Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Husband Traded Me for a Christmas Tree

No, I’m not married to some brute from the Dark Ages who views women as property to be traded.  My husband, Nick, is a really, really nice guy; he just happens to be fond of very small cars and is not your typical guy when it comes to keeping the car clean.  He actually drives a two-door Honda Civic, which I (not so affectionately) refer to as the half car.  It’s also always full of various odds and ends related to the fire department, more papers than any office I’ve ever worked in, and what else I don’t really want to know.

We bought our first Christmas tree together on the first Thanksgiving after we were married.  I’d never had a Christmas tree, and I was determined to get as big a one as possible and join the folks who put them up the day after Thanksgiving.  Michael’s had a sale on artificial trees that year; the store opened at 6:00 Thanksgiving evening and the pre-lit trees were 50 percent off, and we even had a coupon to take more off.  We had to go!

We spent Thanksgiving Day with some very dear friends and left straight from their house for Michael’s.  I HAD to have my tree.  The store was about 45 minutes from the house we were renting at the time.  Nick had driven to our friends’ house, since I was balancing several desserts on my lap, so we were in the half-car, which neither of us thought much about.

We arrived at Michael’s and found the perfect tree for us.  It was 7.5 feet and pre-lit with white lights.  It was beautiful and I fell in love with it.  We decided it was probably a little big for our living room, but then decided that Christmas only comes once a year, so why not get the tree we loved.

We paid for the tree and headed out to the car, with a sales associate wheeling the (exceptionally heavy) tree on a cart.  As we approached the car I began to have serious doubts about getting the tree into the car.  My husband, optimistic person that he is, was sure we could get the tree, and the two of us, into the car, along with all of the other stuff that was already in the car.

The sales associate very quickly left us to our own devices.  I can’t say that I blame him.  We spent nearly an hour trying to get the tree into the car from different angles.  The only way to get the tree into the car was to move everything else to the trunk and shove the tree in through the passenger door and kind of tip it into the backseat.  I tried scrunching down in the backseat; I was perfectly willing to have a cramped ride home for the sake of the tree, but I couldn’t scrunch up small enough to get the tree far enough in to get the door closed.

We finally came to the realization that only one person would fit in the car with the tree. Nick actually wanted to return the tree!  I quickly talked him out of that and into the idea of one of us staying behind while one of us took the tree home and then came back for the other person.

In addition to the fact that I couldn’t lift the tree on my own, we were in an area I wasn’t very familiar with.  I also have the ability to get lost in a revolving door, so driving home by myself from a place I wasn’t familiar with, with a giant Christmas tree in the car, and then trying to get back to the shopping center didn’t seem like a good idea at all.  We finally decided that Nick would take the tree home and then come back for me. 

I spent that hour and half wandering around Michael’s, which is not a bad place to be stranded, and calling to wish friends and family a happy Thanksgiving.   Nick made it home in record time, shoved the tree in the house, and then came rushing back to get me.

It made for a pretty funny story when people asked how our first Thanksgiving was.  I don’t think anyone expected the answer to begin with “Oh, Nick left me at Michaels’” or “Nick traded me in for a Christmas tree”.  It’s still fun to tell the story whenever someone comes over during the holidays and comments on our tree.  It may have gotten me left behind at the store, but we have a great tree.

Monday, November 24, 2014

There’s No Predicting Dogs

I like to think that we know Emma and Duke pretty well.  I’ve had Emma for eleven years, we spent a lot of time together when I took real estate pictures for work (she rode with me nearly everywhere I went), and I’m generally pretty tuned it to what’s going on with her.  We’ve had Duke for a little over a year now.  A lot of that time (about the first six months or so) was spent cuddling on the couch with him while he went through heart worm treatment and a leg amputation.  Again, I feel like we’re pretty tuned in to what’s going on with him.
Most of the time we’re very good at predicting how and Emma and Duke will react to situations, what they’ll like, what they won’t like, when to break out the thundershirts, etc.  But, every now and then, they like to surprise us.
We took Emma (it was about a month before Duke entered our lives) on vacation to the beach for the first time last year.  We didn’t expect Emma to go in the water.  She assures us every time it rains that she will most definitely melt if she gets wet.  She has no interest in streams or rivers whenever we take her hiking, and let’s not even talk about bath time. 
So we really didn’t expect Emma to go into the water.  At all.  But it turned out that she loved it.  She didn’t go in very deep, but she waded and had a great time running through the waves.  Surprise, surprise! 
When this year’s vacation finally rolled around last week, we just knew that Duke was going to love the ocean.  He frolics in the rain, and drags us into any stream or river he finds while hiking.  He’ll even just flop down into the water and lay there to cool off. 
We thought he’d love the ocean.  Once again, we were wrong.  Duke wanted no part of the ocean.  He didn’t like the waves coming at him.  He loved the sand, loved running on the beach, loved chasing birds and crabs, and unfortunately loved trying to eat any trash he found on the beach.  He just wasn’t having the water.  Surprise, surprise!  Again. 
I guess we can’t always predict dogs, no matter how well we may know them.  Has your dog, or any other fur kid, surprised you lately?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – The Bathroom

