Jo and I would like to wish you all a happy Independence Day! We’re looking forward to spending some time relaxing with our families over the long holiday weekend and we wish you all the same.
This weekend, my husband and I will be hosting our annual cookout / campout on some undeveloped acreage near the woods. It will be a lot of fun as about 100 people gather for some good old-fashioned fun in the sun. Having done this a few years now, I’ve come up with a few tips for having an outdoor party, especially at a location with no house or utilities nearby (although we do have city water). Here are some of my tips, in case you’re headed for the same sort of weekend as I am!
- Have lots and lots of drinking water on hand. With a long day in the sun, people are going to be more susceptible to heat exhaustion or dehydration, and having lots to drink nearby is crucial to avoiding that.
- Invest in a portable pool. After our first year of excruciating heat and bored children, we learned that an investment in a medium-sized portable inflatable pool is well worth the money. Ever since we added that to the party, the kids have remained far cooler and had way more fun. We just pack it up after the party and store it in the attic until next year. Another tip if you’re setting the pool up on a grassy area that may have rocks or sticks is to first line the ground with flattened cardboard boxes, which provide a smooth surface and protect your pool’s bottom from rips and holes. If you put the boxes around the pool area, too, you’ll also have a nice safe area for kids to run barefoot.
- Have lots of fun activities. Inexpensive toys like beach balls, bubbles, and kites will keep all the kids happy and active. Ask around and find a friend with a volleyball / badmitton net or a croquet set and have them bring it to the party, too. The beanbag tossing game known as corn hole is also hugely popular these days and a fun, safer alternative to horseshoes. Besides the typical toys and games, we also like to have a few fun new activities each year. This year we’ll be having a pie-eating contest (be sure to bring some trash bags to serve as bibs/ponchos to keep folks clean) and potato sack races for the kids. Last but not least, who doesn’t love a pinwheel? They make great participation prizes for the games, too.
- Rent a port-a-potty. If you’re partying on undeveloped land, your guests will be very appreciative if you provide a portable toilet for their use. Check your phone book for local companies. A unit can be delivered on site for the weekend for around a hundred bucks, which is well worth it!
- Provide lots of shade. If you have access to canopies or screened tents, set them up and encourage people to sit under them. If your area is wooded, tie some tarps to the trees to make a quick shelter to protect you from the harsh sun (or rain!). Our field doesn’t have trees in the middle of it, so last year we set some poles in concrete in old tires and attached eyehooks to the top. We use short bungees to attach some pretty white tarps to the poles and we can arrange them easily wherever we want shade.
- Cold, cold, cold. I know I’ve mentioned water a couple times already, but the key to a day in the outdoors is to have as many cold and wet things to eat and drink as possible. You can rent a sno-cone machine (check your local rental companies), which is a fantastic solution for an outdoor party. I soon realized that it was cheaper for me to buy than rent, so I purchased a Little Snowie portable shaved ice machine (which we run on a generator), and I love it as much as the kids do. Nice, cold watermelon is always a refreshing addition, as well.
- Glow necklaces are a must-have! If your party is going to go into the night hours (as any good fireworks display will dictate) you will need extra light to keep track of all the people and kids. Despite the outrageous prices you see vendors selling glow necklaces for at events, they are really quite affordable. I buy them in bundles of 50 and hand them out to anyone who wants one. I even use them as lighted collars for every dog at the party, which helps their owners track their pets in the dark. And trust me… kids LOVE these things. You will be a hero!
- You provide the meat and ask for help on side dishes. The hardest part about hosting a party outdoors (especially away from home) is keeping all the food safe and cold before it’s time to eat. I find that asking my guests to bring the side dishes helps with that immensely, because they will arrive when the party starts, but I will have already been there all morning setting up. It helps a lot with my budget, too!
- Be prepared. You never know what you’ll need when you’re out there, so think ahead of time and bring some essentials. I always have plenty of sanitizing hand gel, paper towels, and trash bags to handle messes. For safety, bring along bug spray, sunblock, and a first aid kit. The most important thing I bring each year, which you may not think of, is a fire extinguisher. With a campfire and fireworks in the mix on a hot day in a field, you never know what might go wrong and I like to be ready in case the worst happens.
- Serve breakfast the next morning. If your guests are camping overnight (like mine are), they’ll be pretty hungry when they roll out of their tents the next morning. I usually wake up early and do a quick count of the number of folks who stayed, then make a run to the grocery store for easy things like cereal, doughnuts, juice, and milk, as well as a couple dozen eggs and some pre-cooked sausage to heat up quickly over the fire. Don’t bother bringing all the breakfast stuff with you the day before — wait to see how many people stay over and then shop accordingly that morning. It’ll save you a lot of frustration and wasted food.