just coming off “a year of no”.  No volunteering. No PTA. No tennis groups. “Can you?” No. “Would you?” No. “Just one?” No. Having gone through a year of no myself, I have to say it can be really quite liberating. You hear that word so often from your children and so rarely have the opportunity to use it yourself, when it comes as an answer to a task request. Our kids are great at it: “Can you clean your room?” No. “Can you take out the garbage?” No. “Can you finish your homework?” No. “Can you turn off the t.v.?” No. But when we’re asked, “Can you make me something to eat?’ “Can you wash my favorite pants?” “Can you drive me to soccer practice?”, though we would like to say “no”, our answer usually is the obligatory “yes”. And when that overflows to volunteer activities, many times we get sucked into the same mode. “Can you help out at the book fair?” “Can you run the carpool?” “Can you head up the coat drive?” At first, you appreciate having something to do while the kids are at school. But pretty soon, if you’re not careful, when you say “yes” too often, you find yourself spending your time doing things that you’re not passionate about, albeit they’re all good causes.  Even if you wanted to try to come up with a way to discover what your inner passion would be, you have no time to explore it. Sometimes, when you go too far to the left with “Yes”, then you find yourself wanting to go far right with “No”, and that’s when you can find yourself experiencing the sabbatical called “The Year of No”.

If you’re the type of person who has trouble saying no, then perhaps the only way you can make yourself say it is to draw a firm line in the sand and just make “no” your blanket statement. That way you don’t even have to think about your answer, start to feel guilty and then perhaps change your mind. Usually when you have something personal on your plate that you know you have to spend time on, you get terrified of over-committing yourself. So then, you feel the only way to ensure you don’t say yes to too much is to go with “no” across the board. This is what happened to me a few years ago when we moved houses. I knew packing and unpacking and decorating and getting the kids assimilated into a new school, would take up much of my time, so that is when I entered my “year of no”.

Having time off from outside obligations and being able to just concentrate on your family, can be a good thing at times. But what no one tells you, which is what I want to tell you today, is that when you say “no” too often, after a while people stop asking. And initially you think that’s a good thing because it takes the pressure off, but the problem happens when you find yourself wanting to be finished with your “year of no”.  That’s when you may find out that maybe no one is around anymore. And that can be a lonely place to be. After my “year of no”, my friends stopped asking me to go out places, because they had come to expect my answer was going to be no. I didn’t get the emails to help out at the book fair. The coat drive ran fine without me.  The friend I was speaking with last night was going through the same thing coming off her “year of no”. She said, “Now that I’m ready to get back in the mix, no one is calling me anymore. I find that I’m having a hard time even finding someone to play tennis with.”

So, the moral of this story is though it’s perfectly o.k. and good for your state-of-mind to find a way to feel as comfortable saying “no” as you do to saying “yes”, be careful of making blanket statements of “no” for such a length of time that would make people start expecting that as your answer. You never want to pigeon-hole yourself in a way that it is hard to break back in when you’re ready to come back. So, mix it up a little. Pick one or two things within each of your social groups (friends, school community, town community), that you think you can fit into your schedule during your “hiatus”, and start off the year knowing that when those things come up, you will say “yes” to them. Schedule in time to check in with your friends, even if it is to comment on their Facebook page, or send a quick text, “Still trying to get my head above water, but looking forward to getting together next month.” Keep the lines of communication open and don’t let people forget about you. If you need a “Year of No” once in awhile, just turn it into a “Year of No, But With Some Specifically Designated and Well-thought Out Times of Yes”.  That way, when the pressure has eased, and you’re ready to jump back in, you don’t find the pool closed and have to struggle to reopen it again.

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House Party – the Real Housewive’s way

When NBC started airing the “Real Housewives” reruns in the afternoon, right during the time I’m usually at the gym looking for something to watch – I got hooked. Not because of the drama. Not because of the entertainment value. But for two reasons only. One, being a housewife myself, I love to watch a show that denotes a “real housewife” whose important duties have nothing to do with cooking, cleaning, or rearing children. How great is that? And my second reason is for the fabulous parties they throw. Which brings me to today’s blog.

In October of last year we moved into a new house. Just about nine months later, we have finally sold our old house. In this housing market, no longer having to carry two houses, well, that calls for a party. And not just any party. I want to throw a party fit for a “Real Housewife”.  So, I am going to bring you on that journey with me.

Step One: The Germination Phase.

