Friday, January 28, 2011

Hospitality 101 - with tea and chocolate

* I edited this blog post a wee bit. Sorry I pressed draft again and had this unexpectedly appear as another new post to clog up your readers.   ~ Renee

Thanks to a good friend, I placed the book below on my newest wish list with my very friendly library lady.

Since I had a nice little list of delicious book delights all written out, I knew many of them were newer printed editions and not yet likely even within the library system, but I thought to try. 

My lovely library lady, actually there are three of them now who know and call me by name (so terrific!), keep my wish lists rolling, working in earnst to find me my requested books. They've even started to hold specific books behind the counter for me, those they think I might like to preview. 

I love my library ladies! One called this week, announcing a book from my wish list was being held for me. Yay! And what a book it promised to be!

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  
~ Hebrews 13:2
I've always maintained the belief that if we were supposed to be more Mary and less Martha, we should easily be able to open our homes to anyone suddenly appearing there, perhaps additionally offering a cup of tea and a little visit before they had to depart. 

Through my married years, it wasn't always easy for me to do this, especially in between babies and a husband on shift work who often had to sleep during the day. 

Over time, through trial and error, I was able to adopt two mottos I knew I wanted to live by; "People matter more than things" and have truly benefited from the motto of "practice makes perfect". Oh sure, there have been some pretty embarrassing times for me to offer hospitality at a second's notice, like the time I was elbow deep in making pumpkin pies, literally barefoot with my most worn blue jeans, flour on my face, messy hair, kitchen upside down, and the doorbell sounded. It was a priest friend, in the area he said, hoping I wouldn't mind him stopping by for a cup of tea. Ha! 

If there was one moment when I wanted to crawl under a rock, that would have been it! Instead, I decided this man was always told he was welcomed in our home, so when he stood before me, I had two choices; send him away until a better time, or just excuse the scene and tell him though I was busy working getting the pies complete, he was so welcome to come on in and join the party. 

Guess what he chose to do? 

Yes! He entered, with a half smirk on his face, following my lead into the kitchen (probably laughing behind my back no doubt), sitting across from me at the table as the kettle boiled and I (still mortified by my appearance) kept on rolling out more dough for pies. Within minutes he moved closer and was now sitting on a bar stool immediately across from the countertop I was working on, offering me great company to my day, while chatting with the children running around us. When the pies were complete, we had a great visit. My pride was all but squashed as I realized what a fool I would have been to turn him away from this scene. At least that's how I felt. And oh, so humbled...

While he sipped on his tea, I offered him a piece of pie fresh from the oven with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. Thanking me when leaving, I was surprised when he not only thanked me for the tea, but he also began thanking me for being "real", and for a great visit because I made him feel right at home. I hope that was a good thing, because we snickered quite a bit over it. And then, I handed him a pie to take home.

If we truly hope to be a good folk and try to perfect ourselves into living our lives as though "people matter more than things", then (as tough as the moment might be at the time) who cares if the house is messy and life isn't perfect for opening that door!

Our homemade dark and white chocolate with candy cane brittle.

Wanting to become better in this area of my life, early in my married years, I developed a method of trying to maintain a habit in the evening before retiring to double-check the clutter about the house, wiping counters in the kitchen again if necessary, just a general tidy up. Coats and shoes away, pillows back on couches, lego in their drawers, piano music in it's wicker box, powder bathroom sink clean and room tidy, that type of thing. It wasn't a big time waster, maybe between a super quick 10-15 minutes overview and declutter. 

I still do this, every night. I confess that it allows me to head to bed knowing no matter what happens by early morning, I am able to begin a new day with a clean slate. By morning, I'm always very sure to begin my day by opening up all the curtains and shades in the main living areas, ensuring some bright and cheery, rather than gloomy darkness, all ready to make my day an even greater possibility! Then, if the doorbell sounds, (hopefully not in the middle of a math lesson), then it's no big deal.

Here's a helpful hint I have offered to anyone who asks me about this; 

Take a step outside of your front door. And then open it up, as if YOU are the visitor to your home. What are the hot spots you see upon entering?

Mine used to be living room on the left, lovely staircase straight forward after the entryway, a small hallway and powder bathroom to my right, and then farther in the distance through the living room, I could see (you got it!) my kitchen sink area in the kitchen.

