My idea of the perfect outdoor party is dining with good friends at a candlelit table under a twinkling, bug-free sky as the grill sizzles. Because I live in a small house, I really enjoy casual entertaining in the back yard and do it as much as possible, especially in May and June before hot, sticky weather settles in.

But entertaining outdoors has a set of peculiar challenges. There are ants attacking platters of tomatoes, and in Washington the occasional helicopter buzzing. Everything must be carried from the kitchen and back. And a dimly lit back yard can be treacherous for under- or overcooking food on the grill. But still, when it comes to lighting, I want all candles, all the time. I detest the glare of outdoor spotlights and have been known to switch them off at friends’ backyard gatherings.

Before I wised up, I always carried stacks of my beloved blue French Quimper pottery outside, and now many of the dinner plates have the chips to prove it. In the dark of night after a long evening, well-meaning guests helping with cleanup have tossed our flatware out with the wilted romaine. My husband informs me that we are down to four teaspoons in our stainless flatware pattern.

Things happen when you party under the stars that don’t happen in the dining room. A possum once dropped in. There can be cat fights. The secondhand gas grill started shooting flames. And once, a good friend busted through the screen on our patio door while running to answer a phone call from her boyfriend.

Just call her the ultimate party crasher.

Print out the list and make sure to get all of the essentials.

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