Archive for Hospitality

Hospitality for a Crowd

I am firmly convinced that hospitality is essential for creating community.  Whether it’s inviting another mom from church over to your (not-perfectly-clean) house for lunch or having another family over for dinner or hosting a weekly Bible study, hospitality is how we build those deeper relationships with each other.  If we haven’t done it much, even having another family for dinner can be nerve wracking.  I’ll never forget my greatest newlywed hosting failure, when we had our friends Jonathan and Jackie over to our tiny apartment and the stinking pork loin I’d selected with pride took an hour longer to cook than I’d expected (because I hadn’t totally defrosted it ahead of time).  Or the time we brought lasagna over to friends with a new baby and it had to go back in the oven at their house for another half hour because it was still frozen in the middle.  Or the time I got ambitious and tried to make homemade tortillas AND homemade refried beans for a bunch of my college girlfriends and the tortillas were totally messed up and we basically sat around our card table eating pieces of dry cracker-like substance with beans.  I could go on.  The point is, I’ve made lots of mistakes, but all the people to whom I’ve fed sub-par food are actually still my friends.  They know I’m not the perfect hostess, and thankfully, they don’t care.  All of this is to the young housewife to keep trying her hand at hosting.  And if you’ve mastered one family, how about inviting over a whole group?


Since my husband is a professor, we’ve become pros at groups, but I think we had our largest gathering to date this summer, when about 30 lawyers from the same Christian organization gathered in our home.  Fortunately, my friend Janelle and her husband are part of the group, and she volunteered to co-host with me.  Since she works part-time, she was in charge of the shopping, and since I’m home full-time, I did the cooking.  We did Mexican food, with two tortilla options, two meat options, and beans, rice, chips, and toppings.  I bought a second crock pot for this event (and because we’re going to be hosting a weekly small group in our home this fall), and it really was pretty easy!  Paper products made clean up a breeze.  With Janelle and her husband to help with last minute prep and hosting during the evening, I wasn’t even frazzled.  We were crowded, but everyone felt welcome.  We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

Sometimes it’s hard to actually visualize how it all might work, but we are here to help you with that!  At our E2S Founder’s Reunion this summer, each family was responsible for feeding the 25 of us for dinner one night.  Since we’ve all hosted large groups in the past, each of us did a tried-and-true crowd pleasing meal, and they were all so good that we promised each other we’d share our recipes.  And if we’re sharing them with each other, we might as well share them with you!  Stay tuned for those yummy recipes in the days to come!

In the meantime, what’s the biggest crowd you’ve fed?  Any group meal themes or crowd recipes you can share with the rest of us?  I’ll be taking notes!

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Hospitality and Houseguests

hospitality and houseguestsBethany and her family were in town this past weekend!  Besides my parents, who came out to help us settle in, they were our first overnight houseguests in our new house, and we made many happy memories here together.

I’ve shared about hospitality many times before, but I never talked about the having-overnight-houseguests kind because Bethany and Anna both do it so well and could write about it more eloquently and because I’m still holding out for Christina to come back and guest post for us on how she sets up her guestroom (I’ve stayed in three iterations in different houses, and every time, I was so inspired).  But I’m feeling the need this week to convince all of you to invite old friends to come visit you (or invite yourself to stay with friends–we have a guest room!).

I really do believe that for me, road trips to visit likeminded friends (my childhood best friend and a handful of our best college friends) are what keep my husband and me energized in this single income, stay-at-home mom, homeschooling life we live that is so very different from even the other families in our church.  It is not particularly convenient for people with large families and/or young children to share a small space for even a weekend, but it is still so worth it.  I’ve told before how Anna and her husband and two kids came to visit us when we lived in a one bedroom apartment in grad school.  It was such a sweet weekend, even though my husband and I were sleeping on an air mattress in our living room!  In a pinterest-and-facebook culture, it’s so easy for us to have slightly warped views of how even our dearest friends have everything together if we’re not local and stopping by to see the little lego pieces everywhere on each other’s floors on a regular basis.  The Real Housewives of E2S Project is Anna’s and my online attempt at transparency in this area; we aspire to be neat, tidy, and organized, but our lives are often anything but.  When you’re in someone’s home, you see that she has legos and cheerios hiding in nooks and crannies in her house, too.

