The Secret Ingredient to Thanksgiving Hospitality

Yesterday something sweet and tender happened. My daughter Katie texted me a picture of her four-year-old stepdaughter Rilynn. When I saw the picture, I finally figured out the secret ingredient to Thanksgiving hospitality.

It’s so simple. For years, I’d made it complicated. 

Rilynn’s holding a tea party for her dolls on the bathroom floor.

“Oh, Katie–this picture…”

“I know. Don’t you love it?”

I enlarged the photo.

“I bet she’s talking to each one of her little friends,” I said.

“She is.”

“And serving something yummy like apple pie.”

Katie laughed. “Actually, they’re having Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries. She put a Crunch Berry in everybody’s dish. And added water.”

We hung up, but I couldn’t forget the picture.

For years, I thought having people over for Thanksgiving meant you had to create a perfect meal and a perfect centerpiece. 

One year, I went nuts over a wrinkled tablecloth! Can you imagine? Never mind the people sitting around my table. So silly! I blogged about it here.

The secret ingredient to Thanksgiving hospitality has nothing to do with being perfect. Just the opposite. 

And Rilynn’s already figured it out.

The secret to Thanksgiving hospitality is this–

Forget about yourself, serve others, and care more about people than place mats.

There. That’s it. It’s that simple.

And something else–

Last night, I thanked God for you. For your comments. Your prayers. You’ve welcomed me into your home and your hearts. In my imagination, you came to my house–each one of you, and I made my favorite dessert from childhood.

A cherry cheesecake pie.

(Here’s the recipe from I used a gluten-free crust so it’s GF.)

Oh, how I wish we could share a Thanksgiving meal together!

“…Serve one another humbly with love.” Galatians 5:13 NIV 

Have you ever been welcomed into someone’s home the way Rilynn served her friends? What was it like?

Have you ever struggled with trying to be perfect? Now we know better!






  1. Patricia Martin says:

    I know how hard it can be to want to make perfect holidays! So many of my loved ones have down sized to much simpler holidays and now, I hear the relief in their voices and the true joy of the holiday season!((((: What are your Thanksgiving plans, Julie? Due to Maddy’s surgery, our holiday season will be simple and that is fine.(:
    Hugs to you and yours,

    • I think that’s so smart, Patricia. SIMPLE is my word, ‘ya know. 🙂 🙂

      So, when is Maddy’s actual surgery?

      Thanksgiving plans–I’m having lunch here with my in-laws, my brother, Thomas and Brittany, Mom and Gene, Jamie, hope Katie and her hubby can be here, and then I want to drive my mom over to my sis’s house that afternoon.


    • And what your speeches, Patricia!! Did you have any this week?

  2. Anna Haney says:

    I thought that once I got married, the holidays would be wonderful. My husband has two brothers and they have families and visions of huge gatherings danced in my head. Once the dust settled, however, I realized that not every family is like the Waltons and the vision I had in my head was just a vision. There were squabbles about side dishes and what time to eat, and whether or not we needed to eat exactly on Thanksgiving Day. STOP THE INSANITY.
    The year we moved into our home, we hosted Thanksgiving and had his brother and his family, his mom, and my parents. Used the wedding china. Part of me enjoyed it but part of me was bothered by the fact that my sister in law kept texting the other sister in law and Don’s other brother didn’t even call his mom.
    Then one Christmas, Don, his mom, and my parents enjoyed a wonderful Christmas Day at my parents’ house–just the five of us. It was delightful. We didn’t focus on stuff. We focused on the reason for the season.
    It was great

    • Ohhh, Anna. I’m sitting here laughing and shaking my head. STOP THE INSANITY IS RIGHT!!!

      I absolutely adore the Simple Truth in your last paragraph. Love, love, love it. Helps keep me focused on what matters most.

      Thank you, my Dear Friend. And I hope you liked the cherry cheesecake pie. 🙂

  3. that’s the essence to relationships…caring more about the person than the: _______ whatever! love love love this Julie…thank you for re-centering me this morning xo

    • Love you, Robin. You were the one who began to change my understanding–that people matter more than place mats .

