By Sara G. Stephens
With the advent of summer comes the dawn of summer camps, summer sports, and summer vacations. It’s easy to get caught up in the swirl of the season’s voracious time consumers and forget to take a moment to sit back with friends for an afternoon or evening of summertime fun.
This year, why not be the awesome family on the block who throws a backyard party for all to enjoy? With some simple set-up, and inexpensive activities, your event can be just the ice-breaker your neighborhood needs to form fond memories and lasting relationships.
Here are some tips for making your soiree happen with relatively little effort and expense.
• The first thing arriving guests will notice is your lawn, so be sure to address any glaring issues before they walk the green carpet.
• Give your decorations some zest! Fill a jar with water and lemon slices, then add a simple bouquet of daisies or whatever flowers you have growing in your garden.
• Buy bandanas and fold them to form a pocket for serving flatware. Make a bandana table runner by attaching 10 bandanas, end to end, with fusible hemming tape. Thank you, Martha Stewart!
• For an affordable and creative display stand for treats and chips, without the expense or chance of breaking, overturn a small vase or decorative paper cup and set a sturdy plate on top.
• Give folding chairs a fun makeover with some bright spray paint. Say chartreuse or neon pink?
• Randomly hang paper lanterns on tree branches as a fun and festive beacon that guides guests to where the party is.
• Break open the box of Christmas decorations, and string some lights around the yard or patio cover. We love the larger bulbs, which bring on a European air. They instantly set the warm, inviting mood.
• Get some rainbow fire crystals for your fire pit. Buy them on Amazon for $14.95 for a pack of two.
SERVING FOOD & DRINK
• Post an overhand or umbrella over your buffet to protect it from the elements.
• Stretch out your spread with thoughtful placement of food: Place chips and salsa, veggies, and salads near the beginning, and end with more expensive food items, like meat and fruit. People will tend to fill up their plates before they get to the end. (Thanks, Brittany Egbert, of One Charming Party, for this tip).
• Create a beverage station where guests mix drinks and mingle. A fun idea is to pull a dresser outside and use it as a self-service bar. Set it up with accessories in the drawers and bottles set out on top. Pretty and practical!
• Use a clean wheelbarrow as a cooler that you can wheel back to the house for refills.
• Keep track of drinks with different color rubber bands.
• Use a drink dispenser. It’s so much easier for even young guests to fill their own glasses.
• For drinking glasses, use mason jars.
• Set up a separate condiment station with salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc,. to keep the food line moving and create another gathering point for conversation as guests freshen up their food.
• Be sure to have lights ready for when the sun goes down, so your guests can still serve themselves.
• Keep insects out of drinks by topping glasses with patterned cupcake liners. Poke a hole through the center for a straw.
• Instead of lugging bags of ice home from the grocery store, plan ahead. A few days before the party, start filling up large zip-top bags with ice from your freezer’s ice machine and pull them out as needed.
• An alternative to keeping your cooler cool is to fill up some water balloons (in fun colors), freeze them, and use them in place of ice in a cooler. They’re more festive than ice, especially when placed in glasses. When you notice them sagging, just pop them back in the freezer.
• For under $2 you can make a noodle beverage boat for the pool. Go to the local dollar store, and buy a pool noodle, a medium sized plastic storage container (with a locking lid) and some waterproof nylon rope. Cut the noodle into 4 pieces (two Long, and two shorter). Use the rope to tie them all together, and wrap the noodle and rope around the lid of the plastic container.
• Help your guests stay comfortable outdoors throughout the day and into the night. Leave out amenities like sunblock, bug spray, hand wipes, and, if it might turn chilly, light blankets.
• Plant lemongrass as a natural way to keep mosquitoes away. Buy a mature plant from an Asian market or grocery store. When you get it home, trim the tops of the plant and remove any dead parts. Plant it in a clear jar of water and place on a sunny windowsill. Within a few weeks, it will develop roots and can be transplanted to your garden.
• Make a giant outdoor water bed for the kids using a roll of plastic drop cloth and duck tape (W$10 for both at Walmart for under $10). Get the kind that rips off into ten 10′ squares. Duck tape the squares together and fill with water. Kids will love it, and so will the adults!
• Who’s’ up for night-time ring toss? Grab some glow necklaces and glow bracelets from your local dollar store, drive a stake into the ground, and let the tossing begin.
• Make a DIY splash pad. Lay out a clean tarp and secure it with small, metal stakes. Put a Hop-Scotch sprinkler (around $25 at Target or on Amazon) on top of it. Attach a water hose, and you have a roomy area for everyone to jump, run and splash around in. Water stays on the tarp, eventually transforming the space into a slip ‘n’ slide for them too. It’s also a great place for adults to sit and cool down.
• Get crafty. Enlist the kids to help you make stepping stones out of cement, cereal boxes, and glass stones. Your artsy guests will enjoy the activity, and you’ll have a wonderful leave-behind souvenir for years to come.
• Croquet, anyone? Set up pool noodles for a game of kickball croquet. Another trip to the dollar store will get you plenty for cheap. You just cut the pool noodles in half down the middle, so you get two arches out of each noodle. Use garden stakes to keep the arches in place on the lawn. Gather up a few kick balls and kick the ball through the course croquet style! First one to get their ball to the finish wins!!
• Everyone loves a parade. Set up a table with ribbons, streamers and bows, then unleash the kids in a bicycle decorating challenge. Let them show off their craftsmanship with a neighborhood parade.
• Time for some throwing practice. Rather than organizing a space-consuming game of football, hang a tarp between two trees and cut out shapes (squares, ovals, diamonds) at varying heights. Label each shape with a number of points. Kids take turns throwing a football. Whoever has the most points at the end wins!
• Say cheese! Hang painted vintage frames from tree branches as a darling photo station where guests can preserve party memories.
KICK IT UP A NOTCH!
If you really want to stand out in your neighborhood’s annals of summer party history, check out some of these exciting products:
Invite Bandz Kit: Set the tone for awesomeness with this online party planning tool that lets your kids be “the hosts with the most.” A set of uniquely coded collectible silicone wristband “invitations” lets kids invite their friends in a memorable way. The party guests access the host’s personalized online party page and private social community–the Friendz Hub. $14.99 – $59.99. shop.markedprivate.com/
WHOM: Let the kids run around, while the adults have a blast at your summer party with this new card game that pits friends against friends in a game of secrets and big reveals. Pre-selling on Kickstarter for a $25 pledge. Pledge more and get a limited “Selfie Package,” (you’re drawn into a future piece of game art). www.thewhomgame.com
Jumbo Bananagrams: Want to fight summer brain drain out at your party? The jumbo version of this family favorite features 3×3 inch, waterproof tiles, making it ideal for poolside educational play. $44.99. www.bananagrams.com
Rollors: This eco-friendly outdoor game is the ultimate alternative to traditional lawn sports! The concept is a combination of bocce and horseshoes, with a thrilling element of chance. $49.95. http://rollors.com/
Frogglez: Leave it to a dad to create brilliant swimming goggles that stay in place with a neoprene strap instead of rubber. Now you don’t have to interrupt the fun to cut kids’ hair out of the goggles! $16.95. www.frogglezgoggles.com
Movie Party Rental: Did you know you can rent everything you need for a fabulous outdoor movie party? Available in packages for 5, 50 or 100 guests, this 2-story high inflatable screen turns your backyard into a drive-in movie theatre, without the cars! From $299 http://www.funflicks.com/