I Don’t Think of Self Care as Service

I don’t think of self care as service.

Firstly, I’d like to specify that—for this post—when I say self care, I’m talking about basic physical health maintenance—a healthy, regular diet, hydration, basic hygiene, enough sleep, so on. I’m not currently speaking only of luxury self care or of mental self care, and am mostly speaking of the day to day, not lifestyle overhauls.

Now, self care is valuable. The very basics of it are even necessary. On either side of the slash, with or without a dynamic, kinkster or vanilla—you need water and food and sleep and such to survive. To be healthy, you need enough of those things, regularly, and it needs certain healthful qualities.

That’s also reason number one why I don’t think of self care as service: I have to do it, with or without Mistress. It’s not an option. I did it before her. What I strictly need and what is reasonably healthy don’t change because of my dynamic.

My personal—not universal—definition of a service is something that Mistress would need or want, independent of me. Now, there are services I initially introduced her to, but now she’d want them independently.

Making her meals is a service. With or without me, she has to eat. Cleaning the house is a service. With or without me, she’d want a clean living environment. (And—as a side effect at the very least—this does mean that there’s food and a clean environment for me, too.)

Now, without me, she’d probably lower her standards of clean. She’d probably handle certain tasks in a way that was easier or faster, or neglect them entirely, unless there was someone else to outsource to. This happens on a small scale when I’m too sick to serve. But in her ideal world, she would still want those tasks to have been done, frequently and well, and there are plenty of others she would pick up doing herself eventually.

So, those are services she just wants done, period, with or without me. And I love providing service. It’s my full time job. 

But, if I wasn’t in her life, she wouldn’t want or need my self care. Sure, as a kind person, she’d wish good self care on any given person out there, but it wouldn’t really have value for her. So it doesn’t meet my personal criteria for service there.

Let me give a disclaimer: I’m not naturally inclined to self care. It’s not a talent of mine, for various reasons, including the schizophrenia (which I blog and teach on). Left to my instincts, I forget self care, I procrastinate on it, I view it as a necessary evil, I shove it aside in the name of being a monomanic tortured artist workaholic. However, I don’t truly endorse that method, and so I try to rise above those instincts and take care of myself to get more done, using productivity systems and, well, Mistress ordering me to take a break already.

Aha, you might say. So she does want your self care. Well, yes. And I’m grateful for that. There are a few things to consider in that, though, besides her just caring about me.

One: not everything I do because of Mistress is a service. Yes, we view service as a key focus of our dynamic, but we also have other focuses and are generally M/s. To me, a lot of other things I do because of her fall under acts of submission, but not service. While submission and service are highly correlated concepts for me—but certainly not for everyone—they’re not exactly the same. 

I think of acts of submission as anything I do because of Mistress. This could be obeying a once off order, doing a recurring service task that was assigned, obeying a rule (ever present) or a (somewhat situational) protocol, asking for permission when required, wearing my daily uniform, assuming my slave positions, so on. I exclude from this the things that I would do with or without her. 

So, some self care acts are not acts of submission, either—things I do attend to well myself. But some—the ones I do only because of her—are, by my personal criteria, at least. That is an act of submission because it is not something I also happen to want—I am submitting to her will: having a largely healthy slave. And submission is important to me.

Another thing to consider: it’s difficult, if not impossible, to provide consistent, quality service without consistent, quality self care. My service declines when I’m too hungry, too tired, too dehydrated, so on. While I don’t think of self care as service in itself, it is a crucial step one towards service. For her, ensuring my self care is, if nothing else, a cost of quality service. 

In my Anticipatory Service class, I have a section on learning new service skills. While learning the skill might not be in itself service by my criteria, you sure can’t provide that service without it. I view self care similarly. 

Likewise, if you have a traditional job, self care and learning probably aren’t part of your job description, but you can’t do your job well without them.

And because I want to do a good job, I must value self care at least for that.

Say, virtually all of my (not super incidental) required tasks come from one of two places: my calendar, and my recurring task list.

I have rules about what goes on those. It must connect to at least one of the following: writing, being a kink educator, running Las Vegas TNG, going to butler school, being a slave (service or submission), or maintaining my physical health. I chose these areas based on their reflection of my personal core values list. I do plenty of other good things, but those don’t earn a place in the official systems.

And you saw my health listed in there: it deserves the priority because it feeds the other categories, including my service.

Now, being a slave also affects my self care in other ways. We’re high protocol and practice lifestyle sadomasochism. This affects my self care.

I need permission to go to the bathroom. (Sometimes she accompanies me and throws humiliation in there.) I need permission to shower, am required to do it regularly, am required to shave everything neck down whenever I do (unless I gain permission otherwise), and am required to report for an intimate inspection after. (Sometimes she uses this opportunity for watersports, soaping, cold showers, etc.) I sleep on the floor, nude, on a leash, with a set wakeup and bed time.

I love all areas of our dynamic, and sometimes they require self care, and sometimes they make it a challenge.

In the end, I want our dynamic to be about her, for her to get the best deal she can get—and sometimes that means putting myself aside, but sometimes that means overcoming that instinct to make sure she has a largely healthy, well taken care of slave.

I don’t think of self care as service—but it’s part of our dynamic, and it’s important. 

Choosing Service

By the time I woke up this morning, I’d thought about asking permission to sleep in a dozen times. 

I’d thought about it last night, cooking dinner—stir fry style chicken in the wok, and homemade bread, which I enjoyed—in such a fog, I barely remembered the process as I hit the pager transmitter button to page Mistress and waited in, well, Waiting Position, as always at 6 PM. I’d thought about it rolling my way out of the bed after sex—pleasant, but no orgasms for me, as expected and preferred—and stumbling over to unfold my usual soft blanket on the floor at the foot of the bed. I’d thought about it every time I stirred in the night, and I’d thought about it when my daily alarm finally went off, welcoming an unusually cold, wet day. 

I hit the transmitter button. By the time Mistress came in, I was still trying to find my way to Leashing Position. I was impossibly, unusually tangled in my leash, and the blanket that serves as my bed. She helped detangle me and unclipped the leash. I shivered as the cold air hit my bare skin.  

I didn’t ask to sleep more. I figured that I could do all my required morning tasks, but, if need be, doze a little during the hour I usually reserved for writing. I didn’t want to slack on the service tasks, and I’d gotten assigned a new one for the morning last night, and didn’t want to miss my first opportunity at it. 

So I stumbled through my morning routine. Dressed in my daily uniform. Washed up. All that. I brought the sunscreen to Mistress’ office—waited silently in the doorway until she beckoned me in—and applied it for her for the first time (later, we moved this to be a part of morning Inspection, which happens after brunch). New service task complete, she dismissed me before I could ask if there was anything else I could do, or for permission to go, so, ritual cut short, I curtsied and left.

In that time, I’d also given her the required notification that I was leaving the house, so I set out on my usual morning walk, about a mile loop. The drizzle was a little chilly, but light, and in the desert, welcomed.

The house was in sight again when something else came into sight—a beautiful, bright, full rainbow, right over the house. I admired it, and walked a little faster. I quickly brought Mistress outside when I got back, but it had mostly faded. My phone camera, also retrieved from the house, couldn’t catch it. But it was awesome just to see, an extra bonus for getting up this morning.

