The air smells of pumpkin spice and fermenting leaves. It’s mid-October, and today is our Canadian Thanksgiving.
I’m cooking bacon-wrapped chicken, the kind coated in parmesan cheese. I’ve cut up dozens of garden baby potatoes; sliced them, drizzled with olive oil, seasoning and small bits of bacon.
I’ve baked a row of homemade bread because my Mum used to do that too, and I can’t live without it, and they’re golden on the counter. I’ve got my apron wrapped around my swollen pregnant middle, and we’re expecting my in-laws and my husband’s grandmother for supper in an hour. A bottle of wine on the table, stuffing on the stove, and I look the part. I look like a hostess.
But looks can be deceiving and soon I’m on the couch, weary for all the effort.
Hostessing is exhausting for me, and don’t get me wrong – I love having people over. But I worry the whole time they’re here. I worry whether or not the temperature of the house is too hot or cold or the food is too spicy or the wine is too warm. I worry about dinnertime conversation and is it suitable? And does my house smell too much like Febreeze and is anyone allergic to air fresheners, and are the kids too noisy?
Hospitality is not a gift for me. It takes work. But perhaps, then, it’s more of a gift when it’s a product of sweat and tears?
In my eleven years of being married I’ve made a lot of blunders as a hostess, the biggest of which happened right before my wedding day. I said no to guests wanting to come at the last moment. That is, I said no to my mother-in-law, who wanted to invite them.
I said no, worried we wouldn’t have enough, instead of welcoming them in love trusting we could just find some food in the freezer if we had to. They weren’t coming for the food, after all. They were coming to witness us getting married.
But fear got in the way.
My mother-in-law has taught me, since then, what it means to truly serve. At her farm table, the coffee is always hot. Chairs are always full of visitors, and there’s always fresh baking, but people don’t come for a fancy display. They don’t come because the air smells like cinnamon. They come because of my mother-in-law’s laugh and her welcome hug and the chairs that appear out of nowhere because life is about finding one another around the table.
So here is what I’ve learned since that regretful day back in July of 2003 when the sun beat hot on my 23-year-old shoulder blades as I told my mother-in-law, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t make room for two more.” A decision I’ll regret forever.
1.Never say no out of fear, when you could say yes out of love.
There is always room for one more. It’s about pulling out another chair or putting cushions on the floor. It’s about adding one more mug to the table. All people need is a listening ear and a cup of coffee.
2.Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Maybe there’s a stain on your tablecloth, or the kids didn’t clean up their toys like they were supposed to. Instead of letting the stress of the small things get to you, choose to overlook the mistakes of your own home. Because truly, people will feel more comfortable in a home that feels real than a home that looks like it’s wearing high heels which hurt its arches.
3.Don’t be exhausted when the guests arrive.
Rest up beforehand, versus cleaning, if you have to. The greatest gift you can give your guests is the gift of genuine gratitude to see them. And this means, if you’re an introvert, finding a quiet space to nurture your soul before the rooms are full of loud laughter and small talk.
4.Sit down and visit with your guests, instead of puttering and fretting.
Your friends have come to see you. Let them see you then, and all of you — don’t have your mind on the pile of laundry waiting to be folded in the bathroom. Pour yourself a coffee, and relax around the table because this visit is as much for you as it is for them.
5. Don’t forget about your children, or treat your guests as more important.
Allow your toddler to climb into your lap as you visit, to have a piece of muffin. Let your kids know they are just as important as those who’ve dropped by, otherwise they’ll begin to dread when the guests come and Mommy turns all stressed and angry. Make hospitality a gift they delight in too.
Thanksgiving comes but once a year, but relationships are eternal. We’ll be spending heaven together, so let’s bring heaven to earth in the midst of the daily, in the here and now, around an old farm table and a pot of coffee.
Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.
Head over to Ulta for some hostess pampering!