Easy Entertaining: the Snack List

cookies

In college, having friends over meant making a tray of brownies or coordinating a potluck dinner. If you cooked the meal by yourself, it meant your friends would be gathered in your living room with a plate of spaghetti balanced on their knees because spaghetti lets you feed five people for a dollar.

After college and when my friends started buying houses, having friends over became replaced by entertaining. “We like to entertain,” people explain when they want to buy a house with a big kitchen and living room. The college-style gatherings don’t seem fancy enough, and the frequent casual gatherings at friends’ houses are replaced by parties with appetizers and wine glasses a couple of times a year.

I want my home to be a gathering place. I need easy snacks that let us invite people over often, even at the last minute. Two or three times a year we invite thirty people over for a big meal and party. Sometimes we have people over for dinner. Usually, though, our plans are “Let’s feed the kids an early meal, and then come over and eat snacks while the kids play.”

Last month when we had some friends over at our house, I tried to fix a snack for all the kids, and I started a small kitchen fire. “Fire!” I yelled, glad I don’t try to impress my friends. Usually I open a bag of chips.

Making people feel comfortable in your home means having easy snacks that don’t look like you made a big fuss or went to a lot of trouble. I always stay ready with coffee, beer, chips, and salsa. For the kids I have bananas, popcorn, and yogurt.

Some people have asked how I stay budget-conscious with our groceries while also providing a lot of snacks for other people, and the answer is easy: we almost never go out to eat. The main reason is that it’s difficult to eat gluten-free at restaurants, and we also need to bring our kids or pay for a babysitter. It’s easier to stay home. For the price of an appetizer and drink at a restaurant, I can buy snacks for everyone from the grocery store. It saves us money, and it saves our friends money too.

What do you like to keep ready to easily serve guests?

12 Tips for an Easier Christmas

12 Tips for an Easier Christmas

I’m glad for two things: I’m glad to be posting again, and I’m also glad that the past few weeks are in my rearview mirror. That was an unplanned break, so thanks for meeting me here again.

Being gone for a while and coming back to the profusion of gift guides, giveaways, recipes, and holiday crafts, it kind of looks like the internet has gone crazy. Don’t people have jobs? Don’t they have work to do? Because I haven’t experienced that level of free time since junior high. Then I remember that some people’s jobs are to take professional pictures of things you could do, but no one expects you to actually do them. It’s for entertainment purposes only, like window shopping.

There are some who say the best way to simplify Christmas is to organize it neatly into several weeks of checklists, but my life does not fall so neatly into an organized plan that way.

I want to keep the merry-making that makes the holidays festive, but still be realistic. Here are 12 tips to make Christmas easier:

1. Handmade does not have to mean DIY. In other words, you do not have to make your own wreath. I have a set of vintage crochet snowflakes that I love, but I didn’t crochet them myself. That would have taken a week, so I bought them on Etsy for $2 each. Some of the gifts I bought were handmade by artisans, and I bought them from fair-trade stores such as SERRV and Trade as One. (Fair trade is becoming easier to find and affordable, so you can feel really good about what you buy.)

2. We’re following an Advent reading plan with the Jesus Storybook Bible. It’s just a few short pages a day. There is no Christmas countdown with individually-wrapped candy in tiny gift boxes or other 24-day commitments. A Jesse tree with special handmade ornaments was never going to happen.

3. Santa does not make wishes come true. He is a jolly man who loves Christmas. He hangs candy canes on our tree. He does not go shopping at Target because he does not have Target at the North Pole. Santa fills stockings with fun little treats like juice boxes, apples, a small toy, and drawing supplies.

4. We give each of our kids one super-fun toy. (Yes, one.) Our extended family gives them more presents. With just one toy for us to choose, we can be thoughtful about it. There is less pressure about topping last year’s gifts, and the kids can remember what they were given.

5. Buy, wrap, and ship gifts early. Even after shortening the list and drawing names, I have a long gift list, but I like to give Christmas presents. This is the most time-consuming part of holiday plans with a lot of potential for things to go wrong. If you lose a shipment in the mail, you need time to resolve issues so you’re not stressed out on the 23rd. You also get to pay less for shipping. I try to get most of my shopping done before Thanksgiving, but I still have a few gifts I need to buy.

reading under the tree

6. Decorate with books and blankets under the tree instead of gifts. If you don’t want Christmas to be all about the gifts, don’t make your kids look at wrapped presents all month. After I wrap the gifts, I put them up at the top of the closet and then bring them out on Christmas. You can find lots of holiday children’s books in this post.

7. You don’t need to “entertain” your friends. I was watching a television show on which the homeowners had renovated their kitchen so they could entertain for the holidays. During the last segment of the show, the homeowner presented a tray of food to his guest and offered, “Lambchop?” I laughed so hard. People, your friends don’t expect you to act like this. (Wednesday we’ll talk about the food and drinks you like to keep on hand for last-minute get-togethers.)

8. Keep family traditions flexible by asking, “What’s best for this year?” It’s okay if you need to skip a year.

9. Limit traveling. If you have spent every Christmas in the car dividing up your holiday between different sides of the family, I think it’s time you get to spend a Christmas at home. Especially if you have kids, traveling during the holidays is hard. It might be too late to change plans for this year, but consider the possibility of staying home next year.

10. Combine your efforts. Christmas baking or simple crafts can become gifts for friends. Last year we made cinnamon ornaments which became the gifts my daughter gave to her friends.

11. Set a cutoff date. At some point, the shopping, events, crafting, and cooking need to stop so you can settle down and enjoy things from the view of the couch. Postpone people’s requests until after Christmas. No more client projects or house projects. Take time to decompress and eat Rice Krispie treats while watching Elf.

12. Do preventive life maintenance. The holidays do not seem to care that life goes on as usual. Stock up on toilet paper. Do some basic car maintenance so you don’t get stranded somewhere. Make sure you have toothpaste. Make soup, not just cookies.

What makes the holidays easier for you?

Fear is Not a Good Reason to Keep Old Junk

You know why it’s hard to get rid of things and give things away?

We’re scared, mostly.

What if we give away something we need later and we regret it?

Fear of regret.

Fear of wasting.

Fear of missing out.

Fear of going without.

But what are the odds that an old skirt we will never wear is something that should make us afraid? Why should I be afraid of missing something that I’ve already forgotten about once it hits the inside of the donation bin? We know the truth, when we look at it in that perspective. We call ourselves out for it and laugh.

We’re afraid of the fear, and you can’t make good choices based on fear. Make brave choices. Don’t keep old stuff around that you don’t need. It’s slowing you down.

Make bold choices. You don’t need those extra dishes, the skirt you won’t wear, the stuff in the garage. They’re not helping you.

I loved this line from a post by Susie Davis:

“My things should complement, not complicate, my life goals.”

May you go into your weekend making choices that fit your goals.