Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Peggy, this is isn't China. There's no money in virginity."

I'm donning my white gloves, my teased bouffant hair, my girdle and my pearls this Sunday, in fevered anticipation. Yes, I'm looking forward to brunch with good friends Sunday morning and yes, I'll enjoy my monthly book club meeting on Sunday afternoon. But what I'm really dying for is the return of my absolute favorite television show, Mad Men, 9pm Sunday night on AMC.

Why aren't you watching Mad Men? If you are, I applaud your intelligence, verve and good looks and would like to buy you a vodka gimlet. But if you aren't, I'm here to scold you. Chide you, tempt you and shame you into watching. I know, I know. Pop culture choices are subjective. You don't like costume dramas. You look to TV for escape and don't like having to think too hard. You don't have cable. You get confused easily. You watched one random episode without seeing any others and didn't like it. You have a real life and no time for fluffy pursuits. Your skin crawls when too many people rave about something and therefore refuse to watch it yourself. You stopped watching TV once the Sopranos ended. You have kids and no time. You think I'm an idiot. You hate that one actress lady with the face who is in it. You think that show is offensive to women. You think TV is for the ignorant, unwashed masses, you are above all that, you like books. All of these reasons may be valid. But I must insist, with great certainty, you still should be watching Mad Men.

Why, you ask? Why should you ignore all of the substantial (baloney) arguments that you each logically listed above? Because it is simply excellent television. It is visually stunning with a perfectly stylized 1960's look, down to each fitted suit, drawn in eyebrow, motor car, and typewriter sitting on a young secretary's desk. It's thought provoking, it has depth and gravitas. It's a fascinating study of a time period and a place in our country that is glamorous and infuriating. It's mordantly funny and sexy like those constrained early 1960's, all repression and anticipated release. It's upsetting and emotional. It doesn't spoon feed the viewer, it's ambiguous and allusive. It's everything that high quality television should be, in my estimation. Frankly, I'm jealous that you have three full seasons of Mad Men to discover, while I must wait patiently each week for the next episode of season four. But while I have you here, it might be better that I assume you have no idea what this "Mad Men" business is that I'm blabbering on about. What is this show you are so ridiculously enamored of, Kassie?

So a brief synopsis straight from the Mad Men official website:
"Mad Men revolves around the conflicted world of Don Draper, the biggest ad man (and ladies man) in the business, and his colleagues at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. As Don makes the plays in the boardroom and the bedroom, he struggles to stay a step ahead of the rapidly changing times and the young executives nipping at his heels. The series also depicts authentically the roles of men and women in this era while exploring the true human nature beneath the guise of 1960s traditional family values."

Sexism, neighborhood bird shooting, infidelity, creativity, babies, class struggles, office flings, bad parenting, race relations, competition, glass ceilings, clingy dresses, passion, cigarettes, revenge sex, self doubt, church socials, pain, death, mergers and acquisitions, smoking doctors, regret, betrayal, rape, and people riding tractors at office parties. Mad Men has it all. I could go on and on. This show moves me and engages me and makes me think. And that's more than I can ever say for The Bachelorette, or frankly 98% of what's on TV.

But realistically, I know you probably won't watch it. You have your reasons. But at least consider renting or borrowing season one and give yourself the time to watch a couple of episodes before you decide. You deserve it, and Mad Men deserves your attention. Still I know it may not be the show for you.  Though I just might think you are wrong, Mad Men probably isn't for everyone. I think that's what I like about it.  So let's make a deal. I'll try not to judge you for not watching, if you'll try not to judge me for wishing, just a little bit, that I was Joan Holloway.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Oversharing, TMI, Crossing the Line?

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of visiting one of my favorite book stores, really favorite places on earth, Jackson Street Books in the Old Market in Omaha. I spotted this quote, written out quickly on an index card, and tacked up on the bookshelf holding all the memoirs. "Memoir is a genre that leaves blood on the tracks."

