The thisgratefulmama 2015 FALL Family Bucket-List

2015 Fall Family Bucket List | thisgratefulmama.com

The 2015 fall bucket list focuses on activities to enjoy with your family during the fall season, with an emphasis on gratitude and service to others.

I hope these 100 ideas help you fill fall with joy. 

Hello, Fall!

Cook

 Events (Twin Cities)

Do

  • Play a board game
  • Start a Fall Family Tradition
  • Rake leaves and jump in the pile
  • Be a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army (starts in November)
  • Set your fall schedule
  • Play backyard football with the whole neighborhood
  • Visit a new playground and have a picnic lunch
  • Help your kids start a nature collection
  • Plant tulip bulbs in your yard with the kids
  • Write letters to deployed service members
  • Spend the day cleaning the garage as a family before winter
  • Stay warm on a chilly night around a bonfire while enjoying hot cocoa and S’mores
  • Start a family prayer journal – keep track of requests and answers this school year
  • Volunteer to serve meals at Loaves and Fishes
  • Take a family photo shoot in the leaves
  • Make the most of dark evenings – have a candlelight dinner date after kids go to bed
  • Set goals for the school year and encourage each family member throughout the year
  • Spend an afternoon at Feed My Starving Children
  • Clean out the closets and give warm clothes, hats, mittens and coats to those in need
  • Go to a local high school football game
  • Let your child do chores to earn money to give on Sunday at church
  • Deliver Meals on Wheels in your area
  • Help the kids write letters and mail them to grandparents and extended family
  • Spend the afternoon doing homework and reading together at the library
  • Sign up for the family oriented fall Public Programs in the MN Valley Wildlife Refuge
  • Start a Gratitude Journal
  • Get lost in Minnesota’s Largest Corn Maze in Brooklyn Park, MN (Sept 19 – Oct 25)
  • Gather all the neighbors and play an epic game of flashlight tag
  • Download and start the JOY DARE from A Holy Experience 
  • Create your own family Fall Scavenger Hunt and take a nature walk together
  • Read fall-themed books as a family
  • Spend the next large family gathering playing a huge game of Capture the Flag
  • Say Thank you to those who go out of their way to help your family
  • Collect acorns and have some fun with Acorn Races
  • Help your child take photos of fall leaves
  • Help your child find a pen-pal and help them write and send ‘snail mail’
  • Practice gratitude
  • Clean out the toy box together and take your children to donate items
  • Have a movie night with blankets, jammies and home made popcorn

Make

Go (Minnesota)

‘You Are My Sunshine’ Birthday – Simple Food So You Can Relax!

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

One of the most difficult decisions for me when hosting is picking the food.

In March, we celebrated our daughter’s second birthday. I’ve already shared how the house was decorated with a few strings of bird and sunshine garland, and a ‘You Are My Sunshine’ photo birthday banner, strung using patterned paper covered clothes pins.

Like most families, ours has a few special dietary needs (peanut and tree nut allergy, dairy intolerance, and at times gluten-free or low-carb needs). On top of all that, we want food that is well liked by both children and adults and prefer to make it all a day ahead. There were 17 adults or teenagers, and 3 children, for a total of 20 people.

Since this birthday party was for a 2-year-old, you won’t find any fancy recipes here. She is easy to please!

Plus, with small children, I often have other duties than hosting that require my attention – diapers, wanting to be held, injuries or simply a lot of people arriving at once are sure keep a mama in-demand. Make-ahead, simple food helps ensure a low stress level when I’m hosting and little ones need me. It also helps make it easy to delegate when people offer to help.

What’s the use in throwing a party if I end up stressed-out and cranky and then take it out on the very people the party is for? Keeping things low-key maximizes the time I have to visit with company and actually enjoy the festivities.

Why not keep it simple so everyone can relax?

 Main Dish 

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

We made a warm shredded chicken dish using a modification of this crock pot turkey recipe. Instead of turkey, the meat from 2 fully cooked rotisserie chickens (Costco ones are huge!) were used. All ingredients (except parsley and chicken) were combined with 1 cup water in a large skillet on the stove instead of using a crock pot. The sauce was heated over medium heat while mixing to ensure even distribution of the cream cheese as it melted. Chicken was added and mixed until coated, then cooled and stored in the fridge overnight. The day of the party, the meat was warmed on the stove until heated through. Finally, fresh-cut parsley was mixed in just before serving. Note: It was easy to reserve a cup of plain meat for our daughter who does not eat dairy. 

