Yes, we know you’ve only just put away the pumpkins and plastic bats, but we’re already hearing “Frosty the Snowman” in shops. The Big Holidays are on the horizon and it’s not too soon to be laying your plans.
Are you having company this year? Will you be hosting people with disabilities? Are there children on the list? Good visits don’t just happen. Whether for a fancy dinner party, an open house or overnighters it’s much more relaxing to be well prepared. It’s also important to survey your house for potential problems and make good plans for a safe holiday.
Prepare your home
Safety must be the first concern. Toxic items and fragile things are the greatest risks for youngsters or visitors with physical, visual or cognitive disabilities. Before your company arrives, store away valuable breakables and heavy, tippy objects. Take up scatter rugs. Reduce the temperature on your water heater if it’s especially hot.
Last year Cindy spent Hanukkah at an ER praying her grandson wouldn’t die. She’d forgotten some post-surgery sleeping pills she hadn’t taken, but the 2-year-old discovered the “pretty candies” in her bedside table and promptly ate them. Fortunately he recovered fully. Post local phone numbers for medical emergencies including poison control and the nearest urgent care facility or emergency room in case of an accident or other medical problem.
If you are having overnight guests, do you have sleeping space for them all? Is that sleeper-sofa truly comfortable enough for company? If your visitors include youngsters, you can probably put some of them on the floor on air mattresses. Do you need to rent or borrow inflatable beds, a crib or high chair?
One couple, hosting a holiday family reunion, converted a room to a “dorm” with wall-to-wall mattresses for five little girl cousins. A grandmother visited a local thrift store, purchased a portable crib and collapsible high chair in good condition, and stashed them in the laundry for family visits. “Plan ahead,” she cautions, “because the items you need aren’t always available.”
Be sure you have sufficient lighting. Is the bulb in the guest room lamp bright enough for visitors who like to read in bed? Install nightlights in bedrooms, hallways and bathrooms. Be particularly sure stairs are well lit, especially if you have visitors with any sort of vision problems. Consider small flashlights for bedside tables.
Protect visitors from pets, if you have them, (or maybe protect pets from visitors). Prepare a retreat for your animals and make plans to introduce them to your guests in a calm setting. If you have young visitors, remind them how to behave around animals. If you have pets that might be upset by visitors, consider boarding them while visitors are there.
And remember the little extras. For the guest bedroom, air out extra bedding including blankets and two pillows for each guest with choice of soft or firm. If you don’t have folding luggage stands, be sure there is a convenient place to set a suitcase. Include a water pitcher or small carafe with glasses for the bedside. Clear out drawers if guests are staying several days.
Add a touch of hospitality by providing some toiletries in the bathroom along with clearly identified guest facecloths and towels. And be sure to have plenty of T.P. that can be easily found right in the bathroom when it’s time to replace a roll.
Prepare for eating
For house guests, check for food allergies and preferences. Have easy-to-find snacks for middle-of-the-night hunger pangs as well as a breakfast plan for early risers.
Plan well ahead of time for dinner parties or perhaps an open house. Will you do all the food prep, shop for ready-to-serve items, hire a caterer or all of the above? If you are having a small dinner party, ask ahead of time whether there are significant food preferences or allergies.
For a larger party, assume you’ll have guests ranging from omnivores to those needing (or simply preferring) items that are gluten-free, vegetarian, kosher, halal, or vegan. Take time to browse the Internet for likely recipes (and test them ahead of time). For example, if you’ll be entertaining vegetarians, take out a portion of your homemade soup before adding meat or poultry. Stock your freezer with store-bought food or things you’ve made ahead.
Buffet guests will appreciate having the ingredients of dishes listed on little signs or labels. Examples: Vegan lasagna with spinach, soy cheese, tomatoes, basil and mushrooms. Chicken Salad with walnuts, sweetened cranberries, celery, and seasonings.
Plan ahead and don’t let the “shoulds” get you down. Maybe your mother-in-law did make her own cornbread for her homemade dressing; boxed stuffing tastes fine. Use paper napkins, even if your sister always uses linen.
Prepare for fun
Make a list of places for good times together such as attending special holiday programs at the Paramount Theater or other live music venues. Visit the holiday City Market, attend religious services, and exercise in your neighborhood, on the Rivanna trail or— going farther afield—Shenandoah National Park. If children are coming, find the nearest park or schoolyard with play equipment for them to burn off youthful energy. Invest in a soccer ball, a jump rope, snow saucers (just in case), and other equipment for vigorous play.
Planning ahead can make holiday visits safe, relaxed, and fun.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville.