Posts Tagged ‘home for the holidays’

The gift of hospitality

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, parenting, travel on November 18, 2015 at 2:17 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


A shared meal is a gift

How often — ever? — do you welcome guests into your home?

In some cultures, it’s normal to ask even people you don’t know very well in for a drink or a meal or to spend the night. In others, people can take years before they decide to open the door to you.

As the holiday season starts in the U.S. with Thanksgiving, thousands of people will be visiting friends and family, settling into unfamiliar beds, padding down the hallway to a new bathroom and wondering how best to behave.

I love having people come for dinner and our sofa is well-worn from the many visits we’ve had, sometimes for a week or more, from family and out-of-town friends. (We live and work in a one-bedroom apartment. I’d kill for a proper guest room!)

I love the intimacy of spending time in someone’s home and they in mine. You get to see their family photos (or lack of same), their choices of art and design, their books. Every fridge’s contents is a revelation. (You’ll always find maple syrup, eggs and half-and-half in ours.)

I love the ease of a morning spent in pajamas reading the paper or sitting by the evening fire at my Dad’s house, settling in. There’s no rush to get out of a crowded, noisy cafe or restaurant, no bill, no harried waiter or busboy.

In a few days together, you’ve got time. Time to drop and return to a deeper or more difficult conversation or to discuss things you never get to in all those quick meetings — who they first loved or what they studied in college or why they love Mozart so much.

One of the members of our jazz dance class recently had us over for a post-class hot tub session (bliss!) and lunch.

It was the most fun I’d had in a long time. Seven of us squished into the hot tub, the first time I’d seen any of us not in our workout clothes. Lunch became a hilarious and occasionally R-rated conversation that revealed all sorts of new things about one another.


Cooking at the house we rented last year in Ireland

It was, I later realized, a true gift.

It takes time, energy, planning and an open heart to welcome people into your home. (Tidying it up can feel like too much of a chore.)

If you’ve got multiple small children, it can simply feel impossible.

But what a pleasure to sit in someone’s home, to see their taste, to enjoy their cooking and conversation.

Now that we all live so virtually most of the time, being in someone else’s space feels more important to me than ever.


Quiche is a quick, easy and affordable way to feed a few people…

We’ll be driving five hours from New York to suburban D.C. to visit friends there for Thanksgiving. Dear friends, they’ve welcomed us into their home many times before, so we know their enormous dog will be at the door, soon shedding blond fur all over our New York uniform of black clothing. We know their fridge will be full and that it’s OK to raid it.

I look forward to helping my friend prepare the meal for all her family.

And — talk about unlikely! — I recently expressed a vague wish to learn to play the cello. I don’t even know how to read music and the only instrument I played in earlier life was the guitar.

My friend has a cello she’s going to let me try when we’re at her house. What a moment that’s likely to be. (Dog runs away in terror.)

Who will you welcome into your home this season?

Are you looking forward to it, dreading it — or avoiding it altogether?


In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love on December 23, 2014 at 4:48 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


Three little words.

Three loaded words.

Where will you be this holiday?

With (some of [the]) people you (most) love?

Or going solo, no matter the family fallout, avoiding people whose behaviors keep making you miserable — substance abuse, alcoholism, homophobia — maybe a trifecta!

Where is home for you now?

Is it where you grew up, living with your parents?

Or maybe a hotel or apartment on the road, thousands of miles from people who speak your language?

Which holiday, if any, are you celebrating?

Will you attend a Christmas Eve church service?

I know one person spending it on an island deep in the Pacific Ocean, on Tuvalu. (Merry Christmas, Devi!)

Another two women, one from Philadelphia, one from Dublin, are each heading to Chile.


Christmas, with its rush of sentiment, shopping and song, can be a season of great joy, reuniting with people whose love and acceptance raise us up…or a time of intense loneliness.

At a time when people scurry home to their warm, well-lit refuges, some of us are mourning the loss of a partner, a child, a pet.

Some of us are battling serious illness. Some of us are seeking well-paid work and having little luck.

Anyone facing their first holiday season without a dearly loved one, as one recently widowed friend knows, will need the armor of light, (my favorite phrase), to carry them through.

I remember vividly the very first Christmas after my divorce. I’d been with my first husband for seven years and had left Canada, friends, family and career to follow him to the U.S.

I sat for the gorgeous solstice service offered each year by Paul Winter in the enormous New York City cathedral of St. John the Divine, with a dear friend and new beau beside me — loved, valued and deeply grateful not to be alone in a time that so celebrates togetherness.

Even gift-giving can be laden with emotion and anxiety.

I worked part-time in retail for 2.5 years. One man had no notion what his teenage daughter might enjoy while another practically begged me for help: “I need to find a present for a pain in the ass!

For many years, my family gave me “gifts” that were clearly last-minute afterthoughts or the little free samples that come with cosmetic purchases. Nor were my gifts to them graciously or happily accepted.

The season can so quickly sour!

The first Christmas I introduced my husband Jose to my loud, argumentative family was typical. As usual, we were expounding on politics and economics, each of us thumping the table for emphasis, voices raised and fingers pointed, certainty — as usual — thick in the air. We never discuss emotion or feelings, never simply ask, “How are you?”