Inside, I don’t nap through my writing hour. I write this instead, before my alarms go off for morning housekeeping and serving brunch.

The thought I’m invigorated by is choosing service. I could’ve chosen to ask to sleep in—and maybe Mistress would’ve let me—or I could’ve chosen to complain the whole way. I could’ve chosen the writing hour, and slept during potential service time later, if I did decide to nap. But I didn’t. Not that I’m perfect, but today I chose service. 

Because—even in an irrevocable consent dynamic like ours—to an extent, it’s a choice. If I want to serve, to serve well and consistently, with the proper spirit—I have to choose it. Even when I also want to sleep. Priority, not an option. Because otherwise, I’m missing the opportunity. 

That’s true of almost anything I want to do, really. If I also want to write, I can’t doze through the writing hour, either. (Though, I later rearrange this schedule.)

And submission isn’t the convenient line up of what you both happen to want—that’s a matter of compatibility—but the choice to submit, to serve, when you’re beyond the limits of the tasks you prefer, when you choose and prioritize service and obedience over conflicting desires like sleep. When you are truly submitting, not doing what you would have chosen anyway. 

And I do want to serve, and I do want to submit, and I do want to write—and so I make those things a priority every day. 

Selecting Service Tasks in a World of Automation and Outsourcing

This whole post is something I usually throw in while expanding on one bullet point in my Anticipatory Service class, but it deserves a little more, so here goes. 

I talk in that class about generating service ideas/ways to serve, and cite one source of ideas being things that the person you’re serving typically automates or outsources (whether it be home automation or technology, hiring a contractor, going to a place to have the service done, getting delivery, etc.) 

Now, this can be a great source of inspiration, as it’s something they clearly do want done and are willing to hand off. And it can be beneficial to do things yourself to really connect with your service; washing a dish by hand will typically feel more like service than loading a dishwasher, as will giving someone a massage instead of driving them to a spa appointment, baking a loaf of bread instead of buying it, or walking the aisles of a store instead of clicking buttons. 

But there are several factors to consider when deciding if you should take it on as a service task or leave it to automation/outsourcing. 

There’s typically money to be saved in “doing it yourself” (having the s-type do it) versus involving a professional. But sometimes not, if this involves renting or purchasing expensive equipment usually covered by a smaller contractor fee. Even if the money is not an issue—what about the space in your home those supplies take up? Could you maybe split the space/money involved for such supplies with a family member, friend, or neighbor? 

Or, say, if there’s a major pandemic. This may make it safer to hit buttons from home and get grocery delivery than to walk the aisles of a store yourself. But it may also make it safer to perform a service yourself at home (say, giving a haircut) than to go out and have it done.

Next, can you perform the service (or learn to) to the same standard as the professional or technology involved/can you get close enough the trade off (say, money) is worth it? Or could the alternative do this so much better/faster/more easily that it isn’t worth it to do it yourself? There may also be other factors here, like if it’s more eco friendly or healthy to use one technology or another/lack thereof. Or if there are safety factors involved that a pro could better handle. 

The person you’re serving may also simply have a strong preference on this. If you’re beyond the point of negotiating that, you’re beyond the point of negotiating that.

I think the hardest factor to judge and navigate is the trade off of your time and energy (as the s-type). Just because there’s a potential service task to be done doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time and mental and/or physical energy. Even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, it can still be a disruption to your focus on another task, and ten tasks that all only take three minutes actually mean a half hour of extra work: things add up, and that’s time you’re not spending on another task that may be more useful.

In my case, I’m not allowed to be truly answerable to someone who isn’t Mistress, I’m not allowed to have a job, or take on things that could interfere with her authority. Service is my full time, forty plus hours a week job; I’m the housewife, no kids, no roommates, no other partners, always on call. But I still have only twenty-four hours in a day, and only so much energy (and some of those hours do need to go to food and sleep and all). And let’s face it: most service types do have other commitments that need to be taken into account. Even I have a lot going on without traditional employment.

So we balance what it’s most practical for me to focus on.

Examples both directions:

Dishes—we’ve opted for me to do them all by hand. Right after meals, I’m required to wash, dry, and put everything away as part of cleaning the kitchen, unless there’s some special exception. Now, we do have a pretty nice dishwasher, but it still really doesn’t do as good a job consistently, and I’m an admittedly somewhat slow and ineffective Dishwasher Loader (spatial reasoning isn’t my strong suit). It’s been used a couple of times when I was ill/after a large event, but that’s about it. 

High window washing—I do the washing of the more accessible windows, but we have a lot of windows that you’d need a full ladder to clean both inside and out. It’s basically impossible for me to move such a ladder by myself, and I have balance issues: me being on it at any real height above the ground would be dangerous, especially unsupervised. But, if I arrange things with a window washing company and have them do it, they whip right through this chore with celerity I’ll never achieve, and the windows are sparkling. The money is well worth it. 

Ultimately, choosing which service tasks to take on and which to leave to automation/outsourcing is about finding that balance point, which might sway back and forth over time (ex: utilizing the dishwasher when I’m very ill). I lean towards doing everything I can myself to really get that feeling of serving directly, but I’m learning to admit when it’s not practical. 

Lots of things to consider. 

Service Skill: Cooking (Recipes)

Entrees

Pot Roast

Season boneless chuck roast, four to five pounds (salt/pepper/paprika), sear on all sides (optional).  Add water to cover, pound of baby carrots, three to four cups tomato sauce, and simmer in pot on stove or crock pot on high with liner for six to eight hours, stirring now and then.  Try to break apart large pieces of meat. Serve on top of boiled egg noodles if desired. 

Baked Ziti

Preheat oven 350*F.  Cook and drain one box/a pound of penne pasta (or comparable pasta of choice).  Decase, brown, and crumble one pack Italian sausage, add jar (three to four cups) of tomato sauce to heat.  Combine sauce, pasta, and sausage in 9×13 glass pan, and sprinkle on shredded mozzarella until nearly covered.  Bake fifteen minutes or so.  Serves up to five or so.  Skip sausage for vegetarian version.

Garlic Chicken

Preheat oven 400*F.  Melt quarter cup butter with about twelve cloves crushed, peeled garlic.  Dip boneless skinless chicken breasts (halved) or thighs into butter/garlic sauce, then coat in even mixture of bread crumbs and grated parmesan (with tablespoon or so garlic powder).  Place coated chicken in greased 9×13 glass baking pan.  Bake for about thirty-five minutes or until 165*F in center of chicken.  Serves up to four with two or three pieces of chicken a piece.    

Lemon Chicken

Preheat oven 400*F.  Stir together a half cup flour, two tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning, zest of one lemon, some salt and pepper.  Toss boneless skinless chicken breasts (halved) or thighs in mixture.  Heat some olive oil in an oven proof skillet. Add chicken and brown on both sides.  Add three tablespoons butter, three quarters cup chicken broth, and one sliced lemon.  Bake about twenty minutes or until 165*F in center of chicken. Serves up to about four with two or three pieces of chicken a piece.    

Pork Chops

Season boneless pork chops with salt and pepper, then coat in flour.  Heat oil in skillet, and fry pork chops until brown on both sides, and 145*F or above in their center.  Can easily cook for three to four at once.  Goes well with applesauce. 

