At our house, we don’t entertain. We can’t really do it. There’s too much mess and too much crazy, too many babies and too much laundry sitting around in baskets. Two of our chairs have high chairs strapped to them, so there isn’t ever quite enough to sit on. I hardly ever have time to vacuum, and there are often dishes in the sink. The floor in the kitchen is always in need of mopping. My napkins don’t match, and four of our dinner forks are mysteriously missing. Entertaining is a little beyond our capabilities right now.
Instead of entertaining, we just have people come over. It’s much less stressful. We still get to see our friends, and (having seen our house in its normal imperfect state) they usually have pretty low expectations. It’s a perfect scenario – this way, anything I do to make it feel like a party (like turn on music or serve food) is a big deal!
We had so much fun decorating our family pumpkins last week that we decided to have some friends over to paint pumpkins. It seems simple enough- some snacks, some paint, some pumpkins, some willing kids and parents.
And guess what? It was actually simple! No crisis moments. No pets in peril. No babies eating paint. It went very smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that I think everyone should try it.
Yes, you still have time. Halloween is still a week away. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. If you have people outside, you don’t even have to vacuum. (Or, you may adopt my low-stress approach and just skip vacuuming even if the people are coming inside.)
Here are some tips on how to keep things easy so you can enjoy your time with friends:
Paint in shifts. Some kids were hungry right away, and some gravitated toward the paint immediately. No big deal – it works better this way! We served simple snacks – apple slices with pumpkin dip and air-popped popcorn. The making of the popcorn was part of the fun for a few kids.
Here’s the pumpkin dip recipe, if you’d like to try it (adapted from Simply in Season):
Put 12 oz of softened cream cheese and 3/4 cup of brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix well. Then, add 1 cup of pureed pumpkin (the canned kind works just fine), 2 teaspoons of maple syrup, and 1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Mix until well blended.
It pairs well with pretzels or gingersnaps as well as apples. This recipe makes a lot, which is good, because it is one of the yummiest things in the world.
Put each color of paint in a separate container.
When it was just our family painting pumpkins, we put the paint in ice cube trays. Each person had a brush, and we rinsed them in cups of water between colors.
With even this small crowd of children, though, I decided to put the paint in baby food jars and assign one brush to each color…no water, no need to bother with rinsing brushes. I left out empty jars for the kids who need to mix colors. My son, SuperSam, is usually one of those kids. Why fight it? Mixing colors is good for them. It helps them learn something.
Use real paint. Don’t be afraid. If you are worried about the mess, try painting outside or covering the table with plastic. If you use water-based acrylics (which you can get in the craft section at Wal-mart), they will be bright and vibrant and will stick to the pumpkins. Tempera paint will not adhere as well, although you can use it, too. Our experience was that the tempera paint colors were runnier and fainter than the acrylics.
All of this paint will wash off, in case you want to cook with the pumpkins later. It also comes off skin and clothing pretty easily.
Invite people to bring their own pumpkins if they want, and provide some extras.
One family brought butternut squash to our gathering – how cool is that?
We just put a pile of little pumpkins on the table and let people choose their favorite.
We also put out wet washcloths for cleaning the pumpkins before painting them (and for wiping paint-covered hands on their way to the sink).
Eventually, the artists started taking the colors they wanted to their seats…which meant they had to ask each other for colors when they needed them. Bonus: positive social interaction! (Resist the temptation to give everyone his or her own set of all the colors, or they will miss out on this chance to talk nicely to each other.)
When you leave the pumpkins to dry, the newsprint works well for putting the artist’s name with his or her pumpkin – this makes it easier to claim their work when it’s time to go home.
Consider having an alternate activity for those who finish early. We had some fast painters (and one child who chose not to paint at all). Fortunately, we had cooperative weather, so we took a group of kids outside.
Highlight of the party for these boys: the garbage truck came by to collect our trash. He blew the horn and waved to the guys. They jumped up and down and screamed with excitement.
Mr. Sanitation Worker, you are a rock star. Thank you for making their day!
Whatever you do, have fun. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The point is to get people together to enjoy each other’s company…and to eat pumpkin dip. (Really. Because it’s just that good.)