Anyway, with snow and such, plus the Super Bowl, the Groundhog Brunch didn't resonate this year. And as we were ordering our annual family King Cake for Mardi Gras, I struck on the idea of hosting a Mardi Gras party. I can cook New Orleans food, thanks to dear Miss Betty, who used to host, along with my mom (casually or even unplanned hurricane parties), many of the neighborhood gatherings I remember so fondly as a child and aspire to for my own kiddos. Gumbo. Muffalettas. Red beans and rice. King Cake. It was a party!
The hardest part for me is choosing a guest list, which I type even now knowing that several of my local readers weren't on it. But our house is small and winter makes available space even smaller. And so I limited it to only playgroup friends this time, the friends at other schools whom we hardly see anymore. Many of us remarked how much the kids had grown since those gatherings so long ago--taller, talking, not under foot, no diapers, no sippy cups, no Cheerios, actually even playing together, on other floors, without direct supervision or guidance. We all had such a good time that we'll be having more!
And when we do, here's a list of "how."
- Send out invitations a month-plus in advance, knowing that people, especially families, commit their calendars early. And knowing, beyond that, that people still won't RSVP until a few days in advance!
- If I send out an Evite, also send a follow-up email. Evites go to spam a lot. :)
- My general ratios of invitees to guests: 20 people invited, 17 will RSVP, 14 will come. Approximately. It's somewhat more than half. Still I always over-invite. I hate to leave people out, even though I should also hate to crowd them into an overstuffed party. We have definite groups--old church friends, new church friends, playgroup friends, neighbors, school friends, "other" friends (those who don't fit in the above categories), and that's just our local townspeople, not our further afield CT friends or even further NJ/NYC friends--and our house is just too small in the winter to accommodate more than about one of those groups. I think that is why I like Applepalooza--it's our fall party, which can be held outside, and I can invite 40 people! Look for your invitation in September. For the first time, the kids really wanted school friends, most of whose families we've never had to the house before. And I wasn't envisioning that kind of party (less comfortable, a lot more people.) So, instead, they were reacquainted with old friends . . . with a promise to invite everybody to birthdays and Applepalooza. And it worked really well.
- I love potlucks and open houses. It means help with the food (which then relieves me of worrying that I have enough) and a wider swath of guests able to fit the party into their schedule than if it were a more time-specific dinner party. Plus, I always get to try a few new recipes.
- Speaking of recipes, as you know, I often post them after a party. This time, I printed out my three NOLA recipes and passed them to guests.
- I like themes--apples, Mardi Gras, brunch. And I try to announce what I'm serving and ask people to bring desserts, or the flexible "nibbles." I've started mentioning "drink of choice." We don't drink alcohol for the most part but not because of any moral high ground. And I'm fine if people want to bring beer or wine. As long as they'll drink it out of plastic cups!! (I don't have wine glasses . . . well, I might have 2. Somewhere.)
- Okay, so you might say this is less like a party that I'm hosting and more like a gathering I'm facilitating, with the work spread around. Probably true. But it's the only way I manage to have parties and people seem to be pretty comfortable. And that is my goal. I'm not trying to impress with china (don't have any!), silver (ditto), linens (ditto), flowers (cats will eat them!), or menu. I like happy, relaxed people enjoying conversation with each other and a variety of tasty dishes, without so much work on my part that I am a). discouraged from giving parties or b). injure my back in the process so that I can't enjoy the event. If I can distract their kids with an activity so that they can relax a bit more, all the better!
- I like food you can prepare the day before, which means shopping a few days before, which means menu planning up to a week in advance. Though, really, I know the menu before I send out the invitation.
- Cleaning. There are always cleaning projects at my house. And I'm not talking minor clutter removal. For instance, before this party, we had 400 books stored on the enclosed front porch looking for a good donation site. We'd thought about selling them to a local bookstore, but their buyback was complicated . . . and off-season. We were hesitant just to take them to Goodwill, because many were academic tomes. The local book swap opportunities fell through. So at the last moment, I made a deal with our old church to take them all as donations for their book sale. Whew. Similarly, with our bad backs, we move things in stages--numerous, heavy Christmas boxes had been relocated to the basement but not stacked in the storage area. They had to be moved. So, I have to give Mama and me plenty time to do these projects, though, regardless of warning, we still do them the night before.