Chicken Thighs (or Drumsticks)

Preheat oven to 400*F.  Place bone in skin on chicken thighs (or drumsticks) in glass baking dish, making sure skin covers meat.  Season with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme.  Cook for an hour-ish, until 165*F in center of chicken.  Serves about one person per two or three pieces of chicken.

Pan Steaks

Allow steaks to rest at room temperature for thirty to sixty minutes.  Pat dry, season generously with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in skillet on medium-high.  Sear steaks a few minutes on both sides, flip and cook to desired doneness.  Optional: shortly before done, add a few tablespoons of butter, and spoon butter over steaks. 

Stir Fry Style Chicken (or Steak)

Cut boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or steak) into about one inch cubes.  Heat a drizzle of olive oil in wok or skillet on medium high.  Add chicken (or steak), season with salt and pepper as desired, cook to 165*F in center of chicken pieces (or to desired safe temp for steak).  Add in some butter near the end if desired. 

Basic Chicken Breast

Pat dry, then flatten, boneless skinless chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper as desired; allow to rest at room temperature about thirty minutes.  Heat oil in skillet on medium high heat.  Cook on both sides to 165*F internal temperature.

Pork Roast

Season boneless pork tenderloin, salt/pepper, sear on all sides (optional).  Add apple juice to cover and one pound of baby carrots.  Simmer in pot on stove or crock pot on high with liner for six to eight hours, stirring now and then, breaking apart large pieces of meat.  

Garlic Parmesan Pasta

Cook egg noodles or desired pasta; meanwhile, peel and mince about one head garlic.  Drain pasta.  In empty pot, heat a generous drizzle of olive oil and two or three tablespoons of butter.  Add garlic, cook until beginning to brown, reduce heat, add pasta back in.  Add grated parmesan cheese to taste and stir thoroughly.  Serve with extra parmesan on top/on the side. 

Baked BBQ Pork

Preheat oven to 400*F. Blot boneless half pork tenderloin dry with paper towels. Rub with brown sugar, paprika, salt, and pepper. Sear on all sides in oven proof skillet. Place in oven and bake about one hour/until pork is 145*F in center. Brush with BBQ sauce about ten minutes before done. Slice and serve with extra sauce.

Crock Pot Chicken

Season boneless, skinless chicken breast to taste (salt/pepper/other). Add chicken broth or water to cover and one pound baby carrots and other desired veggies. Simmer in crock pot on high with liner for six to eight hours, checking chicken is still liquid covered now and then.

Lemon Spaghetti

Cook spaghetti/similar pasta of choice according to directions on box. Meanwhile, combine a drizzle of olive oil, zest of one lemon, and juice of two lemons in a separate skillet. When you’re about to drain the pasta, turn on heat under the skillet to medium. Drain pasta; keep three quarters cup of pasta water. Add pasta and the three quarters cup pasta water to skillet. Toss with six tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces, and half cup grated parmesan until sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with extra parmesan.

Grated Tomato Sauce and Pasta

Cook penne/similar pasta of choice according to directions on box. Meanwhile, slice a thin round off the bottom of three tomatoes. Over a cutting board, starting at cut end, grate the tomatoes over the largest holes of a grater; discard skin/stem remaining. Transfer grated tomato to bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Peel and mince eight cloves garlic. Heat drizzle of olive oil in a skillet over medium. Cook garlic until just starting to brown. Reduce heat to medium low, add tomatoes, and simmer, stirring, for above five minutes to thicken. Remove from heat, add two tablespoons butter, and stir until melted. Combine with cooked pasta and serve.

Sides

Mashed Potatoes

Rinse and peel (if desired) potatoes (Russet, Idaho, that sort; about one or two potatoes per person; add a sweet potato if desired, cut to same size).  Cut into sixths or so.  Place in large pot on stove, well covered with salted water.  Simmer for about half hour. Drain water.  Add about 1/4 cup (half stick) of butter, cut into tablespoons or so, more if desired, small splash of milk, and salt.  You can also add minced garlic if desired.  Blend well with hand mixer or potato masher.  Add milk if needed to desired texture. 

Roasted Potatoes

Preheat oven to 500*F.  Rinse about two potatoes per person (Russet, Idaho, golden, red, whatever desired), peel if desired, chop into about one inch pieces. Melt two tablespoons of butter with about two tablespoons of cooking oil on stove.  Toss potatoes in mixture, add salt/pepper. Spread potatoes on baking sheet and put in oven for fifteen minutes.  Flip/rearrange potatoes and put back in for fifteen minutes.  Repeat/back in oven for fifteen more minutes or until desired doneness.

Roasted Asparagus

Preheat oven to 375*F. Rinse asparagus and trim (all white, to about second knuckle). Spread on lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and melted butter if desired, then brush it over/toss. Season with salt and pepper. Put in oven for about 25 minutes, flip/rearrange about halfway through. Finish quickly in hot skillet.

Drop Biscuits

Preheat oven 400*F. Combine one and three-quarter cups flour, one tablespoon baking powder, one teaspoon sugar, and one teaspoon salt. Cut in half cup of cold butter. Mix in three quarter cup milk. Create about nine scoops of dough on lined baking sheet. Brush with milk, bake until golden, about twenty minutes.

Cut Out Biscuits

Preheat oven 450*F.  Combine nine cups flour, three tablespoons baking powder, three tablespoons sugar, three teaspoons salt, and two and a quarter teaspoons cream of tartar.  Cut in two and a quarter cups of butter.  Make well in center of bowl, add three cups of milk.  Stir.  Turn dough out onto floured surface, knead, roll to about desired thickness with floured rolling pin (about three quarters of an inch), cut with floured biscuit cutter to rounds (about two and a half inches).  Brush with milk, bake on lined baking sheet until light golden brown, about fifteen minutes.  Freeze leftover rounds until just solid on parchment paper, then store in resealable bag to pop in oven later.   Makes about three dozen. 

Mac and Cheese

Boil salted water.  Add elbow macaroni/pasta of choice.  Cook until done, maybe twelve minutes, drain, set aside.  Melt three tablespoons of butter with a splash of milk.  Stir in eight to twelve slices of American cheese if serving one to four, and small handful shredded cheddar if desired.  Add milk or cheese to desired texture, stir until smooth.  Add pasta back in, stir.

Applesauce

Peel, core, and chop about five pounds of apples.  Add to lined crock pot with large pinch of salt, the juice of one lemon, and one and a half cups water.  Cook in crock pot on high for about three and a half hours, stirring occasionally, or until it reaches desired consistency/taste. Store in fridge. 

Rustic Bread

Mix three cups warm water (around 110*F), two and a quarter teaspoons active dry yeast, and one tablespoon sugar in large mixing bowl.  Let sit for about five minutes/until bubbly.  Add six cups flour and three teaspoons salt.  Mix until it forms dough.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise about three hours.  Preheat oven to 450*F and put an upside down cookie sheet on the top rack.  Fill baking dish with water and place on bottom rack.  Sprinkle flour on counter, turn out dough, fold on itself, and divide in half.  Form two round loaves.  Cut an X on top of each ball.  Place on lightly floured pan, then put pan on top of the cookie sheet in the oven.  Bake about forty minutes.  Internal temp should be above 190*F.  Wait at least a half hour before slicing. 

