Previously, we'd been living on the East Coast, in Connecticut. Did you know that Connecticut has more millionaires per square mile than any other state? Yep. We weren't millionaires. So we moved.
To Indiana. Did you know that the cost of housing in Indiana is less per square foot than almost any other state? Yep. We moved into a home 3 times the size of the one we sold in Connecticut, for almost the same price. Crazy!
Back when we lived in a tiny cottage in Connecticut, there just wasn't a lot of room for entertaining. Oh, we still invited people over....but unless we could be outside, more than four or five additional people in the house made if more like a can of sardines than a party. But, we had wonderful friends who didn't seem to mind.
One of those friends, LeeAnn, had a fabulous house and yard. She and her husband, Rob, completely renovated an old farmhouse, and it was amazing. Unfortunately, I have no pictures. (LeeAnn? Are you out there? Send me some pictures of your house so I can post them on the blog, 'kay?) One of the great things about LeeAnn and Rob was their willingness to share what they had with others. And we loved the way they shared their house every Fourth of July!
from Martha StewartLeeAnn and Rob threw the party to end all parties every Fourth of July. They opened the doors to their house, set up party tents and games and groaning tables of food, and invited everyone they knew to come join the festivities. We all brought along side dishes and desserts (my mouth still waters when I think of the delectable fruit tarts Lauren brought one year) and our children and bug spray and celebrated like only Americans can. At dark, Rob would begin what seemed like an endless display of fireworks. Oh, it was so much fun!
When the Bionic Man and I realized our move to the Midwest was going to bring us a much larger house and a much flatter yard than we had owned in Connecticut, we made a decision. We decided that we were going to follow the example set by our friends, and share our house with others as often as we could. While I can't claim my friend LeeAnn's talents for event planning (she does weddings, remember?), I do like to throw a party! It gives me motivation to clean and de-junk beforehand, and I just love seeing everyone have a good time at my house. I also derive a lot of pleasure from casually telling my mother that I'm cooking for eighty--possibly because I wasn't exactly known, growing up, for my domestic abilities.
Anyway, the Fourth of July is now the anniversary of our family's arrival in Indiana. On our first Indiana anniversary, we followed LeeAnn and Rob's lead and began our own tradition of celebrating Independence Day with everyone we know in our backyard. Only, somehow, we ended up doing it on the third of July, and we've never looked back--the third of July is our big day, thank you very much, don't schedule anything else! Another part of the tradition is that the women bring potluck side dishes and desserts, and the men bring potluck fireworks. We set up games and turn our playscape into a waterpark. The kids get wet, the adults get full of yummy food, and everyone enjoys hours of fireworks after dark.
Admittedly, after the first two successful backyard parties, we had to take a couple of years off. First, Lily was in the hospital, then last year we spent all of July with our families in Utah. We got a lot of, um, feedback from former guests, however, and made the Backyard Extravaganza a priority, this year. Seriously, folks, we put off a family vacation for this:
So, now that I consider myself a seasoned veteran of three annual backyard extravaganzas, it is my duty as an American and as a Blogger to share with you my party planning tips.
A Few Handy Tips for Throwing a Really Big Party
1. I recommend mailing invitations. Despite the rising cost of postage, this will save your sanity in the long run. While I love the convenience of invitations via e-mail, e-vites have caused me headaches in the past. Sending out invitations in a mass emailing (i.e., more than 10 addresses) means that inevitably, someone's system will mark the invitation of spam, someone's email address has changed, someone's computer has crashed, and someone else never checks their email. Someone won't get their invitation, and will be offended when they find out that you had a party and THEY didn't get invited. In many respects, the US Postal service is still more reliable than email.
2. Invitations needn't be expensive or complicated or handmade. I whipped out this year's invitation using Picnik.com. Yay for Picnik! I created my collage, downloaded the file to Walgreens Photo (where I happened to have some free 4x6 prints waiting) and had them printed off. I think I paid a whopping 80 cents for my stack of 36 invitations. I slipped each picture into an envelope, stamped and addressed them, and dropped them in the mail. Easy peasy.
3. State expectations (if any) for your guests on the invitations. If you only want adults at the party and all your friends have children, let them know that they should get a babysitter. If you want them to contribute to the meal, let them know. In my case, I simply do not have enough lawn chairs to seat eighty people, nor do I have enough towels available to dry off fifty children. So I politely reminded my guests to bring towels and lawn chairs. One year, I didn't mention towels on my invitation. Let's just say I had a lot of laundry to do the next day.
4. Throw a party that is within your means. When we plan a party, the Bionic Man and I set a budget. We set that budget before we plan the guest list and send out invitations. I suggest that you be very realistic about this. What are you going to feel the need to repair or refresh or repaint around your home or yard before the party? If you can think of something, then you better include that in your budget! Things can really add up.
The phrase "within your means" doesn't just apply to money. What are your "means" for accommodating guests? If it is going to stress you out to have a large number of people inside your house, then find an alternative: the backyard, the neighborhood clubhouse, a nearby church gymnasium. Many churches are willing to allow families and groups to use their facilities, for no or low cost.
5. The most important thing about the food you serve is that there is enough for everybody. My experience has been that the majority of party goers are just really grateful that they didn't have to cook for their families that night. If cooking for days beforehand is your thing, great! Enjoy! If not, simplify your menu. As you can see, this year we had hotdogs, along with a variety of condiments and toppings. The first year of the party, I served tacos, another easily prepped food. When I threw this same party three years ago, I was extremely pregnant and not up to doing much. I moved the start time to 7 P.M. and asked people to share snacks and dessert--no dinner was served.
6. If you are inviting children to the party, it helps to be prepared for them. We are lucky to have such a big, open backyard. This year, I printed out signs to label each activity area (water balloon toss, water slides, sky ball, croquet, etc.), attached them to stakes, and had the Bionic Man put them in various spots of the yard, along with the accompanying equipment. The kids were able to run around the yard, within sight of the adults, and enjoy the games and activities. We only had one organized activity for the kiddos, a scavenger hunt--which was wildly popular.
Well, the party is over and we had so much fun, this year! I'm really grateful for the example I've had over the years--not just from LeeAnn and Rob--from so many friends who have thrown open their doors and gates and welcomed us into their homes. I love having the opportunity to make others welcome in my own home.
Happy July, everyone!