For a truly stress-free outdoor party and outdoor entertaining experience, you want to keep the pests—and the guests—from buzzing in your ear. Here’s how to create an oasis for a backyard party where the revelers are satiated and no one gets eaten alive. With any luck, you’ll be able to check everything off the party planning checklist and have some fun, too.
Spread the word
The three things to include on the invitation:
When they’ll be eating. Avoid refiring the grill for latecomers with something like “The grill master will be slinging grub from 6 to 7. Come and get it!”
Attire. Everyone (OK, every woman) is wondering what to wear. Tank top? Sundress? Give guests a sense of the vibe: “You wear the flip-flops; we’ll flip the burgers” or “Bring your swimsuits!”
Rain plans. “I don’t think you need a rain date unless it’s a 600-person church picnic,” says Charleston, South Carolina–based entertaining expert Calder Clark. “A 30-person barbecue at my house is going to happen no matter what.” But if you want to clarify, add a note: “Rain or shine.” Or “If it rains…game night inside!” Just be sure that you have room for everyone in your living room.
Have enough seats
What if you have five patio chairs and 25 guests? Assess your indoor furniture. The easiest option is to press dining chairs into service, along with any drum stools or poufs. If you’re keeping things casual, you can spread pretty quilts on the ground and let people gather picnic-style.
Renting can be another surprisingly cheap way to go. Folding chairs start as low as $2 apiece. (You may also be able to rent coolers, speakers, tableware, and a bigger grill.) Many vendors will even drop off and pick up, so all you have to round up is the guests and good cheer.
Light it right
Is that your dog Sparky? Or a skunk? Don’t leave guests in the dark. All you need is a little ambient lighting, says Jimmy Duhig, the owner of Creative Lighting Design, in San Francisco: “If you’re outside while it’s getting dark, your eyes will adjust.” Just hang strings of lights on the deck, the fence, even tree branches, and add some hurricane lanterns or tealights. Duhig recommends globe string lights, elegant round bulbs that give off a warm glow (try Room Essentials Clear Globe String Lights, $10; target.com). “This is what you always see strung overhead at outdoor dinner parties on TV,” he says.
What to do with extension cords (a.k.a. trip wires) If you need to run cords through the yard, says Duhig, snip old wire hangers with a wire cutter and bend them into skinny U-shaped pegs (like croquet wickets, but only an inch or two wide). Then arc them over the cords and hammer them flush into the ground.
Decorate in a pinch
In fact, you really only need one party decoration (hint: it’s a pinata). It’s colorful! It’s interactive! It’s wise to hand out the broom before everyone has had three margaritas! Buy a big piñata that fits the mood of the fiesta (try Oriental Trading or Confetti System). “Fill it with dollar-store items in one color. Monochromatic always looks chic,” says Clark. “Buy things people can wear, like sunglasses and necklaces. It will make fun photographs.” Other festive loot: lottery tickets and—especially for a pool party—mini water pistols.
Keep mosquitoes away
Get rid of standing water. “That’s where mosquitoes breed,” says Laura Harrington, an associate professor of entomology at Cornell University. “The week before the party, empty out the kiddie pool, the rain gutters, and any rainwater that has collected in the bottoms of flowerpots.”
Plug in some fans. “Mosquitoes are weak flyers, so even if a fan is set on low, it can create enough airflow to keep them away,” says Harrington. This works best in a small area, like a deck, where you can set up two or three box fans around your guests. It’s also a good idea to put a tabletop fan near the salads.
Offer guests bug wipes that won’t create a smelly fog. “Look for products that contain the repellent picaridin instead of DEET,” says Harrington. “DEET can degrade synthetic fabrics, damaging clothing.” Try Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes ($8 for eight; avon.com); stash them in a basket by the back door. You might also consider a bug-repellent gadget for the yard.
Master the music
Playlist tips from Michael Antonia, the owner of the Flashdance, a production company in Los Angeles.
