Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings

Nowadays, it seems that there are plenty of parties — birthday parties, anniversary parties, retirement parties and parties for every holiday you can name. Parties are fun occasions for getting together with family and friends, but there sure seem to be a lot of parties for us to go to lately, as well as parties to host — or feel guilty for not attending or hosting.

Dennis and I frequently reflect on our childhoods and how devoid of parties they were. While our mothers typically baked our favorite cakes for our birthdays, these events were limited to our parents and siblings as attendees around the dinner table. There wasn’t any ado about our birthdays “back in the day.”

Although Dennis can’t recall ever having a birthday party held for him in his youth, the only one for me was in observance of my 9th birthday. My mother invited five of my elementary school friends to our farm one Sunday afternoon for this event. To be truthful, I have little recollection about this party other than a photo or two taken of us standing in a group on the lawn in the warm October sun. All of us were wearing what looked like the dresses we would’ve worn to church earlier in the day. I recall that we played pin the tail on the donkey, and that my mother forgot to serve the birthday cake until everyone was preparing to go home.

I say all this as a preface to explaining why I’ve had little party planning experience through the years. In an era where it seems like every child has a party every year for every birthday, I’m at a disadvantage to know what the expectations are for today’s festive gatherings. Thus, I just do the best I can when it comes to playing hostess for celebratory events.

For the past four years, we’ve invited the neighbors surrounding our cattle pasture, as well as others involved with our beef operation, to join us at the farm for a “Pasture Pals Party.” Fortunately, this is a fairly low-key event, where the main events are eating, followed by sitting around the porch and patio chatting with folks we usually just get to wave at in passing. We provide the sandwiches and drinks and the neighbors each bring a covered dish, which results in a veritable feast.

We typically hold this event in late August, but this year we postponed it until the latter part of September to avoid conflicts with my brother’s visit and Penn State home games. It actually worked out very well, even though the meteorologist gave us a sunny autumn afternoon with temperatures every bit as high as in July. We didn’t have the usual conflict with school opening the day after this gathering and the advent of fall opened up a whole new world of possibilities for decorating and activities for our 35 guests.

I thought I would share some of our party plusses in case there are other party-challenged folks like us out there. My two key words of advice would be “dollar store.” Five and dime stores might be a thing of the past, but dollar stores are a treasure trove of fun bargains.

Their inexpensive decorative plates and napkins plus plasticware make serving and clean-up a breeze. I also picked up a few decorative fall touches to hang on the porch and even in the kitchen, where our covered dish feast was served buffet-style.

I always get some little gifts for the children who attend, and this year, I found some popular ones at the dollar store. For something practical, I found boxes of kid-friendly decorated adhesive bandages with designs featuring camo, Peanuts cartoon characters and animals from the Pets 2 movies; they were a hit with parents and kids alike. I also found some “magic balloons”; they’re little self-inflating balloons with seasonal artwork that come in four envelopes to a $1 package. The kids thought those were cool, too.

There were some lawn games like bean bag toss and ladder ball for the kids to enjoy, but what they liked most was my other brainstorm-decorating pumpkins to take along home with them. I got a dozen smallish pumpkins from a friend’s pumpkin patch and bought four black markers for drawing faces, or whatever, onto the pumpkins. An old folding table topped with a dollar-store plastic table cloth made the perfect outdoor pumpkin art studio. In fact, the kids could hardly wait to finish eating so they could start working on their jack-o’-lanterns.

As for the adults, in previous years, we’ve drawn names for several door prizes, but this time, I purchased a pretty mum plant for each household to take along home. The mums and pumpkins were hits with their respective audiences, so I share these party pointers for what they might be worth to other party planning-challenged hosts and hostesses out there this fall.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.