The Calm Before the Party

Do you enjoy hosting?  It’s one of my most favorite things.  You know what I don’t like?  Being stressed out before a party.  ”What did I forget?  Do I have enough napkins?  What am I going to serve the salad in?  Do we have ice?  Cups?  Drinks???”

No thank you.

If hosting equals chaos, then count me out.

So, what’s a host-loving mother-of-four to do?  Wait until all the kids grow up?  No way.  Compromise on quality or just settle into the “crazy life” state of mind?  Not this girl.  I want it all.  I want to enjoy the process of hosting, honor those who we are serving in our home, and still be able to take care of the needs of my family along the way.  I want to find a way to host well while keeping my sanity.

Today I want to invite you to our house a few hours before an event and show you what I call the Calm Before the Party.

Enter The List.

Don’t be fooled into thinking hosting just happens on its own.  I map out a very detailed, very thorough plan of action.  And I usually do it several days in advance.  Why bother?  Because personally, I need it.  It is my necessary evil, and I’ve accepted the fact that my mind can’t hold nearly as much as I would like for it to.  So I help myself out and write it all down.  Then I get to work and cross things off along the way.

Tonight I’m having ten people over for dinner at seven o’clock.  Our children all nap or have quiet rest time from around one o’clock to three o’clock which gives me a two-hour window of quiet focused time.  This is when I work hard and get everything as party-ready as possible.  Let me show you where I try to be by three o’clock when everyone starts to reenter my world.

The table is fully set.  Plates, silverware, napkins.  Every serving dish and serving utensil is out on the table.  I make sure we have enough chairs, and if needed, pull out the extra folding table or leaves for our dining table.  For this particular dinner we are serving fajitas, beans, and guacamole.  The guacamole is the one last-minute thing for me to cook {enchiladas and beans are in the fridge ready to be reheated}.  I put the ingredients for the guacamole in the serving bowl and placed the serving bowl on the table.  When it’s time for me to make the guacamole, everything I need is in one place.

I set out the bowls for cheese, salsa, and sour cream, along with a spoon for each.  My philosophy is to think of every detail now so I don’t have to think about it later.  When everyone wakes up from their nap and we start our afternoon/evening routine {snacks, potty, play time, clean up, baths, dinner, bedtime} I don’t trust my brain to remember all the little last-minute details like serving spoons and bowls for salsa.  Since these are the kind of items that can contribute to a frantic pre-party environment, I do it all ahead of time and cross it off my list.  Done.

I set up a beverage station and have it ready to go.  I pull every piece out that we will need…cups for tea and water, glasses for Sangria, a pitcher for the Sangria, the straws, beverage napkins, a bucket for ice.  I cross off things on my list like “brew tea,” “chill wine,” “get ice,” and “cut lemons for water.”  When party time arrives, I pull the drinks out of the fridge, and I’m done.

I do the same thing with the coffee and dessert station.  I pull out plates, napkins, forks, coffee cups, and all the necessary items for serving coffee.  At this particular dinner we are serving iced coffee, so there isn’t a need for things like cream and sugar.  But normally, those would be out and ready to go too.  I also put the water and coffee into the coffee maker.  Right before I sit down to dinner I turn on the coffee pot, and fresh coffee is ready when it’s time to serve dessert.  If we are celebrating a birthday, I make sure and have the candles and lighter ready and waiting on the dessert tray.

I always like to have some sort of music playing softly in the background when we have people over.  It’s nice to have a bit of something else going on to avoid any heavy silences or to set a particular mood.  I check the battery on my iPod, make sure I have a suitable playlist, and have it plugged it ready to turn on when people arrive.

Table?  Set.

Drinks?  Ready.

Coffee and Dessert?  Prepped.

Dinner?  It depends, but usually it’s all made in advance too.  Tonight other people are bringing things, which made my job easier.  With the exception of something like guacamole which has to be prepared right before you eat it, I don’t do a lot of last-minute cooking.

Now, before you decide that I must live in some alternate universe where my house is perfect four hours before a single guest arrives, let me stop you right there.  Take a look…

This is our kitchen desk at three o’clock.  Piled high with things like an apron, flip flops, a water bottle, a Bible, and a rubber ducky.

This is our trash.  Overflowing.

This is the counter around my kitchen sink.  Dishes need to be done, tea is cooling in a big pitcher, towels need to be folded.  Sippy cups abound.

The point is, at three o’clock I’m not kicking my heels back having a cold Diet Coke while sitting in a picture-perfect house.  I still have work to do, dishes to wash, trash to empty, floors to sweep, things to tidy up, guacamole to prepare.  But it’s the kind of work that can be done in the context of snacks and coloring,  The major scenes are set, and most of the details are taken care of.  I don’t have to wonder if I’ve forgotten anything or attempt to set the table with eight little hands trying to “help.”  When it’s bath time for the kids, I can go upstairs and take care of them without fretting about how I need to get downstairs and get everything ready or wondering if I have enough forks for dessert.

The Calm Before the Party gives me peace of mind.  And peace of mind makes for a more enjoyable hosting experience.  Don’t you agree?

By the way…did all the guacamole references get your taste buds craving it a bit?  Me too.  Check back tomorrow!!

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3 Responses to The Calm Before the Party

  1. Stephanie Leggett says:

    Love your plan of action! I do similar things when I entertain, but found a lot in here I look forward to trying. Your honesty is so refreshing. :) Glad to know that you have an overflowing trash can sometimes too! The picture made me laugh. I may have to print out all your blogs and make a book for my daughters. Hey, when are you going to publish? I want a signed copy!

  2. Andrea Johnson says:

    Brilliant and eye opening! Thank you for letting us tap into your mind! I’m going to try every single thing on your list. This is a much better order than the way I do things. Makes so much sense! I think I do the complete opposite, and it never works!
    I don’t know how you figured this all out already, when like me you are so, so young!

  3. Kayli says:

    I CANNOT wait for dinner tonight (and the guacamole)! You are amazing Katherine Sasser! We’re honored to be hosted by you guys.

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