Category: How To…

How to Give Directions

Getting lost is one of the most frustrating occurrences for both guests and hosts.

(Or maybe that’s just me…I have an amazing proclivity for getting lost. When we first moved to Rhode Island, I drove around with two maps in the car – an atlas and a customized MapQuest [does anyone even use MapQuest anymore?] printout with “home” and “church” and other important locations marked on it. I still got lost. Frequently. Part of that can be attributed to RI’s lack of proper street signs, but I’ll claim most of the blame as my special talent. One time, we were invited somewhere new for dinner, about 5 miles from my work. Matthew drove separately and got there before me. I got so lost that even repeated phone calls couldn’t rescue me, and Matthew had to leave the dinner, find me, and guide me to the house. Dinner was really cold by the time we sat down to eat.)

You don’t want that to happen to you. Or your guests. So give them good directions.

By that I mean, don’t actually give them directions (of the “turn right at the brown house” sort). The webcomic XKCD agrees that’s rarely necessary anymore, since most people have GPS’s in their cars or smart phones with Google Maps apps.

Here’s what I do mean:

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How to Plan a Pirate Party in 7 Easy Steps

Step 1: Drink a bottle of rum.

Step 2: Watch all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Step 3: Duly inspired, sit down to plan your pirate-flavored invitations, menu, decorations, and games.

Step 4: Drink another bottle of rum.

Step 5: Stumble back to your desk to finish planning.

Step 6: Decide you’re too inebriated to plan anything. Peer into the now-empty liquor cabinet.

Step 7: Light a fire in your living room; dance around it asking, “Why is all the rum gone?”

OR, alternately, if you actually want to get a pirate party planned:

Step 1: Occasions. Talk Like A Pirate Day is Sept. 19…now is the opportune moment to plan a party. If you really like to plan ahead, the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie comes out May 20, 2011. And Pirates make a great theme for birthday parties, movie marathons, New Year’s Eve parties, bar mitzvahs…okay, maybe not bar mitzvahs. Choose an occasion – or no occasion – for your pirate party.

Step 2: Venue. Pick a piratey venue. If weather permits, outdoor parties work really well with a pirate theme, especially if you can hold the party near a body of water. Beyond ambiance, an outdoor party has the added benefit of allowing you to actually bury a treasure chest. If you do have an outdoor party, ensure there are adequate restroom facilities. I once did a pirate party in a park without porta potties; having to shuttle guests to the bathroom a couple miles away at my house really slogged up the procession of the party plan. But it was worth it – here’s the party location, the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park in Providence, RI.

Step 3: Invitations. Make invitations as soon as you’ve picked the date and time. If you’re mailing invites, send them out at least two weeks ahead of time. Whether you mail, email, phone, or Facebook your invitations, use your best piratey language. Lots of “arrrs,” “ayes,”  and “avasts.” Here are the invitations I made for my pirate birthday party 3 years ago. Hint: don’t make the language so piratey that people can’t understand it…with these invites, several people had to call me and ask for translations.

Step 4: Costumes. What good is a pirate party without costumes? Seriously. It’s one of the best costume party ideas. Plus, your guests will be apt to have more fun and take themselves less seriously if they’re sporting eye patches, hook-hands, and parrots. Everyone walks with more of a swagger when they’re wearing sashes and tricorns. Here’s a fantastic list of ideas and links for putting together pirate costumes.

Step 5: Menu. Unless you want to serve hardtack, citrus fruits, and maggoty meat, I suggest going with an inauthentic menu. Eat whatever you like and focus your creative endeavors on the drink menu. If you’re going non-alcoholic, root beer in bottles is a must. If your pirates are NOT tee-totalers, the Talk Like a Pirate mates have an excellent list of pirate drink recipes. You can fall back on the standard grog, but, frankly, it tastes terrible. The cake is the place to shine with creativity. Here’s the treasure chest cake my mom made for my birthday a few years ago.

And the stellar cake my friend Jenn made for a Pirates movie marathon.

