Thursday, October 28, 2010

Drink this Kool-Aid, I Dare You

*Originally posted at

About a year and a half ago, my friend Lora, who thinks, writes, and even lives the way I often wish my cluttered mind would allow me to, invited me and a few other local women bloggers over to her house for dinner. She'd postponed her usually Wednesday night gathering of neighborhood women to have us over for spaghetti.

Lora started Wednesday Spaghetti in her neighborhood as a way to live what she believes in, the importance of friends and family gathering regularly to build community in the most natural way - sharing a meal and talking about whatever people talk about when they are comfortable and eating dinner: family, life, schedules, politics, the neighborhood, marriage, relationships, work, the weather, anything. Every week, she puts on a big pot of water, heats up some sauce, and opens her door to a group of regulars.

She even wrote a mission statement: Wednesday Spaghetti was formed to increase public awareness of the need for families, caregivers, and peer groups to spend quality time together in an in-home, casual dining setting in order to discuss general life issues, household guidelines and practices, personal habits, issues, and goals, educational habits, issues, and goals, employment habits, issues and goals, family habits, issues, and goals, physical health-related issues, sexual health-related issues, emotional health-related issues, spiritual issues, relationship issues, community events and resources, and other such topics; to support and conduct nonpartisan research, educational and informational activities to increase public awareness of the importance of togetherness, communication, and good nutrition; to provide simple to make, nutritious meals to any family or group in the community, regardless of race, color, creed, sexuality, religious beliefs, ethnicity, economic status, or location at no cost to the family or group.

I fell in love with this idea. I'm not really sure why. Well, that's not entirely true. There are lots of reasons why, and I've come at that topic a few times, but it's a larger than life issue and I'm OK just letting it be that and not completely picking it apart like I do everything else.

We try to do Wednesday Spaghetti once a month, not every week, and unlike Lora's Wednesday Spaghetti, our guest list isn't just a few neighborhood women, it's a more extensive crowd of families and friends. The most we've ever had was 103 (we think, with so many kids, it's hard to get an entirely accurate count), but the average is about 50 or 60 guests.

Here are the two things I hear about Wednesday Spaghetti:

1) I love Wednesday Spaghetti.
So do I. Probably even more than you do.

2) I don't know how you do this.

I say, "It's not hard" and people look at me like I have a baby's arm growing out of my forehead. But it's true. I do lots of things that are hard, I sould know.

So here's how. And I want you to do it. I realize that I sound a little Jim Jones-y here. But this is some Kool Aid you want to drink. I promise you that you can do this, and you won't be sorry. Ask anyone who knows me, I am as uptight as they come, and if I can have 103 people come to my house on a Wednesday and eat spaghetti, mediocre spaghetti - at BEST, and not only not stress out about it but love every damn minute of it, you can, too.

How To Wednesday Spaghetti

1) Don't clean your house: Straighten up. Put stuff in closets. Close doors.

2) Keep it simple. Because I invite a ton of people, I use paper plates and plastic cutlery. I recycle and try not to think about the environmental sins I'm committing.

3) Cheap pasta. Cheap sauce. Nobody is there to eat gourmet food.

4) Sometimes I put some cookies on a plate. Sometimes I don't. If juiceboxes are on sale at the Acme, I buy some. Sometimes I put out some bottles of sparkling water. If we have some beer, I put it in a tub. Sometimes I make a salad. The first time I did this, I made sure we had spaghetti, sauce, bread, salad, and a dessert. Now I made spaghetti and sauce. I put out a few pitchers of ice water and, like I said, usually some juice for kids. People bring things. I don't ask people to RSVP and tell me what they're bringing, and if they ask, I tell them that if it doesn't stress them out to bring something, they should feel free. Sometimes we have spaghetti, sauce, water, wine, and a million brownies. Sometimes we have lots of salads, sometimes we have none. Most important thing: NOBODY CARES.

5) We had 103 people at our house for spaghetti last month. I have a dining room table that seats 8. My house is about 2000 square feet. We have a screened porch and a pretty decent sized yard. The neighbor brought over some some tables and chairs. People find places to sit. Don't worry about it. Kids don't sit anyway.

