Two years ago, I did a pretty shabby job of hosting Ron’s side of the family for a post-holiday celebration. But I had a good excuse for spending most of the time on the couch. I was sick with a 24-hour case of stomach flu.

Last month, the same crew of relatives was brave enough to spend Thanksgiving with us. I think I did much better this time, and even served both kinds of cranberry sauce (smooth and bumpy) to suit all my guests.

My holiday gift to you, beloved readers, is a list of what to do before welcoming family or friends into your home. Follow these steps and your houseguests will think they’re in a luxury hotel.

Pam's helpful hostessing hints

First, you must get rid of any household pests — easier said that done if you don’t hire a professional.

When we lived in Okinawa, exterminators were just a telephone call away, provided by Uncle Sam.

Take advantage of this wonderful military benefit and make that call a couple of weeks before your guests arrive. If you don’t live in base housing and decide to fight the battle yourself, declare war on the pests three weeks before that.

Clean your oven so the smoke alarms don’t go off every time you cook. Do this two weeks ahead of time so it won’t be overly clean. You don’t want your mother-in-law thinking you never cook unless she’s on her way.

For the same reason, remember to get rid of all that convenience food in the freezer and pantry by warming it up for your family, three times a day, if necessary.

I could write five pages about what to buy, but will stick to the basics.

Learn from my mistakes and buy a new can opener if you only have one. You don’t want it to break on Christmas Day like mine did on Thanksgiving morning.

Buy the economy-sized package of toilet tissue at the commissary.

Even if you don’t mind using the cheaper brands, get whatever good brand is on sale. Your guests are worth it, and you can go back to buying the cheap stuff after they leave.

On the other hand, you can be cheap when it comes to buying sodas or fruit drinks if children are heading your way. They don’t mind, and usually have two or three open at the same time after forgetting where they put the last one.

Grown-ups only behave that way after having “adult” drinks, which must be made with “the good stuff.”

If, like me, you were raised a Southern Baptist and feel guilty spending money on booze, have your spouse purchase the alcoholic drinks. He might even pick you up some roses on the way to make your heart melt and your home look festive.

Two days before your guests arrive, begin cleaning your house from top to bottom. Save the bathrooms for last, especially if you have sons.

While cleaning, do twice as much laundry as usual. Clean sheets on the beds are a must.

Wash the dog if she smells bad and get rid of any evidence that she might have ever had fleas, including the flea collars on the bottom of your bedposts and under the couch.

To make sure your house doesn’t smell funny, place air fresheners in most of the rooms and empty all trash cans, even the one under the paper-shredder.

If you have sons, take them for haircuts so you will look like a military family and not a bunch of flag-burning hippies.

Any food that can be prepared early, such as cakes, pies and appetizers, should be. While cooking, throw away packaging of foods you didn’t make from scratch but feel like you should have, such as gravy mix and Pepperidge Farm stuffing.

Lastly, make sure all human family members are clean, well-dressed and smiling when your guests walk through the door.

Now, take a deep breath and relax so you and your guests will enjoy your time together. Begin the visit with hugs.

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has moved eight times in 16 years of marriage to her Marine Corps husband. They have been stationed in various locations, including Okinawa, California, Texas and their current home in Springfield, Va. E-mail her at or find the Zichs online at

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