Ever have family or friends make a decision that YOUR house is the best place for a summer get together? Or better yet, have you ever volunteered yourself as host or hostess on a whim? I know I have and then I'm standing there last minute all in a tizzy, kicking myself because I can't figure out how to pull everything together in a presentable fashion before guests start arriving.

You're down to the last couple hours and you have friends or family coming over. You don't want your deck or patio to look like it's been neglected all season, but there is no possible way to do all of the work you are kicking yourself for not already doing. Or is there? Well, no. But you can sure make it look like you've put tons of effort into an hours work.

Don't forget charcoal, starter fluid, matches or propane - depending on what it is you're using.

If your lawn furniture needs this extra care, grab these things before leaving the lawn and garden section! You don't want to run back and forth all over the store!
Still in the cleaning aisle? Good! How many tables do you have? You might want to opt for some tablecloths. Not only will covering your tables eliminate some of your cleaning, it will make for very easy clean up if you do decide on disposable plates, cups, etc. When everything is done for the night, you can fold everything in to your tablecloths and toss it all. Voila! You're clean up is complete! While you're grabbing tablecloths you can toss away, pick up some napkins as well.

A trash can and trash bags that can be placed outside is also a plus.

Let's face it, you don't want to spend hours upon hours on finicky plants that are more trouble than their worth. So choose something low-maintenance. A really great flower that is easy enough for a black-thumbed gardener is the petunia. It's also very low maintenance. The flowers come in every imaginable color and can be planted without much fuss. It's also nice that they are one of the more inexpensive flowers. Whatever it is that you choose, make sure you have enough to fill your pots nicely.

Plants need water and you don't want to waste time when you get home looking for your watering can. Unless you own a garden hose with a sprayer specifically for flowers or you know precisely where your watering can is, purchase a container or watering can that will hold plenty of water. This way, you won't have to keep running back and forth to refill every few moments. Another option is buying a spraying nozzle suitable for the plants that you've chosen if you have a garden hose that reaches the area you'll be placing your flowers. If you are certain your hose is adequate and your sprayer attachment won't cause you issues that delay you, this is really the most time saving option when it comes to watering.

Tiki torches add a nice touch for outdoor lighting. Buy enough to surround your deck and a bit of your walk way. Make sure you have fuel for them as well. Attaching them can be a headache, but a simple solution is using zip ties for the ones you'll be placing on your deck. On your way out of the gardening section, pick up a large pack of these in hardware. Make sure you have plenty because you'll want your torches to be very secure. I use about 3 per torch.

Make your way to the cleaning section of the department store you're shopping at. Here you'll find disposable plates, cups, eating utensils and even serving spoons and forks. You're in a hurry. You don't have time to put out the better stuff!

Don't worry. The designs and sturdiness of the disposable paper or plastic disposables are great. You can have beautiful plates and cups and even stylish cutlery and still toss it all way once the evening is done. If you simply can't let go and do throw away eating utensils, opt for plastic wear. If you're shopping at Wal-Mart, you'll find these items in the seasonal aisle. There you will find brightly colored and designed items that will make any utdoor event look very put together. Usually this is between the food section and the garden section. Decide whether you will be using disposables or plastics before leaving the gardening section. Time is everything. I prefer using either plastics that I know I will reuse or paper. Being environmentally friendly won't cost you anymore time so why not go green?

What's left? Food and drinks, of course! I'm assuming you've already decided what you're having for the evening. Dash over to the grocery aisles with your list in hand and get your eats! A meat platter or a cheese and vegetable tray makes fantastic appetizers and it's already put together. You might even want to add ice to your list. That will keep your guests from being in and out of your fridge.

During check out, place your items on the counter intelligently. Think about what goes where. Don't put the chicken with the charcoal because when you come home you want to unload things accordingly. Put refrigerated items together, put tablecloths and disposable eating utensils and plates together, etc.

With all the brightly colored towels you'll find, you'll create a festive look with no-fuss. (If you don't find these near the gardening aisle, check on your way out in the seasonal and swimming pool aisles).

Make a mad dash home! Unload your food to keep it fresh and cool. If you have ice, stick it into the freezer before running outside to get to work. Place all your items going outside near the door closest to the area. It's nice to just reach in and grab what you need next!

Where do you want your flowers? Fill all your pots with potting soil and flowers in the area that you want them to avoid carrying a heavier load than is necessary. But be careful not to make a huge mess - leaving you even more work! This was the time consuming bit, you're almost done now!

If your Tiki Torches weren't bought pre-filled, fuel them now. Attach the torches to the deck with your zip ties. Make certain that they are well secured. You don't want the hazard of a wobbly torch. Be safe and use at least three zip ties per torch. Place any remaining torches in the ground around the are. I like lighting the walkway a bit.

Before you do anything else, clean up. Sweep your area and pick up any items that don't belong. If you're really pressed for time, put the items such as toys in plastic bags and just put them out of sight until after the festivities are over.

Wipe down everything that can't be covered or brushed off with your wipes.

If you've bought new patio chairs or covers, put them on now. If you've bought towels, drape them over and under the existing cushions to make them secure. The more oversized they are the better they'll stay put!

Slap down your tablecloths and set aside your plates, cups, etc. Go ahead and put things on the table you won't be placing food in. You have to unpack them anyway.

Is your lawn furniture presentable? Usually just wiping things down is enough to spiff up your outdoor patio or deck furniture. If you can get by with doing this, grab a container of wipes. Lysol makes some great, inexpensive disinfecting wipes that also cleans great.

If you find your cushions on your lawn furniture needs more than being wiped down, you have two options. You can buy more cushions and throw the old ones out. This is rather expensive as each cushion can cost up to $50.00. If you're on a budget it may be more logical to buy some oversized beach towels and simply cover the old cushions at home. The larger the towels, the better. When you drape your existing cushions you will want to be able to properly cover and tuck so that they remain secure.

Almost done now…get your grill ready. Place items such as charcoal a safe distance from your grill, but close enough that they are accessible. Bring out the utensils associated with the grill.

Take a look around. Looks pretty nice, doesn't it? Can you believe that you did all of this in just a couple of short hours? Pat yourself on the back, go have a drink and wait for your company to arrive. When everyone tells you how wonderful everything looks, tell them the truth, "I just threw some things together real quick." You'll make it sound like you're just always that together!
Have fun!