The good news is that with the coming of cold weather you will no longer have to stand outside and watch your host poke bits of meat about on a grill, wondering whether you should be doing something.
The bad news is that with the coming of cold weather it gets cold.
Guests who drove you to distraction when it was warm, standing on your doorstep in endless farewell, will now drive you to the doctor as well. Your carefully planned, perfectly matched party for 12 will be decimated by the flu, leaving you with six men and three women. And what one flu doesn't do to you, the other flue will as the fireplace refuses to draw.
It's time to return to bad-weather basics:
Get your chimney cleaned. Gunk does build up and a chimney fire can send flames shooting through the wall into your living room. If it has never drawn properly, see about getting it fixed. If the problem is that you flunked fire building back in your scouting days, don't diddle away an evening blowing on a stack of stubbornly smouldering logs; send away for a sack of Georgia fatwood to use as kindling. It's a highly resinous wood which catches quicky and one or two sticks will start the fire.
Lay in enough firewood to last through a winter of parties. Trucks are cruising the streets with loads of firewood now, but come February, when you run low, there'll be nary a one.
Or, if your friends haven't learned the lessons of Tom Sawyer, you might invite them to a wood-gathering/wood-stacking picnic. Fresh air and fun, you explain, and cheaper than a class in aerobics. A $10 permit lets you gather up to 10 cords of wood per family in the George Washington National Forest -- from dead or downed trees, not live ones. Permits are available from the District Ranger's office, U.S. Forest Service, Rte. 3, Box 485, Edinburgh, Va. 22024; (703) 984-4101. The rangers will tell you in which sections of the forest wood may be gathered.
Another Tom Sawyer trick to tidy up the lawn for winter is to have a contest to create harvest figures for Halloween. All through New England you'll see them propped up on lawns, stuffed with straw and dressed in cast-offs. But instead of straw, ask your guests to create figures stuffed with leaves. Old jeans tied at the cuff with string, shirts with the arms knotted closed, pumpkin heads. Oh and rakes, which you just happen to have available so that the guests can gather up leaves (which you just happen to have available) for stuffing.
When guests linger on the front porch, treat them with the firmness you would show the family cat, who is also given to pausing at the halfway mark to think about milk or mice. Make it clear that it must be in or out, saying that you want to hear what they have to tell and that you can never listen properly when your teeth are chattering. They must come back inside immediately, take off their coats and finish their story in comfort.
That gets most people off the porch and into their cars; the ones who come back inside would never have left anyway and if you have to be stuck with a chatterbox, better inside than out.
Buy an umbrella stand. A flock of dripping umbrellas will turn a hallway into a swamp. And lay down a rug or mat for people to wipe their mucky shoes on.
While we're on the subject of umbrellas, take a piece of tape or bright nail polish and put your name on the handle of yours. It's almost impossible to refuse a guest the loan of an umbrella when it's pouring; it's almost impossible to get it back since, like happy families, all black umbrellas are alike.
Winter means coats and when you pile them on a bed, half wind up on the floor, one or two mysteriously disappear and the rest turn into a nesting ground for dog, cat or small child. Buy or rent a coat rack; many are collapsible and can be shoved into the back of a closet when not in use.
Winter also means snow. Lay in a supply of dry ice and sand so that your sidewalk won't ice up and send a guest sliding. Remember what happened to The Man Who Came to Dinner?
And then, having prepared for the worst, treat yourself to a party that takes advantage of the crisp and golden days of fall: Give a hayride. The hay wagon at Brandywine Stables (301) 782-7052 meanders through 600 acres of woods and trails. The 2 1/2-hour ride can be broken with a meal eaten around a bonfire. (The host provides the food -- including, one hopes, carrots for the horses.) The stable charges $4 a person for the ride, with a $100 minimum, which must be paid in advance to confirm the reservation.
Both the Harvest Moon and the Hunter's Moon have already slipped by, but there will be another full moon Nov. 8. Brandywine Stables are in Waldorf, Md. Take 495 to exit 7A (Branch Ave.) and drive 12 miles to the stable.