Celebrations

Why You Need to Make an Entertaining Playbook Right Now

In January, Mike and I were snowshoeing through the breath-taking landscape of Interlaken, Switzerland. Our first night in town, we went sledding down a pitch black mountain in the middle of the night. We were wearing all the layers we had, it was so cold! But the beauty above us made the adventure worth the chill. The stars sparkled like confetti.

We slowly made our way down, spotting sharp curves and steep cliffs as we went. After an hour, we arrived at the base of the mountain and wandered into a tiny bar.

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They served us piping hot cheese fondue and local beer by the pitcher. We dined at a table with 8 strangers who didn't speak the same language, but that didn't matter. We all laughed and drank together well into the night. 

Now whenever someone serves me a beer, I think about that tiny shack in the middle of the mountains. It's light that glowed for miles amidst the dark, snowy mountainscape. And the warmth and happiness we felt as we dined there. 

Those feelings are exactly what I try to create for my guests when I entertain. Hosting, for us, is about gathering together and enjoying each other's company. 
 

Now, entertaining means different things to different people. But whatever it means for you, the best way to achieve it is to create your own Entertaining Playbook. Consider it your secret weapon for achieving your entertaining goals.

Everything I do when I entertain is intentional. I have a playbook in my head of how to achieve my wins and I follow it religiously. It contains the following golden nuggets:

1) A Pre-Arrival Cleaning Check List

This can vary a little depending on guests and party type, but a few rules always ring true:

  • Having a clean home is actually more important than having a perfectly decorated one. If you have dirty floors or dusty furniture, people won't feel very relaxed.
  • The bathroom must always be spotless. It's the one place your guests are alone, so make sure it is in ship shape! Read more about how to always keep your house clean here. 
  • If you are having babies or young children over, pay extra attention to floors. Also, look for anything that needs to be child-proofed for safety. 
  • Avoid clutter at all costs. It makes people feel crowded. Think clean, clear counter tops and make sure everything has a proper place to live. 


2) A System for Greeting Guests. 

Mike does most of the heavy lifting as guests arrive. I'm usually wrapping things up in the kitchen when they start pouring in the front door, so Mike answers it. He collects coats and gets everyone situated with drinks. He's awesome at it and this takes a lot of pressure off me. The key things to remember for when your guests first arrive:

  • Greet them with a smile and a kind word
  • Take their coats and show them where they can set their purses and other belongings down
  • Give them something to drink. Immediately!

This stuff is really simple but it makes a big difference. It's important that one person has these duties and does them well because it sets the tone for the rest of the event. 

I am always amazed at how often I arrive at someone's home and 20 minutes later I'm still standing there in my coat. Or wondering if it would be rude to ask for a glass of water because they never offered me a drink. 

Anyway, to make drinks easy, try having a bottle of wine or signature drink out and ready for pouring.

3) Guidelines for Creating the Ultimate Ambiance 

I could go on about ambiance for days, but I'll try to keep it brief here. When it comes to designing your party environment,  consider:

What does winning at entertaining look like for you?

To me, winning is when my guests are so happy and relaxed that they feel at home. 

For example, recently I invited some close friends over for dinner and a movie. We noshed on appetizers and had a simple dinner with tasty wine. Then I shooed them down to the family room to pick a movie while I finished up dishes. At the moment I turned the corner to join them in the family room, I saw that everyone was horizontal.

 Literally. 

They're all lounging comfortably on the couches, snuggled under hand-knit blankets. As I watched them sipping wine and laughing among themselves, my heart swelled a little. I did it! I made them feel at home. 

To achieve my ideal environment, I focus on warmth and comfort. There are candles lit in every single room a guest might wander into. (Seriously, so many candles! I'm pretty sure my in-laws think I'm a giant fire hazard.)

There's always a tabletop fireplace burning in the living room. It doesn't give off much heat so it creates the warmth visual all year long. If it's winter, I also light the big fireplace downstairs so guests can enjoy its cozy crackle. 

I also have countless blankets and pillows available. My favorite blankets are the ones I knit because they have a lovely weight to them. When you snuggle under one, they feel like a hug. 

Music.

