How to Host a Crappy Dinner (And See Your Friends More Often)

dinner_party

Thank you to Kelley Powell for this guest post.

Laura is one of my oldest friends. I’ve known her for as long as I can remember. We’ve both moved around a lot but now we find ourselves living in the same city, both mothers to boys of similar ages. It only makes sense that we would see each other often – except we didn’t.

I love having friends over, but with three kids, big writing dreams, and the never ending onslaught of preparing and cleaning up from breakfast/snack/lunch/snack/dinner/snack/snack/snack, having a friend over for a meal started to feel too much like work and less like the break I craved. I am not a neat freak or perfectionist by any stretch, but having company came to mean clearing a path in the explosion of crafts and creations on our floor, folding the mountain of laundry on the couch and finding the source of that questionable smell. I started to feel grumpy when preparing for a visitor, snapping at my kids to pick up their underwear and wipe the toilet seat, for crying out loud. In one part of my brain I knew that this reaction was ridiculous: my friends were coming to see me, not my home. Laura is a mom too and would completely understand the scribble marks on my hardwood and my 9 year old’s unmade bed. But the other part of my brain said that pride in ownership is a healthy thing and germs are not.

Then Laura went away, to a small community in northern Saskatchewan. When she returned two years later she told me how friends there just show up at each other’s houses, unannounced. People feed each other whatever happens to be in their fridge that day. There’s no preparation, no stress – just pure enjoyment. “Let’s try it,” she suggested. We made plans for our first crappy dinner. But because we are from southern Ontario we needed to make rules:

Crappy Dinner Rule 1. No housework is to be done prior to a guest’s arrival

Crappy Dinner Rule 2. The menu must be simple and not involve a special grocery shop

Crappy Dinner Rule 3. You must wear whatever you happen to have on

Crappy Dinner Rule 4. No hostess gifts allowed

Crappy Dinner Rule 5 (optional). You must act like you’re surprised when your friend and her family just happen to show up at your door.

Reading over the rules, my husband told me I couldn’t do it. “You’ll be cleaning and chopping frantically at the last minute,” he said. I vowed I wouldn’t. Laura and I set a date.

Minutes before the first crappy dinner at our house my 7-year-old son trudged through the house in his muddy shoes.

“I’m so cool with that,” I said to my husband. He laughed.

My 9-year-old announced she was going to begin a messy, gluey, paint filled project on the living room floor.

“No probs,” I said, sipping a glass of wine.

Then the tension that had been brewing all day between my 7-year-old and 4-year-old finally exploded and SmackDown 2015 started happening.

“Um,” I said, as Laura rang the doorbell and the boys trampled over each other to see who could answer it first.

I’ll admit that first crappy dinner required many deep breaths on my part, although of course I loved spending time with Laura and her family. Since then, we’ve had monthly crappy dinners. Perhaps the most memorable was when Laura threw her back out and couldn’t move from her couch. Instead of cancelling, she shouted out instructions as we rummaged around her kitchen and took lasagnas from her freezer. Now that’s comfy, cozy friendship.

Although we regularly break the crappy dinner rules, Laura and I are seeing each other more often, and there’s definitely nothing crappy about that. There is an old proverb that says, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” Crappy dinner is all about placing priority on what truly matters, and about accepting life –and motherhood – for all of the beautiful, crappy things it throws your way. Beans and wieners, anyone?

Kelley’s debut novel, The Merit Birds, will be published by Dundurn Press in May 2015. Find her on Twitter @kelleypowell20 and Facebook.

Image credit: Caccamo


35 thoughts on “How to Host a Crappy Dinner (And See Your Friends More Often)”

  1. When my daughter was newborn the best we could offer our friends looked a lot like the meal our family had planned to eat anyways – meatloaf – but we happened to share with friends instead of saving leftovers for sandwiches. The last time we had friends over (our daughter is now almost 6) we just put a pot of soup on to simmer when they called and it was ready when they got here. Crappy dinners rule. (PS We’re also minimalists and avoid the urge to clean last minute by owning less stuff!)

