Tips for An Inviting Home and Less Stressful Holiday Entertaining

I’m excited to share my tips for creating an inviting home and steps I take for less stressful holiday entertaining today! Click through to read more:

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A Combined Sibling Birthday Party: Bubble Birthday Brunch

Note: You can still enter the $50 Williams-Sonoma gift card giveaway through Sunday night (closes at 12 am Monday morning).

Two things you should know: 1) Entertaining and parties don’t come naturally to me. 2) If I’m going to throw a party, I want it to be a good one. Enter: Bottle Pop Party Company. When Shannon announced she was taking her party planning business virtual, I emailed her pretty dang fast to see if I could hire her (not a sponsored post, I hired Shannon to plan the party and it was worth every penny and then some) to plan Thomas and Nell’s joint birthday bash. Because, referring to #1, if I’m going to have kids with birthdays less than a week apart, I’m definitely going to combine their celebrations into one for as long as I possibly can. And referring to #2, if I’m going to get away with a combo birthday party, it’s going to be a good one!

bubble birthday party

So, I approached Shannon with a few ideas I had and she gently steered me in a better direction. Love that girl. And when I threw out bubble party, she ran with it and made it awesome. Shannon came up with a navy, seafoam, coral and teal color scheme for this boy/girl birthday party and I was so in love with it, I used it for our family pictures we had taken in May, too.

Shannon’s plan was awesome. She laid out everything from the decor from the entrance to the backyard, from tablescapes to entertainment ideas, and having her plan made this party so much easier for me – especially considering we’d moved to our new house six days earlier. The house wasn’t in the ideal state I’d love to have it in for the party – would I have loved to have had every room repainted before inviting 50 people over? Sure. But you work with it. Here’s the party:

The entrance. A bubble machine greeted guests with tons of bubbles! A clump of coral, navy, sea foam, and polka dot (bubbly) balloons said “Party’s here!” and at Shannon’s suggestion I laid bubble wrap at the entry so guests would pop bubbles as they walked in (happened to have about six rolls worth around anyway, we could have bubble wrapped the entire house).

entrance

bubble birthday entrance

As for food, Shannon recommended a bubbly brunch which was perfect with the morning party I was hoping for – love to get a party wrapped up before lunch so everyone can go about their days. The food choices included a bagel bar with all the fixings, a bubbly bar, and donuts for dessert! Of course, Thomas apparently has an opinion now and demanded cupcakes, so we had both cupcakes and donuts. Obvs. You can never have enough sugar at a 1st and 3rd birthday party.

bagel bar

Bagel Bar Birthday

bagel bar birthday party

These cute utensil and napkin pouches were one of my favorite touches. I normally would have thrown a chunk of silverware in a bucket on the table, and after I put these together I texted Shannon that I would never present silverware and napkins another way again. Even my dad, who’s been known to not notice when my mom has had the exterior of their house painted for months, came up to me and said, “Em, I love these.” That’s saying something, right there.

Napkin Utensil Pouches

The Bubbly Bar. I offered three different juices and Champagne and Pellegrino (for those few friends of ours who don’t drink at 10am on Saturdays). I loved Shannon’s idea to anchor balloons behind the table, and I wish that we had another blank wall at our house to have set this against, but you work with what you’ve got, I guess. Like 13 different wall colors.

bubble birthday bubbly bar

A highchair full of balloons for the 1st Birthday girl (and the 3rd birthday boy had a regular chair full of balloons, no one was left out in this party plan).    1st birthday highchair

And some very happy birthday kiddos. Which is all that really matters in the end. It was the best party I’ve ever thrown (from my standpoint – I wasn’t stressed AT ALL) and we got tons of compliments so I assume our guests had a good time, too. Out back we had bubble stations setup, bubble hop scotch, and another bubble machine, but I failed to get pictures before guests arrived in true Emily fashion.

Birthday Collage

So that was our Double Bubble Birthday Brunch. What do you think?

How To Host an Unpretentious Wine Tasting Party

Right after we moved, I was set to host my book club. The other ladies in my book club all offered to change up the rotation to give me the month off, but like the crazy person I am, I said I could handle hosting right after moving. I’d also been recently contacted to try Black Box wines, and I knew that with the wine portion of book club handled, we could keep things really simple and light by hosting a casual wine tasting. Wine tastings have always enchanted and terrified me – people swishing their glasses and talking about notes and aromas is beyond my scope of knowledge. But the chance to try different wines and decide what you like best? So fun! So I set out to host an unpretentious wine tasting.

Casual Wine Tasting

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Thomas’s Crab Birthday Party

I decided about one day into knowing Thomas last year that if we had a first birthday party for him, it would be crab themed. I have a thing for crustaceans, and, let’s be honest, Tom can be a bit of a crab. Which I find endearing.

So anyway, when I realized that my “There will be no first birthday parties in the McKevitt household” stance wasn’t going to fly (B is pro-everything first birthday, I could do without it), I mocked up some invitations based on a Crab outfit that Thomas has. And then I started googling around for invite wording and the first thing that came up was a Tommy’s Crab Shack party at TomKat Studios. So much for my “original” idea – right down to the guest of honor’s name. But Kim’s party was a great inspiration and helped me to formulate my own spin on certain ideas.

