lessons learned: what I did right and what I did wrong at Christmas this year

lessons learned from hosting Christmas

As regular readers of this little blog know, my husband and I moved into our first house in November and this Christmas was the first we would be able to spend in our new home. We would be hosting my family on Christmas day. Ever the hostess, I was so excited for Christmas this year. I had visions of being able to sleep in our own bed Christmas Eve, wake up at a leisurely hour and open presents in our pajamas, before going to Church and then coming home and getting ready for my family to arrive.

Well, spoiler alert: that’s not how Christmas happened this year. Oh there were no disasters, for sure, but a few things didn’t go as planned and I broke the cardinal rule of being a good hostess (and of event planning): just roll with it. Let’s just say I didn’t always roll with it this year. I let myself get a little stressed, which I never do while planning professionally.

So in the hope of preventing someone else from making the same mistake, I wanted to share my lessons learned.

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friday favorites – best GIFT ideas of the week

So I decided to change things up and use my Friday Favorites to share five fabulous gift ideas. I am really struggling this Christmas season. Even though I’ve watched the Muppet Christmas Carol, which is my favorite Christmas movie and is always sure to get me in the holiday spirit, I’m just so behind because of buying a new house (#firstworldproblems – I know). I have only a handful of presents and no idea what I’m buying yet for some people. So I’ve been scouring the interwebs to find inspiration and there are a zillion gift guides but I figured I’d add one more! So I present a gift guide for entertainers. While this blog is primarily about event planning, I also hope it provides inspiration for entertaining at home. Here are my top five gift ideas for anyone who loves to entertain.

As someone who entertains a fair amount, I often get a lot of more typical gifts – serving pieces, tea towels, etc. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those – I love serving dishes! I really do! But these options are a bit more… unique.

#5 – Corkers

gift guide for entertainers and hostesses

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hostess problems: trying not to overdo

backyard bbq | amanda jayne events blog

Like most event planners, I’m an over-doer. I go above and beyond, even when I don’t need to. I find that people who love to entertain are often the same – we stress about having enough hors d’oeuvres for our dinner parties and end up with leftovers for weeks.

Case in point: last week I was asked to pull together a quick ice cream sundae bar for a meeting. Most people think, ice cream, chocolate syrup, maybe sprinkles and M&Ms? I brought out a display of toppings that included fresh berries, crushed oreos and waffle cones, candy and three types of sauce (chocolate, caramel and strawberry). Did I overdo it? You betcha.

I’m the same at home – I want to overdo. This isn’t the same as not editing your ideas – this is just about deciding when to overdo. I will go above and beyond for a client but do I need to go above and beyond for friends and family? I want to, but often the price is too high – I miss out on the conversation and fellowship which is the very reason I hosted people in my home.

I was reading an article in Real Simple on backyard entertaining last month which featured David Stark, the great event designer. He said that it was okay to keep it simple, that “The second you start doing things that become too involved, you become the caterer, not the host.” So wise!

I know that my penchant for overdoing is not easily overcome, but I try to compensate by doing as much as possible before my guests arrive. I have a stash of recipes that are perfect for making the night before if I’m having friends over for dinner after work. I prefer to host parties on Saturday evenings rather than Fridays so I have the afternoon to prepare. I try to be realistic (keyword: try) regarding what I can actually accomplish. And I have resigned myself to dishes piling up and a huge cleanup after the last guests leave, I’d rather be sitting with my guests and a glass of wine rather than washing dishes as I go.

What are your tricks for entertaining at home and keeping it simple?

Photo via Alice Q. Foodie

give your guests something to talk about: DIY food stations

I’m a big fan of entertaining. I love to host dinner parties, brunches (I love brunch!), holiday parties, anything really. Most of these types of parties don’t have much built in entertainment (we don’t hire a DJ to provide the beats for for our dinner parties, believe it or not), the conversation and the connections is what it’s all about. But sometimes, adding a unique food and beverage station (or bar – not that kind of bar, although that’s often suggested as well) can help facilitate conversation.

Here are some of my favorite ideas that are relatively easy to pull off:

An olive bar and olive oil tasting. Specialty grocery stores sell fancy olives, plus you can grab a few bottles of higher end olive oil, cut up some bread, and have your guests try and taste the difference.

