They came. They ate. They drank. They talked. They laughed. They spent the night. And they did it all over again. For four days.
A couple of weekends ago, seven sorority sisters flew in from five states and swarmed the Happier Yellow House. Over the extended weekend, we reminisced and caught up on one another’s lives, which included multiple careers, 13 marriages and 22 kids, including seven stepchildren. We learned what happened to an assortment of college characters, including the crazy sorority sister who, in the middle of the night, stuffed whole rolls of toilet paper in every toilet in the sorority house for the fun of backing them up. (This did not end well.)
We drank pots of coffee on the patio, made s’mores by the firepit, cooked hamburgers on the grill and talked our jaws off.
In the end, both the house and its owners survived the stress test — and I learned a few things about entertaining and about myself.
As someone who loves to entertain, I finally put my finger on one key piece often missing from my gatherings — my own good time. More often than I’d like, I come out the other side of these affairs feeling as if I missed all the fun. Several years ago, during one particularly hectic big family Christmas Eve dinner, I blurted to my oldest daughter, who was helping me: “Holidays are better in the abstract.” What kind of mother-daughter lesson is that?
An honest one. I bet many women out there agree with me. We often spend so much time focusing on everyone else’s good time, we forget about ours. So this time, as I headed into the seven-sister-sorority soirée, my new bar was to make sure everyone had a terrific time, but not at my expense. And we did.
Besides thoroughly cleaning the house, which mine needed anyway, and taking care of postponed home maintenance and decorating projects, I applied these eight tips, which made hosting the horde a lot less work and a lot more fun for all. As the holidays approach, you, too, may find these tips useful as you open your home for parties and houseguests:
Do a bed and bath check. Before guests arrive, make sure the beds all have nice, clean sheets, respectable pillows and enough blankets. Make sure all the light bulbs in the guest rooms are working, set clocks to the right time and stock guest baths with ample towels, toiletries, fresh soap and a blow dryer.
Show them around. Most guests don’t want to bug you with questions, so help them help themselves by showing where the linen closet is, if they need extra pillows, towels or blankets, where they can find more toiletries and where to find kitchen essentials.
Accept help. Most houseguests want to pitch in, so when they offer to contribute, accept. The key to enjoying your own gatherings is to not do everything yourself.
Assign jobs. If they don’t offer, gently assign. I put various guests in charge of bringing fixings for s’mores, grab-and-go-breakfast items and side dishes for burger night. Another coordinated airport runs, and everyone helped set and clear the table and wash dishes.
Provide a snack basket. Unless you want to run a 24-hour diner, tide folks over between meals by making ample snacks available. I set out a basket of granola bars and apples near the guest area. (Keep this out of your dog’s reach.) I also stocked a cooler with water bottles and other drinks and put one gal in charge of ice.
Personalize to avoid duplication. I don’t like paper napkins, but I don’t have enough cloth napkins to provide a fresh one for every guest for every meal. So I attached little charms to each napkin. The charms had words like “family,” “faith” and “dream.” I asked each guest to remember her word, so she could reuse her napkins, and reduce trash and laundry. You can do the same with personalized napkin rings. One guest brought acrylic tumblers with our names painted on them, which kept the dishes down.
Plan but don’t over plan. Before they arrived, I sent out a suggested itinerary and asked for feedback. We added and removed activities and created a flexible plan for each day, but a plan nonetheless to give the days structure. Organized activities included visiting an art fair, walking through a botanical garden and shopping downtown, alongside ample downtime.
Take a time out. This advice falls under the category of “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” If you don’t take time for yourself, you can’t be a gracious host. It’s okay to retreat and recharge.
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