When you're the surprise visitor your mama warned you about.

By Betsy Cribb

When it comes to parties, there are two scenarios that I do my very best to avoid like the plague, for fear of bringing dishonor to the village of wonderful Southern women who raised me: Showing up under (or over) dressed and arriving unexpectedly and unannounced.

While a classic little black dress can almost always prevent the former scenarios, the latter is a bit more complicated. For starters, if you're going to be that unexpected guest, you best have a good reason for it: Maybe your travel plans have changed through no fault of your own, and this is suddenly the only time you'll be able to see your dear old neighbor ever again. Perhaps you've miraculously recovered from a life-threatening flu and wish to celebrate your new lease on life with the friends you haven't seen since high school. Better still, you've been dragged along to an event against your will (and your knowledge of good graces) and are trying to make the most of your unfortunate predicament. Whatever your excuse, if you're going to show up somewhere uninvited, you must, at the very least, show up with a flawless hostess gift.

Here, our three-step guide to giving the perfect hostess gift, whether you're showing up uninvited or not:

Hostess gifts should be no-fuss.

Fresh flowers make a lovely gift, but be sure to bring an arrangement that's already placed in a vase that the hostess can keep. Show up with a bouquet in hand, and your hostess will immediately have to run to the kitchen, find a vase, empty the flower feed into the water, etc. It becomes one more thing for her to do, when she's already so graciously hosting you, the unexpected guest.

Hostess gifts should be sweet and simple.

This is not the time to bring an over-the-top gift that will embarrass your host with its extravagance or compel him to sit down immediately following the party to write you a thank you note. A hostess gift is your way to thank the host and express your gratitude for his hospitality, especially when you are an unexpected addition to the fête.

Hostess gifts should be a positive contribution to the occasion.

Your gift should unburden the host in some way, shape, or form. If you're rolling up to a casual wine-and-cheese soiree, a nice bottle of wine or a tin of homemade cheese straws are smart choices. If you're showing up to a full-on dinner party, bring something the hostess can easily add to the dessert table (This 7-layer caramel cake is a total crowd-pleaser). If you'd rather, bring the host something she can pop in the oven for breakfast the next morning while she recovers from playing your ever-gracious host (Callie's Sharp Cheddar Biscuits are hard to beat).

And heaven forbid, should you be the one to show up uninvited, don't be the last person to leave. As my grandmother's needlepoint pillow directed, "You should not mistake endurance for hospitality."