Category: House Guests

Six Days to Prepare for Company

My friend Lydia wrote a great post about preparing for houseguests. She breaks the process down into six steps over six days. I highly recommend this post.

My In Laws are coming into town next week! I am excited to shop for and carve pumpkins, go on a picnic or two and, most importantly, spend quality time bonding with these people who are so important to us. Their impending arrival does tend to send me into somewhat of a tizzy. Keeping up with daily life plus preparing for company can be daunting, but I have a rhythm that I usually follow with excellent results. Here are my 6 ways to Prepare for Company.

Read the rest of her post at her blog Small Town Simplicity.

Hospitality Q & A: The Sassy Cousin

My friend Kristy Miller (no relation) asked yesterday, “I need hospitality advice before tomorrow! A very special cousin of mine is coming for one night Tuesday and maybe part of Wednesday. I’ve never hosted her, so I don’t know her likes / dislikes. She is fun, very sharp, and sassy. I really want to make her comfortable and spoil her a bit.”

My first response was to laugh – Kristy and her family hosted us last summer in an emergency and made us very comfortable. I should be getting hospitality advice from her! My family went to Charlotte, NC, for a convention, and we arranged last minute to visit Kristy and her husband, Nate, briefly before heading to Ashville to stay with other friends, the Linikers. Our car broke down and had to be repaired before we could leave Charlotte, so we ended up staying with the Millers for a couple days. They gave us their own bedroom and Kristy slept on their futon while 7 months pregnant! They fed us delicious barbecue and other amazing food, connected us with their mechanic, let us do laundry, and made some important professional connections happen for us. I told Kristy she would have no problem making her cousin feel right at home.

Kristy had decided to put her cousin in the girls’ room because there is a double bed, and the room is right next to a bathroom. Great idea – proximity to a bathroom is a nice thing for guests.

Here were my suggestions to her:

  • Cook food that is regional – visitors to North Carolina often want to enjoy NC’s famous barbecue,
  • Be aware of food allergies – if you don’t know a guest’s allergies or preferences, avoid common allergens like peanuts and shellfish,
  • Make up a gift basket to welcome your guest – local food or gift items make great gifts. Burt’s Bees products are made in NC, and the Linikers gave us Burt’s Bees products and local goodies when we visited them in Ashville.
  • Guests sometimes feel awkward asking if they can raid your kitchen. Stocking their room with a few snacks lets them eat if they get hungry.
  • Put a clean towel on the pre-made bed so your guest knows which towel to use in the bathroom. Kristy said she had bought a special new towel for her cousin.
  • Give your guests downtime when they arrive. Often traveling leaves people tired and feeling rumpled. They might want to rest or freshen up.
  • Have a list of possible interesting things to go and see, depending on what your guest feels up for.
  • Create lots of casual time for conversation. Especially on a short visit, don’t run around so much that you fail to really connect with your guest.

Kristy said she makes a great banana pudding, which is a Southern specialty. And she said she likes to bake as guests arrive so the house smells welcoming. So we talked about how she could have dessert and coffee ready when her cousin arrives so they could sit down, relax, and catch up.

What suggestion do you have for Kristy?

Recuperating from Hospitality Overload

I finally felt “UP” yesterday…I have felt “down” for the past two weeks. Today I have energy and vitality and spark again!

Two weeks ago when Hannah visited, I overcrowded the week and wore myself out. I had some major work projects that fell that week…speaking briefly at my church on Sunday, speaking at the rally at the State House on Monday, media committee meeting Thursday night, and giving a presentation to 45 high schoolers on Sunday. I didn’t realize till those things were over how very much they had been stressing me out. Even though I can do my teen workshop in my sleep now, and I love doing them, preparing to get up in front of people makes me tense and irritable.

I feel really badly that those all fell the same week as Hannah came. I also tried to pack in AS MUCH FUN AS POSSIBLE! So we were going-going-going. The next time we get together, I’m going to schedule nothing but sewing, dancing, watching movies, eating, shopping…dang it, see? There I go again.

The week culminated in Matthew’s Super Bowl Party of His Life dot com. He had told me he wanted to have one and asked if I could help…I told him I couldn’t do much since Hannah would be visiting, but that I would straighten up the house and make a huge pot of chili.

Saturday night came, and we sat down to talk logistics. I asked Matthew to go over the RSVP list and it went on and on…neither of us had realized till then that 30 adults were planning to come, along with 8 children. We have a smallish apartment with only one bathroom. Matthew realized he had literally invited too many people. The thought of almost 40 humans crammed into my home sent me into an internal panic. And I realized that after the crazy week we’d had, “straightening up” the house would take hours, and we would need a lot more food than a pot of chili.

Hannah and Matthew both helped a ton, and Dan and Jenn came over early to help with last minute prep, and by the time 5:30 rolled around, we had 6 screens (laptops and TVs) set up throughout the house, chairs dispersed, drinks filling three coolers, and snacks spread out on the table. Total count ended up being 33 people. It took the rest of the next week to clean up, but we also got comments all week long about how much everyone had enjoyed the party.

By the time I had recovered myself and the house, it was time to get ready for a baby shower I was co-hosting with my friend Bekki (thankfully at her house, not mine!) on Saturday the 7th. The mom (Onalee) is doing the nursery in a circus motif, which provided a great party theme (most of the guests had all been involved in a couples Bible study for several years, so we’ve done SO many baby showers for each other that we were running out of themes and games!).

