11 June, 2012  |   22 Comments

Porch Party, the how-to

Porch party, let’s do it.

Porch Party, June 1

No really, how in the heck do I find time to throw parties when I work full time, have no housekeeper, no assistant and no photographer? (Let’s not forget the two toddlers that attend preschool part time).

It’s something that you may have wondered.
It’s something I wonder.

Porch Party, June 1

And my only answer is that James and I prioritize hosting as a core family value. It’s important to us to get friends together to share food and drink and therefore we make time for it.

Porch Party, June 1

We do it by making lists, lots of them.
I do it by taking a deep breath, several times a day.
I do it by remaining flexible and positive.

Porch Party, June 1

Here’s my countdown to a porch party — it outlines the steps I take (starting on Sunday) to host a Friday night party. This is especially important if you have to schedule like we do — with two working parents, an active dog and two small, funny little people.

Sunday, I made a list of what I wanted to serve at the party. By editing my menu down to no more than 3 or 4 snacks and 1 specialty drink, sanity is maintained. What’s in my pantry and fridge gets reviewed during my weekly meal planning so it was fresh in my mind when I made my list. For this party, I decided to focus on dips and dippers, especially pre-made dips that only need to be plopped into a bowl.

Plan theme of party, food and drink.
Review contents of refrigerator and pantry.

I worked in San Francisco on Monday so I was out of the house from 5:30am until 8:00pm. I made a shopping list on the ferry on the way home from work when my brain was too tired for work but not too tired for a list.

Make shopping list.

On Tuesday, I worked from home, which gave me the flexibility to go to the grocery store during my lunch hour. My budget for this party was $150 which was evenly split between dips, dippers and white sangria recipe ingredients. I also post the event to Facebook on this day — to make sure all my favorite people are invited.

Grocery shop for items that can be purchased ahead of time.
Invite guests.

I worked in San Francisco on Wednesday but came home at 7:00pm instead of 8:00pm. On the ferry ride home, I organized my playlist, getting the music for the evening ready to go on an Mp3 player (My trusty Zune. Don’t laugh. I love it.). I like this more than a music streaming service on my phone because I need my phone during the party to communicate with guests and take photos.

Getting home an hour earlier than usual meant that after putting the kids to bed, I had a chance to put away clutter, as well as dust and wipe off the worst of the offenders. The best part about throwing an outdoor party is that your home (save for your bathroom) stays relatively clean.

Clean house.
Make party playlist.

On Thursday, I also worked from home. Please know, that when I work from home, it ain’t no kicking back with the Real Housewives. I’m on calls and hunched over my laptop for the better part of 10 hours.

Just like you are.

I tuck bathroom cleaning into a bathroom visit. Our main bathroom gets a workout on party nights, and I like to have towels clean, sinks, counters and toilets sparkling. It only takes 10 minutes if you’re on your way in or out and has a huge impact on your guests’ comfort.

That said, the better part of my lunch time on Thursday was spent vacuuming and hosing off the porch. Since Thursday was also a bocce night ([!] I know!) I spent the precious hour between 5 and 6 making double the recipe of AB Chao’s pimento dip, my white sangria and cutting and blanching the veggies that I bought on Tuesday. I brought one of the pimento dips to bocce and saved one for Friday’s party.

After bocce, James and I borrowed a cooler from a friend. As is our unofficial bocce custom, whoever is throwing the party that weekend gets to take the leftover wine and beer back to their homes. If no one is throwing a party that weekend (unlikely!) then the drinks return to the bocce courts for another week.

Clean house part II.
Make what food you can ahead of time.
Collect coolers and serving platters.

Party day! Also! Work from home day!
On Friday, lists become invaluable.

Grocery lists, cleaning lists, food to put on which table lists, it all goes on a list. Like I said, I’m chained to my laptop straight from 7:00am until 5:00pm so without a list that other people can also interpret, time is of the essence.

The last minute grocery list got picked up at lunch time. At 5:30, I started plopping. Dips were scooped from their plastic containers into one set of bowls, chips and dippers were dropped into another set of bowls. Since some people feel an “ick” factor when it comes to dips, I plop my dips into as many small bowls as possible, so group contamination is kept to a minimum.

James was in charge of coolers and ice, getting everything ready so drinks were cold, and at 6:00, the first guests arrived.

Put drinks in coolers.
Put food out.
Set up music.
Have fun.

That last one is the most important. If you don’t take a second to shake off the stress of your day, your guests do pick up on it — and aren’t able to kick back themselves.

Porch Party, June 1

Any additional questions?
I’m happy to answer in the comments.

Porch Party, June 1

22 thoughts on “Porch Party, the how-to

  1. 1
    Katrin says:

    Great and very useful post! Do you mind sharing your menu and sangria recepie?

  2. 2
    Angella says:

    Oh, I’ll be making that sangria recipe. I love, love, love hosting parties.

  3. 3
    Maggy says:

    This is so fantastic! I love that you make time for hosting. That’s incredible. Loved your photos. And goodness, I wanna come to one of your porch parties!

  4. 4

    This post is really inspiring to me. I used to be such a great hostess, and since having kids I totally lost this habit. It’s so easy to make excuses but I really miss it. I love that you are actively making it a priority and doing what it takes.

    • 4.1
      Helen Jane says:

      It’s good for the kids to learn how to be good hosts too! On Sunday I heard Nora Lea ask her play date buddy, “Can I get you something to drink?” and that felt mighty nice.

  5. 5
    Mary says:

    Would you share
    1. A Sample Playlist
    2. the techno savvy how to make one…. 🙂

    • 5.1
      Helen Jane says:

      Yes. I will. Coming soon.

      (Especially as that’s not one of my strengths so I get lots of help from my friends/the internet/same difference.)

  6. 6

    Love this post!! I am Always impressed with how you manage to not only prioritize, but pull off, hosting parties all the time. You’re literally a ‘hosting role model’ for me. This post also makes me feel that much better about the amount of lists I make in order to function properly and throw a decent gathering. 🙂 As always, thank you so much for sharing!

  7. 7
    Joanie says:

    Your porch parties are my inspiration! I had people over last month, and made your nacho’s (different kinds in aluminum/disposable pans .. genius) and sangria. It was wonderful, and so simple. My next get together … yay! .. sangria and dips. Thanks so much for your inspiration!

  8. 8
    Maria says:

    I really wish we had a porch. Maybe it’s time to rebuild..ha! What a fun party!

    Loved seeing you at BHF! Can’t wait until EVO! xoxo

  9. 9
    Christen says:

    This is awesome and kind of how my husband and I prep for our parties (I love lists) – a little each day means you’re not completely exhausted by the time the party rolls around! Thank you for breaking it down and pointing out where small pockets of time can be used. As organized as I like to think I am, I’m always up for new tips and ideas.

    I am excited to try your white sangria recipe!

  10. 10

    […] to be (less) Awkward: A great breakdown of how to throw a party in less than a week. [The post is specifically about how to throw a "porch party" on limited time, but the schedule, […]

  11. 11

    This sounds amazing and makes it feel so attainable and not panic inducing. And I don’t even have a porch.

  12. 12

    […] Learning: I’ve never made Paella. I need to get on that. Maybe we’ll try it for next week’s porch party? […]

  13. 13
    ssuire says:

    I really want to have a porch party now. Too bad I don’t have a porch and most of Texas is under the threat of West Nile virus that we try to stay indoors at dusk. Great tips though, maybe I can turn it into a back patio party once the mosquitos are gone!

  14. 14

    […] the most part, I followed the timeline in my How to Throw a Porch Party (when you’re dang busy) post, but some things caused good-time […]

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