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This time of year is always a thrill for me, entrenched in pre-Labor Day weekend planning and preparation. Since moving to New England 18 years ago, H and I have managed to stay connected to our core group of friends from the NY metropolitan area. Some friends email, others text and an isolated few prefer the telephone. But that’s all good because they always show up at our home for an overnight stay on Labor Day weekend to catch up, reconnect and unwind. It’s a long drive for them and we want to show our appreciation with the best hospitality we can muster.

H loves to show off his barbecuing prowess, and I enjoy turning my normally subdued home into a festive party palace. We’ve partied with these same people from a young age, laughing at the same jokes, sharing the same frustrations with life, and remembering the same tales. Some stories bring tears from hysterical laughter and others from loss. Both bring us closer together.

Imbibing shifted from recreational highs to mixed drinks, and music shifted from rock to jazz (Well, H likes jazz while I try to mix it up with my iPod tunes – a bone of contention). We’ve shared photos (once hard copy, now digital) of travel, family events and now for me, a beautiful grandchild. Together, we have celebrated and commiserated over school, relocation, work (or lack thereof), marriage, children, pets and elderly parents. We tease and soothe each other, and conjure up memories. We’ve grown up and old together.

Often, we pair off into private conversations and sometimes bicker about petty things. I revel in playing hostess, but some insist on helping with dishes and serving, and I unintentionally offend them when declining such offers. Call me a control freak if you want. Funny, it never seems to bother the men, only the women. I can probably write another blog post solely on the subject of kitchen dynamics at parties.

Over the years, others have joined the event, then later moved away out of driving distance, but this inner circle (two dogs included) has been a mainstay, and for that we’re eternally grateful. Last year was the first year without Bill who never missed our barbecue until he passed a few months before, so it wasn’t the same. The day felt off. But his widow said she wouldn’t miss our annual get-together for anything, and I’m so glad because I think it helped us all heal a little. This year, another friend began chemo but is determined not to break the tradition, joining us with his famous margaritas in tow, an essential ingredient of our annual mix.

It’s such a big event in this house that throughout the year we’re always trying to come up with ideas to step it up. This year, we bought an outdoor table and chairs, so people don’t have to eat off their laps anymore. We also bought an umbrella pole light with the intent to keep the outdoor comradery going after dark if the weather cooperates.

Today’s agenda includes going through recipes, preparing a menu and drafting a shopping list. I’ve already printed out appetizer, dessert and brunch recipes from a few of my favorite food blogs. This year, I think I’ll try Sweet Corn and Edamame Guacamole DipBlack Bean Brownie Bites and Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread. If you have any favorite side-dish recipes (preferably dairy-free), please share :-). I’ll express my gratitude with photos of my endeavors.

Happy Labor Day! If it’s not a holiday where you are, invite some old friends over anyway. Enjoy.