Isn’t that a lovely title that makes you want to read more?  Bad title aside, having an accessible, well-stocked bathroom is a very basic part of entertaining at home.  Here are some basics for a company friendly bathroom:
-          Make sure everyone knows where the bathroom is.  If there’s a second bathroom available, make sure people know that as well.
-          Consider lighting a scented candle or placing some potpourri on the counter.  A fresh smelling bathroom is much more inviting.
-          While your home certainly doesn’t have to be perfect in order to entertain spend a few minutes straightening up the bathroom. No one wants to fight their way through prescriptions, cosmetics, combs, brushes, etc to find the sink. 
-          A well-stocked bathroom makes for happy guests.  Sure, bathroom mishaps are hilarious in a romantic comedy, but no one wants to deal with that in real life.  Make sure your bathroom is well-stocked with towels and/or paper towels, toilet paper, and hand soap.  No one wants to search or ask for anything in the bathroom. 
So what are your tips and tricks for making sure the bathroom is company friendly?  Or do you care to share a misadventure in a bathroom that wasn’t company friendly? 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Let Your Slow Cooker Do the Work

Nick works a job that gives him very few weekends off.  Many of our friends also seem to have jobs that require a lot of weekend work, so entertaining on the weekend isn’t always a viable option for us.  I work Monday – Friday, so we’ve had to learn ways to juggle to make it work.
One of the ways to make it easier to invite someone to dinner during the week is to let the slow cooker do the cooking while I’m at work.  We can just put everything in it in the morning and then dinner is ready by the evening.  Honestly, I rely on the slow cooker sometimes even when we do entertain on a weekend and I just don’t want to spend my time standing over the stove.  It seems to make things easier and less stressful. 
Here are a few of my go-to slow cooker recipes for entertaining:
Even if you don’t plan to make the entire meal in a slow cooker, just making one dish in the slow cooker can really free up some of your time and make it a little easier for you to sit back and enjoy spending time with your guests. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Entertaining On A Budget

While extending hospitality doesn’t have to involve anything extravagant it can become fairly expensive in a hurry.  Sometimes the budget just doesn’t allow spending a lot of money on one meal or event.  Fortunately, entertaining at home doesn’t have to be expensive. 
Here are some of my favorite ways to keep entertaining at home budget friendly:
Serve a taco/burrito buffet.  Inexpensive ingredients like beans, rice, and vegetables can be used to stretch more expensive items like meat and dips.  It also allows everyone to customize their own meal to their liking.  This works especially well if you’re hosting a large group, or if anyone has any dietary restrictions. 
Serve soup or chili.  This works especially well during the colder months. Chili is inexpensive to make, and you can stretch it even further by serving rice and/or macaroni noodles with it.  Biscuits, bread, or cornmeal help to stretch it even further, and are just perfect with soup or chili.
Have a brunch or serve breakfast for dinner.  Breakfast foods are typically less expensive to make, and most people don’t seem to have time for a big breakfast due to work.  Take advantage of that and serve breakfast for dinner or host a weekend brunch.
Serve what’s on sale/in season.  Let the grocery store sale ad or what’s ready from the garden help determine your menu.  In season foods usually taste better anyway.
So what about you?  What are your tips and tricks for entertaining on a budget? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Little Touches Make a Big Difference

You don’t have to go all out or do anything extravagant to make someone feel welcome in your home.  Sometimes the smallest things are enough to do it. 
One of the best examples I can think of is when Nick and I first started dating.  He has a friend, Ben, whose mom, Martha, has become sort of a second mom to Nick over the years.  At the time, Martha cooked a big family dinner once a week for everyone (and I do mean everyone) who wanted to come eat.  The first time I met their family was at one of those dinners.
It came up that I don’t eat chocolate.  I didn’t think much about it.  I know it’s weird not to eat chocolate, and I’m used to skipping dessert at a lot of functions because everyone loves chocolate.  The next week and the next dinner came around and Martha had vanilla ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. 
That made me feel so good!  It felt like she wanted me to be there, and like what I liked was important to her.  I know ice cream sandwiches aren’t a huge thing, but the thoughtfulness meant so much. 
Here are some little touches I’ve found that seem to make a big difference to guests:
-          If you’re making or buying someone’s birthday cake try to get the writing in their favorite color(s).
-          If someone has a soda or juice that you know they absolutely love try to have that on hand when they come to your home.
-          Make someone’s favorite meal, or side dish, or dessert when they’re coming to dinner.
So what about you?  What are some of the little things that you think make a big difference when it comes to hospitality? 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Don’t Do It If Your Heart Isn’t In It

