Keep Your Sanity!
5. Set a Gorgeous Table
A beautifully set table can make even plain food look elegant and inviting. And you don't need to spend a lot of money to do it. Start with a great tablecloth, especially if your dining-room table has seen better days. Tablecloths cover a multitude of sins while adding color, pattern, even drama to your party. If you don't own the perfect tablecloth, search out thrift shops and antique stores for old linens. Don't feel limited to standard tablecloths -- I've seen beautifully patterned sheets called into action. Even large square silk scarves can make a statement when placed on a diagonal over a plain white tablecloth. Whatever kind of cloth you use, place a felt pad or plastic liner on the table first to protect its surface.
When it comes to centerpieces, don't limit your thinking to flowers. Fruits, vegetables, a ball of Christmas balls at the holidays, even toys can add whimsy and charm to your table setting. I remember a gorgeous table set with nothing more than three pineapples that had been spray painted gold, nestled in some evergreens and surrounded by ivory candles. To spark your imagination, walk through your house and see what's there. Look in your drawers and cabinets and you may well find decorating treasures.
You can't go wrong with candles. Candlelight is the kindest light of all, warm and cozy. Candles of various heights and diameters look especially lovely when grouped together on mirrored surfaces (if you don't have a mirrored tray, use a small wall mirror with the hanger on the back removed, or mirrored tile from the hardware store.) Whatever method you use to display them, however, it's best to use dripless candles. They're well worth the extra expense -- especially at cleanup time.
6. Make As Much As You Can As Far Ahead As You Can
Waiting until the last few days before your party to cook everything just doesn't make sense -- especially when, if you examine your menu, you'll see that much of it can be prepared ahead, frozen and reheated. Just pin up a reminder to yourself so you don't forget to defrost in time.
Don't rule out convenience foods: As far as I'm concerned, the bakery does a much better job of baking bread than I do. And why spend time washing and peeling baby carrots when they come packaged that way at the supermarket?
For those things that demand last-minute attention, don't be proud, be smart: Have meats and cheeses sliced at the grocery store. Buy packaged ice. The idea is to work smarter not harder...minimize your efforts so you haven't exhausted yourself before the party even begins.
7. Don't Drive Yourself Crazy Cleaning
Our advice: Don't attempt a top-to-bottom housecleaning before your party. Confine your efforts to the rooms your guests will see and use. And close the doors to the others.
But there is one place you should spend some time scrubbing: the bathroom. It's the one room by which your guests will judge the cleanliness of the whole house. Make sure it's spotless, and enhance the overall impression of clean by removing all the clutter -- toiletries, bathrobes, rubber duckies.
Clutter removal is key to the rest of your housecleaning too. Here's my technique: After you've done the bathroom, start cleaning where the guests will enter. Get rid of mail on the hall table. Stash the coats, the toys and the dog's leash. Cleaning as you go, proceed to your party rooms and remove newspapers and magazines. It's a great idea to clear off tables and countertops, too, because you'll need the space for food and drinks. Polish all wooden and glass surfaces, but do not bother cleaning the windows. Once your rooms are filled with people, no one will be looking out them anyway.
more to come...
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Sharon Patrice, Simple Perfect Peace/Designs by Shay