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Best Ways to Keep Drinks Cool at an Outdoor Party

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What are the best ways to keep drinks cool at an outdoor party? I wonder this from time to time when I’m browsing Pinterest and seeing all the little DIY coolers people have made. Do they actually work? Do we even need them? Doesn’t everyone own a Coleman or an Igloo? Why can’t we use those anymore? As you can see, I have a lot of questions about cooling devices. Anyway, since global warming is making summers hotter and hotter,  I thought it would be fun to test out a couple before the end of summer barbecues started. I tested out streamers verses tablecloth decorations awhile back and enjoyed bashing streamers, so I figured I could do the same with this.

Before I get started, let me give you a quick rundown of the method. I got four different cooling devices and a whole bunch of ice on a very hot day (91 when I poured the ice). The sky was sunny, humidity not bad. I poured the ice at 4:00 P.M., figuring most people have their barbecues in the early evening. Then I just left them to see how fast the ice would melt. I did put one drink in each of the drink coolers and a plate on the bonus food coolers, but I am aware that the ice will melt differently when completely full. This is still a good baseline. Anyway, here we go!

Reviews of Cooling Devices

1. The Yeti Cooler

Full disclosure: I don’t own a Yeti. My mom won my experimental cooler at a raffle a few months ago so I borrowed it from her. If you haven’t heard of Yeti, they’re basically the new standard of coolers. My husband got one of their glasses last year and that was the first time I’d heard of it, but even a year ago everyone acted like I was an idiot for not knowing. Anyway…

Review:

How Many Bags of Ice: 1.5 (could have put more, but I probably wouldn’t have if I was filling it up with drinks)

Time to Set Up: However long it takes to dump ice. If you’re entertaining at a park instead of a house, this will be a bonus time saver because everything will already be packed when you load up.

How Long To Melt: As of writing, it’s still holding strong, so at least one day.

First hour, still frozen
Hour four, still frozen
The next day – still ice, with a really low layer of water at the bottom

Pros: This is pretty obvious, right? The ice still hasn’t melted. Plus it’s portable.

Cons: It’s not “cute.” If you’re looking for a nice outdoor setup, this isn’t going to wow anyone with how adorable it is. It is plain white though, so it’s also not going to be that weird blue cooler color in your pink and purple party scheme. Also, it’s going to cost you way more than any other cooling device.

Best For:

You can’t really go wrong using this if you want an outdoor party because it will keep your drinks cool, but I don’t know that I’d pay for it if I was just throwing barbecues in my backyard. I would cough up the money if I camped a lot or did a lot of long hour entertaining, like days on the lake. It’s kind of strange comparing it to the others since it’s an actual cooler, but really, a list of the best ways to keep drinks cool at an outdoor party would be remiss if it didn’t have Yeti. Besides, if you don’t feel like you need your drink holders to be Pinterest worthy, might as well be high tech, right?

2. Inflatable Cooler


This is basically just a float you can put ice in. It’s said to float in a pool, but I don’t have one so I can’t confirm that. I mean, it would definitely float, but I don’t know how much you could weigh it down before it started to sink.

Review:

How Many Bags of Ice: 2

Time to Set Up: It took me forever because I blew it up without a pump and I kept getting interrupted. But I think probably 5-10 minutes is a good estimate, including getting it unfolded and filled.

How Long To Melt: It was halfway gone by hour 2.

Survived hour 1.
Hour two we’ve got serious melting.
It’s just a pool of water by hour three.

Pros: The look. It would look fun set up on a table in your backyard, wouldn’t it? You can put both drinks and plates in it. Also, they’re pretty cheap.

Cons: I was honestly surprised with how fast the ice melted in this one. I realize that most people will not put it on cement (I don’t have backyard furniture yet), but if you’re using a table that’s always outside, it’ll still be pretty hot. If you have something to put in between your surface and the cooler, it’ll probably do better. It’s also the longest set up.

Best For:

Short parties or parties where the decor is important. Think pool party or maybe a summer birthday party – especially one at night. In one of the Amazon reviews, they added a picture of this with some glowsticks in it to light up a night party. That would be pretty cool, and presumably the lower temperature would help keep the ice frozen.

3. Kiddie Pool

The kiddie pool cooler is honestly my reason for writing this. I keep saving the idea on Pinterest then wondering if the ice would melt immediately. If so it definitely wouldn’t be one of the best ways to keep drinks cool at an outdoor party, that’s for sure. Sorry I don’t have a link for it, but really, would you want to deal with a box that size? Go pick one up at Walmart or whatever. Mine came from Babies R Us for $5.

Review:

How Many Bags of Ice: 3, room for more

Time to Set Up: A couple of minutes, just dumping ice.

How Long To Melt: About 3 hours

The ice started melting immediately in this one, but there’s still plenty at hour one.
We’ve got a lot of slush at hour two.
There’s some ice hanging on at hour three, but it was gone by four.

Pros: It fits a lot of stuff. Plus people will probably tell you it’s creative. And it’s the cheapest on this list.

Cons: Um… you guys… it’s a kiddie pool. Good luck trying to keep your toddlers out of it. My son did not care that it was ice. It’s his pool, and he wants in. The pool’s so big you can’t really put it on a table, so people are going to be reaching to the ground to pick up their drinks, which is also kind of a bummer.

