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Sometimes you don't have to travel very far to get that refreshed, just-been-on vacation feeling. That's how it was the first time I had dinner at Sandy's cottage on the lake. Even though it's just a stone's throw from the city, spending the evening at this family's weekend retreat gave me the same reboot power as a long weekend away.
Sandy makes entertaining large groups seem effortless. Her home decor is beautiful but relaxed, the food is to-die-for, and, most of all, she is warm and gracious and makes you feel like part of the family. So when I found out Sandy was hosting a family reunion for the Fourth of July, I asked if we could peek in and see how she does it. She happily agreed, as long as I didn't use her real name. She's a private person. So, "Sandy" it is.
For most of us, the thought of entertaining 50 relatives for four days straight in a small lake house -- with 35 of them spending the night -- would send chills down our spine. But for Sandy, it's no big deal. She's had a lot of practice hosting her high school and college-aged kids and their friends, extended family and lots of family friends.
She's designed her cottage to be informal and relaxed, so people feel like they can kick their shoes off and settle in. She and I have picked many of the same fabrics and finishes for our cottages, nothing fussy or fancy, but still stylish and interesting. Instead of washing her home in patriotic pageantry, she adds a little touch here and there.
One of Sandy's secrets is to invite others to be a part of meal planning and prep instead of taking it all on herself. She fixes breakfast every day, then a different family plans and prepares the rest of the day's meals. With guests ranging from kids to teens to adults, everyone rolls out of bed at different times.
So Sandy has a light breakfast buffet laid out in the kitchen, for people to just help themselves.
A table inside is set simply but beautifully. Her blue pottery is perfect for the Independence Day celebration. The tablecloth (that can be easily laundered, in case of spills) and wicker chargers make the table look welcoming. The bouquet of happy yellow mums looks a bit like the fireworks that will explode over the lake on the Fourth.
When you have so many guests in a small cottage, it's essential that you take advantage of your outdoor spaces. Sandy creates lots of different places to congregate outside, complete with activities to keep folks entertained. After a game of croquet on the lawn, guests can enjoy lunch on a picnic blanket by the lake.
Those wanting a bit of peace and quiet can sneak around to the side of the deck to enjoy a book and a cold drink, or get caught up with relatives they don't see often enough. Sandy made everyday patio chairs inviting just by tossing in a plump pillow.
The boat dock is irresistible, with its big Adirondack chairs dressed up with patriotic pillows.
It is the ideal place to wait for your turn on the Jet Ski, work on your tan or watch fireworks. Sandy puts out iced beverages and snacks guests can take with them wherever they wander.
To make mealtime easy, Sandy serves buffet-style out on the porch, allowing people to grab a bite whenever they want. Strings of patriotic paper lanterns give the setting a celebratory feel.
There is no better spot for lunch or dinner than on the shady porch that wraps around the cottage. Old fashioned bunting hangs from the porch railing adding to the festive Fourth of July atmosphere at the lake.
No matter how you like to celebrate Independence Day, make it a good one, filled with family and friends, and a heart full of thankfulness for our country's many blessings.