Desserts

Basic Drop Cookies

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Combine one and one quarter cups flour, half a teaspoon baking soda, half a teaspoon baking powder, three quarter teaspoon salt, half cup butter, one third cup sugar, half cup brown sugar, two teaspoons vanilla, and one egg.  Mix in desired amount of mix ins. (Try: chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, nuts, M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, themed candy, crushed potato chips, crushed pretzels.) Place large balls of dough on lined baking sheets and bake until golden brown, about fifteen minutes.  Makes about a dozen cookies.  Substitute gluten free flour for gluten free cookies. Double recipe and spread dough evenly in 9×9 greased cake pan and bake until toothpick test passed (about 20 minutes) for blondies.  Freeze extra balls of dough on parchment paper until solid, then store in zipper bag to pop in oven later.  

Poached Pears

Fill a bowl with cold water. Peel, half, and core pears and place them in the bowl. In a pot, combine one and a half cups red wine, three quarter cup sugar, two tablespoons lemon juice, zest of one lemon, two teaspoons vanilla, and two teaspoons cinnamon; bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the pears and simmer for about ten minutes; flip and simmer for about eight minutes. Serve with ice cream and extra sauce.

Thumbprint Cookies

Preheat oven to 375*F.  Combine one third cup sugar, half cup brown sugar, one teaspoon baking soda, half teaspoon salt, one and two thirds cup flour, half cup softened butter, three quarters cup creamy peanut butter, one egg, and one teaspoon vanilla.  Roll dough into balls, place spaced out on lined cookie sheet.  Bake until golden brown, about ten minutes.  Press reservoir into center of each cookie.  Add Nutella to reservoir.  Makes about two dozen. 

Red Wine Brownies

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Combine one cup melted butter, one and a half cups brown sugar, one cup sugar, three eggs, two teaspoons vanilla, half cup red wine, one and a half cups unsweetened cocoa powder, three-quarter cup flour, and half teaspoon salt. Pour batter evenly into greased nine by nine (ish) pan. Bake about forty-five minutes/until toothpick test passed.

Shortbread

Preheat oven to 325*F.  Mix one cup powdered sugar, two and two thirds cup of flour, and one cup (two sticks) softened butter.  Lightly grease 9×13 baking pan, cover bottom of pan evenly in dough.  Bake until very lightly brown, toothpick test passed, about twenty minutes.  Cut into rectangles, prick each rectangle twice with fork (4×2 rows of dots).  

Apple Bread

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.  Mix one third cup brown sugar, one teaspoon cinnamon, two third cup sugar, one and a half cups flour, one and three quarters teaspoons baking powder, half cup butter, two eggs, one and a half teaspoons vanilla, one tablespoon Nutella, half cup milk, and two apples, peeled and chopped into small/desired size pieces.  Pour into loaf pan.  Bake until toothpick test passed, browned, about forty minutes.

Ice Cream Bread

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Soften four cups of desired regular ice cream.  Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.  Stir 3 cups of self rising flour with ice cream.  Pour mixture into loaf pan and smooth out.  Bake about 50 minutes or until done, toothpick test passed.  (Incorporate toppings, mix ins, or serve with ice cream as desired.) 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 375*F.  Combine one cup Crisco, half cup sugar, one cup brown sugar, two eggs, one cup flour, one teaspoon baking soda, one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon vanilla, two cups oatmeal, and chocolate chips to taste.  Place balls of dough on lined baking sheets and bake until golden brown, about ten minutes.  Makes about two dozen.

Slutty Brownies

Preheat oven to 350*.  Prepare cookie dough recipe or mix of choice.  Prepare brownie batter recipe or mix of choice.  Grease 9×13 inch cake pan and line bottom with cookie dough.  Place whole Double Stuf Oreos over cookie dough in one layer.  Pour brownie batter evenly over top.  Bake for about forty minutes or until toothpick test passed.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Donuts

Whisk together one cup milk, warmed to about 110*F, one tablespoon active dry yeast, and one third cup granulated sugar.  Allow to sit in warm spot for about five minutes/until frothy.  Mix in two eggs, six tablespoons mostly melted butter, one tablespoon vanilla, half teaspoon salt, and four cups flour.  Knead two minutes on counter. Grease bowl, place dough in bowl, loosely cover, allow to rise in warm spot for about 3 hours.  When dough is ready, punch down once or twice.  Remove from bowl and turn out onto lightly floured surface.  Roll dough out until about half inch thick. Cut into twelve donuts (two biscuit cutters or donut cutter). Line baking sheets, put donuts on baking sheet. Loosely cover as you heat oil/allow to rise. Heat about two inches of oil to 375*F in large, heavy duty pot over medium high heat. Add donuts in batches and cook until golden on each side. Remove donuts to tray. Add desired glaze/topping. 

Chocolate Crinkles

Preheat oven to 350*F. Combine one half cup unsweetened cocoa powder, one cup sugar, one quarter cup vegetable oil, two eggs, one teaspoon vanilla, one cup flour, one teaspoon baking powder, and half teaspoon salt.  Create balls of dough and roll in powdered sugar.  Bake for about twelve minutes.  Substitute gluten free flour for gluten free cookies.

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350*F. Combine one and three-quarter cups rolled oats, two-third cup brown sugar, one-third cup sugar, half teaspoon salt, quarter teaspoon baking soda, one cup peanut butter, four tablespoons of butter, two eggs, and desired amount/combo chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, M&M’S, etc. Create balls of dough on lined baking sheet. Bake for about twenty minutes. Gluten-free; makes about two dozen cookies.

Brownie Cookies

Preheat oven to 350*. Combine one and one third cups flour, half teaspoon baking powder, half teaspoon salt, half cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder, one cup sugar, half cup melted butter, three tablespoons vegetable oil, one egg, two teaspoons vanilla, and desired amount of chocolate (and/or peanut butter) chips. Create balls of dough on lined baking sheet. Substitute gluten free flour for gluten free cookies. (Alternatively: skip baking chips. Place one chocolate-caramel candy—such as a Rolo—in the middle of each ball of dough, making sure it’s completely covered.) Bake for about fourteen minutes. Makes about fifteen cookies.

Breakfast

(See bread and biscuit recipes above as well.)

Pancakes

Combine one and one quarter cup flour, one tablespoon sugar, one and a half teaspoons baking powder, one quarter teaspoon salt, one egg, one and one quarter cup milk, two tablespoons butter (melted). Heat butter in pan on medium high heat. Add batter (desired size/amount of pancakes). Add any desired mix ins (blueberries, chocolate chips, etc.) Cook until light brown on bottom, just barely bubbling on top. Flip. Cook another minute or two until light brown on bottom. Serve with syrup, butter, or whatever is desired. Makes approximately pancakes for three. (For pancake bites: preheat oven 375*F. Pour pancake batter into greased or lined mini muffin pan. Bake about ten minutes.)

Energy Balls

Combine one and a half cup oats, half cup peanut butter (or desired nut butter), two tablespoons hemp or flax or chia seeds (more oats will also do), one third cup honey or maple syrup, half cup chocolate chips (or other mix ins). Combine, shape into balls, refrigerate in sealed container.

On Service Settings and Headspace

My service research brought me to Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service in April 2019, and parts of the book have stuck with me ever since.  Basically the manifesto of customer service at Disney, it has many points that can be applied elsewhere, and that was what I was hoping for as a service slave going into reading it.