Katherine got sick on Thursday, and especially after staying up till almost 3 am Friday night getting ready for the party and catching up on other things, I was very sick myself by Saturday afternoon. (Joshua was a huge help – he actually slept 7.5 hours straight Friday night! 11 pm to 6:30 am) I doped up on cold medicine and ringmastered the party, but by the time it was over I was a wreck. Jenn took care of me afterward since the significant others were mostly all playing video games at my house still. I got worse and worse, and she realized I was in no condition to drive, so she had Dan bring Matthew to drive me home.

I spent Sunday in bed…Matthew left for church giving Katherine instructions to stay in her room till Mommy got up. By the time I did, around 1:30, K was naked (?) in the living room and Cheerios covered the floor in 70% of the house. (Sweeping was a small price to pay for that blessed sleep.) Then Katherine and I watched Back to the Future movies till bedtime.

So I’ve spent this week so far recuperating from the sickness and decompressing from all the hospitality. We’re mostly all well now, except for Joshua, who has a terrible stuffy nose.

Gwyn put it really well when I told her about the Super Bowl party: “wow. that is a becky nightmare + fantasy. the hospitality! but the PEOPLE! but the hospitality! and the cooking! but the PEOPLE, and muffliato isn’t WORKING!”

I think God knew He had to give me the gift of hospitality to combat my introvertedness, or I would live in constant disobedience. As it is, the two work in tension with each other, causing me to cycle through wearing myself out and recuperating. Hopefully I’ll continue to work toward finding a better balance.

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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The Lost Day – Hosting While Sick

Our fun week with my brother Daniel visiting was punctuated by a small calamity… Wednesday night, we hosted our newlyweds Bible study here. Daniel helped tremendously by cleaning and baking cookies as we were getting ready. As the last couples were leaving at about 10:30, I felt a sudden rush of nausea and hurried to the bedroom to lie down, where I stayed for an hour telling my body not to throw up. Finally, between 11:30 and 12, I knew it was inevitable, and Matthew responded to my cry for help and brought me a bowl. I proceeded to throw up every hour most of the night.

At first I managed to feel happy in spite of the vomiting, because I thought maybe it meant I was pregnant, which would be great. But then Matthew started puking at about 4 am, so clearly that was not the case. So we wondered if it was food poisoning, but Daniel and I had eaten all the same things all day, and he wasn’t sick…until 7:30 or so, when he threw up too.

We called my sister-in-law Amy, and she went to the pharmacy for anti-nausea medicine and Pedialyte for us. Daniel recovered pretty quickly, but felt weak most of the day. Matthew (he took a sick day) and I spent most of the day in bed, drifting in and out of delirious sleep, achy and shivery. The day crept by soooooo slooowly. It was horrible. I don’t remember the last time I was that sick. I think the last time I threw up at all was in middle school or high school.

Amy called late in the afternoon and said she had begun vomiting as well. So there’s no way it was food poisoning. I have no idea where we got this awful bug…I think the only thing the four of us have in common the past few days is the company where Matthew and Amy both work, but no one else there seems to be sick.

We finally ate some soup late last night and slept mostly peacefully. Matthew went to work this morning and Daniel and I are up and around, although I’m still moving pretty slowly. Katherine has been totally fine, for which I am extremely grateful.

I’m sad to have “lost” more than a day of Daniel’s visit, especially yesterday…I had a huge Lord of the Rings-themed feast planned for last night. Some fellow Tolkien fans were going to come over and we were going to watch “The Fellowship of the Ring” and have a wonderful meal of all sorts of LOTR-type foods with fun names I made up…”A Shortcut to Mushroom” Stuffed Mushrooms, “We Saved Some for You, Mr. Frodo” Beef with Nice Crispy Bacon, etc.

The good thing that came out of it was that we got a new dishwasher…ours broke a week ago and our landlord has been taking forever to replace it. I emailed yesterday and said it was an emergency and we needed it right away because we now have piles of dishes to sterilize. The repair dude is installing it right now.

Painting the Town Pink (Baby in Tow)

Lisa Robinson, a college friend of ours, is visiting us this weekend. Yesterday we took her, my mom, and Katherine on a big tour. (Not that Katherine really saw much of anything…she slept most of the day!) At lunchtime, we girls drove down to North Kingstown and had lunch with Matthew at Seven Moons, an Asian restaurant near his work. Then we drove back to Providence, and I took them on a driving tour of Providence – we saw all the cool artsy/beautiful/historical parts of the city. We went to Roger Williams Park right about sunset. Here’s Katherine admiring the view from the Temple to Music.

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When Matthew got off work, we started our little “Providence Progressive Dinner” with roasted vegetables and salad at the house, then we went to Spike’s Junkyard Dogs. All beef hot dogs on freshly baked rolls, with all kinds of tasty toppings…our favorites are the Reuben dog and the buffalo dog.

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For dessert, we went to Pastiche, a classy little place on Federal Hill, which area was formerly the main stomping grounds for the RI mafia. At Pastiche, the tables are so tiny and there are so many of them jammed closely together that there was nowhere to put the carseat. So…

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All the old Italian ladies eating dessert with their goombahs oohed and ahhed over the cute baby. Our table was the talk of the restaurant!

Then we stopped by The Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street, arguably the best coffee shop in town, thence home for the Dice Game, and Katherine finally got HER dinner.

The ADORABLE hat is from Erynne.

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?”

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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