Poor Jose!

He finally slapped the table in exasperation: “Everyone take a turn!”

Like fighting dogs sprayed with a garden hose, we paused for a minute — stunned. Then, on we went.

Welcome to the family!

Christmas Eve is also difficult for me, the night that, when I was 14, my mother had a nervous breakdown in the foreign country where we were living, leaving me and a friend in an unfamiliar city at midnight. Within a few weeks, I had left the country and her care, returning to live with my father and his girlfriend; I barely knew her and I hadn’t lived with him since my parents’ divorce seven years earlier.

I never lived with my mother again. We since spent some crazy Christmases — like the one in Cartagena, Colombia, (where the police stopped our cab and asked us to step out to be frisked), and later got sunstroke.

But in the past four years I haven’t seen or spoken to her.

Nor will I see my father and two half-brothers, spending their Christmas together in Canada; one brother nurses a long-held grudge against me so that’s it for family holidays that include me.

So the words family and home don’t make much sense to me in any traditional “home for the holidays” way.

Instead of focusing on lack, I’m choosing joy.

Rue Cler, around the corner from our borrowed apartment

Rue Cler, around the corner from our borrowed apartment

We’re now in Paris, a city filled with sweet memories for me, a city I lived in at 25 for a year while on a journalism fellowship. It was a year that changed my life and my career, and I’m still in touch with some of my fellow fellows decades later.

Paris for me — a Canadian living in New York — still feels like home for that reason, even after years between visits.

Jose is my family now. He proposed to me at midnight on Christmas Eve after church, standing beneath our church’s lych gate as snow hissed around us. He knew how sad that night had been for me and decided to re-brand it with a happier memory.

I hope — wherever you are and whoever you’re with and whatever you celebrate — you have a calm, loving, happy holiday!

Thank you all for the gift of your attention to Broadside. It means a lot!




The gift without wrapping — love

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, love on December 24, 2013 at 1:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many of us, the holidays are a time of frenzied shopping, wrapping gifts, tearing them open with glee, (and pretending we love those socks, really!) — surrounded by loved ones, deep in the bosom of a welcoming family.

For others, it’s a lonely time of want and exclusion.

My greatest gift, for the past 13 years, has been my husband, Jose, who proposed to me on Christmas Eve, with snow falling around us, after the evening service at our small historic church. He knew that night had many painful memories for me, going back decades, and decided to “re-brand” it with something new and happy.

But we didn’t marry until September 2011, eight years later, in a small wooden church on an island in the harbor of my hometown, Toronto.

Our marriage, which we cherish for this, is hard-won.


We were — and still are — two hot-headed, competitive, stubborn workaholics, both career journalists more accustomed to pouring our best, (our all), into our work, a safe place to win recognition, awards and income. His parents died before he was 30 and we’re not close, emotionally or physically, to our families, no matter how hard we’ve tried. No one from his family attended our wedding, nor did one of my brothers or my mother. We have no children.

So we’re very much one another’s family.

We also married, (the second marriage for both), at what is euphemistically and hopefully called mid-life.

I’m grateful for the daily gift of a good man who loves me deeply.

We laugh loudly, and a lot. We talk for hours. We lean our heads against one another’s shoulders in public. He does the laundry. I do (some!) of the cooking. He’s starting to beat me (damn!) at Bananagrams. He’s the guy who — when I start waving the wooden stick after I’ve finished my ice cream bar — makes the buzzing noise of a light saber.

The furthest apart we’ve (yet) been — I was in Tunis on a solo vacation and he was in San Francisco, judging photos for the “A Day in the Life of America” coffee table book.

In this, our 13th holiday season together, he has shown me, more than anyone in my life so far, that love doesn’t come in a box or bag or sealed-plastic container.

It has no price tag or return policy.

If we’re really lucky, it’s right there in front of us.

As Thanksgiving Nears, Ten Ways To Be A Gracious Host

In business, food, parenting, travel on November 22, 2010 at 1:32 am
New welcome mat from my parents

Image via Wikipedia

Being invited to someone’s home — as many of us will soon be for the holidays, whether for a party, a meal or a few days — is supposed to be a wonderful thing, a gesture of affection and hospitality. As we all know, it can also lead to sulks, sighs, flounces, shouts or worse.

Herewith a few rules for the host:

Make it fun. Really. Too many people stress themselves out to create Martha Stewart-esque perfection, determined to get it right, or else. I love to entertain in style, with candles and linen napkins, but if my guests aren’t having a good time, there’s not much point. Great music and soft lighting help. Delegate as many tasks as possible and allow plenty of time between the house-cleaning, food shopping, prep and cooking — and your meal or party. A pooped-out host(ess) is no fun!

Offer a wide array of beverage choices. Pellegrino, lots of lime and lemon slices, fresh ice, freshly-squeezed orange juice, V-8 juice and brewed tea make a nice break from sugary sodas or liquor. (Most fruit juices contain way too much sugar for those trying to lose weight.) If you’re serving tea or coffee, it’s great to have half-and-half and skim milk available as well.