One such point was this: setting changes expectations.

The manifestation of this belief at Disney resorts is obvious.  Almost anyone who’s ever just realized they stepped over the border between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland could tell you that a different set of things now seems appropriate or out of place.  Disney’s underground tunnels to keep cast members in costume from going through the lands where they don’t belong—no Buzz Lightyear in Frontierland—are somewhat legendary.

It’s about more than theme, though.  It can also mean convenience, organization, flow, cleanliness, formality.  Things placed without thought can mean they are inconvenient to find.  Lights on and doors open in certain rooms and halls can guide guests to where they should be.  A cluttered and slovenly front entry makes a certain impression.  A well set table can give an air of formality.  Even virtual spaces aren’t immune to the need for a good setting.

I think about this frequently when I’m serving brunch.  Here, brunch is supposed to be light and simple.  The big question almost every day is, “Toast or bagel?” and it’s usually served with something on the side along the lines of strawberries, homemade applesauce, or bacon.  Really nothing complicated.  Something that could easily be eaten at one’s whim on the couch, at the kitchen island, at a desk in front of a computer.

But that’s not where we eat brunch—we have brunch at the long dining table, covered in a clean tablecloth, bathed in morning sunlight from the windows, with fresh flowers perched in the middle.  Everything is served on real dishes, table set properly, with napkins I crocheted myself.  Every morning, at 9:30, excepting conflicting circumstances, with conversation as the main entertainment.

This makes some toast and bagels feel a lot more significant.

Even time can be a part of setting—the consistency of meal times can add a bit of ritual.

Recently someone mentioned being charmed by the fact that we always had a bouquet on the table, citing that it was something she did only for special occasions, and it felt like adding a special touch to the everyday.

All of these are pieces of setting and atmosphere.

To keep a good environment for service, I try to keep things clean, organized, intuitive, and err on the formal side.

To keep things convenient, we have clearly labeled stations.  In the kitchen, one for coffee, tea, cocoa, and general hot drinks, and one for soda, with straws and napkins.  A guest manual in the living room, with local recommendations and a guide to household features.  A box of first aid supplies and toiletries in the guest bathroom.  

Maintaining this environment means it sets the expectations for me, for Mistress, for guests.  Our friends, kinky and otherwise, know what to expect when they get here.  Mistress knows what the brunch table is going to look like.  I know what my standards are to maintain.  And with the expectations of environment change the expectations of service—lackluster service in a sparkling environment wouldn’t be the expectation and would be even more out of place.  

In a well maintained environment, it is easier to feel that need to maintain other standards as well.  

There’s also something to be said for the headspace of the actual tasks of maintaining that setting.  Cleanup from brunch sometimes includes changing the tablecloth and pruning the bouquet, and those tasks themselves are a reminder of the setting.

It feels different to kneel at the end of an unmade bed than it does to kneel at the end of one carefully made with hospital corners and fluffed pillows, and it feels different to know that you made it that way yourself.  It makes keeping your posture just so a little more intuitive.

I think Be Our Guest was right—setting does change service expectations—and it might be an underestimated headspace game changer. 

Service Is an Ephemeral Art

Service is an ephemeral art.

I was thinking this recently as I realized exactly how much of my job is doing the same thing over and over again.  Not so much one special project so much as do the dishes, every day.  Do the laundry, every day.  Cook brunch and dinner, every day.  Make the bed, every day.  When there are more dishes or more laundry, do them again.  When it’s nine-thirty or six again, cook again.  When someone gets in the bed and out again, make it again.  So on.

The effects disappear quickly and that is why the service here is really doing it every day, not once.  I’ve talked about the real burden of little tasks being that they add up and that they recur—and it’s true.  In the end, they add up to quite a bit to be allowed to take off an M-type’s plate.

As an example, Mistress likes to cook.  She doesn’t like to cook to have dinner on the table at six every day, but she likes to cook.  So I have dinner on the table at six every day, because I am more comfortable with those routines.  And she gets to have the energy to cook when inspiration strikes.

The book Cooked by Michael Pollan talks about the idea that when something is mandatory, it’s work, and when something is an option, it’s leisure—that the distinction is not innate to the task itself.  So when you had to hunt your own food, cook your own food, so on—it was work.  In a world of pre-packaged meat and even frozen dinners, those become leisure activities. 

So for me, cooking (having dinner on the table at six) is work.  Required.  Not because I live in a dimension without frozen dinners, or because I don’t enjoy it (I usually do enjoy it), but because it’s a requirement that Mistress set.  For her, cooking is leisure—something she doesn’t have to do, but sometimes does.  And when I bake cookies from scratch in the middle of the afternoon without being ordered to, it’s leisure, and my job is to shift as many things as I can from being work for her to being potential leisure.

And in that example, it’s easy to tell when the leisure task is done.  A once off meal you were just inspired to make, once eaten, is done.  The work version of a meal being on the table at a certain time is also kind of done when eaten, but it’s only done until you need to start the next meal, which might vary based on what you’re making or how far ahead you’re prepping, and that feeling of being done is a lot more ephemeral, a lot more caveats of for today or for this meal

Meanwhile, I was reading Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, and it mentioned the Manifesto for Maintenance Art.  I looked it up, and noticed a quote:

“—after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”

It speaks to a very real thing: that to change the world, you need the basics taken care of.  That to keep that change made to the world while it keeps going even further, someone needs to maintain it. 

And this makes that maintenance a world changing thing in itself, because it enables that change.

It enables leisure activities instead of work, and world changing instead of world maintenance. Because world changing might happen at once—but world maintenance happens every day, or else that maintained state fades away—an ephemeral way of being.

I find it very satisfying to be that enabling support.

It does mean, however, that your work never really feels done, because it’s only done until a point where it is undone that could come at any moment, especially when it’s domestic and thus you live surrounded by potential tasks.

On the other hand, it can be nice to always be able to find something useful to do.  There isn’t room for terrible boredom or feeling unhelpful.  The reason the effects disappear quickly is because the service is engrained in a person’s life that is an aggregate of all of those quick little tidbits—and the privilege of making all of that flow smoothly is something to be valued.

Invisible Anticipatory Service, Setting Your Own Recurring Tasks, and Some Advice

Recently I proposed extending our meal plan, currently based around dinner, to include a light brunch.

Like dinner, on the dining table at the same time daily (9:30 AM instead of 6 PM).

I came up with this independently, though when Mistress approved, she said she’d been thinking of dictating something similar in the future anyway, once she thought of the way to do a brunch plan.

After a day or two, she mentioned my proposing of it as, “Anticipatory service on a new level,” being anticipatory setting of a new recurring task rather than taking a single action.

I thought about that distinction and said I might do more of that behind the scenes than she realizes, but that I got the idea.

“Do you like that most of your work goes unnoticed?” 

“Yes, Mistress,” I smiled.  

And I do—I hold that good service—in most of the types I provide—should be unnoticed.  Not that it’s always bad to be noticed, but that the point is to quietly handle and prevent problems and smooth out friction points, thus sparing the annoyance of noticing the problem.  To be noticed, much of the time, means that something went wrong or didn’t get done.  Of course, sometimes it just means a touch was appreciated or something was done especially well.