Simple Sides 

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

Isn’t it great that the easiest sides are also often the healthiest? We served fresh-cut veggies and fruit, and a simple salted popcorn. It may not seem like much, but these simple sides are always a hit with our family. I count it an added bonus that they are low-budget and easy to prepare ahead of time.

 

 Dessert

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

This year I was unable to find a nearby bakery that could ensure nut-free cupcakes. Instead of driving across town the day of the party for two dozen, over-priced (but nut-free) cupcakes, I chose to make them myself. As some of you may know, baking is not my strong suit and often ends in disaster. However, for once, I managed to make some plain white cake cupcakes – and yes, I admit I’m lame and used a boxed mix and pre-made frosting. I’m somewhat proud of myself for attempting and not totally failing at piping frosting…Trust me, this is a victory. They sure aren’t fancy, but were of sufficient quality to please a 2-year-old (who smashed it as soon as she got her hands on it). From the look on her face, they were birthday-girl approved.

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

Happy Birthday, Sunshine-girl!

 

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Our son turned 4 on Halloween and we celebrated the occasion with a dinosaur birthday party.

Brunch is a great option for a kids birthday party. We invited 3 to 6 year old kids and their families, which included many younger siblings. Brunch allowed us to start at 10 am, and be done at 1 pm, just in time for afternoon naps. Brunch is also a good option because baked goods, eggs, and chicken salad can be made inexpensively, be made a day ahead, and provide a great variety for even the pickiest eater.

The meal needed to:

  • accommodate both kids and adults, including a few picky eaters…
  • be completely nut-free to accommodate a peanut and tree nut allergy
  • include some dairy-free options
  • be plentiful and filling enough to feed a crowd of 14 kids and 20 adults
  • be able to be prepared a day ahead, with minimal prep time
  • be easy to set out and finish up the morning of the party

Our dinosaur birthday brunch & dessert included the following foods and beverages – bold items are described in further detail below.

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Brunch

  • 4 Varieties of Muffins
  • 3 Different Egg Frittatas
  • Chicken Salad and rolls
  • Dinosaur Juice-Jello Jigglers
  • White Cheddar Pirates Booty
  • Veggies and Dip (cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots sliced thinly, and cherry tomatoes)
  • Grapes (because there were NO watermelons at 3 stores! Otherwise we were going to make a dino-head from the rhine like this one – sad it didn’t work out)

Dessert

  • Dinosaur Dig Jars and Gummy Dinosaurs
  • Brownies and rice crispy treats

Beverages

  • Mini Apple Juice boxes
  • Coffee
  • Sparkling Water
  • Ice Water
  • Orange Juice
  • Dinosaur Ice Cubes

 

Muffins

Cinnamon streusel, Lemon Poppyseed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Cinnamon streusel, Lemon Poppyseed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

We made Cinnamon Streusel, Lemon poppy-seed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins. Even though these could have been made ahead, we made them the morning of the party. It took under an hour using 2 ovens, and made our house smell delicious as guests arrived. Looking back, this was too many muffins; next time, for a group this size, I’d just make 3 flavors (skip the Lemon poppy-seed – the only flavor hardly eaten).

 

Egg Frittatas – Spinach & Sausage, Ham & Cheese, and Plain egg

Ham & Cheese, Plain, and Sausage & Spinach Egg Frittatas

Ham & Cheese, Plain, and Sausage & Spinach Egg Frittatas

Egg frittatas are inexpensive, simple, healthy, and look great on a platter. You can mix and match fillings to your liking. These can be cooked a day ahead; just cool, wrap with foil and store in the fridge. Reheat in the oven at 350 F for 15-25 minutes, or until warmed through.The recipe recommends to serve at warm or room temperature, so they’ll still taste great even if they’re not piping hot when eaten.

Overall, these fritattas were liked by both kids and adults. Ham & Cheese was the clear favorite and was gone long before the others.

All three recipes were adapted from this recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s Healthy In A Hurry Cookbook, as follows:

  • Spinach and Sausage Frittata: substituted spinach for arugula, omitted the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and substituted rice milk for dairy milk to make it dairy free
  • Ham and Cheese Frittata: substituted 8 oz ham for sausage, and added 1 cup cheddar cheese (omitted sausage, arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
  • Plain Frittata: omitted the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sausage and arugula.

