Posts Tagged ‘hospitality’

 I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays as much as we are!  Our house is decorated inside and out.  I was too busy decorating to snap many pics, but here’s the dining room:

With the decorating done, this week I can turn my attention to baking and candy-making, and the days are shaping up like this: 

Monday: It’s the cookie brigade. This year’s lineup was carefully culled through and chosen for tradition, flavor variety and visual appeal.  Here’s what made the cut: date pinwheels, almond crescents, and peppernuts and apricot jewels (old family favorites, but new for me to make), and new contenders, peanut butter “buttons” with licorice laces, or peanut butter reindeer with M&M eyes and pretzel antlers; and finally pecan cheese straws, which aren’t sweet, but are otherwise just like making shortbread cookies.  Since I’m doing it all in one night, I can assembly-line everything from mixing to baking and have just one pile of dirty bowls and pans to deal with when I’m done.
Tuesday: Swim meet night, so no big plans for the evening.  Hopefully I can get a little gift wrapping done before I head to the pool deck
Wednesday: Toffee, fudge and peppermint patties and pralines from scratch, along with “filler” candies like coated pretzels or pretzel/rolo turtles, which I can cajole middle son and swimmer girl into making. And maybe another batch of apple cider caramels, because they are pretty delicious.
Thursday: Finishing up the gift wrapping. Confession:  gift wrapping this early is new for us this year – many times we are frantically wrapping gifts a day or two before Christmas. Not this year, not if I can help it.  Then a quick once-over on the house is in order, because company’s coming!  Mr. Official’s crew is invited over for an end-of-season holiday gathering on Saturday night.
Friday:  This year’s lineup includes miniature loaves of quick breads: strawberry-nut and chocolate chip sour cream, plus a pumpkin or red velvet cake roll, sliced and portioned out. Wrapped in cellophane and frozen, these are great last-minute hostess gifts or they can help fill out a plate of goodies for someone. I’ll just have time to get everything whipped up and baked, then I’m headed out to help watch a group (not sure how many) of toddlers and children from our congregation.  We’re giving the young moms and dads free babysitting so they can have a date night, or get their Christmas shopping done.
Saturday: Food, friends and fun are on today’s lineup.  I’m not sure what the menu is, at least as of today, since I’m not sure if this will be sit-down formal or come-and-go casual.  (Word to the wise:  this is what happens when you let guys invite guys over….)
Sunday:  After I whip up a batch of homemade marshmallows as gifts for my third grade students (I give them each a mug filled with hot cocoa mix and homemade marshmallows), it’s a designated day of rest.  And really, everything that needs to be done will have been done:  the trees are decorated, gifts are wrapped, cookies baked and the candies made.  Phew!

And then it’s time to sit back and enjoy truly the best parts of the season – visiting with friends and family, admiring holiday lights, and stealing away for a few days to celebrate our (29th!!!) anniversary, then slipping back just before anyone has a chance to miss us.

You may choose to pace yourself and spread out your Christmas preparations a little more than I do, but if you’re pressed for time, like most of us are, hopefully these two weeks with ten big to-do days will inspire you to create your own streamlined lists and leave yourself plenty of time to savor the season.

Happy holidays!

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It’s time

The Fantasticks musical debuted in 1960, three years before I made my own debut into this world. But the opening song, “Try to Remember” was a piece of music I had to learn for something in my childhood and the song has always stuck with me.

“Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow…”

It seemed fitting this plaintive, sentimental song came to mind as I looked through our old photos for some fall images to decorate the mantel last week.  It’s hard to believe these photos were taken so many Septembers ago but they were.  Eleven years ago, swimmer girl was a cute kindergartener and middle son was just a boy and his dogs, aptly named Duke and Daisy.  Just a few years before that, oldest son was a proud middle school football player back in Oklahoma.

Whether it’s just the inevitable progression of the season, or Hurricane Irene pushing around the pressure systems, the first hint of cool breezes hovers just under the radiating heat of July and August.  It’s time.