I have sort of a weird approach to music. I don't like to pick a generic dinner party playlist. I choose music based on guests and occasion. 

If we're having a birthday party for someone, I like to play a mix of their favorite artists all day. It makes them feel super comfortable and they, of course, will immediately love it. You get extra points if you catch them humming a favorite when they think no one is paying attention. 

You can never go wrong with themed music for themed events. Bachata for a Cinco de Mayo party. Horror movie soundtracks for a Halloween Movie Night. You get the idea. 

Soundtracks are actually an amazing source for party music. They naturally strike feelings and emotions in the listener. Because they were written and composed for that exact purpose. 

It really works. Next time you're planning a romantic dinner, try sourcing music from movie scores. The more romantic the scene of the movie, the better. 

Consider alternatives to the basic playlist too. My husband has a massive record collection, so sometimes we'll fire up his turntable. We take turns pulling albums from a display and playing tracks while we eat. 

Norah Jones actually has a piano in her kitchen so she can play whenever the mood strikes her. It's my dream to have a piano for my guests and myself to play during a party. So far, my hubs isn't convinced the piano will fit in the house... (#lifegoals)  

Decor.

It's become more about ambiance and less about the show, for me. My approach at this point is playing with what you have and don't over think it. I try to arrange candles in different ways or dig things I haven't used in a while out of storage. As long as your keeping up with your seasonal decorating, there's really no need to go crazy with party decor. 

Setting the Table.

I always have a set table with polished silverware, and tall glasses filled with water. 

Polishing the silverware. Ok, so that might sound snobby, but it's not. Silverware falls under the category of "stuff guests physically interact with". It's part of their tactile experience, as are the wine glasses they drink from and the napkins on their laps

When you're buying items for your table, always spend more on things in that category. Silverware should have a nice weight to it. Glasses should have beautiful curves and cuts. Mix colors and textures to add interest. Buy a couple sets of quality cloth napkins. You can cut costs on plates, and plain white dinnerware is the best way to showcase your food. 

The water thing comes from my bartending days, when I learned that people can never have too much water. Like ever. Make sure you're getting up a couple times during the meal to refresh drinks and refill waters too. 

4) Good To Know Tips for Food & Drinks

Wine.

I do try to pair food and wine as best I can. I think it elevates the guest experience when flavors come together well. The easiest way to find a great pairing is to:

  • Serve the wine you're cooking with. 
  • Serve "like with like." For example, if you're cooking a recipe that comes from the Burgundy region of France, like Coq Au Vin. The wines from that area will be natural partners to the dish. 
  • Serve wine you love to drink.

Wine always tastes better with air. It's not unusual for me to decant a bottle or two a couple hours in advance of the party so the wines have time to relax. You want your guests to enjoy the full potentiality of the wine, so don't be shy about opening early.

If you're serving a new signature cocktail, it's always best to do a dry run a couple days before. Practice makes perfect! Also, it's easier to serve cocktails to crowds if you have the liquors and mixers already in a pitcher. Then all you have to do is shake or pour over ice as the drink requests roll in. 

Never underestimate the power of a drink garnish. Even if it's a little wedge of citrus on a water glass or a sliced strawberry on the side of a flute of champagne. Small stuff like that packs a punch for your guests. It reflects care and attention to detail.

What if you're serving craft beers and high-end wines, but you have one friend who likes a cheap domestic brew? 

Buy them the cheap beer. The point is to make your guests comfortable and to make sure they have a good time. Don't try to force your advanced beer knowledge on them. Some people like what they like. Just go with it. 

Along with that, let's talk food. 

When it comes to food, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. A fancy dinner is not going to impress a table full of picky eaters. (Ask me how I know!)

Sometimes, as a foodie, I can get a little overzealous about the menu. It's just so much fun to try new recipes! But if no one will eat your fabulous meal, you've missed the mark. 

We all want to impress a little when we entertain, I get it. But forcing people out of their comfort zones is not going to score you any points. In fact, it could cause them to reject future invitations. 

Which brings us to the most important food rule: your guests should NEVER go home hungry. Ever. You want to make sure there is more than enough for everyone to eat. Leftovers aren't going to kill you. 

