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I forgot a lot of things over the crazy period that was the pandemic: The password to my office computer, my pants size, any semblance of small-talk skills, how to walk in non-sneakers... The list goes on. But I never imagined I would have forgotten how to entertain.
What used to be a reflex — throwing together lunch for a crowd — is now like an Olympic event. Planning, cooking, setting up, worrying about drinks and ice and budget and dietary restrictions. And figuring out all of the above during the workweek, when I’m insanely busy.
I had not yet had this insight when I offered to host a dozen (fully vaccinated) friends for a little outdoor reunion on my patio. I was so happy at the prospect of seeing these folks that it didn’t occur to me how woefully unprepared I was. The truth dawned slowly as I haphazardly began searching for the stuff I needed. Here is my story, and — spoiler alert — how I was totally saved by Walmart+, the quickie delivery service I had so brilliantly signed up for back when shopping in person was a terrifying no-no.
Not familiar? Walmart+ is kind of like Amazon Prime. For a small flat fee — $13 a month or $98 a year — you can place as many orders as you want. You get your stuff fast — overnight, or in some cases, the very same day. There are no added fees. The signup is easy — a risk-free trial gives you 15 days, but a quick three-question survey will tack on two more weeks.
It’s Tuesday, and it’s the first time it occurs to me I have a party to host Saturday at noon. This is a nonstop week at work; even though I’m still remote, I’m going to be nonstop busy till Friday night. I start to worry. I mute myself in a Zoom meeting and shout down to my teenage son: “Go to the basement and find the drinks dispenser, honey!”
“Mooooom,” is all I hear, and my brain synchs with reality. Duh. My hosting assistant/minion is of no use to me. He is on crutches from knee surgery. I forgot (bad mom or busy person? You decide). I bolt down the rickety basement stairs myself, with visions of cucumber water dancing in my head and spot the drinks dispenser box on a high shelf. Feeling proud that I thought to keep the box and pack away the plastic behemoth, I climb on a step stool and wrestle it down. But something doesn’t feel right.
Oh no — when I open the box, it’s full of unmatched Tupperware. Where is my drinks dispenser? I can think of three neighbors who might have it…or did I drop it and break it? My post-pandemic brain can’t recall. It’s been two years since I had an outdoor party. I scramble back to my desk (aka kitchen table), finish my Zoom meeting, then go straight to Walmart.com. I find exactly what I need — way nicer than the dispenser that abandoned me, at a great price to boot.
Shop it: Better Homes & Gardens 2 Gallon Round Glass Beverage Dispenser with Clamp Lid, $14, walmart.com
It occurs to me before I hit “place order” that there are other essentials I’d better check on.
I hunt for my outdoor speaker among a messy drawer or wires and objects that look like they might be speakers but are just not. A couple of texts and I discover the speaker has been stolen by my daughter. So technically not stolen, but removed from my home and brought to hers. That’s okay. Always happy to gift the kids, as long as I know what they’ve pilfered. I treat myself to a new one.
This adorable Anker Bluetooth speaker (a little over six inches long) was compared by reviewers to a Bose(!), in terms of audio quality. It’s so bright I’ll never have trouble spotting it, and it just might deter “borrowers” because it’s so different from the black speakers that yes, indeed, could clearly be mistaken for someone else’s. Mommy’s is red.
Shop it: Anker Soundcore 2 Portable Bluetooth Speaker, $44, walmart.com
I step outside to check the patio. Why is it so hot out here? It’s not even technically summer yet. At high noon my guests will absolutely bake, so the umbrella I’ve meant to buy for years is finally about to make it into my life. I find one that, though pricey, has a perfect five-star rating from shoppers, plus the ability to tilt and angle. I’ve been bitten in the butt by cheap umbrellas (not literally, but almost!), so I’m ready for one I can rely on. I go with the navy, but the red option is tempting too.
Shop it: Sunnydaze Solar Powered LED Lighted Aluminum Patio Umbrella, $109 (was $137), walmart.com
While I’m outside I do a quick check of the garage for citronella candles. Most have gone missing. The one remaining is caked with an intriguing texture which I soon discern to be a weave of dead insects and dust. Back to my Walmart cart, I stock up for the season with a half dozen of these. Buh-bye mosquitoes. See you never.
Shop it: Repel Insect Repellent Citronella Candle Assortment Pack, $4, walmart.com
I send a few work emails but they are terrible, because my brain is swirling with menu options — easy dishes I can make in abundance and in advance, to go with burgers and hot dogs. I decide on a favorite side: Orzo with blistered cherry tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, and pumpkin seeds — the colors alone make it mouthwatering and unreasonably impressive, and it’s best at room temp. Checking my shelves and fridge, I see I have everything but the pasta and pepitas. Not a problem: Walmart+ can bring me a big pack of my favorite brand of orzo, plus organic salted pumpkin seeds in a flash.
Shop it: Colavita Orzo, Italian Pasta (two-pack), $4, walmart.com
Speaking of burgers, it occurs to me that my grill has not yet been awakened from its long winter’s sleep. I dart outside again with three minutes to go before my next conference call. As I wipe the cob webs off my grill, I catch sight of my wrecked wire grill brush. Truly nasty. It’s had a hard year, like all of us. Back at my laptop, I pop a fresh scraper/scourer into my Walmart cart. It’s less than five bucks but will make a world of difference.
Shop it: Expert Grill Grill Brush, $5, walmart.com
By necessity, we all leaned heavily on disposable stuff during the pandemic. Paper towels for days, take-out food packaging that went one step beyond, cleaning wipes, paper cups. You name it. It was a bummer but a minor one compared to the serious stuff the world was coping with. But now I’m starting to think more about how I can make less trash. Rather than fall back on red Solo cups, I grab a set of these colorful oversize plastic glasses. The variety makes it easy for people to keep track of their own drinks. And at 24 ounces, these tallboys let you go a long time before needing to step away from the fun for a refill. Add to cart! My Walmart window remains open next to my Zoom window, and no one is the wiser.
Shop it: Creativeware Creative Bath Twist 24-Ounce Assorted Plastic Tumblers (10-pack), $15, walmart.com
The Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond) showed up in my newsfeed this week — apparently she’s getting in shape and feeling great. I’m glad for her. Also I’m grateful for all the cute stuff in my kitchen from her line. I need bowls for chips and pretzels — plus I always love more color on the table — I saw this set at a friend’s house and now I have an excuse to buy it. It’s melamine — light and unbreakable. And each bowl comes with a tight-fitting lid, so it doubles as food storage. Love.
Shop it: The Pioneer Woman Classic Charm Melamine Bowl Set with Lids (six-pack), $13 (was $15), walmart.com
Saturday comes. Wow — I didn’t realize how much I missed having friends over until the patio is buzzing with my favorite people. We’ve got it made in the shade, literally, thanks to the new umbrella. The drinks are flowing (I decided to go with something stronger and more colorful than cucumber water — hello Sangria!). Folks are laughing and talking and getting loud in that way that happens only outside, and only in summer. I’m practically in tears.
Not only have I pulled it together in time, but I also feel fully set for future entertaining. I invite my family for the following weekend. With the ease and magic of Walmart+ — which filled in the blanks of my on-hiatus entertaining toolkit — I’m pumped to enjoy every chance there is to host the folks I love.
Now if only Walmart would come clean up afterward….
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