Does it sound overwhelming to have people in your home for an entire weekend?  I’m an extrovert, so it appeals to me to begin with, but I’ve also taken notes from my hospitable friends and have a plan down for hosting.  I always try to start off the weekend with a clean slate–everything is freshly swept, vacuumed, and toilets and bathtubs scoured.  Toys are organized and put away so that when a million things are inevitably pulled out, it’s fresh chaos, not chaos on top of chaos.  This is work, but it is the kind of work I should do on a weekly basis, anyway.  I try to plan ahead of time to have meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks) plotted out, something I do, anyway.  When Bethany’s family was here, I grocery shopped the day before, spent the next morning making a double batch of granola and fresh crockpot yogurt for easy breakfast options, baked my normal four-loaf batch of bread for PBJ sandwiches for lunches, and did my most time-intensive meal (homemade pizza) that first night.  The second day, we did crockpot chicken tacos that I threw in at lunchtime so all we had to do at dinnertime was make the rice and warm up the tortillas.  I assigned my husband dinner duty on the third night while Bethany and I got out by ourselves for a couple hours, and he made the yummy homemade spaghetti that we’re eating in the picture above.  During the summer, he might grill out instead.  That’s pretty much our set weekend-company-meal plan, tweaked if people have food allergies or whatever.  Bethany’s kids, like mine, cheerfully eat tons of produce, so snacks were carrot sticks, red pepper strips, and cucumber slices in the afternoons and sliced up apples, pears, and oranges in the mornings.  Easy peasy!  I’d made a large batch of pizzelle cookies for a potluck last week and saved enough for us to have those for dessert one night, and I pulled cookie dough balls out of the freezer for an easy fresh cookie treat another night.  Feeding 11 people can be expensive, but since all of our meals were from scratch, each meal was probably less than $1/person.  A meal out would have easily been over $100 for our crew, so we didn’t go out.  We ate well at home.  As far as mess goes, three extra children do pull out different toys than mine would on a given day, but we also had all the extra sets of hands helping clean up every night.  All the adults pitched in with cleaning up the kitchen and wrangling kids.  It was a very low-key weekend, overall.


Do you host out-of-town friends in your home?  Did you grow up doing that?  Do you invite yourself to out-of-town friends’ homes?  Do you feel comfortable doing that?  Malibu is a beautiful place to visit, and did I mention we have a guest room?  Just sayin’.

Posted in Friendship, Good Food, Hospitality, Practical Housekeeping | Leave a comment

Toward a Culture of Hospitality: Including Singles in Family Life

I’d like to wrap up my series on hospitality with a challenge to offer hospitality to our unmarried friends as well as our married ones.  There is nothing wrong with having friends in the same ages and stages, but if we limit ourselves to hanging out with other young families, we’re missing out on an opportunity for blessing and being blessed.

As I mentioned last summer, it’s often been easier for me to get together with friends whose life is not regimented by naps and early bedtimes.  My single friends only have one person’s schedule to work around, rather than another whole family!  Practically speaking, I think friends in different life stages have a great opportunity to bless and encourage each other.  If we’re going to be purposeful about cultivating a culture of hospitality in our little part of the world, including singles in our family life is important for us, our kids, and our single friends.

I asked my (single) friend Eleanor to share some practical ways that we could do this, and she said,

Some single people are amazing with children and just want to be invited over, have an infant dumped in their lap and say goodbye to mom. My friend Esther called this kid therapy. I called it terror. I am personally very uncomfortable around children until I have a strong relationship with them. I want to be invited over for tea. I can run interference, bring scones, chat while you bake, or even (maybe) hold the baby while you change the toddler (although I live in fear that the instant I hold the baby it will start screaming and never stop), and provide winning conversation for mom.  If you are willing to put yourself out there and express that you place value on the person’s friendship, I think it will work for many people.  In my case (and for many people) as I get to know your children, I get more comfortable working with them.

While some of my single girlfriends are just itching to come play with my kids, it’s a good reminder that not everyone feels this way.  I love Eleanor’s idea of having someone come over to chat with me while I bake, help me wrangle the kids for a meal, and settle down to tea when the kids are down for quiet rest time.  She gets a peek into my life with kids; I get some real adult conversation.  She learns to be more comfortable with my crazy kiddos; I am challenged to see things from her perspective.  It’s a win-win!

