Saturday, July 4, 2015

Special Occasion Entertaining

(OR Ignore TV Stereotypes—Holidays Are Fun!)

First off, let me take a second to appreciate the coincidence that today's post ended up falling on the 4th of July. Definitely not intentional, but humorous, nonetheless. Happy 4th, friends!

And moving on...

I wonder how many hopeful homemakers have been undone through the years by a failed Thanksgiving lunch or disastrous Christmas dinner? Or how many haven't even tried because the mounting stress seemed ultimately doomed to failure?

We all know the scene...
source / source
Not only do we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves during these events, but we also have the media to constantly bombard us with a reminder that we should be overwhelmed (and if you aren't, you probably aren't prepared enough, right?). From awkward local news anchors to celebrity chefs, every few months media personalities whip up a bowl of holiday horror stories and corner-cutting tricks, then smother it with "the holidays will be terrible if you don't do it our way" gravy. Grab a spoon and enjoy the taste of ultimate failure, chaos, and family dissension. What a load of rubbish!

Let's banish the holiday hosting fears and think about some real strategies for making holidays fun again!:

#1 - Remember why we celebrate! Whether it's a Christmas dinner, July 4th BBQ, or an Arbor Day brunch, 
       enjoy the time with the people you love. We are blessed to have so many reasons to celebrate!

#2 - Plan ahead. Think through what kind of event you want it to be...Elegant & formal? Super casual? Themed? 
       Potluck? Thinking big picture in advance helps reduce unnecessary stress and expectations from the get go. 
       Plus, now is the time to think outside the box for unexpected holiday themes, food, and traditions!

#3 - Build the menu. Whether the food will be served on doily-lined china or spread out on a picnic blanket, 
       knowing the menu is half the battle. What do you really want to serve? Note: Not the same question as "What 
       do I have to serve on (insert holiday)?"  The secret is, there are no rules! (My family has a longstanding 
       tradition of Red Lobster on Christmas Eve...random but we love it!)

#4 - Break it down. Make notes of which food items can be made furthest in advance, the next to last, then last. 
       Keep last-minute work to a minimum so you can enjoy the party too!

#5 - Simplify serving. Buffets and self-serve table spreads are a great option (will you need food tags?), but many 
       people also enjoy the comfort and intimacy of eating family style. 

#6 - Decorate & Tidy Up. Whether you go traditional or boldly in the other direction, embrace simple decorations
       to reflect the style and tone of the event. In the past, people spent lots of effort making elaborate table settings,
       but today, Pinterest is full of simple ideas for using inexpensive and natural elements to decorate. And of 
       course, tidying up the house a bit is a good idea too.

#7 - No Matter What, Have Fun! If dessert falls apart, take a deep breath and think of alternatives (fresh fruit is a
       great after-dinner option). Power goes out? An opportunity for a candlelit evening!


Hosting responsibility alternatives:

If attempting a special occasion event still seems daunting (which is totally okay), think progressively. As in a progressive meal...being one stop in a co-hosted evening helps reduce your responsibility and is a fun way for everyone to participate. Potlucks are great for the same reason and people love sharing their favorite dishes. If you're ready to own the evening yourself, still accept help when it's offered or ask for it when it's needed.

And lastly, but definitely most importantly: 
No "thing" matters more than people. It might be hard to keep this fresh in your mind when a child accidentally breaks your favorite vase or a friend spills wine on your new white tablecloth, but it's essential to remember for enjoying holiday events. No one item in our homes (regardless of how fancy) has more value than a person, or that person feeling loved. And certainly not guilt-ridden or ashamed because of an accident. 

People matter most, which makes flawless table decor and a gourmet meal seem pretty secondary. When that's true, holiday hosting sounds pretty fun, right?!

Enjoy the fireworks and come by next week for fun ideas of how to make non-special-event hosting more special with a little creative thinking!



This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Marriage: The Conversation We Should Be Having

Like everyone else in the country this week, my social media networks have been blowing up with reactions, both positive and negative, to the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. There have been more than enough opinions shared on the matter. However, I think in light of these conversations, we are also in danger of overlooking an extremely important aspect of the marriage dialogue...the trivialization of marriage as a whole.