I’m a big fan of printed invitations. They’re worth the 44 cent stamp per envelope. Evite just doesn’t make my heart flutter. Here’s the interent safe version of the invite I created:



The beauty of this party is that I can reuse just about everything in two weeks for the Fourth of July – and the Fourth is my holiday. I made the fabric banner – and forgot to get a close-up. But you’ll probably see it again in a few weeks on my front porch.
 
For food we had chicken salad and rolls, crab pasta salad, chips, and hot crab dip. And Goldfish crackers, tater tots and Chicken fries for the kids and kids-at-heart.

I made the toppers for the cupcakes and “hired out” the making of the cupcakes – my friend, Elissa, is a cupcake superstar and she graciously took that item off my list of things to plan.

We gave out bubbles – Thomas’s favorite – for favors and made custom labels for them to thanks T-Mac’s friends for partying with him. And custom beer labels were a fun touch for the adults.

The birthday boy wore one of his many crab outfits and his crab swim trunks for swimming. Funnily enough, almost everyone followed the crab theme in gift giving – lots of crab outfits, jammies and toys – and we didn’t get any repeat gifts. Apparently this is the year of the crab!
My personal preference is to avoid the smash cake trend for first birthdays, so Thomas got a mini cupcake at his party instead, which he ate daintily.
We held the party at our neighborhood pool and clubhouse (available for rent to homeowners for free). And the weather cooperated beautifully for our crab shack party – which in late June is not always a guarantee. Everyone swam, and we had lawn games – Ladder Ball and Cornhole – on the grass outside the pool for anyone who wanted to play. I was going for a summer get together vibe rather than a full-out birthday vibe. I think it was pretty successful.
All in all, it was a success and we were all exhausted by 6 pm.

Christmas Caroling Party

We threw a neighbor Christmas party last weekend.  We’ve become pretty close with a number of people on our block – and last year our friend, at her son’s first birthday party, pulled me aside and said “How do you feel about Caroling?” I told her I was pro-caroling and she said “Good, let’s start a Christmas caroling party next year”.  Which, on our street means, “Hey B and Emily, why don’t you bring our idea to life?”.  We have no idea how we became the party planners, but we’re embracing the role. 

Naturally, I didn’t take pictures once things really got going, but we had so much fun.  Here are the invites I made and dropped off (I try to avoid evite if at all possible – I love printed invites!). 

All the men (and some of the women) came griping about the caroling.  But once the kids were into it running door to door and ringing doorbells, most people got into it.  And it turned out to be so much fun!  I can’t carry a tune to save my life, but I sang loud and proud and off key.

We made far too much food.  The biggest hit were frosted Christmas cookies.  I feel for all the parents whose kids we hopped up on sugar.  And my famous bleu cheese pomegranate guacamole was a huge hit – that is by far my most asked for recipe among friends.  I made Clover Lane’s Feta Dip and it was popular.  We also had bacon wrapped dates and buffalo dip.  The kids loved Cheese and Crackers and Lit’l Smokies…but mostly the sugar cookies.  We had wine, beer and cranberry bellinis for cocktails, and pink lemonade for kids (in plastic cups) and preggos (in wine glasses – even knocked up girls like to feel festive). 

I went all out on decor this year.  Translation: I did more than put ornaments on our Christmas tree.  I added garland to the mantle.  I know, I’m a disgrace to real Christmas decorators.

We had a blast!  We’ll definitely do this again.  When we were starting planning we said, “Well just do neighbors this year and if it’s fun, we’ll expand next year.”  But keeping it “small” – 12 adults and their kids - was fun.  Almost everyone knew each other and had things to talk about.  So it might just be perfect as a neighbor party.

It was a perfect way to start the Christmas festivities!  I am so grateful for our neighborhood – and love that everyone is neighborly!

Block Party

Last weekend Mr. B and I threw another Alley Party. Remember last year’s invitations? I handled those this year.
Mr. B is a good neighbor. If he sees you outside, he’ll stop and chat you up. If he sees you carrying something heavy, he’ll run outside to help. Your sprinkler system’s leaking? He’ll let you know and help fix it. He’s just basically a nice person. So the good news is that our kids have a 50/50 chance of being nice.

And, because Mr. B’s social, we see our neighbors a lot. While walking Casco, we stop to talk. We talk to them at the pool. We stop to talk in the alley. When someone’s house goes up for sale the neighbors all ask B what the story is – because they know that B knows everyone. So, B and I see a lot of our neighbors. But apparently we’re the only ones, so some of the neighbors requested that B throw the Alley Party again this year.

And really, it’s the easiest kind of party to throw. Everyone brought something to eat – I divided it by address. B and I provided wings, soda and beer. We threw our patio table and grill into the back alley, setup Cornhole to play, and everyone had a great time. And stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

We had a great time – but I didn’t take pictures. So, do you guys know your neighbors? Anyone else have an annual block party?

