Category: Hospitality Lessons

Miller, Miller & Miller Bed and Breakfast

My brother Daniel left on Sunday morning, and after a busy day at a big chuch event and then our monthly Centering group get together, Matthew’s 18-year-old cousin Abbie arrived Sunday evening to visit for part of her Spring Break. My introvertedness is catching up with me…I’m plumb wore out from being around people all the time for over a week.

I feel bad saying that, because I don’t ever want that to come across to the people I’m around as an insult. It’s not at all – Daniel and Abbie are both wonderful house guests and great people, and I enjoy their company. It’s simply a factor of my personality. (I don’t want to use “my personality” as an excuse for anything, especially not for shirking hospitality, a Biblical command and also something Matthew and I enjoy…but I do want to be aware of my own limits.)

Abbie spent the night last night with her Aunt Barbara and cousins Joanna, Amy and Daniel, and Amy took Abbie to URI for some of her classes today. Katherine is taking a nap. I am relishing the alone time, and I feel myself recharging like I’m plugged into an outlet.

This has made me think about a dream I’ve had for a while – someday building a beautiful Rivendell-esque home in the woods and creating a bed and breakfast-type retreat for missionaries on furlough. I’ve written about that previously here. How well would I be able to handle having many people around for long stretches of time?

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How to Annoy Your Introverted, Task-Oriented Wife

Book the whole weekend full of activities with PEOPLE when there are THINGS that need to be done! GOSH!

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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?”

The Last Homely House

“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.”
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

This quote from The Lord of the Rings made me teary-eyed the first time I read it. I was newly married and brand new at keeping house on my own. We had literally almost killed our first dinner guest (that’s a GREAT story for another day), and I could barely make food for Matthew and me before falling asleep every night. (You have to understand that it took me about two hours to make a dinner for two people those first few months!) The finer points of homemaking and hospitality seemed like an unreachable dream.

The welcoming home of the Elves at Rivendell that Tolkien wrote about became my goal. Someday I wanted that to be said of my home: “merely being at the Miller’s is a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”

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Hospitality Successes

Because I’m such a perfectionist, I’ve never been comfortable with last-minute entertaining. If people stop by unexpectedly, I’m usually paranoid about stuff like, “Did I remember to clean the toilet?” or “Did I leave panties lying on the bedroom floor?” And since I’m used to cooking for two, and since I plan my menus ahead of time and shop accordingly, my husband’s look that asks, “Could we have them stay for dinner?” is usually met with a hissed, “No, there’s not enough food!”

In my quest to remember that hospitable means “given to generous and cordial reception of guests,” I am trying to get better at spur-of-the-moment events.

I feel pretty good about two recent experiences on this front.

We know a couple named Eric and Jennifer. They were friends of ours when we lived in Oklahoma a couple years ago, and I remember the first time we invited them over. It was a casual Sunday lunch – I should have made something like burgers and fries. But no, I spent HOURS making these elaborate chicken breasts stuffed with some sort of lemon-olive mixture and several obscure vegetable dishes on the side. When I served the plates, they weren’t so much impressed as…puzzled. At how to actually eat this stuff. Or maybe even what it WAS, exactly. When they said, “Oh, you shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble!” I knew not to take it as a compliment.

Anyway, jump forward to a few weeks ago. They recently moved to Rhode Island, so we’ve reconnected with them. Late one Sunday afternoon, they stopped by our apartment for a few minutes. Everything was a mess, and I didn’t have much food around, but when Matthew signaled, “Can I invite them for dinner?” I said, “Sure.” I made spaghetti, hoping it would stretch four ways, and Jennifer buttered and garlicked a loaf of bread while I made a salad with whatever was in the crisper drawer. We shoved all the junk off the table and sat down to a fun, relaxing meal.