I decided to make an extra effort to tidy up the living room at night, the kitchen sink area (at least), the hallway (coats/shoes) and the bathroom. If all else failed, and the rest of the house was a little bit embarrassing to show to anyone, well then, at least I had a parlor to sit, a bathroom for a guest to use to freshen up before departing, and there was no hiding part of my kitchen. It was a great escape idea to close the pocket door to hide this particular room more when occasions were tempted to warrant it, but then the beveled glass on the door wasn't any help to me. It was a definite telltale to what lay beyond it when able to see through the glass.

More tips;
  • always have water in you kettle 
  • an assortment of teas 
  • some coffee to brew 
  • ice water with a slice of lemon or lime to serve if someone doesn't like the above
  • and a smile and hug to offer.
Nothing at all would be absolutely necessary, not at all except for your own "in the moment" companionship, however these things are what I want around for my own company's arrival. Actually, true confessions here; when I married I never knew "HOW" to make tea or coffee because I never drank it myself. It was a learning curve for me, eventually trying to figure out how to perform these little things to help me fortify my hope for attaining better hospitality.

Back to the list above; anything else over above basic pantry items, things such as; juice, cookies, a meal, or whatever, is NOT a must, overall though just keep it simple and you'll be able to remain calm and attentive to your guests.

Background music is always good for any occasion though. Mine is usually on...

Even in our most hectic paces of life, everyone always loves to sit for a moment and catch their breath. We do. So, if I happen to have a visitor arrive unannounced, I try to turn it around and consider that to be a blessing and not a curse. I work at this area in my life so I'm able to see "Jesus" in every visitor, not turning them away with an excuse of being "busy", "house is a mess", "don't have time", and whatever else I can offer instead. 

Worse yet, NOT answering the door to someone who may brighten our day and/or allow us a moment of grace could be summoned up as a "missed opportunity", either for us, or someone else.

Perhaps we are to become that "someone" who is able to offer the reverse with grace to them instead, showing some heart to the weary, hope to the downtrodden, and joy to the sad folk having a bad day. Maybe they only came to call to distract their mindset, hoping to return home refreshed from a wee chat, and, they were possibly, even if unintentionally, refused a little grace moment. Sad to think we may be oblivious to angels unaware in our midst...

I have learned through the years the importance of becoming more hospitable. There are times of course as a homeschooling mother when I truly don't have time to sit, knowing I'll lose my childrens' attention during the thick of a lesson. Those who know me well have always been cordial to allow their visit to wait if possible until after lunch or beyond before offering an unexpected arrival. Usually then, it's the case of those who aren't aware of my homeschooling scheduling commitments, or those who didn't know my preferences for visits during schooling weekdays in advance who were the unexpected visitor, so if the time came when some dear soul made an announcement, usually it was a rare and lovely moment to see them and they were completely oblivious to my daily regime and not trying to sabotage my day. Offering them in return a welcome of hearts and if possible, having some flexibility in our days becomes paramount and absolutely key to how we will handle the reception of our unexpected visitor.

For me dear friends, the question during any visit always remains ~ Who becomes more blessed from an impromptu visit, myself or my guests?

When I had our youngest daughter, I was nursing my baby and trying to snap out of a sleep deprived blurr. I hadn't even so much as been able to wash my face yet, my husband asleep in our room from a night shift. The children were in the next room, pretending  (wink) to begin their schooling day after chores were freshly completed, and a car arrived in our driveway. Two women walked up to my door, two women I barely knew from church, and there was no way I was able to make a fifty yard dash to freshen up. I was sunk, and wondered about the timing. Instead, I opened the door and greeted them with my best smile, signaled for them to come on inside, and took a deep breath of air to quiet my beating heart. My pride had all but vanished...smiling.

If I was going to walk my talk AT ALL, this was the time to practice it. I remember muttering something about excusing my appearance, and invited them to have a cup of tea with me. Two very older women who only wanted to have a quick glance of our baby had gifts in their hands, and hadn't intended to stay at all. 

