Posted by: Kate | July 26, 2009

Get the Party Started

We had another successful party at the house yesterday, primarily to celebrate Jacob’s birthday, but also with some treats for Gretchen and Sarah and my dad, whose birthdays are within two weeks in either direction, and a nod for the “housecooling” aspect of things, as this is the last party that we’ll throw from this house.

It was a good day… but then, they always are. I was frustrated at the number of people who RSVP’ed (precisely ZERO, among those who received their invitations in a more formal way instead of through a casual, “Hey, we’re having Jacob’s party on the 25th, can you make it?), but it turned out to be the perfect number in attendance. Just enough kids to keep Jacob busy and happy, without it being a mob scene; enough adults to keep the conversation – and margaritas – flowing without our serious lack of outdoor seating becoming a problem. We had a waterslide set up for the kids, and snacks, and a boiled lobster/baked corn on the cob dinner, and my dad’s girlfriend made professional-quality cupcakes with different themes for each of the birthday celebrants… it was just a good day.

And not, really, all that much work ahead of time. We had to clean, of course, and I cleaned more than necessary for a party so that I could take the realty listing photos for the house, which should be on sale as of tomorrow, I think. We had to plan out the menu and shop. We had to get into Host/ess Mode. But really, none of that stuff is especially difficult for us, and we really, really enjoy having people over. Whether it’s just once couple to come play cards and eat Chex Mix or 16 people to have lobsters or 25 to have lasagna with homemade sauce and noodles, we love preparing the house and welcoming guests.

And I think we’re reasonably good at it, because we’ve never swamped with leftovers afterward, and people don’t start sneaking out the door several hours earlier than expected. There’s a natural flow to the evening, everyone appears comfortable, and at the end of the night we’re left with perhaps some muscle aches and overstimulation, but also with a happy little glow of satisfaction, because it went well and we had fun, too. I tend to think that is the real measure of a party’s success: if the hosts can enjoy themselves, too, instead of being totally stressed out about the process of hosting, then things went well.

We would take it for granted, I think, except we’ve heard, from several of our guests, about how they hate to entertain, they find it so stressful and so much work, they always worry about how much there is to do and they wonder if they’re not doing it well, there are so many details and what-ifs and worries… it’s just not fun for them. I can’t think of very many people at whose homes we have been a guest, about whom I would think, “Well, that was not a huge success, wish we’d called in sick.” Really, only two, now that I think of it, and both were women who spent – in my opinion – too much time trying to micromanage the partygoers’ actions and conversations that they lost any sort of spontaneity or relaxation in the event, and it’s hard for me to imagine that they were able to enjoy themselves when they were so busy trying to take responsibility for everyone else’s behavior.

I’m no expert, mind you. I wouldn’t be able to write a book about it, and I’m sure I do plenty that is wrong, or over- or under-controlling, or boring, or irritating, and so on. But I think the reason that our gatherings are generally quite successful is that we have a few simple guidelines, that work for both Willem and me. One, relax: it’s a party, not a work project. Two, ask ahead of time, as much as possible – screen for allergies, intense dislikes, and so on. Three, provide plenty of food and drink; make sure there are plain, standard, unimaginative fare easily available, so that people aren’t embarrassed by having to ask for a hot dog instead of a lobster, and then provide some items that people wouldn’t necessarily have on their own tables on a daily basis. Four, if it feels right, provide music or simple games – tossing around a Frisbee took up probably two hours of Jacob’s birthday, last year – but keep it basic and make it easy for people to be heard over the music or to bow out of the games. And five, enjoy yourselves.

Anyway, so, that’s our approach, and so far it as served us well. It’s why we want to open a B&B, because we truly do enjoy welcoming other people into our home.

How about you? Are you someone who loves to entertain, or would sooner get a root canal without anesthesia, administered by sedated weasels? What are your tips and tricks?



  1. Huh? I just dragged myself out of bed at 2 pm after hosting my son’s bash yesterday. I can barely function.

    More later.

  2. We do things along your line of entertaining. We pick easy to cook but still good foods and let the party unfold. We have very low tech birthday parties for the kids, and I always hear from the parents how much fun their kids have, which makes me feel good.

    I enjoy having people here. I’m a the more the merrier kind of person.

    And I’d love an invite the next time you throw a shindig.

  3. We love to have people over. Sometimes it’s casual, stop by and throw something on the grill, sometimes it’s more formal in that there’s a sit-down dinner served (generally for the Jewish holidays), sometimes it’s a oh you’re still here so why not join us for dinner. Usually there’s food and I usually make it- I love to cook and did at one point cook for 200 people daily- and sometimes there are games, swimming or movies.
    It’s almost always fun.

  4. I love Love LOVE to entertain. (But you knew that!!)
    I love everything from make your own pizza to a sit down dinner with five courses for umpteen people.

    My rules to live by are to have lots of lists, make ahead everything that you can and have fun once people arrive. (And while preparing!) If the host & hostess are having fun, I find that everyone else does too…

  5. Okay. I feel almost human again.

    I like simple parties, too. My exhaustion from this party had four very good reasons: 1. I spent a week doing landscaping that I’d wanted to do, and why not do it time for the party? 2. I woke up at 4 am on party day and couldn’t get back to sleep, netting me only 3 hours. 3. I forgot to ask for help the morning of the party – I just assumed some people would know to come help! 4. I developed a stuffy nose, sniffles and a cough as the day progressed.

    I do love to entertain now that I have a space large enough to hold more than 2 guests, and it’s always pretty casual and fun. I used to stress out about everything being just so, but the more I’ve entertained the more relazed I’ve gotten.

  6. I can honestly say that in the 6 years I’ve owned this house, I have never had anyone over for more than a few minutes. The house is way too small for visitors and our back “patio” is overgrown and not suitable for human occupation. I dream of a day when we live in a larger house so we can have birthdays and holiday celebrations at our house.

  7. I’m an entertainer procrasinator. Everything is last minute, ha Ayden’s 5th birthday party is NEXT Sunday. And I’ve told maybe 5 people, prolly should get on the ball about that one. Haven’t ordered a cake, bought a gift, decided what exactly we will do. But all and all it works for me because I do this every year and every year everything seems to work out with only a few bumps in the road, thank God that my Mom is there because if she doesn’t know anything, she knows me. She helps me smooth the bumps and always remembers what I forgot. She’s priceless.

  8. First happy birthday to J and everyone else too!

    Entertaining is something that I loved to do when we were overseas, just because it was usually easy, and half the time someone else’s idea and plan, they just needed a place to do it.

    We have only had one “party” since coming back if you don’t count birthday parties for the girls, and even those have been scaled way back. Not sure why, other than my mental state. Perhaps we will be settled enough for a while that I will feel comfortable doing more this year.

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