Category Archives: Decorations

Seven Tips for Keeping Your Sanity During Summertime Entertaining

As the summer unfolds, you may be planning to host houseguests for a weekend getaway. Of course you’re looking forward to spending time with friends and/or family. But you may also be just a bit concerned about how to have fun while taking care of the hundred-and-one details of entertaining others in your home. It can be difficult to maintain the balance between being a gracious host and feeling like an indentured servant.

I understand! My husband, Barry, and I enjoy entertaining guests in the summer at our home in Southampton. It’s important to both of us that our guests feel welcome, at home, and well taken care of. Personally, I tend to be very particular about each visit, giving much attention to detail; but there is a fine line between taking care of all the details and running yourself ragged.

And, of course, entertaining isn’t for everyone (and that’s okay!). If you don’t get genuine enjoyment out of opening your home to others, preparing for their visits, and entertaining guests, remember that you’re under no obligation to do so. There are plenty of other ways to make summertime memories with friends. (One important caveat: If you do choose to entertain, don’t do so with the expectation that others should reciprocate—doing so only sets you up for disappointment and resentment if your friends don’t share your love of entertaining.)

For those of you who are expecting guests this summer, I’d like to share a few strategies I’ve developed that will keep you from burning out, whether you’re having overnight guests or a simple luncheon or dinner party.

Consider your guest list. If you’re planning to invite several individuals at the same time, take time to consider how they might get along with each other. The last thing you want to do is invite people who have a negative history together. Individuals who have completely different (and clashing) personalities or viewpoints might not make for an enjoyable visit, either. (But don’t overthink this—you know your friends and loved ones and how they tend to behave in groups. If instinct tells you that certain people won’t work well together, follow your intuition and invite them on separate occasions.)

When Barry and I are planning on hosting multiple guests, our top priority is simply to invite people who will enjoy each other’s company. And since these are special “getaway” weekends for Barry and me as well, we don’t invite clients from business unless they also happen to be personal friends of ours. These weekends are for our enjoyment, too!

Plan your meals ahead of time. While this may seem like common sense, I can’t emphasize enough how vital planning can be in having a smooth, hiccup-free weekend. I like to check off as many things as I can before my guests arrive. For example, I typically check with guests to see if there is anything they are allergic to or don’t eat before heading out to the grocery store.

I usually make out the menu for the entire weekend about a week in advance, so I’ll know what to shop for and won’t be scrambling for meal ideas at the last minute. I typically place my order for fresh fish, chicken, or meat a few days before and schedule a pick-up for Friday morning. At this point, I’ll also pick up any last-minute items. Oh, and one more tip: I’ve found that I save a lot of time and money by growing a nice variety of herbs on the deck outside our kitchen, which ensures that we have fresh, flavorful seasonings for our salads and main dishes.

Freshen up your guest room(s). Over the course of daily life, most of us don’t spend much time in our guest bedroom(s). You may even keep the doors closed! That’s why it’s a good idea to air them out a day or two before your guests arrive. Make sure that everything is in order and that the linens are fresh. You might also want to plug in an air freshener or light an aromatic candle before your guests arrive. Personally, I’ll often put a fresh flower from our garden in my guests’ bathroom or bedroom to welcome them. I think this adds a nice touch!

Cook their first meal (and stick with what you know). If your guests have been traveling, it’s likely that they’d prefer to relax at your house, rather than get dressed up to run out shortly after arriving. That’s why Barry and I usually cook at home on Friday nights. We try out new recipes on weekends when we don’t have guests (so we don’t have any surprises!), then serve the “winners” to our friends. Barry handles the grill while I put the finishing touches on the rest of the dinner. If guests offer to help, I often ask them to set the table, put out hors d’oeuvres, or help serve drinks so that we can talk and enjoy each other’s company.

Make breakfast easy. After a good night’s sleep, you don’t want your guests to feel like they need to rush in the morning. Unless you’ve all agreed on an early morning activity ahead of time, let them know that they’re free to wake up when they want and come down for breakfast when they feel ready. For breakfast, Barry and I put out cereals, English muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee, etc. and let everyone eat what they want.

Ask your guests what they want to do. As a host, you’re the expert on your area, so you’ll probably need to take the lead in suggesting activities. But before you make any firm plans, offer several options to your guests and ask them what they want to do. Try to make the weekend about them. For instance, Barry and I usually ask our guests if they want to visit one of the special small villages like Sag Harbor or Southampton, shop and walk around, go to the beach, play tennis, or just relax and take a nap by our pool. The most important thing is that our guests feel comfortable and enjoy the weekend.

Spend a night on the town. If your guests will be with you for several days, you’ll probably want them to see all that your town has to offer. Saturday night is a great time for this. We usually take our guests out to dinner, allowing them to choose between a few favorite restaurants we like. Afterward, we might stop for an ice cream cone and walk around one of the villages. It’s such a fun way to end the evening!

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you and your guests enjoy their time at your home. The more you plan ahead and take into account individual preferences, the more likely that will be. I hope you all enjoy your summer visits, whenever and with whomever they may be!

