It was a pretty amazing day yesterday. Addie was ready in her costume at 6:30 AM! We had to explain multiple times that our Halloween party isn't starting for hours. But when our friends started showing up everyone couldn't help but be in a cheerful mood. Halloween is such a fun holiday to celebrate with children. Every year I get a little more adventurous and the party gets a little bigger. This year I invited Addie and Bella's entire class along with their families as well as at least twelve families from the embassy. There were probably close to 60 people at the party.
Justin was in charge of a spooky but fun playlist (think Ghostbusters and Jump In the Line) as well as games. My husband really outdid himself with the games this year. There was a ghost hunt to find the lollypop ghosts hidden in the garden, no hand dangling doughnut eating contest, and feel the creepy stuff (bowls of icky things like goblin snot, frog eyes, graveyard dirt, and zombie guts). The kids were seriously concerned about the papaya seeds (frog eyes) because they really do resemble slimy little eyes. We also had pumpkin sugar cookies for decorating. The kids were wonderfully occupied.
I kept parents and grown-ups occupied with plenty of drinks. The usual wine and beer but also a custom drink for the party called Zombie Blood (single shot cream de cocoa, single shot vodka, double shot coconut milk served on the rocks). It was a huge hit. A huge pot of vegetarian chili along with cornbread and cheese kept everyone's bellies full. Most parents gave up right away with limiting the sugar intake of their children when they saw the delicious selection of treats. Everyone was in a festive mood. Halloween is truly a sweet holiday so everyone indulged in some extra sugar whether it was in the form of a cocktail or a meringue ghost.
On party day I'm in my element. I love feeding people good food and seeing the joy on their faces when they are loving something they've tried from my table. It was especially fulfilling to give some of our European friends a proper Halloween celebration and see their reaction to unfamiliar foods like chili and popcorn balls. Even the caramel apples seemed decadent. All day long I had people asking me if I was ready to drop on my feet yet or if I was ever going to sit down and get a bite to eat. "Aren't you exhausted?". I thought about it later after about 12 hours on my feet and by now, after all these parties we've thrown, I'm just getting better at it. I'm not stressed. I generally have things under control and on party day I just revel in how everything comes together for a great party.
After a few years of doing this, I'm going to share a few tips on how to throw a successful stress free party:
1. I know I'm going to get mixed reviews on this policy, but I'm a proponent for inviting your child's entire class so that no feelings are hurt. Be prepared to get about half the kids attending. I can't be apart of exclusion, especially while they are little.
2. Don't be afraid to tell people what to bring. When they ask, be specific. For this party, I told almost everyone who asked, to bring wine, beer or juice; whichever they preferred to drink. Ask your closer friends to bring a side dish or a batch of cookies.
3. Forgo take-away gifts. Give candy with games and have plenty of treats the kids can snack on like tiny bags of popcorn for each child. But don't stress about a treat bag. I've done away with this for my girls' birthday and other parties because for the most part those treat bags get trashed or lost within hours of the child returning home. Plus all that junk is pricey!
4. In contrast to the inevitable loads of sugar served at these parties, have something incredibly healthy for everyone to eat. Veggies and humus, salad, olives, fruit, etc. In fact, I like to have mostly vegetarian dishes for parties. They tend to be easier to prepare in advance and good meat is not cheap or easy to get in Addis Ababa.
5. Plan your menu a week in advance. List the dishes, then make a detailed grocery list (divide the list into what you can buy a week in advance v. what you need to wait to buy two days before). Make a column for each day before the party and assign things to be done on each day. A green salad should be made the day of the party but dips and casseroles can be made days in advance and frozen or refrigerated and then baked the morning of.
6. Make your life easy and only put food on your menu that you can make in advance. I made homemade pizzas for a party a year or so ago and it was the worst plan I've ever had. I was at the oven topping and baking pizzas most of the party. Never again (unless you are throwing a pizza making party and all the kids can roll their dough and top their own).
7. Start making ice a day or so in advance. Here in Ethiopia, we can't go buy edible ice. We have to make it at home and that takes time!
8. If you are serving alcohol (which I advise), go the extra mile and pour the red wine in a decanter. Instead of just lining up your liquor on a table, create a signature drink for the event (or look up a recipe to a drink and use that). Display the drink recipe, gather your bar tools on a tray, and let your guests pour their own drinks. If the drink calls for a special mixture of something, do it in advance and serve in a carafe or small pitcher. Label everything. Your cocktail will be a hit and people will be thrilled you made the effort. How many times have you been at a party and looked at the vermouth, gin, and bourbon and then glanced and the juice and just gave up mixing a cocktail and moved on to the wine? Creating a special drink is a sure way of getting rid of that bottle of Bombay Sapphire that's been sitting there for a year. Trust me!
9. Have activities for the kids. I'm finding this to be more and more important the older the children get. When they were tiny we just let them roam and play. Now they need games and things to keep them engaged and active. It's the toughest part of parties for me. I rely on Justin for help in this area.
10. Don't stress. Maybe the caramel on your apples starts to slide off (guilty) or your cake is a little lopsided, who cares? The point is that you went to the trouble and sometimes the things that look the most hideous taste the best. Give yourself a break. Planning a party is tough.
What about your party planning and executing tips? I'd love to hear some other ideas.