Best For:

Barbecues and kid parties, assuming you can get the pool set up without your kids trying to get in. The best ways to keep drinks cool at an outdoor party do not involve freezing your children as well. 🙂

4. Bonus Food Cooler


So, I have this ice mat that you can put food on to keep cool. It’s definitely not going to be one of the best ways to keep drinks cool at an outdoor party, but if you have a plate or bowl you want to leave outside this will work.

Review:

How Many Bags of Ice: 0

Time to Set Up: One minute, but you have to remember to freeze it at least 6 hours before.

How Long To Melt: I’m not sure when it was melted since you can’t touch the ice, but at about 3 hours the plate started to warm up.

Nice and frosty at hour one.
We’ve got edge bubbles at hour two.
Hour three – bubbles everywhere!

Pros: So easy.  I love just rolling it out.

Cons: It’s so small! Can someone create a giant one of these to go over a whole table? That’d be great. Although I don’t know how you’d freeze that.

Best For:

Barbecues and potlucks. How great would this be if you’re bringing a cool dish to someone else’s party but you aren’t sure they’ll have a way for you to keep it at the right temperature?

Decision: What are the Best Ways to Keep Drinks Cool at an Outdoor Party?

My decision here is there’s not a best way. It seems like a cop-out, but really, it depends on what kind of party you’re having. Is it a fancy event? I think the Yeti coolers will look classic, but baby pools will look, well, cheesy. Is your party only lasting an hour or two? Then any of them are fine. If it’s in the middle of the day and super hot, I would say the inflatable cooler is not one of the best ways to keep drinks cool at an outdoor party, but if it’s an average temperature or an evening party it will work. Also, how much are you serving? Do you really need a kiddie pool full of drinks? Do you need to lug everything to a picnic area? Think about these things, and the you be able to choose the appropriate cooling device for you.

fancy dinner party

Five Steps to Perfect Fancy Dinner Party Timing

Fancy dinner party timing can be a real hassle. Last week I talked about the basics of hosting your party, but if you want it to be successful and not pull your hair out, you will need to be a timing pro. You’ll want to write things down. I mean with a pen and paper. Do you remember those? You probably have some in a drawer somewhere. You may glance at them every once in awhile and think of throwing them out, but you never do. And now, vindication! You can use them! I know you’re wondering why someone who frequently talks about her automated to-do list suggests paper, but think about this. You’re going to be cooking all day. Your hands are going to be gross. Do you really want to constantly check your iPad or Galaxy or whatever gizmo you have?

time to write our your fancy dinner party timing
This is what paper and writing utensils look like.

That’s not to say you won’t need your gizmo – you probably will, unless you are a recipe printer. I’m not. But it’s just easier to have a piece of paper stuck on the fridge or taped somewhere when you only need to do a quick glance. Memorize it if you prefer, but you risk a really long gap between meals, or something burning, if you don’t. So, there’s that little tidbit of advice. Now let’s talk about the good stuff. I do have a Disney-themed fancy dinner party coming up, but I’m going to use last year’s French menu as an example for now. Feel free to steal it.

How to Plan your Fancy Dinner Party Timing

1. Pick when the guests will arrive.

Oh hey! Guests! When should they show up? You might think this should be the least of your concerns, but unless your friends love last minute invitations, you’re going to want to give them a heads up at least two weeks in advance. If you have an event with a dress code, make sure you give them time to prepare. They might also want to get a baby-sitter. I have no problem hosting kids at my dinner parties (they eat pizza), but I can’t watch them, not even my own. I also serve a lot of wine. My friends know this, so they don’t always want to drag the kids along. Maybe you don’t want kids there at all so you ban them. Whatever, it’s your party.

The reason this makes a difference in your timing is that once you send out those invitations, your start time is set. Now you know exactly how much time you have to get things done. Personally, I like to invite my guests to show up at 6:30 P.M. Most of them will be there by 6:45, and all of them will be there by 7:00, even the perpetually late ones. I will have the appetizers ready by 6:30, 6:35 tops. I will also be dressed, the table will be set, and the kitchen will be as cleaned up as it can be (the rest of the house will be clean, but I won’t do that – the hubby will). Anything else may or may not be prepared, but at least I have a goal time.

2. Write out your menu with active time & cooking time separated.

This is probably the most important step if you want to get your courses out at different intervals. Actually, if it’s your first time, you might need this step just to get everything completed before the guests show up. You may think you’re a great prepper, but you will find out otherwise if you’re trying to put together an entire salad while your guests are waiting on you. They may not notice – serve enough wine, they probably won’t notice – but you don’t want to be serving the last course at 11:00 at night. So, as soon as your menu is set, go ahead and write out this part.

My handwriting is strangely similar to the Excel font.

You may remember last week I said to practice practice practice. I hope you did! Sometimes when you use a recipe the timing will be completely off. Whoever wrote it may be able to make their cheesecake in ten minutes, but I sure can’t! The ones I find are the worst are vegetable-heavy recipes. These cookbook writers are obviously much faster choppers and dicers than the rest of us, so they can’t be trusted with times. When you practice, try to remember how long it takes you. You can copy times over from the recipe, but you can also tweak them once you’ve seen you in action.

3. Decide what to do in advance.

Now that you have a nice schedule of how long everything is going to take you, you can decide if you want to try it all at once or prepare in advance. My fancy dinner party timing is designed to take place over two days. Am I cooking the entire two days? No. But it gives me a break in between things, and who doesn’t want that? If possible, I like doing desserts entirely the day before. Once I picked churros, which have to be fried, and that was the worst decision I ever made at a dinner party. I was so tired of cooking by then, I gave up trying to make them look beautiful and just served blobs of fried dough. I did creme brulee last year, and it did have to be broiled at the last minute, but that was totally doable.

churros
These are my actual churro blobs. Don’t be like me. Serve nice churros.

