Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Photos from the Black & White Party (by popular demand!)

Attached are some additional photos from the Black & White Party that Sarah and Stephany hosted last week at Sarah's house. (Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Tibbitts!)

You may view a larger image by clicking on the photo of your choice.

LEFT: Julie and Natalie
RIGHT: Molly and Julie (Matthew's junior and senior Prom dates)
ABOVE: Matthew and Stephany

LEFT: Molly, Kelli and Jami with Stephany in background
RIGHT: Guys on the dance floor (aka Sarah's basement) doing their DJ thing
ABOVE: Marissa and Julie

LEFT: Julie and Matthew
RIGHT: Stephany and Molly

Once again, thank you Marissa, Emily, Stephany and Sarah for use of your fun photos!

Hope you enjoy these photos and get ideas for your own Black & White Party....

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Infamous 'Black & White' Party

The beautiful girls you see on the left are Sarah and Stephany, two of my favorite people in the world (yes, I know, I do have lots of favorites!). These two gorgeous girls planned a “Black & White Party” for their extended group of friends. It was held at Sarah’s house recently and it sounds like everyone had a blast! The photos sure support that thought!

More photos...

Here are Sarah, Emily and Julie. Aren't they beautiful??

I snapped a quick photo of Matthew before he left for the party.

Photo above: Here, the group is apparently taking a break from dancing! In the back are Stephany, Trent and Emily. Seated, Matthew and Nick.

Close photo above: Matthew with Stephany and Emily. Four of them often take "family" pictures like these, but someone is MISSING: Maria!! Where were you when this photo was taken?

Below is Trent, stylin' and profilin'!

I suppose it’s obvious, but for a “Black & White Party” the guests must wear – you guessed it – black and white. The decorations and food were also in that color scheme. I wanted to share these ideas with you in case you think it might be something YOU’D like to host sometime!!

So, in Sarah's words.....

"We loved doing the Italian dinner party last year." (On a sidenote, see my blog posting from 8/31/09 for photos from the Italian dinner party, which they hosted at our house.) "Stephany is a huge part of getting the whole thing to work. This summer we talked about organizing something for everyone when we were home from college over Christmas. Steph was the one who suggested black and white. We started talking about foods and decided dessert was the best way to go. We assigned each of the girls a black and white dessert (brownies, marshmallow pies, oreo pudding dessert, chocolate cream pie). Later we decided to add black and white tortillas and sunflower seeds just for something salty."

"The decorations included leftover wall paper from my room (which is black and white polka dots), black and white streamers, and the centerpiece was left over from my graduation party!"

"Steph really wanted to keep it 'classy'. We just wanted a nice way to get together and enjoy each others' company. Plus, we like to dress up!'

Well said, Sarah! It certainly looked classy, Stephany! I think all of you gals did a fabulous job!

I hope you enjoy the pictures of this group of friends. I am sharing them courtesy of Marissa, Emily, Stephany and Sarah. I think this whole gang should be in a Gap ad. Oops! Sorry Emily, I meant to write an American Eagle ad!!

I love you all!!

Unexpected Guests

Sarah, Stephany, Jami and Maria surprised me with a cake they made for me.

I am from the South where it is commonplace to invite people to stop by for a visit anytime. It’s how I grew up and I like to think I welcome unexpected guests.

When you have unexpected visitors stop by your house, how do you react? Do you ignore the bell-ringing and door-knocking? Or, do you cautiously look out the peep hole or even open the door just a smidge? As much as I hate to admit it, how I react is directly related to two things:

1. Since whoever is out there is unexpected, am I comfortable answering the door from a safety standpoint? (I have to confess here - I watch lots of crime shows and sometimes feel a little paranoid.) So…..if it’s after dark and I can’t see who it is, I turn the porch light on in their faces. Not really hospitable, I know, but they are unexpected. If I had been expecting the visit, I’d have the outside lights on already!


2. Am I showered and dressed? Do I look (fairly) presentable?

Often we get late, unannounced visitors in the form of Matthew’s friends. Well, that’s always ok! We love and welcome these kids.
Having said that, there have been a number of times when they have come for a visit – especially the girls – when I look like death warmed over. I remember last Christmas break when four of them surprised me by making me a cake. I was thrilled to see my beautiful girls. I had been sick all day and felt like a dog, but I tried to hide all of that and enjoy the gift of their company - and their chocolate cake! (I’m sure the pajamas and lack of make-up gave nothing away.)