I haven't written a memoir. But I've been thinking about it. I guess this blog is sort of an ongoing, in the moment memoir, of tiny chapters, events and my random, disconnected thoughts. This quote struck me as so true and something that I struggle with from time to time on this blog. How much "blood" am I willing to shed myself or draw from the people I love? What personal information do I share in public and what do I hold back? Usually it's pretty clear cut, but occasionally that becomes a more nuanced question.

I'm certainly not the only person dealing with this question. Anyone who uses Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare or many of the thousands of other social networking sites has to decide everyday, every time they write a status update or tweet. How much should I say here? Should I be bitching about my boss? Should I mention getting drunk when I'm barely 16? Is my fight with my husband something that my old high school softball teammate really needs to know? It seems like so many people don't even stop to think before they spew their lives all over Facebook in particular. Fourth DUI, why not? Third marriage ending cause you cheated again, even Grandma wants to know that, right? Who am I to say that those people are sharing too much? Someone could easily read what I write here or what I write on Twitter or Facebook and think I'm over sharing. But honestly, I love it when people share the dirty details of their lives where I can read it, and sometimes snigger and feel a touch of guilty schadenfruede while I look at their ugly baby's pictures.

For me there is a sense of empowerment and freedom sometimes in sharing something intensely private with other people. I feel less alone and less ashamed when someone else can relate to my secret or my flaw. But I get to craft the story and share it on my own terms. The risk is that complete strangers can judge me without really even knowing me. Oh, and I've opened myself up to judgment from friends and family too. And they know me and probably don't need anymore ammunition. And I can hurt people without even realizing it if I'm not careful. Because with that sense of empowerment comes a level of responsibility.

I wrote a blog post last week that will never be printed. But the sheer act of writing it, and then visually previewing it as a real blog post in Blogger, gave me the satisfaction that I needed without ever hitting the publish button. It was the kind of post written out of anger and frustration and not the kind of thing that I would be proud of in a day, or an hour. I'm not proud of it today actually. The fallout would have been bad. It was vitriolic and cruel, and I like to think I'm neither of those, most of the time. And more importantly it would have been hurtful. On the one hand, I think a lot of people would have agreed with me and related to what I was saying, but that didn't outweigh the pain that it would have caused some people that I care about. And that's the part that I think more people, including myself, need to think about before they post things in public. Because whose life am I writing about here? It's not just mine. I share my life with other people, people who mean the world to me, people who have saved me and loved me and sacrificed for me, and laugh with me and hold my hand when I need a friend, and their opinions and feelings matter greatly. And as I think about writing a memoir, that's something even more permanent and potentially dangerous than any status update could ever be.

In thinking about writing a real memoir, I have started to question how much I am willing to expose: of myself, my family, my friends and my inner crazy. I love memoirs. It seems as if every fifth book I pick up is a memoir these days. It's a trendy and popular genre. In part because there are so many fascinating people out there willing to share themselves. And willing to expose themselves and their loved ones to the glaringly, unforgiving spotlight of the true story. Am I one of them? Am I willing to mildly eviscerate those I love? Am I willing to disappoint and portray certain people, myself included, in ways that are deeply unflattering and personal? I don't know. But I think I just might dive in and see what happens. I can always change the names and cities and call it a novel, right?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

That Diamond Anniversary

Appropriately, diamonds are the recommended gift to celebrate being married to the same person for 60 years. That kind of enormous milestone deserves a really expensive and durable gemstone.  Joe and I, approaching our measly 9th year of marriage are advised to give each other pottery or willow, according to tradition. One a highly breakable houseware and the other a dried stick? Though if we go with the modern recommendation there's leather. Modern, and possibly kinky. I think I'll try and hold out for 60 years.