You may be sitting there thinking “Isn’t this supposed to be part of a series about hospitality and entertaining?  Then why is she saying ‘don’t do it’? That could have just been one post, not a two week series.” 
I’m definitely not saying “don’t do it”.  I’m saying don’t do it with the wrong attitude.  Let me explain.
When I was a child, my parents (and by extension my sister and I) belonged to a religion that didn’t have regular preachers/priests/reverends.  Once the men achieved a certain rank they were part of a rotation that delivered the Sunday sermon. Sometimes there was trading out among local congregations.  My dad got added to the rotation when I was about ten years old.  There was also a tradition of all of the families in the congregation being on a list to rotate extending hospitality to whoever delivered the Sunday sermon and their family.  It sounds kind of nice in theory, but the reality was anything but.
You see, the hospitality list was more obligatory than voluntary, and there was no choosing who you’d end up with.  Very often “hospitality” was extended grudgingly.  Sometimes the host family just didn’t care much for the person who’d delivered the sermon.  Sometimes the host family just didn’t want to entertain that weekend.  Sometimes the tension was very nearly unbearable.  I can’t even count the times I sat at someone’s dining room table silently promising myself that when I grew up and had my own house, no one who came over would feel that way. 
That’s not what hospitality is supposed to be.  Guests shouldn’t feel resented and wonder what in the world they’re even doing there.  No one wants to suffer through that sort of “hospitality”. 
It’s okay to take a break from extending hospitality.  You don’t want to be miserable, and you don’t want to make your guests miserable.  Maybe you’ve thrown a Christmas party every year for the past ten years, but you just don’t feel like doing it this year.  Don’t.  If your heart isn’t in it, you’re probably not going to enjoy it, and that’s something that your guests will very likely pick up on. 
Take a break.  Regroup.  Maybe revamp how you choose to entertain at home, or re-work your guest list.  Do whatever it is you need to do to go back to wanting to extend hospitality and entertain in your home.  You’ll enjoy it more, and your guests will feel welcome and glad to have been invited.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Starting Small

If you’ve never entertained in your home, or if it has been a long time since you’ve entertained in your home, the idea of preparing a meal for a large number of people can be terrifying daunting.  However, extending hospitality doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  You really don’t have to start off with a multi-course formal dinner. 
Here are a few ways to start small:

Invite a co-worker home with you for lunch.  Is it your usual lunchtime routine to go home and make a sandwich?  Why not invite a co-worker along?  It’s a simple thing, and there’s a time limit, but you’re still extending hospitality.
Invite a neighbor in for coffee/muffins/iced tea.  Do you have a neighbor that you’re kind of friendly with?  Consider inviting them into your home for a hot cup of coffee on a cold day, or maybe a glass of iced tea on a warm day when they’ve been out doing yard work. 
Invite friends back to your home after another event.  There are lots of events going on during this time of year: tree lightings, shopping trips with friends, going to look at Christmas lights, etc.  Extend an invitation to go to your home afterward for something simple, maybe hot cocoa or hot apple cider.
What you offer isn’t as important as the gesture.  Maybe you make the world’s best chocolate chip cookies, and you can share them with guests in your home.  That’s wonderful.  Or maybe you can’t bake to save your life, and you invite guests into your home to share Chips Ahoy cookies. That’s wonderful too. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Why I Love Entertaining At Home

I’ve been asked more than once why I choose to entertain at home so often.  Many people make the argument that it can involve a lot of time, work, energy, and money. They question whether or not the return is worth the investment.  For me, it absolutely is.
I love feeding people, I love the look on someone’s face when they realize someone remembered and made their favorite dessert.  I love the feeling that friends/family are comfortable in our home and that we can sit around and chat for hours if we choose. 
If I took the time to sit down and write them out, there are probably hundreds of reasons why I love entertaining at home, but I’m not going to do that, so here are my top five:
1.        Entertaining at home is a great way to get to know someone better.  People seem to naturally be more relaxed in a home environment, so you get to know the “real” person.
2.       It’s much more budget friendly to invite someone into your home for a simple meal than it is to go out for a similar meal. Budgets don’t always allow going out to eat, but that’s no reason to miss out on the companionship of a shared meal.
3.       It makes people feel really good when you choose to invite them into your home.  Don’t you feel special when someone likes/values/cares enough about you to invite you into their home?  Chances are you can make someone feel really good by extending an invitation.
4.       You’re in control of a lot of things.  I know, this probably makes me sound really Type A, but fear of certain social situations is a really big deal for a lot of people.  At home you’re more able to work with what you’re able to do.  If big crowds/loud music/strange or new foods cause you too much stress then you can keep it small/quiet/familiar in your own home. 
5.       You get to be part of something timeless.  Hospitality and entertaining seem to go back as far as recorded history.  People seemed to want to socialize and open their homes.  My grandmother’s generation could pull a dinner party together without blinking; it was second nature for them.  There’s just something wonderful about continuing that.
So what about you?  What are your favorite reasons for entertaining at home?