Holiday season is almost here and I have parties and family gatherings on the mind!  I am also busy preparing for a family reunion at our house next week, so there’s that.  If you are like me, once I had kids and a home of my own I became more inclined to celebrate the holidays or even hosting a night with friends at our place.  I am no Martha Stewart, but I have always loved to entertain since I grew up with a mother that was awesome at pulling off large Italian feasts, sometimes with very little notice, in our home. I also look at gatherings as my way of giving back to family and friends.  I may suck at remembering birthdays but welcoming people into our home and feeding them is my way of saying “Thanks for being awesome.” It is a little harder organizing shindigs these days but this is what I try to do to make it simple.  I am always looking for new ideas, so share your planning tips too.

1. Use a party planning checklist.

Pinterest, love it or hate it (I happen to LOVE it), has a wealth of party planning timelines and entertaining guides. Here is a fabulous checklist I have found to be very helpful in getting organized and feeling less overwhelmed.

checklist

2. Prepare your home a couple days in advance.

Clean and declutter just the rooms you’ll be in the most.  Cleaning  the house will always be my least favorite part when having people over, and I must confess I try to plan gatherings around the cleaning lady’s schedule, but with a four year old and a baby, it all gets messed up within hours anyway. I try to minimize the task by clearing and de-cluttering a couple rooms only. Then I block the other rooms with baby gates to keep guests from wandering.

I was going to use this…

police tape

 

But opted for this instead

 

This says "DO NOT ENTER" messy bedroom, right?

This says “DO NOT ENTER” messy bedroom, right?

Make it smell nice.  For scent and ambiance I love to light candles everywhere – the kitchen, living room, the bathroom (I put a strong scented one in there) – and who doesn’t love Fall candles?  It’s been smelling like baked pumpkin-brown-sugar-syrup in my house for the last few weeks. But I also like doing this really simple potpourri – it makes your home smell heavenly:

2 orange peels (if you’re like me and have clementines up the wazoo, you can use those too)

2 apples cut in half

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon vanilla

1.5 cup water

Simmer and keep warm on the stove.

3. Food and Beverages

Potlucks are good.  As a mom who can’t cook all day, I’m now a big believer in potlucks.  I concentrate on making one or two dishes really well, like a pasta and salad, and have my friends bring over what I just can’t get to. For me, I love to cook, but I’m not the best baker so guests usually end up bringing dessert.

Procure!  Don’t be afraid to buy pre-made food, as long as it’s delicious.  I just can’t replicate the yummy twice-baked potato from Highland Park Market, so I just buy a bunch!  No sense in reinventing the wheel.

Beverages.  We keep it simple with beer or wine. My husband has a kegerator so he fills that baby up.  I find cocktails help in distracting your company if there’s a delay in the food or if you need something strong to help you withstand the presence of certain family members.  In my opinion, it’s a-ok to have a drink or two while getting everything prepared, but be careful, I have burned risotto after one too many mimosas at Christmas!

I also try to make one simple yet special beverage for the non-drinkers so they don’t feel left out. Warm cider or a Shirley Temple does the trick.

Shirley Temple is on the left.

Shirley Temple is on the left.

Don’t worry about thinking your food tastes bad.  Blogger Randi once wrote about her anxiety over entertaining and her fear that her food would taste bad even though she made the dish many times before.  I get that same feeling too, and my sister who is an awesome cook, doesn’t like to taste her food at her own parties. I don’t know what this phobia is, but I usually ask my husband to be my taste tester to make sure it’s good.  He is great at telling me if it needs more seasoning, etc.  I am usually afraid to start enjoying my own food until after everyone starts eating and I get approval or hear some “yums.”

4. Let there be light(s)!

Holiday lights aren’t just for holidays!  I love hanging them in the conversation and dining areas.  It may look like Vegas in my house, but I love the lights!

I even put lights under the dessert table…

dessert table

The LED tea light is the greatest invention for moms with small kids who like to either knock over or blow out your lovely candles.  I bought tons for cheap at Christmas Tree Shop and the Dollar Store.

best. invention. ever

best. invention. ever

5. Don’t forget to enjoy the party!  I used to get so stressed out over food, clean-up, and company that I would forget to have fun.  Now I try to prepare most of the food a day in advance, set the table the night before, and not worry about clean-up.  Dishes can always wait until morning and that’s what spouses are for, in my opinion!

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