I have trouble wrapping my brain around that 60 years measurement, honestly. It is so rare. But there are those few charmed, determined couples that make it happen. And I have the pleasure and honor of being a member of a family with just such a charming couple at the helm. Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Underhill, Joe's maternal grandparents, have been married for sixty years. Well, really sixty years plus a few days now, since I'm writing this a week or more after their huge celebratory weekend of parties and jam packed family events. Gus and Janice, Mr. and Mrs. Underhill, are storybook grandparents.  Except they are real.

Super Nana and Connor

Janice is a funny, sharp lady who raised four wonderful daughters, taught school, keeps twelve grandchildren and six great grandchildren in line, and makes a mean tuna salad sandwich. She is blunt and generous and when looking at this picture:

That face

said in her slightly scolding, slightly Boston accent, "Oh, Kassie does that to Joe in pictures all the time!"Glancing at me with that look, you know the one, bemused with a hint of judgement. Basically a grandmother look.

Gus and the Franzia

Gus is quiet. Janice would not be described that way but Gus, having spent decades living in a house full of women, doesn't waste his words. He is reserved. So when he drops a stellar piece of advice on you, maybe about saving money, or marrying well or keeping your car filled with gas, it has big impact. He knows this. He is witty, he is warm, and he has given each of his grandchildren a set of collectible coins every year for the last thirty four Christmases.

So when the Underhills' approached their 60th year of marriage, the four Underhill daughters stepped up and starting nearly a year ago, began planning a weekend packed with get togethers, dinners, parties and brunches.

The Underhill Girls Party planning committee

Relatives came from Boston, Cape Cod, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Chicago and Kansas City to celebrate the beauty and joy of that Underhill marriage. A marriage that created a vast and delightful network of old family friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts and uncles, second cousins and nieces and nephews to come together, eat, drink and toast those 60 excellent years.

Paula and Jack

The whole fam damily

Sherry and John

The Great-Grandchildren

We all had a great time. Joe and I came up from Kansas City on Thursday night so we could be around for a majority of the parties. We like parties. We got to hang out with all of Joe's cousins who range in age from Joe- oldest at 35 down to Kelsey and LaRissa at 16.

Joe Sands, the first grandson

We got to hang out with Lily and Liam, two excellent ten year olds, Liam who owns the coolest wallet in the world, he showed it off a lot that weekend, he was very proud, and Miss Lily who kindly brought our dog Mac a rawhide bone, all the way from Cape Cod.

Liam in motion

Miss Lily

Sherry, Alison and Ally

The Mrs. K. Sands

Janice's sister June came in from Boston, the lovely woman who lent us her Florida condo for our vacation, we got to thank her profusely in person and then listen as her Boston accent rubbed off on Janice, so much so that by the time we headed home on Sunday, Janice sounded like she still lived in Boston.

June and Janice

I could go on and on about what a great time we all had. The main event on Saturday night was a huge success. The party was held at the perfect outdoor location, and the same place Joe and I got married almost nine years ago, Mrs. Billingsley's backyard pool and party deck. Mrs. Billingsley is a long time family friend and has a lovely house and yard, made for entertaining.

Mrs. Billingsley

Jim and Jack, and sad Kaari


With beautiful tables, accessories, excellent food all made by the family, including dark salty caramels from yours truly, the Underhill daughters and clan know how to throw a good party.

Dark salty caramel labeling

Nautical tables

Jim and Ross grilling dinner

Reno 911 Jonny

Right down to a Janice requested, surprise live performance of In the Mood, provided by the three musically gifted grandsons. The weekend and the party were filled with kids and food and catching up, memories and photos, a few alcoholic beverages and a little mass facebooking by the gang of cousins even though we were all sitting face to face, and just a lot of good old fashioned family fun.

I can't think of any couple who deserves all this feting more than Janice and Gus. We all love you both. Thank you for inspiring us with such a strong example of what a long lasting, happy marriage can really look like. We need all the good examples we can get.

