Normally I’m not one to relish the unexpected house guest, but when summer descended on my little island home-away-from-home of Stonington, Maine fully three weeks ahead of schedule, I embraced the convergence of seasons with a giant bear hug – and a celebratory party, of course. (Did you expect anything less?)

After all, how often does one get to enjoy baby rhubarb stalks and the full blush of beach roses at the same time? Or inhale sweet lilacs along with salty gusts from passing bait trucks? Yes, it seemed that even the lobstermen, the best prognosticators of the changing tides, had been caught off guard. Thrust into a sudden race to drop their traps, they buzzed by our house on Memorial Day at a pace typically reserved for prime fishing time.

Floral Focalpoint
Floral Focalpoint Photo by Julia M. Usher

OK, you’ve got the basic picture. I won’t belabor it any longer, because I suspect what you’re really here for is the party.

Since I was on vacation at the time, my mantra was “keep it simple,” meaning I drew only on fresh local bounty, and on china, linens, and other party props that I already had. No long forays to off-island stores were allowed. Nor were they needed with such an abundance of goodies already available in my fields and nearby markets. And since Memorial Day was fast approaching, I kept my eclectic assortment of party elements singing a common theme with a strong red, white, and blue (and yellow!) color scheme. Here are the results—ones easily achieved with any summertime bash, be it in honor of Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, or just an excuse to kick back.

Beckoning Bag
Beckoning Bag Photo by Julia M. Usher

1 | Alternative Announcement.

This party was so impromptu that I hadn’t a spare moment to mail invitations, much less craft them from scratch. (As you should know by now, I’m not a fan of machine-made anything, especially if that anything could have been made with love by hand.) With no craft stores for miles anyway, I decided to assemble my greetings not from paper, but with the plethora of wild lupine and buttercups outside my back door. I tucked bouquets into Ball jars and in turn into bags, and then walked the neighborhood hand-delivering invitation-totes. Note: The tote pictured here (second photo from top) was made by a local artisan from spent grain and seed bags. (For more of her fun and inexpensive styles, check out One Woman Studio.) P.S. I love One Woman’s totes so much that I assembled one for myself. Plunked on a chair in the front yard, it was a cheery beacon to guests. 

Awaiting Food
Awaiting Food Photo by Julia M. Usher

2 | Au Naturel.

When something works, why reinvent the wheel, right? That said, I carried nature’s beauty inside with a super simple duo of arrangements on the main table (top photo). Old mismatched coffee tins stood in as vases, keeping the mood relaxed and casual.

Fruits of the Sea
Fruits of the Sea Photo by Julia M. Usher

3 | Consistently Colorful.

I love combining patterns and textures, such as those on my tin vases and the vintage dish towels sitting beneath this party’s place settings (third photo from top). Sometimes my patchworking is born of necessity (as in Stonington, where my cupboards are filled with nothing but odd assortments of hand-me-downs). But, even when I’m back in Missouri and well stocked with coordinated dish sets, I find myself compelled to mix things up. Eclectic, you see, is synonymous with rich and textured to me. Just one thing to remember: if you’re going to do the “grab bag” approach, be sure to grab items in a consistent color theme; otherwise, eclectic can easily get chaotic. Even my meal, an assortment of red and blue shellfish with cheese-stuffed biscuits, complemented my party’s palette. (See fourth and fifth photos from top and the biscuit recipe link below.)

The Butter Picker-Upper
The Butter Picker-Upper Photo by Julia M. Usher

4 | Sweet Ending.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: follow-through and attention to detail are paramount in party planning. One of the most important details you can tend to is the “final note,” that special touch that guests experience last and are therefore likely to remember most. For this party, I finished with a surprise dessert made from rhubarb gathered from my brother’s nearby patch. No, it wasn’t cobbler or pie as you’d expect, but rather a lighter and brighter rhubarb granita layered with strawberries and whipped cream! (See bottom photo.) IMHO, there’s no more memorable way to end a party than with a new taste experience. But see for yourself; the recipe link is below!

Bright Delight
Bright Delight Photo by Julia M. Usher