Category: Being a Guest

Cena Internazionale: Buon Appetito!

An Italian, a Mexican, and an American walk into a flat, where they meet a Dutch woman and a Congolese man.

Not the set-up for a joke, I swear! It was the introduction to one of the most fun hospitality experiences I’ve had recently.

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Student of Hospitality

I’ve been a guest myself for the past few weeks, enjoying the hospitality of my friends and family members.

My mom watched my kids, Joshua (almost 2) and Katherine (just turned 4), for two weeks while my husband and I traveled in Europe.

"Grüß Gott" - traditional Bavarian greeting. Literally, "Greet God."

We visited:

-Kent & Leslie, my former youth pastor and his wife, who are missionaries planting an international church in Maastricht, the Netherlands

-My dad, stationed in Germany with the Army, in Garmisch, at an American military resort in the Alps

-College friends in Essen, Germany

-Friends from Rhode Island who just moved to Munich

Then after Matthew and I got back to the States, I flew the next day to Colorado to pick up K and J from my mom and got to spend a couple days with her and my brother Daniel.

I felt so taken-care-of by the generous hospitality we received. Next week I’ll blog all about our European adventures and the great lessons I learned about hospitality that we’ve already been trying to incorporate into our lives at home.

Welcome goodies from Karin in Munich

Hosted By My Own Guests

A couple weekends ago, I planned a very full schedule. Friday night: arrived home from the youth camp where I’d spoken, went straight to Matthew’s company BBQ. Saturday: day in Boston with college friend Rebecca who had come from North Carolina to visit a mutual New Hampshire friend. Sunday: speak at a local church. Then crash, exhausted.

I’m sure there were gaps where more events could fit in … oh, and I found one! Saturday night: invite 9 people over for dinner, our friends the Thomases.

Knowing I would be pressed for time, I decided on a meal that would be simple to prepare. Inspired by one of the dinner at camp, I planned a Baked Potato Bar with a Brownie Bar for dessert. Matthew asked his sister for household help while I was away, so I texted Joanna a grocery list, and she picked up all the ingredients.

I baked the potatoes and brownies Saturday morning before leaving for Boston. All I would have to do when I got home was set out the condiments and toppings. And make some chili. And straighten up the house, because the kids had “unpacked” the suitcases from our trip all over the place. Okay, so I was cutting it close.

After an Italian lunch in Boston’s North End and cannoli at Modern Pastry, Rebecca decided she wanted to try a Duck Tour. I was able to order tickets from my iPhone, and we started walking the Freedom Trail toward the USS Constitution. We found out there had been a problem with our ticket order, and we would have to take a later tour to get enough seats. I knew it would REALLY push things for getting dinner ready, but I went for it rather than lose our tickets.

It definitely stressed Matthew out, but he took over valiantly. (Him: “You need to come home right now!” Me: “Um. I’m in the middle of Boston Harbor.”)

One of the Thomas boys came over early to help Matthew straighten up. By the time Rebecca and I and my kids rushed in from Boston, everyone was sitting around eating ice cream and popsicles. “Your husband serves the best appetizers!” said mom Monica Thomas.

They all jumped in to help set the table, make the chili, and set out the toppings: cheese, sour cream, bacon. (I forgot to get out the chives.) We had so much fun around the table.

After dinner, they helped clear plates and set out dessert: brownies, whipped cream, mini chocolate chips, walnuts, chocolate syrup.

When I left with Rebecca to drop her off with our friend, my amazing guests finished cleaning up before Matthew took them to Waterfire in downtown Providence. I came home to a spotless kitchen!

The whole thing was a blur, but it was a lot of fun. I felt like I was hosted in my home by my own guests. Thank you all so much…you’re welcome any time!

I’m sure you will be more organized and timely when you host guests at YOUR home, but if you ever know you’re going to be cutting it close:

  • plan food that is easy to set out
  • plan food that can be mostly prepared ahead of time
  • don’t leave the house messy thinking you’ll have time to clean it later!
  • invite gracious guests : )

Visit with Joy and Daniel

Matthew and the kids and I drove to New Hampshire this past weekend to visit Daniel and Joy Geaslen. Matthew and Daniel met at a missions internship in Texas 11 years ago. I met Daniel through Xanga while he was a missionary pilot in Africa. (Remember when everyone blogged on Xanga? Wow, that was a long time ago. Pre-Facebook, even.)