Then there’s Bobby and Jacqui, a couple we recently met. I’d been wanting to invite them over for dinner, so I finally emailed Jacqui on a Friday. I asked if Monday would be good for them, knowing it was the only night we had open for a long time. I didn’t know that she only checks her email once a week, so when I didn’t hear from her over the weekend, I figured it wouldn’t work out, so I didn’t prepare anything. Then on Monday, I had an email reply from her saying, “Yeah, today would be great!” Surprise! Oh, and then there was the postscript: “Bobby is on a strict no-carb diet…I hate to inconvenience you, but would it be possible for you to make something with no carbs?”

Matthew and I have never met a carb we didn’t like…so I quickly emailed a friend who had just started South Beach and begged her for a recipe. I ran to the grocery store on the way home from work then straightened up the house and threw dinner together (thank GOODNESS they were late!). They loved the Southwest stir-fry and fresh salsa, and we really enjoyed getting to know each other. They didn’t leave until after midnight! I’d say that means they felt “generously and cordially welcomed.”

Hospitality Blog Application

(Update May 2010 – well, I never got a gig writing about hospitality for someone else’s blog…but now I have my own! :)

I have a bunch of potential posts lined up in my “blog ideas” queue, but I haven’t finished them because I’ve been working on my application for a REAL BLOGGING JOB. (Well, okay, so it’s only a few hours a week, but still. What could be cooler than getting paid to blog?) I sent in my application and writing samples to ClubMom Wednesday night. Even if they don’t pick me, it was a worthwhile writing exercise. (And now I have three GREAT posts that I can use here if they don’t hire me.) I think that my sample posts and application question answers are some of the best writing I’ve done in a long time. A few bits from the ap:

What would you like to blog about?
I would like to blog about hospitality and all it entails…the preparation and planning, the cleaning and cooking, the sometimes disastrous results and the (usually) humorous anecdotes, and the joy that comes from filling a home with guests.

Beyond the basics above, tell us who you are and why we should hire you to write this blog.
I’m a trade magazine editor who gets kinda tired of writing about furniture all day…so blogging is my muse’s playground. I’ve been blogging since September 2005, and it has become my favorite hobby. Inspired by entrepreneurial mom bloggers like Heather Armstrong of, I have been wanting to move from being an amateur blogger to being a “professional” blogger before my baby is born in October. At that point, I’ll become a stay-at-home mom, and I’d love to use blogging to earn some income from home and enjoy adult interaction during the day. ClubMom’s blogging venture sounds like the perfect match for me, and I hope you’ll feel the same – that I’m just the writer you’re looking for.

As for hospitality, my husband and I entertain often – our enjoyment of opening our home led us to make such decisions as spending more on our super-automatic espresso machine than on any piece of furniture we own and buying a gigantic table that seats ten (which makes dinners at home for just the two of us a bit awkward, but is fabulous for dinner parties!).

I love all kinds of hospitality. I enjoy hosting low-key card nights as much as throwing formal balls with period costumes, dancing, and live music. However, as much as I strive for perfection, I realize I’m not actually very GOOD at hospitality yet! I’m always ruining a recipe or breaking a plate or failing to make enough food or forgetting to Swiffer the cat fur off the wood floor…but I really must love it, because I keep coming back for more. I am determined to become an expert at this hospitality thing…someday. In the meantime, I’ll keep picking shattered glass out of the lasagna, frantically shoving the clutter into the spare room, and greeting my guests with a smile on my face and a burned potholder hidden behind my back.

My mom says that one of the first personality traits she noticed in me was my love of hospitality. It’s an area in which I constantly strive to better myself, so I have lots of trial-and-error experience and don’t mind “telling” on myself. Writing about my experiences helps me analyze them, learn from my mistakes, and find the humor in them. I think the moms who read the ClubMom blogs will be able to relate.

What kind of unique voice or spin can you bring to this topic?
I’m a first-time-mom-to-be trying to figure out how I’ll transition from passing around wine and cheese at a Pride & Prejudice viewing to serving apple juice and Goldfish crackers at a Bob the Builder party.

