Ah, the power of a good gathering. I can't think of a faster ticket to bringing acquaintances across the border to friendship or to transforming a bit of loneliness to feeling more connected. I have found it's especially powerful when you're in a new town/home/country, far from family, and are still figuring out your place in your new world.
We decided to celebrate the new year with a casual stop-by-whenever-you-can brunch today for New Year's Day with some of the new friends and hopefully-soon-to-be friends who have made us feel welcome here. Nothing fancy. Aebleskivers (would you expect anything different?). American style bacon (yes! big news! we found a place with a very close version). Fruit.
I'm no expert but over the years I've made enough missteps that I've learned some lessons on how to make it a more enjoyable experience all around. So, for what it's worth, here are a few of my tried-and-trues (also to be filed under my liner notes of advice for my kids):
Enlist the whole family. Listen. Don't be a martyr. Involve the whole crew in getting ready. It's no fun for anyone if you are harried and sweaty and martyr grumpy by the time people arrive. (I loved Robin's post about this martyrdom thing that we all feel at times, which made me think harder about how to avoid it.)
Here's what works for us: When we have people coming over I brainstorm all the prep tasks crazily swimming around my brain and put each one on a post-it. Then I call everyone into the kitchen to initial the ones they each will do, including me (and the early bird gets the best choices). Then as they're completed we take the notes off the wall. This makes it super simple: no one has to ask how they can help...they just do. And no one (you or me) has to angrily bang around pans and dishes feeling unsupported and alone. Not that that's ever been a behavior I have indulged in or anything.
Keep it simple, simple, simple. Choose food you can prep in advance. The idea is that you have time to chat with people, not be stuck in the kitchen, scurrying around. Sometimes I have the main dish premade by one of our favorite take-outs (like pulled pork BBQ) and just add the sides. If doing things up fancy makes you feel all happy and alive, great. High five. But there's no shame in paper plates, cups, and a store-bought pie.
Relax and enjoy. Repeat after me: this is all about enjoying the people. You can worry about dishes or carpet stains or counters later but right now is time for some zen in your life. Okay, yes, check to make sure there's enough forks or whether the drinks need to be replenished but for the most part be in the moment and go along for the ride.
Provide some distractions. Knowing we had 40+ people in a wide range of ages here today, we set out legos, books, guitars/ukes, games, and nerf guns (what a combo, huh?) for people to discover and play if they wanted. (Some of them even brought their own guitars, hooray!)
Singing outside, singing inside. Mercy. These guys can come to my house every day if they'll bring their music along, too. It made my heart so happy to hear and, even better, everyone else sang along.
I also set my camera to "auto" and invited people to snap pictures as the morning went on. Maddy got some great shots:
At the end, after awkwardly determining whether to kiss cheeks/hug/shake hands as your guests leave (or maybe that only happens to me?) and after waving the last goodbye, don't let the in-house troops disappear. Give assignments for wrap-up while you debrief the party and chat about all the goings on. It's almost as fun as the party itself!
Take a nap. Or a bath. Really, you should. You deserve it.