Patriotic cupcakes

There's more to hosting a party than making a great dessert.

An overflowing cup of Lake Martin magnificence and a dash of good ol’ Southern hospitality, smothered in organization and lots of fun, provide the main ingredients for successful entertaining on the lake. With good pre-planning, any way the event is sliced, a good time will be had by all, including the host and hostess.

Jane and Scotty Howell have hosted parties for their family and friends with the number of guests ranging from 30 at a casual barbeque to 300 at their daughter’s wedding reception. 

“We always break into committees for large parties and communicate with a mass email to keep everyone in the loop regarding the details and how things are progressing,” Jane Howell said.

She explained that everyone has a role on the clean-up committee, but the other jobs are well defined – including invitations, setup for tables and chairs, decorations and flowers, paper products and utensils, caterers, koozies, appetizers, entertainment, wine, beer and money management.

And the hospitality isn’t just planned for the guests. The couple always remains considerate of their neighbors. 

“Scotty and I always drop a note in our neighbors’ mailboxes to let them know we are entertaining that night and apologize for any inconvenience they might experience with the cars on the street,” she said. 

Family reunions are another occasion that often puts pressure on the host family, which is why Phyllis and Larry McAnally have their reunion planning down to a science. 

“I have found several things that are important in having a stress-free and fun event. You don’t want to be standing in front of the stove while everyone else is having fun, and your guests really do want to help you make it less stressful and to feel they are contributing. So, you delegate!” Phyllis McAnally said.

Once a headcount is established, McAnally prepares an information flyer listing the daily activities; who is attending; what to bring to share; and the menu with assigned duties. The summer reunions are geared toward lots of outdoor and water activities, noodle floating and conversation. The only meal served inside is breakfast, and all other meals are outside buffet-style affairs on the porch nearest the dock. 

“We enjoy setting up a lunch bar with food that can be eaten as you desire – hot dogs and kraut in the crock pot or sandwich trays, for instance. We just keep it simple,” she said.

McAnally said they enjoy game competitions ranging from cornhole and horseshoes to noodle races in the water and greased watermelon races. They also have enjoyed crafting activities – decorating hats, dying T-shirts, making personalized stepping-stones and candleholders.

“Reunions are all about memories retold. I have found a few things that feed this desire – a collection of old to new pictures of the years gone by continuously playing on the television screen and copies of old photographs on display. I always suggest remembering the commitment to enjoy and not just work throughout the weekend. Have a glass of wine and enjoy,” she said.  

Meg and Price Hightower, parents of one Auburn graduate and one current Auburn junior, have hosted at least one party a year for their children’s sorority and fraternity. With the proximity to Auburn, and the Hightowers’ willingness to provide an alcohol-free gathering, the couple has hosted successful events for as many as 200 lake-loving college students at one time.

“We have things fairly well streamlined now. We ask them to bring their own towels and sunscreen. We also keep a first aid kit on hand, Tylenol and Advil. Other than that, we sit on the screened porch and enjoy conversations with the kids who stop in to chat with us,” she said.

The partygoers know that their jobs include getting out the toys, as well as putting them back. The Hightowers have invested in more than 100 noodles and floats, plus yard games – including Frisbees, footballs, cornhole and Kan Jam.

“Besides no alcohol, our other big rule for parties with over 30 people is no boats or jet skis. We also ask that they do not dive off the dock,” she said. 

All of the events have a designated start and stop time in the afternoon, usually 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sometimes, the sorority or fraternity provides soda and food; other times, the Hightowers have helped out. The boys enjoy doing their own cooking and hanging around the grill. The girls often come with boxed lunches. 

“One of the most important things is to have lots of bottles of water. A good rule of thumb is four bottles per person,” she said.

The students are also charged with keeping a watch on garbage cans and replacing bags when needed; then, they take the trash to the dump on their way back to Auburn.

The Hightowers always alert their neighbors about the music and the extra cars that will be parked on the street. They have always had neighbors that were very understanding. Planning ahead and letting them know has been the key. 

Large or small, casual or elaborate, parties on the lake can be done with ease and without worry. Delegating the workload among family members or additional hosts, setting clear boundaries and communication are the best ways to keep everyone calm and cool.