Entertaining Tips
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35 Ideas for the Best Summer Party Ever

Easy breezy entertaining

By Sally A Kane, J.D.
Published: April 28, 2011
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Photo by dreamstime.com
It’s summertime, the season of bare feet, days off and summer entertaining. Whether you’re throwing a cozy dinner party, lakeside barbeque or family reunion picnic, the key to entertaining at the cabin is to plan ahead and keep it simple. Celebrate summer in style with these 35 easy ideas.

1. Convert photos of your cabin, garden, or other party venue into unique save-the-date cards. With photo-editing software, type the date, time and location in the “whitespace” of the photo (such as the sky, lake or field.) Print on cardstock and send.

2.  Packing for a party at the cabin is always a challenge. Save space with collapsible serving bowls and pop-up outdoor food covers, available from web sites likePamperedchef.com and Nextag.com.

3. If you want to go all out, create one-of-a kind party favors and decorations by dip-dyeing them. Transform t-shirts, baskets, candles, tablecloths, napkins and more by dunking them in dye, fabric paint or wax.

4. For an easy, budget-friendly meal that will feed a crowd, try a build-your-own-sandwich bar. Spread out a variety of meats, cheeses and breads along with toppings and condiments and let guests dig in.

5. Celebrate events at your cabin with a guest book. Have guests sign their names and share a special message to create a unique family heirloom to enjoy for years to come.

6. Create instant alfresco seating by throwing a few area rugs under a tree or in choice spots around the yard. Toss in a few comfy pillows to encourage guests to kick off their shoes and relax.

7. Keep leaves and critters out of your drink with clever cocktail caps: Top each glass with a cupcake liner and punch a straw through the center.

8. Nothing says “summer!” better than a juicy watermelon. As an alternative to serving it in wedges, scoop out melon balls with a small ice cream scoop and stack in a pretty bowl. Re-use the empty watermelon rind as a punch bowl.

9. Transform unsightly utility tables, picnic tables and card tables in minutes with matching floor length tablecloths such as those from Tablevogue (Tablevogue.com). Simply drape them over the table to create a beautiful dining table, buffet, bar or gift table for every summer party and occasion.

10. Create fun flip-books from the photos of your event with online software. Sites like Snapfish.com and Walgreens.com offer them for as low as $5, which means these books are inexpensive enough to distribute to guests and family members.

11. As an alternative to fruit salads, skewer chunks of pineapple, grapes, strawberries, watermelon and other fruit onto kabob sticks. To punch up the presentation, cut fruit slices into fun shapes with mini cookie cutters.

12. Add sugary fun to iced tea and mixed cocktails with rock candy swizzle sticks, found online and at candy supply stores.
 

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Infuse drinks with an added splash of flavor, see #13
Photo by dreamstime.com
13. Infuse drinks with an added splash of flavor by freezing fruit such as grapes, raspberries, blackberries and cherries to use as ice cubes in water, lemonade or ice tea. Spice up iced tea with ice cubes frozen with lemon juice and honey.

14. For pretty summer place settings, set dinner plates on 12×12 sheets of patterned scrapbook paper. Create matching napkin rings by wrapping the napkin with a two-inch strip of coordinating paper and securing it with double-sided tape. For extra flair, trim the paper with decorative craft scissors.

15.  Tap into your charitable side by setting up a lemonade stand at your party. Let the kids sell lemonade to guests and donate the proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (Alexslemonade.org), an organization that raises money for childhood cancer. Bonus: Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation will supply the materials for your lemonade stand including a 2x3-foot plastic banner, poster, thank you notes, flyers and advertising materials.

16. Recapture your spirit of adventure with a scavenger hunt. Make a list of items found around your cabin or ask players to find something that is: round, scented, soft, plastic, growing, purple, hole-filled, noisy … you get the idea. The first person to find all the items on the list wins.

17. Create instant shade for buffet tables and party guests with pop-up tents. For additional protection from sun, wind and bugs, hang sheer curtains (or tulle fabric) on the sides and pull them back with a pretty ribbon.

18. Celebrate summer with a New England-style shrimp boil. Steam shrimp, corn and potatoes in a large pot, mound the steaming food onto a paper-covered table, roll up your sleeves and enjoy.
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For a twist on hot chocolate, see #19
Photo by dreamstime.com
19. For a twist on hot chocolate, serve frozen chocolate at your next summer get-together. Mix up cups of hot chocolate with cold instead of boiling water and freeze until slushy (about 2 hours). Remove from the freezer and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings (optional).

