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5 Party tips for stress-free entertaining

Laura Owens is a freelance writer who specializes in natural health, mood balancing, psychology, social trends and motherhood. She lives in Orlando, Florida. You can reach her at laao@cfl.rr.com or http://lauraowens.wordpress.com.

Zen entertaining for the New Year

Finally, the fa-la-la holiday festivities are over. But if you felt more jittery than joyful hosting your own parties, the beginning of the New Year is the perfect time to re-think your entertaining approach. Here are five stress-free entertaining tips to help you host first-rate parties that you truly enjoy.

Hostess at Party

5 Stress-free entertaining tips

1. Adopt A Zen Attitude

Starting with a more peaceful easy feeling is step one to savoring every moment of your event. Even during weddings, likely the biggest staging of your life, what you think will go wrong rarely does, and what does go awry doesn't have to make guests gasp or your mascara run. Adopting a Zen approach to hosting parties is a two-part process.

Let go of perfection. Catherine Christopher creator of the Zen Hostess blog suggests adopting a Zen hosting attitude by not worrying that something horrendous will happen, "Because, after all, a party is about companionship, not about the physical food, music or wine," she says. Christopher recommends perfecting the letting-go attitude. Realize no physical mistake (or even disaster) will negatively impact the camaraderie.

Get in the mood. Your pre-party vibe might not seem important but your mood can have a radiating affect. Grab a couple minutes to relax and enjoy your setting before the doorbell rings. Breathe deeply, sip a glass of wine, and start the music. Make it job one to chill during the event. Running around in nervous circles makes the night go fast, and the fun go away. Most guests appreciate spending at least a little time with their hosts and are always happy to help out, so don't be afraid to ask.

2. View Your Party Scene Like a Guest

When you walk into a party what do you notice? The cobweb in the corner? The chipped paint or smudged countertop? How about that stray wrinkle on the bedspread? Hardly. Guests spend a moment doing a visual scan, then talking, eating and drinking. They spend very little time, if any, looking for imperfections in your home.

Avoid useless work. While it's natural for hosts to want their home to appear flaw-free, most guests don't notice what you do. Strive for overall affect. Skip cleaning the top of the refrigerator, ironing the bread basket napkin, or creating perfectly symmetrical canapés.

Appeal to the senses. Ask yourself, does my home feel warm and inviting? Does it smell good? Is the food tasty? Is the lighting pleasing? Is there buzz building or great background music? Can guests get comfy while they eat or do they have to juggle plates and glasses?

3. Keep Party Food Simple, Fresh and Easy to Prepare

Menu planning and food service are the most stressful details of a party. Keep it simple, prepare in advance and offer fillers like nuts and cheeses. And if you think about it, do guests ever go hungry?

Let others cook. If cost isn't an issue, consider having your affair catered or supplementing with pre-made platters. Otherwise, unless you enjoy creating extensive sit-down menus or chatting while you cook, arrange an easy buffet with cold foods or hot items with warmers. Ask friends to bring a side, appetizer or dessert. If they offer, say "Yes!"

Keep it simple. Complex isn't necessarily better. A few well prepared dishes with sauces in pretty bowls works well. Create a fun "food bar" with lightly marinated grilled chicken strips (or cold grilled shrimp). Serve on a platter with a variety of interesting sauces, spicy, creamy, ethnic and savory

Make it fresh. Include a large mixed veggie, pasta or lettuce salad with fresh ingredients. Slice French bread pieces, brush with olive oil, and crisp in broiler, and arrange in a large basket. Offer an assortment of bruschetta toppings. A few core items accompanied by toppings easily offer filling, appetizing and beautifully arranged party fare.

4. Prepare Food, Beverage Center and Table Setting In Advance

The more to-do's you don't the day of the party, the less stressed. Prep food early. Linnea Johansson, author of Perfect Parties – Tips and Advice from a New York Party Planner, suggests doing as much as possible early. "Make sure that 75 percent of your menu can be prepared in advance. That means no heating, constructing, or garnishing, just serving. To cut down on last-minute scrambling, include several canapés in your menu. These mini open-faced sandwiches can usually be prepared fully in advance and served at room temperature.

Set up stations. Organize platters, tableware, the beverage area and snack bowls in advance. Use the dining room table as "Operation Organize," arranging trays with their serving pieces, trivets, etc.

Label food and doorbells. Place description cards with food. This allows guests to read what they're sampling and minimizes questions. Put a note on the doorbell "Welcome Walk in, No Need to Ring" which keeps hosts from constantly leaving their cooking or conversation.

5. Create a Relaxing Party Atmosphere

Create ambiance based on the vibe you want guests (and you!) to feel: relaxed, high-energy, elegant or whatever suits your party fancy.

Go dim. Go for soft indirect lighting. Turn off overhead glare and turn on corner lamps. Light candles. Indirect lighting softens moods and tired faces and can hide decades-old chipped paint or old sofas.

Make it fragrant. Scents stimulate our mood. Spray soothing lavender or vanilla or energy-infused mandarin-ginger scents. Burn longer lasting candles or aromatherapy lamps. Place candles in protected holders to avoid worrying about a random spark.

Offer al fresco roaming. Weather permitting, open back doors to allow guests to relax on a candle illuminated porch or lawn to promote relaxed conversation. Create a "resort-like" feel where everyone sits back, relaxes and chats.

Get cozy. Place as many chairs as comfortable around tables or in a circle. Guests will be "forced" to sit in a friendly round table setting, making conversation easier and bringing a cohesiveness to the affair.

By adopting a relaxed attitude and ambiance and preparing in advance, hosts can enjoy their own party event as much as their guests do.

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