Come On Baby, Light My Fire

I really like throwing parties. I know it's not a particularly noble pursuit, but I get a huge kick out of—to borrow a term they use frequently on House Hunters (at least when the wife isn't making jokes about the husband giving her all the closet space)—"entertaining." Even before Pinterest made two-bit Martha Stewarts out of all of us, I always liked throwing parties. There's something about that moment right before the first guest shows up, when the house is cleaner than it's been in weeks and you've had your preparatory glass of wine while shimmying out of your butter-spattered apron and into a clean pair of jeans, and you think yes. This has all come together just fine.

Of course, you forget it a few hours before the next party when you're shouting at your husband because his interpretation of "darling, would you mind vaccuuming the couch cushions to get rid of the cat hair?" was apparently construed as "darling, would you mind watching three more hours of ESPN while I make, frost, and adorn a batch of cupcakes with adorable little flags I've cut out of construction paper?" but it's nice to feel that brief sliver of zen for a moment anyway. 

Here are the cupcake flags in question. I bought those silver pearls in England last month, because I cannot resist beautifully packaged foodstuffs, however nutritionally questionable. 

This weekend, we held our Fourth Annual Birthday Bonfire, and if you have been reading this website for any amount of time, you may remember our Third Annual Birthday Beach Bonfire, our Second Annual Birthday Beach Bonfire, and—wow, you should really get a prize for this one—our First Annual Birthday Beach Bonfire, the one that started it all. You may also have noticed that the first three had "beach" in the title and the fourth annual did not, and that is because we decided to eschew the beach this year and instead hold the bonfire in our own backyard. There were many reasons for this and I shall not bore you with all of them, but they mainly involved the fact that our backyard, unlike the beach, possesses a) a lack of sand, b) a lack of cops, and c) a proximity to toilets that doesn't involve crossing a two-lane highway in the pitch dark. 

Also I really wanted to hang some lanterns in trees.

Naturally, I attempt to best myself every year in the decoration department—it's like I'm competing in a party-themed reality show against past versions of myself (don't act like you wouldn't watch that show; I'd totally DVR it at least)—and this year, since I now have a three-hour roundtrip commute to work and everything, it seemed like a great idea to spend my already-truncated evenings making ridiculous little s'mores packages for no reason at all. 

Oh, I know, they would have tasted the same if I'd just dumped everything out on the table. But this sort of thing is my therapy! Packaging things individually makes me calm! 

For food, we kept it simple and grilled hot dogs and hamburgers to go with the white sangria (I used Helen Jane's recipe) and spiked hot chocolate (I used my own recipe and it went like this: make Swiss Miss from the packet. Add Baileys.) My friend Sherry made bacon-wrapped dates, which is what they eat in heaven, and I made deviled eggs and caprese skewers, both of which I totally winged because I'd never made them before but they sounded fun. 

Let's be honest, though. it's not like the caprese skewers were rocket science. 

I also made this sausage dip my friend Sarah used to make in Charleston—it has a slightly less PC name here, though I opted for the more polite one because I'm a lady—which is one of those things that you don't give people the recipe for until they have consumed at least a quarter of it, because by that point they're too happy to care about all the terrible things you had to put in it to make it taste that way. (You want to know? You really want to know? Four words, my friends. Sausage in a tube.) 

For the bar, I borrowed a folding table from a friend at work, covered it with a cheap plastic tablecloth from Target, and bought a couple of yards of $3-a-yard burlap from Jo-Ann's Fabrics, which actually worked out to be $2.25 a yard because I found a 15% off coupon on my phone while standing in an interminable line. I made some food labels from a piece of scrapbook paper, a bunch of toothpicks, and a total lack of desire to do anything other than sit in front of the TV and half-heartedly cut some things up, and—when I'd finished that and still had another episode of Real Housewives of New York to watch—I found the banner I'd made for New Year's Eve, turned it over, and stuck a bunch of new letters on the back, which I cut out from printer paper. Also I threw some grocery store flowers into my large collection of differently-sized glass jars, giving me enough ammunition for the next few times Sean is unloading the dishwasher and asks me why we have so many differently-sized glass jars for god's sake. (For this, my love! For this!) 

We had about thirty guests in all, which was just enough to feel cozy in our small backyard. Some of them were nine months pregnant, and some of them were only eighteen months old. 

Most of them, however, were neither nine months pregnant nor eighteen months old.

"Are you wearing your green jacket to the party? Okay, me too."

Once the sun started setting, the fire really got going and we even managed not to burn any of our personal property down, which was kind of a relief, really, because I was not looking forward to that insurance paperwork, I'll tell you that for free. Having a fire in your backyard is a little different from having a fire on the beach—in that you sort of have to pay a bit more attention, lest your entire life suddenly go up in flames—but the upside is that you're not still finding sand three weeks later in crevices you didn't even know you had, so I think I'd probably take that option every time. 


One of my favorite things about the birthday bonfires is that we have slowly cultivated several traditions within them, and every year is another chance to wheel those traditions out and do them all over again. You may remember, for instance, that the birthday boys always wear their matching sweaters.