 

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is a go-to recipe for me when hosting brunch and lunch. It is easy to prepare, can be made the day before (just wait to add the apple until the day-of), and can be eaten alone or on a roll as a sandwich. Using Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise creates a great healthy option. Kids and adults will enjoy the fruit and veggies that make every bite a little different.

This salad was prepared using the meat from 2 fully cooked rotisserie chickens (from Costco – they’re huge!), 1 cup dried tart cherries or crasins, 1 chopped large apple (I used honey crisp), 2 diced stalks of celery, 2 chopped green onions (green only),  1/4 tsp dill weed, salt & pepper to taste, mayonnaise or plain greek yogurt to desired consistency, and a drizzle of honey, to taste. If you want it just a little sweeter, add some chopped grapes just before serving.

 

Dinosaur Juice Jigglers

Dinosaur shaped 100% Juice Jello Jigglers

Dinosaur shaped 100% Juice Jigglers

What child doesn’t love jello, especially when dinosaur shaped? When made with 100% juice, they’re a pretty great option for parents too. Two flavors of juice gelatin (100% White Grape Juice and Apple Cider) were made and cut out with T-Rex and Triceratops cookie cutters. In hindsight, I wish I’d used something with a brighter color so they looked a little more fun. Just buy plain Gelatin and follow the package instructions.

 

Dinosaur Dig Jars and Gummy Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Dig Jars with Pudding, crushed Oreo cookies, and gummy dinosaurs

Dinosaur Dig Jars with Pudding, crushed Oreo cookies, and gummy dinosaurs

I’m not much of a baker and it can be a challenge sometimes to find a cake that is nut-free, so I was really excited to see the idea for these Dino-Dig Jars on Two Prince Blog. We filled our cups with chocolate pudding, crushed O cookies, and put two Hairbo Gummy Dinosaurs (nut free if you buy the factory-sealed bag) on top. This no-hassle, nut-free dessert was a hit with the kids. We also set out the gummy dinosaur candy, brownies and rice crispy treats for parents and kids who didn’t want a dig-jar.

Tip: The only problem with this dessert was when my son went to blow out his candle, the Oreo cookie ‘dust’ blew back into his face and all over the table. May want to mix the cookies into your child’s cup if doing candles so they don’t blow cookie crumbs into their eyes.

 

Dinosaur Ice Cubes

Make Dinosaur ice cubes in a muffin tin

Make Dinosaur ice cubes in a muffin tin

Set out dinosaur ice cubes with clear cups with lids and bright colored straws

Set out dinosaur ice cubes with clear cups with lids and bright colored straws

I found this idea for dinosaur ice cubes on Pinterest. I found these tiny dinosaurs in the Dollar Spot at Target (20/bag-a STEAL compared to other stores), washed them, and made a set of 12 cubes for the party. These dinosaurs floated when water was added to the tin, so ice cubes were made by filling each tin half-way, freezing, then adding water and freezing again so the dinosaurs were mostly encased in ice.

Clear cups with lids and colored straws were provided so the kids could see their dinosaur melt from the ice during the party.

 

 

Our dinosaur party brunch was delicious, and required minimal effort the day of the party. The food was enjoyed by toddlers, preschoolers and parents. Here are a few more pictures of everything the day of the party.

Beverages and dinosaur ice cubes

Beverages and dinosaur ice cubes

Dinosaur Themed Birthday Brunch for kids and parents

Dinosaur Themed Birthday Brunch for kids and parents

Desserts

Desserts

Happy Celebrating!

 

Check out the dinosaur birthday party decorations and favors in these posts:

DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party Decorations

DIY Dinosaur Tails, Dinosaur Spike Party Hats and Favors

I am THAT Allergy Mama: Thank You For Answering My Food Allergy “20 Questions” Before We Get Together

How I miss the days when all I had to do was ask what I could bring to a get-together and not have to know what was being served…

Or when someone could bring anything they like best to our house.

Any dessert. Any bread. Any salad topping.

Sigh.

Now I’m constantly MEDDLING.

I’m calling ahead, asking friends to read food labels over the phone, and explaining that the phrase “processed on equipment with nuts” is just as bad for us as something containing an actual peanut.

I’m asking what dessert they are serving, where it came from, and usually planning to bring something similar and safe for my son to eat.

And YES, I often request foods containing nuts aren’t served while we’re there and that nuts are never brought into our home. This is my son’s SAFE zone (and ours). He should never have to question his safety here.

I DO realize it may feel like we ask or expect too much. 