The Happy Couple

Joe, who of course took 99% of the photos, told me to tell the family, "I'll have photos up on Walgreens tonight."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"It Will All Fall, Fall Right Into Place"

I am the nerdy kind of music lover that actually writes down the songs in set list order during the show. Yes, I did. I quickly typed them into a note on my iPhone and I am happy to admit that. It took two seconds and now I get to relive the raucous, wild energy of the show in my own concert playlist anytime I want. And Modest Mouse was totally deserving of my obsessive note taking and song title verification on Tuesday night.

He had on tight indie jorts
Waiting in line with all the young hipsters.

Hipster bastards, oh, I mean us
Poseurs, or Joe and I in our Marshall's Chucks

Ready for my rum and coke
I'm ready for a rum and coke and some dancin'.

 I have never seen Modest Mouse live before. I have loved them for years. Their lyrics, the music, the dissonant angry melancholy quirky beauty was on full display at the Crossroads venue in downtown KC. After a rainy day, the weather cleared up, and was fairly mild for July.  A perfect night for an outdoor concert. The opening act, Avi Buffalo was fine. Not amazing, a little young and whiny and repetitive for me, but decent. And then after some equipment issues, out came our headliner.

The mighty crowd

They dove right in with Gravity Rides, one of my favorites. Followed by plenty of older classics, most of their popular radio tunes and about 98% of my personal requests. With as large a catalog as Modest Mouse has, you never really know what they might play. Of the seventeen songs they played, I was happy I knew at least fourteen. I fell in love with Modest Mouse when Good News For People Who Love Bad News came out. I admit it. It took a college radio hit for me to discover them. I was not an early adopter. But once they won me with their slightly pop tunes, I was hooked. I started listening to their earlier less radio friendly albums and they were amazing. Those songs, like Tiny Cities Made of Ashes and This Devil's Workday, were the best songs at the concert for me. These older songs seemed to have more room for the wild, jerky performance style and energy of the lead singer, Isaac Brock. The radio friendly songs like Dashboard were solid, but the jerky, percussive meandering older songs just lend themselves to the freedom of a live performance. The sign of a good concert performance, for me at least, is when the songs sound better live than they sound recorded on the original album. And Modest Mouse succeeded.

the whole scene

Gravity Rides

The View

We’ve Got Everything

King Rat

Here it Comes

Fire It Up

The Whale Song

Paper Thin Walls

Baby Blue Sedan


Satin in a Coffin

This Devil's Workday
Paper Thin Walls

Tiny Cities Made of Ashes


Blame it on the Tetons

3rd Planet

Parting of the Sensory

Black Cadillacs

Two solid hours of music, with a few pestery sound problems, a couple of bad mics and an out of tune guitar, but who cares? It didn’t bother the band and it didn’t trouble the crowd. We danced and sang and sweat and I savored every minute of the night. 

Again, I can’t find the words to describe how much I enjoy live music. When I wrote up my little life list a few months ago it reminded me how much I love live music. Joe and I have made a focused effort to go to more shows this year. And so far it’s been a fantastic experience. Mark Knopfler earlier in the spring, Modest Mouse this week and in the next couple of months possibly the Pixies, The National and the Avett Brothers.

Tiny Cities Made of Ashes

I feel lucky to live a town that has the art and music scene that Kansas City has, lots of great venues, large and small. Live music invigorates me. I love writing and reading, but those are solitary, quiet activities done alone facing a page or a screen. But concerts are breathing with life, energy and a mass sense of joy and pleasure. As I panned the crowd at Modest Mouse, I saw so many smiling, glowing faces totally immersed in the music. People perched on the roof tops surrounding the venue, listening intently to the sold out show. Eyes closed, bodies swaying, mouths wide open singing along with the music. We were alive together and sharing the moment. Now, I’m not saying that we didn’t see a few drunk assholes and some stupid aggressive boys stirring up trouble, but isn’t that just part of the whole experience? I can't wait for September and our next show.


The panoramic shots and the two actual concert shots are all the work of Joe Sands.