Party Planning with PB

Have you seen Pottery Barn’s latest website feature? The Party Planner.

I’m in love. Ideas for cocktail, wine and cheese, dinner, and tequila parties as well as movie nights and bridal showers. It’s all a clever way to show how their dinnerware and linens can make your party super sassy, but I pulled it apart a little bit and have some favorite parts:

1) Simple invitations you can download and print. They’re not anything that’s going to win invitation of the year award, but they’re simple and sweet.

2) Recipes, wine and cheese pairings, the whole nine yards. Fabulous ideas everywhere.

3) The pictures – great ideas for tablescapes, different uses for things you already have (like using a pizza stone as a cheese tray), etc.

4) Quick How-To guides for each party. An overview of favorite drinks, meals, how to throw a party, it’s all here.

5) Timelines. I’ve thrown a few parties and the timelines are my favorite. For my sister-in-law’s bridal shower I had some kind of preparation scheduled every night for a week. PB’s timelines are simple, clear and easy to customize.

Totally makes me want to throw a party. You all can come.

Pictures above found at www.potterybarn.com.

Easter Brunch

We had a lovely Easter – I love holidays that allow you to focus on the things that matter – the reason behind the holiday, family and friends.

We woke up early to meet Jenna and her family at 7:30 Mass (it’s so fun to have friends to sit with at church!). I am definitely my father’s daughter – we left the house at 6:40 to get the best spot on the street so we didn’t have to fight traffic leaving the parking lot. Then we rushed home to start cookin’.

Mr. B and I hosted both of our families for brunch – it was a full house with lots of chaos, but it’s family. Hosting these holidays makes me anxious for my dream kitchen though – a huge island with stools so I can tell people to “park it” instead of standing in front of the oven.

We deep cleaned the house and put out the spring decor for Easter – the more wintery green with white table runner was stored for the green and white gingham table runner, the Pottery Barn striped pillows replaced my winter friendly polka dots. We brought a table from the guest room down to serve food off of, it all worked out.



On the table:
Baked Omelet – I experimented last week to come up with this healthy, hearty and delicious casserole. I am in love with this dish (and the less than 100 calories per big slice nutrition value I calculated). Spiral Ham. Pancakes with toppings. Rolls. French Breakfast Muffins. Pink Lemonade Jello and Fruit. Spring Salad. Bakerella’s Cake Pops. Cupcakes. Mimosas. Delicious.


My chickens. Bakerella’s chickens. Just call me Bakerella imperfect.


I ate way too many pastel M&Ms in celebration of my ability to each chocolate again. My mom, dad and aunt stayed until 5:30 watching Kenny Perry throw away his chance at the Green Jacket (I have no idea what this means except that a man named Tiger was also there so I’m guessing it was golf). It was a rainy, chilly Easter and I crashed on the couch in front of the fire at exactly 5:39. Loved it.

How was your Easter? Full of chocolate, jelly beans and springtime cheer, I hope!

Mars and Venus

Yesterday, Mr. B and our neighbor across the street decided (maybe over a beer or two?) that they needed to have a block party. And it needed to be this weekend. B sent me a text message, but I was busily demoing our website at a conference for work and attending the world’s most boring conference panels that I couldn’t argue. You know, some argument along the lines of, “Babe, maybe we should plan a block party when we can give people more than three days notice”. So I got home LATE last night, after a week of long work hours and saw this:

Sorry for the gray block outs. Not pretty, and probably not even secure considering I’ve all but handed out my Social Security number to the internets.

So let’s compare the boys’ invitations (our neighbor actually printed them out, B just delivered them to all of our neighbors), to invitations that I’ve designed, redesigned and stewed over for days at a time.

Bridal Shower:


A Spring 60th Birthday Party:

Save the Date Magnets for our Wedding:

You know, there’s something to be said for the quick, pulled together at the last minute soiree. And I LOVE that Mr. B is social and doesn’t care if it’s last minute, as long as people have fun. It just gives me a whole lot of anxiety.

Turkey Pinwheels

These were definitely the hit food at the shower I threw for Sarah a couple weekends ago. And they were so easy, I almost felt guilty accepting compliments on them. But they were so good I’m going to make them for every thing I ever have to bring food to – book club, cocktail parties, picnics, barbeques. Watch out, people! Without further ado, the very short recipe for Turkey Pinwheels:

Flour Tortillas (I bought a big bag at Costco and used 10 tortillas – that’s about 50 pinwheels, people)
Chive Cream Cheese – I like the whipped version
1 Tablespoon minced Garlic
Deli Turkey
Shredded Cheddar Cheese

I wanted to keep these simple, so I stopped there, but you could add lettuce, chopped veggies etc if you’re feeling adventurous.

Add the garlic to the tub of Chive Cream cheese and mix it all together. The fresh garlic adds a necessary zest. Spread the cream cheese mixture on the tortillas – a little goes a long way. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Top with one slice deli turkey and roll the tortillas up tightly. I used toothpics to hold them together at this point. Pop in the refrigerator for a couple hours. Before serving, slice diagonally into about 5 pieces. And get ready to eat a lot of them. Enjoy!