Some people throw parties like it’s no big deal, and we’re not talking just any old gathering, but the kind of special shindig that people talk about for days to come. If you’re lucky enough to get an invitation from such folks, you rearrange your schedule accordingly, because you know it’s going to be an epic event. And then there are the rest of us poor slobs. We like to party, we want to have parties, but it’s all so intimidating, so overwhelming. We need inspiration and instruction, not to mention moral support.
We bring you help from Woodbury residents and party-throwers extraordinaire Karen Kugler and Tory Hassenauer. Fittingly, the best friends met at a party more than 10 years ago. The working moms had kids of the same age and shared other similar interests, like throwing parties. They have hosted many amazing ones together ever since. Their parties are personal, relaxed and often have a theme; past ones include a wild game feast, Oktoberfest, tropical tiki, Super Bowl, Halloween, Thanksgiving and engagement, to name just a few. The pair even thinks about dream parties they’d like to throw in the future; for Hassenauer, it would be a Super Bowl tailgating party at which her son is playing in the big game; Kugler fantasizes about a “band party” on a lake with great music, good food and friends.
Hassenauer’s annual Christmas coffee get-togethers are always special. “It’s easier than you think to host at that busy time of year because the house is already decorated for the season and everyone is in a festive mood,” she says. She suggests an easy-as-pie setup: coffee from Starbucks and scones from Café Latte in St. Paul. “It’s a great base for gathering good friends together,” she says.
Another wonderful fete was the Kuglers’ vow renewal party in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Kugler hired a local musician to provide background music; her nephew from Hawaii performed the renewal ceremony via Skype. She had the food catered from Angelina’s Kitchen, and her sister-in-law Jill (another Woodbury denizen) did the flower arrangements. Kugler amped up the revelry with fun facts about her marriage in 4” x 6” frames scattered around the house, which made excellent conversation starters.
What makes their parties so great? Hassenauer simply says, “Fun people, relaxed and comfy environment, good themed cocktails, funny games and prizes,” Easier said than done, we say. But one crucial strategy is to take the “surprises” in stride, like the time when Hassenauer’s dog got into the chocolate before a holiday dinner party for 12. The dog got sick all over the kitchen and living room as the guests were dining in the dining room. Our savvy hostess somehow kept her cool. She called the vet while she cleaned up the mess; then she lit several extra scented candles. “Everything worked out fine,” she says, “though one guest did comment that the dog’s breath smelled particularly sweet that night.”
Kugler has some wacky war stories, too. On the day of the Kuglers’ annual wild game feast party (at which Karen gets rid of the “food with holes” her husband brings home from hunting trips), Kugler also held her daughter’s birthday party at Rising Stars Gymnastics. She rushed home from her daughter’s party to prepare homemade rolls. She kneaded the dough, left it to rise and then later baked it, feeling quite impressed with herself. As she was getting ready for the dinner party, she realized that she no longer had red fingernail polish on—it had flaked off into the dough as she kneaded the bread. The rolls were red pepper flake rolls, which led to a quandary: is it okay to ingest fingernail polish after it’s been baked? Since the polish was red and the rolls had red pepper flakes, who would know the difference? Kugler made the right choice and decided that one less carb in the meal was the way to go.
One of the party pair’s favorite themes is the tailgate-at-home. It’s a festive, easy gathering that even the most party-phobic can pull off with a minimum of effort and stress. Here is the blow-by-blow, for those who may be interested in trying it themselves.
Tailgating by the Pool
Favorite college T-shirt, jersey or sweatshirt
Sports parents, friends of our kids from East Ridge and Woodbury high schools
Number of Guests:
About 30 couples
Brats, hamburgers, chicken and pasta salad from Angelina’s Kitchen; football cookies from Mary Bolger
Alabama slammer, kegs of beer, pop and water
Multiple TVs playing different college football games, footballs placed strategically here and there, sports plates and napkins from Party City, various college pennants borrowed from friends and family.
Ladder ball, bean bag toss and “The Sports Book” — guests have a list of all the day’s college games which begin after the party start time, picking winners using the point spread. The guest with the most wins gets a tailgating cooler full of goodies.
What to bring:
Each guest will be asked to bring a favorite tailgating item to add to the cooler for the prize.
Online with an invitation program such as Evite.
Karen and Tory’s tips for home Entertaining
- Fresh flowers make the house feel welcoming and warm. Don’t be afraid to pull apart pre-made arrangements from the supermarket to create your own.
- Music is great, but not too loud. People want to talk without yelling. Streaming Pandora is a great way to go, or get one of your kids to make a party play list.
- You don’t need to make all the food yourself. Specialized treats are not that expensive to buy. Woodbury’s Mary Bolger makes fabulous decorated and themed goodies: check out her website at cakesandcookiesbymary.com
- Hire a bartender and food servers for a larger or more formal party. It will take the pressure off you and give you more time to mingle with your guests. Older neighbor kids, nieces, nephews and co-workers are often great options.
- You love your animals, but don’t assume that all of your guests feel the same way. Put them in their kennel, laundry room, in a bedroom or at a friend’s house for the night.
- If you’re running out of time and guests are about to arrive, do the “pitch and ditch”—stash the clutter and the dirty dishes in the laundry room or garage before the party starts (just don’t forget that they are there).
- Lighting is really important. Turn them down or off to help create the mood. No one wants the lights all the way up, especially if you haven’t had time to pluck your eyebrows!
- Don’t do dishes when your guests are still there, unless you have some that just won’t leave; then it’s a handy, not-so-subtle “time to go” hint.
- When you introduce guests to each other, try to bring up a common interest so they can chat. You need to move on so you can spend time with each of your guests.
- Let people wear their shoes (unless you have a cultural or religious reason). People spend a lot of time putting together their outfits and footwear is often a part of the look. Also, who wants to see socks with holes? Let’s face it, there will be at least one person with their toes peeking out. And don’t forget: stinky feet stink.
- Stay relaxed and enjoy your party. You went through all of the work; if things didn’t get done or don’t go exactly as planned, try to keep an “oh well” attitude. Life may not go as planned, but your party can still be great. Those are words to party by, folks.