Commandment #4: Perfectionism & Dr. James Dobson

Perfectionism is a robber. Lower your expectations. Your guests do not expect perfection and neither should you.

Paul and I were honored to have met Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, this past fall. It was a highlight for us, for sure. I started to shake his hand, and then I realized I just needed to hug him! After all, many of the books that he has written have helped Paul and me in our journey through life and in raising our family.

Dr. Dobson was in Ireland a number of years ago and made a helpful observation that goes hand in hand with what my mission is all about. He experienced the legendary Irish hospitality. The fellowship was warm and genuine, and he also noticed that the homes he entered were not perfectly clean and orderly. They looked, well, lived in. The way most of our homes look most of the time. Dr. Dobson concluded that one of the reasons why the Irish are so hospitable and, with it, experience so much connection and beneficial fellowship, is because they don't feel that their homes have to be perfect, or their meals always stunning.

My husband, Paul, can attest to this fact. His parents immigrated to the United States from Ireland. He remembers how hospitable his mother could be, and one reason why she could bless others with a good meal and genuine conversation was because she didn't believe her home had to be perfect when company arrived.

I recently over-cooked my prime rib for one of our meals over the holidays. I had envisioned this perfectly cooked, rare, piece of meat. At first my heart sank when my husband cut into it and I did not see the blood oozing out. It took me a few minutes to get over it and realize that our meal with our friends was not about how the meat was cooked. It was about being together and breaking bread together. It was about the richness of our conversation. And my husband has always told me, “Never apologize for your cooking in front of guests.” That has been a hard thing for me to practice because I tend to be prideful about my cooking.

Even though I personally did not think my meal came off as a “spectacular” dinner, our guests were gracious and complimentary anyway. And we all had a great time!

I’m still learning to put away pride before I open my front door. Whoever is standing there can accept my house, or me, as we are! I’m beginning to think that when I’m nervous, it is nothing more than pride. Pride with a Capital “I” in the middle. What does it matter if a guests walks in to an unclean room? Maybe I should put “Enter at your own risk!” on the doors that I feel don’t meet my standard. Or what if all the napkins don’t match on the table or the rolls get too brown on the bottom? When these worries start popping up in my head I try to ask myself, Who am I trying to impress?” Is it my human efforts that will make or break the evening? Or can I rely on a deeper, supernatural experience to happen on its own. Without me! Pride forces me to think about me. It’s not all about me.

I’m learning to lower my expectations. How about you?

(Photo above: Paul and I were guests with Dr. James Dobson at Focus on the Family, in Colorado Springs, in Oct. 2006)


Commandment #3: Set the Mood & 5 Senses

Set the mood with your specific style of music, lighting or candles. When in doubt, ask your guests to bring their favorite music.

I'm going to keep this simple, so move aside Martha! Seriously, Setting the Mood is where entertaining can get scary or intimidating to people, or go bad! We think we have to meet some standard that is way beyond our reach.

Setting the mood is different for each of us, but we all have 5 senses to experience the world! So it only makes "sense" to talk about them in an entertaining fashion. I will tell you about the Coughlin household.

SEE: I love to look through my tablecloths that hang in my coat closet. Many times I choose my starched "white" one, but I have an array of many, from garage sales, gifts, or special ones I have purchased. I mix and match napkins and fresh flowers and candles, which I consider a must. I often determine the theme of the table by which flowers are blooming in my yard! Like when my peonies or my dahlias are in bloom. Oh, and lighting! We always dim the lights if we are using candles. Not only are they pleasing to the eye, but they evoke pleasurable aromas (but take note: don't use highly-scented flowers or candles, lest you cover up the inviting aroma of the meal!). If we are eating outside, we will turn on our fairy lights or light the torch candles. We've even lit floating candles in our pool!

Whether you are hosting a casual or a formal affair, the table can instantly set the mood for your dinner guests.
And keep in mind, you don't even need to know what a charger is, or you don't need to own separate salad, dinner, fish and dessert forks. You don't have to spend a lot of money--just a little time and effort, using what you have!

HEAR: Ok, I'll admit it. My husband has great taste in music. He is the music maestro around our home, so before guests arrive I ask him (very nicely) if he'll line up the music. I can always trust his choice of music for the evening, be it Nora Jones, or Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, or Dave Brubeck, or Marta Gomez. Music builds memory, it connects people, and of course it helps set or create the mood. It helps build camaraderie and can be very motivational in our conversations! One trick is to play music a degree or two louder than you think you should. It actually creates more spirited conversations because it causes people to speak more loudly than they normally do. Paul learned this trick while working in restaurants during his college years. We use a variety of up-tempo music, followed by a slower piece of music. Music should create some kind of pleasant tension, and then release. Similar to some of our fondest memories of meals we have had that hold some tension, sweetness and then savoriness does the trick in the case of food.

Or take it a step further. What do the guests hear in the background when they walk into your home? Bitterness, hostility, a stressed-out host or hostess? Or comforting words, interest, and stimulating conversations?

