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During the holiday season of 2007, I found myself wanting to make some new friends. That summer I had moved to Baltimore, MD and I did not have many friends, yet. Not being a church goer or a bar hopper I didn't have many avenues of meeting new people, especially interesting women. Being a self-employed bodyworker, did not provide me with a water cooler around which to socialize with colleagues. And it was unprofessional and unethical to socialize with clients. I thought about joining a yoga class, but that's about exercise rather than socializing.
One of the best ways to meet new people is to meet the friends of those one already knows. The friend of a friend may often be someone one would like to know. One of the best ways to meet those friends of friends is it at a party. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, which if you know anything about me this is not uncommon. I made the girl who was once a wallflower, yes believe it or not, invite people she did not know very well for a party. I would invite women I had met over the last six months whom I thought were interesting and who I would like to get to know better. And I would ask them to bring a friend, so I could expand my circle of friends.
I wanted the party to have a theme. Even though it was the holiday season, it had to be nonsectarian. I wanted to be sensitive to those who celebrate the season within other beliefs such as Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or Festivus (for the rest of us as Seinfeld says.)And I wanted it to be a little "different." Hmmm. I had to think more about a theme.
When would it be? That year New Year's eve fell on a Monday. My office would be closed on Tuesday for New Year's. It would be nice to have a four day holiday weekend, like "normal" non-self-employed working folks got. So, I decided to not work that Monday, New Year's eve day. My then-partner was working, which meant that he'd be out of the house all day. (And he, very considerately, offered to make himself scarce if his work schedule changed.)
I figured that most women wouldn't be working on Monday and would appreciate an excuse to get out of the house, especially if they had company (aka in-laws) they wanted a break from. So the date was set - Monday, December 31st, New Year's Eve day. Now what time?
Doing something first thing in the morning didn't appeal to me at all. I like to sleep in, so it couldn't be any earlier than 10 AM, later would be better. Evening or dinner was obviously out of the question with New Year's Eve parties or staying at home and off the road. Should it be lunch?
Nah, I really did not want to host a lunch, I wanted it to be a bit more casual and interactive. Should I have friends over for coffee? I quickly nixed that idea because I don't like or drink coffee and I don't guarantee how it turns out when I make it. But I like and drink and have lots of tea.
Yes, I'd throw a tea party with munchies. I'd invite femmes only, so we could talk and gab in a manner that is different than when men are around. We'd have tea, rather than coffee, for reasons stated above. I had lots of munchies leftover from Christmas and would pick up some other seasonal yummies at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I went online and researched what time of the day the Brits have their high tea - maybe we could call it "high tea." That's it - the First Annual Last High Tea Party!
It would be the "First" because I had not hosted a tea party before. If it was successful we could do it again next year, hence "Annual."
Research revealed that Brits have high tea, with requisite tea sandwiches, at 5 PM. That's way too late. Early afternoon would be too late as well. I did not know how long the party would last and my intention was not to serve lunch. Perhaps 11 AM would be good. That would provide me (and anyone else who like to sleep in) with a chance to see the backs of my eyelids a little longer that morning. And after getting up leisurely, I'd bake some fresh scones and heat up water, put all types of tasty treats on the table and wait for the doorbell to ring. (And of course, I'd squeeze into the shower some time before 11 AM door bell.)
Would tea and munchies be enough to keep women, who did not know each other very well, entertained? I knew that any good party had some sort of activity, even a small one, to help create some commonality amongst the guests. What could we do?
'Twas the season of gift giving, so why not do a gift exchange? We could do the "Chinese Gift Exchange" thingy, where prewrapped gifts are put in a pile. Someone starts by opening "their" gift. Then next person gets to decide if they want to reappropriate (aka steal) the opened gift or to choose an unknown one from the pile. Regifting could be allowed, as it would be a wonderful time to hand-off something that would be better enjoyed elsewhere. That sounded good.