Then, there was the time that an exchange student visited. Come to think of it, I think that was last Christmas, too. He was such a nice kid, from Australia, as I recall. He had family in the area, so he wasn’t a “true” exchange student. Anyway, Matthew’s group of friends really enjoyed his company and he hung out with them and spent a good bit of time here during his visit to the States. He was delightful and so polite! Ken and I enjoyed his company very much, too. And then there was the night that a whole gaggle of friends showed up together with him. I had had a terrible cold for days and was really dragging. Still, praying I wasn’t contagious, I made hot fudge cake for the kids and loved hearing their enjoyment and laughter – by-products of this group of friends being together. Ah, the stuff memories are made of…..

So, what is the moral here? Well, I am learning to welcome those who stop by regardless of what I look like or how I feel. Visitors may be aghast at how I greet them at the door, but I do believe what they will remember later – much later! – is how I welcomed them when they arrive - not how I looked when I opened the door. I hope so, anyway.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Preparing for Overnight Guests: A Detailed Checklist to Help You Prepare

Recently I wrote about how we can have overnight guests and actually ENJOY their visit (IMAGINE THAT!). Although lengthy, I am including Part 2 here. If you truly want to make your guests feel welcome (and special), I hope you’ll take the time to read this. I believe you’ll find some useful ideas here.

As you'll read below, I think it's important to provide good reading light for guests. You can't see it from this photo, but both sides also have clocks. We covered the wood tables with glass from our local glass dealer to protect furniture from drinks and other items. You probably can't see the image in the framed photo, but it is one I cherish taken of myself with 2 of my college roommates.

Our guest room is not very large, so when we purchased furniture for this room, we purposely did not choose a chest of drawers or dresser. Ken and I felt that the drawers in the "bednight" stand and some space in the closet were ample for guest needs.

Note the various reading materials. This last photo shows the bench used for guests' suitcases and a magazine rack filled with various current magazines (the rolled up items you see are brochures of our beloved Orrville!)

It’s true, we can enjoy overnight guests, and I certainly write from experience. We have been blessed with hundreds of overnight visits from family and friends during our 25 years of marriage. At some point (maybe when we downsize), I’d love to have a guest house. I can already envision it and I think it would be wonderful to have for guests to enjoy. Some day maybe that will happen. For now, I am thrilled that we have a dedicated guest room and I try to take full advantage of that space when we have guests.

Sometime early in our marriage I managed to compile a list of items to keep in the guest room. As time has passed and Ken and I have stayed with others and also in many bed and breakfast establishments, I have honed this list even further. Although not conclusive, this list is a great start. And while not every item will make sense to every person, I think you’ll find some useful ideas here. As always, use what works for you and your family and toss the rest.

Ideas for Guest Room

Linens – clean sheets on the bed or pull-out are a must. I love to have freshly washed sheets on the bed when we have overnight guests. If the bed linens are clean but the bed hasn’t been slept in for a while, I rewash the sheets so they are fresh and clean-smelling. Your laundry soap, fabric softener and dryer sheets are important in this process. Linen spray is also a nice addition. A little goes a long way, as you don’t want the fragrance to be overpowering for those with sensitive noses or allergies.

An extra blanket at the foot of the bed or close at hand will be a comfort to those who tend to get chilled easily. Be sure guests know where these items are stored – especially if they are not in the area designated as “their” space.

I'd like to add here, also, that a nice, bright room is always welcoming to guests. At the same time, I like guests to be able to darken the room if they want to nap or sleep in the next morning. (As a sufferer of migraine headaches, I always prefer a room that can be made very dark.) Plus, some guests just sleep better in a dark room. In our Guest Room, guests can opt to leave the blinds open, as our backyard is very private or close the blinds. Additionally, they can 'un-do' the curtains to make the room nice and dark.

A Place for Their Belongings
Space in a closet, if possible, with a few hangers is a sure way to welcome guests. An extra drawer or two is really nice, also – especially for guests who stay longer than a couple of days. As I mentioned before, the readily available over the door hangers are a real plus when space is at a premium.

A stand for suitcases or carrying bags is very nice, too. Many of these fold for easy storage under a bed or in a closet when not in use. In our guest room we use a sturdy wooden bench which I painted to match the furnishings. It gives our guest a place to hold a suitcase or bag so that the contents are more accessible. Having this available also protects other furniture in the room.

Some Important Basics
A clock is also a must, I’ve learned. In the past, I’ve not always remembered to put one in our guest rooms, and inevitably a guest will ask if we have an extra one to use while with us. Friends of mine mentioned that the bed and breakfast where they stayed in Amish Country had clocks on BOTH sides of the bed. They both appreciated the thoughtfulness of the innkeeper. A radio is also a blessing for many. Of course, a clock-radio can kill two birds with one stone. Depending on the guest, sometimes we also put a small CD player in the guest room with a variety of CDs available for use.

