On Hosting Houseguests

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The most difficult adjustment I've had to make since moving out here to the ranch is having houseguests. And I don't mean the kind of friends and family that come around during the holidays or even the ones who visit for a weekend. I'm talking about a consistent stream of guests who stay for long periods of time. For a girl who has spent the last three years coccooning in her New York apartment, being around people almost all of the time is pretty overwhelming. 

It's funny because I've always thought the idea of running a bed & breakfast was quite charming–you know, to fully manifest your vision of a cozy experience and share it with new people. This is essentially what we're doing, or, rather, in the process of doing. We're currently building an biodynamic garden and planning to put an outdoor shower on the deck. During the day, we go on epic hikes around the property and, at night, we snuggle up outside under blankets to watch the moon rise with wine glasses in hand. I mean, it's simply too special of a place not to share. Naturally, who wouldn't want to come?

Hosting, though, takes a great deal of energy, especially when it's so frequent and for such long periods of time. It starts to feel like a job, and, for me, that takes the joy out of it. I have a natural instinct for nurturing, looking after, and taking care of the people that I know and love. But when it comes to people whom I don't know very well (or love), I'm more reticent. I'm still polite and accommodating and social, but it feels draining. In fact, to be honest, I start getting irritable after a couple of days. I think it's because I've grown accustomed to carving out my own private space and time after all these years that I feel this need to protect it.  

Before I go any further, I have a confession to make: I originally wrote and published a different version of this post in the form of a comedic rant. But then I decided to re-write it. The first one was meant to be facetious spin on the many annoying observations I've encountered, but I felt that it wasn't very nice of me as a host to use it as material. Everything was, of course, rooted in truth, but perhaps the ultimate truth, above all, is that I simply can't be around houseguests on a regular basis. We've had some really enjoyable guests, but also ones who don't know the basic etiquette of staying in someone else's home. It actually drives me kinda nuts. 

I asked my friend Charles for some advice. He has a house in the Hamptons where he has invited groups of people out on the weekends and seems to deal with it well. Charles agreed that hosting can be super stressful. "Laziness has been my policy," he told me. He has a laissez-faire approach where guests figure out the weekend for themselves. Because they don't have any expectations from him, he's not stressed by it. Maybe I should try that.

Going back to that fantasy about running a bed & breakfast, I think I've gotten a good dose of reality to make me realize that I'm not cut out for being an innkeeper. I'd rather be a gracious host to loved ones who come to visit every so often. That, I can handle. 








He Gets Me, He Gets Me Not...

Deep-fried strawberry pies from Town Line BBQ in the Hamptons

Being the young girly-girl I was ten years ago, I thought I had discovered a crafty way to find out how my then-boyfriend perceived me. So, I asked him: "If I were a food, what would I be?" I was hoping that he'd tell me that I was a decadent Viennese chocolate torte. Layers upon layers of cake and hazelnut buttercream... Covered with a glossy coat of dark chocolate... And topped with a gold-leaf garnish! You know, an exquisite creation of that sort.

To my dismay, he replied: "You'd be a chicken pot pie."  

A chicken pot pie? A chicken pot pie??? Excuse me? I couldn't believe that he thought of me as something so ordinary and pedestrian and... Blah. Gee, thanks. I crossed my arms and waited for an explanation. 

"You're a chicken pot pie because you look like any other sweet pie on the outside," he said, "But, on the inside, it gets more complicated. You're not one of those sweet pies. You have chunks of chicken, potatoes, peas, carrots... And gravy."

I was taken aback. He nailed it. I don't think I could've done a better job summing my own self up into a nutshell. (Or, a pie shell, rather.) It was incredibly flattering. The thing about chicken pot pies is this: They have substance.


Just Like Diane

"So... We play an ice-breaker game every time we have a first-time visitor," said a friend of mine, pulling out a seat for me when I stopped by her office to say hello, "You have to pose a question to the group and everyone takes their turn to answer it."

I looked around at the smiling faces at the table. What a way to put a girl on the spot! 

"OK!" I said, clasping my hands together, "I've got the question."

I cheated a little because I had already played this game back in college. The question was: "If there was a movie made about your life, who would you pick to play you?" 