Friday, July 09, 2010

That Jam Packed Explosive Weekend

Prepare yourself for a festive food family friends firework frenzy of a weekend blog post wrap up. Pop a couple of Rolaids and fill up that emergency bucket of water. Put out the punk, take a load off and visit Omaha with me.

Friday night we loaded up the dog and headed up to Omaha, or as I like to think about it, our second lake front weekend home. We got in pretty late and hung out with Joe's parents, Sherry and John and his brother Jim and wife Katy before heading to bed. I stayed up way too late trying to finish my Italian Feast blog which I had put off for way too long, though I'm not sure why.

Then up early on Saturday morning. I don't really like getting up early on the weekends, but when you are staying in a house filled with people, babies and dogs, that's not really an option. And as soon as my body is flooded with the appropriate and required medicinal levels of coffee, I'm actually thrilled to be up and hanging out with everyone. And who wouldn't want to spend as much time as possible with these two? (We actually got to spend a lot of time with the boys this weekend, since Sunday Jim and Katy jetted off to Mexico for a quick vacation. Lucky them, but lucky us too.)

Connor breakfast

Jackson tongue

Saturday morning I got to moonlight as photo assistant/lackey to Mr. Joe Sands, professional photographer. Our friends, Katrina and Matt hired Joe to take their family portrait. Matt and Katrina, the most patient and organized parents I have ever met, have three triplet boys who are funny, outgoing, sweet kids who just turned six years old. Katrina was one of Joe's best friends in high school and they've kept in touch over the years, and Katrina and I have become great friends through blogging, chatting and some pottery painting. So to commemorate the boys' big birthday, Katrina and Matt wanted to have some family portraits taken. Katrina picked a serene outdoor location and the kids had all the space they needed to run around, scream, chase and generally act their age.

Venns on a Log

Joe took a variety of shots all over the park, on logs, under trees, by little streams. And I got to follow around and carry stuff and make faces at the kids. It was fun, though I don’t plan to seek out a part time job as a photo lackey, I don’t like hauling stuff and I was easily distracted, only for Joe. After the park we headed over to a playground so the photographer could take some action shots. Climbing, sliding, running, screaming  and then Alex started to melt. His smile fell off his face, his shoulders slumped, he climbed the slide like he was stuck in a vat of molasses, he was done. Some cookie bribery helped squeeze a couple of extra photos out of him, but the photo shoot was clearly on the down slide. But, damn, those boys were patient. I know some forty year olds who wouldn’t last as long.

Last photo of the shoot

Once the photography activities were completed, we all headed over to Wheatfields for a spot of lunch. Wheatfields has become rather a tradition now.  Troy, Bethany and Annalie, and Bethany’s mom Debbie joined us too, since they happened to be in town for the holiday. Yeah!  And much like our Christmas luncheon, though about 70 degrees warmer, plus Troy and minus the freezing rain, we had a blast. Peach and cherry muffins, good conversation, kids coloring, talk of blogs, discussion on the nerdy stalker beauty of foursquare, the Navy, new laptops, travel, pregnancy and the odd taste of too many sprinkles on cookies. So what did we do next...

Patriotic Family

The Gang

After a quick couple of photos for Bethany and Troy, the ladies escaped the men and kids, and bolted for That Pottery Place. Katrina, who blogged about it over here, and Bethany dove right into the dottery and I was feeling lazy and uninspired and just painted a small bowl with a sparkly glaze. It looks ugly. But fire it up and it should burst into a peacock blue green bejeweled glorious wonder. Or at least not hideous dark gray. 

Ugly today, pretty tomorrow?

Katrina and Bethany and I talked for a couple of hours. I could talk to these women for days. The three of us have enough in common that conversation flows easily and we all have enough differences that it keeps it lively.  Though I was not feeling inspired or creative, Bethany and Katrina were on fire. They both painted two lovely pieces, and what did I do? I did some shopping and bought Bethany’s plate before she had even finished it. The woman just paints for fun at this point, she has more than 16 pieces of dottery at home, so what’s one little plate?