I found a quote recently while reading Butlers & Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals that says: “A butler exists essentially to smooth the lives of his or her employer and/or family by taking over many household and personal functions they would otherwise have to perform themselves, thus freeing them up for more worthwhile pursuits.” 

Slaves, too, I think.

Which means you don’t want your M-type still paying attention to those things in just a different way—managing you—but to take them off their plate altogether.

And the very reason a lot of those little tasks are nuisances to be delegated is frequently that they are recurring.  It’s not arduous to do some things once.  But those little things add up, day in and day out.  Restocking items, cooking, cleaning, making coffee, mending clothes.

So those problems can get solved sooner by a slave—but ideally, also solved for the long term.  

This requires the room in a dynamic to do these things, the right permissions—but assuming those are in place if this is desired, it also requires a few skills.

Mostly, routine observation.  To get ahead of a problem you have to notice it before it happens and before the M-type notices.  It might not even be a problem to you if you were acting only for yourself, so you have to look from their perspective as well (and maybe know them better than they know them).  An eye for detail, the memory to do something with that information, the system to keep it in long term.

Then, effective problem solving.  Something to keep in mind—it helps to have a willingness to implement an imperfect solution sooner rather than an obsession with the perfect solution that will come late or never.

For example, the brunch idea I mentioned above.  I had the idea, and pretty much immediately came up with an approximate time, made a list of recipes, printed off new meal planning templates, etc.  Ready to go to pitch the idea, knowing there might need to be modifications in the future or unknown problems might be found early on, but it was worth a go (and it solved the problem long term—it wasn’t “making brunch that day”).

Mistress, as said, had noticed the same need for a brunch meal plan, but was waiting for the exactly right idea, which in the meantime, meant no order given to handle brunch.

Which worked out perfectly fine since this time I got ahead of it.  If both of us had been doing that, however—no brunch.  Problem/need still in place until Mistress came up with something, and thus no anticipatory service happening. 

One other thing to keep in mind—saying, “There is a problem,” is not problem solving.  That’s an observation, and possibly not a new one.  Offering to help doesn’t really add much to it since that’s your job and is just another form of observation.

So, a piece of advice: offer help specifically.

Avoid lines like, “What can I do?” or, “I’m here if you want anything.”  This still leaves problem noticing and problem solving and then communicating that on the other party, and if an M-type had an answer to something like that, they could and likely would say it regardless of your asking.

Instead, offer something specific they might not have thought of.  Come equipped with both the notice of a problem and a proposed plan to solve it (long term).  When someone’s just having a rough day, offer a specific drink or meal or helpful task rather than, “Whatever you want”. 

It leads to less looping conversations of bringing things back into being noticed, and to more potential action of getting things solved for the long run.

Which is, here at least, the overall goal. 

Balancing Control and Decision-Making as a Service

I’ve touched on the spectrum between control-oriented and service-oriented dynamics before.  Dynamics based at their core in the active exertion of power, authority, and structure, enforcing rules, protocols, and routines, versus dynamics based on the idea of being useful, helpful, and completing tasks, chores, and assignments.   

There is no reason a dynamic can’t include all of those things—I know mine does—though it’s a useful distinction when talking about M/s philosophy and can have an influence on how some things get implemented.  And some dynamics do skew a lot more one way or the other.

However, there are some trade-offs to be made that fall under this spectrum, and here is a big one I see:

Decision-making.

A lot of s-types talk about wanting their M-type to decide everything for them.  Everything.  What they eat, when they eat it.  What they wear.  When they wake up, when they go to bed.

And a lot of s-types (including a lot of overlap) talk about wanting to be as useful as possible for their M-type.  Cooking, cleaning, managing a calendar, doing the shopping, making travel arrangements.

A lot of this is compatible, especially given just a little bit of compromise.  Say, I wear a uniform, and that doesn’t stop me from cooking dinner.  Now, if Mistress had wanted my uniform to be something too impractical to have me cook in, there would’ve had to be a trade-off.  But we went with something simple I can wear equally to volunteer at the library, go to my mom’s house, or attend a munch or play party.  That little line about keeping it neat means general permission to wear an apron when cooking, though.

But some parts of this are not necessarily going to be compatible.  It is unlikely you will give up all decision-making and remain equally useful, or that keeping the power to make too many decisions will give much of a feeling of being controlled.

The service of meal planning is not going to be compatible with very tight control over someone’s diet.  The secretarial task of making appointments is not going to happen easily with the s-type never being allowed to speak for their or the M-type’s time.  The s-type managing the shopping is not going to be any more convenient than the M-type doing it themselves with purchase-by-purchase financial control.

Now, there are still some things in between.

I do meal planning as a service, but there are loose limits on what I can do, like keeping dinner healthy, homemade, and protein-based most of the time.  I have to have it on the table at six o’clock and be waiting behind my chair in a specific position, the table settings have to be done a certain way, and the kitchen has to be cleaned right after for evening inspection.  But at the end of the day, I chose what we ate.  And for Mistress, not having to do the meal planning, shopping list-making, cooking, and associated tasks herself is well worth giving me the choice of what we eat.  Of course, she retains the power to tell me to change it if she wants to.

Besides the feeling of looser control, there can be other complications in handing some decision-making back to the s-type.  In a lot of the examples I gave, the M-type basically wants the decision made by the s-type to be the same decision they would have made themselves, or at least within certain guidelines (making that appointment at a time that works for them, for example), simply so they don’t have to make that phone call, that trip to the store, that meal plan, moreso than they want to hand off the decision itself.

This means the s-type has to learn what those preferences and guidelines are.  They might even be things the M-type doesn’t consciously know, themselves, to teach.  Things will be learned along the way by trial and error and observation and so on.

However, this learning process can lead to another trade-off:

The question of why.

There are a lot of mixed feelings out there about s-types asking why.  On the one hand, there’s the belief that the s-type should never ask why, that they just need to follow orders and the reasoning behind it is irrelevant because, “My M-type said so,” is a good enough reason to just do it.  And, if that’s the dynamic agreed to, so be it.  However, that may be best suited for the control-oriented.

Even in some very low protocol and loosely-structured service-oriented power dynamics, certain whys would be out of place.  The whys that aren’t a genuine question of trying to understand, but a way to argue, a way to say, “Convince me,” a way to stall, an opportunity to find a flaw in that reasoning, something that gives the implication that you won’t do the task without knowing why.

Those aren’t the whys I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the whys that become a practical matter to know when the M-type isn’t going to be constantly available in the future.  The whys that would let the s-type make smart substitutions or changes in a pinch, knowing the spirit of the law instead of looking at the suddenly unhelpful letter of it.  The way that a general knowledge of cooking will help you successfully swap an ingredient in a recipe when the last of something runs out, cut a step you correctly recognize as not necessary, or change a temperature and cook time to a different equivalent when dinner guests are stuck in traffic.  Rather than fail to realize that baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing, or that turning the oven that low will not get that meat up to temperature in the right amount of time, or anything else the recipe itself might not tell you how to modify in a conundrum.

Saying, “Always buy this specific brand of disinfectant spray,” is fine and good and if you want the s-type to unquestioningly buy that brand, then that can give you that control-oriented rush.

But… what about when you’re out of that spray, and you need more, and the store is out?