Don’t crank the speakers. No one will want to stand near them if they’re blaring. The best setup is four or more speakers, spread out, set at a lower volume. “If you’re using a boom box or an iPod dock, place it above ear level so it’s not blasting directly at guests’ heads,” says Antonia. “And turn it toward the side of the house—you can make it a little louder and the sound will spread out better.”
Go heavy on classics: the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson—songs that people recognize. Keep it upbeat, and mix in some newer tunes here and there. “I like Bon Iver, Beach House, White Stripes, and Elliott Smith,” says Antonia.
Plan for five hours. “Most parties aren’t going to last longer than that, and if there’s anyone who realizes the playlist has started over at hour six, well, they probably need another drink.”
Entertain the kids
So the grown-ups can kick back with the sangría, have some diversions for the kids: plenty of blowing bubbles, perhaps a sprinkler or a Slip ’n Slide, and beach balls. You can also buy a few inexpensive disposable cameras and let kids serve as official event photographers.
Play it cool
How to survive the sweltering heat:
Handheld fans. Natural raffia fans or classic accordion fans (both available from Oriental Trading) look pretty placed in big baskets.
Ice-cold compresses. Buy a pack of inexpensive washcloths from a dollar store, roll each up and secure with a rubber band, then toss into a cooler of ice water for guests to grab. (The best cooling points are the neck and wrists, where large arteries run close to the skin.)
If your summer vacation plans include a few hours (or 10) in the car, you're gonna wanna pack these on-the-go essentials! Travel with these essentials for a whine-free ride. (Cute dog optional.)
Waze app No matter how well you may think you know the roads, it never hurts to have a little help. With the social traffic and navigation app Waze (available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry), you'll be getting more than just directions. This free app allows other drivers in your network to report traffic jams or accidents, so you'll receive real-time updates at every turn.
Backpack When you're constantly tossing bags in and out of the car, they better be able to handle plenty of abuse. This durable North Face Hot Shot Backpack is water-resistant and has plenty of compartments for a portable speaker, games, and other road trip essentials.
Cooler With this Rubbermaid 50 Quart Cooler, you won't have to worry about your drinks and snacks getting warm. Packed with 25 pounds of ice, this split-top cooler will keep food cold for more than 12 hours. It also comes with large wheels, so you can easily cart it to a campsite or the beach.
Travel Mug If you rely on your morning coffee to get you through the day, take it on the road with this Oxo Good Grips LiquiSeal Travel Mug. And no need to fret about annoying bumps in the road — this beverage container won't leak or spill as long as the lid is closed.
Sneakers For all those times you're out and about instead of sitting in the car, slip into comfortable shoes with a minimal design like these Easy Spirit's Reinvent Walking Sneakers. The mesh upper and stretch lining of this lightweight shoe conforms to your foot, making it feel like you're wearing slippers instead of clunky tennis shoes.
Stain Remover Stick Throwing clothes in the washer at a moment's notice isn't an option on the road. Prepare yourself for any spills that come your way with Tide-To-Go Instant Stain Remover. This pocket-sized pen will completely remove soda, fruit juice, and coffee stains from fabrics. It even works on silk!
Car Vent Air Freshener Clips These will keep your car smelling fresh — no matter how many spills and crumbs you rack up on the road. Just add these easy-to-use clips to your car's vents, and voila.
Tissue Packs Better suited for the car than hard cardboard boxes, these tissues packs can be tucked in a glove compartment or in a door or seatback pouch without crushing. And, the water-resistant outer pack keeps the tissues clean and dry.
Snacks Look for healthy options like corn nuts. As long as they aren't fried, corn nuts are a secret superfood! Toss a bag in the car, or go for another pop-able driving snack like dry, roasted chickpeas or almonds. You'll find them at most rest stops, and with lots fiber and protein they'll stave off cravings between meals.
Lunch Bag Look for a lunch bag with built-in freezable gel, so you can pop the empty bag in the freezer the night before your outing to help your snacks stay cold throughout the morning.
Tablet Holder and Car Seat Organizer Keep kids occupied — while wrangling car games and snacks — with a pocket-packed headset hanger. Just slip a tablet into the pouch for an instant, on-the-go entertainment center.