Now I’m hanging out in the kitchen, asking questions about where food came from, and if I can read the food labels myself. If something was made from scratch, I’m asking to if the chocolate chips had a nut allergen warning, and if any pre-made mixes were used.

I KNOW I’m a control freak, and that some of these questions seem silly. I also know that there are plenty of foods that are SAFE and that most of the answers confirm the food IS safe.

BUT, once in a while…we catch something…so I HAVE to ask.

I am THAT allergy mama.

I know sometimes, I’m really annoying with all these questions. I appreciate your patience with me, and for answering me to the best of your ability.

I have REAL and POWERFUL fears (although sometimes they may be blown out of proportion):

  • I AM afraid if there are nuts on the premises, especially when other children are present. Children are messy eaters, they drop things on the floor, they get food on their clothes, hands, hair and face. A quick wipe down with a paper towel and water does NOT safely remove allergen, and my son could have a reaction from coming in contact with it.
  • I DO have sometimes overwhelming fear when the food is generally unknown before we arrive. I usually pack an extra meal for my son, in case he can’t eat what is there. I’m on hyper-alert and may not be able to relax until we sort it all out. I will be distracted until we do. I AM overwhelmed when we arrive to an unexpected baked goods surprise. Donuts sound friendly until you look around and see almonds falling off pastries and chocolate frosted donuts covered in chopped peanuts in the hands of children. Sometimes the fear can be so overwhelming that we just have to go outside; for his safety and my own sanity.
  • I AM afraid that when someone who ate something with nuts kisses my child goodbye that my son will get hives on his face. Or worse.
  • I pray EVERY day and trust that the Lord has what I CAN’T control under HIS all-knowing control. I need to trust Him, or I wouldn’t let us go anywhere.

It may sound selfish, but I DO think my son’s health is more important than your (or your child’s) desire to eat a peanut butter sandwich, pecan pie or peanut butter rice crispy treats. I’m sorry it makes things harder for you. But I think it is OK to ask that you eat them later, when we aren’t around. AND if your child has a food need, I welcome your requests and needs; We will joyfully accommodate them.

I DO trust your efforts are sincere and thorough. However, even with several years of label reading, my husband and I occasionally still catch something on a box that the other missed. Two sets of eyes is ALWAYS better than one. And I’m sorry, but If we don’t have the label or a clear understanding a food’s safety, we can’t eat it. Even if you took a lot of time making it.

I KNOW that nuts show up in the strangest of places and my questions may sound weird: Pretzels, animal crackers, bread, ice cream, ANY dessert, fried foods, italian and asian sauces, salad mixes, seeds, cream cheese, any bulk foods, cereals, crackers, frozen foods, salad dressings, flour, rice, and more have nut allergen warnings. Keeping your child safe from food is more of a LIFESTYLE than anything; it requires a constant AWARENESS.

I AM not sure what type of reaction my son will have from any of these scenarios, but I don’t think ANY reaction is acceptable. I recently heard someone in a grocery store venting about someone with a child with a nut allergy and their ‘over reaction’ to the potential of an allergic reaction. Her reason was, and I quote, “that’s what an Epi-Pen is for”.  This is NOT the first time I’ve heard this statement, nor will it be the last time. Guess what? An Epi-Pen is for when you’ve done EVERYTHING YOU CAN DO to be safe and a reaction happens anyway. I hope to NEVER use ours. I want them to expire, time after time.

The truth is, sometimes an Epi-Pen and quick responses by parents and medical personnel are NOT ENOUGH. Sometimes a child DIES. It is NOT usually because someone neglected to be careful. It was a terrible mistake, or due to an unknown allergy. A heartbreaking event that can’t be undone.

I will NEVER assume a reaction won’t be deadly or cause long-term damage. YES, I pray he won’t ever HAVE a reaction, and that if he does, it will be minor. YES, I believe in God’s protection. But that does NOT mean I have a license to be careless, or that my fears are not valid or real. This is a serious business. It is my child’s LIFE. Having his face swell up, hives all over his body, terrible upset stomach, or his throat close so tightly he cannot breathe are ALL unacceptable to me. Think about how that would FEEL if it happened to your body, or to your child’s body. In our position, I think you’d agree.

I appreciate your honesty and willingness to say when I need to SLOW down, or BACK down. I know that you CARE if my child gets hurt. I know that you are trying your best. If I’m hyped up and making unfair assumptions or requiring too much of you…SAY SO! It may sting, but I promise to listen and to find another way that works better for both of us.