It is time to do a few things.

Things like…

  • Change the flag to show the world our orange on September 12 (just not before 9/11.)
  • Update the mantel (watch for photos this week…)
  • Plan our fall break getaway (I am SO looking forward to heading somewhere warm and southern and sunny for a week with swimmer girl and a group of friends!)
  • Purchase some spring bulbs to plant in the next few weeks.
  • Finish up the canning and preserving season (figs and tomatoes are almost done; pears and roasting peppers are next.)

    Yes, it’s still plenty warm — downright hot most days. Indian summer will not put in appearance for a while, but it’s time to do these things. Because as sure as I breathe, autumn is on its way. The days are getting shorter and everywhere I turn, there’s a whisper on the wind, letting me know that fall is not afar off.
    We’ve now experienced a full season – the entire summer – in our new home. I have loved every minute of it, even the heat.  And now when I stand at my kitchen sink in the evenings, the western sky hints at what is to come. If I close my eyes, I can envision the cool rainy days that so often follow the tropical storms and hurricanes. Mornings will soon be wrapped in a cool fog.  Impossibly blue fall skies will be punctuated by days of gray and the cold rains of late fall and early winter. If our summer is any indication of Mother Nature’s temperament, winter is already isn’t likely to wait demurely in the wings this year.

    For once, instead of dreading the approaching colder weather, I can hardly wait. I look at our home and I already see it bedecked with the trappings of the holidays. It is a house meant for gathering family and friends, and it’s been heartwarming to see family and friends gathering together frequently here.  Baking bread, bubbling soups and stews and hearty meals and fellowship await. They will buoy and sustain us through the gray months of winter.

    But for now, it is time to feel the warmth of summer tamed by the faintest hint of fall breeze, and all that comes with it. Welcome, fall and all it holds in store for family, friends and football.

    Happy Monday,

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    Last Friday, we invited a rather large group of friends to a come-and-go open house. (I think I’m officially caught up on the “have-people-over-once-or-twice-a-month” resolution.)

    It’s hard for me to guess-timate food for a crowd bigger than a dozen. But then again, the pros struggle, too – I’ve never ordered catering that didn’t way over-estimate how much food we would need for the number of guests I told them I needed to serve.

    I fear running short, but I really hate wasting food, too. (I know the starving children in China can’t eat what I don’t, but it still bothers me to throw away food, so I try very hard to pinpoint how much to fix for anything, whether I’m cooking for two or 200.) Friday night was somewhere around 75 guests.

    So what do YOU cook for a huge crowd? Since it was an all-evening event, I chose foods that would hold up as well as possible if they had to sit out for a few hours:

    Pulled pork (heated up in batches), served with sauce and buns
    An array of chips, pickles and fresh veggies
    Cold melon and berries
    A trio of bar cookies – million dollar bars, lemon bars and cheesecake square
    Lemonade, tea and bottled water


    just for the kids, of course…


    What is a summer bash without some flaming-sticky-gooey-chocolatey goodness?

    The menu is easy.  The quantities are where it gets dicey, at least with me as I try to shoot for Goldilocks.  (“not too little, not too much, but just right.”)

    • I asked the butcher for 20-25 pounds of Boston butt; he gave me three big ‘uns that totaled a little over 27 pounds.  It was about 5 pounds too much.  Like I said…20-25 pounds.
    • Twelve packages of buns were about 7 packages too many.  (Lots of low-carb folks, maybe?)
    • Four jars of pickles was one jar too many
    • Four bags of chips and two tubs of dip could have been cut in half.
    • Four bottles of sauce were just about right.
    • One watermelon, 3 cartons of strawberries and 2 cartons of blueberries – I shoulda cut up a second watermelon and bought more berries.  They went fast.
    • Two packages of baby carrots, two cartons of grape tomatoes and two heads of celery – more or less on the money.
    • Three huge trays of bar cookies were about two times too many.  (But we’ve somehow forced ourselves to take care of the extras 🙂
    • A few too many Hershey’s bars.  (tragic, eh?)