Daniel and Joy got married last summer, and we enjoyed their beautiful outdoor wedding while Katherine enjoyed an indoor waterpark with Grandma Miller (which K still talks about rapturously to this day). They came to visit us in the fall, and now it was our turn to visit them in NH. They invited us up to hear them speak at their church about their work with Mission Aviation Fellowship.

After attending a Tom Conlon concert in Mass on Friday night, we headed north. Turns out that depending on our GPS-enabled phones for guidance only works as well as AT&T’s coverage, which doesn’t so much extend to New Hampshire. (Motto: Live Free From Cell Phone Coverage or Die) After getting lost – I believe – five times, the 1 1/2 hour drive took us 3 hours, and we arrived at 1:30 a.m.

Daniel and Joy were still up waiting to welcome us when we dragged in to their aunt and uncle’s house where they were house-sitting for the weekend. They got us settled in to our rooms (M and me in the aunt and uncle’s room, Joshua in a pack n play in the adjoining bathroom, and K in the Spare Oom next door) before going to bed. Their waiting up for us felt especially generous as I knew they planned to wake up early the next morning for a 5K run.

They had thoughtfully planned ahead and, knowing I like to run – Joy and I ran in the rain when they stayed with us – signed me up for a free race-ish thing a local sporting goods store was hosting. (“And you get free socks!” Daniel said when he told us about the race. He was very excited about the socks: “If you come, you get free socks. And since everyone knows the oldest and wisest among us want good wool socks for Christmas and only get silly books, we thought this would be a good motivation to come. Oh yeah, and by running, you also get 20% off anything in the store. Matthew, you get to sleep in with the kids. Which is almost as good as free socks.” And did he mention the free socks?)

So, sleep deprived but eager to enjoy the sun, I got up with them in the morning and slipped outside. I picked up my free socks, but failed to ask about the terrain of the race. I anticipated a street course for some reason, so the uphill-the-whole-first-half trail run in the mud, over roots and grass, caught me off guard. Joy and I ran together, varying our pace wildly throughout the course. We finished in about 25 minutes as the fourth and fifth women. The sports store discount came in handy – Daniel and Joy used it to buy rain gear for their upcoming move to Indonesia, and I bought summer running clothes for the Providence Half Marathon May 2.

When we got back to the house, Matthew had fed the kids breakfast, so we took them outside to experience the dogs being dogsat. Best moment: 3-year-old Katherine led 1-year-old Joshua to the dog yard and said, “Hey, dog, this is my brother, Joshua.” K doesn’t normally like dogs, but she really hit if off with these, and she told me out of the blue today, “Mommy, I miss Buckeye and Arena. They are my favorite dogs.”

After sandwiches for lunch, we all chilled in the living room, flipping through books, till we realized how tired we were. Our hosts were gracious to put aside the afternoon’s hiking plans and let us take a looooooooong nap. Refreshed after that, we ended up with time for hiking after all, the girls faster than the boys, allowing a nice opportunity for girl-talk and guy-talk on the way up Mount Watatic. On the way down, we played “Guess each other’s Myers-Briggs type” and talked about personality differences. We dissected Matthew’s and my strong J (judging – planning oriented) tendencies and how that had caused our frustration at our plans being changed by the weather when Daniel and Joy had visited us, and we admired how they had been so flexible this weekend with changes even though they are Js as well.

Continuing with the abandoning of plans, we chucked cooking in favor of getting food and ice cream at Kimball’s, a new – and popular – gathering spot in their area. After large dinners all around and some of the best chowder I’ve ever eaten, we shared a humongous banana split four ways.

The next morning, we visited their church and enjoyed hearing them speak and seeing their display and presentation in the lobby after the service. Several members of the church introduced themselves to us, including the pastor, whom I remembered from Daniel and Joy’s wedding. In the process of chatting about missions after church, I found out that Joy has been to visit Thrive Africa and that she and I both read the amazing blog of the woman who founded Thrive.

While the guys picked up bagel sandwiches from the Geaslen’s favorite bagel place (good job, husbands, for correctly guessing the types we would like!), Joy and I went for a (flat, this time) 5 mile trail run. I tried out one of my new power goos for the first time.

I really enjoyed the weekend, relaxing, spending time outdoors, and hanging out with Daniel and Joy over good food and good conversations.

Mexican Food, Newport, and My Baby Squirrel

We had dinner with Micah and Nichole last night. And it just so happens to be their anniversary today! We had a lot of fun. So much fun that we didn’t leave till after midnight! I didn’t realize it had gotten so late, and they were too polite to kick us out. : )

Their apartment in Newport is beautiful. It’s in a huge Victorian home that has been converted into eight apartments. (Nichole said that in the 1930s, it was 16 apartments!) Their apartment felt very open and airy, with calming paint colors on the walls, high ceilings, and hardwood floors. I can’t imagine how HUGE the house must have been when it was a one-family dwelling.

