Friday, December 31, 2010

Overcoming Overhostessing 101

Yay! I think I have finally kicked an old habit: overhostessing!

What is it?
Overhostessing might not be a real word, but I'll bet you know what I mean by it. In the January issue of Victoria magazine, a bed & breakfast owner used and explained the word. It refers to putting too much effort into any aspect of welcoming/preparing for guests in a way that results in making someone (whether the guest or the hostess) uncomfortable.

As a word-loving person, I was vastly relieved to see this term in explained in print, and a little relieved that I must not be the only person who has experienced this.

Here's my problem:
I am guilty of being an overly fussy and formal hostess, making too many things overly fancy or creating an atmosphere that is so staged it ends up feeling less than hospitable. I will say, though, that it has only ever been with the very best of intentions!

Today I hostessed a morning playdate for some neighbors, and it went better than any visit I've ever had. This was the first time I'd had this family over; they have been so welcoming to us and had us over earlier this week. I really really really am excited about nurturing a potential friendship with this other mother - we seem to have so much in common, more than simply having daughters the same age, too. I wanted to begin to solidify our acquaintance a bit by opening our home to them and reciprocate their hospitality.

The difference this time, while not overhostessing:

What did I do differently? I still had a clean house, I still offered tea, I still offered a little snack of lovely Christmas cookies.
  • However, this time I made sure a few little things were askew so there was a comfortable lived-in-yet-squeaky-clean vibe.
  • Instead of having the teapot, etc., already laid out in formal tea-house style, I brought things out casually after we decided that tea would be a good idea.
  • And rather than giving in to my overhostessing tendencies and set out a gorgeous (and intimidating) mini dessert buffet of beautifully arranged cookies and candies, I served homemade cutout cookies from the storage tin and one other kind of cookie from a decorative plate.
  • Also, I made use of some pretty Christmas paper napkins instead of using our usual cloth napkins. For some reason that I do not understand, certain people respond with great discomfort to cloth napkins. I have even had guests become so uncomfortable once realizing that the napkins were cloth and not paper that they put the napkin down and only used their hand to catch crumbs from then on. (I find this an appalling shame, nevertheless, my goal in offering hospitality is to serve others and make them comfortable, not give them a course in etiquette).
I found that these small but significant differences made me feel more natural (even though naturally I am more formal than this!). Does anyone else have any similar experiences to this? I would love to read about how others have overcome or prevented overhostessing.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 17, 2010


Over at the lovely blog entitled The Pleasant Times, Mrs. Humphrey is hostessing a Snowflake Event. What a charming idea, and how very festive!

I have created a flurry of sugar cookie snowflakes and decorated our dining room wall sconce as my contribution to Snowflake Week.

Although I grew up in our grand nation's northeastern-most state of Maine, where winter seems to last for more than half the year, I still have yet to go on a sleigh ride. Suspending these faux snowflakes makes me think of this! In the coming years I will plot and plan and figure out how to make this happen - as we now live in the southwest where palm trees and sunshine reign, we will not be seeing any snow this winter.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Our First St. Nicholas Day

Hello everyone! How does your family handle St. Nicholas/Santa Claus? I am really curious about the different ways families within the church choose to handle this.

I myself grew up in a household where we simply didn't do Santa. Period. Christmas was Only About Jesus' Birthday, and my mother would exclaim how she couldn't understand all the parents who were "lying to their children about Santa!" Our family celebrated with a nativity play, hors d'oeuvres, dinner, gift giving, caroling around the piano and dessert on Christmas Eve night. The timing of this party was a family tradition passed down from my conservative Dutch immigrant great grandparents, who also did not do Santa. So there's no room for Santa with a schedule like that: if you are opening gifts the night before Christmas, there's no confusion about where these gifts came from. They came from your family. Ahem.

My husband, who comes from a different denomination within Protestant Christianity than my parents, had a different sort of Christmas than we did. They did Santa: their stockings were from him. And only little girls and boys who were asleep when Santa visited got the privilege of receiving gifts from him. My husband Jeff has fond and happy memories surrounding his anticipation of Santa's visit and the wonder of opening gifts from him.

When we got engaged back in 2007 and were doing marriage prep workbooks, really it was just Santa and one other minor theological point that caused us pause. Hm....can we find a middle ground on the role of Santa within our family's celebration of Christmas? or should we call off the wedding? Needless to say, we decided it was something we could somehow work out!

This is our first Advent/Yuletide season where our attitude/mention of St. Nick begins to matter, as our daughter is 19 months and absorbs our every word eagerly.

Ach, what's a mother to do?

