social life

Wellness Wednesday: Holiday Parties

It is the party season. Instead of avoiding or stressing about parties, take a new tact: RSVP yes and prepare just a little. Attending parties is a skill like any other and can be learned. Preparation and a dose of common sense is all you need. 

Holiday parties come in three varieties: 

Family parties

Social parties 

Office parties 

Each has its special considerations. But they all have one thing in common. Their highest and best purpose is to reaffirm personal connections. Some people go to parties for other reasons, for example to impress, drink, or hook up. But these are not the highest and best purposes of a holiday party. 

Social connections in families, among friends, or coworkers are endlessly complex. Challenges and problems among people are inevitable and natural. There are times and places for working on these issues. A holiday party is not one of them. Parties should be easygoing and enjoyable. 

How is this accomplished ? 




Be prepared to be sociable, i.e. positive, interactive. Get enough sleep, don’t be rushed, and eat something healthy before you go so you are not “ hangry” or sluggish. Eating something before hand will help you avoid binging on lesser quality party foods. 

Know who you are likely to meet and be prepared to be cordial to them, no matter who they are, i.e. your ex, your hostile co-worker. I would say think up some topics for conversation, but that seems too contrived. Instead ask them about their holiday plans, or something that you know interests them. Here’s the secret: 

The key to feeling comfortable at a party

is making other people feel comfortable. 

Try to be inclusive of those who seem shy. Do not monopolize the host or any high profile guests. In conversation, take a moderate approach, avoiding both awkward silences or talking above everyone. 

Do not introduce controversial topics such as politics. If such a conversation takes place, and you notice some uneasiness, try to smooth it over or change the topic. You may also excuse yourself from the conversation. 

Make the rounds. Try to touch base with most everyone you know. If you are with someone at a party, touch base with them periodically. You are not obliged to be glued at the hip. Do however, look out for their comfort. 

Be liberal with introductions. Be quick with eye contact, a firm handshake and your name. You will put people at ease. Some may be taken aback and you may have to gently ask them their name. 

Come with a gift for the host. Wine is cliché unless you and the host are wine aficionados. Flowers die. Consider a small indoor plant, or better yet some potted culinary herbs.  If your gift is modest and personal, it will be appreciated. A ribbon, some raffia or a brief note will show forethought. 

Love your outfit if you possibly can. Consider black, because…black. Go festive, as this shows an admirable enthusiasm. Do not, however, conduct fashion experiments at an office party. Do not go overboard on risqué or glitzy. You want to maintain your professional reputation. 

A social party is different. There you may show more flair and more skin. However, do not assume you will be as comfortable in your dressing room at home as you will be under the lights at a party. Some people will be taller than you are, and even with heels, they can look right down that cleavage. You will realize this at just the wrong moment and there will be nothing you can do. Remember too, that you may want to dance. Hopefully your sequined sheath and your platforms will permit this. 

Do not under any circumstances drink to excess. In fact, As a physician, I suggest club soda with a wedge of lime. It looks just as sparkly in your hand, and gives an air of restrained elegance. Why ? Because it is restrained, and it is elegant. If you drink, limit yourself to one beer, one glass of wine, or one glass of champagne. Social interactions are complex and challenging. You will want to be within your full faculties at parties. 

Do not overeat. It’s not even fun. Take small portions of just the best things. Hydrate with your elegant soda. 

If you are asked to bring a dish, you must. Do your best and present it well. Consult liberally with the host beforehand to be sure you are getting it right. If it is a DIY kind of casual party, and it seems appropriate, offer to help clean up. 

Do not bring extra people with you unless you have the host’s encouragement beforehand. Do not come early and do not come too late. Do not stay too late. Better that the host should ask you to stay rather than ask you to leave.  

So many rules ! Yes and no. Most of this is just plain old common sense. But, I daresay, common sense is not exactly common these days. 

So, pick a gift, pick an outfit, stand up straight and enjoy the parties of the season.

Structure Sunday: The Structure of Childhood Memories

Childhood memories are an important part of who we are. It is up to parents to engineer varied and happy memories into their children's lives. This weekend we went down memory lane by virtue of hosting a wedding reception for the son of some of our closet friends. You would not think a wedding would focus a great deal on childhood memories. And yet, this weekend, it was a veritable memory fest. Of course there was the requisite slideshow of the childhood pictures of both bride and groom. But more than that, at the reception, clusters of conversations ensued, conversations between people who had done much together as children but little recently as adults. 

My extended family is large and we ourselves have three grown children. But, and this is one major point of this post, we have so many friends who are like family. These are families we have known for 20 to 30 years, and whose children have grown up with ours. Back in the day, we gravitated toward them because they were good and interesting people. More than that, they were creative and adventurous, and despite the fact that we were college students of modest means, we had adventures: us, our kids, our friends and their kids. These people have stayed our good friends all this long while. It feels like a tribe, or the proverbial village, the village it takes to raise a child. 

These adventures we had took time, planning and some wherewithal, but it all paid off in ways which we did not then entirely anticipate. Today we have grown kids who sit around the table and marvel at all they got to do as children. We look at old pictures and tell tales of glory. They know their experiences have shaped them. These children have grown to be inventive and resilient from their experiences. These are two of the greatest gifts a child can have. And now they are taking their kids out too.