Words can’t express how grateful we are for you who help keep our son safe: 

  • Many of you go out of your way to help us; you purchase nut-free candy, make a cake instead of buying one, or call ahead to ask what is best to have for snack when we come over.
  • OR when you do your own research, educate yourself, and find a bakery that will sterilize equipment and make a nut-free dessert that our son can eat. You, your thoughtfulness, initiative, and kindess amaze me.
  • I appreciate when you serve a ham sandwich to your child before you come and play at our house, or when you have your child wash their hands with soap and water before coming over if they’ve had nuts that day.
  • To the parents and staff at the nut-free preschool our son attends: Thank you for following the hand-washing and food policy so my son is safe when he learns alongside your child.
  • It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how many people who are family, friends, church family, neighbors, school staff, and even acquaintances who go the extra mile. EVERY TIME. 
  • It matters when people ask me to teach them to read a food label, or call me from the store if they aren’t sure about something.
  • It is a relief when a host intentionally saves the food labels for me to read and points them out before I even have to ask.
  • I am amazed by the people who make me DAILY feel like my questions are not a burden, and are gracious to me when I’m obviously operating from a place of fear (when I’m surely not at my best).
  • And to those who regularly pray for my son’s safety and that he will NEVER have a reaction; you make it so the fear doesn’t take over, so the label reading isn’t so hard, and so we can leave the house trusting in the Lord’s protection. We FEEL it.
  • All of you make us feel accepted, blessed beyond measure, and loved. We know you are in this with us, keeping our son safe. We appreciate your advice, kindness, questions and efforts.

Thank you for agreeing that this child is worth the effort, and thank you for answering my food allergy “20 questions”.

son

A Favorite Fall Recipe: Easy Vegetable Soup

If you live in Minnesota, you know that last night we were reminded that winter is looming; it sleeted. Last night, we sat inside, furnace on, drinking hot cider, as ice pellets fell and the howling wind made sure we could hear the sleet pelting our windows.

Sigh.

At least it didn’t sleet in September… AND, at least none of it remained when the sun came up.

What the sleet left behind is the realization that FALL is here and it may not last long!

It’s time to enjoy those fall colors. Time to get outside and enjoy ANY and ALL days when the temperature is above freezing.

Enjoy Fall

Our family decided to make the most of the day; we went to the MN Zoo.

We saw all the indoor animals and when it finally reached about 40 degrees outside, we put on hats and coats and wrapped the kids in a blanket to do a quick round of the outdoor trails. We enjoyed the warmth of the sun (and walked briskly through the shade).

It was great to be outside, and we were home in time for lunch and naps.

The chill of the morning left me wanting something warm and comforting for dinner. What better than my favorite vegetable soup?

 

Easy Vegetable Soup

15-18 servings

Ingredients

Fresh Vegetables

  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion: chopped and separated
  • 8 medium baby red potatoes (if they seem small, use 10): cleaned, cubed, leaving skin ON
  • 4 large carrots: peeled, and sliced (cut large slices in half)
  • 2 medium zucchini: quarter lengthwise, and slice
  • 4 long stalks celery: washed and sliced (it is OK to throw the leaves in for extra flavor)
  • 1 green bell pepper (optional): chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley: finely chopped – RESERVE UNTIL END

Pantry Ingredients

  • 2 TBS Olive Oil (I buy the Extra Virgin, light tasting)
  • 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas): drained, and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz can kidney beans: drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz can great northern beans: drained and rinsed
  • 3 cans diced tomato with Italian Herbs (or sub diced tomato in basil, oregano and garlic) – DO NOT DRAIN
  • 32 oz (4 cups) vegetable broth
  • 64 oz (8 cups) beef broth (or sub 6 more cups veggie broth, if desired)

Frozen

  • 10 oz chopped, frozen spinach (optional)

Seasonings

  • 1.5 Tsp dried basil
  • 1 Tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 bay leaf, whole

 

Preparation:

  • Wash and prep all fresh vegetables.
  • Heat 1 TBS olive oil on med-high heat in a large skillet
  • Add half the garlic and cook until fragrant
  • Add half the vegetables (reserve parsley until the end) and saute until softened
Saute vegetables until softened