SMELL: It's easy to close our eyes and block out a sight. We can cover our ears and block out sound. But it's virtually impossible to shut down your olfactory system. Everything has a scent. I think back to when I was a little girl, walking into our house after church on Sunday and smelling the yummy roast. Or smelling chocolate chip cookies, or homemade bread, or a hot apple pie. Even the smell of fresh-cut grass on a warm summer day where the BBQ is heating up brings a sense of warmth. When it's dinnertime, it usually smells good wherever you are!

FEEL: We consider attending a great evening party the same as time in a spa. You come out relaxed and having experienced rejuvenation. That is our goal when folks leave our house. Good food, conversation, relaxing, healing. We think back to an evening where a couple was going through a rough patch in marriage, in life in general. During the meal we saw them both relaxing together, but it wasn't until we started clearing the dinner dishes, leaving the 2 alone in our backyard, did we see them hold hands and smile and laugh together. They left far happier and with much more harmony than when they first came to our home. In our small but significant way, we literally helped put their marriage back together.

TASTE: We have 5 senses to experience the world! So it only makes "sense" to talk about them in an entertaining fashion. After all, cooking is a sensual experience. Food looks beautiful; our emotions are triggered by color. Food feels good in our mouths; we love the texture and comfort it brings us. Food smells delicious; our mouth waters when we smell these inviting fragrances. Food even sounds enticing as we hear the sizzling or oil popping in the kitchen. Then we get to indulge in the taste of food, the best of all.

Some basics to remember when cooking: Cooking does not have to be impressive or complicated to be good. Sometimes the best food is the simplest. However, it should be prepared well and with care, and attractively presented and served at the proper time. Serve the food hot (don't let it sit), toss the salad just before serving, and call out that, "Dinner's Ready!"

If you're hesitant to host guests in your home, keep these 5 senses in mind and see if it comes easier to you. You can even make a checklist!

I try to remember: A sign of a good time and tasty meal is a tablecloth with a spot or two!


Commandment #2: Organize & Plan; Zucc Recipe

Organization and planning ahead: Know Thy Recipe! Have a plan! Makes lists! Experience the power of delegation!

Often our unwillingness, or reluctance, to have guests over stems from pre-conceived ideas of what the result should be. As with anything, the more I’ve hosted dinner guests, the more comfortable I’ve gotten.

I was a Director for Pampered Chef for a little over 2 years. It was fun and I loved going into over 160 kitchens and getting to know the hostesses. One thing I learned quickly was to stick with the same 2 recipes for about a six-week period. I improved my presentation and got more efficient with each party, and was able to enjoy the guests more.

I have instilled that plan into my entertaining (or hosting) in my home. My first recommendation is to “Know Thy Recipe!” Try it on your family first, and if it’s a “hit,” choose some side dishes that go well with it; write the menu down and file it away to be used on your guests. You’ll eventually be able to memorize some of the recipes. One of the side dish recipes that I am known for is my Zucchini Noodles! We have a garden, so this is a great way to use up all those monster-sized zucchini’s for a tasty, mouth-watering side dish (posted below). Many kids have discovered a love for zucchini in our home. I look for recipes that not only taste good, but also require minimal kitchen time, or at least minimal time when the guests arrive.

Try to plan out your menu a few days in advance and get to the store right away. Making notes or lists helps, and also keep your favorite “stand-by crowd-pleaser” menus taped up inside your cupboard doors, easy to find in a pinch. I’ve also purchased Costco white binders with sheet protectors that I’ll slip recipes or ideas from magazines into. You could even label one “dinner,” “dessert,” “decorating ideas,” etc.

I often work backwards with my lists and time. I’ll call it the 3-Day Countdown! I’ll decide 2 days before, “What can I do today to lighten my load?” If we have company on Saturday night, I’ll make a list for Thursday, Friday and then Saturday. After work on a Thursday I may head to the store and get all my shopping done. On Friday I may marinate my meat, make up my salad dressing, toast my nuts, or even set out my dishes.

The day that my guests are going to arrive, I love to stay home. Even though I usually try to pick up and clean a little (if I stay on a regular cleaning schedule, the “light” cleaning is fast!) I love putting my table together, making my dessert, and just enjoying my home and the creativity that I’ll talk about in another post. I love the “bringing it all together” feeling. Being organized and able to cross things off your list prior to this day makes the preparation enjoyable.

If you are a deadline person, this should work for you. I work fast under pressure and my sister-in-law often calls me (in a joking way), “June Cleaver on speed!” For some reason I kick into “high gear” when I know I have only 3 hours before 12 guests, or even 4 guests, arrive. (See photo above that Abby drew of her Mama!)

Experience the power of delegation! Gone are the days when I’d rather do it all myself. I’m always tempted to do more than is required, but I’ve learned that when people ask what they can bring, I should assign them a course -- an appetizer, bread, salad or dessert. The more families we have, the less cooking I have to do.

It’s easy to spend days in elaborate preparations that just rob us of our time. Again, looking at our hidden motives I ask myself, am I trying to impress? When I’m stressed at the last minute before guests arrive, I know I’ve slipped back into old habits of running behind and not preparing in advance. My personal goal is to be finished with everything ½ hour before guests arrive. I like to sit down with my husband then and relax.

