It’s hard to believe almost one year ago, the world stopped — or at least it felt like it — and life as we knew it was no longer the same. When’s the last time you got all dressed up in anticipation of attending the event of the year without worry or a mask? I know. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it too.
Besides staying safe, relationship building has been at the top of mind lately as we all have accepted that large in-person gatherings aren’t happening anytime soon. One of the things we should all be relying on right now is connection and not just when we need something. Everything we do, from sending emails to happy birthday texts and phone calls, is more important than ever before.
The truth is, I miss my people. I miss traveling and surprising my family members, being on a plane, attending conferences, going to concerts, and even introverting in my hotel room at the end of an event in my terry cloth robe and room service served with a cloche.
Staying in is the new going out, but just because you’re socially-distancing doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. The pandemic has pushed us to get creative and shown us that there are other ways to celebrate birthdays, holidays, milestones, or just-because moments where you entertain separately but together.
I had big plans to travel to Washington D.C. this week to partake in inauguration festivities. On Jan. 20, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as our 46th president, and Kamala Harris will make history as the first woman vice president. Unfortunately, because of concerns about COVID-19 and heightened security, officials encouraged everyone to celebrate at home this year. Although I’ll miss getting all glammed up and frolicking around the city, here’s how I’m planning to celebrate with a small gathering and a virtual party from the comfort of my home and how you can too:
Determine your format. Decide if you’re hosting a small group along with a virtual experience for extended family and friends to join. According to the CDC, gathering with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19. This is why we created a ‘quarantine pod’ last summer that consists of 10 family members. No one else is allowed in the pod. We all live within five miles of each other and everyone is either retired or work from home and all the children are e-learning. We gather weekly for taco Tuesday and again for Sunday brunch. If someone travels outside of the pod, they must quarantine for two weeks and have a negative COVID test to re-enter the pod.
Send invitations. This is important because the invite sets the event’s mood and gives your guests a glimpse of what to expect. You can use a DIY design app such as Canva or support a small design boutique on Etsy and purchase a custom printable option if you want the gathering to have a traditional feel. Be sure to let guests know the attire and remind them they will be on video, so they are prepared, even from the waist down. I know how you professional Zoomers roll.
Choose your tech. We want to avoid a Teddy Riley Versuz Battle moment at all cost. So task all things tech to the millennial in the house. There are tons of platforms to choose from that support video and audio calls. These are my favorites:
Houseparty: It’s a social networking app that allows up to eight people to video chat at once in a “room.” Users can have infinite rooms and easily float between rooms, perfect for organizing big family chats within a family chat. This app is only available to Apple users.
Zoom: It’s easy to use and with good video quality and chat features. Users can join by phone if video is not an option. It allows up to 100 guests and has features like “breakout rooms” that can be used with smaller groups for games or side conversations. Keep it brief because the free version only allows for 40 minutes.
Clubhouse: For the ultimate after-party experience, try this new app. Clubhouse is an exclusive, invite-only audio app where participants can move around virtual rooms discussing arts and culture, from popular TV shows to the state of the music industry. It’s also only available to Apple users. You can find me @lakeshacole.
Decorate. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be somewhere other than their living room? When you live and work in the same space, it’s easy for the days and nights to blend. A change of scenery is necessary to break up your monotonous routine. Try to make the most of the spaces in your home that you don’t usually use.
Set the table. I love a good tablescape. Plan something fancier in the formal dining room that you may typically reserve for Sunday dinner or holidays. If space is limited, add a tablecloth to your existing table to give it a different feel and look. You can be creative without breaking the bank. A printed throw blanket, shawl/scarf, or duvet cover can help achieve the same look. You’ll be surprised what you can find at the Dollar Store and, of course, on Amazon.
Add flowers. My favorite little luxury is a fresh flower bouquet. I love the beauty, aroma, and freshness and started adding flowers to my home in 2013. The commissary on Camp Kinser had the most beautiful bouquets for just $5, so it was easy and affordable to maintain. Seven years later, I still carry this tradition throughout my living space. Don’t worry. You don’t need a green thumb to make a beautiful arrangement. Grab a pre-arranged bouquet and divide the stems among whatever vases or mason jars you have in your cabinet. Then space them out down the center of the table.
Choose a fun menu. Themed food and beverages are perfect for any party. Celebrity Chef Nina Gross suggests “making bite-size versions of your favorite foods, such as mini sliders or mini kebobs because it’s easier to grab and go and perfect for the kids to enjoy.”
The virtual experience could also include a formal three-course dinner. If everyone wants to eat the same meal simultaneously, coordinate with a local restaurant ahead of time for delivery. Or you can all agree on a recipe and make it together. Don’t make it complicated. A homemade pizza is more fun than choosing a dish that requires 20 weird ingredients that you’ll only use once or never again. You can find great recipes by Chef and Army spouse Marta Rivera Diaz here.
Create a playlist. Having the right music sets the tone for your event, so make sure your playlist is right. Expect delays and plan for your playlist to last a little longer than the duration of your party. You also want to make sure you cater to both the older and younger generations with your music selection, so throw in a few covers of some oldies but goodies. A little Stevie Wonder, Prince, or Whitney Houston will go over well.
Most importantly, remember to have fun and take lots of pictures. Blast them on Instagram and be sure to tag me @playing.in.dirt. Sure special moments look a little (or a lot) different this year, but you don’t have to sacrifice having fun. Think of this time as an opportunity to reimagine what celebrations look like, create new traditions, and show your children what’s most important when it comes to creating lasting memories.