Friday, May 27, 2011
Hospitality on the Road
For some people, circumstances do not allow them to open up their home to others. Maybe they live in an efficiency apartment where there really isn't enough space to have people over, or perhaps their kitchen is being remodeled and everything is in disarray. There was a period in my life when we had a sick relative living with us and we really couldn't have company over; it would have been too disruptive.
But even if we can't use our home, we can still be hospitable. Remember the broader definition of hospitality. It is a lot more than just entertaining, having a perfectly-kept “showcase” home and fixing gourmet meals. True hospitality is a matter of extending yourself to others, and making them feel welcome, comfortable and appreciated. You can do this, even when you're not at home.
Exactly how can this be achieved? There's no end to the ideas you might be able to come up with on your own. Here are a few of my suggestions, just to get you started:
1. Organize an informal potluck with some of your fellow employees at work. When I used to work in an office environment, I did this a lot. We had picnic tables outside our office building that we could eat at, as well as tables indoors in the "break room." We could use either. Often I organized taco salad potlucks. I made the taco-seasoned meat, and guests brought all the other fixins like shredded lettuce and tomatoes, guacamole, shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, sliced black olives, salsa, sour cream, black beans, tortilla chips, etc. If you didn't want to organize a whole meal, you could have your coworkers all bring their own sack lunches, and then you could provide a dessert of some kind to share with everyone.
2. Invite friends to a picnic or cookout in the park. We have some friends who are very good about reserving picnic tables and a grill a local community recreation areas and parks, and cooking steaks for everyone. Sometimes they have guests bring side dishes, but more often than not they provide that too. They really make us feel special!
3. Pack a picnic basket with lunch for two, include plastic eating utensils, plates and cups, and take it to the home of a shut-in or elderly friend. Set the meal up at that person's home, and eat together. Years ago, when I had a full-time office job, a friend and I used to set aside a couple lunch hours a month to do this. We'd decide what foods we were each bringing, call ahead to see who would like a visit, and then the day of the lunch, have our picnic basket ready to go during the noon hour. By the time we drove to wherever we were going, we often only had 30-40 minutes to have lunch with the shut-in, but usually it was just the right amount of time. Oftentimes, the elderly people we visited only felt well enough for short visits. But they were good visits. Besides putting together a nice meal (we tried to serve foods they wouldn't get on community "meals on wheels" programs), we tried to get some good conversations going with the people we visited--asking them how they were doing, to tell us about their lives, etc.
4. Do you know someone who's recently had a baby, surgery, a serious illness in the family? Do you have friends who have just moved to a new home, or new neighbors who have moved in? If so, bring them dinner one night! There are plenty easy and portable meals you can bring to others. Lasagna and other casseroles are always good choices, because you can make these entrees ahead of time, and bring them to the recipients who can bake them at their convenience. It's nice if you can accompany this with a tossed salad--something healthy, that's can be very time-consuming, and much appreciated when faced with time constraints.
5. Send a care package to a college student, or long-distance friend or relative who might need the encouragement. You could fill the care package with home-baked cookies (bar and drop cookies especially travel well). If you do, choose a 1- or 2-day expressing mailing service, so that the cookies arrive when they're still fresh. You could also send a theme care package. For instance, some microwave popcorn, movie theatre candies like Junior Mints, and a couple movie DVDs or movie rental gift cards as a portable "movie night" care package. This might be especially appreciated by college students. A female relative or friend might enjoy a portable "tea party" care package. This would include a couple scone mixes, some lemon curd, a box of fancy shortbread cookies from the store, and a couple boxes of tea (maybe English Breakfast and an herb tea).
6. Next time you have an appointment at your dentist, doctor, veterinarian or hairdresser, take along a tray of homemade cookies for the office staff, with an attached note thanking them for their service. A tray of baked goodies would also be appreciated by the teachers and administrator's at your child's school.
7. When you are invited to someone's home for dinner, bring a hostess gift with you, just to say "thanks" and show your appreciation for the hospitality you've been extended. It could be a bouquet of flowers, a houseplant from your local nursery (with a big bow tied around the pot), a gift bag with some body lotion and bubble bath in it (especially if you know the hostess's favorite scents), or perhaps a homemade craft that you make. I make homemade bath soaps, and will often bring a gift bag with a few varieties of those in it when we're invited to people's homes.
8. Get on the social committee for your church or Parent-Teacher Organization/Association. Volunteer to organize an activity or help with one. There's almost always something planned that these groups could use help with, such as potlucks. dinners, luncheons, pancake breakfasts, costume parties and other socials. This can be a great way to channel your event planning talents, without having to spend your own money (usually you're given a budget to work with) or get your house company-ready. In the past, I have organized bunco parties for my kids' schools (which were sponsored by the PTO) and church youth groups. This kind of help was always appreciated, and they were fun activities for me to organize.
9. Do you have kids in baseball or other community sports? If so, bring some snacks to share with the team and fellow parent-spectators. It could be anything from a tray of homemade cookies and some jugs of soda, to several bags of chips and popcorn or a cooler filled with ice cream sandwiches.
10. After a meal at someone's home, offer to help clean up. If you know the hostess well, start clearing the table on your own, rather than ask if she needs help. If you know your way around her kitchen, start loading up the dishwasher. If there's a lot of silverware, china and crystal that can't be put in the dishwasher, wash that by hand. This can be a very time-consuming chore, and your hosts will appreciate that you've done it for her. I know I am always grateful for this kind of help.
11. If there's a new couple attending your church, a couple moving away or expecting a baby, or are newly engaged or celebrating a silver or golden wedding anniversary, offer to host a party for them in their honor at your church's fellowship hall. Besides decorating the hall, this would probably involve ordering or baking a decorated cake, and arranging to have finger foods, punch or other beverages, plates, napkins and eating utensils for all the guests.
12. Bring a tray of home-baked goodies to your place of employment for your coworkers to enjoy. If you don't have time to bake, pick up a couple boxes of donuts on the way to work one morning and maybe a package of specialty coffee to brew for everyone. It's all hospitality, and all a fantastic way to give to others and make them feel special!