Please understand me clearly, I am in no way stating that the SC's decision is contributing to this devaluing. Frankly, I think the ruling was long overdue in a country so determined on freedom and giving its citizens equal rights, and I am very happy for the numerous friends who have found love, support, and hope in the decision. 
The real perpetrators? Society. And the church. (Please, don't stop reading just yet.)

Addressing the first, it is clear that as a nation we have made marriage into a game of sport and entertainment. Whether from the perspective of reality tv shows or from the reinforced negative stereotypes of the institution in popular sitcoms, no matter where you look, marriage is a joke. By and large, the even louder message streaming across the airwaves is that the marriage itself is secondary to the wedding.

A dizzying array of superficiality...all focused on the party, not the lifelong commitment.
And if that wasn't enough to make your head spin, how about the fact that the average couple in the US spends between $20,000 and $33,000 on the wedding day alone. What are we doing, people?!

And after you're back from that fabulous honeymoon, don't expect the media to suddenly encourage your new life. Women in particular will be assaulted by a barrage of useless television husbands, the wives typically portrayed as exhausted and defeated or as master manipulators tricking their husbands into getting what they want. Any media-based role models coming to mind yet?

When did we, as a society, decide to make the wedding day a collective orgy of expense and superficiality? 
When did we decide to strip men of their intelligence and value in the home? 

Which leads me to the second purveyor of marriage devaluation...the church. Keep in mind that Strider and I are both Christians and believe firmly that Christ is the true foundation of our marriage covenant. Naturally, I recognize that there are many other couples, married or otherwise, who do not feel this way. But there is a huge issue of, dare I say, tolerance, in the church in regards to marriage. And I'm not talking about accepting our new legal equality. I'm talking about inside the church itself

When Strider and I got engaged, we longed for spiritual support and challenges to us as we moved towards making our marriage covenant together. Honestly, we both felt like church fell short in its duties. During our 8 month engagement, I couldn't tell you the number of times someone asked us about our plans regarding the trivial details of the wedding day (flowers, dresses, colors, etc.). The number of times someone asked us about pre-marital counseling, even close friends/mentors in the church? I could count them on one hand.

What does that say about us? That even inside the church, we would rather focus on the superficial than the spiritual? That we hesitate to challenge each other during one of the most fundamentally life-changing moments of our journey? And that later in our marriages, we are reticent to be honest about shortcomings and struggles? Even with our brothers and sisters in the church, transparency and authenticity can be difficult to display and hard to come by. Clearly, something is off track.

What if instead of expending energy to shout negative views about our country's new marriage laws, we looked inward and challenged our youth to consider their vows more seriously? Or if more of us took on the role of active mentors to our engaged couples?

What if instead of turning up our noses at what our fallible human minds might perceive as right or wrong, we look at our own hearts and ask Christ to bless those couple pursuing Him together, regardless of gender?

What if we stop focusing on others' choices and instead, delve into a celebration of our own spouse and a renewal of our own covenants? Or a renewal of authenticity with our church family?

What if instead of continuing to push a huge population of our world even further from Christians who have persecuted them as assuredly as the Christians themselves were persecuted in the ancient world, we embraced them and shared in their joy? Or in the blessing that their children will now have the opportunity to grow in a home with two loving parents who both have rights? 

What if we take this historic opportunity to call ourselves out as not being the examples of Christ or of Christ-centered marriages that we should be, instead of as a chance to throw stones?


There is a lot of beauty and love pouring out from certain corners of the Christian church in response to this national shift, and for that, I am joyous. From other areas, my heart breaks to see us continue to widen the divisions inside the church as well as the chasm that sometimes exists between the church and the rest of the world. A world full of people, which we need not be reminded, were created by and bought with love by the same God.

That being said...I am first in line. I want to be challenged to love my husband more each day, to set an example of marriage for younger believers, regardless of with whom they choose to spend their life. I want the church, as our family of faith, to keep tabs on our marriage, to call us out when we falter. And most of all, I would hope Christ continues to teach me how to love better, to encourage more, and to serve in new ways. 
And those are the conversations really worth having.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Weekend Visits

OR Easier Than Not Dropping Your Hardboiled Egg Baby


source
Did your school use eggs to teach adolescent responsibility? I mean, who wouldn't love to carry an egg around for weeks, fervently protecting it while knowing with horror that your grade depends on a crack-free shell? Riiiiigght.

