So you're embarrassed your living room doesn't look like the most recent cover of House Beautiful magazine?
Perhaps your kitchen countertop is so small it can barely accommodate a mixing bowl, let alone stage a gourmet buffet. Maybe you don't have enough matching chairs to seat a party of six.
Stop the excuses. Fear no more. The summer solution for hospitality is here! Open your back door and entertain "alfresco." Not alfredo. Alfresco! Which means (for us hospitality novices) "in the great outdoors or in the open air."
The good news about sharing the outside of your home is you don't need to fret over the inside. Clear the cobwebs from your front entrance. Give the bathroom a quick wipe down and you're ready! Greet your guests at the front door and escort them out the back for the party.
Of all the things my husband, Bill, and I do together, extending hospitality is among our favorites. We get to be together, spend time with people we enjoy, and never leave home! It also forces us to focus on the task at hand and prepare as a team.
Proverbs 11:25 says, "Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed" (NLT). That's so true! When the party's over, we feel good knowing we've worked together to encourage others. And we're grateful for friends with whom to share life.
Besides all that, sharing the tasks and joys of hospitality has actually strengthened our partnership.
So, ready to give it a try? Start with these tips for stress-free, summer hospitality.
Be spontaneous. With our busy schedules, sometimes the best way to gather a few friends is impromptu. If you and your mate have a free evening, be impulsive and call some friends or neighbors to come over for a "spur of the moment" supper. Buy subs or have pizza delivered. Recently we dropped by on a Sunday afternoon to visit some friends in their new home. They invited us to stay for a casual outdoor supper. We ordered pizza. Our friends whipped up a salad. And another couple came over with a leftover appetizer. It was an unexpected blast!
Be prepared. Keep beverages and healthy snacks on hand. Stock up on candles and paper goods. Make sure you have adequate charcoal or gas for your grill. We learned this lesson the hard way once when Bill went to light the grill, only to find the tank was empty. I had to broil the chicken instead, even though my oven was already tied up. I was so flustered I ended up burning the dinner rolls in the broiler!
Delegate duties. As a couple, decide who will do what to make the party happen. Which of you will plan the menu, prepare the beverages, clean the yard, select the music, and set the table? If you're not completely ready when guests arrive, let others pitch in. One of the most fun parties we've had was intended to be outdoors, but bad weather forced us to move it inside. We were scrambling as a few guests arrived early, so we put them to work. They felt at home and we felt relieved.
Set the stage. If time allows, cut the grass, and trim the bushes for a nice groomed look and fresh cut fragrance. For a quick splash of color, place a few terra cotta pots filled with flowering plants on your deck or patio.
If necessary, bring indoor chairs or tables outside. Use folding tables and chairs or have guests "BYOC"—bring your own chair! Try a cotton quilt for a makeshift tablecloth. Or use blankets on the grass, for a lazy, laid-back picnic on the grounds.
Light the night. With a jet black, star-filled sky, the glimmer of twinkling candles can make the evening seem almost magical. I love to place white votive candles in simple Mason jars and line them along our deck's railing. Keep bugs away, while adding to the ambiance with citronella candles. For a tropical touch, purchase a few tiki torches. They'll burn for hours and give an instant party feel as guests arrive. Try a simply "sensational" lighting effect and place floating candles in a plastic baby pool. Toss in a few flowers and your guests will think they're in Hawaii!
Make it self-service. Use bright-colored, disposable plates, cups, and utensils for a simple, festive party. Toss eating utensils into a child's beach pail. Throw some beverages on ice in a cooler or galvanized bucket. For a large group, fill a baby pool with ice and beverages. Use a plastic sand shovel as an ice scoop. Try inexpensive terra cotta pots as creative chip containers. Place an outdoor garbage can in a convenient spot for self-service clean up. The easier you make the party, the more "at ease" you, your spouse, and your friends will be.
Keep the food simple. Proverbs 15:17 reminds us, "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." In other words, keep the food simple and enjoy serving others. The menu can be as easy as bringing home potato salad and a bucket of chicken. Or heat up a slow cooker with sloppy joe mix to put on fresh rolls. Or have a chef's salad bar where every guest brings an ingredient. For dessert, carve up a fresh watermelon or pass out Popsicles.
Go grill! An outdoor grill's fragrant aromas help stir your guests' appetites. Burgers, hot dogs, steaks, and shish kebabs can be cooked up for a crowd. For delicious vegetables, wrap sweet onions or corn on the cob and a dab of butter in heavy-duty foil and toss on the grill. For a sweet treat, skewer up some marshmallows to roast for dessert, or better yet, serve an all-around campground favorite, s'mores.
Have fun! For a memorable evening, have some type of activity guests can join in as they want. Borrow a croquet set or pick up one at a flea market. Set up a net in the backyard for a game of badminton or volleyball.
Set the mood with music. Nothing can transform a party atmosphere like music. Think about the mood you want to create and select your music accordingly. We usually play upbeat music as the evening begins and slow it down to jazz or more mellow tunes as the night winds down.
Bless, don't impress. My motto for hospitality—actually, in all of life—is to strive to bless, not impress. To bless is to focus on the people, assuring their needs are cared for in my home. I'd rather take a hot bath and relax before a party and serve a ready-made dessert with joy, than slave in the kitchen baking and be exhausted when I see company staring at me through the front door. To impress is to focus on myself—worrying about what others will think of me when they come to our home. In 1 Peter 4:9, Peter encourages us to "offer hospitality without grumbling." If you find yourselves stressed out and barking at your mate before the guests arrive, there's a good chance you may be trying to impress.
When was the last time you had a summertime party alfresco? Maybe it's time to call a few friends or neighbors and say "C'mon over!"
Terry Willits, founder of SenseSational Homes, Inc., and MP regular contributor, lives with her family in Georgia.
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