A night light is also a must for guests, as it helps someone unfamiliar with the house when they need to be up at night. We have them placed strategically throughout our house so that we can easily maneuver the entire house without turning on overhead lights. A reading light is an addition we light to provide also. Sometimes guests have trouble sleeping in new surroundings and having a light to read by helps them to relax. We always keep a flashlight in the bednight stand, too, just in case… (and yes, you read correctly; I did mean to say “bednight.” When our son, Matthew, was small he instinctively created so many phrases that became part of our family vernacular…we refer to them as “Matthew-isms.” As parents we sometimes referred to a “bedtime” snack or a “night stand,” the small table next to the bed. As a toddler, Matthew combined these and referred to any such thing as a “bednight” whatever – just fill in the blank…!”

Back to overnight guests…. We also have a small bookcase (which I painted to match the sturdy wooden bench) filled with a variety of reading materials. A magazine stand in the room is also supplied with a variety of magazines which I recycle periodically. We keep a Guest Book in our guest room, too, so that people can add messages, if they’d like, and also so that they can read comments of previous guests. It’s fun to look at those entries later and remember our visits with our guests.

Welcome Baskets
I often will put a welcome basket in the guest room, too. In this basket I place fun little items I think the guests would like. For some, it might be a coffee basket, for others snacks or even small trinkets of use.
Some other items to consider:
Paper, pens or pencil
Disposal camera
Ear plugs
Local newspaper, map or other pertinent shopping or event information
Church information and service times

Guest Bathrooms
In the Guest Bathroom (or at least the bathroom being used by guests) should have some basic staples visible and readily available. Some of those items are:
Towels / hand towels / washcloths (I also include bleachable washcloths for make-up removal, for guests, if they choose to use them.)

Soap, shampoo, conditioner and other personal hygiene items are a thoughtful addition to the guest bath. Extra toothbrushes, small tubes of toothpaste, etc. are also a real blessing for the guest who forgot the necessities but may be hesitant to ask for supplies. I always put items in a basket on the bathroom counter in the guest bath and indicate guests are to help themselves. Small samples from hotels, “freebies” in other gifts and items are excellent for this purpose. I also keep other products like mouthwash, lotions, personal sanitary items, etc. available for the same reasons.

If you don’t have small children (or your guests don’t), it’s nice to leave a box of matches in the bathroom to help get rid of unpleasant smells. Many sprays are also available to neutralize odors. I like to keep both on a small tray on the back of the guest toilet. I also have a candle on the tray, should guests wish to use it. (Again, I remove matches when small kids are in the house.)

Some Other Needs
A hair dryer and toilet plunger should also be made available to guests. Of course, all of these items could be included in one linen closet, where a guest is invited to use whatever items within it that he or she needs. An iron and ironing board are also items guest sometimes need to use. At the last Bed and Breakfast we stayed in, the innkeepers kept a lot of these “usual” needs in a hallway bureau. It was convenient there for all guests to use. If you have space, it’s a wonderful convenience to keep items in a central location such as this for your own family as well as guests.

Meal Times
Further, it’s always nice to make guests aware of meal times as well as where quick available snacks are located. Guests will be more comfortable helping themselves if you first point out where snacks and drinks can be found. Sometimes we use a write on white board to list menus and approximate times for meals. It’s just a fun way to communicate these items while letting your guests know you’re looking out for them. This is not to say that we are ‘formal’ about such items. These things seem so obvious it seems silly for me to list them. Yet, I have been a guest many times when such obvious gestures were never extended.

Help! I'm Not a Morning Person, But My Guests Are!
I try to set the coffee pot up the night before for any guests who make it to the kitchen before I do in the mornings. I place cups, spoons, sugars, and a small pitcher for milk on a tray near the coffeepot. Sometimes I’ll include a note for guests to help themselves.

I often also lay out bagels, English muffins and cereal for the light eaters who want to eat as soon as their feet hit the floor in the morning. Lots of times we make big country breakfasts for guests. Usually, though, we don’t do that until about 10 a.m. to give everyone a chance to get up and get moving. Juice, coffee and a bagel, fruit or other snack can help tie them over until we get breakfast made.

Phones, Computers & TVs
Phone usage is not as big an issue as it once was, since nearly everyone has a cell phone these days. However, it’s still very nice to let guests know where phones are located, should they need to place a call.

We've learned that guests often want to check their email or Facebook while visiting. We can accomodate that easily, but not everyone is comfortable with that thought. Remember that you may be able to visit your local library or university campus where your guest can have temporary access.