As stressful and difficult as that experience may have been for some, and as silly as the whole project seems now from a more (debatably) grown-up perspective, do you ever feel a hint of the same panic when having guests to stay for the weekend, or longer? ---> What will I feed them? What is there fun to do? I'm so boring!!

Never fear! Just as hosting dinner was easier than imagined, the same is true of entended hostessing.

As always, the key is in the planning. Start with an organizing helper like this free Overnight Visitors printable: (click image to download)
Now, whether you store these in a Home Management Binder or just jot it down on scrap paper for a single visit, it's still be helpful. You may ask why bother writing it down if you know your friends well enough to know all this stuff...but what about a significant other or a child? Point is - it's helpful to have, just in case!

- Date of Visit: Obviously, to help you remember when and how long guests are staying.
- Allergies: Though primarily important for food prep, other allergies such as pets or certain smells can also 
  be helpful to remember for future visits.
- Interests: Keeping a few notes of guests interests can help you to have fun topics to discuss as well as local 
  activities to keep an ear out for.
- Dislikes: Though not as essential to know as food allergies, dislikes can also be helpful to know in advance. 
  Non-preferred pastimes are also a handy to know when thinking through pre-planned activities.
- U.N.C. Topics: (Under No Circumstances) Speaks for itself - things that should just never be brought up.
- Special Notes: Anything you think might be worth remembering.
- Visit ideas: Now this is a fun one! Considering what you know about your guests, take some time to think 
  through activities or places of interest with which to fill your visit.
Note About Activities: Although having at least one pre-planned activity is a good idea, it's no fun to have a schedule too full to just enjoy time relaxing together. I recommend signing up for your community newsletter so you have the resources to know what is going on. Consider making a short list of available activities and ask your guests which ones sound fun to them!

Once you have a timeline for the visit as well as your handy guest preference notes and list of possible attractions/activities, you're halfway done. Next, loosely sketch out each day, penciling in your food plan and approximate timetable (including potential activities). For example:

Check to make sure your guest room is ready for visitors, hit up the grocery store for your planned meals as well as a few on-hand snacks, then sit back and enjoy time with the people you love. 

See, wasn't that waaayyy easier than keeping an egg from cracking in your backpack? And hopefully your loving guests will be a bit less delicate and more flexible than the egg too!

In the end, remember:

Feeling more confident with the idea of entertaining at home? I hope so!
Friends are one thing...now what about the big holidays where even the best hostesses' nerves are stretched to breaking point? Do they even need to be?...Check back next week for some fun holiday & special occasion entertaining tips!


This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Guest Room & Guesting Elsewhere

(OR Being Nice At Home & Other Places)

We all know the scenario...you've enjoyed a wonderful meal with friends, maybe played a few games, shared a tasty dessert, and then realized it was time to turn it. You help your friends with their coats and stand in the doorway waving goodbye as they back out of the driveway. Usually the moment the door is closed something to the effect of "That was really fun, but I'm beat!" is uttered. So...what about when guests are there to stay? It’s another thing entirely to say good-night as they settle in to the guest room. 

During college, it was nothing for friends to crash on the couch without a second thought. However...those of us beyond our dorm days may feel compelled to provide a bit more during overnight visits. In addition to the general entertaining ideas we looked at last week, setting up a welcoming guest room is a great way to make visitors feel comfortable when away from home, even for just one night.

Whether you have a fully dedicated “guest bedroom” or are more like us with a “guest-slash-craft-slash-multi-purpose” room, here are a few tips for making friends feel comfy:

- Back to Basics: Even the best couches aren't really for sleeping (pull out models aside). Providing an actual bed 
  with sheets and a few different pillows is a good step. A trash can, extra blankets, mirror, and bedside lamp are 
  nice too. **Tip: have one firm and one soft pillow available to accommodate various sleeper preferences.**
Gorgeous and so peaceful looking, plus it maximizes style in a minimal number of accents. source 

- Extras are Nice: Though not essential, an alarm clock, luggage rack, chair, box of tissues, and nightlight are 
  thoughtful additions. Another huge one for us both at home and elsewhere is a fan, either ceiling-mounted, floor, 
  or tabletop. It seems lots of people share this nighttime need so it's good to always make it available.

