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Published: Sunday, 5/16/2004

Party Perfection

Nancy Klewer pours wine for guests as she prepares for a party. Nancy Klewer pours wine for guests as she prepares for a party.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Nancy Klewer's hostess checklist isn't complete without a camera.

"Every party, I always take pictures,'' says the Perrysburg resident who has thrown fund-raisers and company functions as well as gatherings of friends and family.

The photos are for memories and for sharing, but they're also one of the unspoken ways in which she tells guests she's happy to have them in her home. It makes people feel welcome and special, Ms. Klewer says.

And maybe that's why she can't recall a single party disaster that she and her husband, Kim, have had had as host and hostess.

There are lots of things that can go wrong at a social gathering, but as Suzanne Williamson and Linda Smith write in their Entertaining for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1997), what needs to go right is pretty simple. "The real secret to a successful party lies in doing whatever it takes to make your guests feel comfortable,'' they write.

Start by getting comfortable yourself, they advise. Your guests can't relax if you're a wreck. "So have your plan in place and get yourself organized so you can concentrate on people other than yourself."

Stop stewing and just plunge in, advises author Sally Quinn, who used to report on the Washington social scene. In her book The Party (Simon & Shuster, 1997), she says that "I've never known anyone who hasn't had some kind of bad experience with a party. This is why there are so many people who are terrified to entertain. What if the guests don't have a good time, what if the food is terrible, what if something awful or embarassing happens? You can make yourself crazy with this kind of thinking. Don't."

Several local hostesses also agreed to share what they've learned from experience.

Ms. Klewer confesses she's the last-minute type, but also knows what has to be done to get the house ready and how much food and drink to buy. (Food and beverage guidelines are fairly easy to find. For example, Hormel Foods' Web site, www.hormel.com, has an appetizer buying guide. Keep in mind that actual consumption will be affected by such factors as the weather, time of day you're serving, and age and gender of guests - i.e., teenage boys eat more than grandmother's bridge club.)

"Somehow it all gets done," Ms. Klewer says. Just before guests arrive, "I'll tear through the house to make sure everything's perfect. But once the party starts I can relax and have a good time."

One thing she doesn't have to worry about is a purple stain on her light wool carpet. "No red wine at a large party," Ms. Klewer cautions. "A lot of people are doing that now because if it spills, both the host and the guest feel very bad."

She likes to dip into various pools of friends to come up with the guest list. "It's always fun to throw a different combination of people together, where everybody doesn't know everybody else. I like a variety of people," Ms. Klewer says.

Into this mix she often throws some extra interest and fun: a wandering astrologist, tacky white elephant gifts bestowed on friends at her annual New Year's Day party, poster collages of guest photos from previous years' holiday parties.

The hostess can have more fun herself when she has some help with food preparation, service, and cleanup, Ellen Critchley of Ottawa Hills has found. She puts it this way: "You can be at your own party."

Miss Critchley says she has used a caterer for large parties, but recently has hired several young women - unofficial nieces - to help. She does the shopping; they take it from there.

Like Ms. Klewer, Miss Critchley has a variety of friends and likes to introduce them to one another. "That's one reason to have a party, and that's been very successful for me. I now have sets of friends who have become friends with each other."

She prefers to give what she calls "walkaround" parties rather than sitdown dinners. "I find it more relaxed, plus in my home I can have more people in that setting," she says, explaining that her house is small.

Put some thought into the food you serve at stand-up affairs, Sally Quinn cautions in her book. "Big, fat, greasy, lumpy things that require three or four bites, smear your lipstick, and get food caught in your teeth are the worst. ... If you want to serve large, unwieldy hors d'oeuvres, then put them on the buffet and have little plates so people can choose to deal with them if they're really hungry or if they don't mind the hassle. Also try to skip really fishy-smelling hors d'oeuvres or big hunks of cheese, which don't do much for people's breath."

Being organized is one of Laurie Melchior Huskisson's first rules of entertaining. She and her husband, Jeff, give frequent parties in their Perrysburg home, from small, casual groups of friends to formal extravaganzas of more than 100 people.

They've invested in party glassware and dishes and keep them all together in a cabinet in the laundry room for easy access. They also do a lot of their party prep in that room in order to minimize chaos in the kitchen.

"I like to make a detailed list several weeks out from a large event, and pare down to a checklist as the date of the event nears," she explains, adding that her lists eliminate or lessen surprises.

She advises doing as much of the party preparation as possible prior to or early on the day of the event. "A good timeline can be very helpful, like making sure serving platters are polished and ready, to cutting lemons and limes for the bar in advance."

Keeping last-minute details to a minimum helps ensure the host and hostess will have time to leisurely dress for the party, and relax for a few minutes before guests arrive, she points out.

"If things go wrong, relax," Mrs. Huskisson says. "Not too many things are unfixable, and odds are, your guests won't even know. Be creative and use your resources."

She credits a friend, Randy Schnee of Rossford, with teaching her a lot about entertaining. Mr. Schnee, a business manager for a local physician, is a frequent host and enjoys helping others give parties as well. "It's a hobby," he explains.

"You really have to think your parties out," Mr. Schnee declares. Considerations include any special dietary needs of guests - diabetics, vegetarians, carb-counters, for example - as well as a theme that can be carried out through the menu, presentation of food, decor, even your party outfit.

When putting together the guest list, he likes a good mix of people in which everyone knows at least one other person besides the host and hostess. If conversation lags or becomes too heated, be prepared to jump in to get things moving or lighten the mood, he says. "Your mind has to be going at all times."

But keep the party fun for yourself as well as your guests, he advises. "Don't make it work because that also shows."

Pure fun - kiddie fun - is what grownup Sharon Ravin of Sylvania had in mind when she decided to give herself a birthday party this year. She put bubbles, candy, and other treats into goodie bags for the eight adult couples, served fast food, got party hats for everyone, and organized games including musical chairs, bingo, and Stick the Tail on the Donkey.

She told guests to bring a new toy, book, or game that would be donated to a good cause. "I ended up with two full shopping bags [of gifts] for Ronald McDonald House and two full bags for the new hospice," Mrs. Ravin says.

The idea for the party dawned a couple days after she and her friends were lamenting that they never gave parties anymore.

Her advice: "Keep it simple. You don't need to put on airs for somebody else. Be yourself. If you're comfortable, other people will be comfortable."

Contact Ann Weber at:aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.



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