’Tis the Season for Excess: Seven Areas in Which You Shouldn’t Overindulge

For most Americans, the weeks between now and New Year’s are some of the busiest of the year. When we’re not shopping, cooking, or decorating, we’re socializing, eating, or traveling to the next event on the calendar. Yes, we mean well when we cram our time so full of activities and obligations: We want to have fun. We want to spend time with loved ones. We want to celebrate, eat good food, and look our best at every event.

But often, we end up overdoing it. Instead of savoring seasonal cheer, we find ourselves irritable, stressed, and exhausted as we fall more and more behind on our to-do lists. In multiple areas, it’s easy to inadvertently cross the line from “healthy” to “too much,” leaving ourselves inadequate margins of time and energy.

One thing I’ve learned during my career is that balance looks and feels different to everyone. There isn’t a magic formula for staying within healthy boundaries. That’s why it’s important to take your temperature in several key areas as you move through the next few weeks. Yes, going overboard might be tempting and easy to rationalize, but not at the expense of your well-being. When you stay focused on honoring your needs and values, you’ll stand the best chance of creating a fulfilling holiday—and of beginning 2014 in a good place physically and mentally.

Here are seven key areas in which you should be careful not to overindulge:

*The calendar crunch. Cocktail parties. Potlucks. Gift exchanges. End-of-year company celebrations. Concerts. Fundraisers…and the list goes on. These events are staples of the holiday season because they’re supposed to be enjoyable. And they can be…but only if you curate your schedule. Try to avoid going to too many events or attending the wrong ones. As you pencil things in on your calendar, ask yourself: How much time do I need to recharge between events? How much time should I set aside to complete personal tasks? Will spending time with certain groups of people energize me or drain me?

*The parade of requests. Since seasonal events don’t plan themselves, chances are you’ll be asked to pitch in with your time, talents, energy, and money. As the requests come rolling in, resist the urge to automatically say yes to everything. Trust me: You don’t have to plan your company’s holiday party just because you did so last year. You don’t have to stay up till 2 a.m. baking cookies for your child’s class. You don’t have to host every member of your extended family for a holiday dinner. Keep your limits in mind and practice saying “no.” Don’t give away so much of your energy that you have none left to enjoy this time of year!

*The commercial frenzy. There are a million and one things that Americans spend money on over the holidays. The problem is, as you walk through crowded malls and watch endless streams of red-and-green commercials, it’s easy to get carried away with your wallet. Keep in mind that no purchase is worth the anxiety that a larger-than-expected credit card bill can bring. And especially be wary of overspending on clothing, shoes, handbags, and other items that are on sale, but that you don’t need. When shopping for clothes specifically, I recommend looking at the garment first and the price second. And above all, remember that the best holiday memories won’t involve “stuff.” Instead, they’ll feature the people you love. So don’t be afraid to create a budget and stick to it.

*Decking the halls. Decorations are a time-honored staple of this season. And with each year, glossy magazine spreads, television specials, and (most recently) websites like Pinterest up the ante. As a result, I think that many of us have mistakenly gotten the impression that our homes need to look like Martha Stewart paid a visit. But the truth is, it’s okay if your tree looks a little scraggly. You haven’t dropped the ball if you didn’t make each decoration by hand. As you deck your halls, ask yourself, Am I doing this because I’ll really enjoy these decorations, or am I doing it so that other people will be impressed? Remember, the most important thing is that you enjoy being in your home.

*Buffets, potlucks, and finger foods. (Oh my!) The holidays are known for good food, good drink, and lots of it. It’s tempting to partake until you’re stuffed, and then continue partaking regardless. You may not want to hear it, but the truth is that you’ll feel better physically and emotionally if you limit your intake to a reasonable level. Be sure to drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, and avoid gorging on treats at every opportunity. I also recommend getting in some light exercise, even if you can work in only a short walk a few days a week.

*Daydreams of perfection. Does this sound familiar? Every year, you say to yourself, This year everything will be different. The holidays will be perfect. No arguments, no disagreements, no awkward silences. But then, Uncle Tim makes inappropriate remarks at the dinner table, your teenage niece storms away from the table in a huff, and you can practically see your spouse’s blood pressure rise as your mother makes critical comments. Ultimately, you’re unreasonably disappointed. I’m not suggesting that you put up with blatantly bad behavior, but do manage your expectations. You’ll be much happier if you don’t ask your imperfect—but still valued—loved ones to reenact a Hallmark commercial.

*Virtual reality. During the holidays, the impulse to share every little moment with your social networks might be even greater than normal. But before you update your status or post a photo for the 749th time, take a moment to consider whether the Internet really needs to know what you’re sharing. You don’t want to run the risk of missing out on real life because you’re so focused on your virtual one. Experiencing some things with your family and friends without screens and keyboards is important.

Over the next few weeks, I hope you’ll take a step back and intentionally design a celebration that is meaningful to you. Remember, there is no “right” way to celebrate the season. Don’t feel bound by what your friends, the media, or our consumer culture tells you that you should be doing. At their heart, the holidays are about love, fellowship, faith, and values. If you’re focusing on those things, you’ll stand the best chance of having a holiday that’s truly filled with joy.