There are few inalienable truths in life, and here's one of them:
If you want to get your house in tip-top condition, throw a party.
This week, the party in question was a wedding shower - a casual, co-ed affair for two of my son's closest friends. The house in question was mine, and its condition had been rock-bottom.
Blame it on vacation, late summer sloth, my escalating Facebook addiction or the simultaneous homecoming of two boomerang kids. Whatever the reason, with six days and counting before the first guests would arrive, my home had gone to the dogs.
So, what did I do? I turned to the mantra that has served me well for more than a decade: What would Martha Do? (or WWMD?)
Of course, Martha (need I add her surname?) would rather eat an entire meal with her salad fork than let herself get into this predicament. The doyenne of domesticity would have launched an all-out campaign months in advance - spot-cleaning goblets, sorting glue guns, crafting place cards from handmade paper - guided by a laminated "to do" calendar, affixed to her spotless fridge with monogrammed magnets.
Needless to say, Martha I ain't.
A) I don't craft. Heck, I've even given up knitting. (How many long, straight-knitted scarves can one person wear?)
B) There's not a single pair of garden clogs in my closet.
C) I've never set foot in Connecticut. (I HAVE been to jail, but that's another story ... OK, it was spring break, our car broke down, and there was nowhere else to sleep in Tonkawa, Okla. It was kind of fun.)
D) I'm not licensed to own a glue gun.
But I adopted her calendar strategy in hopes of achieving a stress-free party prep. My agenda read like this:
Sunday (six days to go): Survey the damage. Make detailed list of what needs to be done to the house, including touch-up painting, porch repair, yard work and medicine cabinet vetting (people will peek; they always do). Delegate!
Monday: Compose shopping lists of all food and beverages needed. Call caterer to place meat order. Order buns from bakery. Feed flowers. Clean drawers and closets. Scour oven. Fumigate fridge.
Tuesday: Shop party store for paper goods. Replace candle stubs. Locate tiki torches and twinkle lights. Edit romance novels and embarrassing self-help titles from bookshelves.
Wednesday: Sweep porches and welcome mats. Dust exterior doors. Squeegee windows. Wipe down woodwork. Locate ice buckets. Dig out "good" guest towels and potholders.
Thursday: Dust furniture. Disinfect bathrooms. Remove all gossip-making items from medicine cabinets, including pharmaceuticals. (Remember where you hide them; there's a reason you need those drugs.) Mow lawn. Weed garden. Place tiki torches. String lights. Prepare make-ahead dishes. Chop kindling for chiminea. Delegate!
Friday (Party day!): Pick up keg. Buy ice. Chill wine. Slice cocktail buns. Whip up last-minute dishes. Mop and vacuum floors. Pick up meat. Tap keg. Arrange table. (Remember, presentation is everything.) Light Sternos. Get dressed. Take meds.
Timetable in hand, I felt relaxed and in control. This was completely doable! My "barbecue, tool and bar shower" would make Martha's bosom swell with pride!
(Who was it that said, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry"?)
Before the ink was dry on the schedule, all household hell broke loose: Boomerang No. 1 came down with a bad sinus infection, rendering her useless for delegated duties. Hurricane Gustav brought two days of steady rain, preventing Boomerang No. 2 from completing his assigned touch-up painting and my husband from mowing the tallgrass prairie on our lawn. The tiki torches were covered with soot, and the "good" guest towels, ice buckets and twinkle lights were nowhere to be found. I wrenched my neck. Like sand through the hourglass, the days of my life were slipping away!
Adding insult to injury, I lost my blankety-blank "to-do" calendar AND misplaced my meds!
Still, the party came off without a hitch and, with the exception of an unpainted front porch and a yard that looked like "Wild Kingdom," the house looked fine. (The cover of darkness never hurts, either.)
Afterward, my husband said, "We should have parties more often. The house always gets so clean, and it's really not that much trouble."
I wanted to smack him. I wanted to roll my fingers into a fist and pummel him silly.
But I stopped, and I asked myself: What would Martha do?
Cathy Hamilton is a 52-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at BoomerGirl.com.