They made a great hosting team. Micah did most of the cooking and served us a fabulous Mexican feast. The food just kept coming. I brought chips and homemade salsa, so we started with those and “Mexican Fudge,” which is really more like a spicy quiche. Then we had a salad with toasted tortilla strips, then beef AND chicken enchiladas, AND Spanish rice AND refried beans. And then chocolate cake. Nikki graciously made us coffee, and even though she and Micah are coffee-teetotalers, they each bravely downed a cup. We played The Dice Game and Dutch Blitz, both brought to us courtesy of Gwyn.

The only downside to the evening was my squirrley baby. Used to be, we could take her anywhere to anything and she’d be fine. Nice restaurant? No problem, she’d either sleep or sit happily in her carseat. Church meetings, volunteer meetings, no problem – I could hold her and she’d be fine. Only occasionally did she cry, and that almost always meant she was hungry. If I was trying to do something at home, she would be content in her swing or playing on her play mat. If I put her somewhere, she stayed put.

No longer. Scratch all of the above. She has recently learned how to Army crawl AND how to move from sitting to her stomach without smacking her face on the ground. All these developments came last week when I had a house full of people who were more than happy to watch her and play with her. Then all of a sudden I was alone with her again, and she had turned into Super Scooting Baby, and I’m not quite sure what to do with her! She wants nothing to do with her swing. If I sit her on a play mat, she turns onto her belly, scoots her torso to the edge, and drags herself and the play mat across the floor. I put her in her car seat on the living room floor a few days ago and went into the kitchen, and when I came back a moment or two later, SHE WASN’T THERE! I hadn’t buckled her in, so she must have slid out, rolled over, and dragged herself along, because I found her heading under the dining room table.

This is what she was doing last night. Dragging herself across the floor, gnawing on chair legs, pulling everything out of her diaper bag, arching her back and trying to throw herself out of the papasan chair we had pulled into the kitchen to contain her. Oh, and talking. And screeching. LOUDLY. This is the other reason we can’t take here anywhere anymore – she talkatively takes after her dad, but hasn’t yet learned his restraint.

She finally wore herself out enough to slowwwwwwwwwwwly driiiiiiiiiift offfffffffffff to sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m having so much fun watching her grow and develop, and I love the constantly increasing level of interaction we enjoy. I just feel like my mothering rhythm is off. I had it down…I knew how to take care of her, how to respond to her, how to meet her needs, how to keep her safe and entertained. Now she is changing so fast I can’t adapt quickly enough, so I feel off my game.

My dream room right now is a big, giant space, freshly carpeted, with nothing on the walls or the floor except for a bunch of toys, a room where she can crawl around and explore to her heart’s content and I can turn my back for a moment without worrying that she’ll peel varnish off the hardwood floor and eat it.

The Ill-Fated Rescue

For the Reader’s Digest version of this story, go here.

Saturday night, Dec. 1, I called Hannah to let her know I’d emailed her pictures of my bangs. I had forgotten she was in New York state for a Sunday afternoon wedding and wouldn’t have internet access. I’m glad I called, though, because she had a tale of woe, and since she couldn’t blog about it, I’m glad I was able to be a listening ear.

Turns out she had been given to understand that her transportation and accomodations would be taken care of, and all she needed to do was show up. When no one came to pick her up from the airport, she got an inkling of things to come. She found out about a dilapidated shuttle from the hotel just in time to avoid walking two miles in the dark and cold from the airport to the Days Inn. After finding out that, yes, she could stay in the hotel…for $100 a night, the true reality of the weekend ahead of her set in. No transportation? Check. No arranged room? Check. Oh, well, at least she had her…debit card? Nope. Still in Oklahoma. And she had Saturday and Sunday night to survive before her plane left early Monday morning, getting her back for her Tuesday morning flight from OKC to Washington, D.C.

By the time I talked to her, she was considering spending the night doing, well, THIS. Or going to the airport and surreptitiously sleeping in the baggage claim all night.

I encouraged her as best I could and then set about making a seven-layer Mexican dip for a Christmas party that night. Somewhere between the beans and the guacamole, the thought came. “HEY! Did Hannah say she was near West Point? I didn’t realized she was going to be so close! That’s only a few hours from here! Gosh, I should go and spend the night walking around Wal-Mart WITH her!”