The only difference, then, was that, instead of answering it myself, my college roommate answered for me: Parker Posey. (At the time, we were all obsessed with two Parkers: Parker Posey and Sarah Jessica Parker.) I was honored. Parker Posey was an unexpected and non-obvious choice. She has a wicked sense of humor and, despite being supremely talented and cool, she has always flown under the mainstream radar.

Therefore, when it was my turn, I knew exactly what I was going to say: "Parker Posey."

"Really?" asked my friend, "I'm surprised. You know who you remind me of? Diane Keaton."  

"Diane Keaton?!" 

"Yes! Especially in that movie Something's Gotta Give." 

"Really?! Why?" I wasn't sure how I felt that a 50+-year old actress could play me. (And I'm not talking about looks because Ms. Keaton looks damn fine.) Did I act twenty years older than my own age???

"Well, she's a writer... And she always wears sweaters,"  she said, thoughtfully.

I looked down at what I was wearing. Hm. A cashmere sweater in the middle of the summer. Well, what can I say, I am definitely a sweater girl, through and through. She might be be onto something.

When I randomly bumped into an ex-boyfriend from high school, he also brought up the same connection. He mentioned that Something's Gotta Give was one of his favorite movies and Diane Keaton's character always reminded him of me. It was interesting coming from someone whose #1 favorite movie is American Psycho, to say the least.

Diane Keaton plays Erica Barry, an accomplished playwright and divorcée who lives in a gorgeous house in the Hamptons and finds herself caught in a love triangle between a man of her own age who is the ultimate modelizer (Jack Nicholson) and a younger hot doctor who is completely enamored with her (Keanu Reeves). Nancy Meyers, the writer and director of the film, didn't make it difficult to see why these two polar opposites were clamoring for her attention.

Erica Barry possesses a sparkly independent spirit, but is also a creature of comfort. She's complex but not complicated. And she's nurturing but not in a trite way. She also makes things like blueberry pancakes at midnight and eats scrambled eggs straight out of the pan on rainy evenings.

I recently watched Something's Gotta Give again the other night. OK, so there are some similarities. There's the writing thing and the sweater thing, for one. But, geez, her hairstyle and my hairstyle? (I swear, I feel perpetually stuck in this mid-length layered haircut.) Then, there's her easy-going nature that makes her so approachable. And the fact that she has no problem spending time alone. Oh, and how she romances Paris... Although what woman doesn't?

I adore Diane Keaton in general, so I'm very pleased to know that there are at least two people in this world who associate me with her character in this movie. I hope I live up to it. Like Erica Barry, I hope I produce some great piece of writing, find someone who gets me, and own a fabulous home in the Hamptons. 








The Art of Making Pancakes

It was Paul who told me that Steve makes the best pancakes in the world. 

"What makes them so great?" I asked, curiously.

"I don't know," he said, "They just are!"  

I was dying to know what the secret to these great pancakes were. My method is simple: use pancake mixes and follow the instructions to a T. I've used everything from Bisquick to The Stonewall Kitchen, and, while my pancakes turn out lovely and good, I don't think anyone has ever raved that they were "the best in the world". 

This past weekend, while in the Hamptons with friends, Steve allowed me to shadow him in the kitchen as his sous-chef. The breakfast shift is his domain and, let me tell you, it is a serious responsibility to provide a whole house of people with their first meal of the day. I thought of his permission as a great honor. Will he let me whisk??? (Yes, I actually wondered this.)

The only things that I was allowed to do were:

  1. Take out the ingredients and put them away
  2. Crack eggs into the bowl (This was a fail. He spotted a fragment of eggshell in the yolks.) 
  3. Clean up pancake batter splotches off of the counter
  4. Heat up the maple syrup in the microwave (35 seconds) 
  5. Soften the butter in the microwave (4 seconds for one stick of butter) 

Have I mentioned that Steve means business when it comes to his pancakes? I've seen him fling cooked pancakes into the sink like Frisbees because they were "off-color".

"How about you throw them over here? I'll eat them," said Nina, wide-eyed, as she sipped on her coffee. 

So what did I learn? The secret to Steve's pancakes sure ain't love!


The key to great pancakes lies in low heat, discipline, and the unwavering commitment to producing a quality product.