You may also remember that Leah and I—for reasons I cannot even begin to remember anymore—like to spell out the word "ho" with our sparklers. 

2011 here, 2010 here. I'd say we might even be ready for HOBAG in 2013. 

There was also a wee bit of overacheiving going on this year, because four of us—after a little rehearsing, some intense conversations about timing, and a few jokes about needing to get out more—managed to make this.

Looks like someone has a new Facebook cover photo! 

Have you seen enough photos of fire, superfluous crafts, and people you don't know yet? There's a whole bunch more if you feel you haven't. In the meantime, however, I'm going wrap this up here because I have some important business to attend to. These leftover marshmallows aren't going to eat themselves, is what I'm saying. 

Jul 11, 2012

OH MY GOD- we suffered treble digit heat here in South Carolina this July, and y'all are wearing jackets, sweaters, and SCARVES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jul 11, 2012

After photos from your parties, I can't help picturing your house - a toothpick flag taped to the dresser that says "Sean's underwear", a chalk board on the fridge "Thirsty? FIX IT HERE!", an antique frame in the bathroom "Don't Forget to Flush!" ... hee hee, the labels on everything just KILL me with the cuteness!

Diary of Why
Jul 11, 2012

Nothing but bonfires, indeed!

I spent several seconds too many puzzling over why you would want to spell 'bean' in the last picture. (Got it now.)

And yes, the regional temperature difference also amazes me. Sweaters in July! Where I live, we are all sweaters in July (buh dum bum).

Jul 11, 2012

Just like that, my new number one aspiration for my life is to do something under some lanterns in trees. Be still my beating heart (though not perfectly still AKA dead, just less beaty than is abnormal when one considers lanterns in trees.)

Jul 11, 2012

You're party looks fabulous!

I was thinking the same thing about the jackets and sweaters. It's been so crazy hot here in Canada lately, I can't even imagine putting on a jacket. Also, we haven't had rain in so long, a spark from a backyard bonfire could level the whole neighbourhood.

Jul 11, 2012

That is: your party looked fabulous...Doh!

Jul 11, 2012

this is lovely and i wish our weather was cool enough in july to host a bonfire. i fear our guests would turn into little puddles though. holly, one of these days i want to come to one of your soirees because everything is so well though out but doesn't look contrived. excellent work. :)

yours truly, melissa
Jul 11, 2012

Well it looks like you can throw one fantastic party! And I'm so jealous of your beautiful penmanship.

Mary H.
Jul 11, 2012

Looks lovely! Where did you get your string lights and lanterns may I ask?

Anna Louisa
Jul 11, 2012

perfect hostess. inspires me to throw a party...though here on the east coast there will definitely not be hot cocoa or cute military jackets!

Jul 11, 2012

What a lovely backyard and such a good looking group of friends! I also laughed at the "Even before Pinterest made two-bit Martha Stewarts out of all of us" line. Hilarious!

Jul 11, 2012

holly - you are certainly the hostest with the mostest. i LOVE all the attention to details. it just warms my heart. may i ask where you got the chalkboard stand for your blankets?

Jul 11, 2012

Just turned to my friend and said, "I wish I were friends with the people whose blogs I read" because you seem to have so much fun!

Jul 11, 2012

Aw, thanks all! Yes, the San Francisco "summers" are usually in the 50s at night. I'm so used to it by now that I always forget the rest of the country is surprised by it!

Mary H: I got the string lights at Target, in their outdoor section (they were $9 a box at the beginning of the summer when they were on sale, but I think they're $12 now.) I can't remember where I got the paper lanterns but I remember doing a google search for "white paper lanterns" and a ton of places to buy them came up -- I just picked one (I wish I could remember which!) though they all seem to sell the same thing for around the same price. I got the 10" size and they were about $1 each.

Kat: I got that chalkboard stand about three years ago, right before my wedding, in a random Marshall's in San Diego and I've used it a bunch of times since then for various things. (Sorry -- I know that's not very helpful!)

Jul 11, 2012

I think "Be lavish with the silver pearls" is my new life motto. And I'm so jealous of your party-throwing abilities--your fetes always look ridiculously fun.

Jul 11, 2012

Your hair looks great! And yes, I´m still creeping on your blog! :)

Jul 11, 2012

Such a great time! You are officially the world's best party planner.

Jul 11, 2012

I loved this, as have I loved all your beach bonfires! Happy birthday, Slinsky! And the thing that most jumped out at me ... the restaurant-grade heatlamp in your backyard! Does it just hang out there? That's amazing!

Pretzel Thief
Jul 11, 2012


How, but HOW do you get everything so wonderfully perfect and...PERFECT some more?! I almost cried tears of joy reading this post and looking at the pics.

You are a party throwing QUEEN.

Queeeeen, I tells ya!

Seriously, though, one day when I come to San Francisco could you please throw a random party and invite me? I'll bring copious amounts of booze and yummy nosh.

So that settles it, then. :P

Jul 12, 2012

Thank you for giving me so many great words to explain why I like to plan parties too. I've always felt guilty too

Also: Swoon! What a great party!

Jul 12, 2012

Holly, will you plan me a UK version of this for my 30th?