Photo via  Style Me Pretty

Photo via Style Me Pretty

If you’re serving margaritas (and I love a good marg), why not complement them with a salsa bar? Very easy (and affordable)!

Mimosas are my favorite brunch drink. Make your own mimosa bars are becoming more popular at bridal showers and brunches, but any brunch can use a mimosa bar. I’d take this a step further and offer more interesting juice options, such as mango or peach.

Photo via  Catch My Party

Photo via Catch My Party

For something a little more casual, what about a make your own snack mix? Everyone has the stuff in snack mix they love, and the stuff they pick out. The sky is the limit – you can go sweet or savory. If your event has a theme you can complement the theme with the type of containers you use, for example if you were hosting an outdoor event, you could use flower pots.

Photo via  100 Layer Cakelet

Photo via 100 Layer Cakelet

For a dessert bar, I love make-you-own candy apples, especially in the fall. But rather than doing whole apples, which can be messy and difficult to eat, how about offering the same fun toppings but for apple slices?

Photo via  K and K Designs

Photo via K and K Designs

This just scratches the surface – you can take almost any food and drink and turn into into a fun activity for your guests. Do you have any ideas to share?

good hostesses give good hostess gifts

I love entertaining. I love having my friends and family over for dinner – for any reason or for no reason.  I love to cook delicious food, try new recipes, and share laughs over a bottle of wine (or two, or three). But I can’t always be the hostess. Sometimes I need to be the guest.

To be honest, I struggle with this from time to time. Sure, there are our friends whose homes feel like an extension of our own, but there are plenty of times when I wish I had the sole monopoly over opening one’s home to guests.

But when I do go over to someone’s home – whether for dinner or a party or a mini-vacation – I can’t arrive empty handed.

The first question is always: “What can I bring?” And it may be dessert, a salad (true confession: I love when guests bring the salad. I love salad but it’s not my favorite thing to make), or a bottle of wine. But sometimes you need to bring a little more. Maybe it’s a housewarming party, maybe it’s a special occasion, perhaps you want to thank the hostess for extended hospitality.

Enter the hostess gift.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like ever since Pinterest really took off, hostess gifts have gotten a ton more creative. You can’t just give a bottle of wine, it has to be a bottle of wine wrapped in a custom tea towel.  Even a gift basket isn’t really enough unless it’s themed in some way. Search “hostess gifts” on Pinterest and you are bound to find a bajillion ideas, ranging in execution from “easy – I probably have all those items in my pantry” to “I’d have to pay a personal shopper to track down all those items and wrap them so nicely.”

But hostess gifts don’t have to be intense – they should just be something the hostess would appreciate.   Here are some ideas that I like:

I truly appreciate receiving flowers, but I like this lemonade set as well, with the sunflowers as a bonus.  The truly heartfelt part is the handwritten lemonade recipe, but you could honestly recreate this with the ingredients to any recipe:

Photo via  Ask Anna

Photo via Ask Anna

This next one is ideal for a housewarming gift, or just someone who could use some new kitchen gadgets, but I love the idea of putting a bunch of kitchen items in an oven mitt. Again, this could be tweaked to any interest.

Photo via  Sur la Table

Photo via Sur la Table

For the DIY inclined, I love the idea of making chalkboard napkin rings and pairing with cloth napkins. I bought a can of chalkboard spray paint a few months ago for a project and I have plenty of paint left and I’ve been trying to think of a good use for it – this might be it. Of course, store bought, non-chalkboard napkin rings and cloth napkins would be lovely as well. I’m a big fan of cloth napkins and I almost always use them when entertaining. As my friend Anna says, cloth napkins are a sign of adulthood.

Photo via  Green with Renvy

Photo via Green with Renvy

And while wine is nice (and certainly a much-appreciated gift for many hostesses), one of my favorite store-bought gifts is the corkcicle – I’ve given it many times and everyone has loved it. It keeps wine cool without a cooler or a tub, or it chills wine to serving temperature. Buy one for your wine-loving friend, or let’s be honest, you probably want one too!

Buy at  Amazon

Buy at Amazon

This of course doesn’t take into consideration plenty of other great gifts – homemade or  otherwise (and we all know my thoughts on swag and favors – edible or consumable is best – applies to hostess gifts as well). What’s your go-to gift for your fellow hostesses?