The seed must be planted from which the party blooms. The seed can be a theme, a venue, or it can be the entertainment. For me, I found my seed when I went into the city to see the Black Eyed Peas perform a benefit concert in Central Park. The concert was canceled due to weather conditions, so I found myself at the Prohibition Bar on Columbus Ave. The bar band consisted of two brothers, one on the electric guitar and one playing a drum-like box.  They were so good, so versatile, so charming, as they tried to fake a few Black Eyed Peas songs just so we didn’t go home empty handed. I had found my seed. A hip, eclectic duo direct from a NYC club – yeah, I can build a party around that.

The most important thing during the germination phase, in order to make your party unique, is to think outside the box and not be afraid to think big. When I saw The Doyle Brothers play, they had just announced that they had won a contest to go to England to perform in a concert as the opening act for Sir Paul McCartney. Others may have shied away from asking them to then come out to “the country” and play at a house party, but I remembered someone once told me that it never hurts to ask (which it actually does, by the way, when the response is no), but luckily, they said “yes”!

Step Two: The Nurturing Phase. I had the entertainment, now I had to supply all the things necessary for the party to grow. To do this, I looked at 3 things: Gregarious Guests,  Palate Pleasers, and Amazing Ambience.

Gregarious Guests were easy. I had two towns of people to pick from. I had a lot of friends from my old town that I knew would come just because the invitation said “party” on it. And they did not disappoint, turning beer bottle bands into fashionable bracelets for themselves. My new town was a little bit more difficult. I didn’t know a lot of my new neighbors yet. So, I turned to one of the more popular neighbors on the block and asked her for a list of people she deemed fun enough for me to invite to my party. She really helped me out, though she drew the line at my recon mission of  trying to obtain a list of  potential “the band is too loud” 9-1-1 callers to invite as a preemptory strike.

Palate Pleasers came in the form of a professional catering service, as I have never pretended in any way that I know how to function in what I believe some people call a kitchen – for me it’s a place to store and warm up pre-cooked meals. Two things to remember when it comes to caterers: use one that a friend recommends and has used before and has been happy with (limits your worries), and secondly, make sure that the food selections you make all can be eaten delicately without ruining your lipstick, getting in your teeth, or dripping on your outfit.  Make sure those “Pleasures” stay in the middle range of your palate – don’t go too downtown with pigs in a blanket, nor too uptown with truffles. You don’t want food that would be served at a bad wedding, nor food that your guests can’t pronounce or identify.

That just leaves me with Amazing Ambience. Seems simple enough, I already had the music so, just turn down the lights. But alas, if only it were that easy. A party is nothing without lights, color, or the combination: colored lighting.  Somehow I needed to turn my country colonial home into a New York City nightclub. I began to think I had gone slightly overboard with this idea as I forced my sister to climb on the roof of our house to change out our flood lights to blue. I would have sent my husband up there, but our extension ladder had been purchased at a tag sale and was not quite stable. As close as I am to my sister, if the ladder were to give way, leaving my children without an aunt was slightly preferable over leaving them without a father. Luckily, with a few minor scares, she was able to revamp the lighting and climb down safely, all the while vowing never to offer her assistance in my “over-the-top”, “ridiculous party ideas”, again. Though I’m not really sure where she was coming from with that. I did get my husband up on a slightly smaller ladder, in order to change out all

our lights to pink in our twenty-foot, living-room ceiling. I then had a great idea to do colored uplighting under glass tables to give a real nightclub feel. Since it  was an indoor/outdoor summer party, I had our outdoor glass dining table aglow in a soft blue hue. I figured we would  have our stationary hors d’oeuvres set out there in the middle of the party. Note to self: when you have a lighted table with food on it, at night, the bugs that it attracts is horrifying, So, that particular, incredibly awesome idea, turned into an empty table glowing in the middle of our backyard. But still, a nice affect….

And because my background is in marketing and putting together pretty packaging, the devil is definitely in the details. A signature drink was a must and it had to coordinate with the overall ambience. So, it was light pink with glowing, light-up mixing sticks.

Step Three: The Bloom. Then you just have to let things unfold, and flourish under the weeks and weeks of planning that you put into an evening that lasts just four hours. Of course, it turned out we had a heat wave that day so everyone was dripping with sweat, and I forgot that when you’re the hostess, you don’t actually hear the music that the band is playing, or get to taste much of the food, or remember to take pictures of the actual event, because you’re making sure everyone else is enjoying themselves. Just all of a sudden, the party is over.  So, was it a party that rivaled the soirees of the Real Housewives? I’m not sure about that, but it was definitely a night to be remembered, that is, if I could remember all of it…

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