Determine food allergies — but set your limits. This is really tricky in an age of vegans, gluten-free adherents and people choosing to follow any number of exotic diets. I once prepared a great salmon dish to have my 25-year-old guests sniff “I don’t eat fish.” Yes, we made them something else, but they haven’t been invited back since.

Be clear about your expectations. If the cat will rush into busy traffic if a door is opened, make that known. If you won’t tolerate anyone else disciplining your children, say so. If the apartment door must be double-bolted upon exiting to be secure, tell your houseguests, preferably a few times.

Write stuff down. If you have guests with you for a while, a written list of tips can’t hurt — where to find the coffee, whether you compost or recycle, the location of the nearest pharmacy or grocery store. Most people hate to snoop or nag, and everyone runs their household a little differently.

Anticipate disaster. If you really don’t want a red wine stain anywhere, don’t serve it. If your best crystal is irreplaceable, don’t put it within anyone’s reach.

Stock your medicine cabinet. No one wants to come unprepared, but emergencies happen — aspirin, Pepto-Bismol, bandages, sanitary supplies, extra razors or toothbrushes are all very much appreciated by needy guests.

Don’t assume your guests know how to (safely) operate any of your technology. Explain clearly anything they might find confusing. This might be anything from your remote to your coffee-maker to your music system.

Let your guests know it’s OK to do their laundry (if it is) and have extra soap on hand. If they’ve been on the road for a while, or have little kids or work out often, it’s a relief to be able to keep up.

Make houseguests truly feel at home. Nice towels, a few new magazines, a box of chocolates, a pitcher of ice water and some pretty fresh flowers in their room will make them feel pampered. If you really don’t want people around, don’t invite them, or limit their stay. They can feel it. Fake or forced hospitality is a misery for everyone.

Don’t Kill The Cat! Ten Ways To Be A Great Houseguest

In animals, behavior, parenting, travel on November 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm
House Sparrow

Respect their nest! Image via Wikipedia

As the holidays approach, and hosts everywhere hope for the best, a few handy tips:

Don’t kill the cat, (or dog, or fish or parakeet.) I once rented a Parisian apartment, a tiny studio at the top of six (!) flights of stairs. It came with a cat. Within minutes of setting down my suitcase, the cat was gone. Where? I peered six stories down into the courtyard. Nope. Looked every-bloody-where. Asked a neighbor. Kitty had hidden under the duvet covering the sofa. Great. I might have sat on le maudit chat.

Whatever animal(s) come with your host’s home, treat them with kindness and care. Keep doors locked and windows closed when necessary.

Bring loot. It might be lovely soap, fine chocolate, wine, some CDs, a coffee table book. If you arrive empty-handed, be sure to send a gift or flowers within a few days after you leave. With your hand-written thank-you note, mailed. Even if your hosts are loaded and seem to have everything, you can come up with something they would enjoy.

Help out. This means you, missy. Even if you snooze ’til noon, you’re still fully capable of washing dishes, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor or wiping down the kitchen countertops. Not everyone is as haus-frau-y as me, and I do love a little housework, so I do windows, polish silver and even clean out fridges on occasion.

Buy meals. When you and your host(s) go out to eat or drink, pay for them. If you’re on a super-tight budget, do it anyway, at least once. Be thoughtful about their generosity in inviting you into their home. (i.e. you’re not paying to sleep there.)

Bring food and drink. Again, especially if your host(s) are on a budget, this means less of a drain on their scant resources. If you must consume something very specific (and/or expensive) — soy milk, quinoa, spelt, gluten-free bread? — bring it with you.

Sex. Don’t. Really, it’s just not that urgent. If you must, be quiet and tidy and don’t spend all day locked in your room. Whatever little treasures you enjoy at home, stash ’em when not in use. No matter how wildly in love/lust you are, limit the PDA. It can get a little scary.

No public grooming. Ever. Ever. That includes: shaving, flossing, plucking, picking, moisturizing, depilating, coloring, the noisy and disgusting trimming of your nails, filing/painting/unvarnishing your nails. No one needs to see, hear or smell these behaviors, however necessary.

Find a room and shut the door and do it there. Then tidy up.

Respect the space. Even if you think your host(s’) standards of housekeeping, design or cleanliness oddly high or low, it’s their place. If it’s really that dirty or gross, leave. If it’s so anally all-white-don’t-touch-the-sofa you’re scared to relax, ditto.

Ask about preferences and allergies. I almost ruined my friend’s job interview this week by starting to spray (a little) perfume on my wrists. Turns out she is wildly allergic and would have sneezed for hours.

Adjust your schedule. You don’t have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to meditate or jog with your host(s), but it’s their home and their life you’ve come to fit into for a few days or more. If you normally wake up especially late, make sure this isn’t going to pose a problem for them. Find out who needs the bathroom when and for how long. If you get up much earlier or stay up much later than they do, be quiet and considerate of others’ needs for silence and rest.

Staying with a friend or relative can be a lot of fun and a great way to get to know them better, and vice versa.

It can also, quickly and efficiently, forever kill even the best of relationships as people seethe, sulk and wonder whose idea this was exactly.

Give good guest!


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