Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My First Guest Post



It was the big Christmas party weekend and it was fun.  One year I was arrested on this first weekend in December in gold hotpants, a Christmas dickie, and my hair was purple in a pompadour.  Thankfully times have changed. I still have big hair though.  God bless my maternal grandfather for still having hair so that I might never face life bald.  My head is so big I can’t even imagine the shiny mass it would be.
So while most of the time I report here on being host, I thought I might outline some thoughts on being guest.  I struggle to call myself an extrovert because if given the choice between being alone and immersed in a hobby—writing a field guide to American tomatoes, cooking, sourcing china for Thanksgiving 2025, or my never ending quest for five acres on a steep slope with prehistoric trees, and various other domestic pursuits—or going to a party, I would usually rather be alone.  On the other hand, I’m never shy or nervous in groups and god knows I love to have an audience.  That’s why in my very Taurian way I like to have people come to me. I don’t mind wearing a suit but I really don’t want to wear shoes. 
But having friends, clients, family, and acquaintances means I often attend their functions too.  Sometimes people note that I am very observant.  Generally people become observant because they don’t fit in and they watch other people to assimilate.  That was my intention but I never followed through.  So rather than watch, learn, and mimic, my tendency is to watch, learn, and wonder what the fuck?
I’m sure you’re civilized and you don’t need these but it’s still a bit fun to discuss them. 

Arrival
-Some people are always late and that’s fine.  Staggered arrivals are good for a party because it re-stokes the energy.  I am always early, so I will wait in my car out of sight from the house (do not wait in your car in the driveway), and then pull up about two-three minutes after the party starts.  A minute or two for the host(s) to catch their breath is a good thing.  That first hour of a party is crucial and it helps to have loud people who will talk, introduce, mingle, and grab the door if the host is tied up.
-It never ceases to amaze me how people will stare at a door that is being knocked or rung.  It’s best a host or hostess open his or her own door but sometimes that’s not possible.  Open the door, introduce yourself, take their coat or tell them where it goes, and point them to both the host and the bar.  
-Bring flowers or wine. Real wine, not gift basket wine.  No one wants a lazy bag of snacks or chocolates that someone brought you that you didn’t want either.  Don’t bring ugly flowers.  Think about the décor of the home and buy flowers that will blend or complement.  Flowers are democratic and good taste is just as accessible as bad, so you can easily bring a lovely bouquet for under $15.  Arrange them yourself in a glass vase you don’t care if you ever see again.  I keep a small collection of these on hand from Goodwill.  I think I got that idea from Hotflash.  Do not ever bring flowers out of water or, heaven help me, in grocery store plastic.  Hostess gifts are where the phrase it’s the thought that counts really piss me off.  That phrase is such lazy bullshit and self-contradictory.  What that phrase means is it’s the bare minimum gesture that counts.  
the hostess gift..

