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Channeling Martha Stewart for planning social gatherings
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 I've been channeling my inner Martha Stewart recently, and she's dog-tired after hosting two parties in one week.

 The first event was a baby shower; the second, an end-of-school pizza and water-gun party for my sons. I love to entertain, and if I were wealthier and had a maid, I would probably do it all the time. Parties for adults, parties for the kids and their friends - it's all fun to me.

 I just love to plan menus and try new recipes; I love decorating and making everything look pretty. The only thing I hate is the cleaning, but the process is worth it. Nothing beats the tidy pleasure of a party-ready house.

 I have no interest in taking it to the next level, as is often suggested, by opening a catering business or party planning service. Call me a control freak, but I like choosing my guests.

 I have no desire to cater to the whims of strangers, and if I had to cook huge quantities of food on a regular basis, I know I'd soon lose my passion for it. That's where Martha and I part ways.

 I give credit to my Uncle Don and Aunt Jeannie for instilling in me this love of entertaining. They are excellent cooks and somehow manage to make their guests feel fussed over, yet completely relaxed at the same time. They give the impression that putting together a huge party is nothing, really. Makes you wonder if they have a hookup with a team of magical elves that pull it all together while they sleep.

 I'm still trying to figure out if I've achieved the welcoming balance that Uncle Don and Aunt Jeannie have mastered. Because one thing I often hear after my parties is that I did too much.

 Is it just ordinary Southern hyperbole to tell a host that she out-did herself, or do I really make my guests feel like I slaved too hard over them?

 Honestly, I don't feel like I do that much. Parties aren't exactly formal around our house. Chances are, you'll eat off paper plates, and you might even have to stand up if all the seats are taken. Even at its cleanest, my home looks extremely lived-in. I believe my father once referred to my decorating style as "Early Yard Sale".

 I confess that I can get a little carried away with the cooking. But please understand that creating a meal without chicken nuggets or Kraft macaroni and cheese is pure, unadulterated excitement for me.

 Still, when people say, 'Oh you went to so much shouldn't have!" I worry that perhaps I did overdo it. I don't want to be like Hyacinth Bucket.

 If you aren't acquainted with Hyacinth, you should check your local PBS channel or a library for the hilarious British sitcom, "Keeping Up Appearances." Hyacinth grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and works very hard to hide that fact. Unfortunately, her impoverished relatives constantly pop into her life and tarnish the regal front she puts on for her friends.

 When someone calls her "Mrs. Bucket" she quickly corrects them with a haughty, "It's pronounced 'Bouquet'," even though her poor, henpecked husband Richard maintains it was always pronounced "bucket" until he married Hyacinth.

 The epitome of pretentious, Hyacinth's family and friends dread receiving an invitation to one of her legendary candlelight suppers, where they are nervously monitored as they dine on her Royal Doulton china with the hand painted periwinkles.

 I have a secret fear that people groan like that when they get an invitation from me. "Oh, no! Not the Apted woman!" People act like they're having a good time when they're here, but are they really?

 We Southerners can be polite to a fault, so I may never know the real answer to that question. But if you come to one of my parties, please tell me if you enjoyed yourself, if the food was good and the company even better. But please don't tell me that I did too much.

 My inner Martha enjoyed every minute.

 Kari Apted may be reached at