HOW TO::be ready for guests at a moment's notice

>> July 5, 2010

A few months ago, I was whining to my parent educator (yes, I am lucky enough to have a parent educator at my beck and call) about the week I was having.

In typical ministry-family style, our week had been completely nutty. I'm sure we had been sick or traveling or one of the kids was acting up or we were all fighting or the car had crapped out, or some other disaster had occurred. You know the drill. Maybe all those things  had happened at once, which is just as likely, but I don't remember.
Anyway, I do remember that my next complaint was: “...And to top it all off, Craig just called and said the in-laws are coming for an overnight visit in TWO HOURS.  Can you believe it?!”

I was expecting to see her grimace and give a sympathetic, “Oh geez…” but instead Katy’s earth shattering reply was, “You’ve got this.”

“Huh?”  I said.  I just sort of stared at her while it sunk in.

 “Jenah, I bet you have 4 meals frozen in your freezer right now, your house is completely picked up, and the sheets for the air mattress are probably clean and folded in your linen closet.  Go home and bake a coffee cake and you’ll be set.”

It was at that moment that I realized that I've learned to be ready for stuff like this to happen faster than you can pop microwave popcorn. As a PW, I've worked really hard to get to the point where I can handle this sort of thing -- no sweat.  If 10 people need to be fed at the last minute, I’m good.  If we have someone who needs a bed to flop into for a night, no biggie.  (As long as they’re ok with the bed being more like a couch or an air mattress.)

I walked away from our conversation feeling empowered, calm, proud of myself, and thankful that Katy pointed out this particular strength. And glad that she had the guts to give me the proverbial smack that I needed.

So how did I get to this point of amazing Zen-like calmness akin to that of those rock gardens with the sand and the rake?  Two words: work and preparation. Really, it isn't too hard to be prepared. It is more like anticipating that something is going to happen (whether it does or not) and being ready for it.  So here are a few things that I do to have my home ready for any guest, at almost any moment:

have tons of meals frozen
I probably have at least 25 meals frozen at any given time, but of course that’s just me being ridiculously over-prepared. And that’s the way I like it. (And I’ll share more about that at a later date.) I do have a deep freeze, it was a Christmas gift (one of the best gifts ever) but you don’t have to have 8.8 cubic feet of sub-zero frozen space to have meals ready.  Before Vienne (our third) was born, I didn’t have a deep freeze.  But I had about 4 dozen home made bread rolls as well as 5 freezer meals frozen in my little fridge freezer.

It's easy to double a recipe, and I have this awesome book called “Fix, Freeze, Feast” that is full of recipes to make bunches of meals at a time. I usually just make one of these recipes a week and before I know it, I have a plethora of feasts to choose from.  Just add a leafy (locally grown) salad and some bread -- you’re all set!

find a good cleaning system and stick to it
One of the best days of my life was the day I found, a website with a downloadable schedule for cleaning and keeping your house tidy. It costs about $9 for a year. It will be the best $9 you spend this week (besides the grande frappuccino and People magazine)! The moms who started this were busy moms who hated spending 23 ½ hours a day keeping up with the housework. They wanted a system that got stuff done, but left time to enjoy other things, too.

This system is so awesome, I want to marry it. Just kidding -- sort of. It breaks up everything you need to do into little “jobs” that usually don’t take more than a few minutes to complete.  Each day has daily jobs and weekly jobs.  Daily jobs would be wiping out the bathrooms sinks or washing dishes.  Weeklies would be cleaning toilets or dusting the master bedroom.  The thing that I like best about this system (besides the fact that I get to check things off a list -- awesome!) is that you are always in a state of clean.  You don’t do all your cleaning on one day of the week, you do a little everyday.  And if you happen to miss a day, no biggie, because the jobs will come around again soon.  

If you keep up with the jobs for the most part, you won’t have that oh-no-they’re-gonna-see-my-HOUSE moment every time your husband decides to invite a new family over for lunch after church.

buy stuff
This may sound like the dumbest statement I’ve ever made, but bear with me. I can’t tell you how many times I have averted disaster with a box of brownie mix.  Every time they are on sale (meaning boxed cakes and brownies) I buy a bunch.  Like four or five.  Then I know I can whip up a cake or some of my famous brownies in a minute or two.  (If you tell me you don’t have the things to pull boxed brownies together at the last minute, you’ve got more problems than I can help with. My deepest condolences.) And they freeze nicely if you have leftovers.

Once again girls, a little forethought goes a long way.  I also take advantage of the huge packs of canned chicken, craisins, and cashews at Sam’s.  Oh yes, you DID just pull together some chicken salad in the time it took you to update your status on Facebook.  

between the sheets…
When you have guests that sleep over, take that bedding and wash it… RIGHT AWAY.  I don’t know how many times I have thought, Oh no biggie, I’ll just wash this stuff later….  and then totally forget about it. Until my husband calls and says we’re have guests in an hour- FOR THE NEXT THREE DAYS. This one little tip will save you much strife. You’re welcome.  
find something you’re good at whipping up, and make it your signature
...and always have the supplies on hand to make it. If I have two things I'm known for, they would probably be brownies with homemade chocolate frosting and my guacamole.  So you know what?  I almost always have the supplies to make these things at any given time.  (And NO, I am not telling you what the top-secret recipes are. Go get your own.)

People ask for them. People try to recreate them. And I have them in my hands as I welcome people into my kitchen.  My friend Sara’s signature dish is something called “fluff” (I think it has to do with Jell-O and Cool Whip, but I'm not sure). She likes to bring this to potlucks and I'm pretty sure she has about 38 boxes of Jell-O in her cupboard. It's her thing. I have another friend who makes something called “dump cake.”  Dinner at their house was not complete without a dump cake. 

The woman who made dump cake is a PW herself and I remember her telling me, “Jenah, if you’re gonna be a pastor’s wife, you gotta know how to make dump cake.”  I've stayed away from the cake of the dumping because I just can’t get over that name, but I thought long and hard and took her advice to heart.  And it stayed with me for years.

In a culture that has lost much of our focus on creating welcoming atmospheres at home, we can be prepared to be hospitable at a moment’s notice.  It's what being a good pastor’s wife (not to mention being a good friend) is all about.

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