If I have pounded one message into my kids' heads it's this: Your job is to figure out your gifts and use them to make the world a better place.
I try to model that behavior.
And I am going to do that today beginning with — cocktail napkins.
These are on my mind because the holidays are approaching, and many of us will be standing around at parties all dressed up holding ice-filled drinks in sweaty glasses with cocktail napkins that have turned into mushy clumps.
Thus, I am making a plea for cloth — not paper — cocktail napkins. They will make the world a better place. Too expensive and too high maintenance, you say?
I thought so, too, but I have found a way around those excuses.
Mydrap, a New Jersey-based table linen company, sells cheap cotton napkins — cocktail, luncheon, dinner — and place mats on rolls like paper towels.
You tear them off as needed and toss them when you're done.
“They're a bridge between paper and formal linens,” Mydrap owner Debra MacKinnon tells me. “They allow you to entertain in style with the convenience of disposability.”
“Don't people feel guilty throwing away cloth?”
“You can wash and reuse them up to six times,” she says, “but the beauty is you don't have to.” She promises to send me samples.
Then she tells me how she discovered the product when she was in Barcelona a few years ago.
She stumbled across the product line, just released from a 97-year-old Spanish textile company, whose founder's great grandson thought the company needed to try something new.
“I thought it was a brilliant way to upgrade the table, and I started stuffing rolls in my suitcase,” said MacKinnon, who liked the line so much she got the U.S. rights, and launched the line here 18 months ago.
The 100 percent cotton napkins cost a little more than paper — her best-sellers are the cocktail napkins, which run about 50 cents each and come in rolls of 50 — but are a good deal less expensive than finer cloth and linen napkins — and need no pressing.
“I love cloth napkins,” MacKinnon said, “but so many I can't use for company because they have stains I can't get out.
“I have drawers full of cloth napkins and place mats good enough for my family, but not for anyone else,” she says.
“How many times have you gone to set the table for company, and can't find a completely clean set?”
The samples arrive. I test drive them immediately. The colors are vibrant, the fabric pristine and crisp.
The single-ply napkins feel thin, but are a giant step beyond paper. What's more, they pass my hostess test: Elegant, frugal and fast.
Fast is key because I'm chronically short on time, with no extra minutes to press linens. When my guests ring the doorbell, I usually have an eyelash curler in one hand and a vacuum in the other.
Consider these advantages to the Mydrap products:
• Perfectly ready. Mydrap linens come off the roll pristine, pressed and perforated. Edges tear clean like laser-scored paper. Each piece has an imprinted border that looks like stitching.
• Mix and match. The product comes in 24 colors, a few prints, including two cute holiday patterns, and four sizes (www.buymydrap.com). Mix them to suit your decor, the occasion, holiday or season. You can also order linens custom printed with the name of your event, say a bridal shower or bar mitzvah.
• Convenient clean up. “At the end of the party, you scoop everything up and toss it in the compost pile,” MacKinnon said. The 100 percent cotton product is biodegradable, recyclable and renewable. If you want to wash and reuse, you can. The second and third time around, they're great for picnics and lunchboxes.
• Linen option. Though cotton is the bulk of her business, linen products are also available but cost about 30 percent more, and come in fewer and more muted shades. “The linen does become cost prohibitive, but if you're a linen girl like me you'll love it,” MacKinnon said.
• Make your own. You can also find your own inexpensive or discounted cotton linen, cut it into squares with pinking shears and make your own elegant hostess touch. Either way, cloth will look and feel better than paper, guaranteed.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.