Also, always set your coffee pot up ahead of time so you can start it as soon as the meal finishes. 

5) Tiny personal touches. 

This is my favorite! A couple weeks back, I mentioned that I keep files about my loved one's preferences and allergies. This really helps with creating little personal touches when you host parties. 

I enjoy finding unique ways to make my guests feel warm, welcome and comfortable. And I try to find fun gestures to express just how happy we are that they've come to spend time with us.  

For example, I placed a 6 pack of an uncle's favorite beer next to his recliner when I hosted the Super Bowl this year. It was cold and waiting for him and he thought it was the best thing ever. 

Little things like that go a long way. 

Another thing I like to do is cut down on the chaos around the table. I always make sure everyone has their own individual dish of butter. This prevents conversation disruption. No one has to ask for anything they need to be passed to them.  

People love having their own mini anything. Individual wine decanters were another hit.  Once, I even served everyone their own individual cheese plates on tiny granite slabs. 

Be creative and have fun with it. Little delights make your parties memorable and they boost guest enjoyment. 

So now that you've had a peek at my playbook, it's your turn to put together an Entertaining Playbook!

If you have any fun tips or tricks, make sure you share them on our Facebook page. I always love learning new ways to dazzle people!

Cheers,

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Why Having a Gift Stash is the Best Idea Ever

Life is full of unexpected celebrations.

Your friends just announced their engagement(!) or your brother invited you over for dinner at the last minute. This is so fun and you're really looking forward to seeing them!

And then you realize it. You need to rush out and get the perfect gift for the occassion. Like, now!

I figured out the benefits of a gift closet in my 20s and I never looked back. Let me explain.

When I was 21, I taught myself how to knit. It's one of those things you either love or hate when you try it, and I knew 15 minutes in my life was changed forever. I had caught the knitting bug and I was eager to flex my new skills. 

A few weeks later, I discovered a friend of mine was pregnant. I was gleeful! I immediately began knitting a big, sunny yellow baby blanket for the mum-to-be. When I presented it to her, she was so touched by this homemade gift, she cried. 

I believed I had finally found my calling in life. Knitters love to surround our loved ones in hand-knits. This was bliss.

Soon, requests starting rolling in. My brother wants an afghan, Mike needs a hat. Beer cozies for my sister who's away at college, and an ear flap hat with snowflakes to keep her warm. 

Then 3 more people got pregnant. In a short time, my knitting queue was packed to the gills and my fingers were on fire. 

Why Having a Gift Stash is the Best Idea Ever

Under extreme duress, I went to my knitting guild meeting, where a sage knitter gave me the answers I needed. She told me I had to knit for babies when no one is pregnant and create a stash. Then, when someone was pregnant, I could have booties and a blanket at the ready. 

You could have knocked me over with a feather! It was so simple. Why hadn't this occurred to me?

And so, the gift closet was born. 

Not a "re-gift" closet. An actual gift closet where I keep baby knits, engagement presents, hostess gifts, etc. 

Preparing ahead of time has allowed me to give meaningful, beautifully wrapped presents. No notice necessary.  Now, I am always ready for life's next big surprise. 

Ready to create your own gift stash?

Step 1: Find your Signature Gifts and Stock Up! 

I have favorite gifts that I like to give for most special moments in life. Choose your perfect gifts for each occasion and buy a few of each. Three to five for each type is a good amount for me. 

I recommend taking time to think about what you want your signature gifts to be. Maybe it's a perfect ring holder to keep the bride-to-be's ring safe by her sink. Or it could be that one baby item no mom can live without. A fab designer candle makes a beautiful host offering. And don't forget a bottle of vintage champagne for your favorite couple's anniversary!

If you're looking for ideas, check out my picks for engagement, pregnancy, housewarming, and hostess: 

Step 2: Wrap and Label all the gifts!

Try not to get too hung up on the wrapping paper matching the occasion. I recommend buying rolls of metallic gold and silver to wrap everything with. Don't forget coordinating bows, ribbons, and gift tags! Make sure you label everything well ( I stick a post it on the bottom) so you don't forget which gift is which. 