The single guys we know tend to be pretty uncomfortable with babies, so I generally don’t ask them to hold the baby while I cook.  But my older kids can usually interest them in a game of soccer or a sword fight in the backyard or a duplo tower building contest in the living room.  My kids adore their bachelor uncle because he’s rough and silly with them.  My husband is a big sports fan, so it would be pretty natural to invite a single guy over to watch a football game and help grill out for dinner.

As Eleanor pointed out, hospitality doesn’t have to be about a big production like a holiday meal or a big planned activity.  It can be as casual and low-key as having tea or lunch with us.  One of my friends without kids of her own used to come over once every month or so and go grocery shopping, fold laundry, bake cookies, or do whatever we were doing that weekend.  I think it’s important to let our single friends see that life with kids is messy, so when I have friends over to hang out with us on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon, I’ll make sure the house is welcoming, but I’m not too concerned with everything being immaculate.  If we were less worried about presenting a perfect image, would we be more willing to open our homes for hospitality?

If you’re married with kids, have you been able to include unmarried friends in your family life?  If you don’t have children, have you developed relationships with families with kids?

Posted in Friendship, Hospitality | 4 Comments

Toward a Culture of Hospitality: Being a Gracious Guest

Last week, I shared about how I’ve needed to adjust my attitude to be a gracious hostess.  Today I want to talk about how I’m trying to teach my children to be gracious guests.

how to be a gracious guestWhat might it look like to be a gracious guest? I have strong feelings on this issue, and maybe you’ll disagree. Short of legitimate food allergies, I believe that it’s polite to eat whatever is set in front of you. I am picky—I dislike seafood and mushrooms—and I am pretty keen on feeding my family whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and unprocessed, from-scratch meals. However, these are personal preferences, not moral issues.  When we first moved out here, a mom I met at the park invited us over for lunch and fed my kids frozen chicken nuggets, white sandwich bread with margarine spread on it, sweetened applesauce, and chocolate milk. I could have launched into a judgey speech on how I don’t have any of those foods in my kitchen. But I decided that my relationship with the other mom was more important than one meal. I do try to let our hosts know about my husband’s peanut allergy and my dislike of fish. Obviously my husband can’t just eat peanuts if they’re served to him, but I can force a little seafood down and then fill up on salad. And we’re teaching our kids to do the same.  We do not tolerate rude comments about the food at our dinner table, much less in someone else’s home.

Gracious guests rsvp.  Let me repeat that.  Gracious guests RSVP!  Gracious guests also try to show up on time (or as close to on time as we can with young children—when we’re coming in from out of town, I usually give people a half hour window of when we’ll try to arrive, and I’ll call from the road with a more precise ETA).  We plan our day around being back from other activities or waking people from naps in time to arrive somewhere at the time we’ve been invited.  I make it a habit to offer to bring something (salad or dessert are easily portable), but if the hostess demurs, I don’t press the issue. Gracious guests don’t out-stay their welcome, especially when young children and bedtimes are involved. I try to ask ahead of time when my host’s kids go to bed and let my husband know when we should plan to leave.  In order to cut down on awkwardness when we’re meeting a new family, I’ll try to give my husband a run-down on what I know about the hosts’ jobs or interests and give my kids some ways to find common ground so they don’t stand around tongue-tied when we get there.

Gracious guests have worked on table manners with their children at home. I expect my oldest three to sit at the table, eat in a timely manner, and use dishes and silverware appropriately. As moms, we need to keep an eye on our kids in non-childproofed homes—when people without young children are brave enough to have my family over, the least I can do is try to keep my children from destroying their treasures.  I do try to think about how I would want my guests to treat my home and act accordingly.  You know how much fun it is when you have a delightful guest who enjoys your food, leaves in the right amount of time, and sends you a grateful email the next day?  I want our family to be the kind of guests who inspire people to continue practicing hospitality.

Now, don’t think that my kids are always gracious guests!  We’re still a work in progress.

Typing all this out, it seems so intuitive, but as Bethany reminded us last spring, our children learn the culture from us.  Every time my kids see me stop and grab flowers for a hostess gift, or watch me calmly force down something they know I don’t like, or join me as I walk our company to the door and thank them for coming, I’m cultivating graciousness in the next generation.

Posted in Hospitality | 1 Comment
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