One: prepare in advance. Make some of the food before anyone turns up. Some good suggestions are ratatouille which can be served cold (made with chopped egg plant, onion, peppers and plum tomatoes simmered all day) or even roasted chickens. Buy lots of summer fruit and cheese and bottled water in advance.
Two: don’t ruin yourself as you will begrudge it. Buy vegetables in season ( corn and potatoes, asparagus) and make lots of salads with feta cheese , onions, olives, and plum tomatoes ( Greek ) or with tuna (Nicoise. ) Even guacamole can be made if you can find the ripe avocados without spending too much money.
Three: let your guests help. When someone says,”May I help?” say “Yes.” Give them precise tasks like setting the table, peeling potatoes, chopping up onion. Don’t be too fussy about whether they put the cups back in the right shelf or if they empty the dishwasher. Don’t worry if things are not done exactly the way you would do them. In other words don’t be too controlling. Sit around a table outside and do chores together. Turn work into a moment to talk: shucking corn, peeling beans etc.
Four: if the guests are staying for a while make sure you disappear regularly. Take some time off to yourself. Close the door and pull down the shades and read or write or just close your eyes on the noise.
Five: Organize lots of concrete activities like Scrabble or Bridge or outside games where people can do something together without having to talk, but where talk thus becomes possible and often, amongst shy adolescents, more natural.
A wonderful way to have people get together and talk is over the same text: a very short story for example which might be discussed. “Araby” by James Joyce is short and can be read by a group of people of almost all ages, paragraph by paragraph around a table. It could even be a poem if you copy it out and have someone read it aloud. People bring such different things to the same text and it becomes an occasion for everyone to talk about himself/herself though indirectly. If you want to embark on something longer and more dramatic try “Magic Man” by Sheila Kohler in Best American 2013 or the Yale Review.
Six: If possible arrange to take a few of the guests out on some pretext ( someone had a recent birthday, graduation?) to lunch in some local place and leave the others to cope on their own.
Seven: Enjoy the July 4th holiday or whatever occasion you are celebrating in company with people you love.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.