Opening Your Home for the Holidays

by Cheryl Gochnauer

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Twas The Night Before Visitors, and all through the house, the hostess was obsessing, drafting children and spouse.

Do you really need to dust the top of the refrigerator? "The more I do, the more I feel I have to do," sighs Sally. "I'm like one of those hamsters on the wheel." Relax. Your home should be comfortable, not spotless. Most people feel less pressured when family's on the way than they do entertaining first-time guests. Either way, people are coming to see you, not conduct a white-glove test.

Hark! The Herald Doorbell Rings. One source which, understandably, wished to remain anonymous, says, "With my family, there's no notice. They just come and run you over." Avoid having to just say "Go" by scheduling the visit's end before guests arrive.

Give new visitors a tour. Present simple ground rules positively. If you'd rather guests not smoke inside, provide an alternative. Demonstrate how to operate remotes and microwaves. If they have free access to the refrigerator, tell them.

What "Child" Is This? When guests surprise you with Fido, remain calm. If you don't allow indoor pets, offer your garage, suggest a nearby kennel, or ask that the animal be confined to its carrier.

On the flip side, forewarn visitors about your own pets. "I make it known that I have a dog, and the dog lives in the house," says Teresa. "If they can't handle that, they need to find somewhere else to stay."

Dance of the Sugar-Free Plum Fairies. "My husband, Bob, and I talk with guests ahead of time to see if they have any unusual food preferences or dietary needs," says Charlotte. Sidestep the disappointment of a "no, thanks" response to your seven-course meal by determining crowd-pleasing menus ahead of time.

Why slave alone in the kitchen while friends reminisce in the den? Prepare several meals in advance. Make double portions and throw the extra in the freezer. Stock up on foods that won't spoil if everyone decides to eat out - or if guests don't show at all. Make breakfast easy for everyone, whether they be early-risers or sleep-ins, by setting out cereal the night before.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace. Make guestrooms as dreamy as possible. Test the bed's comfort, imagining yourself as an outsider. Furnish a nightlight, alarm clock, extra blankets and storage space for belongings. Please night owls with a television with an earphone jack, or magazines to browse in the wee hours. Plan for pallets, in case parents want their small children to sleep in their room.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chaos. If everybody's enjoying themselves, there's no reason to rush friends and family to the door. But if they're there for several days, you should definitely look to them for help. Don't be shy about inviting guests into the kitchen to help chop vegetables or set the table. Playfully toss them a dishtowel after dinner. If they're getting low on clean clothes, show them how to operate your washer and dryer. Point out extra toilet tissue and cleaning supplies under the guest bathroom sink.

Oh Holy Nightlife. Explore the local holiday sites together. Have a tentative entertainment schedule set before guests arrive so you can coordinate your plans with theirs. Tug-of-wars over checks are avoided, too, by discussing finances in advance. Will you split expenses, or treat each other? Presenting options in a forthright, cordial manner sets everyone at ease. Be sure to carve out some downtime so your guests can spend some time to themselves, too.

Away in a Minivan. As the visit winds down, do a room-by-room check to make sure no one's forgotten anything. Help take luggage to the car, then gather everyone together for one last photo, surprising children with a small gift to entertain them on their way home.

Hugs. Kisses. Waves.

Close the door. Reclaim your recliner.

Enjoy the silent night.

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