20. Sangria is a tasty alternative to the ubiquitous daiquiri and margarita. Make your own by mixing 1.5 liters dry red wine, ½ cup sugar, 1 cup orange juice, the juice of one lemon and one lime, and sliced fruit like apples, oranges and berries in a large container and refrigerate overnight (Tip: the longer it sits, the better it tastes). Before serving, add 1 liter club soda and serve over ice. For instant sangria, add your favorite red wine to Harry & David’s sangria mix (Harryanddavid.com).

21. Have a kid’s wagon? Put it to use pulling giggling kids around the yard. Or, line up several wagons and hold a wagon race, prizes optional.

22. Surprise party? Add a twist by blowing up photographs of the guest-of-honor’s face and stapling to craft sticks. Distribute one to each guest, cover your faces with the photo and yell surprise. You can also stick them in potted plants and centerpieces for party decorations. Bonus points for using embarrassing
photos from days past!

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For a no-fuss table tablecloth, see #23
Photo by dreamstime.com
23. For a no-fuss table tablecloth, drape tables with colorful beach towels in coordinating colors. To continue the beach theme, fill a tray with seashells and votive candles and use large, flat shells to hold small candies.

24. Chocolate-dipped strawberries are always a summertime hit. For an extra adult kick, soak them overnight in chocolate vodka, pat dry and dip in melted chocolate. Label the vodka strawberries as adult-only and be sure to whip up a ‘virgin’ batch for the kids.

25. Face painting is a fun way to engage children of all ages. Put the older kids to work painting cheeks, arms and bellies. Stars, hearts, balloons, flowers and other simple designs work best. Snazaroo
(snazaroo.us) is one of the best online resources for purchasing all you’ll need to become the Claude Monet of the face painting world.

26. Keep track of drinks by labeling each glass with colorful, reusable drink labels. The labels from Clingythingylabels.com ($4.99 for 48 labels) are budget-friendly and make great conversation starters. Or use plastic cups, set out colored markers and let your guests decorate their own cups.

27. Turn on the garden hose and/or fill spray bottles with water for instant fun. Let guests squirt each other at random or set up more structured games with the water hose such as limbo, tag or high jump. 

28. Or hand out colorful squirt guns to add to the fun. Place buckets of water in strategic places around your party venue to use as refilling stations or let guests fill them in the lake or river. For inspiration, check out “Water Fight!” from the July/Aug 2008 issue of Cabin Life (CabinLife.com).

29. To secure tablecloths on a breezy day, attach them to the table with binder clips covered in ribbon or use tablecloth weights such as the summer-themed weights from Improvements.com ($9.99 for set of four).

30. For get-togethers on a cool summer evening, gather around the fire and exchange stories. Check out the campfire stories from American Folklore (Americanfolklore.net) or Ultimate Camp Resource (Ultimatecampresource.com) for ideas. Or give your guests a story prompt and let them come up with their own ending. If you need pointers on the art of campfire storytelling, check out “Tell Me a Scary Story” from the Sept/Oct 2001 issue of Cabin Life (CabinLife.com).

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Unify your party décor, see #31
Photo by dreamstime.com
31. Unify your party décor with a color theme. Repeating the color theme in table cloths, centerpieces and other accessories can create a big impact.

32. Dress up unsightly outdoor garbage cans with pretty fabric. Measure your trash can, cut fabric to fit and secure with double sided tape. Or, try Flings Bins – portable, collapsible trash bins adorned in a variety of patterns to fit your party theme. (Flingsbins.com, 4 for $15.99).

33. Create a festive ambience with the warm glow of string lights wrapped around trees, shrubs, fences and porch railings. Soji Mini Solar String lights, which are created from nylon and powered by the sun, automatically turn on when darkness falls (Allsopgarden.com).

34. Entertain guests with a movie under the stars. Set up a projector, laptop or DVD player and pop in your favorite movie. You can rent an inflatable screen or create your own from a white sheet, garage door or flat exterior wall. Serve popcorn, candy and other traditional movie theater fare.

35.  Make your own snow cones by combining 2 cups of ice and 1½ cups of water in a blender until slushy. Scoop the ice into bowls or paper cones with an ice cream scoop and drizzle with snow cone flavoring. Make your own flavoring by boiling 2 cups of sugar in ¾ cup of water in a medium pan. Remove from heat, stir in a package of unsweetened Kool-Aid or flavored drink mix powder – and enjoy!

Sally A. Kane is a Pittsburgh-based writer who aspires to entertain like Martha Stewart, but her cooking skills are sadly lacking.

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