“Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.” – Martin Mull

Here we are, on the leading edge of the season of visiting, the long evenings of sitting in crowded living rooms and around overladen tables surrounded by a cacophony of people, many of whom we only see at holidays, weddings and funerals.

On such occasions, you either get to be a host or a guest. Either role has a lot of moving parts.

Long before you ever have the opportunity to become a conscious and responsible host, you will have been a guest. While I am not all that great at it myself, I have learned that the best guests are the ones who remain relatively inconspicuous, adding to the household while taking as little as possible from it. Here are a few hints for being a good guest.

First of all, let your host in on your travel plans. Text your estimated time of arrival as you head out and update them if it looks like you will arrive more than a half hour earlier or later, especially if you are staying overnight. Before unloading your car, knock on the door, say hello, hug if that is the way you greet these people. Hand your host the “bread and butter” gift that you prepared for this moment, preferably something small and homemade like jam, applesauce or bread (and butter).

Ask where you should put your belongings and go get them. Don’t leave your bags by the door and forget they are there. If you have food for the gathering, ask where it goes. Your hosts are in the middle of staging an event. Don’t just drop things on a counter or table.

If you don’t already know the way, ask where you can wash up. If you are staying the night and sleeping in a room other than the common space, go check it out. Figure out how to keep your stuff out of your host’s way. Give the house some time to absorb your energy. Holidays can be intense. If you are traveling with children, be sure you brought a favorite amusement for them – coloring supplies, books to read, a quiet game they can play with others. As much as you want to hang with the other grownups, remember to be there for your kids.

Don’t bring pets unless they are invited and don’t ask for an invitation for your pet.

Once you have settled in, it is time to join the household. Some of the best and hardest to follow advice I ever received was, “Never enter a room talking.” Check out the dynamics at play before rushing to tell people the cool thing you have been dying to share. The time will come. For now, see if there is a way you can help.

Finally, work on your superpower. This skill may not be your favorite thing to do at a party, like tell great jokes or make the best gravy ever. One of the best superpowers is dish washing. If you can keep the pots and pans moving without getting in anyone’s way you’ll find yourself in the midst of the action, in the perfect location to pick up on all the backstory and subtext of the complex web of relationship that is family.

In a couple of weeks, I will turn the tables on this advice and offer suggestions for hosts. For now, I’ll leave you with a recipe.

Easy applesauce – makes 2 quarts

A Foley food mill.

This recipe calls for a specialized tool, the Foley Food Mill. New ones cost about $50 but they show up all the time at second-hand stores and can be found online, used for $5. A good one lasts a lifetime.

5 pounds crisp flavorful apples (I use Macoun, Liberty, Empire, Black Oxford, or Snow varieties)

½ cup water

2 cinnamon sticks

Cut the apples in quarters. Do not peel or core them. Put into a large stainless or enameled pot with the water and cinnamon, on medium-high. Simmer 20-40 minutes, depending on variety, until the apples become very soft and mushy. Don’t let them burn.

Set your food mill over another cookpot or bowl. Remove the cinnamon stick, put the fruit mush into the food mill (you may need to work in batches) and turn the handle. Once you have processed all the apples, you can put it in the fridge for a couple of weeks, freeze for at least two months, or put up in canning jars using a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Properly sealed and processed, canned applesauce will keep for up to a year. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and eaten within the week.

Home Ecology is a synthesis of human ecology and home economics, both born of the idea that we live in a world of limited resources. When we recognize the limits, our lives can be both comfortable and sustainable.

Shlomit Auciello is an award-winning writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988.