Monday, November 10, 2008

Practicing Hospitality


(Pictures from Thanksgiving 06)

My mother is the best hostess I know. She's relaxed, she can delegate, and she can cook. But most of all, she has an authentic desire to show hospitality without at all needing to impress her guests. I wish that her attitude had been passed down through genetics; instead, I watch my mother in her role as a hostess, and I take note.

These are the notes I have taken thus far:

1. When it comes to the guest list, view your home as a duffel bag, not a suitcase. My parents home is relatively small, and there were times when our three bedrooms and one bathroom made our family of seven seem like a party with an inflated guest list. But the square footage of her home never seems to sway my mom from inviting that one extra person. In the summers, she would throw backyard barbecues with upwards of 75 people. For my 16th birthday, we fit some 40 people in our house.

Every November Pete's family joins my extended family in giving thanks, and we set up rented tables right on through the living room. Last year, after admitting that the house was going to be packed, mom invited a WalMart employee named Jose who didn't have anywhere to go for the holiday after his divorce. This year my brother is bringing three international students home with him, who otherwise would spend the holiday at the school. It only took five minutes of brainstorming before we figured out the new seating arrangements. A suitcase may only have so much room, but you can always reconfigure the items in your duffel bag to make room for one more.

2. Don't apologize for the state of your home. Before any party, all of us were given chores so that the house would be in proper condition for company. But as soon as I would start freaking out my brother's bedrooms, mom would say, "Joy, they are coming to our home and this is our home. Just do the chores I gave you." This isn't to say that she keeps the door to the disastrous closet open for viewing. But if someone were to accidentally open the closet in search for the bathroom, she wouldn't begin blushing and mumbling about the difficulties of raising five kids and working full time. She would say, "The bathroom is the door at the end of the hall."

This point is intricately tied into the reason my mother is such a great hostess. "If you apologize for your home," she once told me, "it's because you're trying to make yourself feel more comfortable. And you do so at the expense of your guest's comfort." An apology for the state of your home doesn't put your guest at ease; instead, it places a burden on your guest to make you feel at ease. Every now and then I slip and start making excuses for my apartment, but almost immediately I picture my mother rolling her eyes. So I shut up and ask if I can get anyone something to drink. I'm trying to get better, but it's hard.

3. Always use proper signage. My mother is a big believer in signs and labels. A week before any event, the signs begin appearing throughout the house. Most are attached to various food items and say things like

For party or

Don't eat, this means YOU or

BEN, IF YOU EAT THIS
SO HELP ME GOD.

Other signs include chore sign-up sheets, which I always tried to happen upon first so that I could reserve the most desirable chores (think: dusting the living room v. cleaning the fridge). And on the day of the party, she puts up signs to help facilitate.

Don't take off your shoes, socks may get wet from tracked snow! and

When not in use, keep bathroom door open.

When deciding if something would make an appropriate sign, ask yourself, "Is this addressing a question that more than two people will be asking?" (such as whether or not to take off shoes), or "If people leave the bathroom door closed, could it get stinky?" (Yes.)

And finally,

4. Never underestimate the transforming power of candles. As soon as the first guest pulls up to the house, mom hands someone a lighter and directs him or her towards every exposed wick in the house. Once the task is complete, the bathroom smells of something warm and vanilla, the living room is aglow with festivity, and the carpet never looks quite as dated. Sometimes she accidentally buys a bad batch of candles, and the evening ends with sooty stains all over the walls and ceilings. But that always seems beside the point after a fun evening with friends.

Invite that last person, clean but don't mask your home, use signs when they help, and light candles even if they're cheap. It's not exactly a winning episode of the Martha Stewart show, but it's how I want to practice hospitality.

2 comments:

LAYLA BLISS said...

: ) i love this.

i'll take note too. in 3ish months
we are bringing the most important
"guest" yet home to our house and
i wish i would paint the walls for him,
get rid of the nasty carpet, changed
the tacky gold fixtures. but i can't.
my landlord would kick us out. haha
so i'm planning on having the laundry
done and put away, the kitchen table
cleaned off, the floor vaccuumed,
and a candle on the coffee table (since
he won't be messing with things on
the coffee table for a few months -
or so i'm told). its good advice.

Samantha F. said...

Your mom rocks. Reading this I learned things, but not in a dry, factual way, but more of a heart attitude way. Soooper cool.

Joy, every time I read something you've written, I walk away satisfied. Precise, vibrant writing. I love it.

If you write the email updates for your ministry, your writing will have a giant part in keeping folks interested in your work.