...ended up being the centerpiece. This is cropped from a photo I was asked to take across the table.
So, yes, I'm breaking my own rule but not really..hopefully...
-Obviously if it’s a dinner party, late arrival is unacceptable.  I’m sure the squirrel whose babies you delivered while having a cold and stuck in traffic in the colossal hailstorm caused by the volcanic winter from the oil fire from the downed tanker at the intersection was so glad for your help but you’re still an ass.  Time cannot be bent, so if you leave your house late, you will be late.  Text when you know you’re going to be late, not when you’re already late.  More than 15 minutes is late.  It happens.
-Get a drink.  No, I don’t mean you have to drink alcohol.  If someone offers you a drink, do not say I don’t drink.  Yes, you do.  Water is a drink, so even if someone asks you if you’d like a drink and they mean alcohol, they will likely understand what water is and be able to fulfill that request without the awkward air of so are you an alcoholic, pregnant, driving, or Mormon? No one should think these things but they kind of always do so it’s more comfortable for all parties if the question is bypassed by a specific order.  Hosts want beverages in hand, and the person offering wants to deliver.  My mom doesn’t drink alcohol because she doesn’t like the taste and I know often she feels judged by those who do.  If someone does not drink alcohol and it makes you uncomfortable, recognize that it is your problem and not theirs.  I suppose I am woefully immodest so maybe that’s why I have no qualms with this.  With none of their senses dimmed, those not imbibing are certainly going to see so there’s no sense in trying to hide it like you’re 17.  I have a close friend who is an alcoholic and I admire her strength in social settings.  You don’t think it’s a big deal until you see it for the first time that some people really do get weird and defensive about those not drinking alcohol.  On the other hand, one of the most dreadful, boring, insufferable people I have ever met who has never understood that I can’t stand her and swarms around me like a horsefly will never miss a chance to make her opinion known that she thinks alcohol is terrible and she hates being around drunk people.  Roped into yet another occasion with her via mutual friends, someone said well I might get a glass of wine to which the awful one said a glass of wine before noon?! with her beady little eyes spastically focusing in ire.  The would-be wine-o said oh I guess you’re right… so naturally when our server came I ordered a bottle.  If you’re going to lunch with Republican women and their gay friend there’s going to be white wine, duh. People are free to not drink or drink and it’s only your concern if they shouldn’t drive.  Rejoice in the modern world where even at a Midwestern suburban country club we can get an uber. 
Cellphones
-Unless you are a doctor, keep your fucking phone on vibrate.  This is not 2003 and we don’t do ringtones anymore anyway.  Which is a pity because I invested a small fortune in Britney ringtones back in the day. 
-If you’re going to show a photo from your cellphone to other guests, find it within five, yes five, seconds.  I am so fucking tired of standing there while someone scrolls through every stupid picture they’ve ever taken and gives a little slide show on the way.  Like when looking for a photo of their grandma’s bachelorette party they end up showing you a photo of a new lamp they bought, a sunset marred by powerlines, a blurry bird, a grainy video of a toddler indiscernibly doing something, and a few awkward selfies where they then try to explain that they aren’t vain.  You should only show one photo.  If you must, three is the absolute cap.  Everyone probably already ignored them once or twice on the internet anyway.    
-Oh my god the fucking picture taking.  WHAT IS THIS SHIT? I take photos of so many things but I’m not stumbling around holding my phone in front of my face to continually take horrible fucking pictures anymore.  I am five years clean.  I used to do it and admit my guilt.  Do not take photos and upload them to social media in real time! I don’t care what you’re saying! I know you’re desperate to prove you’re relevant and interesting but you’re not and no one else is either.  Yes, of course, photos will be taken.  But to broadcast the party onto social media in any way while it’s happening is like leaving the sink running on a boat.  Also, you really ought to seek permission from the host if you’re going to upload photos of their home, décor, etc.  And this should be common knowledge but we all know it’s not, you must have permission to take or share photos of the host’s children.  I can’t believe how often people do this!

Food
-If you’ve brought a dish, make sure you have every single element needed.  Check ahead if you should bring a platter or if the host has a specific platter they’d like you to use.  Do not show up with all the stuff and then ask uhh you got a platter or something? And then five minutes later uhh you got a few serving spoons or something? Pack your bag with all the ingredients, the platter (preferably wrapped in plastic wrap), and serving utensils.  Set it up quickly and take the bag back to your car if there’s not a discrete place to tuck it.  If you’re going to stay about the duration of the party, get the platter back before you go. Easier for all parties involved.  If you’re leaving early, leave it and pick it up the next day. 
-if your dish requires anything from the host like an electrical outlet, or a pop in the oven, clear it ahead of time.  Ahead of time being three days, not seven minutes. 
-If it’s a dinner party and you want to help, ask if you can help serve and clear the table.  This is really the best help because it expedites what can be a slow process.  It’s awkward to all be sitting there while the host pops up and clears all the dishes in multiple trips.  Do not stack plates, unless told to do so by the host.  That is how you end up with saucy forks falling to silk rugs.  If you are remaining seated and your plate is being cleared, move your flatware to the middle of the plate.  The host likely does not want every single guest filing into the kitchen to deliver their plate.  It’s not summer camp.  If someone else is helping clear, you can help by staying seated and keeping conversation going. 
Good parties are 51% good hosts and 49% good guests, so thinking about these little things can make a huge difference.  What do you think is essential to being a good guest? 


