Thousands of books have been written about outdoor entertaining and picnic décor. When I sat down to write this column, I was stumped. Where to begin?!? So much to talk about, but so little time! So I’ve narrowed it down to help bring out the inner summer picnic goddess in you.

MK’S BEST KEPT SECRET: Ten yards of fabric is all you need to look really prepared for any impromptu summer party. I know that ten yards seems like a lot, and you probably won’t use it all at one party, but we’re talking about being prepared, right?!? “Can I use just ANY fabric?” you might ask…and the answer is NO! Let me clarify, 10 yards of GINGHAM (blue has always been my go-to color) is all you need.

Now, it’s not just because I love the practical yet stylish number that Dorothy sports in the Wizard of Oz, it’s because gingham—hold onto your summer sun visors—TEARS STRAIGHT AND ALWAYS LEAVES YOU WITH THE PERFECT FRINGED EDGE! Blue gingham has served me well for over a decade of summer entertaining. To me, gingham is the quintessential Americana fabric and it screams summer BBQ! Think about it, some friends bring along that extra card table you asked for? Snip & rip and you have a table cloth that fits perfectly. You can snip and rip it to fit any table, bucket, basket, bowl or whatever you want to make your summer BBQ table look completely coordinated. I bought 10 yards in 1999 and it’s still going strong. The tear fringe may get a little long, but a quick trim does the trick! Look how much better these chips look in this adorable summer bucket lined with a bit of my gingham.

I was environmentally conscious before it was in style …totally washable and reusable for any occasion! Speaking of green, how about plastic dinnerware? It’s so much sturdier than paper plates, even if you have to wash them at the end of the party. There are so many fun options in plastic these days, just take a quick stroll though Home Goods or Target and see for yourself. It’s a simple, environmentally conscious, and relatively inexpensive way to coordinate for any event. Even better, check out this local family-owned company that uses recycled plastic for their home products. There are several fun colors to mix and match and they are available at Roche Brothers and Whole Foods.

And since you don’t throw it away, you’ll always have it on hand and will be prepared for that spur-of-the-moment summer party. OK, OK , I hear you… “You want me to wash all of THAT?!?” Now I’m not suggesting you use these for EVERY party…I’m thinking about the smaller get-togethers where clean up isn’t a monstrosity. It’s not really practical to expect to do dishes when you have the entire t-ball team (and their extended families!) to your house. However, if you are feeling brave enough to use plastic at even your biggest back yard bash, then why not put the kids to work? Let them rinse the plates with the garden hose!

There are so many options for creating beautiful tablescapes by utilizing personal elements and surprise touches. Decorate your table with a photo of the guest of honor or some old photos of your childhood summer picnics.What a great way to reminisce and get your guests talking about “old times”. You can also be creative by using something in a whole new way. How about a tin birdhouse holding down napkins from the wind or a planter holding the utensils?

Now that I’ve shared with you my some of my secrets to put together a get together (even at a moments notice!), I want bring out the big guns and show you one of my favorite tabletop show stoppers. Everyone knows that fresh flowers bring life and energy to a table, but let’s step it up a notch in the condiment area. We’ve all just thrown bottles of ketchup, mustard, and relish onto the serving table (and don’t try to deny it…you’ve put them out there without actually opening them!) These displays literally takes less than10 minutes and trust me, people will be talking about how crafty you are for years to come.

Although I’ve had to narrow it down, (and believe me it was hard to do…I promise, keep reading and one day you’ll hear about my cheese board spread and planter candles!) let me leave you with this final party idea. Unfortunately I can’t take credit for it — trust me I WISH I thought of it — it’s totally amazing, and I will be bringing this mind-blowing piece to someone’s house this summer.

Now who’s inviting me over for a cookout?!?