To set the scene:
*Tiny 2 bed terrace
*Postage stamp back garden, but lots of personality!
*October in Wales (rainy)

Will it work??

Your parties look just amazing!

Jul 12, 2012

holly - your posts go so well with my coffee. thank you! ok, i need to did you get those silver pearls to STAY on the cupcake? even with the swirly icing, my pearls always end up on the kitchen floor.

also - do you cut out the shapes of the food labels or use a template, or create your own template and then trace...?? yeah, i know that's a lame question but for unfortunately i am seriously craft-challenged and need details. :=)

Jul 12, 2012

I just found your blog and have been enjoying it so much. I love your decorating ideas, everything I've seen makes me green with envy, it's just so beautiful. You are really talented.

Your party was beyond fabulous, and I agree with all the comments about how interesting your friends look. How fortunate they are to be entertained with such style and joy.

Looking forward to more in the future. I just love finding a new blog, thanks so much for all your work.


Jul 12, 2012

Ohmygosh, I can't even STAND it! This is insanely fabulous! I love every last detail.

Oh, and the husband/party prep thing—every time we're getting ready for entertaining (see what I did there?) I'm the one running around like an idiot while he's goofing on his laptop. He thinks we're "ready" when the main course is prepared (!) and then I have to run through the list: light candles, prep beverage area, fill ice bucket, set table, arrange flowers/decorations, and about two dozen other details. EVERY TIME we go through this. Yet we can't stop throwing parties. Oy.

Jul 12, 2012

It was 107 here (West Tennessee) on the 4th. And a "no burn" order issued for the whole week. If you even looked at a sparkler, I think the local fire department would be taking you down. Everything is so dry, one spark and it would all go up in flames. All local fireworks displays got cancelled. They have tried to reschedule for Labor Day. Maybe enough time to throw together a party like yours?

Katherines Corner
Jul 12, 2012

I bow to your awesome party skills! I invite you to share this wonderful memory making at my blog hop today. Hugs!

Jul 12, 2012

Devilled eggs, source of one of my favourite sentences ever! Do you remember how much Josh hates spicy food? Y'know, pickled onion monster munch made him cry in 1999? Well, he was surprised by a devilled egg - he turned, horrified, asking 'I've tasted chilli hot, and curry hot, but what sort of hot is this???'

(just realised people may think I'm talking about my child. No, no.)

Barbara Lopez
Jul 12, 2012

Holly, you are ah-mazing. I too love your attention to detail and that you just make everything SO easily! By the way, I made Helen Jane's white sangria for friends not too long ago - it's soooo delish!

Jul 12, 2012

Best sangria.

Great photo of Nathan with his burgers.

Simon says that sausage dip is our Official Marriage Sausage Dip (hey-oh!).

You are my favorite person to be a HO with. :)

Nothing But Bonfires
Jul 12, 2012

You guys are so nice -- thank you for the kind words!

Krissa -- Yes, my parents gave me that heat lamp for my birthday! It was an inspired present because we love sitting out in our yard but it's pretty much always too cold in the evenings.

Lisa -- I'm not sure how my silver pearls stayed on the frosting, they just kind of did! I frosted them, then sprinkled a few silver pearls on each, and I seemed to get pretty lucky that they just stuck. My frosting was pretty goopy -- maybe that was it? As for the labels, I just cut out squares of scrapbook paper (the checkered part) then stuck on one of these Martha Stewart labels I got from Staples: Super easy!

Jul 13, 2012

You are such a good hostess! Can you come organise mine? I'd fly you to London!

Ps. Speaking of loos, how's that bathroom make over coming along? Do we get to see before/after?

Nothing But Bonfires
Jul 13, 2012

A -- Ha, careful! I might take you up on that! Bathroom is pretty much finished, just have to hang up some pictures. Then I'll do a before and after!

Jul 13, 2012

Gah!! Your hair is adorable. I forgot what the photos were for I was so busy admiring it. :)

Camels & Chocolate
Jul 15, 2012

Best (Non-Beach) Bonfire ever! I'm so sad I missed this year, having been an overzealous participant in years one and two. Happy belated birthday, Sean and Nathan (and Scott)!

Your backyard looks dreamy all lit up and decorated like so.

Jul 17, 2012

Your parties always look so fun! As a paper and packaging nerd myself I always think that making things in to pretty bundles is never a waste of time (esp. if there are marshmallows inside). I am always happy to see people I think of as internet "friends" - though we have never met and I almost never comment, just lurk - know each other. Seeing Maggie with her cute hot dog pose put me over the edge. Since I just booked Camp Mighty tickets I feel like it might be a possibility to have snacks with the two of you in real life one day! But until then, party on lady.

Kids Dentist
Jul 23, 2012

You can really turn something into great art! I wish I had that talent. Who wouldn't want to attend a party as fun as this?

Jul 24, 2012

two-bit martha stewarts. that's a good band name right there

lovely party

sensibly sassy
Jul 26, 2012

You are just so good at this. So.Good.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

Just to make sure you have a pulse
Enter the characters (without spaces) shown in the image.