31 comments:

  1. Wonderful!
    Back when I was a kid and very impressionable, Mary Tyler Moore, who at the time was married to Dick Van Dyke (on TV but what did I know) was having some kind of traumatic experience and somebody tried to give her a glass of water and she said "No, I don't drink." Little did I know that this was a JOKE. For years, maybe decades, I thought there were actually people who didn't drink anything, even water. I was not one of them. Though if I have to drive, I don't mess around.
    Your tips are wonderful. I hope your holiday parties go to plan!

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    1. Thank you! Haha that is too funny! Maybe you thought some people worked like plants and could absorb their nutrients. Perhaps you're not naive but a visionary :)

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  2. All true!!! You need to write a book, Stephen! PLEASE DO!!! xoxo

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  3. Oh SAJ - so much fun. I think culturally it depends on being a good guest- in my mother's part of Asia - it is about being on time, saying yes, smiling without showing teeth, and bringing a kick ass gift. In the west, I think it is tribal. There are the ones where you nod and agree and there are other gatherings that you would get pummelled for being such a bore which is really equally rude. I am an eater and not a drinker though don't repeat that to my friends who i used to go clubbing with back in the day bc they will think there must be another eurasian Naomi in London who is my doppelgänger. Now my joke is - no i won't have a drink but do you mind if i do a quick line with some sparkling water - oh please do add some lime if you have it, you know what citric acid enlivens everything darling! - just to put the point across. But depending on company yes I say whatever you are having and reassure them. I never bring flowers to people who don't have help. I think having to find a vase when the host is usually ( even the most organised one ) is busy offering drinks or introducing that this can unnerve many a host/ess from my experience and i really don't like it personally as when i do dinner parties they aren't catered and there is always something to do that takes precedence over finding a vase. i also think that if you are ill then you shouldn't come and try to passively explain why you are dull or quiet is bc you are ill. Unless you are the queen or it is a wedding of a family member, it is best to leave and imagine what fun the guest would have been. A guest shouldn't insist that what they brought must be eaten or drunk unless it is potluck but we don't really do potluck over here. Most menus are planned so while i am sure your hungarian pick of dessert wine is superb, i picked recioto thank you very much. Last one bc i have already gone on too long - always always get an ok if any pics from the gathering is IG or FB publishable bc sometimes people aren't invited and publishing someone had a gathering is a huge social faux pas.

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    1. Whenever I host something, someone always brings flowers, and so now I know to just have an empty large vase in the kitchen full of water. I just plonk any flowers in there and sort it out later. But I never take flowers to anyone for this reason!

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    2. So agree about social media. I was very, very annoyed that someone uploaded a video from our 40th party to facebook. I'm not on facebook anymore, but our party was small (42 people invited) and that meant we left out a lot of the wider social circle. No one would have felt like they were missing out if nothing had been put on there of the party. I just thank God that camera phones and social media were not invented when I was a teenager/ 20 year old.
      I think arrival times are a cultural thing. Here the unwritten rule is you're 10 minutes late to the party time if it's a dinner, and about 20 minutes if it's a party. In Australia you always take a bottle of wine, and you don't expect anyone to drink it, it's a contribution. In London, I was invited to a Christmas drinks party, and so turned up about 15 minutes late with a bottle of wine. The host was not ready and looked horrified that I'd arrived. We were the first people there. It was so awkward at the door, that I became confused and said I thought the start time was 7pm on the invitation? And she said "yes!" still looking shocked and horrified that we were there. She was also confused by the offering of wine and kind of gingerly accepted it, and we then had an awkward 30 minute conversation with her husband in the Drawing room while she went and changed (!) and then finally the other guests arrived.
      I think the other thing to do as a guest is to thank the host. A written thank you note if it was a big thing, and a text or phone call if it was small. I hosted a lunch a month ago at my house, and only one person thanked me. I know everyone is busy, (and that is going to be the subject of a blog post from me at some stage) but it doesn't take long, and is a thoughtful thing to do.
      Another hilarious post. You have such a way with story telling. That table setting at the top heavily cropped is beautiful - you've obviously been a good influence on your friends!