      I’ll always be grateful.

  4. Oh Julie,
    This message just spoke to my heart on so many levels. Like you, I have been guilty
    of making a Thanksgiving meal complicated with a need for perfection. Your darling granddaughter
    made the lesson so clear…

    Just be present with those who are there. Serve them. Forget about yourself!

    What a gift your words are to me today. Just what God had in mind for my soul to hear. I even wrote about
    this on my blog. Thank you, thank you for this blessed reminder.

    God Bless!
    Love, Linda

    • I know, Linda. I know….when I saw that picture, my heart just about stopped—that feeling of LISTEN UP. This is important.

      Thank you so much for letting me (Actually, thank you for letting US know because so many commenters read all the responses).

      Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. I don’t think we, our family, tries to be perfect. I think we just do too much. We over do. Over complicate. It would really be super nice to simplify. We are trying a little something different this year. Everyone bring one dish. Make enough of that dish to feed everyone. Yep! We will see how the overachievers do with that one. Bahahaha!!!! I will keep you posted.

    • Ohhhh, yes. I’ve done that too, Felicia.

      So Simple! Love the idea. Please share with the group how it goes. I think it’ll be a bit hit!!!!


  6. Shelley Elaine says:

    How absolutely PRECIOUS! And your prayer of thanksgiving gave me goose bumps-the good kind. Yes, several yrs back, I felt God impressing on my heart to take my Great Aunt Lois (who will be 98 next mo.) back to the home she shared with the love of her life for her 7 yrs of blissful married life. We drove up, not knowing if the house was even still there or who the current residents might be. My daughter was around 2 and still riding in a car seat. Imagine our surprise and wonder when the unsuspecting couple welcomed us into their home with open arms…they cheerfully showed Aunt Lois old, tools her husband had abandoned that they had found/dug up and proudly displayed. There was a German chocolate cake on their bar under a glass cake plate and even Yoo-hoo’s in their fridg. that my little girl enjoyed. I have OFTEN remembered this day and wondered what my reaction would have been to complete strangers and THANKED God for His mysterious Grace and gifts that we can’t even imagine how He orchestrated. Wish I could share that slice of pie with you, too, Julie and yes, introduce our husbands. Happy Thanksgiving Sweet Friend! I am extremely THANKFUL for YOU.

    • Hey Shelley! Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, what a beautiful story! What a kind heart you have!!!

      Bless your sweet heart. I just had to say it. 🙂 🙂

      I’m imagining this scene in my mind. And So grateful for these people opening up their home to you two.

      Big Thanksgiving hugs, my friend! And thank you—for your THANK YOU!

  7. marci says:

    Dearest Julie, this is wonderful. When I got to the prayer you prayed, I was almost in tears. And what a wonderful reminder to keep it simple. Maybe a lot of us needed that message this time of year, when things are getting into high gear. I have been trying not to stress.

    Children can teach us lessons can’t they? What a wonderful lesson from Rilynn. We can have a nice time, and visit with our friends, even in the doorway of a bathroom. We don’t have to be fancy.

    My daughter told me, over the week-end, she may not be here for Thanksgiving Day. So if not, that will be different for us. She said she would try to come sometime close to Thanksgiving. We will just have to have our Thanksgiving on a different day. What ever day we celebrate, I do hope to keep it simple. … My daughter may not be here on Thanksgiving day because- she and a bff, plan to spend the day with another of their best friends. 4 of them were very close during the vet school yrs. Now one of the guys is all alone. He lost his whole family,one by one. .. a few years ago, it was he who invided one of the girls who could not be with her family, to spend Thanksgiving with him and his family..(which was such a blessing and joy to her, being welcomed so warmly) so though I will miss seeing my daughter that day, I am glad she is being such a good friend. And that little close knit group, — also are a family. Family does not have to mean mother, father, child.
    I so like our little family here, and get so much strength here. I love the thought of all of us going to your home, visiting, and enjoying each others company, even if not all at the same time.. I can see it in my mind’s eye now. And I am smiling! : )
    And that gives me JOY, (my this year word).
    Much Love to you dear Julie, and each one in this little family God has created here.
    Blessings, Marci’a

    • marci says:

      PS I so like the table cover you have with the all the leafs. So colorful and pretty. Is it quilted? Just wondering. You know me and anything done by hand.