Then I remembered not only am I not in college anymore, I also have a baby, who is laid back, but probably not THAT laid back. Still, there must be something I could do to rescue my poor stranded friend…plotting commenced. I called Matthew on the way to the party. “Want to go on an adventure with me?” I asked. I outlined Hannah’s situation and finished with several options… A. We pick her up and bring her back to RI with us. B. We find an all-night diner in Newburgh, NY, and take a re-he-he-he-he-heally long time eating. C. We pick her up and then stay with friends in New York City.

“That’s insane!” he said. “It sounds like something *I* would come up with. I love it! I’ll call Adam.” (I was loving having the tables turned. My visionary husband is constantly coming up with out-there plans, and I usually have to bring in the reality check. It was so funny for me to have the crazy idea and him to carefully think out the logistics.)

I was so excited to call Hannah later that night and tell her, “We’re coming to rescue you!” She was surprised/happy/elated/shocked/overjoyed…apparently things there had continued to go downhill.

So it came about that Sunday after church I was hurriedly packing an overnight bag and gathering everything for the trip. The true psychoticness of this idea didn’t sink in until I went to GoogleMap directions and was confronted with my previously hazy understanding of New York geography…Newburgh is 4 hours from Providence, not 3, as I had thought, and Harlem, NYC, is a further 1.5 hrs., not 45 minutes. And Hannah’s flight left at 6 am, not 7. Which meant…quick mental calculations…we would have to leave the City between 3:30 and 4 am on Monday to get Hannah to the Newburgh airport on time. After sufficiently caffeinating ourselves, we set off on our mission/quest/thing. We reached the reception site (which reminded me an awful lot of this inn) as the party was winding down and Hannah was about ready to stove her own head in out of sheer boredom. She ran out to meet us, and when I jumped out of Fritz Alvaredo, she gave me a huge hug and said something about being happier to see me than she had been to see anyone in a long time. I was thoroughly happy to see her too. As she said, it was a lot like this:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting “I knew you’d find me!” Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

We ventured on to the Gahagans’ apartment and made great time getting there. They were so gracious to put us up in their tiny space on such short notice.

Me with Elasia, and Evita with Katherine:

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Adam making the girls smile:

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We stayed up way past the babies’ bedtimes talking.

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I really appreciate the Gahagans willingness to upend their schedule for us! It was encouraging as usual to see them. They are some of the most spiritually refreshing people to spend time with. Their passion and vision is catching.

We finally went to bed, Matthew, Katherine and me on the futon and Hannah on the little chair.

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We crashed for a few short hours…stumbling around blindly in the morning, we tried to hurry out the door, but I fell back to sleep instead of getting re-packed while Matthew was showering, so it was almost 4:40 by the time we sped onto the George Washington Bridge and headed northwest. NO ONE was on the road, so Matthew booked it down the highway. Finally at 5:45, Fritz pulled up to the terminal. Hannah dashed out to run through the tiny airport and board her 6 o’clock flight. We told her to call us to let us know she made it on the plane.

The phone rang a few minutes later. As if 6 am weren’t early enough…the flight had left early, leaving Hannah tarmac-bound. A couple hours of stress and repeated calls to Northwest ensued. The multiple Northwest agents she spoke with couldn’t grasp the idea of saving the airline money by consolidating her two trips – NY to OK, then OK to DC roundtrip – into one trip, so she could ride home with us and go to DC directly from Providence. Ultimately, we had to say goodbye and leave her to catch a much later flight to Oklahoma. And, as Matthew said later, by the time 11 am and he rolled around at Saint John Stone, his boss had so many things to talk to him about that he didn’t really notice how late Matthew was to work.

So. It turns out that I saved my friend from spending 9 hours in the Newburgh airport…by leaving her to spend 9 hours in the Newburgh airport.

Morals of this very long and drawn out story:

1. Our adventuring days are by no means over now that we are parents. Katherine was a gem the whole trip.

2. I love my friends and will do pretty much anything for them. But don’t ever count on me to get anyone anywhere on time early in the morning.

Etiquette for Houseguests Question

What’s the etiquette for houseguests? Nikki and I have been talking about this. When someone comes to stay with you, what are you as a host supposed to provide (a bed, food…)? What about stuff like a welcoming gift basket for the guest? Is the guest supposed to bring a gift for the host? When you go out to eat or do stuff that costs money, who pays? Does it depend on the relative financial positions of the two parties, does it depend on your stage in life or your relationship to the guest, or are there hard and fast etiquette rules? I’ve always kinda played it by ear, but I’m wondering if there are rules or guidelines I should be aware of.

