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Cultivating Meaniningful Gatherings

I found so much inspiration on line and most definitely with those I follow on Instagram.  I take care to follow those I adore and who provide inspiration to me at all times.  I have carefully cultivated a list of people I really enjoy and who teach me and share so many wonderful things.  One of those would be my friend Alison of Cattlebaron In Cashmere.  If you are not following Alison you must immediately.  She has been sharing such incredible things lately and her great gift ideas + appetizer recipes are incredible.  (Her post yesterday for the "World's Best Brownies" sound like complete heaven!!)  I can't tell you how many I have written down for later use.  She is spot on every single time and you should be following her for all the goodness she shares!

What I adore about Alison, in addition to the above, is her attention to detail.  She details how to make the things she suggest perfectly.  I am dying to make her Peppermint Bark Push Pops asap!! I asked her if she was willing to guest post for the blog a few weeks ago and she was so happy to share her tips.  Today she is here sharing ideas for cultivating meaningful gatherings which is so dear to my heart this year.  I love her tips and her insight and I am so excited to turn my blog over today to the darling Alison!

One of my favorite moments from the book turned blockbuster movie, The Help, is when Aibileen sweetly tells Mae Mobley, “You is kind, you is smart. You is important.” Of the three affirmations she offers, the last of them is the crowning jewel. I believe one of the most fundamental needs of every human beings is to feel important; perhaps a variation of that adjective might describe any particular persons’ need more accurately (e.g. seen, heard, needed, valued, irreplaceable) but it a basic desire common to all of humanity.

Family and social gatherings — be it an impromptu hamburger cookout enjoyed on paper plates, or a much anticipated and thought out Thanksgiving dinner — they each are ripe with opportunities to speak to that need in others, and when that becomes the aim, our most special memories are made. One of the primary things my husband and I have taught our three children from the time they were very young is to love people well by asking thoughtful questions, and then actively listening to the answers shared. For example, at our last Father’s Day gathering at our home, my well-intended elaborate menu comprised of my husband and dad’s favorite dishes had to be thrown out in favor of a simple meatloaf, as the children and I had been under the weather in the days leading up and I was physically weary. I was running on energy reserves the evening of Father’s Day so there were no pretty flowers arranged on the table and the house wasn’t as clean as I would have liked, but it was a truly remarkable evening nonetheless. My husband, our three children, and I each wrote a few questions we wanted my dad (a.k.a. “Papa”) to answer around the dinner table. I had anticipated that my ability to help keep meaningful conversations engaged during the meal might be depleted due to exhaustion, so at the last minute we used the idea of the written questions as a way to create more depth of connection during the meal. The questions were handwritten on slips of ivory card stock and dropped into a silver mint julep cup at my dad’s place setting. Not only did he delight in getting to share his answers to questions such as “what was the best memory you ever shared with your own father?”, but we were all also excited to see who’s question would be pulled out of the cup and read next! I’m not sure who enjoyed that “table talk” more — Papa, or the rest of us!  It was so very special for my dad to get to share his memories with us; everyone at the table was incredibly present and the sweetness of our connection with one another was all but palpable. Suddenly, the “perfect menu” I failed to produce was no longer relevant, and any extra dust bunnies that might have been lingering under a table leg were invisible. In fact, later that night on their drive home, my mom sent me a text that it had been my dad’s favorite Father’s Day to date. Because, you see, he *is* important. He is needed, irreplaceable, and greatly valued. And, I hope -- I believe -- that that evening he felt especially seen and heard.

Growing up, my parents entertained often. They were the Fred & Ginger of co-hosts, inviting people into our home and making the entire occasion come off beautifully like the most effortless dance. I attribute their ease in being remarkable hosts to my parents’ complimentary strengths. My dad is a master at the art of conversation and probably the most dynamic storyteller you could ever meet. He also has a gift for always, always remembering peoples names — a skill and virtue that he imbued the importance of to me and my sister from an early age. He would teach us techniques he learned in a Dale Carnegie class for name association, and by the time I was a freshman in college going through sorority rush week, I had perfected that skill to the degree that I could remember a hundred names after a brief introduction. {Linda with the longest, loveliest lashes; Betsy with the blonde bob; Frannie with the freckles}. To this day, I remember and put into practice the importance of greeting people by name. If I’m hosting a dinner that will include some first time guests, I make a point of finding out some of their interests ahead of time so that no one ever enters my home feeling like a stranger. Being able to greet a new guest with a warm smile and something as simple as: “I’m so very glad you could be here this evening! Our mutual friend, Susan, said we share a love for needlepoint, so let’s make sure we get to visit about that this evening!” has the ability to make every person that crosses your threshold feel welcomed, seen, and important. The food served, the table linens, the flowers and candlelight — they all play second fiddle to how you make guests *feel*. A sense of belonging and connection is what people remember long after the gathering has passed, and something as simple as being prepared with a few ideas for conversation starters can make all the difference in the world. I can’t tell you what I served at the last dinner party I hosted, but I can recall every story shared, the smiles gleaming across faces, and the laughter that filled the room. 

My mom’s innate strengths as hostess are too great to number, but I can say what stands out the most is that no one will ever feel left out in her home. A couple of Christmases ago, one of my cousins brought a young woman he had recently starting dating to my parents’ home for our annual extended family gathering on Christmas Eve. My mom simply would not let her be the only person without presents under the tree to unwrap, so she graciously went on a shopping excursion and found a few treasures to stash under the tree with her name on them. That evening, not only did we feel like family to this young woman, but she began to feel like family to us as she drew near to my mother’s contagious spirit of inclusion and generosity.

Similarly, one of my dear friends, Sarah, is incredibly gifted in the art of people gathering. One of the things I've learned from her after attending many of her dinner parties is this -- before forks are lifted at the start of the meal, she goes around the table and speaks a sentence or two about how she is connected to each guest. It's sounds so simple, but every single person at the table feels recognized and included, and it makes conversation between otherwise unacquainted guests much more smooth and relaxed. 

There are endless ways to create meaningful memories at your gatherings, regardless of your budget or comfort level as a hostess. One of my favorite things to do at Christmas is to set out framed “photos with Santa” of family members throughout the years. It’s a nod to family history and it creates a conversation starter. Also, regardless of how informal your gathering may be, a menu card can do wonders to make your guests (and guest of honor, if the case may be) feel celebrated! Does any gathering really need a menu card? Probably not. And truth be told, most times I’ve done one, I’ve actually deviated from what the menu card said. But the message communicated by one is “forethought”. And forethought translates to importance. A menu card doesn’t have to be professionally made. Your six year old can create one with crayons that will deliver the same sentiment as a hand calligrapher’s work. 

The Canadian poet, Atticus wisely said, "Watch carefully the magic that happens when you give a person just enough comfort to be themselves.". Isn't that what we all desire for ourselves? To be fully known yet fully accepted? This is the essence of community, the longing of every heart, and the foundation for every bright and beautiful celebration. 

I could not agree more my sweet friend!  Thank you for honoring us with your post!  ❤

Since it is Day 4 of the 12 Days of Gifting I have another amazing gift idea for you today, well actually two of them from a darling friend who is in the business of thoughtful gifts.  Leslie started Dress For Cocktails business to honor her brother and the idea they had to start a business together.  Her amazing bags are so versatile as you can change out your bags with a number of bows + flowers.  I love both her cocktail clutches and the Ladies Who Lunch tote which is designed with her mother in mind. 

Today we are talking about two of her products which make amazing and thoughtful gifts.  The first are her Bow Earrings which not only look amazing with everything you wear, but they also make darling gifts to celebrate someone special.  I know I feel very fancy with a bow on my ear and your recipient will as well. 

The other gift is her newest piece to the line, the Cuff Bracelet, which can also be changed with a number of darling flowers she has made to go with it.  The Cuff is gold and the beautiful flowers, which come in a number of colors, can be switched out according to your outfit needs.  I am partial to the plaid this time of year, but that shouldn't surprise you one single bit.

You will love these pieces and stay tuned to my stories later this morning to see them in person!  ⧓

Happy Tuesday!

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