So far in life, I’ve graduated from helping my mom cook dinner for guests to throwing my own birthday parties, from hosting an open house in my college dorm room to throwing a housewarming party at my husband’s and my first apartment. The next hospitality life change for me will be learning how to host an elegant dinner party while keeping my baby from sticking peas up his nose. I look forward to these changes with excitement and an eye to learn and improve. I would love to bring other women on this journey with me (and hopefully get their advice along the way!).

The Dinner Party That Wasn’t

Today’s illustrated story is about another valuable lesson in hospitality.

See the pretty table.

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See the delicious food.

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See the empty chairs.

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This house is all dressed up with no one to entertain!

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So, here’s what happened. We’ve been trying to have one of Matthew’s old friends over for dinner for, like, two months. Last night was the third date we had set with her (she had cancelled twice before). I last talked to her before Christmas, and she said that Tuesday, Jan. 3, would be a great night for her. So I put it on my calendar.

I had Monday off work, so I put extra time into setting the table really nicely and getting a lot of the food prepped so we could have a nice, relaxing evening with her. I was very excited about the menu: Thai chicken wraps (chicken marinated in peanut butter, lime juice, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, and hot sauce, with garnishes of fresh cilantro, mint, scallions, and lime wedges), sauteed yellow squash and zucchini, and green tea, and for dessert, triple hot chocolate with whipped cream and an assortment of fine cookies.

Yesterday, I called her several times throughout the day to confirm the time – 6 pm – and to give her directions. I kept getting her voicemail. She didn’t call, didn’t call…6 o’clock came and went, and no guest.

So Matthew and I decided to invite someone else. The table was set, the food was ready, the house was clean…but no guest! (Didn’t Jesus say something about that?)

I called Karla & Phil. They weren’t home. So I called Eric Stephen & Jennifer. No answer. I called Beth and got her voicemail. Then I called Mandie, then Ariel. Neither could come, but we started making plans to get together on other days. I called Gabe & Julie, and they themselves had guests over, so we planned to have dinner with them next week. No answer at Peter & Julie’s. Matthew invited Ben and Dan, but they were having dinner with their grandparents. Then he called Paul and couldn’t reach him. Both Jen and Beth called back later, and we made tentative future plans with them. So that’s…four married couples and six single people – and no one could come!

At 7:30, Matthew and I sat down to a lovely, candlelit dinner, just the two of us. I suppose my mistake was not calling our potential guest on Saturday or Sunday to confirm the date. Lesson learned for next time…

As Matthew said, “At least this jumpstarted our hospitality!” We now have dinner dates with a whole slew of guests for the next two weeks. Hooray! So I guess it didn’t turn out too badly after all.

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.

Please take your rest in my tent!

• Hospitality to strangers. We talked about faith and hospitality in Sunday school yesterday, in light of Abraham’s welcoming of strangers in Genesis 18. Very thought-provoking. I really enjoy practicing hospitality, but there are certainly areas I need to grow in, such as entertaining strangers, not just friends. Cool things to note about Abraham – he was eager to show hospitality to strangers, he gave his guests his best, he acted as a servant to them (washed their feet, stood to the side as they sat and ate), and worked as a team with his wife and household!

• Hospitality to one’s own family. I think hospitality and service apply to the people who live in your home, not just those you welcome from outside. I love this poem that talks about a wife serving her husband through acts of hospitality.

The Blue Bowl

All day long I did the little things,
The little things that do not show;
I brought the kindling for the fire,
I set the candles in a row,
I filled a bowl with marigolds—
The shallow bowl you love the best—
And made the house a pleasant place
Where weariness may take its rest.

The hours sped on, my eager feet
Could not keep pace with my desire.
So much to do! So little time!
I could not let my body tire.
Yet when the coming of the night
Blotted the garden from my sight,
And on the narrow graveled walks
Between the guarding flower stalks
I heard your step, I was not through
With services I meant for you.

You came into the quiet room
That glowed enchanted with the bloom
Of yellow flame. I saw your face;
Illumined by the firelit space,
Slowly grow still and comforted—
“It’s good to be at home,” you said.

~ Blanch Bane Kuder

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