One other thing I really like to do to keep my fancy dinner party timing in check is early morning vegetable chopping. That goes for all recipes. I’ll put them in baggies or bowls or something to keep them separated. For the most part veggies stay fresh looking after you cut them, so it’s one less headache later in the day. Soups are usually good in the slow cooker, so that’s another thing to think about doing early in the day. I rarely do the main dish or the side dish ahead, besides seasoning. Obviously this will all depend on what you’re cooking; a roast will go in the oven a lot earlier than something would go on the grill.

4. Set the table and get ready at the last minute.

Get ready at the last minute, you say? Are you crazy? I’m asking everyone else to dress up and I will barely have any time to look my best? Yep, sorry. Pro tip: You’re the one cooking. That means spills, flours, oil, sauces all over the place. Prolong the mess as long as you can. You can invest in an apron if you want, but taking it on and off every five minutes while you switch courses is going to get annoying. Also, this must be said – keep your hair back. No one wants a hair in their food. If you’re wearing an up-do, you can do that once you’re up for the day and it will stay. Probably. I don’t know your hairstyling skills. Mine are generally terrible, but I can still keep my hair in a bun.

Having perfect fancy dinner party timing isn’t really going to be affected by setting your table, but I would suggest doing it last, doing it first, or having someone else do it. I can’t do it first at my house because we’re a madhouse and something will mess it up, so I stick to last minute. If you’ve never read anything by me before, you might not know this, but I hate decorating. So my centerpieces will usually be something simple and a couple of bread baskets. Super easy. Waiting til the last minute doesn’t hurt me at all, although it might change how fancy my napkin folding gets. Yes, I use real napkins. I bought them for my wedding, so I might as well use them.

5. Keep your clock out while you eat.

You spent all this time scheduling it, now you have to keep your fancy dinner party timing perfect by watching the clock. Does that suck a little bit while you’re hosting all your friends? Yes, kind of. But someone always volunteers to help, so it could actually mean one-on-one time with people. Fun! You can have Siri or Alexa or whoever time things for you, but I feel like that would ruin the ambiance. Now, how long should you have between courses? I guess that’s up to you and how fast you eat, but I like about fifteen minutes between the end of one course and the start of another. I swear, it doesn’t make the meal last forever.

What? You think I own paper AND an actual clock? Don’t be crazy.

Let’s see how this works. I have people showing up at 6:30. My appetizers have to be ready to go. They have half an hour to eat them. Then at 7:00 I serve an amuse-bouche. No need for a fifteen minute break here; I tell them my rules (you have to try,  no offense taken if you don’t like it), then move on. So, we’re serving salad around 7:05. We have a lot to eat so courses are small. Assume everyone’s done in five minutes. That means soup needs to be ready at 7:25, a main course at 7:45, and dessert at 8:05. Everything’s done by 8:10 if I’ve planning my fancy dinner party timing correctly. That’s a great time to play a game or something, plus you only had to sit at the table for a little over an hour. Wah-lah! Dinner has been served.

Note:

I planned on keeping this fancy dinner party series on a week-by-week basis, but unfortunately I had to reschedule my Disney-themed dinner. How’s that for some crappy fancy dinner party timing, huh? This is probably not a huge deal to anyone, but I wanted to let you know in case you were eagerly waiting to steal my Little Mermaid soup or whatever I’m serving (hint: it’s not that). Don’t worry, it will be here sometime in May. Until then, I’ll have more frenzied ideas on the way!

 

 

 

100g almond flour200g confectioners' sugar120g egg whites40g caster sugargel food colouringfilling of your choice

A Guide to Creating a House Cleaning Plan

I need a new house cleaning plan. Last week I wrote about moving. This week my new house is a disaster and I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s double the size of the rental I’ve been in since my child became mobile. I tried to get ahead of myself and create a new plan before I moved in, but I very quickly got overwhelmed. Why do I have a house with four bathrooms? Seriously, what am I going to do with them? Do I have to clean all of them frequently even if we’re not using them? What about the guest bedroom? The baseboards? Cabinets? Ahhhhh! I’m tired just thinking about it.

So, what am I going to do? Preferably find a nice housekeeper and call it a day, but I’m pretty sure my husband will frown on that. I may have mentioned it before, but when you work from home, people think you should be cleaning your own house, watching your own child, and working at the same time. I’m not sure when you get magical powers after signing a telecommuting agreement, but I haven’t got mine yet, so that’s a bummer. Anyway, I’ve got to have some kind of house cleaning plan in place soon or I’ll fall back into my old ways and forget about my beautiful checklist that keeps me on track. Let’s see what I can come up with.

Guide to Making a House Cleaning Plan

1. Decide what you will actually do.

Sure, there are plenty of lists out there that will help you figure out what you need to do and how often you need to do it, like this or this. Unfortunately those lists won’t clean the house for you, so they’re not necessarily the best way to make your own house cleaning plan. I want to have a clean house, I really do. I also want to keep my sanity. Since those two things don’t always go hand in hand, I can’t follow the perfect mom guide to a spic and span life. Let’s see. I have to do the floors. Have to. I should dust the fans – but I won’t do it regularly. So instead of making it part of my routine cleaning, I’ll wait until I accidentally hit it with something and dust falls like snow.