      • What you’re seeing is actually place mats. I’m pretty sure I got them from Walmart–maybe last year?

        So glad you like them! And yes, I’m sure you could make them. 🙂

    • Ohhh, I know–just watching children teaches us so much about how to live. Even in the BATHROOM! 🙂

      I 100% agree–family doesn’t have to be mommy, daddy, bro and sis. What a kind thing your daughter is doing! Wish I could meet you both one day.

      JOY right back to you~~~~ SIMPLE (my word) JOY!

      Love you, my friend.

  8. Mary says:

    Seven years ago, my father was extremely ill, and was admitted to the hospital the evening before Thanksgiving. He was 89, had a serious bone infection, and was not doing well at all. I drove 350 miles to be with him and my three brothers. In mid afternoon, we found ourselves sitting in the hospital cafeteria. I ate a bowl of cornflakes. I remember thinking, “Some people are sitting down to a fancy gourmet meal, and here we are at a cafeteria table. And there is no place I would rather be, because I am with the people I love.” It was a ‘whack on the side of the head’ and it made me see that LOVE is really all there is. If you are surrounded by people you love, nothing else really matters.
    PS. My father continued to spiral downwards. He was discharged to hospice, where….he began to get BETTER! He is still alive and well at 96. He lives by himself, drives, mows his lawn and is as sharp as a tack. God is good.

    • Ohhh, Mary.

      Holy Goose Bumps. Big time!

      What a story——-And your precious daddy got better!!!! Thank you, Lord. Whewwww!!

      Love the mental picture of you sitting there eating corn flakes and sensing a wave of gratitude coming over you. Sounds like exactly what hit me when I saw Rilynn feeding her friends.


  9. Patricia Martin says:

    Love the sound of your Thanksgiving plan, Julie! Maddy’s surgery is December 2 and I have a big persuasive speech coming up next Tuseday. How is your novel? Rilynn is so cute and wise beyond her years–little children really do lead us.();

    • Hey again, Patricia.

      Okay, I’m writing Maddy’s name on my calendar for December 2. And I’ve been praying for you on Tues mornings. I’ll keep doing it!! May God rise up and keep you totally calm and at peace! No fear whatsoever.


  10. Julie Gilleand says:

    Hey there Leaf Sister,

    I probably told this story before, but one Thanksgiving or Christmas (can’t remember now which), years ago, I hosted the dinner at our apartment. I wanted everything to be just right. Grandma always made everything so wonderful for everyone and I knew I’d never live up to that but at least wanted to try. So there we were, seated around two tables pushed together — my kitchen table and a card table, made to look like one long table. I threw on the biggest plastic tablecloth I could find, even though it wasn’t a very pretty one — a very dull teal, lol. So festive, huh?! I used the china Grandma had given me for Christmas one year and the Dirilyte tablewear that had belonged to my great-grandma. There was good food passed around, candles lit, and best of all, my whole family — my three boys who were still very young, my parents, Grandma, and my brother Steve. We were not long into the dinner when I made a terrible discovery — my ugly teal tablecloth …. was a shower curtain!!!! I don’t know if my face turned beet red or ghostly white, but oh how I cringed and desperately hoped no one would find out! I don’t think anyone did, or if they did were too polite to say so. I know if any one of my boys had figured it out, they would have shouted it from the mountaintops and I would have never heard the end of it! I think what makes times like these perfect is not whether everything IS perfect, but just how perfectly you enjoy each other and make some perfectly wonderful memories — and that we did!

    Thanks for sharing you story Julie and such a sweet picture of Rilynn. And that cherry cheesecake pie looks so yummy too!!

    Blessings 🙂

    Leafy Julie G.

    • NOOOO, Leafy! You’ve never shared the shower curtain table cloth story, but I sure do LOVE it!!!!!!

      I’m sitting here laughing all by myself in my office. Priceless!! You know, I’m wondering if you “accidentally” did it again, if everyone would just get a good kick out of it. And Laugh. I would.