If your s-type has to call you to ask what to do now, that can continue that little control rush of thinking about your s-type running down the specific shopping list and be a nice call to get.

But it is probably an inconvenience if what you wanted was to be able to deeply focus on another task while your s-type was making the list and out taking care of the shopping to give you that free time as a service, with only that one item or a few others specifically dictated.

So in the case of the latter, knowing the why might be useful to avoid that phone call.

Do you buy that brand because it’s the cheapest?  Because it’s one whose ingredients don’t irritate an allergy you have?  Because it cleans the best?  Because it comes in the easiest spray bottle?  Because it’s the only one available in that bulk size? 

Each of those whys quite possibly leads to an entirely different substitution. 

The spirit there might be, “It’s not your place to just ask why, but it is your place to provide the best service possible.” 

A lack of that why shouldn’t impede quickly doing the task with a smile.  Sometimes the why is going to be just momentary, or far less urgent than the task itself, or evident later, or simply not shared or shared right then.  And a negative answer to, “May I know why?” is still to be accepted.  But to prevent the question at all rules out the sometimes practical nature of it.

Yet, allowing it regularly may feel like a lot of freedom for the control-oriented.  

That’s a trade-off.  

And of course there’s an in-between.  Carefully sharing that why only when it is practical, rather than getting into the habit of always answering.  Perhaps changing whether or not asking is allowed between time periods or protocol levels.  Allowing the question only once the task is complete.  So on.  This can get you that balance between the joy of control and the practicality of service, the balance between decisions as a form of power and decisions as a form of service.  

I know I’m allowed to ask why for practicality (not for any of the disingenuous reasons I mentioned above), and sometimes I hear a useful-for-the-future why to note, and sometimes I hear, “Because I said so.”

Sometimes whys get figured out almost accidentally over time, or with a little bit more discussion.  My main kneeling position has my hands placed behind my back.  I wouldn’t really feel the need for a why on that since it isn’t really something I might face a conundrum on, but a surface why of, “It looks more submissive to me,” became, “It implies physical [and emotional] openness and availability to me rather than defensiveness,” in a relatively short philosophical conversation.

In situations like that, finding them out can be fun for the psychology-minded in addition to practical, though that’s just a bonus.

In the end, what’s important for M-types is not sabotaging your own priorities in the name of avoiding any trade-offs at all.  If you’d miss that rush of control more than you mind getting that phone call, you can trade off that practical knowledge for that emotional benefit.  If you’d mind the interruption more than you’d mind handing off that decision, you can trade off that bit of in-the-moment power for the concrete benefit.  There might be compromises to be made, but they’re still yours to make.

Digital Productivity

This post is a conglomeration of productivity systems, tricks, and tools I use in my slavery, focusing on the digital side.

Part One: Using Technology to Be More Productive, Not Less

Let’s face it: for a lot of people, their devices are simply time sinks, or for leisure. Their phones are for Candy Crush and Instagram; tablets are for Netflix and cat videos; so on, so on. For a lot of people, too, their devices are crucial productivity tools—full of important resources, communications, planning—but definitely still able to become a time sink with the right Wikipedia rabbit hole. For this, technology can get a bad rap. So Part One is how to make your tech focused around being more productive, not less.

Eliminate those time sinks.

If possible, it can be best to eliminate them altogether. Delete social media accounts, games, whatnot. On the other hand, those are perfectly fine things to engage in during leisure time, so in that case it becomes limiting their use to those times. I very rarely use my phone except for a quick check on a ride or jotting down an idea while out and about, but I make sure there are no games on there or certain time-sink apps. No games period, actually. FetLife is my only social media. I don’t watch any videos, TV, movies, except the rare social occasion, and I don’t listen to the radio/podcasts.

If you can’t delete them, app and website blockers with timers can be your friend. Browser extensions are a good option. If you’re more of a general phone user, or use multiple browsers, etc., you may want something more robust to keep you on track during your key service hours.

Additionally, limit your notifications via settings.

Eliminate friction points in your tech use.

Have you ever meant to quickly check an email, and ended up looking at two other emails in your inbox, or running to find a charger for your dying device so you can finish reading that email, or getting linked to a site you forgot your password for, leaving you to get in via a reset email, or having to install an update before your device cooperates?

These are friction points.

I recommend eliminating those issues—and a few more—in these ways.

One, properly set up and use a password manager to save your passwords, so you don’t play the, “Forgot your password? Enter your username! Forgot your username? Enter your email!” game. I use LastPass. Some of these even come with a strong password generator, and it makes it easier to not dangerously repeat passwords. (Another tip, do regular cyber security checks!)

Two, charge your electronics every night. The devices you use basically every day—plug them in before you go to bed. It’s simple, takes just a second, but it makes a huge difference. Take it from someone whose phone and smart watch went from “always dead” to “always charged”. Also, make sure you carry chargers for whatever devices you’re carrying, and consider a charged power bank and appropriate cords for that. The backpack I carry even has USB charging via power bank abilities built in (so you can plug in the power bank on the inside of the bag, and the phone to a port on the outside). (Cool backpack provided by Christmas and TheSprinkles/Frequent_Flyer).

Three, unless you have reason not to (waiting for bugs to be worked out, new pricing, etc.): install updates promptly for your apps and devices. It’ll save you the headache of functionality issues ensuing. I check for them weekly during my weekly review.

Four, backup, backup, backup. Don’t lose your important files to dragging the wrong thing to the trash or a water glass dropped on a device. Set reminders—mine are also during that weekly review—to backup your files, preferably in more than one form—for example, I have things in places which have cloud syncing, and I also export to other places with cloud syncing. And, of course, scan physical files.

Five, embrace digital minimalism. Look into it, and try to reduce files, notifications, apps, services, accounts, devices, and such to the strictly necessary. Less stuff means less to sort through when you’re trying to find something.

Six, keep your electronics physically clean and protected. Use covers, clean them properly, use surge protectors, and keep them cool.

If you do these, you’ll never get ordered to do a quick task on one of your devices and have to go, “Er… one more minute!”

If your digital files are a mess to sort through, or you’re always forgetting something you’re supposed to do on your devices, you’re not going to feel—or be—any more productive. Here are some organization pointers.

A Table of Contents is your friend.

Wherever it can be, something table of contents-like (whatever you like to call it/however you like to organize it) can be a lifesaver, especially if the alternative is just a shambolic collection of files.

I have a general physical notebook with a table of contents with page number, “title”, date, and a color coded tag system that I update daily. Of course, there are digital options as well.

If you use anything where one would be useful: consider it. You’ll find things faster.

Set (and keep) techy routines.

Set a time, however frequently you need, to check the digital things you have that need to be checked. This means you won’t overlook things until they’re urgent (or worse), and it will keep you from compulsively checking things as you remember them.

This can be correspondence, your calendar and to-dos, etc.

I set my times for this as part of my AM and PM routines.

In my AM routine, I also have a note to message Mistress about any questions, plan confirmations, permission requests, whatnot, for the day. This means I hopefully have fewer, “Oh, I meant to ask—” times throughout the day. If a similar note would work for you—give it a try!

Use tags.

Wherever you think they might be useful: try tags. They’re a feature in a lot of productivity software, and you can use them on a lot of email platforms, too.