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    3. Yes!!! Love this comment and love your line about wanting a line. Hahaha and is that true about citric acid? Like chemically I know flavorwise it does! That's so interesting. Also agree on abstaining when sick. I know some people are hell bent on keeping their appointments but goodness a cold is not attractive at a table! I once hosted a giant party for the side of my family I'm less than keen on with a terrible flu. It was so gross and I felt awful but I did it for the sake of martyrdom so that I can still remind them of how hard I try EVEN THAT TIME I HAD THE FLU. So agree on the flowers. I think maybe people know how much I love flowers so that's why they think I want them as host gifts but the whole business of bringing them in raw state and needing water is so annoying. I almost included not pestering people to eat your dish because god that's annoying and with allergies nowadays some people just can't risk things from unknown kitchens.

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    4. Thank you so much, Heidi! I couldn't agree more about social media. I just can't believe how people ignore this common sense courtesy. But we all know some people thrive in the fact that they had an invitation and someone else didn't. I don't use social media either so I get very aggressively pissed when someone posts something of mine without my permission! The arrival time is certainly interesting. I am usually the first person at things knowing I will be because I always appreciate when there's a guest to help with answering the door and grabbing drinks and keep the energy up. Always tough to have a quiet person arrive first who struggles to get through beginning party awkwardness. Over the weekend I opened the door at a friend's house to an ex boyfriend and his boyfriend and my ex said "this is Stephen, it's not his house or his party but he can't help himself". Haha! For dinner parties I grant a one hour arrival window with drinks and snacks but then pretty much serve one hour later on the nose.

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    5. It surely must though I haven't tried -but hosts here are very pushy about drinks!!

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  4. Oh I love this and I'm going to echo everyone and say you could write a book and it would sell like hot cakes and you would be an instant celebrity. But you may not want that which I understand because I like to be alone too.
    A classy thing with flowers is to send them the morning of the party, but this can only be done with good friends whose taste and colours you understand, I've done it a couple of times and it's great, I like to include the vessel too from the florist.
    A phone call or an email or heaven help us even a text to say Thank You the next morning is essential I think. I sort of hate the way the world is going, 10 years ago I would have a dinner party for our closest friends and the next morning they would call to say thank you but we would also do a "post" chat and count the wine bottles over the phone, which we always said we wouldn't do but couldn't help ourselves. It was lovely but now it's just a text. Not as fun.
    SUCH a good point about bringing everything needed for the dish you're bringing as a guest: platter, serving pieces, ramekin for the little sauce, all of it. Take it home at the end of the night too so it doesn't clutter the kitchen.
    Love this post SAJ thank you the festive season this year is being saved by your posts!! xx

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    1. Thank you so much! Love your idea about sending flowers! Is the floral industry still strong in Toronto? Our small floral shops have all gone under and the only places that are left are horrible. So I don't have a florist I trust! Luckily through my grocery floral department I can arrange them myself and arrange a courier for only $12.
      So agree on thank yous and the good old post game chat! That is why I like to pick up the platter the next day if I've left earlier. It's fun to sit in the kitchen with some of the dishes still waiting to be cleaned and mull it all over. I might argue dinner parties are most beautiful in their decay as I absolutely love the sight of a table at the end of the evening with candle wax on the candlesticks, some wine blots here and there, and all the china all on top of each other. It's such a lovely feeling to me. I always write the thank you first thing in the morning when it's all fresh and get it sent out. It's funny how no one really likes talking on the phone but we're all a little sick of texting too!

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    2. Yes I second that thought...please write a book! I bought both of Ellies' books and I KNOW I will LOVE yours!

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  5. Oh, this is all so true. Isn't it funny how people today need a primer on this kind of thing? Not sure whose lapse it was, but my parents certainly knew these rules, I do, but I don't think it's info that gets passed down generation to generation anymore as a whole. And the world is a poorer place for it. As for the Goodwill vases, yup, that's me. I just bought another five or so last week. I'm also starting to wonder if I should invest in a few platters and bowls from Goodwill, ones which I won't mind losing if I take them to someone's home and don't get them back. Brought a nice bowl to a party a couple of months ago and JUST got it back....with a chip in the side. Grrr. Anyway, love this post and would like to copy it and send it to about 20 of my friends who really need to see it haha!