  2. Oh, how I wish I embraced this more when my kids were younger! But I’m slowly working my way there. Mystery potlucks are also fun, encouraging friends to bring over their leftovers.

  3. yes yes yes! Awesome. When my kids were little, our favorite dinners were the ones that started as a visit on the sidewalk with friends then turned into hours and hours of meals, fun, play. Because they weren’t planned, there was no pressure to perform and from that I learned that the important thing is the people, not the meal presented, not the tidiness of the house. I also learned that a quick wipe on the top of the tile in the bathroom made it seem as if the whole room was clean! Thanks for sharing this. It’s a lovely sentiment!

    http://www.slowfamilyliving.com

    1. I have to agree. Not sure I could do it though. I always feel so much pressure to at least have my house as clean as the last party I went to. Never happens. The food is my strong suit, keeping a tidy house? Not so much.

  4. This makes me feel so good! Thank you! I need more of this in my life for sure. I am kind of a clean freak with who has given up with two boys and need to appreciate the good stuff :)

  5. I love this! It’s brilliant and it’s one of those things that so many of us yearn for but can’t bring ourselves to do because the hostess ethics society has gotten the best of us. I say screw the status quo and let’s ALL embrace more time with friends because of it. Fair trade imho.

    P.S. I would love permission to reference this on my new blog. I think it’s perfect for those that are living with either physical or emotional pain that prevents them from cleaning, cooking, hosting etc. far more often than they would like. Would that be OK? URL is http://www.pushthroughthepain.com

  6. Oh, I get this! (I’m a mum of three with a writing habit, too.) They should send this post out to all new mums of Number One Child. We live in Cornwall, and once every week or so we have friends over for pasties. I buy pasties, put them on the table, and add a bowl of tomatoes and a bowl of cucumber chunks. That’s IT, nothing more. Everyone takes turns to get the drinks, and everyone knows that in the Land of Toddlers, to check the bathroom floor before you walk on it. It’s not sexy and it’s not glamorous, but I love seeing my friends and knowing what’s going on in each other’s lives. This kind of friendship is vital when you’re parenting small children. The other day I said to a friend that she was in my “Stinky Circle” — people allowed into my house even if the dog fluff on the rug looks like a yeti nest and the dust is piling up in drifts — and she turned and hugged me. There are days when you really, really need friends like that!

  7. Unexpected or last min get togethers are my preference and always the most fun. I was embarrassed to seve tuna sandwiches one time and it made one of my guests day. I could ‘t imagine anyone getting excited about tuna fish but We all have different likes and sometimes friends over just make stuff taste better. I learned from
    the experience. Never heard it called hosting a grappy dinner, but if you have never hosted one you are really missing out

  8. Most of my time spent with friends are unannounced visits. I had surgery last week, so of course my house is a mess. My best friend came over this morning, while I was still sleeping, and left me snickers and Pepsi to help me feel better. Our friendship flows easier if we’re not worried about how the house looks, if the dishes are done or the clothes are folded. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

  9. This comment is a little different. Many years ago I was encouraged by a sermon our preacher had given about hospitality. He told us we are all family and no one is perfect so just get out there and do it.
    I was very minimalist at the time. We had two little round black tables that were the perfect height to eat off of while sitting on the floor.
    I was a single mother at the time with 2 small children.
    I bit the bullet and invited a newer family over.
    When they came to the door the man was wearing a suit and his wife a fancy dress.
    I ushered them in, reminded them of the sermon and served toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. We had a great time.
    The man told me that I had given them an important life lesson about how to be family.

  10. While I couldn’t agree more with this, and strongly agree that our fragmented modern lives are starved for real community, I am sorry to report that I there are whole neighborhoods full of shallow moms who would shudder, smile politely, and somehow discover other things to do the next time they were invited to my house. Only my closest friends would get this and not judge. We are bombarded with Martha Stewart, the Food Network and loads of other cultural messages — and most women I know are just trying to fit their messy lives into those perfect molds. Finding others who are willing to be real is harder than it might seem. At least in my experience. More often, I find others who like the idea, but really are only using a different measuring stick and still trying to “do it right.” Here’s to more of us breaking the stereotypes!