Making My Plate

The Dottery Princess

The Dottery Queen

My ride arrived and so the dottery dames parted ways. Joe and I headed back to his parents’ house and then out to a sushi feast with the rest of the Sands siblings. It was a ridiculously good meal. Excessive and typical of any seafood meal out with the Sands boys. Who knew spicy salsa could be so delicious on sushi? Then back to the house for a fireworks party in Blair.

Joe’s parents, as I’ve mentioned here before, live outside of Omaha so there are no restrictions on fireworks. I’ve never seen anything like it. You can turn in a circle and see fireworks at nearly every house in the neighborhood, fireworks all around you. Sparklers, roman candles, shells, bottle rockets, anything loud, smoking, sparky or explosive, they buy them in vast quantities and shoot them off for the three days surrounding the 4th. So a big party of family came out to the house to watch the fireworks and then the big finale, the neighborhood sponsored fireworks show which rivals some public park and city displays.

Fireworks at Lakeland

Fireworks at Lakeland

After collapsing into humid, smoky sleepiness, we woke up the next morning to a lot of rain. It was the actual 4th of July and it rained all day.  We skipped the morning parade, and headed over to Hillary and John’s house for lunch.

Taco bar

Hillary is an amazing cook. She takes something like a taco bar and elevates it above and beyond ground beef and grated cheddar cheese. We had mahi mahi, shrimp and chicken, all with their own homemade marinades. We had queso fresco, homemade guacamole, about five salsa options, three tortilla choices and zillion taco toppings. It was a delicious fiesta.

Super mommy

The girls

I’m not sure how this woman pulls off feats of entertaining like this every single time we see her. She works full time. She sits on about 12 nonprofit boards, she has twin infant baby girls and a lively four year old. Where does she find the time to sleep and watch True Blood? She has a wonderful partner in John, but I sometimes suspect that someone has given her that magic time locket that Hermione had in the Harry Potter books. Either way it makes me feel lazy. At least she let me contribute dessert. Hillary invited some family, some friends, including an old high school friend that she and Joe hadn’t seen in years, whom I liked immediately.  A good mix of people and a thoroughly pleasant way to spend the holiday. Did I mention there was Sangria? Strong, homemade Sangria?

Back to the house, we hung out with the littlest Sands boys, Connor and Jackson. We made dinner and just had a nice relaxing close to the weekend. Monday rolled around and Joe and I had a music downloading session with Jon Sands, Joe's youngest brother.

Uncle Jon Jon

Jon is cool. He loves indie music, has a wicked sense of humor, an arty streak, he lives in Chicago and has a hot girlfriend. Though one of his few flaws is the fact that the kid doesn't own a belt, which means his ass tends to hang out of his skinny jeans. And he wears manpris. But Jon keeps us hooked up with the latest and best indie music and for that I forgive all manpri wearing and manpurse carrying. I owe most of my current favorite bands to Jon Sands. For the Avett Brothers, we thank you deeply, Chicago Jonny.

After breakfast with the family, Joe and I packed up and headed home. I won’t go into detail about the bit of drama before we left. I’ll just say poopy pull ups that exploded on the couch while Nana changed Connor, a tiny smashed finger and a trip to the urgent care clinic, and now everyone’s fine. Another excellent trip to Omaha, once again filled with friends and family that we don’t get to see nearly often enough. So how about coming back next weekend? Hell, why not?