- Gettin' Fancy: To go a step further, the following are extra special touches many guests will appreciate and are 
  often even surprised by: 
          a few interesting books / bottled water or a carafe and clean glass / a few snacks / fresh flowers / 
          a nice candle / a small basket of extra travel-size toiletries / a notecard with the wifi password
          Note: I also try to put out a set of fresh towels beforehand so they don’t have to look around or 
          ask when they’re ready to shower.
To see an even more detailed list of guest room goodies, check out this post over at First Home Love Life.

The level of preparedness may depend on the length of your guests stay, but regardless, having a well-prepped guest room makes any visit much more enjoyable and guests feel welcome. 

I've also found that keeping a guest room from being overly cluttered is usually appreciated. Though it is fun to display collections/collectibles, in more elaborately decorated homes, I'm always nervous about preserving the decor or accidentally bumping into a heavily laden surface. As usual, sweet and simple is best.

**More tips on making guests comfortable without a guest room can be found in at Apartment Therapy.**


As much as you would want someone to enjoy their time in your home and be respectful of your household rules and routines, naturally, it should go without saying to show the same to friends when you are the guest. Here are a couple ideas to make for a nice houseguest when visiting elsewhere:

- Don’t leave belongings strewn all over the guest room or bathroom, especially on the floor.
- Ask for what you need instead of hunting around for it; your host may feel uncomfortable having the closets or 
  cabinets seen by guests.
- Make up the bed before you leave—it’s a classically nice gesture.
- Offer to help with dinner, dishes, or errands. Even if you host declines, he/she will appreciate your willingness.
- Thank your host in person and again later either by phone, email, or card. This may be a bit old school Miss 
  Manners these days, but its rarity makes it all the more special. Personally, I like to bring a pretty, blank card 
  with me when staying somewhere for the weekend or longer so that I can leave a thoughtful note of appreciation 
  on the (made) bed or nightstand upon leaving.
source


Now you've mastered the casual dinner party or movie night and the guest room is ready to receive travelers...so how can you put it all together and manage a weekend visit (or longer!)? 
Check back next week for more fun ideas and homemaking tips!

Thanks for reading!


This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Starting Small with Home Entertaining

(OR Realizing Your Friends Aren’t So Scary After All)

Today’s post starts off part four of the Modern Simple Homemaking series: Hospitality & Entertaining. *gulp* No biggie, right? It’s not like inviting people over and feeding/entertaining them is a multi-million dollar industry with poster-women so adept they would hardly be fazed by a surprise visit from international dignitaries? Oh wait....
martha / ina / nigella
Don’t get me wrong, throwing a fabulous turn-of-the-century garden party may flirt at the edges of my entertaining dreams (during which Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and myself will become absolute besties, naturally). BUT THE TRUTH IS...grandiose events whose main focus is on table decor and canap├ęs, well, they miss the heart of what hospitality and entertaining are really all about, which, as with so many areas of our homes, is really...love.

You may not have silver platters or cut-crystal vases, but I bet you have some chairs. Chairs and people are really all it takes to be a great entertainer. Note: Food certainly doesn’t hurt either!

Okay, now that we’ve banished the tv-star-inferiority-complex, it’s time to have some fun! And maybe, you'll realize that inviting friends over isn't so scary or overwhelming after all!

