"How about blueberry muffins and a cup of coffee tomorrow morning here at my house? This might be the best opportunity to get together for a 'mom chat' before our big summer getaways," emailed my friend Carol.
How could I refuse such a perfect excuse to put my "to-do" list aside and just hang out in her charming home? Plus, I can always use an extra dose of "mom" time.
Our conversation on that recent rainy morning was brightened by votive candlelight and a lively conversation about our latest crowd-pleasing ideas for entertaining at picnics, birthday parties and backyard barbecues.
Here are some of our style-on-a-shoestring suggestions:
Table decor: Bring blooming flowerpots inside from your yard or deck for an instant, fresh centerpiece. Or let your kids pick little bunches of herbs from your garden, such as parsley, oregano, dill and thyme. Tuck them in mini vases or small jars lined up in the middle of the table. Name them as the kids arrange them.
Corn on the grill: Have more than a kernel of fun when you grill ears of freshly picked corn for a slightly smoky taste. We like to soak our corn in a tub of water for a half-hour, husk and all, before we put it on the grill. (Note: Be sure to protect your hands with potholders when you peel away the charred husks before serving the corn.)
Simple dessert: Several hours before a gathering, scoop your favorite flavors of ice cream into balls and set them in 8-by-8-inch aluminum cake
Turn a travel book into a guest book: It can be hard to say goodbye to guests you see only occasionally. Preserve the memory of their stay when you ask them to sign your guest book. Make it easy to trigger thoughts by using a coffee-table style photo travel book of your area as the guest book. Guests can find a landmark or place of interest they toured and jot down a line or two on the page by a photo. It might read, "We'll never forget our 30-mile bike ride and the fish tacos we ate at sunset by Lake Calhoun." Extra idea: If you are hosting a party for a neighborhood family that is moving away, encourage guests to sign a photo travel book of your town as a personalized "send-off."
Donna Erickson is the executive producer and host of public television's award-winning family lifestyle series "Donna's Day." Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families." For more ideas, visit MinnMoms.com/donna, sign up for Donna's e-newsletter at donnasday.com, like the Donna's Day Facebook page or follow Donna at twitter.com/Donna_Erickson.