    What did I learn? For the next big gathering (in a few weeks), I’ll probably ramp up on fruit and veggies and lighten up on carbs.

    ‘Cept the S’mores.  Because a few too many mallows and milk chocolate squares are never a waste.

    Happy entertaining!

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    Loose Ends, Week 5.

    In between hosting Bunco on Monday night and opening our house for a house-warming last night, I managed to tie up a few loose ends this week.

    The warm-up act was Monday night’s bunco party. Around 20 women and children (yes, we start ’em young) gathered for baked potatoes, salad, laughter and yes…putting out money and rolling dice. Don’t call the vice squad – the proceeds will buy a bicycle for a preacher in India to be able to get from town to town faster and easier.)

    It was fun, but I just want to let those who toured my home know that my vacuum does NOT hang out in the middle of my bathroom all the time. Thank you for politely overlooking it, but really – you’re my friends. One of you could have said SOMETHING! I had to laugh when I walked in there later that night and there it sat.  It was one of those things.  I started to vacuum and then I saw some laundry that needed to be started, and when I got to the laundry room I realized I had a basket of assorted odds-and-ends that needed to be put away… And before long, I forgot all about vacuuming.

    After Monday the countdown clock began ticking toward Friday.  Last night at 6:30, a steady stream of friends began showing up, and the last family pulled away a little after 10.  Swimmer girl and middle son took advantage of the still-flaming bonfire to make a few more S’mores while I tidied up and Mr. Official helped Little Dog and Big Dog do their business for the night.  (We have a weekend guest in the form of 35 pounds of energy and fur, also known as Sadie-the-grandpuppy.)

    Where was I?  Oh yes,loose ends.

    Although much of the week was spent on other things, I did tie up a few loose ends.

    For starters, I moved a gob of plants from old house to new house last weekend – all my Louisiana irises, variegated Irises, Japanese purple irises, and several hostas.  To even things out, I shovel-pruned two clematis in the new house’s beds. I like clematis as much as anybody, but you gotta know your varieties, and “sweet autumn” clematis is NOT a dainty little vine to plant in your formal garden beds. It’s a thug. A sweet smelling thug, but a thug. They were smothering the roses on either side of them, so in the final analysis, it was the clematis that had to go.  Their departure left room for one of my birdbaths.

    The deck rails and spindles are now  all stained.  They could use a second coat, but even if they don’t get it for a few months, they are sealed and ready to withstand the summer sun beating down on them. So we went from this:

    to this:

     and this:

    I also hung curtains in the two upstairs bedrooms. Fortunately, hanging them did NOT involve a rodent-sighting.

    And I hung some pictures in our master bathroom and painted over my drywall repair job. The entire bathroom needs a painting – but at least it doesn’t have white spots here and there until I can completely tie up that loose end.  So that one is only half-tied.

    I made a list of all known loose ends and wound up with two dozen projects, big and small.  All I can say is it’s going to be a very busy summer.

    Happy tying!

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    ‘Tis the season

    No, not THAT season. Not yet. (But I did find myself with the “We Need a Little Christmas” tune stuck in my head as I was moving Christmas decorations from old house to new house.)

    No, this marks the beginning of a new season of….

    Hospitality (hos-pi-tal-i-tee)
    1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.
    2.the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

    Arguably, hospitality is always in season, but I put dinner parties and other social events on the backburner as we house hunted and moved our belongings.  After a long dry spell, it’s time to start opening our doors to friends and neighbors and family once again.

    Over the next few weeks, I’ve lined up Bunco night for the girls, and come-and-go housewarming parties for two big groups of friends and family. Later in the summer, I’m having our Secret Sisters group over for a brunch.  Before summer slips away, I may be able to squeeze in a few other shindigs here as well. 

