by Carol Whelan
Growing up, every night there were ten people sitting around our dining room table, assuming none of us had invited friends and unexpected guests hadn’t surprised us with a visit. We grew up right on Lake Erie, had a boat, horse, and acres of woods behind our home for hours/days/months of endless entertainment! Looking back I can’t help to wonder what people were thinking, dropping in on such a large family at dinner time. She, my mother, was so gracious we never suspected the amount of work and creativity it took to feed all of us.
Even though there were so many, my parents were sticklers on manners. You dressed for dinner (of course as you looked around the table there were several of us with wet swimsuits leaking through our dinner clothes), had clean hands and faces, napkins on our laps, no elbows on the table, never took a bite until our mother was seated and grace was said. Grace before dinner was critical, especially when guests were joining us, certainly good to give thanks but it was the three letters that may follow grace we were all hanging on for … Amen, followed by F.H.B. … ugh….the dreaded FHB! When there were more people than my mother had prepared for she would follow grace with those horrible letters! Our guests believed it to be something spiritual I guess, but in all actuality it was just the opposite to we children … it stood for Family Hold Back! Meaning don’t take very much food when passed to you! Of course it was always on the nights of our favorite meals, probably the only time in our lives we would have such an amazing spread in front of us only to be denied by these strangers, gobbling up our food! Whyyyyyy? I may seem overly dramatic, but as a little girl I already had to fight too many big brothers for my share of table scraps, I certainly didn’t approve of these gobblers eating the remainder of what was rightfully mine!
Lessons learned back in those days will forever stay with me. No cable television, (although I often kid that my father had the very first remote controlled television … he would holler for one of us to come, and when we arrived, he would tell us to turn the channel and adjust the rabbit ears without ever having to get out of his chair! Ingenious!), no computers, cell phones (my eldest brother and his best friend did have soup can phones though), or any other creativity crushing device … we had each other, friends, and our over active imaginations! Oh and an exceptionally patient mother!
As Mother’s Day approaches I am overwhelmed with memories of how incredible my dear mom has lived her life. Now at 88 years old she is slowly leaving us, but again not without being an example of dignity and grace. Through my years she has shown me how to be kind and tolerant. How to ignore the small mistakes and laugh at the big ones. Given me advice that has made me want to be a better woman and parent. Cook, clean, and get almost any stain out of any thing. And if we were going to add chapters and stories to the Bible one day, I think there should be one about how a woman could make a single chicken breast feed fourteen people with only her imagination, milk and a can of soup! (Well maybe it won’t be in THE Bible, but if someone ever writes a mom bible, then for sure it should make the cut!)
A most treasured gift she instilled in me is my desire to entertain. Entertain the way she did. People loved coming to our home because they always felt welcomed, wanted, expected! They never knew any differently (how could they); she hugged them when they arrived, insisted that they stay, and made them promise they would come back as they prepared to leave.
Of course with so many people coming and going, so many children to tend to; oh, and my parents owned their own business of which she did all of the accounting–she was not without hiccups. She should have written a book on “how to solve any entertainment crisis, and hints to make life easier when raising a mob!”
I leave you with some of the most brilliant tips for outdoor entertaining I learned from my mother and through my own years of experience in the hopes that through these hints it will help take the stress out of your gatherings and put a little more joy into your day, because that’s what moms do!
How Much Food Do I Need? As a rule of thumb you need a serving and a half of your Main Dish for every guest; Side Dishes, about one and a half cups; Appetizers before a meal, about 6pcs per guest– but if you are not serving a meal then double that. Vegetable Platters, one for every 10-12 guests; the same holds true for a fruit tray. Alcoholic Drinks, figure 1-2 drinks per guest per hour. Wine, 3 bottles for every four wine drinkers.
Outdoor Entertaining Tips: When serving punch outdoors, use a large ice block vs cubes: it melts slower and won’t dilute your drink as quickly. Another cute idea for punch bowls is to soak lemons, oranges, and limes in food coloring; then freeze and float them in your bowl. Freeze edible flowers (begonias, day lilies, fuchsia, gladiolus, jasmine) in your ice cubes to serve in drinks or put in a clear ice bucket. Another trick is to slide your punch bowl inside of another clear bowl and place the ice cubes between them, keeping your drink from watering down. Consider freezing water balloons and putting them in your coolers. Labels will stay on your bottles, and it’s not as uncomfortable to put your hands into. Tie bottle openers to your drink coolers/tubs, as not everyone has the strength to twist off the caps. Prescoop your ice cream and place in a muffin/cupcake pan back into your freezer; it won’t melt while you’re scooping, you’ll stay cleaner, and it will save you time during the party. Place glow sticks into your ice buckets and coolers just as it’s getting to be dusk, these make things easier to find, and are a very cute inexpensive effect. I actually love glow sticks; they are great for outdoor evening parties and work in water. Consider filling water balloons and placing one inside; then scatter them around your porch and pool.
Mason jars are such a big thing right now. Punch a hole in the top and place your straw in to keep bugs out of your drinks; or if you are using other cups/glasses, pop a hole into the bottom of a cupcake liner, turn it upside down and slide over a straw. This is also effective and cute to keep pests from flying into your guests’ drinks. Cupcake liners are also good to slide over Popsicle sticks, they will catch the sticky mess as it melts.
On the subject of fun things to eat outside, remember to slide a mini marshmallow down inside your ice cream cone before adding your scoops to stop the cone from dripping (the type of cone should determine what size marshmallow you will need.) Always make certain you have sunscreen, something in case of bee stings, bug spray, a shady spot/umbrella, and plenty of water. Keep flies at bay by cutting a lemon in half and adding cloves to it –then set out in small desert bowls about 30 min before food will be going on the table. Large parties need a great many coolers, so consider blowing up or using a small child’s pool filled with ice (or frozen water balloons) for your drinks. Cut a watermelon in half and use that as your punch bowl.
Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions about these ideas or would like me to help you brain storm, I’d be so happy to pass along my ideas and hear some of yours!
Wishing you the happiest of entertaining!
“My mom is a never-ending song in my heart of comfort, happiness, and being. I may sometimes forget the words but I always remember the tune.’’ – Graycie Harmon
In addition to being the proud mother of three amazing children, Carol Whelan is also a corporate and non-profit event coordinator (relaxedevents.net), and the proprietor of Fairy Godmothers 3, a vacation home concierge service (724-532-0436). Carol resides with her soul mate, Brian, her favorite four-legged child, Gizmo (all the two legged ones have moved out), and two spoiled cats in Latrobe. Email Carol at: firstname.lastname@example.org