All Photos by the amazing Joe Sands. Except for the photos he is actually in and those lady pottery shots.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Just Like the Sopranos, Minus the Murdering and Sweatsuits

I write a lot on this blog about my friends and my family. I think we humans, when asked to identify our foremost priorities, rarely say slaving away 70 hours a week at the office or buying more ottomans for the living room. We tend to say things like spending time with friends and family, maybe having more sex, but either way, activities involving spending more time with our people. So it is only appropriate that I say the same thing. Because my base human needs are entirely unoriginal. My friends and family are tops in my life. Followed quickly by a spell-binding book, perfect cupcake or the softest cardigan sweater. Paired right up along side spending time with my people, is my need to laugh, eat well and make people happy. So I thought, hey, let's combine all three by attempting to cook an enormous Italian meal while cramming 10 people in our tiny basil infused clown car of a dining room.


So two weeks out, Joe and I hemmed and hawed about the menu selection. I deferred to him. Yes, I know, that sounds ridiculous coming from my mouth, but I deferred to Joe. I tend to be a bit more adventurous when it comes to food and some of our expected guests are a little less so. Joe is the perfect person to choose a menu with because he shares many of the same preferences as our guests. Ok, so some of our friends despise vegetables, some have a restraining order against shellfish, naturally we went pretty straight up traditional in our menu choices.

Yay, garlic

Two nights before the big event, I wandered around World Market picking up some tasty antipasti additions, sun-dried tomato stuffed olives, red wine salami, a few bottles of blood orange soda. If it said "Imported from Italy" I put it in the cart. Then a trip to the grocery store to buy a bevy of fine cheeses, tomatoes, prosciutto, apples, romaine, anchovies, everything except croutons and ice, which I somehow forgot. When cooking for a party I tend to have to hit the grocery at least twice since I inevitably forget a key ingredient. Tara saved us on the croutons and Joe took care of the ice. Friday night swept up on me and in an effort to actually keep my cool and enjoy myself on Saturday, I started tackling prep work and a little baking. Here's the menu!

apples for the sauce

The Bravely Obey Summer Italian Feast Eats:
Antipasti: the aforementioned olives, salami, a cold artichoke dip with crudite (not really Italian but it had bacon, so it gets a pass,) prosciutto purses: these delightful little slices of prosciutto filled with grated parmiggiano-reggiano bundled up in a little packet and tied with a blanched chive, then quick sauteed in butter and served with ripe melon. Yes, they were as good as they sound if I do say so myself.

Dinner: Garlicky, lemony Caesar salad, served with fresh Italian bread followed by Gigli and Pesto Trapanese which called for spaghetti, but we didn't want two spaghetti dishes so I substituted gigli pasta. It holds the pesto well. Then we had Spaghetti alle Melle, or Spaghetti with Tomato-Apple Sauce. A light sweet tomato sauce with grated granny smith apples, onion and celery. And then Joe's delicious, savory meatballs, moist morsels that went well with the pesto and the tomato-apple sauce.

Dessert: Homemade Italian wedding cookies, more wine and more blood orange martinis, and then my favorite, the nearly homemade spumoni. I cheated and didn't make the homemade chocolate and vanilla ice cream, but I did make from scratch the whipped cream with chopped toasted pistachios,
cherries and orange peel.

floured balls

Friday night I came home after work intending to begin with making the Italian wedding cookies. I figured why not start with the easiest item since the cookies are just an almond flavored shortbread. That way I could work on making other dishes while the cookie batches baked. Things did not go according to plan. Once again I forgot a key ingredient, this time, vanilla. Dumb. (Brief side note mostly for Bethany: While in San Diego last August, Bethany gave me a good size bottle of her perfect homemade vanilla. That bottle traveled half way across the country wrapped in a t-shirt in the trunk of the car and remained perfectly intact. But it couldn't make it the couple of feet from the pantry to the counter top without slipping from my hand and shattering all over our ceramic tile, I only got to use it twice.I almost cried.) Joe offered to run to the store and pick up the vanilla and a few other things, while I went ahead and fried bacon for the artichoke dip, Cuisinart-ed two pounds of cherry tomatoes and almonds for the pesto, chopped onions and celery for sauces, and plucked basil and chives from the herb garden. I finally got to experience that satisfying feeling of cooking with something I've grown myself. Excellent. Then it was spumoni time.