Making some things a priority doesn’t mean you’ll let the rest of the house go to the wayside. It’s more about feeling accomplished and not overwhelmed. I know I’m going to vacuum. I know I’m going to clean my kitchen and toilets. Making them the main focus of my plan is a good thing because the chances of me throwing in the towel on these things are really slim. Perhaps for you it’s dusting or mopping – we all have chores we don’t mind or dirty spots we can’t stand. Build off of those chores to start, and you might feel like it’s not so bad doing a little house cleaning.

2. Write it down – but make it easy to change.

My floors, always. Schedule says…..It doesn’t matter, they obviously have to be cleaned.

 

I don’t mean you actually have to get out a pen and paper, although you can. I use Wunderlist for everything, so that’s what I’ll stick to. But, having a list of what to do, whether written or electronic, helps you remember what’s due when the rest of the world has tried to fry your brain. I only mop every other week because if it was on my to-do list every week, I’d sincerely have to move to a shack with no floors. But if I didn’t write it down,  I wouldn’t remember if I’d done it or not. Can I look at the floor and tell if it needs mopping? Yes. Am I going to do it if there’s 8 million other things I did commit to in writing? No.

Of course, I do need the ability to change my list without throwing off my entire house cleaning plan. My new house is new new, as in, I’m the first person to live here. I wonder about baseboards. How long are these things going to stay clean and beautiful? Should I wait until they’re really dirty or do it every so often to make sure they never get dirty? I haven’t decided yet. I’m going to put it on my to-do list for two months from now, and then I’ll decide if I want to stick with a two month time frame or not.  It can go for frequent things too – I switched vacuuming days based on the dogs’ schedules, and I do that every other day. Sticking to it is important, but if you can’t change it for the better, you might not want to follow it.

3. Decide if you’re a weekender or a day-by-day cleaner.

Honestly, my schedule doesn’t have  a lot of differences between the weekends and the weekdays. There’s not much point in me loading all my cleaning up on one day since no day is free. But, that might not be the case for you. What’s more likely – you getting two free hours on Sunday, or you getting ten free minutes seven days a week? Some things you might like to do more than once a week. Forget about them for a minute. Think about your once a week, once every other week, and once a month items. What would it be like if they all landed on the same day? If you think that’d be better, load them all up on the weekend. If you think that giant list would cause you to ignore all of it, spread them out.

4. Not everything has to be on a to-do list.

You know what I have never considered putting on my house cleaning list? Laundry. Washing dishes. Picking up toys. That doesn’t mean they won’t get done, but I don’t know when I’m going to do them. Probably when I run out of pants, fill up the dishwasher, or every fifteen minutes respectively. Putting them on the list would be irritating to me, and if your house cleaning plan annoys you, you aren’t going to do it. You have to figure out which chores you’re going to do, but might need reminding, compared to chores that you’re going to do anyway and a reminder would only waste more of your precious time.

5. Share the load.

Make a to-do list for the rest of your family too. Ha ha ha, I’m just kidding. Does anyone have kids or spouses that will help out? What’s that like? Do you all marvel at how awesome you are when you’re done with chores and then take adorable family photos? Or is it, like, really stressful and you all walk around on eggshells trying not to disturb any of your pristine home? I’m fascinated, please share in the comments. Of course, families like that probably aren’t reading lists like this, but still, maybe you’ve heard rumors of these odd creatures. Share that.

6. Whine away – but still do the list.

I try to start my day with fives minutes to myself for breakfast, but usually the baby beats me up. I spend the morning chasing him around, occasionally picking up after him, and then furiously cramming as much work as I can into his morning nap. We eat lunch and do a chore. Just one. If my to-do list has more than two things, I can’t get them done. Because after that, we have to climb the stairs fifteen times, dump all the toys out of every closet, put them away, repeat, and then walk the dogs. Sometimes I can do a little more work in the afternoon, but most likely it’s not going to happen. Then my husband gets home, I cook him dinner, the baby wants to play some more, and eventually they all go to sleep so I can do more work. That’s seven days a week.

Do I whine about cleaning the house? Yes. Good lord, yes. Do I do it anyway? Of course. Who wants to live in filth?  My house is currently a disaster, but eventually we’ll get moved in. Then I’ll start my checklist back up. One day it won’t be so bad. I won’t be pregnant, my husband won’t be in school, and my kids will. I would sincerely hate if my house got ruined in the meantime because I felt like it was too much work to wipe my bathroom down once a week. I’m as tired as the next gal or guy, honestly, but it’s part of being adult. Articles like this are fun to read and relate to, but they’re not helpful. If you’re serious about creating a house cleaning plan, you don’t have to follow the rules of Good Housekeeping. You do have to follow your own.

move in a hurry

The Best Ways to Move Houses in a Frenzy

Are you looking for the best ways to move in a frenzy? Not the best ways to have people tell you, “Wow, you’re an amazing packer!” I can’t help with that, because that’s not my goal. I move all the time and I just want to survive it. Okay, not ALL the time. It’s been eight months since my last move. Before that I did stay in a house for a record two years. That’s totally normal for a non-military family right? I’ve moved across the country, across town, and literally across the street. Sometimes I have lots of time to prepare, others I have zero. This time around I have about three weeks to move to a new neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean it’s not chaotic. I’m pregnant, my husband works ten hour days and has class on the weekends, and my toddler and dogs won’t do heavy lifting.