Step 6: Decorations. If you’re not lucky enough to have your party onboard a ship, like this amazing couple with their pirate wedding, decorate as best you can with a nautical flair. (Did you click on that link? Go back and do it now. Go on, I’ll wait.) Think treasure chests, strings of pearls, dubloons, sashes, tricorns, maps, model ships… In the cake pictures above, you can see some of the decorations I’ve used at various pirate parties.

You can ask each guest, or team of guests, to design and make their own pirate flag. Provide supplies – black fabric for flags, white and red felt for cutting out their own pirate symbol, and glue guns to attach them all together. This activity then adds to the decor.

Step 7: Games.

I Don’t Have Scurvy - guests compete to eat cut-in-half citrus fruits, racing a clock and each other. The fruits get more sour as the fastest contestants progress through the rounds. No matter who wins, it’s guaranteed that all contestants will be scurvy free.

Plankman – a living game of hangman. When players call a letter that’s not on the board, there’s not drawing of fictional body parts on a hangman’s noose – each team’s plankman must take a step further down the plank. (If you can do this over an actual body of water, this is much more better.)

Captain Says – like Simon Says, but the Captain calls the shots and does pirate-themed actions (i.e. hop on one foot like a peg leg pirate).

Blind Man’s Bluff - use two eye patches for a blindfold.

Pirate ScrabbleSpeed Scrabble with a twist. Contestants may use only pirate-related words (stretch this as far as you want, but you have to give a justification for each one). The fastest finisher must tell a pirate story using all the words on his or her board to claim the win.

Pin the Kiss on Jack Sparrow/Will Turner – This one is for the ladies. Hang a poster of Cap’n Jack or another dashing pirate. Give each guest a cutout of paper red lips labeled with her name. Put tape or sticky tack on both sides of the lips. Blindfold the player, spin ‘er around, and send her wobbling toward to picture to plant a kiss on Jacky’s lips. Closest one wins.

This post was inspired by my friend Joleigh, who threw a pirate 16th birthday party for a friend last weekend. Jo, you’ll have to send pictures and let us know how it went! Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

How to Host Radio Show Callers

So, I called in to a radio show for the first time tonight. It was a live podcast called Stubborn Facts Radio, and I found out a half hour before it was on that Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like was going to be interviewed tonight. I am a huge fan of Jon and SCL, so I called in. You can listen to the recording of the show here.

I felt a little awkward doing it because I’ve never called in to something like that before. I wasn’t sure how I would know when it was my turn to ask a question or how all that worked. As an introvert, I kind of hate the phone anyway, and knowing it was going to be broadcast live was intimidating. I didn’t know how I would be able to hear the show while I was waiting and if I would have to mute my computer once I got on so there wouldn’t be a delayed echo.

(I think I overthink way too much.)

But as soon as I called, the recording said to press 1 if I wanted to get in the queue to talk to the host. Easy! Then it immediately put the show on the phone line so I could hear what was going on.

The host noticed callers in the queue but wanted to ask his questions first, so he asked the callers to hold on, which was nice. The queue showed the area code, so when they put caller “area code 401″ on, I got to talk.

The show hosts and Jon were all very gracious and hosted the conversation well. Hosting a call-in show takes a lot of skill at conversational ping-pong. It’s like:

-identify caller
-welcome caller
-caller says hello to host or guest
-host/guest greet caller
-small talk
-host knows the right moment to ask the caller for his/her question
-caller asks question
-host/guest answers
-follow up back and forth for clarification if needed
-host lets caller know when to hang up

If any of those things does not happen, it gets awkward very quickly.

The show invited Jon on after they read his CNN article about Christians being jerks online. They wanted to talk to him about politics and Christianity. I got to ask about pro-life stuff. And unicorns.

Jon is very kind…he mentioned how I wrangled 19 children to Holden, MA, to hear him speak last month and then plugged my blog on the show! That is so gracious. I want to be all about promoting other people as much as Jon does.

Thanks to the hosts of Stubborn Facts and to Jon Acuff for doing a great job hosting the podcast. Again, you can listen to tonight’s show here.

How to Host a Guest Speaker

I am honored to be one of the speakers at a teen camp in Wisconsin this week. This is the first time I’ve been flown somewhere to speak, so I’m still not sure what to do with this!

