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Top 10 Tips for Throwing a Banging Summer Party

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This summer is my mother's 50th birthday, and I'm the lucky party planner. To give you an idea of the kind of event I'm dealing with, here's some background on the birthday girl. Always the hostess, hardly ever the guest, mom worked for Martha Stewart's television show for more than a decade producing home and style content. When it comes to throwing parties, she's got it down to a science. Never a dull moment, never an empty glass, always a homemade meal worth remembering. No pressure, right? While I muddle through the planning of this very important birthday, I thought I'd share with you some of the things I've learned from the woman I consider to be one of the best party-givers around.

1. Theme. Get one. And by theme, I don't mean, "The 80's," or "Disco." A theme can be centered on a specific color, food, or even a state of mind. I've decided to make this party about Italian food, as we just returned from a family vacation on Lake Como. I'll serve all different kinds of antipasti, cured meats, olives and nuts, bruschetta, and cheeses. No real cooking involved, just assembling delicious ingredients on large platters.

2. Entrance. Must make an impression. We like to use inexpensive small metal buckets and fill them with votive candles. I prefer silver ones, but brightly colored ones are also great. As this is going to be an outdoor party, I'll line the pails along the length of the driveway and all the way back to the patio where the party will be. It's often dark by the time the party really gets going, and having your guests find their way by candlelight is so romantic. Oh, and don't forget the citronella candles to prevent any mosquito attacks.

3. Help. Hire a bartender. It frees up the host and keeps things in order. Who doesn't like being asked, "What can I get you?" upon arriving at a party. My mom always hires young, talkative types who can put your socially awkward single friend at ease.

4. Signature Drink. For any party, come up with a special drink in addition to beer and wine. In keeping with the Italian theme, I'm going to make Negronis: think sweet vermouth, Campari, and gin. We're sticklers for real glasses too, absolutely no paper cups allowed.

5. Table. Our way of arranging a table usually starts with a fantastic tablecloth. For this occasion, I'm ordering one of mom's favorite table coverings, a colorful red and white polka dot vintage oilcloth. Oilcloth is cheap, easy to reuse and clean, and really festive (go to oilclothalley.com to purchase). What else makes the table great? As many votives as possible! Always unscented.

6. Food. Keep it simple and make it delicious. And if you're having more than 10 people, it should be a buffet. You're friends will be happy to fix themselves a plate of the food they especially love. Friends can sit or stand. Standing often works (especially early in the evening) as it allows people to talk to as many guests as they'd like to. Later, latecomers and closer friends can sit and linger around the long table.

7. Presentation. Food should look as appealing as it tastes. If you're going to have the party catered, make sure to bring your own platters to the caterer so that you're not stuck either using their ugly plastic trays, or attempting to transfer them at the last minute to your own tableware. And insist on no lettuce and orange-slice garnishes. You want people to think you prepared everything yourself!

8. Flowers. You can't go wrong with fresh-cut flowers. By the way, it's not so much the flowers, but the containers you put them in. We like to use lots of inexpensive small white pitchers, creamers, and sugar bowls, and tuck short clippings of yellow and white daisies in them (you can find daisies just about everywhere).

9. Music. If you don't have an ear for it, ask your best music-loving friend to bring along his or her I-pod. And, if you're feeling extravagant, find a fun ensemble to play for a couple of hours as the party gets going. It should be lively and even a little ridiculous. I'm still working on this one.

10. Conversation. Mom's rule: Don't just introduce people; spend a couple of minutes finding a common ground with friends who may not have previously met. A great hostess puts people together with similar and completely dissimilar interests and makes it work. Look for opportunities for laughter, there is nothing better to get a party going.

For more tips on everything style, visit our mother-daughter blog at: http://www.goodbonesgreatpieces.com/blog.