A television, too, is one of those amenities we take for granted. Although it’s nice to have one in the guest room, watching TV as a ‘family’ can be fun, too. You don’t want your guests to stay in their room ALL THE TIME!

Use of Laudry Facilities
It’s also good to let guests know if they can use your laundry facilities – especially if they are staying a few days or more. If they know where the laundry supplies are kept, they will be more comfortable washing a quick load, if needed.

Prepare for the Kids Who Visit, Too!
Having toys to entertain the younger crowd can be a blessing – to the parents and TO YOU - especially if you are not used to little kids! Just a few toys for various ages will be all you need. You can pick up games, puzzles and past-times at garage sales and just keep a basket in the basement or garage where you can pull it out when needed. (On a side note, the extra alarm clocks, etc. can also be found at great prices at yard sales, clearance bins, etc.)

Over-the-top Hospitality
For truly over-the-top treatment of your guests, there are even more things you can do. For example, you can provide the weather forecast (especially useful for any upcoming outdoor plans). Ken and I have stayed in luxury hotels where the next days’ weather forecast was included with the chocolates on our beautifully turned down beds. Talk about special treatment! Like many upscale hotels, you can also place unisex robes and slippers in the guest room or guest bath. We don’t wear shoes in our home and my husband has often spoken of purchasing some simple unisex slippers for guests to use while at our house. He has often spoken about this after his trip to Japan a few years ago where this is commonplace. We haven’t done that – yet – but I do love the idea!

To really pull out all the stops, you might consider a “Thank you for my quiet time” sign for guests to put on their door to let everyone know they want to sleep in, take a nap or otherwise want to be alone for a little while. A small beverage tray made available to them to take upstairs with them is also a nice touch.

You’ll also want to be sure guests have access to your home in the event you are away. An extra key or the garage door code can be a lifesaver for a busy family when visitors arrive.

And finally, two things I like to do when guests come to visit are probably my favorite. If possible, I like to have a snapshot or photograph framed in the room where guests are to sleep. It truly speaks volumes about how you’ve looked forward to their visit and how you welcome them into your home. I also like to have small gifts, wrapped and at the ready. I might leave them in the room with a note to welcome guests or leave them outside their bedroom door to find in the morning. Fun! I usually shop clearance and sale tables for some fun, timeless gift items for this use.

There are lots of ideas here, and I have used all of them at one time or another. I do not recommed using all of these ideas at once, however! You would probably have guests who questioned your sanity (probably rightfully so), or guests who never wanted to leave! I doubt either of those would be a healthy goal, but if you can take away even one idea to use, it will help your guests to feel comfortable and more welcome in your home. Use the ideas you like and tweak them to fit you, your home and family and your personality. We all have different comfort levels with entertaining and all things surrounding it.

If you have ideas you’d like to share, please leave a comment here or email me at I love hearing from you!

Happy Hospitality!

Please be sure to check out Part 1 of Preparing for Overnight Guests posted on this blog on 12/10/09.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Decorations, 2009

Today my friend, Carolyn, asked to see pictures of the decorating we had done in our home this Christmas season. Although we did not decorate as much as we have in past years, I promised to share some photos with her.I decorate differently each time and I like to have photos to use (for when I do want to duplicate something), so her request reminded me to get snapping. The photos don't really show everything, although if you click on each photo, you can see more. Anyway, as promised, here are the photos, Carolyn! :D

This is our stairway, where we tend to take lots of photos throughout the year.

Below is the dining room.

These 2 photos are the formal living room. Since we always decorate the week of Thanksgiving, our tree is artificial. Ken really outdid himself with lights on our 10 foot tree this year, and they really are beautiful. I wish you could see it better.

Breakfast room.

This is our family room, where we live most of the time. Again, it's hard to see the lights on the mantle as well as the decorations. We haven't hung the stockings yet, either. In fact, about all I see are the dishelved bookshelves because I've been enjoying my cookbooks a lot recently!

I tried to take some outside photos, but they didn't turn out very well. There are outside lights, but they are hard to see. The lights that are visible are from the tree and stairway at the front of the house. Ken usually puts up spotlights outside as well as other lights, but I think we both ran out of energy this year!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tips for Enjoying Overnight Guests, Part 1

I’ve been getting comments about my absence from writing my blog, so I am back at it….thank you for your support of me and my writing!