At the end of June, I spoke at a national teen convention in Pennsylvania, where I connected with my friend Joleigh. One of her camp speakers dropped out at the last minute, so she asked me to fill in. In just two weeks, she pulled together my travel plans and I pulled together my presentations (well, sort of – I got mostly ready before traveling out here, but I am currently up at 2:30 am finishing my PowerPoint for a session tomorrow).

I have felt so much hospitality from the whole camp team this week. They’ve done an amazing job of making me and my kids feel welcomed. If you are planning an event that involves speakers traveling in, here are some great hospitality lessons you can learn from Joleigh and her team.

1. Issue the invitation

Give as much detail as you can up front so the speaker can decide if the event fits in with her schedule and priorities. For example, “We would love to have you speak at our camp. It’s July 11-16. We could fly you in and cover all your costs during the week. Your children would be welcome to come with you. My camp team will be happy to help take care of them.”

I had to clear the timing with my boss and check the family calendar with my husband before I could commit, so I took a few days to decide. Joleigh followed up just enough to remind me to make the decision in time for flights to be purchased, but not so much that it was annoying.

2. Make travel arrangements

I’ve never had someone schedule my travel for me before. It was amazing. She checked flights from my airport to hers and offered me several flight times to choose from and made sure I would return home on Friday in time for a commitment that night. I HATE searching for flights. This made the process so easy. She also arranged for someone to pick me up from the airport and drive me to the camp. It was a relief to not have to worry about any of the transportation details.

3. Plan for their preferences

Joleigh thought of all kinds of details that made me feel welcomed. Particularly, she remembered that I like to run, so she connected me ahead of time with camp team members who are runners. I was able to check and scope out routes before I got here. I had a fantastic trail run with one of the high school camp team girls today on a woodchip trail at a local park. She also checked food preferences for me and my kids and bought special snacks for us. Thoughtfulness like that takes hospitality to the next level.

4. Take care of their kids

Knowing my two small children would be welcome with me made it easy for me to say “yes” to the invitation. Joleigh went above and beyond and arranged for one of the camp team girls to bring carseats and a pack-n-play from her house when she picked us up, so I didn’t have to travel with any of those bulky items. The camp team has been amazing to play with Joshua and Katherine so I could prepare for sessions, speak, nap, and run.

5. Get them settled in

The camp staff has been wonderful too. We had two rooms side-by-side set aside for us, which was really nice. I love co-sleeping with my babies, but once they become toddlers, we all sleep better in separate rooms. We arrived in plenty of time to allow for naps and unpacking before we had to do anything or be anywhere.

6. Give gift baskets

There is something so welcoming about a gift basket. They’re never expected but always appreciated. Joleigh had put together a gift bag for me with magazines, a mug, candy and cocoa, and other items that showed she knows me and knows what I like. Being observant of your guests and noticing little things they like and then acting on those likes shows great hospitality. She also had toy totes for K and J with age- and gender-appropriate toys and craft items. AND she had made them mini-camp-t-shirts to match the big kids!

7. Feed them well

I have relished not having to cook or wash dishes all week. We’ve eaten excellent, healthy meals and snacks, and there’s even a section of the walk-in fridge designated for the camp team with “special” foods and snacks. I got a free pass to the coffee shop all week and the kids got a free pass to the candy store.

8. Welcome them into your culture

I think this is the most important point. The camp team has shared their inside jokes with me, let me in on their late-night planning sessions, and let me join in teasing them. Joleigh says it’s important for the speakers she picks to be “campatible.” I think the reverse is also true, and camp is quite “patible” with me.

How to Host a Cookout

I was just talking with a friend who has been unexpectedly thrust into hosting a cookout for about 20 people at her home in a couple days. She had a minor panic, being unsure about how to put together the event, how to handle the food, what was expected of her as the hostess. Here are some ideas I threw out there for her…with summer cookout season still going strong, especially heading toward Labor Day Weekend, maybe these will help someone else too.