Saute vegetables until softened

  • Transfer softened vegetables to a large soup pot
  • Return skillet to med-high heat and heat the remaining 1 TBS olive oil and remaining garlic
  • Add the other half of the vegetables and saute until softened
  • Transfer softened vegetables to the soup pot
  • Add the drained kidney beans, great northern beans and garbanzo beans, un-drained diced tomatoes, vegetable broth and beef broth to the soup pot
  • Add the dried basil and oregano, salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste), and whole bay leaf to the soup pot and mix well
  • Bring contents of the soup pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer
  • Simmer, covered, for 30 – 60 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender
  • Add 10 oz chopped frozen spinach, if using, and stir until melted and distributed throughout the soup
  • Add chopped parsley and stir to mix
  • Return the soup to a simmer and cook 10 more minutes

 

Notes:

  • Top with grated cheese (Parmesan or cheddar), and warmed, crusty bread, or maybe with grilled cheese (yum!)
  • My kids don’t like soup broth, which is fine by me (messy!), so I use a slotted spoon and give them a pile of cooked veggies
  • We usually freeze half of this soup since the recipe is so large (or we use it to feed a large group). I recommend freezing in either single portions (for lunches), or with enough servings for your family to have a meal together. To freeze: Cool fully and transfer to labeled freezer zip-lock bags and freeze flat or transfer to plastic containers with lids
  • You can add cooked shredded rotisserie chicken to add protein and a little extra flavor to this soup. Just make sure it is finely shredded or chopped
  • You can throw everything in a (LARGE) crock pot and cook on HIGH 2-3 hours or LOW 5 hours (or until veggies are tender). Just wait to add Parsley and Spinach until 20 minutes before turning the crock pot off (I have a smaller crock pot and this recipe does not fit!).

 

What’s you favorite FALL recipe?

Joyful Hosting: Letting Someone Host At Your House Is A Cinch

Have you ever ‘hosted’ a party where all you had to do was provide your space?

If not, here’s why I highly recommend it, especially if you have small children:

  • who doesn’t like a party?
  • you lighten the load of the ‘host’ by providing a clean space
  • since you don’t have to do all the food, it makes your preparation a cinch
  • we believe that biblical stewardship of our home involves sharing what it with others
  • if you have small children:
    • they can nap, and play with their own things
    • you don’t have to pack a diaper bag, snacks, toys, and basically MOVE into someone else’s space for a few hours
    • you don’t have to worry about being somewhere on-time or deal with car-ride drama

One of the reasons we purchased our new home was the open floor plan; we wanted a space where people could gather, and we wouldn’t feel claustrophobic. The layout of this house is great for entertaining.

our house

That in mind, when my sister asked if we could celebrate my niece’s first birthday with family at our house, I was happy to offer the use of our home, even before she told me her plans.

Sharing your space is SO VERY EASY, especially when it is with people who are and laid-back (and who do most of the work). The planning is minimal.

All you really need to know is:

  • date and time
  • how you can help
  • what food they are bringing so you can plan ahead with serving dishes or possibly pre-heat an oven for them
  • how many people are coming (so you have adequate seating, etc.)
  • what you can do to help make the day special

We set a time and date that worked well for both of us. My sister’s family brought in all the food, the cake, and arranged for others bring side dishes. They even brought the plates, napkins and cups so I wasn’t left with a bunch of dishes to wash.

I offered to make a salad and provide the beverages and asked if it was OK to put up some simple decorations.

Allowing someone to host at your home leaves minimal work for you:

  • clean the house (which has to be done at some point anyway)
  • provide serving spoons and dishes
  • provide your kitchen to prep food, and help warm up food as needed
  • provide adequate seating (in our case, set up one extra table and some folding chairs)
  • decorations (if desired)
  • be willing to take direction from them on how you can HELP without taking over

For decorations, I just made a simple birthday banner (because ALL birthday girls need a banner in their honor) from scrapbook paper and twine, and hung a few paper lanterns in the windows.

Happy Birthday Banner

I was amazed with how easy my sister’s family made hosting here look.

If you are thinking of a food idea so you can host somewhere else, a taco bar is a great idea; easy to prepare, inexpensive, easily portable, and needs little prep to do on-site.

The Taco Bar Included:

  • ground beef, already cooked, seasoned and ready to heat on the stove
  • shredded lettuce
  • chopped tomato
  • diced onion
  • shredded cheese
  • chips and salsa
  • taco sauce
  • sour cream
  • corn and flour tortillas

Others brought:

  • bean side dish
  • simple mexican salad
  • watermelon

From the time they brought everything into the house, it took 15 minutes to prep to serve the meal.