Store your gift stash somewhere easily accessible as you're walking out the door. And don't forget to grab a card from your greeting card box while you're at it! You could even store them next to each other for optimal convenience. 

Do you have a perfect signature gift? Share it with us in the Facebook group!

Happy gifting!

xo Katie

How to Win at Birthdays (and other occasions too!)

All year long, important dates pepper our lives. Some celebrations are a surprise, such as an engagement or a new baby.  Others, come on the same day each year. But that doesn't mean they don't still sneak up on us sometimes!

How many times have you caught yourself running to the store for a card on your way to a graduation?

Ever paid extra to rush deliver your mother's day flowers? What about the time you raided your "re-gift" stash to find the perfect birthday present?

We need to stop this madness.

It's inefficient, expensive, and stressful. There IS a better way. 

Mission 1:  Escape Hallmark Hell.

Let's tackle the cards. It does not make sense to run out and buy a new card every time an occasion pops up. It's a waste of your valuable time to drive to the store 45 different times each year to buy 1 card at a time.

It also causes unnecessary pressure to find the PERFECT CARD in TEN MINUTES because you are LATE

Stop the insanity. 

YOUR PLAN OF ATTACK:

Buy all your greeting cards for the entire year at once.

You may be thinking, "that's ridiculous!" or "how can I choose the right card message for a birthday that's 6 months away?"

Stay with me. 

You're going to buy BLANK birthday cards. Tally the number of birthdays you have for the year and divide them into male and female. Then buy the appropriate number of cards for each group. 

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Blank is the perfect solution because then you can write a personal greeting in every card. The penned message will always be a perfect fit for your recipient!

It gets better. You don't even have to go to the store!!! Buy your cards online. If you're not sure who to buy from, start here:

For feminine birthday cards, I highly recommend PAPAYA ART. For masculine birthday cards (and cards for kids), check out LAGOM DESIGN

Once you have your birthday cards in your cart, don't check out! You're not done yet. It's time to go back and grab cards for the rest of your yearly occasions. :)

Have any anniversaries on the calendar? Pick up the cards now! Is someone graduating this year? Know any children celebrating religious milestones? Do you need cards from the tooth fairy? Do you send valentines? Get all those cards too!

What about preparing for the unexpected? I try to keep each of the following card types in my card file: 

  • Engagement
  • Condolence
  • Congratulations
  • Wedding
  • Thinking of You
  • Get Well
  • New Baby

5 each is a good number to keep on hand. This is also a great time to replenish your stock of thank you notes and personal stationary.

When you have purchased all the cards you will EVER need for the year, it's time to figure out a storage solution. I use an inexpensive office box (mine is from Ikea) with paper dividers I made to separate the different types of cards. 

Next, find your card box a home somewhere in your office. And don't forget to give the humans in your house a tour of the new card file system!

On a personal note, my husband loves this card box as much as I do. He knows we've got cards covered and he can always find one when he needs it. #winning

Mission 2: Break the cycle of last minute rushing around.

It can be really frustrating to have extra things thrown at your already heavy to do lists each day. And you shouldn't have to sprint through choosing a thoughtful gift or filling in cards. Schedule time each month to care for these items properly.

YOUR PLAN OF ATTACK:

Manage all Occasions 1 Month Ahead

Buy gifts, wrap them, fill out cards, place your order for flowers, make dinner reservations... Everything you need to do for every occasion gets done the month before.

The only thing you should be doing in the current month is confirming any reservations you made. 

To make this work, I keep a list of occasions for the current month and next month on a page in my planner. The lists include check boxes for everything that needs to be done for each important date (i.e. drop gift in the mail). 

Once a month, I complete and check off every task on the monthly occasion list.

It's that easy. So, are you ready to get all the special moments life brings you under control? I created a game plan worksheet in The Library.

It takes some time to collect dates and format them into monthly sheets. But you only have to do it once. When it's finished, you are set for life (save for a yearly review). You'll never forget an occasion or go through the stress of a last minute scramble for a gift or card again. 

This has the added bonus of making you appear super thoughtful and organized to your loved ones. Especially when you ask someone 6 weeks before their birthday if they have a gift list!

Have you tamed the birthday monster? Share your success on our Facebook Page!

xo Katie