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm sorry I meant to include a link where I wrote hotflash! I forgot two other links too. One in each post! Haha yes I have My Platters which are the Crown Jewels and then the stuff that I take out and loan pretty freely. It's nice to not worry. My grocery store often puts their home stuff on sale and when they do I stock up on BIA white porecelain platters that can go in the dishwasher and oven. They're pretty and about $7 each on sale so it works.

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  6. I'm learning so much from you, Stephen. I have been guilty of most of the mistakes at one time or another, especially in forgetting serving utensils for my contribution to the meal. As for the 'not drinking' amazement, yes, it's really a big thing here in the state with T-shirts that read 'Drink Wisconsably'.

    I've had the same question when I request water, 'What? Are you in AA?' No, just Al-Anon, which really mystifies them, 'Oh yeah? Who's the alcoholic?' (Cue the long pause/meaningful look/raised eyebrow.) I will admit my MIL was always against alcohol consumption of any kind and would endlessly harp on about the evils of demon rum. This, in turn, used to send me in the opposite direction from my usual non-alcohol consuming ways and tempt me to drink multiple shots of Jack Daniels. In front of her glaring face. But I didn't. Well, not multiple ones, anyway.

    You and I move in entirely different circles and it is such a privilege to be tutored by you.

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    1. Thank you so much! How funny about your MIL! I wouldn't be able to resist loudly wondering if I should have Bacardi or Captain Morgan? I had to read Drink Wisconsinably aloud to get it! That is so funny!
      I really just don't understand how people need to make it their business one way or the other if someone is drinking.

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    2. Duh, I spelled it wrong. Wisconsinably, that is, but you deciphered my typo, good for you! :-) And yes, I agree, when I refuse alcohol, the drunks think I'm being holier-than-thou, when I have a drink the sober ones think I should be boarding a bus for a rehab center. My father was an alcoholic, so my MIL didn't have a clue how much a habitual drinker can put away before they even appear a teensy bit worse for wear. She was such an amateur sleuth.

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  7. I love your comments, Stephen. Yes, I think it is cultural as to when you should arrive for dinner. In Montreal, being half an hour after the stated time was just right (although that might have changed). Actually on time was disgustingly early. Now where I live I would never be half an hour late or late at all. When someone is doing all of the cooking, be kind. Sometimes notable failures occur (like the time I cooked turkey dinner for a small group of university friends who had no place to go at Thanksgiving. Could I help it if the oven went on the blink and some 8 hours later the bird was still pink? I judge people by how truly kind they are in such circumstances. It would have helped if my roommate had told me the oven was broken. But really this is what God made pizza for. Similarly in the same circumstances, if the oven door comes off in your hands when you are looking at the pink turkey, snide remarks are telling. No, I don't mean telling me not ever to cook again). And, if you are a young 18 year old at dinner, and your date insists you eat the breaded shrimp, realize that the tails are not to be eaten. Of course, if you really want to make a good impression, eat all the tails and tell your date how delicious it is and then see the doctor the following day for your throat injuries. Explaining it may be a little difficult. I may not have known about shrimp tails but I do know one thing, Stephen –– never, ever, stack the plates! Emily Post would be appalled (and so would my late mother!). Finally, what makes a good dinner conversation remains a mystery to me. Football doesn't cut it. At this time of year, I used to cringe getting Christmas cards from friends. They were all super competitive academically. They became super competitive parents. Not having children did not exempt me from years of form-letter Christmas letters where obnoxious bragging was inflicted on us. The year I wrote about my brother's catastrophic illness while bragging (as obnoxiously as possible). about nieces at Cambridge, nephews at Oxford, etc. etc. did the trick. My name was struck off the form letter mailing list. I out-illnessed them, out-depressed them, out-bragged them and there was nothing left for them to do! I look forward to letters (yes real letters in cards) from cherished true friends who tell me what they've been up to without obnoxious bragging and competition. Peace on earth!

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    1. Oh how funny about the letter! Those are awful. I know someone who writes an honest letter about her son fucking up and how she's gained weight and I always look forward to it! So funny. I hate stacked plates too but I also think there are times you want the clearing to be done quickly as to not break the mood too much. I don't stack mine! How awful about the turkey! Haha you're right, these things happen. Sometimes a good guest knows when to discretely order pizza!