  11. Yes Laura is one of a long time friend that I went to school with … that is Laura to a tee well girl friend you all ways welcome here at my home were ever I’m and time

  12. Yes Laura is one of a long time friend that I went to school with … that is Laura to a tee well girl friend you all ways welcome here at my home were ever I’m and any time

    1. Melanie and Erin, your posts have been so inspiring and encouraging. Currently, I find myself living with my in-laws while we save up to move out west. They are unable to function without things in their place and put away, and the idea of having anyone over without a whirlwind of cleaning/organizing/decluttering to the nth degree is not an option. I recently had dinner with friends who did not clean their house (I’m pretty sure the bathroom hadn’t seen a cleaning in a good month) in anticipation of our arrival, and it was WONDERFUL. Now to find a circle of friends I can practice this crappy dinner philosophy with on a regular basis. I’m starved for this! It’s so refreshing to hear that other moms out there aren’t trying to kill themselves trying to keep a spotless, orderly house with two toddlers running about! Thank you both so much for your posts!

  13. My girlfriend and I found that we would only see each other every 6 months on our children’s birthdays. We decided that wasn’t enough and started planning monthly dinners at alternating houses. We booked a dinner for the following month at one of our houses. The person hosting the dinner made the main course and the person coming over, brought something to go with the meal such as salad or dessert. Before we said goodnight we looked at the calendar and booked the next dinner the following month at the other persons house. That was 22 years ago. We have not missed a month but we have both divorced and continued to have our dinners together. Eventually as we began new relationships, our boyfriends joined in. We ended up inviting some other friends to join in and now we have 5 different houses that host the dinners. Still the main course is served by the host and the desserts, salads appies etc are brought by the guests. My daughter still joins us when she can and my grandson always comes even if his mom can’t because he’s so adorable that everyone enjoys his company so I always go get him. We make sure to book the following month at whomever’s house is next, before the night ends. We cook whatever we feel like and fancy is not on the menu unless we want it to be. The condition of the house is not an issue. We don’t care about the house, we care about seeing our friends. We have a lot of laughs and a great time every time.

  14. I was just telling my husband that it’s impossible to see friends because I won’t have them over my house (due to the mess) and we don’t have funds to go out to eat often. This article was so encouraging. I’m pretty sure I have a few friends that wouldn’t judge and just enjoy the company.

  15. This is great, although it made me very sad. 10 years ago we moved from a smaller city. In that last home we had people over often, a good community of friends and life was on a ‘we-live-here-with-lotsa-kids’ kind of level. Birthdays were spent with whole families over for a relaxed simple meal, we would often receive visitors unannounced and no-one expected more than a smile and a hug. When we moved to a bigger city everything changed. Birthday parties were huge, kids only, everyone received a gift, every food imaginable served, everything decorated to the latest theme etc. We have been invited out to a meal at someone’s house less than half a dozen times and I quickly stopped inviting others over. People’s homes were out of magazines, the food had been planned weeks in advance and served beautifully. It was amazing, but I felt it felt a bit removed from real life and that I could never live up to the standard others set – a large family, living in a small home, working for a self-supporting organisation (ie voluntary work with people financially supporting you) made things too hard to try! I never felt good enough. Now I feel alone and isolated and miss those ‘honest’ friendships so much. My best friend has moved to another country and we have many people we say hello to, but the friendships remain superficial. Maybe this will encourage me to try again, but I might need to toughen my skin for the reactions. Thanks for sharing and encouraging us to really connect with others.

    1. I say…find one close friend and arrange for her to plan the food. She brings the main dish and tells you what to provide as the side. We have friends we eat with often and she just loves a certain food that I make. I make it and take it to her house.

  16. I love this concept! I should start doing this and will definitely see more of my friends. Thanks for the blog post.
    Eye opener and such a great way to live our busy lives as mothers.

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