Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hosting Away from Home

No matter how much planning and effort we put into hosting someone at home, sometimes it’s nice to host away from home, where, let’s face it, it’s easier! We had the opportunity to do that a few years ago when we rented a beach house at the Outer Banks. My cousin, Lynn, and her husband and two sons joined us for a couple of days while we were there.

It was fun and liberating at the same time. I didn’t have to worry about cleaning the house, because it wasn’t our house! The house was huge and beautiful and clean, although the windows could have used a good washing – yet I wasn’t responsible! What a concept! I loved it!

And although I love to cook, sometimes it takes a lot of planning to prepare for guests for a few days. Not at the beach! We had snacks at the house, ordered pizza and enjoyed the local restaurants. I could get used to that kind of entertaining!

A year later, my husband, son and I met my dad and stepmom at a cabin in Hocking Hills. Again, I didn’t need to prepare our house because we just enjoyed being together at the cabin. It required a little more planning, since when we go there, we take towels, games, etc. It also required a little more planning in the food category, since restaurants are few and far between. It’s hard enough to get a cell phone signal there, let alone a decent restaurant!

Yes, hosting away from home can be carefree and relaxing. I have to admit that many times when we’ve hosted family and friends, I’ve been more stressed than carefree. I’ve sometimes worked so hard to prepare that by the time our guests arrive, I’m too tired to enjoy their company. Has this happened to you, too?

Even worse is that because I’m stressed, I'm not especially "hospitable" to my family – my husband and son. I get frustrated that they aren’t moving fast enough to help or that they can’t just read my mind! (Can’t they see that the powder room needs clean hand towels and that the floor in the kitchen where I’m cooking could use a once over – again?!) And then the guests arrive and ….quite honestly, I’m feeling a little less than hospitable and welcoming because I'm worn out! Worse than that, I am feeling guilty that Ken and Matthew saw the worst of me when I’m trying to extend the best of myself to others! As much as I love entertaining and having others in our home, it makes me feel hypocritical!

Along those lines……it’s taken me years, but I have learned the best way to avoid this is to prepare as far in advance as possible. I try to break down the errands, shopping and cleaning into pieces instead of trying to do everything in the 24 hours before guests arrive. And I’ve learned to prepare as much food as possible before that 24 hour period. I take great comfort in having a freshly prepared cake stored in the freezer, just needing to be thawed (amazingly, some freeze very, very well. I learned this about 17 years ago from my dear friend, Kim Bahr, from Durham, NC. Thanks, Kim!).

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that a variety of recipes can be frozen and ready for use in minutes. I also love to keep cookie dough frozen and at the ready to welcome the little ones (as well as the big ones who are cookie-lovers!). No one needs to know that I froze that dough last week, only to bake fresh cookies minutes before guests arrive, right? Most importantly, it works like magic and the house smells great! (More about this process in a future posting.)

Ok, back to hosting away from home…

Let’s not forget, too, that hosting someone away from home is as simple as treating someone to dinner out. Again, stress-free and easy are the selling features here. You don’t have to clean the house, buy groceries or prepare anything. The only thing you need to make is the reservation! Depending on where you take your guests, sometimes that isn’t even required.

My dad often showed hospitality in a very special way in restaurants. Many times we would be out with my parents and they would see friends or business acquaintances in the restaurant. I would see my dad call the waitress over to our table and I knew what he was doing: he was making arrangements to pay for the meal of the friends he spotted elsewhere in the restaurant. My dad loved to treat others in this way. He was a very generous man and loved to extend his version of hospitality. On occasion my husband and I do this. It’s as much a tribute to my dad as it is extending hospitality to friends.

After my dad passed away four years ago, we made several trips to Tennessee to take care of some things at the house where he had lived. On one such visit, two of my aunts who live close by (for you avid readers, I am referring to the aunts who can still shop anyone under the table!) called to see if we needed anything. They also wanted to make dinner for us. We thanked them, but declined their offer, not knowing what kinds of things we’d get into at the house. I just didn’t know how emotional I would be and I didn’t want to commit at that point. They understood. A little while later, they showed up at the house with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a bag of “sides” to round out the meal. They wanted to drop off something for us to eat when we were ready. They checked on us, provided for us, and then left us to deal with our issues at hand in our own way. It was the most wonderful gift! Who would think a bucket of KFC could be such an extension of hospitality? That day I learned that we can extend a gift of hospitality in yet another way!

How can you plan ahead to enjoy hosting friends and family? Can you prepare a favorite dish or two and refrigerate or freeze for later? Can you enlist the help of family members in a fun and non-threatening way? Or, can you splurge and take your guests out for a meal and make the entertaining easy? Even take-out pizza, when shared with those you love and want to be with can be a meal fit for company. Of course, remember you can always extend love and hospitality as my Aunt Juanita and Aunt Sue did with a bucket of KFC!

Remember to enjoy the moments you have. If you’re comfortable and relaxed, your guests will enjoy their time more than if you’re stressed and frazzled. Sometimes letting someone else prepare the food is the best plan of all.

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