For example, I use tags on recipe notes—to sort by diet (like vegetarian, gluten-free), main ingredient or cuisine (like chicken, Italian, potato), and meal (like breakfast, dinner, dessert, drinks, sides, snacks). This way I can quickly find something to make for a guest on a special diet, or for a specific craving they’re having.

I also use a form of tagging in my email; I use Gmail’s filters to send emails straight through the inbox to specific labels/tags based on things like who sent them. This way I have an idea of what emails have come in just by seeing the notification number next to those labels, instead of an unsorted mess of emails. Pretty much nothing ends up in my general inbox. I also am very careful about handing out my email address and unsubscribing from things so that I only get a few emails a day, and they’re all ones I want to read.

Have things recur.

I have Daily, Weekly, Monthly lists, so on. There’s also project planning, miscellaneous tasks, lists of things I’m waiting on in some way, and some repeating checklists. I have a life saving Master Shopping List. As a slave, there are services I provide routinely or simply again and again, and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time.

Part Three: Specific Idea – Gifting Spreadsheet

The first sheet in my Google Sheets gifting spreadsheet has six columns: Item, Recipient, Occasion, Purchased (indicated via checkbox), Wrapped (indicated via checkbox), and Notes. I fill it in for every item. For ideas I have but haven’t committed to an occasion for yet, I put “Any”. Under notes, I mostly note items that are DIY projects in nature and thus need more time than the others. Each column is able to be filtered, so I can find all gifts assigned to any one or more recipients or occasions, or see just ones that are purchased but not wrapped (to see what I should go wrap), or purchased and wrapped, or neither (to see what I should go buy and then wrap).

A second sheet has a gifting list (who I gift to for what occasion, to make sure I don’t forget anyone and can plan), a very general ideas list, and an inventory of “Emergency Gifts” (fairly generic gifts bought and wrapped ahead of time with a blank gift tag and a sticky note label of what’s inside, intended for surprise recipients—like ones who give you a last-minute invite to their birthday party, or someone who gets you a gift for a holiday when you didn’t expect one, and you need a reciprocal one for them quickly).

A third sheet is a “have-gifted” reference, where gifts move to from the first sheet once given, to remember for future occasions what has already been given. This is simplified to Item/Recipient/Occasion with filters.

Lastly, there’s a “gifted to me” reference sheet as a reminder for thanks, updates, and so on.

Part Four: Specific Idea – Butler’s Book

I have many notes labeled with the names of people I know. I have a template saved that I use and modify as needed, with the template including places for name, birthday, contact information, health information/allergies, general schedule (for making plans), entertainment preferences, “what’s up in their life” (for conversation topics), food and drink preferences (where I frequently link straight to the recipe notes), a “pre-visit checklist” (put extras of their favorite soda in the fridge from the soda shelf, adjust the lighting to their preference, etc.) I include any notes on things to do the next time I see them—return something borrowed or whatnot. A quick glance at someone’s note before seeing them can make things go more smoothly, and part of my hosting checklist is to look at this.

My Style of Entertaining, and Where I Got It From

Recently, Mistress and I attended one of my family’s gatherings.

As I watched my cousin, one of the hosts, cook entirely too much delicious food, and the other host, her husband, diligently clean up a step behind her, I thought about my own style of entertaining and where I get it from.

Other than the aforementioned couple, it was mostly my great-aunt or her daughter who hosted family gatherings as I was growing up.  There was also always entirely too much delicious food from that part of the family, though it happened more in courses—light appetizers in wicker baskets scattered around before you sat down to salad and soup, then a course offering the option of many tempting entrees and sides, usually very drawn out before the cleaning up started, people wandering around, leading into the placement of assorted light desserts.

At my cousin’s house, however, it was more like a constant wandering, and many light and heavier appetizers on the large kitchen island, then a large variety of appealing entrees, sides, and heavier desserts added to that island, much closer together in time.  Cleanup got done as it was needed, closely following whatever was getting cooked up at the time.

Aside from family gatherings, the parties I went to during my more formative years that I remember best were the parties thrown by the very wealthy families of kids I went to middle school with for the first two years.  As someone new to that private school and there on scholarships, it was like a whole new world.

These were parties of hundreds of people of varying relation in fancy but uncomfortable looking clothes, with very loud music from a DJ and elaborate but dim lighting, sitting down at round tables so big you could barely read the place card of the person across from you, the table covered in fine linens, and waiters bringing delicately plated food you had ordered on your RSVP card so long ago you forgot what you ordered or what the options even were.  People gave speeches and after dinner, there were activities and lots of dancing.

I think of what I’m like as a host now and can see bits of all of those hosts in me.  I hosted a weekly event at home with Mistress for almost a year and a half, having rarely less than six and rarely more than twelve people over for food, chitchat with kinky company, and occasional play or swimming.  In that event, I can see bits of all of the above events.

I always erred on the side of too much food, and my skills at cleaning and cooking at the same time improved over time, though there was always more cleanup to do after all was done (and cleaning up before people even arrived).  I tended to have the “light appetizers scattered around in cute baskets” style (cut down later on due to the unhealthy tendencies of those “appetizers”). Then there would be a more buffet style entree serving later (as cooking finished), with maybe a light side or two, usually fairly closely followed by a dessert.  People were free to wander around with their food.

Though some of the formality of the large parties appeals to me, I would rather fall on the guests being comfortable side of it, like my family.  We never had a dress code of any sort for guests (and clothes sometimes came off anyway), though I’d be in my uniform. We tried to keep the sensory experience of the house calmer, focused on interaction with the other people, not the environment, since that’s what they were there for.

Food was customizable with request, and I often felt out people on the general food options as little as a day in advance.  

I liked a more personalized feel.  There’s the great service of going to a famed five-star restaurant, and there’s the great service of going to the mom and pop cafe you frequent.  The five-star restaurant might have dishes with names in the romance languages, but the mom and pop cafe knows you want extra potatoes and no whipped cream on your drink.  I liked the latter style.

Yes, the brand name store-bought cookies look pretty in the package and have a health code stamp on them, but you don’t get to smell them while they’re in the oven, or see the cloud of flour dust as flour gets added to the bowl, or taste test any of the cookie dough.  Personally, I valued the way the kitchen got crowded as the cookie dough got closer to taste-test ready or as the oven timer got closer to zero, more than I valued a pretty package.  (People descended upon the cookies before they were nearly cooled enough to think about presentation, anyway.)

A main hosting priority for me was also to make everything as intuitive and easy as possible.  I labeled things.  I laid things out in advance.  I didn’t blast music so loud people couldn’t hear each other, or dim the lights so low they couldn’t see each other.  I tried to offer options on things that would work for everyone, and let people choose for themselves.  Fancy was cool, but I didn’t want it at the cost of confused guests who felt shoved into a box. 

If it wouldn’t disrupt the guest experience, I still liked keeping things nicer; even just using real, non-disposable silverware, plates, napkins, and bowls for the occasion easily gave it a more upscale feel.  (Hosting a lot, you have to start to think about your environmental impact anyway.)

Personally, I had a great guest experience at the house of my cousin and her husband recently, and I have had many great experiences with them and with the other hosts of my family, and many of those massive parties of kids at school were a blast, too.  People can definitely enjoy more than one kind of event.

It was interesting to think back on those experiences and how they formed my general hosting style and values—and thinking deeper into different types.