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  8. I always try to bring a hostess gift. My favorite thing is to bring a normal sized mason jar with a petite floral arrangement in it. This way if it is not 100% suited to the hostess's taste it is not too large and obtrusive. I say that because I hate it when someone brings something big that I am not in love with but feel obligated to display. We just attended a dinner party recently where I offered to make a signature whiskey cocktail and literally brought every single thing I needed except the ice and glassware. (Which the host had prepared because it was preplanned) Then I left all the ingredients for the hosts including the half empty bottle of whiskey because it is appalling when people bring something to a party to share then pack up their own leftovers to take home with them. It's like saying, "You're not worth me leaving this for." I've seen it happen and those people never, ever get invited to anything again.
    We have had some issues with being late to things since moving here because every road is a country road of 2 lanes and you don't realize how frigging long it takes to get anywhere. Seriously. Something 10 miles away can take 40 minutes to get to. We are improving now but for a while there - geez. Talk about a lesson in time management.
    xoxo

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    1. So agree on bringing something small! Oh I hate those giant awful florist floral arrangements! Oh I know I always wonder about those people who pack up their own leftovers! Who wants that anyway?! Plus we all know hosts deserve some end of the night nibbles and sips!

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    2. My father kept a supply of small crystal vases he would fill with flowers for hostess gifts. These were to be left behind in the hopes the hostess would pay them forward, so to speak. He made sure I took the leftovers from the house after he passed and I have carrried on the tradition.

      In Central PA, there is very bad behavior when it comes to leftovers. Most would take any leftovers from their contributions home and some would and some would throw in additional food if they could get away with it. My husband will never let my aunt live down the time she asked for her homemade jam after a holiday gathering.

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    3. Heather, that's such a great idea! There are so many at the thrift shops...I might just have to upgrade from my mason jars.
      I don't understand taking your contribution home. My SIL did it a few years back AT HER PARENTS HOUSE and my FIL was like, "That's not the woman I raised." We were all shocked. I hated to tell him but his other daughter does the same thing. ;)

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  9. Spot on, Stephen! It's really all about manners. What happened to them? As to stacking plates, I had a friend who lived in Natchez as a young bride. She was told quite bluntly that "quality don't stack." Ever since she told me that, I haven't been able to stack two dishes together for the life of me. Take care.

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    1. Thank you! Haha yes exactly! But some plates are fine to stack, let's be honest :) I figure it's best to flow the host's lead on that matter. I'm fine with stacking about 40% of my dishes. The majority, no! Did she live in a big fabulous house in Natchez? I've never been there but would like to. It always looks so beautiful!

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    2. You may not see this Stephen as it's been a while. I am back on my search for some silver and was trying to find the name of your pattern and saw where you had replied to my comment. I don't remember my friend's house but I do remember that her good friends lived in Mistletoe...my all time favorite Natchez house. It is out in the country and is not one of the "grand" houses in the area, but is scaled down to perfection and loveliness. I'm not saying I don't love then all though. I believe you would "get" Natchez. Come on down.
      Peace and glad tidings, SAJ. Hope your Christmas is wonderful in all ways.

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  10. OMG! I cannot believe an entire generation thought will rogers was so witty.
    they never had the good fortune to meet Stephen Andrew Jones!
    I agree with the two commenters who've already said it. I think it EVERY TIME I read one of your posts.
    you MUST write a book. nay... BOOKS. plural!
    PLEASE! I would buy every one of them. one should be on this post's subject.
    and then one should be on décor. one should be on table settings alone! and a small exquisite one on the holidays. all photographed by you!
    I know you love being a supreme hair colorist artist and all to do with beauty... but OH MY.

    oh Stephen Andrew. I'm serious. I can just envision them. beautiful gift books! or... maybe ALL in one lovely coffee table book!
    and actually... one could be on photography itself. !!! there is no end to your talents.
    and I have no reason to gush and mush! Barbie's dad is simply exceptional. that's all. roger. over and out.

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    1. Tammy you are so sweet! Thank you so much! I think if I published a photography book it would be burned by Real Photographers everywhere!

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  11. I'm going to print this out and leave copies around my house at my next gathering...

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