They apologized to me for coming unannounced, and said they weren't going to interrupt my morning by staying. Knowing they were baby mongers, I offered to have them hold our baby while ushering the other children in to say hello. With the kettle on anyway, I thought maybe they were in no hurry just the same, being polite and all, hoping they would take me up on the tea. 

This whole scene ended up being a most delightful visit, just what I needed to jump start my day in a way I never thought possible. From blurr to blessing, I may have missed out if I had turned them away for another time. It still remains a beautiful memory to me, and lucky me, I have a million more of these unexpected treasured visits stored up in the deep recesses of my heart on how they impacted my days.

It is not an inbred ease for everyone to be hospitable at a moment's notice. It takes practice to become naturally hospitable, and I really hadn't much experience before marrying, with the only exception of being able to observe how my parents treated their guests, always hospitable no matter what time of day, to bring someone inside and offer something to drink. My mother had friends who visited one another unexpectedly, a circle who just learned knocking upon their doors was acceptable. I remember when being a young girl, if someone also had a few treats to add to a plate, they did. One woman I remember served a few soup crackers on a plate, that was it, nothing spectacular, just great hostesses and mentors to my own mother.

I am a very friendly and social person, but on the flip side, I am also a private person who requires huge chunks of solitude to recover from the stresses of life. You won't find me knocking at your door unless we've prearranged it, and I won't bother you with telephone calls on the weekends knowing you're with your family. It's just the way I am with regards to doing unto others, and some friends chastise me often for being this way. 

It's something I still have to learn, and I suppose it all came about when not feeling very welcomed (at all), or being turned away a few times after knocking (in the past) on someone else's door unannounced. It felt like a bit of rejection, and seemed to really stick with me.

On the reverse side of this, I am so different in my ability to handle unexpected company and calls on the weekends. My availability sign is usually worn on my sleeve, a little strange I know. My best advice to my children has always been; if someone takes time to knock on your door, at least be cordial to them if it's a case of very bad timing, or offering them to enter for just a few moments so you can later return to whatever it is you must do. Placing parameters around one's time is a whole other topic, one also of prime importance in any family.

I find there are times when I could visit forever, and then for some reason there are occasions when extra long visits become quite tiring for me. I love a visit to break up my regimented schooling day for a change of pace. And one has to take into account, not everyone we may live with are as sociable as we, so in our home, I have to remember to use prudence on such occasions, especially when hours and hours goes by and there may be a bout of unwellness in our home requiring a quieter atmosphere for rest and recovery.

Still, the whole topic of hospitality is so dear to my heart, at least ever since I read Karen Mains book on the topic many, many years ago now. I find not all people are born with the gift of being hospitable, and they need to be taught how to become a good host/hostess. It takes an effort. It takes practice. It's a worthy subject topic in the hope of becoming a gracious host, one that should be at the top of any parent's priority list for training their children to develop this skill alongside of them.

I had always hoped to be a good example while mentoring its importance to my children, so they can take it to their own levels once leaving our family nest. The toughest part of providing hospitality as a family is in training of our children well, teaching them how to behave when we have guests, specially not to be extra goofy when company arrives. There are always the comics, the quiet hidden ones, and those who have to be reminded of their manners (well, not so much any longer now). The poor girlfriends/boyfriends who used to frequent our home many years ago now, for they never knew little ones would become their shadows and follow them everywhere, smothering them with their childlike cherub cheeked behavior. Sometimes parental intervention is required, and it is also in those times within a large family when our older children must learn not only to be hospitable toward their guests, but also toward their younger siblings.

I always get a deep belly chuckle over the photo below, the one of my father with two of our children who are obviously well at ease around him. Foot rubs and head rubs just seem to go together here;

Eventually, instead of offering to play hairdresser with our guests, or taking them away to play games or jump outside on our trampoline with them (every priest who ever came to dinner was offered the challenge of a jump with the teens, and all but one took them up on it), the fruits do grow to become many as they've now all managed to become great hosts/hostesses when company arrives. Upon occasion there is still some minor guest smothering without them even realizing it. :)

 Like when big brother moved out on his own and came to visit.

Or when a cousin comes to see us.
Those same fruits continue onward into adulthood, completely recognizable by their actions, and I always become so very proud of them all rendering usage of those hospitality skills in their own homes, within their own families. Like when grandparents share recent visits with them and tell us how much they loved their welcome there. 