Not only did they bring all the food, but they brought the cake.

And seriously… just LOOK. At. This. Cake!

The Cake

It was made by the Buttercream Bakery in St. Paul, MN.

It had edible glitter, and the best buttercream frosting you’ve ever had.

It was absolutely as delicious as it was stunning!

 

 

 

 

After watching my niece smash her cake to bits, clapping frosting all over her face, and watching my children ‘HELP’ her open her gifts (aka…in her face and doing it for her…her parents are very gracious), all that we were left with to clean-up were a few serving dishes, and some garbage bags to take to the garage.

(Oh, and some crumbs and stray blobs of frosting, which somehow only landed on the floor. My niece has impeccable aim).

So if someone asks you to share your home so they can host a party, say YES! By offering your home, you save the host from having to clean theirs, AND you get to enjoy the party at your house, where you can put your kids down for a nap or distract with their own toys when they get bored.

 

Happy hosting!

 

 

10 Simple Tips to Help Out-of-Town Guests Feel ‘At Home’ in Your Home

In recent years, we have been blessed to have out-of-town guests. We love the chance to catch up, show them around the city, or to host celebrations. Our family has also been guests of many thoughtful and gracious hosts.

Whether your guests are family or friends, here are 10 simple ways you can help them feel ‘at home’ in your home during their visit.

10 Simple Tips to Help Out-of-Town Guests Feel ‘At Home’ in Your Home

1. Provide bulky items

If your guests have small children or babies, they may require use of bulky items (Pack N Play, car seat, or stroller). If you have an extra or know someone you can borrow extras from, offer! You guests’ sanity and backs will thank you! Be sure to inquire what items they will need ahead of time so everyone knows what IS and IS NOT available. If borrowing, do your best to have everything washed, and setup before they arrive.

Also consider asking if you can swing by the store to pick up bulky items like diapers. On our last trip out-of-town, our hosts picked up diapers and wipes and a few ‘baby’ necessities. We packed just enough diapers and wipes to get us there, saving space in suitcases.

2. Give a tour

One of the best ways to help your guests feel at home right away is to give a quick home tour. Include the entire house, and where your guests will be staying. It is a good idea to show where you’ve hidden extra towels and linens and any quirky things they need to know about your guest bathroom. My 3-year-old son LOVES to give our home tour and proudly parades everyone through the house. Guests think it is cute, and it lets them know where things are so they can start settling in.

3. Provide a ‘extras’ basket

Seems like every time I travel, I forget a simple necessity. We keep a basket of ‘extras’ for guests in the guest bathroom closet. We only take it out when guests are here, and replenish it with fresh stuff after they leave so it is ready to go for next time with minimal effort.

Create a guest ‘extras’ basket:

  • Q-tips
  • Mouthwash and small disposable plastic cups
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental Floss
  • A NEW loufa
  • Body wash (actually not in the basket: include a full size bottle in the shower)
  • Travel size shampoo and conditioner
  • Body lotion
  • 2 travel size deodorants (one men’s, one women’s)
  • Travel first aid kit
  • Chapstick
  • Travel tissues
  • Travel size lint roller
  • Disposable razor
  • Nail file

4. Buy grab-and-go snacks and containers

Whether your guests are visiting family and friends, working, or exploring the area, it is a good idea to have some foods and beverages that can be eaten on-the-go. I always set out disposable coffee cups and lids, and let guests know what ‘quick’ foods are in the house.

Grab-and-go ideas:

  • granola bars
  • bananas or washed fresh fruit
  • bagels or cinnamon toast
  • cheese sticks
  • lunch meat
  • cut up veggies and dip
  • sparkling water or soda
  • bottled water
  • disposable coffee cups and lids

5. Accommodate special diets

Do your guests have any food allergies or do they have a special diet need? It is a good idea to ask ahead of time so you can be prepared. Consider things like allergies, lactose intolerance, diabetes or Celiac. For guests with little ones, have some baby and toddler ‘friendly’ food on hand; asking if you can pick up a few of their children’s favorite items can help little ones adjust to new surroundings.

As a general rule when making food for someone with food allergies, save the packaging or set it aside for easy access so they can read the label themselves. Even if you are great at reading food labels, an extra set of eyes is never a bad idea.

