The problem with using a visitor as an excuse to host a dinner party, however, is that when I have a visitor I don't really have the time to cook a meal for a crowd, as I'm spending my days having a nice visit and using my guest as an excuse to see the Twin Cities (Glenn and I went to Stillwater on Saturday). I can still host a party, though -- takeout from the Rainbow Chinese restaurant is always a good thing (and my dinner guests are always very kind about ordering and picking up the food for me on their way over), or an assortment of pizzas from Pizza Luce (I can make my own salad and dressing). Plus dessert is something I can buy in advance, as are beverages. The only time I managed to cook a big meal for a guest of honor the guest (in that case bconn) wasn't actually staying with me and I took the afternoon off work to do it.
So I've really got to get my act together about having dinner parties just for the sake of having dinner parties. I may impose some artificial schedule for myself, like monthly, which might help me get out of the "yeah someday" rut. That way the calendar will be the excuse, as if my guest of honor is some Druidic deity.
One reason I like having people over is that I've discovered over the years that despite the best of intentions I never really clean my place (other than the kitchen) in more than the most perfunctory fashion unless I'm having visitors or guests. If you came to my place you'd definitely get a sense of clutter, but believe me what you'd see is nothing compared to the level of clutter one week before your arrival. I still feel inadequate that even after the pre-guest cleaning my place is never particularly spotless, but I'm learning that for the most part my guests don't really care -- or if they do, they keep their complaints to themselves, which amounts to the same thing from my point of view.
But the absolute biggest reason I like having people over feels so adolescent and neurotic, but I'm going to admit to it anyway. There's a part of me that always thinks I'm the ultimate outsider, that nobody would want to come to my party, and I'm just opening myself up to disappointment if I invite people over. And yet I have found the most amazing thing of all: All I ever have to do is invite people for dinner and they say, "Yes, I'd love to come! Thanks for asking me!" Just like that! Pretty much every time. Of course, I usually have the excuse thing going (to see my friend from Australia, to meet my visiting parents...), but I'm pretty sure that's not the only reason.
And by that I don't necessarily mean "because people love me", which is what it seems like I'm leading to here. No, I find that people really enjoy the old-fashioned formerly-common institution of the dinner party. Get 8 or 10 or 12 people together who don't necessarily all know each other and give them beverages and delicious food and they will have a good time. The sit-down dinner works much better for this than a general "party" -- you can't really be a wallflower at a dinner like this. I'm very fortunate that my apartment does seem to work very well for dinner parties. There were twelve on Saturday, which is definitely a stretch -- we're a little bit crowded around the table at that number -- but nobody seemed to mind in the slightest.
The bulk of my guests on Saturday arrived at the same time, and it was as if a tidal wave of life splashed into my living quarters. Suddenly there was laughter and noise and conversation and joy. I was a little overwhelmed at trying to be sure everybody had wine or beer or fruit juice or water, but my friends Matt and Deb took over the food setup and all was fine. I truly am getting better about being a host without constantly badgering my guests about what they might need or want.
You know, we sat at that table for close to five hours. At times the conversation involved the whole group, at times people broke into smaller conversational units. Cleanup was communal and fun, although with takeout food the cleanup is relatively minimal. Most everybody at dinner on Saturday was a close friend, and a dinner like this decidedly cements those bonds of friendship.
So sometime in April I will have to do this again. Maybe I'll start small -- six people on a weeknight. Roasted chicken pieces with a rice-veggie pilaf side dish. Salad. Brownie sundaes. Sauvignon Blanc. Apple Rasberry juice and mineral water. Will I be able to put that meal together on the very night of the guests? Will I emerge from my laziness and see this through? Would you like to come?