Living with the In-Laws

Living with the in-laws is not usually a preferred course of action for newly married couples. It certainly wasn’t OUR plan going into our second year of marriage. But when Matthew and I prepared to move to Rhode Island for his MBA program, his mom and siblings were dealing with the repercussions of a husband/father abruptly leaving the family. My mother-in-law, Barbara, proposed a plan that would benefit us and them…we could help them with rent and the stabilizing presence of a big brother/loving son, and they could give us a place to live while we got our feet under us.

We took the plunge and entered an…interesting…season. For the most part, we were on the receiving end of their hospitality. Although we paid rent and had our own bedroom, living room, and bathroom, essentially we were long-term houseguests. Barbara had to share her laundry room and kitchen with me – the sacred quadrants for any homemaker – and I had to learn to respect her space even while using it. Sometimes the tables were turned. Because I often cooked dinner for the family and because Matthew and I still entertained friends, at times I played the hostess. Matthew’s family then tried to stay out of the way, which was awkward, since it was really their home.

During this time, I learned about showing hospitality to my (new) family (the “offering a pleasant or sustaining environment” part of being hospitable) as well as being a gracious guest, and I had to answer interesting questions for myself such as, “How vehemently can I insist that Daniel (age 14) eat the broccoli I cooked?” and “How should I react when Joanna (age 19) ummm…walks in on Matthew and me at an inopportune moment?”

Meal times caused tension on occasion, like when everyone was still hungry after eating my “light and healthy” main dish salad or when I not-so-silently fumed about the fat content of Barbara’s homemade mac and cheese. Ultimately, though, it was family dinners that bonded us. Especially when we could all laugh together, like the night I decided to try making pumpkin soup. We were out of fresh onions, and I didn’t know you had to reconstitute dried onions before sautéing them. I, uh, caramelized them and continued cooking. When I served it, everyone tried bravely to taste a couple spoonfuls.

Okay, first of all, who ever thought of pumpkin soup? And why did I decide to try it? Yuck! On top of the general weirdness, all you could really taste was the badly burned dried onion. Finally, I laughed out loud and said, “I can’t eat this! It’s disgusting!” Everyone immediately gave up the polite façade and also started laughing, and assented that it was truly awful. We threw it out. As we ate the main dish, stories flew: “Joanna, remember the time you mixed peaches and peanut butter and it tasted like puke?” “Remember when Dad made the oatmeal that even the dog wouldn’t eat?”

And now I’ve added to Miller lore. I was hanging out with Matthew’s siblings recently and got to say, “Remember the time I made that pumpkin soup?”

Hospitality Lessons from a Bachelor

On Tuesday night, Matthew and I went to the home of one of our church’s missionaries for dinner. Karl is a single guy in his late 30s, and he is currently in the US for a year before he goes back to Central Asia. He was so hospitable to us that I saw my own lack in that area very sharply.

Karl had dinner ready for us when we arrived, and the table was already neatly set (I am infamously bad at timing the cooking of meals, and I am always a long way from serving the meal when guests arrive). His little home (the downstairs of his brother’s house) was immaculate (I almost always have clutter lying around). He served two simple but delicious dishes – a Middle Eastern tabouli and a Central Asian rice-chicken-beans-carrots dish (I often forget that the guests, not the food, are the focus of the evening, and I try all sorts of crazy dishes that may or may not turn out well…I have, on more than one occasion, made guests feel awkward by making ridiculously fancy meals that are silly for the purpose of a friendly meal together).

When he prayed over the meal, he also prayed for the people of Pakistan in such a way that it sounded like this is his normal practice – to pray for a different people group each day (What a cool practice, and what a great way to impact guests – and our future children – with a passion for missions!). During the meal, he anticipated our needs, pouring drink refills, urging second and third helpings (I am often too consumed with getting all the details of the meal right, and I forget to be attentive to my guests). There was more than enough food (I am bad at estimating how far food will go, and I have sometimes made far too little, leaving guests hungry).

We stayed for several hours after dinner over chocolate cake and green tea, talking about missions (I sometimes find myself anxious for guests to leave so I can clean up and go to bed).

Karl’s apartment is spartan, his cups and plates vintage, the food simple. But everything was served with a large dose of kindness, servant-heartedness, and generosity.

My apartment is spacious and nicely appointed, my kitchen things new (the benefit of being still a newlywed!), my cooking skills well practiced. But I often fail to show true hospitality.

Lessons learned.

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