But first, coffee.

Perhaps I overestimated my abilities and underestimated my time when I arranged our family schedule last Spring.

Before the trees blossomed and the Calgary grass turned from brown to less-brown, I had to choose many of our kiddo’s extra-curriculars for the coming year.

I thought I had been strategic and even frugal with their commitments, but reality has set in this September and I’m totally overwhelmed.

Don’t get me wrong; the school, pre school and after school programs we’ve chosen have been excellent. It’s the pick-up, drop-off, kid-carting that’s totally exhausting.

My only savior: the joy and growth these activities provide my kids coffee.

As long as I can sit and sip just one cup of creamy caffeine at some point before noon, I’m good. But this rarely happens.

Piping hot, filled-to-the-brim coffee mugs seem to be a radar for toddlers who suddenly want to sit on your lap, climb your coffee table, or drink what Mommy’s drinking. (My daughter has now repeatedly reported to teachers that her Mommy has a special drink every day and no one is allowed to talk to her).

As a child, I remember my mother pouring her coffee and carting it upstairs as she got ready for work. My father would (and still does) wake at an ungodly early hour to enjoy his cup of joe and newspaper in peace.

My husband takes his hot java in his most precious accessory, his travel mug. I did not realize the depth of his attachment to this routine until I lost his mug – as I am apt to do – and what can only be described as a period of mourning ensued.

Whatever the vessel, coffee somehow has to make its way from bean to brew to my lips each morning for me to feel ready for the day. Yes, this is called addiction, but it is also self-preservation.

I’m protecting this moment for myself every day, so I can feel happy, whole and caffeinated.

Isn’t that just good parenting?

Let me entertain you.

One of my favourite perks of being an adult (besides choosing my own bedtime) is hosting dinner parties. Few things excite me more than an excuse to host a charming brunch or a delectable dinner.

My parents are excellent cooks and are constantly entertaining. I picked up a few practices from them and developed my own along the way.

Here are a few things I consider when planning a dinner party:

Seasonal

The benefits of fresh, local, in-season produce cannot be overstated. But just in terms of flavour, starting with fresh ingredients in their respective seasons gives your dishes the best possible beginning.

How you cook is just as seasonal as what you cook. I prefer not to use my oven in summer, but love to grill. In Fall, I’m falling in love with roasted everything.

The changing seasons also give you an opportunity to rotate your favorite dishes. At Christmastime, it’s perfectly fine to put your fresh summer salad on the back burner. Minding seasons when preparing for your dinner party just makes sense.

Sensory

I like my dishes to be just as appealing on the plate as they are on the palette. If it looks good, it usually tastes better. I also strive to serve food in its most pleasing texture. So, nothing undercooked or overcooked.

And (hopefully) the aromas of your efforts in the kitchen are enough to seduce even the most discriminating sense of smell.

Before dinner is served I usually attend to the three A’s: Appetizers, Ambiance (music, a clean home and nice table setting) and Alcohol. This is where my husband likes to lend his expertise.

Author’s note: This task also serves as a distraction so he doesn’t monitor my seasoning use. Salt is everything!

Simple

I love a culinary challenge as much as the next home chef, but when it comes to hosting I try to stick with simplicity. That doesn’t mean I won’t attempt something new, I often do, but I utilize ingredients and methods with which I’m already comfortable. I save the first (second and third) trial at cheese soufflé for a private dinner with my partner.

It’s also wise to consider the preparation involved for each element of your meal. I like to have at least one dish that can be made ahead of time. No one wants to be (or talk to) a flustered host trying to navigate a recipe within a recipe within recipe.

Sensible

Dinner parties are a perfect time to indulge, but remember that most people are making healthier choices these days (myself included). I try to consider any dietary restrictions when planning my menu. That never means the flavour has to suffer.

It’s also important to know your audience. It’s nice to impress, but when it comes to food, it’s more important to please. I want my guests to lick the platter clean. If they prefer hearty and wholesome to haute cuisine, I’m all for it.

Guests: If you or your children have off-limit ingredients (medical or otherwise), feel free to tell your host ahead of time. Or bring your own buffer dish, just in case. Your host will appreciate it and no one will have to feel awkward if you’re forced to avoid everything but the lettuce.

Finally and most importantly, your dinner party doesn’t have to break the bank. If you are on a budget, put your money towards the highest quality ingredients you can afford… and relax.

The most essential ingredient for your dinner party: the company!