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Lessons from Showing Hospitality

When Jim and I were building our home here on the Goat Milk Stuff farm, we spent a lot of time talking about what “feeling” we wanted our home to give.  We wanted it to be welcoming and friendly.  We didn’t want it to have a “formal” feeling to it.  Instead we wanted it to be a place where people felt they could relax and be themselves.  We wanted our home to be the “go to” home where all the children and their friends wanted to hang out.

Relax and Talk Around the Fireplace

We had those conversations because hospitality has always been very important to us.  We’ve always wanted to get to know people on a deeper level and we’ve always wanted to be able to have an influence in other people’s lives.  Jim and I have been married for twenty-two years and our home has always been open to people.  That often includes sharing meals, hosting a party, offering short-term stays, and we’ve had multiple people live with us for many months over the years because they needed a place to live while they were making changes in their lives.

Set an Extra Place at the Table

I’ve learned a lot about showing hospitality over the years and wanted to share those lessons with you.

You don’t need money.  Hospitality comes from the heart – it doesn’t come from your pocketbook.  You do not need a lot of money to serve people a meal.  For most of our marriage, Jim and I have lived on an incredibly strict and tight budget.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made huge bowls of pasta for guests and served it with homemade garlic bread.  No dessert.  Sometimes there wasn’t even a vegetable.  But everyone left with a full belly.  Pasta is cheap, as is rice and beans.  Do not feel that you have to spend a lot of money to offer hospitality.

You don’t need a big house.  We now have a big house, but that hasn’t always been the case.  We’ve never let the size of our house stop us.  We’ve often had so many people in a small space that people had to go outside if they wanted to sit down.  Don’t let the size of your house or the number of bathrooms you own stop you from inviting people over.  When Brett was born, Jim and I lived in a house that was about 1200 square feet with one bathroom.  We threw a party for about 50 people.  There was always a line for the bathroom, but it was all good!

Do not stress about how clean your house is.  This is so important.  Most people new to hospitality feel that everything in their home needs to be perfect.  But the people who matter will never judge you for how clean your house is.  Please, please – don’t invite people to your house and make excuses for the condition of your home.  That may make you feel better, but it makes the other person feel uncomfortable.  Your home is your home.  Do the best you can to keep it presentable, but don’t ever let it stop you from inviting people over.

Keep it simple.  I never try to make a new meal for a party or for guests.  I always keep it simple.  Tried and true recipes that are hard to mess up is the way to go.  I also choose meals that I know my family will enjoy as leftovers.  I always make sure that the table is overflowing with food.  I don’t ever want anybody to leave feeling hungry or feeling that they can’t take the last piece of whatever is available.

Party Food Buffet

Share an event or tradition.  Showing hospitality doesn’t have to always be about food (although around here, food is usually involved).  You can invite people to join you for a family tradition such as drinking hot chocolate and watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ at Christmas time.

Don’t try to impress others.  You don’t need to be Martha Stewart.  We serve our guests with paper plates or mismatched plates.  I don’t think I’ve ever put out a centerpiece in my life (unless the children picked a bouquet and they put it on the table).  But that’s just me.  If you take a lot of joy out of beautiful place settings and centerpieces that’s wonderful!  Go for it!  Just don’t let the feeling that you need to do that stop you from inviting people over.

Put people to work.  Many guests love to help out.  I generally have a mental list of items that guests can do (only if they want to or if they ask).  If this is the first time somebody is joining you for a meal, they tend to feel a little anxious and having something to do with their hands makes them feel more comfortable.

Put Guests to Work

Be thankful if people bring food.  It is wonderful when people bring food, so be sure to thank them for it.  And make sure your children know ahead of time that if the guests bring food, they should try it (even just one bite) and thank the guest.

But don’t expect people to bring food.  When I am inviting people over, I generally say this, “If you would be uncomfortable showing up empty handed, you are welcome to bring something.  But I will have plenty of food and you do not need to bring anything.”  When we first started hosting our annual Christmas party in Scottsburg, many people brought something with them (many people are raised with the mindset that you don’t go to somebody’s house empty-handed.)  By now, most people realize that I’m serious when I say we’ll have enough food and they don’t feel the need to bring items.  Many have even expressed what a relief it is to be able to just show up, and I love that!

Don’t be afraid to ask people to bring food.  If money (or time) is really tight, don’t hesitate to ask people to bring something, because they won’t mind.  Try to make it specific, however, such as, “If you could bring a dessert, that would be wonderful.  I’ll have x, y, and z for dinner.”

Have options.  If you can, find out if there are any food allergies or preferences ahead of time.  If not, I generally try to make sure that I have choices for people in case they are vegan or gluten-free.

Keep a stocked pantry.  I think it’s so important to keep meals in your pantry/freezer that you can throw together if you have unexpected company. For me this is always pasta.  I usually keep meatballs in the freezer that I can also heat up and serve.  If for some reason, I unexpectedly have 25 hungry teenagers at my house (yes, this has happened), I can cook enough pasta in 30 minutes to satisfy all of them because I always keep lots of pasta and sauce available.  (I’ve also started keep gluten free pasta in the pantry just in case.)

Relax.  If you’re obviously stressed, your guests will have a hard time enjoying themselves.  Your guests don’t expect perfection.  Neither should you.

Practice.  Be hospitable often.  Be hospitable regularly.  The more you invite people over, the less stress you’ll experience when you do it.

Don’t do it alone.  Be sure that your family helps out.  At our home, everybody has evolved into certain roles before, during, and after a party.  I don’t have to worry about garbage cans getting too full because Colter, Jim, and Emery are paying attention to them.  I don’t have to worry about the drinks running out, because Brett is on top of it.  Involve your children in the prep work and cleanup.  If they want their friends to come over, they need to learn those skills.

Be spontaneous.  Some of our favorite memories are the unplanned times we had people over.  I don’t have to worry about the house ahead of time.  I don’t have to worry about what I’m serving.  I just ask people if they’d like to stay and join us for dinner.  Lots of time we just throw hamburgers and hot dogs on the firepit. It’s a wonderful low-stress way to enjoy time with others.

Have Burgers at the Firepit

Be open and welcoming.  The most important thing is to be open.  It doesn’t matter how much work you wanted to accomplish that day.  People are the most important thing – always.  If people want to come over and spend time with you, then you need to be there for them.  If you have chores that must get done, have them help you.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve put people to work here.  Sometimes they come over and I can stop and sit and have a nice chat.  But quite often, they’re put to work washing dishes or canning salsa or weeding the garden or picking blackberries or whatever it is I have to get done that day.

Please remember that showing hospitality benefits so many people.  It benefits the people you are entertaining/hosting.  It benefits your children because they learn how to open their hearts to others.  And it benefits you.  I can’t tell you how blessed I am to know that people feel comfortable in my home and with my family.  I have learned so many things from the people who have entered our lives.  I’ve met complete strangers that people have brought with them who have touched my life deeply by their lives and their stories.

Taking a break from the regular stresses of your life and interacting with other people really helps to put our lives in perspective.  If you are at all overwhelmed or struggling in your life, try it – invite somebody over for dinner.  Set aside your problems for an evening and talk to somebody else about their life.  I believe the effort you put it will be worth it!

What about you?  How do you feel about hospitality?  Is it easy or tough?  Do you wish you’d do more of it?