Friday, October 26, 2012

Hospitality with less stress

I really enjoy entertaining. It's fun for me to decorate and cook and bake and do all of those things that go along with it. And because fall is my favorite season, it's also my favorite time of the year to extend hospitality to others.

I also feel encouraged by what His Word has to say about fellowship:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 
Having written all of this, I must admit, I tend to wig out a bit big time before company comes.

Ohh no, the closet isn't clean! Ohh no, the pantry is a mess. What if someone goes in there looking for a spice or something and the minute rice topples out at them! What if someone wants to see my laundry room?!

I always make a deal with myself that I won't loose my cool again when preparing for guests. So far I have not been too successful. This weekend I am having a group of church ladies over and I have vowed not to wig out! With each recent entertaining occasion I think I've gotten much better, much more realistic about preparing for company with young kids running about. 

Here are some tips I've accumulated: 
frozen beef barley soup
- Prepare food ahead when possible - It's no fun to be standing in front of the stove when company arrives. I've found that preparing the food a few days (or even weeks and freezing it), brings me much peace of mind. Plus it's great not to have a ton of cooking dishes laying around, vying for your attention. Cooking ahead means pots and pans, spatulas and measuring utensils are all cleaned up and put away by the time guests are expected. 

- Choose an easy appetizer and dessert - I enjoy preparing a 3- or 4-course meal when possible but sometimes just getting the main course figured out is time consuming enough. I often set out a plate of homemade salsa and chips as an appetizer. It's also fun to serve an easy dessert like ice cream sundaes or no bake cookies. 

homemade salsa
- Use a crock pot - I love my crock pot and make use of it as much as possible. It's great to make the whole main course in the crock pot, popping everything in, in the morning and having everything ready by dinnertime (say, pot roast with veggies) but it's also great to just use the crock pot as a means to reheat a dish you've made ahead of time (say, soup). 

- Clean the house the day before not the day of - This is where I always get into trouble-- cleaning. I know how hard it is to clean with a house full of kids and how much harder it is to keep that house clean for longer than an hour! But I've been trying to do my big cleaning in preparation for company the day before they are expected. I like to freshen up the bathrooms and entryway the day of but most all other areas can be tidied up in advance. It may does take extra effort, sometimes using paper products the night before so there aren't as many waiting dishes the morning that company is expected or serving leftovers the night before  so as not to messy the kitchen too much the night before. I also find it helpful to come up with busying activities for the kids the day that the company is coming so that they are not running a muck dirtying everything they can get their hands on. I'll often plan a special [easy-to-clean-up] craft project for them to work on while I am busy preparing or we'll borrow a new movie from the library that they can watch or I'll... 
one of my little helpers

- Enlist little helpers - It's great to have help, isn't it? My 4-year-old likes to help with baking, dusting and setting the table. My 6-year-old likes to help dust and set out decorations. My 2-year-old likes to pretend vacuum. Yes, I know that he's not actually helping but just the fact that he is busy/distracted and not off unraveling the toilet paper or disheveling my cookbook shelf seems so helpful. 

fancy paper products
- Forget the china and opt for paper products - Paper products have come a long way over the years. There are some super cute plates, napkins, utensils & cups out there! But some are not cheap. What I like to do is pick one or two "special" pieces (usually napkins and cups) and go plain for the rest. It is a nice respite to not have to worry about dishes for a night. 

- Set the mood before guests arrive - Lately I've been burning a candle and turning on calming music before guests arrive. Doing these two simple things helps me relax and enjoy every moment of being hospitable-- not just when the guest are here but also while preparing a cozy and welcoming place for them. 

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