- As I mentioned, I like themes. In the past, we've had a few designated activities for the kids--coloring, pin the stem on the apple, paper bag groundhogs. This time we skipped the activity. The kids are older and didn't need our input, so they had a snowball fight outside, played dolls, played on our various instruments, built with Legos, and, at the very end (and with permission) looked at Minecraft together. But, if there is an activity, pull it together and pick the spot the night before.
- Night before:
- bathroom cleaning;
- litter-box change;
- finalize food prep;
- pull out all tableware and serving dishes (we use disposable--it's not green, but we don't have dishes for more than 8. Besides, glass and kids don't go well at these things.)
- If winter, put drinks on front porch to chill!! And always, always there is that last run to the store (followed by another last run the morning of!)
- We let the kiddos hide a few select things that they can't bear sharing, be it beloved Lego sets or stuffed animals; they didn't feel the need to this time--and were really evening keel when some Lego things were dismantled. It's also the first time that the kids had their own rooms to play in, so they straightened those the night before. It's been so long since our last party that I think the kids were all mostly underfoot and needing to be within view of parents, which meant everybody was squeezed into our first floor. (Well, except for the time they went downstairs and one girl cut another's hair with the supposed hair-safety scissors. We all still laugh about that. And the cutter was here on Saturday!)
- Day of:
- put kitties in locked room with food and water so they can't escape out the front door (or be terrified by children);
- sweep kitchen;
- rearrange tables for food service (this generally means taking our small family kitchen table out of the kitchen and putting it on the porch and bringing up our 6' long plastic table against the back wall of the kitchen for a buffet);
- put Sharpie pen next to drinks so we can at least pretend to keep track of cups;
- scatter chairs around house (and put away all the extra pillows, blankets, and bean bags that make it cozy.)
- Keep the kids from making new messes as they pass the slow time before the party.
- Ice. The ice maker never makes enough ice. I just need to remember to buy ice. Every time. I always send Mama out halfway through the party, but, by then, people think there is not enough ice and so don't use anymore.
- Ask for help. And accept gracefully. I have a few dear friends who know I like parties and who go out of their way to make them happen here. You know who you are. This time, one of them came and helped cook the day before. Without them, I'm not sure I could host. Thank you!
- And order pizza. Do not bother cooking dinner the night before--there are other things to cook AND then you'd just have to clean.
- This is really the easy part. Greet everyone at the door, find a place for coats. Let them take off their shoes or not (not required.) Direct them to the kitchen while describing what's on offer. And really, before we even get that far, we're distracted with other people and greetings and hugging, etc.
- Mama doesn't enjoy socializing in large groups like I do, so she is in charge of food refills, mid-party ice runs (see above), checking on the cats, taking out garbage if it fills up, and keeping an eye on wayward children. She will absolutely enjoy talking one-on-one to whomever seeks her out while she's doing these things. We both try to clean up discarded plates and cups. Especially with kids, there are always strays.
- Music. With kids and a small space, music here sometimes compounds the noise. It just depends. I think we had Preservation Hall Jazz on this time, but I'm not sure anyone could hear it until most people were gone.
- I always find forgotten and unlabeled dishes that people kindly brought food over on--and I have the darnedest time returning them. There are four in my house right now. Nice dishes, one ceramic and three glass. It will be weeks, I know, before I get them where they go. Please, please either label your dishes, remember to take them home, or use disposables. I hate hoarding your stuff (and now I sound all ungrateful). I got three pie plates one year that way from Applepalooza and everyone I asked said they weren't theirs!
- I try to give away as much food as I can. Always have containers on hand for this purpose.
- Do the basic level of clean-up (meaning food storage and trash pick-up) and leave the chairs and tables, etc., for later--relax, watch a movie, and eat leftovers!
- Start talking about the next one . . . .we've tentatively scheduled an end-of-school backyard ice cream social and Applepalooza!!!