Saturday, April 27, 2013

Be My Guest

It's been more than a year since I watched it, but I have a vivid recollection of the opening scenes of Season 1 of Downton Abbey.  I couldn't find that particular video online, but here's the intro clip, which has some of what I'm remembering (but is noticeably lacking some of the other more memorable snippets (for example, ironing the creases out of the morning's newspaper)).  The house is abuzz with the staff lighting fires, dusting, and hundreds of other tasks - including, yes, ironing those newspapers - so that the wealthy family who lives there doesn't have to experience any inconvenience from an uncomfortable or imperfect home.

If we're getting company, they could pretty much film that sequence here.  Now, granted, we don't get the newspaper, and even if we did, I wouldn't iron it.  And it's an obvious exaggeration to pretend that my home is ever as well-ordered or cleaned or proper as an English manor with a staff of 15.  But, man, the last hour before someone arrives for dinner is my most productive hour in a month.

I mention all of this because we had company for dinner last night.

You'd better believe that once my oven was full of food, I was running around the house, putting away the drying rack, picking up Anna's toys, putting the shoes away in the shoe rack instead of the pile by the door where they usually congregate, etc, etc.

Justin, having been broken of his habit of announcing "wow, the house looks nice!" in the presence of guests, agreed with our guests' compliments with an emphatic, "Yeah, I always like when we have company because she makes it EXTRA special."  

And this morning, when I walked into the laundry room, I was literally stopped in my tracks by how nice it looked.  Keep in mind, this wasn't the result of an extensive cleaning (there's still plenty of dust on the floor, but remember I have amazing hide-it-all tiles?), just a compilation of little tasks - I put away the drying rack, carried a basket of clean laundry upstairs, moved 2 bottles of stain spray to their designated shelf, and picked up an errant hair tie that had made it to the floor.  I read once that the secret to a house that looks clean and organized is to have all of the flat surfaces free of clutter.  Clearing off the top of the dryer certainly had that effect yesterday.

Seeing just how much this little effort paid off made me crave it all the time.  I've come up with a few options for reaching such success:

1) Invite more company.  This was my approach when I was working & we were renovating.  I was so busy then (and we just kept making drywall dust anyway) that having company over was often literally the only time I actually cleaned.  Thankfully we had an active enough social schedule that it didn't become a total pig sty.

2) Pretend company is coming.  I operate each morning under a bit of fear of the threat (imagined or real) of an unanticipated guest (or delivery person) ringing the doorbell before I've changed out of my pajamas.  This was spurred even more by a recent answering-the-door-in-pajamas incident at 7:45 AM (a time which I have yet to determine if socially acceptable - or not - for me to be dressed in such a way).  When it comes to keeping the house picked up, as much as I like to tell myself that anyone could drop by at any moment, the rate of actualization on this one is low enough that it's like the boy that cried wolf.

3) Reassess the value of the residents vs. guests.  I guess you can tell that the first two options were a bit tongue-in-cheek, and this is my real "take home" message of this post.  As I was thinking about how much I appreciated the "company ready" house, I first thought of how I should value Justin in the same way that I value guests.  He's out at work each day, and certainly he deserves a comfortable home environment with as few inconveniences as possible, but yet most days I don't take that little bit of extra time to make things as nice for him as I would for guests.  As I thought more, I realized that Anna and I also deserve this environment.  We all try to put our best foot forward for guests - and I think that this is rightfully so, as we ought to share the best of what we have with others - but we can forget, it seems, that we - the residents of the home - also deserve some special treatment.

This is, of course, a balance.  You could work so hard at keeping the house perfect that you could never enjoy its perfection.  More than once, I've said that houses aren't meant to be museums, but places where living people interact.  There's bound to be some books on the chair where Justin was reading to Anna, or some dirt by the door because we've been out gardening; a basket of laundry that's been brought in from the line and needs to go upstairs, or a stack of mail that's yet to be read (and, even in my company-ready house there will be dust on the floor, burnt food at the bottom of the oven (why have I yet to learn that baking dishes have a maximum capacity?), and most likely some dishes in the sink).

The family should be able to kick back and relax in their home, and there are bound to be formalities with guests that are not kept in an intimate family setting.  However, the guests aren't the only ones who deserve nice touches.  A priest once told me that we should be our most comfortable, truest selves with our spouses - but that this of course does not allow for us to slide into such comfort that we fail to give them the kindness we afford to strangers outside our home.  I think the same could go for the way that we keep our homes.  Why is it that we wouldn't think of having guests step over a laundry basket, but we'll step over the same basket ourselves 10 times before finally taking it upstairs?  Why do we pull out the nice dishes & table cloths for guests, but sometimes just push aside a pile of papers to eat with our family?

Our guests deserve our best, but we do, too.  The little extra effort each day makes "home" that much more of our sanctuary from the world.  

NOTE: Apologies to my dear, local friends for whom I no longer roll out the red carpet.  Let's just say it's a compliment that you're like family to me ;)

On a (mostly) unrelated note, from time to time, I'll send my mom text pictures of projects I've done or other things around the house.  She always gets excited and thinks that the text message sound on her phone must be a picture of her beloved grand-daughter.  Naturally, something boring like my table setting is a disappointment when you're expecting to see Anna's sweet face.  So I've started including "(V)Anna White" in the pictures when I can, showcasing whatever it is I'm trying to show; or she'll text back jokingly "Where's V Anna?"  In that sense, here's V Anna with the quilt that I finished!  It was a self-imposed challenge to use only materials that I already owned (rather than yet another trip to Jo-Anns!), and given the whimsy of the pattern, I'm calling it my "Happiness is Free" quilt :)


  1. You don't get the newspaper?!?! :)

  2. Emily, I was checking your blog for an update and was enticed to read this post from 2013 (which, from the comment above, I clearly read at the time, but with a different priority). I've been trying to find balance in the level of clean I shoot for daily and the level for company (trying to raise one and lower the other, just a little). I think we're all happier when the house is tidy and clean, but we can't keep it up as pristine as if people are coming over. (And sometimes I let friends stop over with their babies and I don't worry that it isn't perfect -- please love me!) Also, it seems like such a short time ago that your first baby was really a baby! Now I'm getting teary at babies growing up :::sniff sniff:::::