The Great Escape

So often, when you can least afford to take a break, you actually need it the most, so you need to force yourself to drop everything and take a breath.

This was true a few years back, when my co-author Carol and I took a weeklong trip during the hectic holiday season, and it was equally true last Sunday, when I made a great escape while preparing to host a family party.

My extended family, here in the Seattle area, numbers 29 people. We all feel fortunate, as every family member is considerate, interesting and intelligent, we enjoy each other’s company and in-fighting never occurs. The cousins absolutely adore each other, and my husband’s parents are young, energetic, generous and involved.

Because the family is so close-knit, we celebrate every holiday and birthday together. And, with all of those occasions to commemorate, our gatherings are frequent, large and a bit hectic. To spread the load, everyone contributes food to each event and we take turns hosting (although the grandparents take on the “big ones” – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter).

Last weekend it was my turn, as my husband and third son were born soon after Christmas. Two other family members have birthdays close to that time, so their parents offered to pitch in, as well.

As usual, I started preparations a few days ahead: planning the menu, grocery shopping, de-cluttering the house and cooking.  On Saturday, I set out the utensils and serving platters, wrapped gifts, assembled the “Dirt Cake” (every child’s favorite) and baked the foundation for a chocolate mousse cake. (I had planned to finish the cake following a dinner party that night, but after a few glasses of champagne, I opted to watch “Saturday Night Live” with my husband instead.)

On Sunday morning, I hit the ground running; I woke early to start the Bolognese sauce for the home-made lasagna, boiled the noodles and whipped up the cake’s chocolate mousse filling and white-chocolate buttercream frosting. I hoped to make a quick trip to the gym, but the cake and sauce took longer than I had imagined, and other family responsibilities kept sidetracking me.

So, when my friend Azie sent a text asking, “M:I-GP at 1:30?” my first reaction was, “Wrong day, wrong time.” Then, I reconsidered. I still had one gift to pick up at the mall, and the movie theatre was right across the street. I really wanted to see Mission: Impossible, and didn’t know when else I might squeeze it in. In the end, I replied: “Gr8! C u there.”

I skirted out at the last minute, grabbed a high-octane coffee in the theatre lobby (I have a habit of sleeping through films; you know, dark lights, comfortable seats, a rare moment of repose…) and found Azie just as the opening credits started rolling. I wiped the sweat off my brow and settled in.

The good news is that the film was so thrilling, I didn’t even begin to doze off. The bad news is that it’s so long, when it neared 4 pm and I still needed to stop at the mall, assemble and bake the lasagna and put together the cake before the 5:30 party, I started feeling anxious for it to end.

Back at home, with little time to spare and a shower still on the agenda, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much my husband had helped. And, although I had to click into high gear to get everything ready in time (the coffee – which I rarely drink – certainly helped), I didn’t regret taking the movie break.

My inlaws are forgiving, and don’t expect everything to be in perfect order when they arrive. Really, what relative or true friend would?  Plus, I realized that no one would notice what I didn’t get done; my own high expectations are always my worst enemy.

Martha Stewart might not advocate escaping for a few hours before hosting a party, but the brief break ensured that I didn’t spend the entire day standing in the kitchen or scurrying around the house picking up after the kids (and continually nagging them to help).

Because of my great escape, I was able to relax for a few hours, enjoy a wonderful, action-packed film and spend time with a good friend. It was time well-spent when it seemed I could least afford it.

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–        Linda Williams Rorem, 16 Jan. 2012

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