Water Proof Phone Bag Protect your electronics and other important items from the elements with a Aquapac Small Case. Whether you're swinging by the pool or getting caught in a downpour, your gadgets will remain safe and functional through the clear, waterproof panel.
Roadside Emergency Kit Stay safe while road trippin' with Car and Driver's Roadside Emergency Kit, packed with essentials like jumper cables. ($25, shopcaranddriver.com)
Fresh Fruit If you've ever fished a crushed banana out of your bag, you'll appreciate how the innovative packaging on Chelan Fresh cherries, apples and pears makes fresh fruit easy to eat in no matter where you are. The company's Rockit Apple Tubes and Cup o'Cherries fit right into car cup holders, and the cherry cup even has a built-in place to put pits.
Mini Blow Dryer This Conair Minipro Tourmaline Ceramic Styler is user-friendly. It's an inexpensive, tiny champ that dries hair well and is super-light — at just 0.6 pounds. ($20, amazon.com)
The 4th of July is often an exciting day of summer that involves friends and family coming together for delicious food, fun outdoor activities and to celebrate America's independence. But this year, due to COVID-19 and social distancing, your 4th of July probably won't look like it has in years past. But that's no reason to cancel your celebration; there are still plenty of fun 4th of July activities that you can do and still safely practice social distancing. If you want to stay at home, you can plan something as inexpensive as firing up the grill and baking patriotic desserts; or you can go all-out and plan a big barbecue for your quarantine pod. If you'd rather enjoy the warm summer weather and your day off work, you can get out of town and see something new or even explore your hometown with the lens of a tourist. Whether you want something relaxed or adventurous, this list will give you plenty of ideas for some fun 4th of July activities.
Make homemade popsicles. The 4th of July is typically a very hot holiday, so cool off by creating homemade popsicles. Try these yogurt swirl pops, or one of these other favorite popsicle recipes.
Create a waterpark at home. Between sprinklers and a fun hose extension, you can create a waterpark in your own backyard. The kids will be entertained for hours (and cooled off) by playing fun water games.
Read a book about American history. If you've got a little one who doesn't quite know what the 4th of July is about, use the holiday as a chance to teach them more about American history. There are so many great kids' books about history and historical figures, like I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer and Two Friends by Dean Robbins.
Have a hot dog eating contest. If there's one food that represents the 4th of July, it's hot dogs. If you're feeling adventurous, recreate Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Competition, or if you want something a little more tame (and easier to stomach) try a hot dog taste test where you can try out various relishes and mustards.
Rehearse and perform famous American speeches. Think of this as an Independence-Day-themed talent show. Parents and kids alike can learn and perform famous speeches by great Americans such as the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King or Abe Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."
Pack a picnic. Take all of those adorable red, white, and blue recipes you made and celebrate with a picnic in the park.
Go for a bike ride. Get active on your day off and go for a bike ride before all the eating and partying begins.
Celebrate on the beach. If you're lucky enough to live within driving distance of a beach, pack up for a fun day in the sun. If you stay until the evening, expect to see fireworks. Just check with the local authorities first, to make sure the beach is open.
Head to the ballpark. Sure, professional baseball might still be cancelled due to coronavirus, but that doesn't mean you and your family can't partake in the all-American sport. Take your family out to the neighborhood park for some friendly competition.
Make a festive craft. Plan a holiday-themed DIY project with the kids to deck out your home in red, white, and blue, like one of these cute wreath projects.
Do you dream of a closet where clothes have room to breathe and hang neatly and organized? Instead, the reality is our closets are stuffed full of shirts, pants, shoes, belts and jackets. Most of these items don't even get worn. We run out of hangers or shelf space, and then we shop for storage solutions to store the over-flow of clothes. Paring down your wardrobe will reduce stress and save you money. Plus there's a special pleasure for those who look in their closet and love everything they see. Here's 9 simple tips to get you started:
Start easy. Begin by removing the clothes that are stained, ripped, or faded beyond recognition. Items that are no longer in wearable condition can still be donated.
Remove seasonal items. Remove off-season clothing from your closet to free up some needed space. If you didn’t wear an item at all last year, get rid of it. Then, store the remaining pieces in a separate closet where they will not be in your way cluttering up your closet.