So, what’s a frenzied hostess to do? Get help? Of course not. That would cost money. Although I’ll be honest with you, if you’re moving across the country and not across the city, the help is totally worth it. You’re going to have to get a truck anyway, unless you don’t own anything or don’t want to take it with you. Use the good moving service packers. You won’t regret it. If you are moving across the city, though, I have seen what those movers do and I’ve tried a variety of things myself, so I have some ideas on the best ways to move on your own. Since I can’t currently host anything, I thought I’d go a little off topic and share.

Best Ways to Move in 7 Days or More

Packing for a move in a frenzy
Here go the bar supplies – very important. Notice the paper and plastic wrapping. Very professional.

Use Suitcases for Non-Glass

Does that sound like weird advice? It probably does, but let me explain. Boxes are fun and all, but they’re a lot of work to tape up, they can still break, plus if you do too good a job and bother to label them, you may never open them again. I like to fill up my suitcases with things, then unpack immediately at the new house, then bring the suitcases back and do it again. No, it’s actually not that much work. Yes, I do make more trips. But here’s another bonus – suitcases roll. I’m short, so even when I’m not pregnant carrying big square boxes around is quite irritating. Only having to lift a suitcase in and out of the car, or upstairs, makes moving much easier. Coolers and other empty trunk-like items also work.

Legitimately how I drove with my mugs and champagne glasses. Please excuse the messy car, we’re moving!
Everything survived, no need to worry. Proof of life shot glasses.

Use Lots of Paper or Plastic Bags for Glass

I always have too many plastic bags, which you may have noticed in this post. So when I move they come in handy. I put one bag in a glass, then wrap with a second bag, and that’s that. Do they survive the move, you ask? Yes. Most of my glasses even survived a cross-country move this way, in a box not marked fragile. I didn’t try that on purpose. When I packed I was putting things temporarily in storage and didn’t realize my life on the west coast was coming to an end.  The paper thing is probably safer – it’s what the real movers do – but I don’t usually have paper on hand. The point is, make sure there are fluffy things surrounding your glasses. Unfortunately, there is no cheat code for this, unless you want to bring them one by one. I’ve done that too.

Break Up the Big Stuff

Do you need that end table right now? Can you dismantle your desk or move the guest bedroom before you have to move your own room? This is kind of a necessity for me right now, since I’m handling the bulk of the move and I’m not allowed to lift anything too heavy. I have to rely on different people to help me whenever they’re available, not whenever I am. This is how my three week move that seems like plenty of time has actually become time crunched. But, it’s okay, because I can live with a half-house. For example, we got help with our formal dining table last week, but the kitchen table is staying until the final day. We have room to eat either way.

Best Ways to Move in Less than 7 Days

Fit Your Clothes Everywhere

Okay, so I actually do this every time, regardless of how long my move lasts. Who wants to pack up clothes? Do people actually take them off the hanger? I have used those crazy boxes they have for wardrobes on longer moves, but when you have no time, just keep them on the hangers they’re already on and toss them on top of whatever else you’re toting. They don’t take up much space, they’re light, and it is so nice to simply put them back on the shelves like they always existed in the new closet and nowhere else. The best ways to move do not include wasting time on clothes – ever.

Get Small Boxes & a Dolly

This may seem counter-intuitive, but look at the boxes I posted directly above this. Those were all fragile glass, and they were heavy. I couldn’t have lifted them on my own even if I wasn’t pregnant. It was fine for this move since we do have three weeks, but if I was doing a short-time move, these boxes would have slowed me down. I would have had to find someone else to carry them, when I could have broken them down into multiple boxes and known for sure I could carry them myself. Packing sucks, and when you’re in a hurry I know you want to throw everything into one box and go, but don’t do it. Use lots of little boxes and find a dolly to make transportation easy. Or, the very least, top one layer of books with one layer of pillows. Then you can halfway carry it.

Don’t Make a Donate Pile at the Old House

Moving so much is really awesome for one reason – my house is very light on useless crap. We donate a lot of things every time we move, as well as throw things away. But, when you’re really short on time, if you don’t already have the donate pile ready to go, do it at the new house. Perhaps you think you won’t donate it if you take it to the new house, but I’d be more concerned about time. Even big items of trash require special trips to the dump, and the less time you have in one house, the less special trips you can make. Yes, it’s extra work when you’re moving in, but time is of the essence to make sure you get everything packed. Leave the boxes of useless stuff somewhere you can’t avoid and you’ll make it to Goodwill eventually.

So there you have it. Those are my best ways to move in a frenzy. I am not concerned with perfect packing. Glasses will break if you get too crazy, yes, but you can throw all your shoes in one box without worrying about placement and I swear they will survive. Most stuff will, honestly, if you’re not going far. Don’t forget to shove strange shaped things into the floor of your car either. My bread maker never gets in a box, but it always finds its way somehow. Same goes for my guitar, my golf clubs, and even my plants. If I can move mostly by myself with a toddler and two dogs constantly at my feet, you can do it too! Good luck!

Busy Hostess, Green Hostess

Can a Frenzied Hostess be a Green Hostess?

In my mind, I’m a green hostess. Not the color; I mean environmentally friendly. In reality, I’m pretty sure that’s not true at all. France banned paper cups and plates at the end of 2016, an ever since I read that I’ve been wondering how terrible these little life savers really are. There has to be some kind of a trade-off, right? Maybe washing a whole bunch of dishes is worse than using paper plates…

Nope! Not even close! Every single article I read trying to make myself feel better about using paper plates helped me feel the opposite. Reusable, they said. Use ceramic plates, they said, and wash them in your environmentally friendly dishwasher that you totally have (I actually do have one. But I know that’s not true for everyone). These are good intentions. But are they realistic? Can a frenzied hostess like myself ever really be a green hostess too? I already spend enough time trying to get everything else together. How am I supposed to worry about the environment when I’m in such a time crunch?