It is fewer and fewer kids who have these experiences of rafting, camping, hiking or traveling for the sake of seeing a new place. I am writing to encourage you to find good people for your village. Find them and set off on adventures. You will have to take time off work, plan, get some gear, and maybe even learn a few new things. But that's all part of it. Go make some great memories for yourself and your children. You will get more out of it than you realize. 

Food Friday: Summer Guests

Summer should be full of guests. Where there are guests there should be great food and drink. And yet, it is important that the work of food preparation not get in the way of entertaining. Here are simple, easy ideas for summer entertaining. 



1. Give at least a week of notice, so the gathering is informal but not too informal. Be open to drop ins. 

2. Be aware of any food intolerances or limitations. Have at least three dishes everyone can eat. 

3. Incorporate the out of doors somehow. 

4. Invite guests to contribute a dish but let them know to come even if they are too busy to prepare something. You may also simply ask them to bring soda water if you suspect they are busy. It is a good idea to invite guests to bring what they are good at cooking, within the constraints of your theme. 

5. Favor foods which can be prepared in advance, especially the main dish. An example would be meatballs in a slow cooker. 

6. Favor food which are presented, more than actually prepared, i.e. fruit and vegetable platters with dips. Similarly, favor foods which are assembled by the guest, i.e. a taco or fajita bar. 

7. Serve buffet style. 

8. Have a great selection of drinks, especially in hot weather. People love a big punch bowl. We make ours with 2 parts club soda with one part 100% fruit juice such as apple raspberry juice from frozen concentrate. We cool it with ice, but also frozen berry mix. We may also float some citrus slices. The variations on this punch can be endless, and it the flavors can morph as the bowl needs refilling. 

9. Don’t be afraid to decorate a little. You can be fun, festive or sophisticated at your whim. 

10. Finally, don’t forget the most important part of entertaining: Making your guests feel welcome. 

Food Friday: Picnics

Did you know that picnics were once only for the very wealthy? Picnics evolved from outdoor hunting parties in the 14th century in Europe. Such elegant outdoor meals were depicted in artworks and tapestries dating back to the Middle Ages. Picnics themselves became entertainment for the wealthy from the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, and then into the Victorian era. They epitomized the virtues of the wealthy classes, which extolled sport, social life, the beauty of nature, and elegance. In the Victorian era, picnics became especially popular and extended to the emerging middle classes. 

The Oxford English dictionary defines picnics thus: “Originally, a fashionable social entertainment in which each person contributed a share of the provisions; now a pleasure party including an excursion to some spot in the country where all partake of a repast out of doors; the participants may bring with them individually the viands and means of entertainment, or the whole may be provided by some one who “gives the picnic”. 

Today, picnics are far more casual, though they still retain the aspect of having a festive meal outdoors. In our country, we tend to have picnics primarily in the summer. This poses some risk, since in summer temperatures, food borne illness is more common. Here are some tips to avoid problems: 

Pack safely: 

  • Include materials to clean hands, with soap and water, sanitizer or wipes. 
  • Pack ice, clean utensils, plates, leftover containers, paper towels and trash bags. 
  • Pack cool food with ice packs to stay below 40 degrees. Open infrequently. Pack drinks in a separate cold cooler, since this drink cooler will be opened frequently. 
  • Carry coolers in an air conditioned car, not the trunk. 
  • If hot food is precooked, do not delay before finishing cooking on the grill. Any time lapse in-between is an invitation for bacterial growth. 
  • Cook hamburger and other meats to 160 degrees, and chicken to 165 degrees. 
  • Prevent cross contamination with drippings or marinades. 
  • Do not reuse marinades. 
  • Don’t serve on your prep platter.
  • Discard food if left out more than an hour at 90 degrees. 

Pack creatively: 

Consider some alternatives to traditional cuisine. 

Classic American picnic foods, as for Fourth of July 

  • fried chicken
  • hot dogs
  • macaroni, egg or potato salad
  • corn on the cob
  • iced tea, lemonade
  • apple pie 

French picnic foods, as for Bastille Day 

  • Baguettes and baguette sandwiches
  • pate foie de gras or tapenade 
  • Salade Nicoise 
  • Perrier Sparkling water 
  • macarons
  • mousse or pots de creme

Italian picnic food: 

  • salads: pasta, caprese, arugula
  • bruschetta with toast
  • limoncello soda 
  • layered torta or pizza 
  • salami, ricotta, fresh fruit 

Swedish picnic food for Midsummer celebration:

  • grilled marinated lamb
  • Gravlax
  • pickled herring with sauces 
  • seeded crispbread
  • cheesecake with berries 


If you don’t recognize the dishes, google them or search on Pinterest. You have some pleasant culinary surprises in store for you. 



Food Timeline 

Pamphlet: Pack a Family Picnic

Home Food Safety 



Food Friday: Step out !

Home cooked food is always best. But once in a while, it's great to dress up, step out,  and go out to dinner. We were so inspired this evening by our local Culinary Institute of Montana. We couldn't think of a better way to support the college and see the great things they are doing there. We are so fortunate to have this caliber of culinary school in the Flathead Valley.

I must encourage you in the strongest possible terms to save up and splurge by coming to " The Chef's Table" given every Friday night during the term. But I caution you, they sell out quickly. If you live outside of the Flathead Valley and in the type of town which might have a cooking school, it would be worth a phone call or two to see if their students serve to the public. 

And without further ado, I will share with you illuminated ice swans with palate cleansing sorbet, beautifully plated food, flaming crepes suzette, and gilded chocolate strawberries with cream puffs. Inspiration !