Get rid of clothes that don’t fit once and for all. If you’re in-between sizes, certainly keep some clothing from both. But if you haven’t cleaned out your closet for quite some time, there are likely a number of ill-fitting items that can be removed entirely—whether you changed sizes, the item shrunk or stretched, or it never did fit quite right. Those ill-fitting items are weighing you down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Pass them on to someone who can use them.
Reduce your need for additional accessories. If you’re holding on to something until you find the “perfect accessory,” let it go. Clothes often multiply in our closets (one purchase leads to another, which leads to another). In the future, look for pieces that compliment your existing accessory pile. After all, if you’re constantly adding things to your closet, you’ll never get ahead (not in your closet and not in your checkbook).
Consider the idea of one. If one can be enough, embrace it. Rather than owning an entire assortment, try owning just your favorite black dress, belt, handbag, or jacket (just to name a few ideas). A closet filled with only things you love and use will be a closet that you love to use.
Reassess current trend purchases. The fashion industry gets rich on one principle: constantly changing fashion trends. You see, the fashion industry cannot survive on people buying only the clothes they need. So the industry invents false need by boldly declaring new fashion trends and colors for every changing season. But you don’t to have fall for their tricks. Find your favorite timeless fashion and start playing by your own rules.
Physically handle every item. If you want to make significant progress thinning out your closet, remove every item entirely from the closet. Return only the pieces you truly love. If that task seems too overwhelming, complete the process in sections (i.e. shoes today, shirts tomorrow). However you seek to accomplish this project, it is important that you physically handle each item at some point. The physical touch forces decisions.
If all else fails, pick a number. To start, choose 10. Thumb through the clothes in your closet and remove 10 items—any 10 you want. Put them in a bag and drop off at your nearest donation center. Likely, you will find the task was not that difficult. In fact, once you get started, you may find 15 or 20 things to remove without even breaking a sweat.
Experiment with less. Test your assumptions about the optimal amount of clothing with a few, simple experiments. Try placing half of your clothing in a different room for two weeks. You will be surprised how much easier is to function and get ready with fewer clothes in your closet. Most of us wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time and would live much happier with fewer wardrobe choices than we have now. But you’ll never realize that until you test it out. Less is more!
Practice maintenance. Keep everything organized. When you can see and access what you already own, you’re less likely to acquire more of the same. Hang things back up, fold them lovingly, and treat them well.
Over the past few years, walking and staying active have become trendy. Hitting a certain number of steps for the day and walking challenges have helped to improve daily physical activity. If you are trying to manage your weight, walking can be a useful weight management tool. Here's 8 tips for maximizing your stride.
Houseplants bring a refreshing touch of nature inside. To eliminate crowded shelves and tabletops, try hanging your houseplants. These indoor hanging plants range from varieties with leggy, trailing vines to picks with thick and rubbery foliage. Find which indoor hanging plant is best for your space.
Where can I find a great cup of tea (or a cuppa as the Brits say) you ask? Look no further than our suggestions below. Oh and feel free to "spill the tea" about this to your friends!
E-readers are perfect for bookworms who are blowing through paperbacks and need a more convenient way to easily get new reads. But like everything else you buy, you'll need to look at all of the item's features when deciding on the best e-reader for you. It's good to consider ease of operation, ease of reading in bright or dark lit rooms, size, battery life, storage capacity, speed while using (turning on, downloading books, and page turns), and resistance to fingerprints. Before you dive into the picks for the best e-readers of 2020, remember these tips below when selecting your digital reader.
How to buy an e-reader:
We’ve all had days where nothing seems to go our way. All you want to do is relax and unwind to forget about the stresses of the day. Here are some easy ways to regroup, that will leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready to take on the rest of the week.
Staying at home has become a way of life for many of us amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leading us to indulge in endless snacks from the pantry. Here's some help to not fall victim to the so-called "Quarantine 15" and ensure your pants still fit once we're out of the woods. Check out these easy and healthy snack ideas for you and your family.