For an ice cream dessert it was slightly more complicated than I expected. I didn't make the ice cream from scratch, but I did have to manage to keep the vanilla ice cream just warm enough to spread over the bottom and sides of the serving bowl, leaving a large crater in the middle and then freeze it. Then I had to thaw the chocolate ice cream just enough to spread inside the vanilla layer. It was messy, but not bad once I refroze the whole thing for a bit. Then comes the best part, the whipped cream. For the final layer of the dessert, I quick blanched, shelled, toasted and chopped pistachios.  At the grocery store I couldn't find the fancy candied cherries and orange peel that the recipe called for so I made do with orange marmalade and maraschino cherries. I rinsed and soaked the cherries to get rid of that sickeningly sweet red water and then I rinsed most of the marmalade jam with warm water to leave just the orange peel. Chopped those all up, folded them into my whipped cream, spread it inside the ice cream crater, frozen overnight and we have spumoni.

Italian wedding cookies and spumoni

By the end of Friday night the pesto was done, cookies baked and cooled, artichoke dip chilling, veggies chopped and ready, spumoni freezing and I have accidentally watched The Hangover twice, since it's on repeat on HBO and I'm too busy to change the channel.  Ken Jeong's balls are flying across the screen while I'm shaping cookie dough balls. An odd synergy.

Browning the meatballs

Basil centerpieces

Saturday, party day! Cleaning, setting up tables, watering the basil centerpieces/party favors, and more cooking. Joe's on cooking duty with me today. He's working on the Caesar dressing and romaine chopping as well as the meatball cooking and prep. And of course bar tending and slicing melons and then oranges for the martini garnish. I'm focusing on the proscuitto purses, tomato-apple sauce (the Cuisinart once again makes quick work of grating the apples for me, I love modern technology) and then of course getting everything looking just right. By 5 o'clock everything is under control, I manage to shower and dress before anyone arrives, always a plus. And then 7 o'clock our honored guinea pigs, I mean guests, begin arriving.

tables and colors

7Days:Day1 Dinner Party!
Our people procured babysitters, got dolled up, brought wine and laughter and most importantly, empty stomachs. We were ready to feast.

Bionic arm and blood orange martini

We ate and talked about everything from books to kids to the health care debate, to Joe's delicious balls, meat balls. Disturbingly, my father made numerous jokes about Joe's tasty balls, he blames the red wine, but I blame the fact that Kristy wasn't sitting right next to him to make him behave. Lebowski quotes flew, bionic elbows lifted pink girly drinks, and I'm pretty sure we all had a damn good time.  I think everyone enjoyed the food, and I know Joe and I enjoyed the company.

A little alcohol and a lot of food later...

By the time everyone was ready for dessert, Joe and I had both had a couple of drinks. This might have impaired our ability to think logically. Trying to pry out the first piece of sliced spumoni, a rock hard spumoni, did not go smoothly. A bit of a cluster actually. And it took several minutes for either one of us to think about dunking the bowl in some warm water to loosen it up. Minus the martinis I'd like to think we would have found that solution much much faster. Once Joe finally flipped the spumoni over onto a plate to slice and serve, it looked perfect. Cookies were passed and goofy photos were snapped, with dessert scarfed down and the alcohol running out, our evening drew to a close. And I was exhausted and gleeful.

The lovely guests
With major help from Joe, and the supportive stomachs of some great friends, crossing off #15 on my little list might have been the most fun task I've crossed off yet. Though the four loads of dishes the next day, not so much.

we used every dish
I'd like to plan another dinner party soon, maybe an Asian theme next time. My Asian repertoire includes one stir fry peanut sauce noodle recipe and that's it. That means I've got some research to do. Though maybe not really soon. I think the dishwasher might commit suicide from the stress. Or maybe we'll just hire Artie Bucco to cater next time.

The smile of red wine