Celebrate the springtime stress free
(BPT) - Nothing helps celebrate springtime more than a gathering with loved ones. With the season's longer days and warmer weather, hosts and hostesses alike are looking for ways to increase the fun as family and friends get together and cut down on stress. You can do a variety of things in advance to make sure you're prepared for spring holidays, graduation parties and the start of barbecue season. Jeanne Benedict, lifestyle and entertaining expert and author of popular books including "The Sophisticated Cookie," "Sophisticated Entertaining" and "Celebrations," shares her advice to help get you ready for spring events. Here are some easy remedies for common entertaining challenges: * Last-minute hostess gifts. Need a clever hostess gift? Find inspiration while grocery shopping. For example, pick up a bag of Dunkin' Donuts (R) packaged coffee, available where you buy groceries. Limited time, seasonal flavors like Strawberry Shortcake and Toasted Almond make a great gift when paired with a seasonally inspired mug. * Create a quick party atmosphere. Pick up a new set of votive candles and glass holders for an instant and elegant atmosphere. Expert tip: A little water in the bottom of the candleholder will help prevent melted wax from sticking to the glass. * Low-cost festive touches. Utilize fresh, seasonal produce. Freeze strawberries, blueberries, fresh mint or citrus twists in ice cubes to add a hint of flavor to beverages when unexpected guests drop by. * Keep the kids occupied. Be sure to have plenty of frozen sugar cookie dough on hand, along with sprinkles and seasonal cookie cutters, as a last-minute baking activity to do with little ones. * Keep the adults occupied. For easy group entertainment, make sure you have a selection of classic board games available. Take a minute to make sure all the playing pieces are intact, cards are accounted for and pencils are sharpened. * Contain the spills and thrills. Have a stain stick handy for the inevitable table mishaps. On picnic tables, weigh down tablecloths with condiment containers or heavy vases of fresh flowers. Adds Benedict, "By being prepared ahead of time for common party mishaps, you'll have more opportunities to enjoy your guests, the great party you've prepared, and celebrate springtime stress-free."