6) I really didn't clean my bathrooms yesterday. I usually at least wipe them down with a Clorox wipe. Not yesterday. Didn't have time. NOBODY CARES.

7) I say over and over again, to anyone who will listen, "It's not a party, it's just spaghetti." And people say, "Well, it sure feels like a party." That may be. But in my head, it's NOT a party, which means I don't worry about who's having a good time, I don't make sure I've greeted everyone, I don't go out of my way to introduce people I'm not positive haven't met before, I don't refill glasses. People come in, I say hi, I make some introductions because I'm not a barbarian, I point people in the direction of food and then everyone does their thing.

8) Sit down. Eat some spaghetti. Make the noodles ahead of time, put them in a lightly oiled pan in the oven, set to 200. Dump them in a big bowl and serve everything all at once when everyone gets there. Put the sauce in a crock pot. Let people help. Don't fuss.

9) You will be surprised by how this small thing, this boiling of water and heating of sauce and setting out of plates changes you. Your family will start to ask, "When is the next Wednesday Spaghetti?" People will say, "Can I bring our neighbors?" You will, of course, say yes. You will feel funny about people's gratitude towards you for hosting this event, because you feel like they are giving something to you as much as you are doing something for them, even more so. People will tell you, over and over again, how much they love this, and they'll have this look on their faces, like, "Isn't it weird? I mean? It's just spaghetti, but..."

10) Drink this Kool-Aid. It's delicious. And I double dog dare you.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wednesday Spaghetti has been on hold in my house for too long. But I'm back, and as soon as I can wrangle up my people I'll put on a pot of water and sit everyone around my table, just like olden times.

You can find Wednesday Spaghetti on Facebook!  I would love to see you like it.  I'm pretty sure it's set up correctly.  I'll play with it a bit more over the next week or so.

I hope everyone is doing well and you are all finding time to sit down with the people you love.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Selfish Spaghetti

Last night we had one of the best Wednesday Spaghettis ever. After each one, my husband and I do the recap and check in, since chances are we haven't had the chance to talk to each other all day up to that point. Some weeks he is more relaxed, some weeks I feel rushed, some weeks he feels like he hasn't helped enough (never true), and some weeks I fret that we didn't have enough salad/wine/bread/parm/whatever. We always have a great night, but we both agreed that there was something special about yesterday.

Maybe it was the weather. Yesterday was warm, and we opened up the windows and the doors and the kids played outside for most of the evening. Some people ate on the porch, christening it with red sauce and red wine for the season.

Maybe it was that most of the people there were "regulars." They knew the drill and didn't feel like they were at a party and they knew everybody and the neighborhood kids drifted in and out between homework assignments and just in time for dessert. I didn't feel like I desperately needed to talk to any guests who I hadn't seen in a while. I just hung out. We all did. And, as usual and with no small thanks to the whirlwind neighborlady cleanup squad, everybody was gone and the house was back together by 8:45.

I get embarrassed when the people who come for Wednesday Spaghetti make big pronouncements of gratitude for the fact that I do this thing I do once a month. Obviously, I appreciate their thanks, but I also feel like a bit of a fraud. While they may feel that I'm doing some kind of service for bringing us together and building community and providing an easy and comfortable environment for families to share a meal, I'm pretty sure I get more out of it than they do.

Spoiler Alert: I am a control freak. I know. You're stunned. I'll allow you a moment to recover or stop laughing.

Opening my doors to anyone who is interested once a month, on a work and school night, and not sweating the fact that the floor isn't mopped and there is visible dust and there is dog hair on the couch and that I haven't changed my clothes or brushed my hair since 7 that morning or that there is no way on this green earth that I'm going to have time to cook something designed to dazzle the palate and impress the herd has had a profound effect on me. Without dipping my toe too heavily into the churning waters of melodrama, let me just say that as much as anybody who comes to my house for Wednesday Spaghetti thinks he/she loves it, I love it more.

*WRH post..poached.