In one of my favorite books, Mrs. Sharp's Traditions, the author comes close to addressing this issue in a constructive way. Here's what she says:

For parents who feel frustrated by the fact that Santa Claus's visit inevitably overshadows their religious observance of the birth of Christ, a visit from St Nicholas can help tremendously....a celebration of St. Nicholas Day can satisfy a deep desire in children to believe in a benevolent and generous gift giver who rewards the good.....Mrs. Sharp's children have been taught that it is St. Nicholas who inspires us to prepare our Christmas gifts for others. (Mrs. Sharp's Traditions p 232)

And she suggests that on December 6 the family celebrate St. Nicholas Day. In typical Mrs. Sharp fashion she has a rather elaborate plan for what that might look like, involving setting out carrots or hay for his horses the night before. The morning of Dec. 6 the children find Christmassy goodies, chocolate gold coins and "one longed-for gift from each child's wish list"(232).

I like this idea, yet it leaves me with some misgivings, too, because once again it seems like a parent would be, as my mother would put it "lying to their children!" I pause. I mull this over and see how I can work with this general celebratory plan and yet replace the lies with truths and fun.

As our Elena is only 19 months old I wanted to
-establish a nice little tradition for December 6 of each Advent season
-keep things Simple
-honor God and tell the truth
-introduce St. Nicholas as a person who loved God.

So, feeling excited and very much like a Mommy-Christmas-Elf-with-a-Plan, I bought and wrapped gifts for each of us and put them in a Jolly St. Nick gift bag which I whisked out after our scripture reading at the end of dinner. And all I said was something like:

"This is St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas was a person who loved God. Maybe he looked like this (I pointed to the portly fellow in red on the bag). Here are gifts for us!"

How's that for simple? Ha ha! I just had to skip over any kind of insinuation that the gifts were from St. Nicholas, because that does not sit well with me.

We all opened our simple festive gifts - we each got a nutcracker! Even my dear husband Jeffrey was pleased with his. Little Elena held hers and waved at it, saying "Hi. Hi." over and over. When Jeff moved the lever thing to make it look like the nutcracker was talking to her she was really impressed!

And Elena also received a sheet of window decals of a nativity scene, just to keep the focus where it should be, you know?

Phew. So that was our very first St. Nicholas Day, and I hope that over the years I'll grow more comfortable with some sort of fun plan to make it even more interesting than that.

Please, does anyone have any ideas on how to deal with the whole Santa issue in a positive way, even if it is on a day that is not Christmas? I am eager to hear of different ways to do this.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Unexpected answer to prayer

We know, of course, that our Father in Heaven always answers prayer in one way or another, eventually. So I knew that an answer would come. I just didn't expect things to play out quite like this:

One night about a month ago in my evening prayers I asked that God would please guide and direct my husband and I to a good obstetrician and a ritzy, natural-childbirth friendly hospital. We are brand new to the area, so we needed to find these two important things. Are you with me? Hang on!

The very next morning at 5, I woke up with a terrible pain in my upper back, and then began having great difficulty breathing. It was unlike anything I'd ever been through. My husband took me to the emergency room of a large hospital nearby and I was seen nearly right away - they don't keep pregnant ladies who are having trouble breathing waiting, hallelujah!

Within 2 hours they diagnosed me with pneumonia, gave me medication that helped me breathe and made the pain lessen greatly, and told me that I'd need to stay there in the maternity ward for a while. How very shocking all of this was to me; I'm living in the warm American southwest, am typically in the pink of health, and hadn't even had a cold or anything before this. Meanwhile, all the nurses, doctors and staff were incredibly nurturing and professional.

My accomodations were in a private birthing suite which included a nice bathroom and a great view of the city! Not that views are that important, but wow. My daughter and husband were able to stay with me at any time, and the nurses were wonderful to them, too. Jeff and I joked that I was really getting quite a full tour of this place.

Earlier in the week I'd called about scheduling a tour of the hospital's maternity ward - I like to see a place before I give birth there, ha ha - and they were actually booked until January 15. No kidding. So I was thinking that this hospital was probably just going to be eliminated from my list, because I needed to choose a doctor before them. But, then all this happened and I got my own private tour anyway!

The first day of my stay I was really in rough shape, and I was incredibly relieved to have a staff looking after me. I could hardly hobble across the room, and needed help wheeling my IV stand, and help opening and closing the bathroom door: it was like getting a taste of what a feeble elderly person must go through daily. All throughout that day, though, the nurses and doctors were like angels of mercy. I thought of our role as homemakers and how we are called upon to do all sorts of things within the home, sometimes serving as helpers to the ill.

Pneumonia calls for even more than (most) homemakers can offer, though. So I was really grateful for the care I was given at that lovely, shiny, ritzy, clean hospital.

And toward the end of my stay there I was able to sort of interview two of the nurses I'd gotten to know. I asked them all my questions about what it is like to labor there, and I really liked the answers they gave! One of the nurses also recommended a good OB practice (she called them "the sweetest men in the world" - - how's that for a glowing review?).

So, the end of the story is that I'm all better now, and that my husband and I were adequately impressed by that hospital and I'll be giving birth there in March. And we really like my new OB. (Now that I am giving birth for a second time I'm much more comfortable asking questions and getting on the same page as my doctor, which is a big relief. I have no idea why I was so shy with my questions when I was pregnant with Elena, I'm not usually shy.)

Yay! God cares about the details of our lives, and is so faithful with providing for our needs.