P.S. ~ We are so PROUD of you all over there in the west! 

On a very personal note; this entire topic of hospitality wouldn't be complete without mentioning there are seasons in life when even in the most hospitable situations, being of cheery heart and able to usher one inside isn't always immediately possible. 

Sometimes life gets hard. 

Sometimes we have to honor the tough moments during these seasons, to unwind and look after ourselves for a change because we spend all of our energies doing for others. 

It is during these days of darkness when the white flag has to be hoisted to the skies!  And it is during these times when we unknowingly find ourselves becoming inverted just for a time, diving into the abyss of an overdue sensible recovery when it all seems to become too much. 

Admittedly, I've been there - many times. So has the rest of our family during times of crisis, when our lives are suddenly turned upside down with crazy events and tense situations. We all know well that whole momentary recovery ideal in a deep and intimate way. 

United we stand, divided we fall. 

So we stand, united, yet at times yanking and keeping everyone inside the family bubble, never allowing anyone to drift or push one another away, tending to our own at all times. These truly become the toughest of days for a parent, waiting, hoping and dreaming until the moment arrives again when the white flag swiftly becomes replaced with a brightly colored victorious crowning glory, that of knowing - we survived another hurdle, binding ourselves together through thick and thin.  

There are hills and valleys in our lifetimes when visiting with another ends up taking all our energies away and plundering ourselves into a big pile of mush, for we feel empty and devoid of having anything left to offer another.
It was during one of these times when life was so TOUGH for us, and though I was very private about emotion and details, never complaining and always still quite cheery, two of my closest friends sensed all I was going through. I call that grace in action. They arrived one schooling morning at my door. How could they be there was my first thought, for they too were homeschooling mamas. 

It was a strange kind of morning meeting them like that at my doorway. And then the beauty of the day began to unfold, leaving me in a floating realm, as though I was in a most scrumptious, heart healing, dreamy dream. 

  • My friends cared enough to be there for me, to become my hostesses right in my own home. 
  • My friends helped to heal me that day. They took precious time away from their own families, and taught me a lifetime lesson on true hospitality, which doesn't have to occur in our own homes. It can happen anywhere! 
  • My friends carried me across the threshold of despair and right into the ideal of hope instead.

They (actually!) physically took me and sat me down on my own couch. They removed their coats, and made themselves right at home. RIGHT AT HOME I tell ya! :)  One walked straight to my kitchen and gathered the others round her, summoning them to order. Before I knew it, the kettle was on, goodies pulled out and arranged nicely on small plates, some for the children, some for us. 

It was a visit like no other, one where my friends were blessing me with more than just using their hospitality skills, they were soothing this weary mama, healing and licking my deep gaping open wounds, cherishing me with their friendships, cheering me on with giggles and happy visit chatting, and wrapping themselves about me like a fortress of protection, holding me lovingly close in my time of need. And there in my living room, we were making a golden memory! They didn't know how badly I needed this visit. Heck, I never knew myself. But what a visit it was! Hospitality was evident everywhere in my midst, through my girlfriends, and through myself and our children alike who warmly and happily welcomed them into our home. 

Without them ever knowing beforehand just how difficult life was for us, an unknown terminal illness prognosis, and living at the tail end of a dark time of almost total financial ruin, these ladies were the glue in my day, the icing on my beating heart, the sweetness in life when one begins to sense for sure - all will be well with my soul. And it has been through my self determination to survive in both mind and heart. This beautiful memory still and forever will reign high and linger on for me. 

It always brings a warmth to my heart and happy leaky tears to my eyes to this day, remembering the blessing of friendships, and the friendship gift of hospitality in unexpected ways. It has taught me how bad I am at being a receiver of gifts such as this, preferring instead the pleasure I get from being the giver. 


And so very blessed!  

Hospitality. It's everywhere, beginning in our own homes and spreading out into the world to pay it forward to others. A lofty and worthy topic, one we are sure to keep in practice our whole lives so we might learn someday of those "angels unaware" floating in our midst. 

It's all about how people are more important than things.


"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

~ Matthew 25: 34-35