Tips to Becoming a Green Hostess

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Okay, so these are not going to be earth-shattering revelations. You’ve probably heard all of them before. But sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of things, and to go in with a specific plan to be environmentally friendly instead of feeling guilty about it later. I’m not the only one who feels guilty, right? When you take out bags and bags of trash after a barbecue, don’t you cringe just a little? I would say if you don’t feel a bit remorseful, this isn’t for you, but on the other hand, if you don’t care at all maybe you’re exactly who should be focusing on being a green hostess.

1. Buy Eco-friendly paper plates.

You think I’m crazy now, don’t you? I just spent all that time talking about paper plates and I still want to buy them. Look, here’s the thing. I can pretend to be a green hostess all I want, but the truth is, I already have enough dishes to do after a party than to have to worry about every single guest and how many plates they want to dirty up. If it’s a small party, yes, by all means, use the good dishes. But a big barbecue or Halloween party, or anything involving 20+ people, is going to make being a green hostess much more difficult unless you get a caterer who does all the cleanup for you. These plates aren’t  necessarily the cheapest options, but you will have to get tips about cheap somewhere else. I like these and these.

2. Set up signs for “Recycle” and “Trash.”

Whenever I go to a party, I always ask if the host recycles. I think in some places it’s a given that they do, but it’s not everywhere. I couldn’t even get my trash company to pick up my recyclables when I lived in North Carolina, so I just gave up. Make it easy on everyone. Put up some big garbage bags (or trash cans, if you have multiple) with signs above them so everyone can easily deposit their used goods. This is going to be environmentally friendly, plus less time consuming for you. If you make it obvious where you want their garbage, guests will be more likely to throw stuff away. Have you ever been to a hostess’s house where they put the trashcan in a pantry or under the sink? No one wants to go through your stuff to find the garbage, so it gets left out.

3. Skip the Streamers.

You already know this one’s my favorite, right? I’ll take any excuse not to decorate, and this is a great one. Leave all those paper products on the shelves of the party store, friends, and tell everyone you’re a green hostess. I’m not saying you can’t decorate at all, but why not get some reusable decor or try out some garbage? Wine bottles are my favorite decorations saved from the trash. Just peel all those labels off and stick some candles in them and you’ve become super fancy. Then you shove them into a cabinet somewhere and use them again next time (or drink more – also fine). Now you’re saving paper, plus the headache of having to tape all those nonsense strips of paper all over your house.

4. Take your Reusable Bags when Food Shopping.

Look, I’ll be honest. I have no idea what to tell you about environmentally friendly food, other than buy local and don’t buy things individually wrapped in plastic 15 times. But I can tell you this. Reusable shopping bags are great. Your house won’t become crowded with plastic bags, plus there’s less to carry because they hold more. I sincerely don’t understand why everyone isn’t already using them. They save time loading and unloading, and they save the environment by not getting thrown into landfills. Seriously, if you don’t already have them, get them! Then use them every time you have a party, and eventually you’ll remember to use them every time you shop. Now that’s a green hostess!

www.tastiesttreats.com

Achieving Christmas Baking Success

Friends, if you don’t own any Post-Its, you better run out and get some if you plan on doing some Christmas baking. I don’t know about you, but I like having all the cookies and breads and fudge and whatnot when it’s Christmas season. I spread them to my neighbors and friends, so whether I actually host anyone or not it feels worth it. But, I have learned an important lesson since I had a kid – it has to be planned out. I can’t take fifty trips to the grocery store. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to get to the oven when the timer goes off if my husband isn’t home. The mess is going to be, in a word, ginormous. So, if you are as obviously insane as I am, here’s my tips to getting your baking done:

Be organized.

Wondering what Post-Its have to do with baking? Well, after I pick what I want to make, I put a Post-It with a recipe name on a Tupperware container. When I get a chance, I start taking out my dry ingredients and measuring them for the appropriate Tupperware. If I’m lucky, I can get the amount of flour I need for each recipe in just one sitting, but if not, it doesn’t matter because I’m not cooking yet. Last year I did my ingredient sorting three days before I started baking, but you could take longer. The best part is you’ll know if you’re short on anything ahead of time and only need one trip to the store for forgotten items. It doesn’t work quite as well for wet ingredients, but it’s easier to eyeball vanilla and eggs than a bag of flour.

Don’t be difficult.

I mean, don’t pick things above your cooking ability! If you’re still at “easy,” then please, do not pick this particular extravaganza to up your game. It will only stress you out more.  Baking 5,000 cookies is stressful enough, isn’t it? Actually, even if you are a professional baker, would you really want to make a whole bunch of “difficult” recipes? I doubt it. Maybe one or two, but who has time for more? I like making multiple recipes because I’m insane (2 cookies, 2 fudge or brownie, and 1 bread), but there’s also the possibility of simply making a ton of one or two specific recipes. That’s actually my plan this year – I’m in a tiny kitchen at the moment, and I don’t know a lot of people here anyway, so I think it’s a good choice.

I also don’t recommend anything with frosting, unless you’re a pro. It’s just too time-consuming, so I definitely won’t add that to my list. I know there are so many options for frosting; here’s alternatives, here’s tips, here’s blah blah blah. There are so many recipes for cookies and sweets without frosting out in the world, I don’t know why a time-crunched person like myself would bother. If you’re looking for a new cookie, you can try my Lazy Cookies ‘N Cream Cookies. Yeah, the name is about as long as the recipe.

