Before we moved to Texas two years ago, I spoke with my friend, Sandy, a lot. She and I went to law school together in Virginia, and she happens to live in our neighborhood now. How cool is that? It was so wonderful to have a pre-installed friend here, and she had some good advice. We drove around the neighborhood, and she pointed out the neighborhood pool. “That,” she said, “is where you are going to want to be. Before you go to the DMV, or find a doctor, or a dentist, you’re going to want to sign yourself up for a pool membership. Because it’s HOT here. Trust me.” It was probably the best advice we received. A few months after we moved in, Sandy invited me to her son’s birthday party at that pool. Rowan, then 6, came with me, but we left Ben at home with Neil because it was kind of late at night. At one point during the party, Rowan got out of the pool, wrapped himself in a towel, and ate a cookie by the pool. He said, “I’m the luckiest kid in the world.” We all feel that way when we get to spend time at the pool in the hot, Texas summers.
Two years later, as we stepped into the pool for the first time this past summer, I told Neil that we should have a church pool party there this summer. He got the wheels moving, and it all led to the first Palmer pool party this past Saturday night. It was so much fun! It was post-dinner-hour, so people brought snacks and desserts and drinks, and we had about 150 people enjoy the pool with us. It was great.
I had to decide what to bring. Now, I’m not exactly up on my Emily Post etiquette, but I swear I’ve read somewhere that a host or hostess should dress one level “down” from the expected attire. The reason for this is that if a guest comes without the expected “level” of attire, the host’s relatively casual clothing will put him or her at ease. Of course, I can’t find that passage in Emily Post when I’m looking for it, so it’s very possible that I made it up. But I do like it a lot. It reminds me of all that the Gospel says about hospitality and turning expectations upside-down, and it harkens back to the reason for etiquette rules in the first place: to make guests more comfortable, not less comfortable.
What does this mean for the parish pool party? Caveat: I hesitate to use the word host/hostess for this situation. I don’t work at Palmer, and I wasn’t the official hostess for the evening. But still, people look to the rector’s wife sometimes to see what the protocol is for a certain situation. (Here’s a secret: I never know what I’m doing.) But for better or worse, one of those expectations is that I’ll lead the way and set the tone. For me, this etiquette rule meant that I was getting in the water at the pool party. It’s hot here, after all! I am not a size zero, and I never will be, but I got in the water anyway. We had a great time.
The other thing that the upside-down-etiquette meant, for me, was that I should bring something fun and casual. Neil suggested a chocolate silk pie, which has raw eggs and is nearly impossible to serve. I promised him his own silk pie if he stopped making suggestions. Instead, I made the smitten kitchen’s browned butter rice krispie treats, in disposable foil pans, naturally, for easy clean-up. The treats disappeared, because they’re delicious. (And yes, foil pans are horrible for the environment. But earlier that day, I had literally brushed our (rescue) dog’s fur into the compost bin for future use in our butterfly garden, so I feel like maybe I get a little bit of environmental dispensation here.) The foil pans were also excellent for Ina’s coffee granita, which was a little bit like a grown-up sno-cone. I used decaf coffee because it was an evening gathering, and it was delicious.
Finally, I used my (possibly self-created) etiquette rule to boldly carry the booze into the party: Ina’s rosé sangría, and her jalapeño margaritas, in plastic pitchers from Costco, no less. I came home with empty pitchers, so they must have been OK. I’ve been waiting to make the margaritas for a crowd, because I might kill Neil if I made them at home for just him, and I haven’t checked our life insurance to see if “death by spicy beverage” is covered. Everyone said they were spicy, which is saying something coming from a crowd of Texans. I kept the seeds and ribs in the jalapeño peppers when soaking them in tequila, as directed in the recipe, and then strained them out when it was time to mix the tequila with the other ingredients. I used two peppers instead of one, but only soaked them for about 4 hours instead of the directed 24 hours, so I thought it would all balance out. If I make these again, I might scrape out the seeds, as Sandy (remember Sandy? she was there!) told me that some people make the same margaritas without the seeds, and they’re less kick-in-the-pants-y. Good to know.
Overall, the pool party was a great success, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.
In other news, we used the pressure cooker twice this weekend, and we haven’t blown anything up yet. Success!