Wednesday, September 7, 2011

P!nk, Ke$ha, & Miley Have Nothing on Me

This probably should have been done at the beginning of summer, but frankly, I was too busy arranging grand extravaganzas.  I come from a long line of party-ers (philosophically different from partiers); my Grandma is the bomb and still threw a flawlessly executed Easter at 89!  I love when a perfectly meshed group comes together. I love good food and music and drinks and laughter.  I especially love creating a theme and I need it to be cost effective.

I'll be honest, I'm not one of those people who is anxiety ridden before a party; I'm no Martha Stewart but I've hosted huge events (80+ people) and smaller gatherings (25 is our family norm) and intimate groups with just a few people --in fact, I've thrown all of those this summer at my house. I also LOVE being invited to parties, so I am a little leery to write tips for fear that someone will feel that I am judging their party.  I am NOT.  My goal is to simply divulge the secrets passed on to me that make entertaining easier, so that you too can enjoy throwing a party and avoid the desperate need to self-medicate:

1.  Manage The Guest List
--Nobody should feel left out but orchestrating an event where guests feel comfortable is important.  If planning a St. Pats Brouhaha, one may not want to invite dear sweet GG who abhors alcohol.
--When hosting a family party, the guest list doesn't need to contain everyone from both sides of the family as well as friends so that it is chaotically over-whelming and the house is bursting at it's seams.  It is sometimes simpler to limit the guest list or have more than one party but obviously be cautious of feelings.  If inviting everyone, an open house approach is sometimes helpful.
--And something my Dear Grandma taught me: Always invite lonely people (college kids away from home, people who lost a love, those who live alone), they need the fun, laughter, and company.
--***(see disclaimer below on the perfect guest list)***--

2.  Plan Ahead
--No matter how small the party, make a spreadsheet or at least a list with what needs to be done and when to avoid multiple deadline related panic attacks:  Sample Generic Party Spreadsheet Starter
--Plan a simple, manageable, but nice menu. Think about dietary restrictions (gluten free, peanut free, diabetic, on a diet, vegetarian, won't eat meat on a bone).  It puts people at ease to know they won't go into anaphylactic shock.
--Don't try anything new the day of the party -- I've had this backfire on me more than once. Along the same line, also learned by experience-- Don't over-self-serve until at least the food is out.
--Take people up on their offer to bring something; be clear but leave room for creativity, "A dessert would be great, Thanks!"
--Never hesitate to borrow party paraphernalia; those of us who have it are always more than willing to loan it (and we aren't expecting to be invited to every party)
--A house party is an excellent impetus to complete a stagnant project but don't START a new one unless you want to get in a really ugly fight with your DH (nothing says "welcome" like spouses throwing visual darts across a crowded room at each other).  
--Cleaning the house is fine a couple of days before, no need to over-clean as it will be a mess after the party anyway.  Only last minute food prep should be left to the day of the party or there is a high risk of going insane.

3.  Keep Waste & Cost to a Minimum
--Buy cheap polyester table cloths in versatile colors.  They can be found online for a couple of dollars. It is actually easier & cheaper to have them in the party box than run out to the store for disposables.
--I collect Corelle plates.  When I am at the outlet, I add a couple to my collection.  They stack well, dishwasher safe, and won't blow away or bend when you hold them.  I now have about 80 and should probably stop - mostly white but a couple patterned as well.  It makes eating much easier ($1 each but last forever).
--To keep beverages cost effective & waste free, stick to one specialty cocktail, beer, wine, water, & a pitcher of lemonade; One dear friend collects wine glasses; rather than wine markers, everyone just has a different unique wine glass (a great idea... pint glasses too - Hint Hint).

4.  Plan What to Do
--Always be ready with an activity if the group is not meshing quite as anticipated, but be flexible; nothing wrecks a good party as quickly as a strict agenda.
--Sometimes that means just conversation starter cards on the table; a game of bags or bocce outside or Apples to Apples inside. 
--Keep the kids occupied with crafts or games or karaoke.  I've had parties where I found 12-shooter nerf guns on sale and let the kids write their own list of rules, present them to me, and then have an epic battle in the playroom.

5. A Theme Simply Pulls it ALL Together
--Easy fall-back theme?  Latin music, serve margaritas, put out chips and salsa, make fajitas.
--Dead of Winter? Embrace a Beach Theme! Turn the heat up, wear flip flops, rock some summer music with mai tais.
--If it is someone's birthday, pick a theme that relates to them (soccer, the latest movie, etc.), serve their favorite food, play their favorite music, make their favorite crafts, play their fav game.
--FYI, no need to buy new music; most local libraries have an excellent selection and the internet is inundated with creative themes.

6.  Don't Go Over-board 
--Know when to stop.  Cut yourself off.  Reign yourself in.  The best parties are simple and fun and relaxed with no pressure.
--Some may disagree, but personally, I don't see a need for party favors, unless they are very practical and easy.
--If something has become over-whelming or stressful, remove it from the plan or figure a way to make it easier.

In conclusion, a party should be fun and a little crazy but not stressful.  I can honestly regularly throw a great party for 30 people for less than $100 - even with moderate alcohol.  That averages $3.33 a person.  Not bad.

***Disclaimer: One of my favorite memories was at a murder mystery party that I was invited to but knew only my "date".  I will forever know those people only by their murder mystery identity.  In addition, I have met some people that I truly adore at parties, some of them the family of in-laws, but it is generally thought about ahead of time, much like a match-maker.  These couples all like to read, or all are not republicans, or have kids the same age.  The awkward times are when there is very little in common and the guests run out of conversation in minutes. 

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