Don’t worry!

Christmas baking

So what if it takes you more than a day to get through your baking if you big? It might even take you another day or two to distribute the goods. Some of you perfectionists will worry about staleness, but how many recipients will eat everything at once? They will probably blame any staleness on themselves. How great is that? They’ll also be grateful that you thought of them, unless they know you are a terrible baker, in which case you obviously hate them. Kidding! I know it seems odd to let your recipients take the blame, but once you’ve finished, you have enough to deal with other than worrying. Look at your kitchen. It’s a disaster. You can clean that instead of thinking about the perfection -or lack thereof- of your baking. Of course, this is one caveat to this. Don’t serve stale baking at a party.

Don’t eat all your Christmas Baking!

Seriously, isn’t this the hardest one to follow? Now get out there and start baking!

Housecleaning Tips to help you Prepare for Drop-by Guests

Housecleaning Tips in Case of Drop-in Hosting

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Look guys, I know what you’re thinking. Really? We should be taking housecleaning tips from someone who says she has no time for anything? I have news for you. Part of the reason why I have no time for anything is I’m always cleaning my house! Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But, seriously, I have two dogs and a baby. If I don’t keep up on my cleaning, after a week I’ll wake up to discover everything I own is covered in dog fur and my child is eating rotting leaves and sticks off the floor. This is not an exaggeration. The only alternative to constant cleaning that I can think of is getting rid of one of those little parasites, but I just can’t choose which one.

So, am I recommending you do the exact same as me? No, of course not. You may have made much wiser life decisions than myself and never invested in a furry friend. Perhaps your house stays pretty clean, or you could even have a cleaning lady (but don’t tell me about that; I’ll be too jealous). I’m only offering up my thoughts on a tidy house because of the one thing that every hostess dreads – the drop in visitor. You know who I’m talking about. For me, it’s my parents. They decide they want to see the baby and give me a call twenty seconds before they pull in the driveway. I can’t let my parents know I live in filth, now can I? So I try to keep my house in generally good condition.

Messy vs. Dirty

Before I get to my housecleaning tips, I would like to point out one thing. I have no tips to help you with a “messy” house. When I think “messy,” I think kids’ toys all over the place. I’m more concerned with “dirty.” Now that’s the house you want to avoid. Have you ever dropped in on someone unannounced? I’m guilty of doing this to my neighbors. Every time I do, no matter who it is and regardless of what their house looks like, they say, “Come on in, excuse the mess.” I say the same thing, whether I think my house is messy or not. Why do we do that? If you drop in on someone, do you expect their house to be spotless? Probably not.

Come to think of it, the only house my friends and I ever discuss is the one that actually is completely spotless. We wonder where all the toys are. Are they in garage? Do we need to donate some to their little girl because she doesn’t have any? Are they in some mysterious closet no one has ever seen? It’s fascinating! But seriously, I’m not going to notice the bouncy seat in the corner. I might notice if you have wine stains on your carpet, dog vomit in a corner, and a layer of dust so thick I can spell my name on your coffee table.

Housecleaning Tips – The Checklist

housecleaning to-do list

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but I live off a checklist. We’re in the 21st century now folks, so you don’t have to use pen and paper for this. I use Wunderlist on my iPad and it is great. There are a lot more complex ones, and when I share with clients I tend to use Todoist or Gqueues, but for me personally, Wunderlist is all I need. Here’s what’s great about using an app checklist:

  1. You can make events repeat. So, I have cleaning routines. I don’t have to wonder when the last time I cleaned the guest bathroom was. I check it off the day I do it, it disappears, and then reappears in two weeks. Time to get back to work!
  2. If you don’t check it on the day it’s due, it turns red and looks evil. Ugg, there’s nothing I hate more than an overdue checklist item. Some of you might need more motivation than that, I know. But for me crossing items off is the ultimate satisfaction.
  3. You can split up tasks into groups. For example, a few of mine are work, family, house, and writing. This helps you keep track of everything and see if you’re missing out. Plus you can easily see which task is the most important to get done.

It takes a little while to get your checklist worked out so that it’s the most efficient, but once it’s done, it’s so helpful. I know I’ve got to go clean my kitchen counters after this, then vacuum. Plus, that’s it for the day! My entire cleaning. I do one or two little things each day, and wah-lah, my house stays pretty tidy. That’s amazing considering the beasts that are always running around in here. If you’d like help making your own, I do have a few more suggestions you can find here.

Equipment

I like my checklist, but I’ll still use the easiest housecleaning equipment when I can be. Like, I vacuum everything. I mean EVERYTHING. For example, I use it on my laminate floors because sweeping takes way too long. I do have the option to switch it to barefloor over brushroll, which helps. I’m sure most vacuums have that option these days, but if yours doesn’t and you want it to, I recommend a Shark. I’ve had one for over five years and it’s still going fine despite all the things I ask it to do, like clean up cobwebs and constantly eat dog fur. Actually, it works so well, we bought another one in our last house so we could have one for upstairs and downstairs, because we are that lazy.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out a way to vacuum counters or toilets, so I do have to do some other cleaning. For that I like to buy multi-surface cleaners. The less cleaners I have to switch between, the better. I also keep a bunch of rags handy to get everything wiped down quickly, and then they get thrown on the dryer. I’ll admit, I am looking forward to the day when the human beast is able to help me out, but until then I’m fine with my checklist and minimal supplies. It’s great to know I’m not going to spend my entire weekend cleaning up, and if I decide to host a real party, the prep can be mostly cooking and decorating instead of cleaning. Hooray! Hopefully these housecleaning tips can help free up your weekend as well.

