Herding Squirrels: Pretty table? Yes I can

When it comes to hosting a family event in my world, let it be known: the bar has been set. I believe it all began 60 years ago, when my incredibly charming grandmother, Mimi, would have our extended family over for any type of get together. Imagine: children crawling on the carpet and having water balloon fights in the front yard; the men drinking and smoking while playing cards on the back porch; and the women enjoying “refreshments” while snacking on crackers and cheese in the living room near the comfort of the swamp cooler. Three things could always be counted on: good food, great conversation and a gorgeous looking dinner table.

Charming and relaxed though she was, Mimi took entertaining seriously. She spent a lifetime collecting Royal Doulton Old Country Rose patterned fine china, and her dinner table was always, ALWAYS set flawlessly.

My sisters and I took note. Okay, who am I kidding? I was a tomboy and outside climbing the cherry tree and hitting target practice with my brother on my mom’s old Red Rider BB Gun. More importantly, my sisters took note, and eventually when my girl parts finally settled in and I married and had kids and became an internet geek and began entertaining guests and officially became feminine-ish (all pretty much in that order), I began to notice my sisters’ attention to detail. Entertaining, apparently, was a skill. Good food and great conversation are important; but a nice looking table is VITAL. The first two I could manage. That last one? I needed serious help.

It started with plating. Heretofore, I would take my carefully prepared pasta and homemade sauce and roasted chicken and dump it in a bowl. Or slap it on a plate. Or two, even — depending on the amount of chicken and my lack of forethought by grabbing an incorrectly-sized serving dish. Sure, there were placemats or the occasional table cloth and almost enough silverware. (Sharing means caring.) But these days I truly shutter with mortification when I think of what little attention I paid to such things. It’s a miracle I cared enough to use clean dishes.

Mimi’s knack for table decor was passed on to my oldest sister, Denise. The woman can take a strip of burlap and a few ribbons and recreate the Garden at Giverny, right there down the center of any table.

Suffice it to say, my other sister, Joanna, is similarly skilled. And not only does her table always look beautiful and sophisticated, her food is downright gorgeous. It doesn’t even have to be her food; Joey can put a store-bought roasted chicken and ambrosia on a plate and make you feel like you’re eating at a five-star restaurant.

And then, THEN my brother had to go and marry this really awesome gal named Karen who apparently also had a hidden talent for event decor. Walking into their home over the holidays? I made the mistake of looking for the escalator — I swear, that place was decked out to the Macy’s-at-Christmas nines, with just a hint of FAO Schwartz thrown in for good measure. Everything self-created, everything flawless and gorgeous. She swears she only bought a few things here and there, at garage sales and the dollar store and crafted the rest.

And then there’s me.

*crickets.*

While I’m no longer the embarrassing slouch I was back in my 20s, it takes a bit of creativity and a ton of effort to run in the same entertaining-ranks as these women. Sure, I may have been a tomboy and grown into a baseball-loving, trash-talking internet geek, but that doesn’t mean all hope of my feminine success is lost. On the contrary, I have something Mimi never did: the power of Google at my disposal. No one ever said they had to be my decorating ideas. They just have to be pretty.

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Traci Arbios is a mom, stepmom, adoptive mom and working mom. She lives with and writes about her blended family of seven kids, four pets and one amazingly patient husband at www.herdingsquirrels.com. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/herdingsquirrels; contact her at tarbios@gmail.com; or zap her on twitter, @herdnsquirrels.