      • Julie Gilleand says:

        You know — that’s an idea! LoL

        • marci says:

          Dear Leafy,
          Thank you so much for that story! I loved it! and it made my day. You gave me a good laugh.
          What a nice story. Just goes to show, that sometimes such things really don’t matter. Its the people we are with. Blessings and Love, Marci’a

          • Julie Gilleand says:

            You are so right, Marci’a! Blessings to you too 🙂

  11. Precious girl…and what a hostess. I could learn a lot from her!

  12. Kim says:

    Yep, our Thanksgiving this year will be super simple. My parents house just sold this week and they have to be out by the end of the month. We are doing it earlier in the week, slashing the dishes being made, may use paper and plastic… But, being together is what matters. (including my almost 93 year old grandfather)

    • Sounds absolutely wonderful to me, Kim. So happy that your 93 y.o. grandfather will be there!!

      So much love to you and your family. Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

  13. I’ll be sharing Thanksgiving with you in my heart! ; o )

  14. What a cute picture! Wish we could all bring that simple look at life into our adulthood and ENJOY it! But, the media, both written and visual, throw perfection at us constantly before the holidays. I know, that when my kids were small, I tried to make everything perfect for birthday parties and Christmas gatherings and I was exhausted after they were over. Then one of my aunts said to me, that she was so thankful that we had these get-togethers, so that our whole family could still gather around each other and celebrate these special times. It was at this moment that I realized that what really mattered was the people, not how perfect my house looked. xxoo

    • Eileen,

      It sounds like once you heard “The Truth” you got it. Completely!!!! It took me a while to finally lay it all down and say, “Enough!” People matter more than place mats!

      Thanks, my friend, for reading and writing.

      Thanksgiving Blessings to you and yours~~~~

  15. Jackie says:

    I came her via Linda’s blog.
    You have a gift with words….and wisdom.
    What a dynamic combination.
    Love being here.

    • Jackie says:

      P.S. I apologize. That post got away before I proofread it.
      That should have read, “I came here via Linda’s blog.”
      And that’s a reason I don’t like answering machines. (Notice how I just jumped from one subject to another! That’s soooo me!) But , I don’t like answering machines ’cause I can’t “take it back” after I’ve left the message. I stutter and stumble around….and leave a mess instead of a message.
      At least I can try and “fix” it here via “reply.”
      Oh well. I ramble. So nice to meet you. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing with us through your blog.

      • Julie Garmon says:

        Jackie, you’re my kinda person! And so many of us here are learning to laugh about our “typos” in life! Xo

    • Julie Garmon says:

      Hey Jackie!! And welcome! Thank you for your kind words.

  16. My grandmother made that cherry cheesecake when I was growing up. It was my favorite. I haven’t had it in so long. She always made it when I was coming to visit. Cause she knew I loved it. 🙂 Perfection? Oh, yes. And we’ll miss so many treasured moments over it. Mercy. I’m a recovering perfectionist though … I think. I went to visit my uncle yesterday, and he had made a Thanksgiving dinner just for us three girls and my dad. Turkey and everything. It was so sweet. Nothing perfect was going on, except true love and good food and forever memories. xoxo

    • It’s THE BEST pie, Shelli! You gotta make one for your girls. Bet they’d love it.

      Yep. Recovering perfectionist. ME TOO!

      Love your words…true love, good food, forever memories. XOXOXO

  17. Very well written.
    We get caught up with the celebration and get so technical we forget that relationships with the people we are with and the reason of Thanksgiving.

  18. Jenni M says:

    The picture of Rilynn is adorable! (It reminds me of my childhood when I would line up my toy figurines on the edge of the bathtub, or play with my Barbies and Kens. The simple joys of being a child!)

    Thank you for your sweet message, Julie. It has been a humbling privilege for me to talk with you here and be a part of your blog’s community of readers!

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving with your loved ones!

    Jenni 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Jenni! I know–and children are thrilled with the simplest things.

      And it’s incredible humbling on my end–to know that I can’t do this–I can’t love or live or write– without God’s help.

      So much love to you, my friend.

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