    Mr. Official’s man-cave is starting to look like a prime spot for race- and game-day gatherings this fall and next winter.

    We’re down to host a devo in November – which will be here before we know it.  Hopefully by then we’ll have broken in this place properly with lots of gatherings, both big and small, because hospitality shouldn’t be limited to one particular time of year.

    Happy host- and hostess-ing!

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    What Really Happens on Bye Weeks

    The Vols finally had a Saturday off, so that meant ours was a focused, productive weekend, working around the house. Bright and early Saturday morning, Mr. Official and I ran several errands and then got down on hands and knees for some yard work – nothing like pulling crabgrass shoulder-to-shoulder with your spouse to bring you closer (if you’re familiar with Love & Respect, that one should ring a bell.) Then we parted ways – he headed to Lebanon to close his mama’s pool for the season, and I and my crockpot headed to a charity chili cook-off.

    Sunday afternoon was dedicated to readying the house for the 2HYMs monthly devotional.  Success:  they came, they grazed on pizza and cookies, they precariously juggled lit candles as part of an exercise…and by 9:30 they had all disbanded, leaving our house reasonably intact.

    But it was definitely not a “bye” weekend for me.  And now it’s Monday, again.  In addition to real work, today’s schedule includes a dental check-up, pilates, whipping up some no-bake cookies and packing them to send to a special young lady, post office, then picking up our swimmer from practice and heading home for dinner.  Hopefully we’ll eat before the Titans kick off at 7:30 tonight.

    Maybe Tuesday will be my “bye week” day.  Hey, a girl can hope, can’t she?

    Happy Monday!

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    I should preface this by saying I think I’m a fairly typical housekeeper…there’s a little clutter that accumulates, but the house is reasonably clean underneath the daily stuff.  But when I throw a party, my otherwise latent OCD tendencies kick into high gear and I feel compelled to do things like arrange my socks by color, artfully organize the pantry contents, or repaint the laundry room or garage.  You know, things that are highly unlikely to be seen–let alone appreciated–by guests.

    A party is also a good impetus for thoroughly cleaning and organizing anything that’s been bugging me. Rarely do I just stow something away unsorted, and for the record, I can say I have NEVER been tempted to use my oven, clothes dryer or dishwasher as temporary storage.  (I know a lot of people who confess to having done that, so if you’re one of them and you were smirking at my OCD-ness, just remember we all have our little quirks.)

    And sometimes it’s a good excuse to “spruce things up a bit,” like my last-minute notion to  display my great-grandmother’s vintage aprons.

    I guess it’s fair to say that my parties tend to come with a bit of self-imposed stress.   But I love entertaining, so it’s the price I’m willing to pay. So what is my favorite part of throwing a party?

    Well, it’s not tidying up, although a looming red-letter day on the calendar does tend to get me in the cleaning spirit.

    The cooking is fun (but it also makes another mess AND there is the risk of a “dud”), so it’s really not my favorite thing about entertaining either.

    Having a great time with our guests?  That’s certainly a high point.

    But my very favorite part of having a party?  Don’t tell the guests, but sometimes it’s the after-the-party.  We don’t throw “swing from the chandelier with a lampshade on your head” type parties, so cleanup is usually a breeze – pop a few serving pieces in the dishwasher, toss or refrigerate any leftovers, and take out a bag of trash, and it’s done.

    After the guests are gone, the house looks great, my little clutter piles have been dealt with, my decor has been snapped into focus, and some area of our house might even sport a new paint job.  I can kick back, smile, and enjoy the memories of a fun time with family or friends, and not have to worry about mopping or organizing my closet, at least for a few days.

    Today’s Secret Sister brunch was wonderful – I am blessed to have so many caring and fun Christian women in my life.  And judging from the food we enjoyed today, our 2010 cookbook is going to be chock-full of extra-yummy brunch recipes.

    Next weekend, we just might get to see some old, err longtime friends from Oklahoma who are coming through.  Wonder what I might accomplish before they arrive?

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