Hosting 101

National Night Out is August 1.

Residents are invited to participate by hosting block parties that evening, inviting neighbors and friends to join them in the front yard or front porch and enjoy a meal together. While our family no longer lives on a traditional block, over the years, we adopted some practices that made for relatively easy hosting.

Spread the stress

My approach to hosting is all about keeping stress down and spreading out the work, so I haven’t used all my energy before the party even begins. My husband and I take a team approach towards cooking and setup. I rope in the children and emphasize that this is a family event, so all the family pitches in to help make it possible.

Our first major dinners were our corned beef and cabbage dinner on St. Patrick’s Day and our fall festival dinner. We replay the same menu and same schedule each year. Over time we added Twelfth Night and a Midsummer event as well. Our numbers range from 20-50 guests. The more routine the event, the fewer decisions, the less brain power required, the more energy conserved.

Make a prep schedule

As a young wife, I studied Real Simple Thanksgiving issues. They taught me how to plan by counting backward from the event itself.

Invitations, usually though Evite, go out two weeks before the event.

We shop four days before the event. Traditionally, we make as much as possible rather than buying ready-made food. There have been years when we asked friends to bring side dishes and other events when we provided all the food and asked friends to contribute $5 per person or $20 per family when the family has four or more people.

Food prep begins two to three days before the event. We serve homemade lemonade or apple cider at our events, water, and the usual alcoholic beverages. Lemonade, soups, salsas, cheese trays, some desserts and other refrigerated items can be put together now.

One day before the event, I set up the furniture, plan the buffet table and set out the large garbage can and ice chests. As much as I’d like everything to sit at an enormously long table with white linen, I’ve learned that people are most comfortable when they can sit where they will. My children to stack chairs from the house or garage in the dining area.

I prepare plasticware, either setting it up in a basket holder or rolling in napkins, depending on the style of the event, along with set up plates, cups and serving dishes on my kitchen counter. Because I love to arrange flowers, I also harvest flowers on this day.

The morning of the event, we finalize the table and chair placement, set out linen, arrange the flowers, double-check RSVPs and set everything up in my kitchen. We almost always host outside for the sake of breathing room.

Any cooking called for begins based on when we plan to serve the meal, counting backward and adding thirty minutes for the inevitable delays.

Two hours before the event, I set out appetizers, drinks, and flowers.

Twenty minutes before the event, I try to stop working and sit or lie on the couch for ten minutes to rejuvenate myself before the guests arrive. What’s done is done, and imperfection is allowed.

Thirty minutes before our target dinner time, we set out the platters on the buffet.

And away we go.

Hostess rules

There aren’t many personal rules I keep for myself. I try to sit and be with my guests, but I don’t pressure myself to spend long talking with every guest. Depending on the meal or number of people, that might not be possible. But I greet them and give them the rundown of where the bathroom is, boundaries for the kids, and amenities for mothers with babies. We introduce new families to long-attending families and then move on.

Hosting large events became manageable and even enjoyable when I began to tell myself, “I bring the space; they bring the fun.” I don’t have to take it upon myself to make people happy. A hospitable space, good food, music and a relaxing environment give them all they need.

I keep a mental list of what people can help with; most often, that means bringing platters back in and moving furniture back when the party ends. Because they’ve enjoyed a meal with friends and family, it has never made me feel awkward to let our guests help in this way. If I am not realistic with myself limits, I know I will burn out and no longer want to host. 

Host like yourself, not like an instagram account

National Night Out hosting is not meant to be fussy, frilly or a lot of work. But if that’s your style, go for it! Bring your family culture, personality, and style to the front yard. Deliver invitations or fliers to neighbors beforehand. Write your shopping list and prep schedule. Let go of the things that will drain you. Hold onto the things that make the event fun.

If we haven’t grown up with a hosting house or are over-influenced by social media, Hosting can be intimidating. The gift of togetherness cannot be overestimated. I’ve seen relationships grow and community connections among our regulars over the years in ways that would not have been possible without the willingness to open our home to people we may have only met in passing or possibly never met.

It’s incredible what can happen with an open heart and open door.

I hope you’ll find a way to join in.

Get to Know Your Neighbors

Meet my neighbors

As I prepared to go to work, my husband announced he threw out his back. He hobbled to the couch. After learning my mother would not be available for another hour, I ran down Tully Road to ask my neighbor if she could stay with the kids during the hour. She came.

When a verbal altercation with a friend left me in tears, I sat in the garage crying my eyes out while the kids went indoors. After texting a neighbor in a different direction, I took the kids down the street and unloaded my heart while our children played together. She listened.

In the evenings, the kids played in the front yard and welcomed home our next-door neighbors with stories of the day and facts about whales. The neighbors prepared bags of Halloween treats each year. They knew my children’s names.

When we moved

I asked the librarian to talk to her church. No less than 30 Mormon missionaries and volunteers helped us unload the moving truck. They back for additional trips, and set up our bed so we would have a place to sleep that night. We neighbors that day. They showed up.

Our neighbor drove across the busy Whitmore Ave with his children to feed our sheep and chickens, collect eggs, and water gardens. All so we could have a family vacation for the first time in ages. They helped.

On our part

We hosted parties, opening our doors and fences to invite others in, making music, playing games, and bonding with other families. They weren’t from our neighborhood, but they needed people. They accepted our invitation.

The next-door neighbor of our new home calls me to say he has not seen the kids out lately and offered us a harvest of watermelon. My children dashed over to visit the man who is another grandfather to them.

Across another street lives a busy family with school activities, work commitments and family commitments. They called and apologized for not coming to see us sooner. They brought brownies. A year can pass between visits, but we know them. And they know us.

I call to say “someone is stealing your cherries.” He calls to say “they’ll be sweeping almonds” so I might not want to line-dry my laundry that day.

Good fences make good neighbors, so the saying goes.

That is to say, good boundaries help when you live near one another. It’s ever so easy to take it too far, to come and go from our homes, to base our lives on outside activities, and when we are home, to take our leisure in our more private, more secluded spots. It is easy to live in this world without knowing our neighbors. Maybe you have friends. Maybe you have a family. Maybe you have a lawn service and really do not need any additional help.

But they might.

I interviewed Noelia Martinez while she hosted a block party for National Night Out. “You have to go up and above when it comes to elders. I love my elders,” she said with a laugh, “because one day I’m going to be there and I want people to do the same for me.”

In graduate school at an evening lecture on friendship, Dr. Michael Pakaluk rambled on, “You scratch my back and I scratch your back and everybody’s back gets scratched.”

Then you know, the other saying, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

We are born with an instinct to preserve our lives, to love ourselves, so to speak. From there we can learn by asking ourselves what it would be like for us in that situation. Would we want someone to reach out? Would we rather be alone?

Martinez said, “Maybe they are shy or scared to get involved or scared to be the one the neighbor calls on.”


Maybe we feel like it is not our business. That to inquire into someone’s well-being or why the homicide unit was at their house in the middle of the night will feel like prying.

Your neighbors know you are there. When you reach out, you communicate with your actions that not only are you there, but you are there for them.

And that feels good all around.

Try it out. Get to know your neighbors.

Heart drawn on a neighbor's fence
Photo by Jamez Picard on Unsplash