A few general tid-bits to remember:
- Clean Up: A tidy (not spotless) home is welcoming and helps you feel more confident when opening your door.
- Use Your Noggin: Think through your “event” in advance and get a concept together, no matter how simple. 
  Special event? Is there a theme? Vegetarian friends coming? Food allergies?
- Be Realistic: Consider your space, time, and skills. Don’t plan food too elaborate to prepare or invite more 
  people than can fit in your living room. Even basic planning will save a lot of stress later.
- Be Real: Don’t overly apologize for clutter or not-quite-finished projects—it makes guests uncomfortable. Plus, it’s 
  not a secret that actual humans live in your home!
- Be Relaxed: The hostess sets the tone for the environment, not the state of the house. If you are comfortable, so 
  will your guests be.
source
- Golden Rule: Welcome guests and treat them the way you’d want to be treated.
- Flex & Stretch: Flexibility and adaptability are key. If things go awry or plans change at the last minute, take a 
  deep breath, and go with it. Meals can fall apart, drinks can spill, guests bring unexpected friends. Remember...
  it’s about love and friendship, not seating charts.
- Keep It Simple: Some of the most beautiful touches are the simplest ones.
source
- Accept Help: Don’t shy away from letting your family chip in if they offer. If a guest wants to contribute, suggest 
  they light candles, toss the salad, or take drink orders. (They love you too, ya know!)
- Lead Sensational Conversation: No one likes awkward silence, so brush up on current events or jot down some 
  ideas for interesting topics. Ideas include: geography, entertainment, nature, work, family, fun memories, or 
  even random, silly questions. 

Lastly, don’t forget that the first people you usually invite (family, friends, coworkers, etc.) already know you (at least a little bit). These are people who like you alreadythey’ll be happy just to be asked to spend time in your home! Not so scary, really.

Fun story time: Not long ago, I invited a group of girls over for snacks and casual hanging out. Although I was a bit nervous, I was really looking forward to it. I set out cheese and crackers, fresh fruit and dip, pretzels, and a homemade chocolate pie (my one hostessing splurge). Strider and I also spent some time that day writing down silly questions to put in a bowl as conversation starters. Of course, everyone was relaxed and had no trouble snacking and talking the hours away, but a bit of planning made me feel more confident going into it. And the bowl questions? Well, the ladies said it was crazy but we answered them anyways and had a great time. Not fancy but definitely fun!

Starting to plan a simple event like this, ask yourself:
- How many people/whom will I invite?
- What’s the purpose: a meal, conversation, a movie/sports game, board games, etc?
- Based on those two questions, what food/drinks will I serve?
- What will I need to pull it all together? (Groceries, movie rental, borrowing games, extra chairs)
Tip: If you’re worried about cooking a whole meal, try doing a potluck or progressive meal instead!

Make a list and make it happen! Easy peasy, or at least maybe more so than you thought.


Last personal note: I once read an article about how the extra planning and detail put into a gathering can be a reflection of love for the guests, rather than a desire to impress or seek compliments. Not that a quickly thrown-together pizza night means dislike, but that when something special is planned, the extra mile details demonstrate that the host values guests enough to put forth the extra effort. This idea really resonates with me and is usually reflected in silly touches like handwritten food labels or coordinating napkins. So, the next time someone goes “above & beyond” in planning a meal or setting the table, consider that maybe they’re less interested in hostessing praise than wanting you to feel really loved! 





This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Giveaway #2 Winner

Congratulations to the winner of the 
Modern Simple Homemaking series Giveaway #2:


If you haven't yet, definitely check out her blog asap 
(great posts plus tons of adorable pics of their little man).

And don't worry if you missed your chance to win, there are still more giveaways 
to come before the series wraps up. Thanks for reading, friends!

Check back later this week for part four of the series: Hospitality & Entertaining.

Happy blogging!



Friday, June 5, 2015

MSH series: Giveaway #2

Hey there, friends, and happy Friday!

In celebration of the weekend (TGIF, right?), completing the housekeeping portion of the MSH series, and 
because I just really really like giving gifts to friends, I have another fun giveaway for you today!

Without additional dithering, on to the good stuff! Today's giveaway includes:

Real Simple Solutions by the editors of Real Simple Magazine
- How To Sew A Button: And Other Handy Things Your Grandmother Knew by Erin Bried
Housekeeping Secrets My Mother Never Taught Me by Joni Hilton (great tips!)
- An upcycled, hand-decorated "Clean & Tidy" cleaning apron
- A pack of cute sticky notes and pens, plus a fun set of notecards for inviting over friends 
(cough cough...and segue into our next segment on entertaining!)

Simply leave a comment below before 11 pm 
on Sunday, June 7, for your chance to win! 

The winner will be randomly selected and announced on Monday. 
Just my way to say thanks so much for reading!




This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.