I set a price limit of approximately $15 and knew that it would be a good idea to have a couple pre-wrapped gifts, should someone (or their guest) come having forgotten or caught unawares. I had a couple of items that would work beautifully for the extras. Now, what would I put in the pile?
I wanted my gift to be changing hands and help keep the gift-exchange, exchanging. What would I get? The CD, candle or the scarf that I had as extras did not meet my swipe-worthy standard. I know - I'd get a betta fish, also known as a fighting fish.
Even though giving a "pet" was always a very questionable thing to do, a betta fish is really easy to care for. Previously, I had one at my office for a couple of years and my clients enjoyed him. Feeding can be skipped for a couple of days, like over the weekend. And it is simple to walk the jar/vase with said fish over to the neighbors for caretaking during a longer vacation. They only need their water changed about once a month and they don't need any special lights, pumps or other equipment. I would put the fish in a large clear glass vase with a live plant and some glass beads on the bottom of the vase and set it aside in the next room. A jar of betta fish food is what I would wrap and put in the pile.
So as a good reason to get out of the house, escape from family, not go into the office, make some new friends and do something fun and different, I invited eighteen women for the First Annual (hopefully we'll do it again) Last (day of the year) High (well not quite 5 PM, try 11 AM) Tea.
Most of these women I hardly knew. Would they be available and accept my invitation? The wallflower held her breath hoping the rejections wouldn't be too disasterous.
Seven women came. And a few brought a friend. We drank lots of hot tea and chatted and munched. Unbeknownst to me some already knew each other! As an "ice breaker" we all told something about ourselves that no one else knew. Mine was that I once sold aluminum siding door-to-door. (Four years later I don't remember what other people said, but it was lots of fun.)
Then it was time for the gift exchange. Around the circle we opened, stole, reappropriated and laughed. We were almost to the end of the pile. My wrapped little bottle of fish food was still sitting on the coffee table with two other gifts. Finally someone choose my small gift. I hoped it would be a hit. I held my breath as she unwrapped the betta food. Then came the confused look. I could almost hear her thinking "I guess I got the booby prize."
"What is it?" Someone asked
"It's fish food," she replied not sure what she was supposed to do with it.
"What do you do with fish food?" I spoke up.
"Umm, give it to fish?" She answered.
I then got the ribboned vase from the other room.
"You feed this fish with it." And I presented her with the blue betta.
"Wow!" The room filled with laughter.
"Bill's going to love this!" she declared after she fully realized that her gift was more than just a jar of fish food. "And so are the cats!"
"I'm going to name it Pinky." It was obvious that despite having cats, she was enthralled by it. We laughed that even though it was blue and male (female bettas are brown, only the males are colorful and with long fins) she was going to name it after Pinky Tuscadero from the show "Happy Days."
My new friends, opened the last two gifts on the coffee table, as they were too polite to try to snag Pinky away from her.
Tea mugs were replenished, napkins were made messier and long-lasting friendships were formed.
A year later, Pinky was still avoiding the cats' lecherous glances and more women joined the tea party circle, having heard about the fabulous time their friends had had the previous year.
We added a new dimension to the gift exchange to stir up things. The first year some people were a bit too polite. If they saw a gift that someone else liked, they did not requisition it. So, I made up game cards that each woman had to draw to determine from where she was supposed to get her gift. Instructions included:
That stirred things up and got a lot of laughter. This change was enjoyed so much, that someone asked if she could have the cards to use at a party she was having in a month.
"Of course!" And I gave her the stack of cards.
The 2010 Fourth Annual Last High Tea party will happen about a month late. This year on New Year's Eve day, I was with my new sweetheart in my new home in Michigan, a far drive from Maryland. The Fourth Annual Last High Tea party will be at a friend's home in Baltimore, when I return to Baltimore on a business trip. Bittersweetly it may be the last year that I send out invites to over forty girlfriends. Some of them live too far away, and I'm looking forward to seeing those who do come. Regardless, I know we'll have an incredible time, make some wonderful memories and that I have absolutely fabulous friends!
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