6. Give them their own space – and stay out of it

If your house is ‘full’, this can be tricky. BUT, if you plan ahead, it can be done! If you have a guest room, set everything up ahead of time and move items you need to use during the week to other locations. For example, our guest room closet houses our vacuum cleaner and ironing board. I know I may need them while guests are here so I move the ironing board to the laundry room and the vacuum to the entryway closet.

If your guests are staying in one of your children’s rooms, grab a few outfits and their favorite toys so they aren’t likely to wander into the room, or want something in there while your guests are resting. IF you HAVE to go in, try to make it as little as possible.

Do your best to make your the room comfortable, even if it is not a dedicated guest room. Remove as much clutter as you can so they have room to just BE. If using your child’s room as a guest room, consider buying a few nice guest pillows and ‘adult’ bedding during ‘back-to-school’ sales or Home Goods or TJ Max. Use a large plastic storage bin to store loose items and some favorite toys; it makes room for guests, and gives your child access to some of their favorite things they may want to go into the room to get.

Additional guest room items include:

  • alarm clock
  • extra blankets or pillows
  • hangers
  • an extra universal charger for a phone or computer, if you have it
  • portable fan (We live in a new housing development and workers begin clunking around at 7 am. A good fan can create some much-needed white noise and drown out sounds of kids and allow guests to cool off if they get warm during the night)
  • pass code for wireless internet
  • mirror (full length is a bonus!)
  • spare key or garage code
  • large or bulky items, if needed (Pack N Play, etc.)

7. Offer use of appliances

When guests stay, I make it clear that the washer, dryer, iron, hair dryer and anything else appliance-related is available to use. No one wants to wear dirty or wrinkly clothes, or have wet hair!

8. Work around their schedule

Most travelers have an agenda to accomplish during their visit. They may have special errands, sight-seeing, or appointments for work or with friends. They have made a special effort (and spent money) to come and stay with you, so whenever possible, adjust your schedule to theirs.

  • Meals: If they aren’t sure how their schedule will work out ahead of time, pick up a few easy meals that can be made quickly and don’t require a set timeline. I usually grab some lunch meat, chips, fruit and vegetables for lunches, and grab buns for hot dogs, burgers, frozen chicken, and a few easy sides. This way, regardless of their schedule, we have food on hand, or can have freedom to choose to pick up food or eat out.
  • Your schedule: If YOU have set appointments, work, kids who nap and/or go to bed early, or other scheduled activities, let your guests know your schedule. Your guests can then CHOOSE to make adjustments, if needed. If you stay home like me, let them know if you can offer use of your car or be available to pick them up or drop them off somewhere. A spare key or the garage code will allow them to come and go as needed.
  • Sleep: Do your best to reduce noise during the evening and early morning when your guests are sleeping. Regardless of the purpose of your travel, it is nice to think of any trip as VACATION from home. One perk of vacation is sleeping until YOU are ready to get up. I listen in the morning for my kids so I can quickly bring them downstairs so they don’t wake our guests.
  • Events: Don’t schedule anything for your guests. If planning a large event while they are visiting, consult them on the timing of that event. It is not your job to pack their schedule or to pressure them to do what YOU want to do. Too much in too little time can leave everyone exhausted and reduce the amount of time available to have some quality conversations and actually enjoy their visit.
  • Expectations: Don’t expect anything from them. Be glad they are here, and be grateful for WHATEVER amount of time (large or small) you have with them.

9. Provide distractions for little ones

If your guests are traveling with kids, a small basket of toys in their room, or in the living area where everyone is visiting can help the parents relax and the child get in some play time. Even better, go for quality time with the kiddos and play with them so the parents can get ready in peace, take a nap, or visit with other adults!

10. Enjoy your time with them

Remember that being a good host isn’t all about food, cleaning, or organizing! While it is great to have a clean house and do nice meals and events, the best thing to do with your guests is RELAX. Enjoy them.

Do what it takes to keep your house from being FILTHY, but feel free to allow a few dust bunnies or crumbs to stay on the floor. Accept help when your company wants to hang in the kitchen with you and help you load the dishwasher. Your friends and family did not come all this way to watch you cook and clean. They came here to spend quality time with you and your family. Plus, if your house is TOO clean, they won’t feel like they can LIVE in it.

No matter how long or short the visit, be grateful for what time you DO have with your guests. Don’t preoccupy your thoughts with when they are leaving or coming back again so you can be present in the moment.

 

What other tips do you have for hosting guests?

10 tips for making out of town guests feel at home in your home