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Planning Parties Away from Home

I’ve lived in three different states in the past six years. That’s quite a bit of moving for a non-military family. As you can imagine, I’ve had plenty of friends come and go. But, my true friends and I will always be in touch. We try to get together at least once a year. That means that once a year, there’s a good chance I’m going to be hosting something in a place away from home. This might not happen frequently for you; maybe you and everyone you know live in one place, and it’s easy to gather at your home whenever you want. But there are still plenty of occasions to get out of the house, whether it’s to a restaurant or a rental house. When that’s the case, things can get…interesting.

Check out your Home Away from Home

I mean, check it out BEFORE you go shopping. This is pretty crucial. I’m going to use an example from when a bunch of friends and I stayed in the Smoky Mountains. Our first night I planned on having a big southern meal cooked up for everyone. They were all coming from much further away, so it made sense for me to get there first and be prepared. The problem was the house was really up in the mountains. We didn’t want to get up there, then have to come back down and go shopping, so we tried to do it all beforehand. It was not the best choice. We wound up missing all kinds of tools we thought the house would have, as well as a few crucial ingredients.

Luckily, in that case all our friends were arriving at various times, so we were able to send all of them to the store throughout the day before they headed up the mountain. It would have been a better idea for me to go first, see what we needed, then go shopping. Or, we could have had my husband stay down off the mountain until I could tell him what we needed. One other note about shopping – you’re obviously going to want the smallest size things you can get, since you’re either going to throw it away or have to drag it home.  So practice your recipes! Don’t waste what little you’ve got on a practice try.

You don’t know the kitchen

Remember this. I know in theory everything should cook the same, but we all know ovens are tricky. Things might take longer to cook than they do at your house – or they might burn! Elevation can change cooking times as well. Don’t stress about this , just remember you’re going to be even more frenzied than usual as you get to know your surroundings. If you’re really worried about elevation, you can check out this article for some help. As for oven times, you can always open it up and take a look.

Decorations mean cleanup

If you’re going to be decorating this joint, remember that you’re also responsible for cleaning it, and it will have to be done right away. You can’t leave it for a week like you could at your own house. I personally skip decorating, but a few signs might go a long way. If you have a couple of small chalkboards lying around, it wouldn’t take long to scribble something out. Plus it’ll be just as fast to load them up as it was to bring them out. No tape or tacks required!

Things will definitely be different when you host away from home, but it can still be really fun. I hope one day you get to try it!

 

 

smash-cake

No Time for Execution

Today I’m going to be boring you with some random thoughts about hosting. It seems like for some reason, even though I’ve come up with 8 million ideas and started working on prep weeks in advance, I have no time for execution. I give up and say, eh, no one’s going to care where I put this decoration, and no one’s even going to know I scrapped guacamole off the menu. That cake I pretended to practice decorating looks crazy, but it’s going to get smashed anyway. These things are true, of course. But since I give up something every time, I’m obviously trying to do too much, right? I have to wonder why that is.

Does Getting Older Mean no Time for Execution?

There must be something that happens to people as they get older. We all of a sudden like fancy chalkboards and homemade paper flowers. My friends and I used to throw theme parties all the time in college. Toga parties, pirate parties, jungle parties, you name it, we did it. But even with those themes, and all the free time we had, there were rarely any decorations. I would also venture a guess that any type of food, even out of a bag, only made it to the white trash party we had that one time. I think half the reason we threw that party is because we wanted to make fish sticks. Don’t give me that look, people. Like you’ve never created an elaborate excuse to make fish sticks? Anyway, no one ever complained we didn’t try hard enough.

Nowadays, though, we live in a Pinterest world. We have to have parties or shoot blue or pink confetti into the air to tell everyone we know whether we’re having a boy or a girl when we’re pregnant. This is so weird, isn’t it? Does anyone, other than perhaps your mom, actually care what the sex of your baby is? No! No one cares. Yet for some reason they’ll still ask you how you’re announcing it. My own grandmother thought I was crazy when I sent cheap red and black invitations for my son’s first birthday party. She wanted to know what the theme was. Come on, Grandma. He’s one. He’s not going to remember it. Honestly, I don’t think he even enjoyed it. A Mickey Mouse theme would not have helped.

no time for execution
Who has time for a theme? Just throw stuff on the wall.

Forging Ahead Anyway

Even though I know all of these crazy details people feel like they have to do are silly and mostly created by the strange wasteland that is the internet, I try to do them anyway. I have visions of parties that are beautiful and lovely where all the food is delicious. Even my wedding fell short once I actually got there though, albeit just the decorations, and only because people kept messing with how I wanted it. But you see, there it is. I could  easily have adjusted my wedding tables the way I wanted, but I ran out of time.  If I wasn’t connected to the internet, I probably would have had tables with a vase of flowers and called it a day. And that was for my wedding – imagine how much lazier I would be for something smaller!

Maybe I should have been born in a different era, when even if there was no time to execute party plans it wouldn’t matter. On the other hand, I like all this stuff. I really do. It’s so fun. Do I plan too much? Yes. Do I always wind up giving up on something? Absolutely. Am I going to keep doing it exactly the same way? Probably. I hope you enjoy the ride!