Now here are my fabulous ZUCCHINI NOODLES recipe! A real “hit” with company and a great side dish! They are a great substitute for pasta and can be served with an Alfredo sauce (below), or with any kind of meat, or you can serve with spaghetti sauce. Anywhere you’d eat pasta, you can substitute zucchini noodles.

Zucchini Noodles
Take approximately 12 zucchini and create long ribbons with you potato peeler, starting at the top of your zucchini and peeling wide ribbons down the length of it. Continue turning and peeling until you use all of the green, and continue until it becomes to thin. Discard the rest (or use in soup).

Heat a large skillet on medium-high and add your olive oil and noodles. Sauté for approximately 2-3 minutes. Do not over cook (they will be soggy). Add salt and pepper.

Make your favorite Alfredo sauce to add to the noodles and serve!

My favorite Alfredo sauce is: Press about 10 garlic and sauté in olive oil in a small fry pan. Add 2 cups of whipping cream and heat on high until it starts to boil, then turn down to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.


Since Abby drew the picture above, I thought it would be fun to share the apron she made for her American Girl doll with her Christmas sewing machine!


Commandment #1: Hospitality is a Gift

Hospitality is not only a gift I have but a gift I give. Be passionate about it!

How can you be passionate about something you feel you are totally inept at, you ask yourself? For some women like myself, hospitality is as natural as walking. For others, it takes work, practice and effort. In my lifetime of entertaining, it has become a channel for some amazing experiences.

I keep 3x5 index cards, bound by a rubber band; of all the guests we have had in our home. I now have fifteen years worth. I record the month/year and what I served. I occasionally thumb through these cards and reminisce. Not necessarily about the meal served, but about what happened around our table that night. Some couples are no longer married. It makes my husband and me wonder, what more could we have done? How could we have helped these people? Real, heart-felt, conversations and sometimes tears took place around the Coughlin dining table. Many times healing as well.

Essential to hospitality is opening our hearts and our homes. We each have a home – be it a small home, mid-sized home, or a mansion! And no matter what the size of our table or what food is served, bonding around that table and enjoying a meal makes people feel loved.

I never thought much about entertaining being different than hospitality, because I refer to both of these often on my blog. But searching deeper, there is a difference. Entertaining can be a burden when I carry around the feeling that I must impress others. Oops! That is hard to write because I've experienced it myself. The difference in hospitality is it does not try to impress. I find myself loving and serving and not even thinking about myself, and stories like these are posted throughout my blog.

Entertaining too often says, “I want to impress you with my creative new recipes and the latest decorating fad and my perfectly decked-out house.” It can show that I want to be admired! Hospitality, in turn, says, “This home is truly a gift and it may not be perfect, but come on in for great food and soul connection.” It also says, “What is said around the table stays around the table.”

One more thing about hospitality: It gives without expecting something in return. My husband and I have discussed this. We have served meals around our table for 18 years now, which have not always been reciprocated. Now, do we give to receive? No way! But that is one reason this blog came to be. I can think of so many reluctant entertainers out there that “voice” their desire to be more hospitable, but they’re afraid to. So, how can I help the reluctant entertainer gain the confidence to take his or her God-given gift (even if it has to be nurtured), and use it?

I hope I can help by explaining further the core meaning of hospitality. My TEN COMMANDMENTS spell out the word “hospitable.” How appropriate that the dictionary would define it between the words “hospice” (meaning shelter) and “hospital” (place of healing).

Its no wonder so many people are afraid to "entertain." Wouldn’t you like to offer a place for others to heal instead? I hope I've ignited a renewed passion inside of you!

I’d like to hear your stories of what being hospitable means to you?

(what a reluctant entertainer should not look like! I must have been worried about something!)



It’s 2007, an exciting year, and I am going to share
with you my personal
that I use in my home when it comes to being
reluctant entertainers become confident entertainers!

Hospitality is not only a gift I have but a gift I give. Be passionate about it!
Organization and planning ahead: Know Thy Recipe! Have a plan! Makes lists! Experience the power of delegation!
Set the mood with your specific style of music, lighting or candles. When in doubt, ask your guests to bring their favorite music.
Perfectionism is a robber. Lower your expectations. Your guests do not expect perfection and neither should you.
Ignite conversation by planning ahead of time 2 or 3 specific questions and topics of conversation for your guests.
Transform your home or meal with thrifty ways and low-cost ideas. Make garage sales and thrift or dollar stores part of your errand ritual.
Apologizing for a perceived error in your meal just draws attention to you and pulls away from the enjoyment of the meal.
Be yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, but create your own style.
Learning - always be willing to try new things. Use the Internet or library, along with your favorite cookbooks, for recipes and unique ideas. Try new recipes on your family first.
Expect life-changing impact! Those who feed people lead people.

In the upcoming weeks, I'll explain each of these commandments and how they became important in the Coughlin household.

One final thought: People won’t always remember the meal that you cooked but they will remember the mood that was set.