-It’s less about the venue and the appearance and more about the warm welcome
For a casual cookout, you don’t have to have perfectly coordinated luau themed decorations and linens, tiki torches, and a roast pig (though that would be hecka fun). You don’t even have to have a sculpted lawn and matching patio furniture. Your house doesn’t have to be spotless, just reasonably picked up. Just be prepared, then remember to be calm and smile. Your guests will remember the feel of the party more than the details of how it looked.

-The role of the host is to give direction without overly herding people
You don’t have to force people’s every move, but you do need to give gentle direction. Laissez-faire hospitality can leave people wandering around aimlessly and having to ask awkward questions. Anticipate their questions and provide answers before they have to ask. “I’m so glad you’re here! Thanks so much for bringing chips. You can put them on the table there. Please help yourself to a drink from that cooler there. The bathroom is inside through the patio doors, on the other side of the kitchen. We’ve got burgers on the grill – we’ll be ready to eat in about 20 minutes. In the meantime, enjoy the veggies on the table.”

Make introductions. Try to mention a common interest as you make the introduction. Make sure everyone has someone to talk to. You cannot make people be friends, but at least you can set conversations up for success.

Orchestrate the evening. Let people know what to expect, what will be coming up – think of it as a casual Order of Ceremony. “Okay, the burgers are coming off the grill! We have buns and condiments on the table by the plates. You can form a line here. Sarah, would you mind going through the line first?”

“It looks like everyone’s almost done eating. There’s a trash bag right here when you’re done with your plates and cans. In about 15 minutes, we can move to the lawn – we have croquet over here, bocce there, and a volleyball net in the backyard. We’ll eat dessert around 8:30.”

-Cookout food should be simple
If you have grill skills, you can do hamburgers, chicken (boneless skinless thighs fit perfectly on a bun and are less expensive than breasts. If you do breasts, you can usually cut them in half for grilling), and sausages (bratwursts or sweet Italian sausage can be a nice change from hot dogs). You might want to have a box of veggie burgers on hand in case you end up with some vegetarians. Provide nice buns, sized appropriately for the various meats. Have condiments – ketchup, mustard, mayo, and a plate of lettuce and sliced tomatoes (skip the sliced onions – no one wants to be concerned about onion breath at a social occasion).

Really you can skip potato salad, coleslaw, etc. Cookouts seem to be more about the meats anyway. Maybe do a veggie tray and a fruit tray, some chips, maybe cheese and crackers.

Desserts can be simple too – cupcakes, watermelon, and brownies.

If you have a gathering of foodies, then definitely grill marinated fish and vegetables, serve exotic salads and appetizers, pair wines with the food, and have your pastry chef friend bring dessert. (And invite me.)

Get enough flats of water bottles (they often come in 24-packs) for each guest to have at least one bottle of water. Have a nice mix of carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, caffeinated and non-caffeinated. So, maybe Coke, Root Beer, 7-Up, and Lemonade or iced tea. If you’re doing alcohol, you can serve bottles of beer (some light, some regular – the Sam Adams summer pack is a nice assortment: Boston Lager, Light, Summer Ale, Blackberry Wit, Hefeweizen, and Pale Ale) and bottles of malternatives like Mike’s Hard Cranberry Lemonade. Stock a couple coolers with ice ahead of time.

-Paper goods
If you do drinks in cans and bottles, you don’t have to buy cups. This leads to fewer spills and avoids the whose-cup-is-this? awkwardness. If you have only finger foods, you don’t have to get silverware. Sturdy paper plates (like Chinet) and napkins (or a roll of paper towels can be less expensive) are all you need.

-Getting guests to contribute
It’s generally acceptable for a cookout to be a potluck. You can either wait for guests to ask what they should bring or just declare it a potluck from the outset. Give clear direction about what you want guests to bring. Single guys should usually be tasked with bringing drinks or chips or ice. (Be clear about what kind of drinks, for example, cans instead of 2-liters.) You can assign desserts and/or side dishes to the ladies or culinarily skilled men. BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat) can work well.

-Have fun
Relax and enjoy the summer with your friends.

What are your best cookout hospitality tips?

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