Today I want to focus on the overnight guests we have in our homes. Through the years we have had LOTS of overnight company – parents, siblings (Ken’s, that is – I’m an only child), cousins, aunts and uncles, neighbors of years past, college roommates and lots of friends. Of course, you know we have kids here a lot overnight. And while we enjoy our kids, they usually crash in the Matt-cave, so some of these things don’t apply to those overnight stays. (Why, oh why, do teenagers want to sleep in the floor and on couches in the Matt-cave when beds are available??) maybe you’ll soon be having company overnight. Maybe it’s your parents, friends from another town, or relatives who have stopped by for the weekend. Overnight guests are a huge stressor for some people. Are you one of the worriers? I mean, do you worry about the house (is it clean enough? where will they sleep?), about the food (what if I make something they hate? what if I really mess up dinner?), and what to do with them (do we entertain them or let them go out on their own?), etc.

The questions go on and on and everyone has some kind of issues, but here are some typical issues we all deal with when having overnight guests.

1. Where will your guests sleep? Do you have a guest room? If you’re like many, a “guest room” may be the family room with a pull-out sofa or even an office or corner of the basement (as I said before, kids and teenagers are especially fond of this one!). And all of these accomodations are fine. Guests don’t expect the Waldorf, just a clean place where they can have some privacy, get some rest and have space for their things. Basically, a few hangers and some space in the closet are all that’s needed. A couple of drawers for anyone staying more than a night or two is really nice, too. If space is at a premium in your house, use one of those over-the-door hangers to create some extra space. If you put a little thought into it and provide some special touches, even that corner in the basement will feel welcoming.

2. If you are concerned about what you will serve, ask early about any food allergies, dislikes or other food-related concerns. Better to know early – preferably before the guests arrive - that your niece has become a vegan this month.

Above all, plan simple meals. Before you even plan on guests, have some dishes that you are comfortable preparing. I’ve read that everyone should have at least one soup they have mastered for just such occasions. I would agree with that and add some additional simple things to master. Why not find an easy casserole or two and some simple desserts, as well? Try new recipes on family first to get an idea of what to expect. Some casseroles and desserts can even be frozen for a month or two. If cooking while guests are in your house stresses you, make the time to prepare as much as you can before they arrive. If your budget allows, you might even treat guests to a local eatery. Sometimes that’s the easiest and most carefree of all meals.

3. If you know in advance that you have overnight company coming, you can plan ahead with cleaning, also. I have found that breaking down big projects into smaller bite-size pieces that I can work on days or even weeks before help me prepare well for company. I break down a huge, overwhelming list into tasks that I can accomplish in chunks of time over a period of days. Knowing that the house is clean and that I just need to touch-up before people come gives me peace of mind.

4. Regarding those last-minute touch-ups:

I believe a clean kitchen is a must. It’s always where everyone gathers in our home and I like it to sparkle. Aside from the kitchen, a quick sweep and vacuum of the rest of the house, dusting if need be, and a good wipe-down of the bathroom with Clorox wipes and Windex and paper towels is usually all that’s needed before guests arrive (if the house is already clean, deep down.).

I keep baskets on hand for quick pick-up of stray items without a current home. Baskets are also a great way to stash newspapers and magazines with a quick sweep of the family room or play room. Kids’ toys, too, can be corralled easily.

Don’t forget the front door (or whatever entrance your guests will use). It’s easily to overlook this area, but the outside is what’s seen first.

5. Of course, what you do with your guests from an entertainment standpoint will vary depending on the personalities of those staying with you. Some want to see all the sights. Fortunately for those of us in northeastern Ohio, there is a lot to see and do. With only being an hour away from Cleveland, we have professional sports teams, theme parks, theatres, museums, lakes and outlet malls. We also have ‘Amish country’ and the Football Hall of Fame, both of which are only half an hour away. There is no shortage of “stuff” to do here for guests on the move!

Other guests just want to visit and relax. For those guests, you might have games and puzzles available, as well as an easily accessible stash of magazines and books. We keep a variety of both in our guest room. A nice quiet place to read the newspaper is what many seem to enjoy most.

These are some of the simple basics to think through when having overnight guests. Probably very little of this is new to you. It’s stuff you already knew, but I think it’s good to know that others sometimes struggle with these issues, too. It’s nice to be reminded that little things are all that’s needed to make your guests’ visits special and memorable - for them and for us.

And more than anything, enjoy your guests. No matter what you did or did not get accomplished on your "to-do" list, try to let it go and visit with your company. They probably won't remember the little things we all stress about, but they will remember how you made them feel. If you're comfortable, your guests will be, too.

I also have a ‘Guest List’ of items I use for overnight guests that I have created over the years and I find it to be very helpful. I will include that list for you soon, as I think you’ll find my list useful for your next overnight company.

Be sure to check out Part 2, The Detailed List for Overnight Guests published on 12/26/09 on this blog. You should also be able to access it via the link below: