Everyday Orinda – October 2021

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Hostess with the Leastest

    I recently wandered way out of my comfort zone, inviting two total strangers to our house for dinner.
   I envy the confident hostess, like my dear departed Auntie Theo. Tiny and unflappable, she cheerfully produced countless Rockwellian feasts that required eatin’ pants and wobbly card tables to accommodate everyone.
   Meanwhile, in my gypped corner of the hospitality gene pool, I can’t even guesstimate the correct amount of food to purchase for a family of five, causing my husband to nickname our fridge The Rotten Food Museum. And I constantly defend myself from the fear mongering of my daughters, as they remind one another: “Check that date. Remember, Mom will always try to serve you expired food.” In addition to fully training them for a fallback career of Health Inspector, I’ve raised them to have each other’s backs.
   As much as I fantasize about flinging my front door open wide, guests relishing my immaculate housekeeping, trending décor and gourmet meals, my trifecta of timidity shakes me from my daydream. Perhaps the after effects of 2020 caused me to lose my head a little.
   After striking up a delightful email conversation with Orinda newcomer Thomas Brown, who, with partner Kevin Hsu, made an exodus from San Francisco after lockdown, I found myself desiring to welcome personally these two particular souls to our suburban community. I spontaneously invited them to dinner, knowing full well the only dish I can confidently prepare is lasagna. Kevin and Thomas, who have traveled the world, most recently to Iceland, deserved more than a post-surgical casserole. The anxieties commenced.
   “I promise I’m not a stalker,” I wrote to Thomas, in case he was leery of my sudden dinner invitation. Thomas was actually the party to reach out first, via The Orinda News, complimenting me on my column and desiring additional information on the Orinda History Tour. I didn’t want to make him regret his actions. I hoped that my presence in the local newspaper vouched for my credibility as a potential new friend and a non-serial killer.
   I explained how I wished to provide the same warm Orinda welcome that had once been extended to me. In 2007, there existed a friendly, grassroots organization known as the Orinda Newcomers Club. A helpful and outgoing mother of four, Cristi Chow, was the unofficial leader. The group met monthly in different homes for coffee – all very casual – a pleasant opportunity to meet new neighbors.
   To the best of my knowledge, this group no longer meets. Perhaps various forms of social media have replaced it. Too bad. It made so many of us immediately feel right at home.
   The night of the dinner, Auntie Theo smiled down on me, while newcomers and old-timers enjoyed a marvelous evening together. My husband, who loves to cook, prepared a savory coq au vin. The house was scoured, fresh flowers planted, the patios blown free of the smallest spec, even the dogs were shampooed. The anxieties surrounding entertaining can be highly motivating to the insecure: our house had never looked spiffier, hopefully convincing our guests we live in a state of domestic perfection Every. Single. Day.
   I’m okay with my kids second-guessing the integrity of the food placed before them, but never my guests – until you get to know me well, and from then on – I am ordering pizza. Welcome to Orinda, Thomas and Kevin.

(Courtesy Icelandic Tour Guide "Biggie")
Orinda newcomers Kevin Hsu (left) and Thomas Brown on a recent trip to Iceland, standing before an “otherworldly blue” geothermal spring in northern Iceland near Namafjall.

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