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There are some things in life you just never outgrow. Or, at least, I hope I never do. Like the fun of sitting around a roaring fire on a crisp fall night, roasting marshmallows, then smashing them between a slab of chocolate and graham crackers to make ooey-gooey s’mores. My inner child is always looking for an opportunity to come out and play, so Dan and I decided to enjoy October by having our friend Zakk and his kids, Abigail, Charlotte and Ollie, to Innisfree to romp around the lake, build a fire and … you guessed it … roast s’mores.

I first met Zakk when he was a student at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and came to work for us at Nell Hill’s. We became fast friends. When Zakk moved to the West Coast to build his career, I was delighted he always kept in touch. I fell head over heels in love with Zakk’s rambunctious kids, so when they moved back to the Kansas City, Mo., area a few years ago, Dan and I knew we had to have these three musketeers as a part of our lives.

It didn’t take long for us to learn that if we wanted to have any quality time with the kids, the phones and iPad needed to be put away. Otherwise, their faces and minds were buried in a digital abyss. (Can anyone relate?) That meant we had to get creative and come up with fun activities that would keep the kids engaged.

As soon as they arrived at Innisfree, Ollie declared he wanted to learn to fish. So Dan pulled out the poles and gave them a lesson in bating a hook and casting a line. They were into it, for about 30 seconds. Then, off to the next thing!

After romping around the lake with Lyric at their heels, the kids were starving. So I served up my specialty: carryout! My mantra is presentation over preparation, so instead of cooking, I put my energy into setting a lovely table. When we designed our back patio, which leads out to the lake, we made it big enough to hold a good sized dining table, a comfortable seating area and a built-in grill for Dan.

When I entertain outside, I like to set the table just as I would for an indoor dinner party, with linens, china and an interesting centerpiece. Even when my dinner guests are kids. October’s delightful colors and flowers were the inspiration for this simple but fetching tablescape. The centerpiece was easy to create — a line of jars holding river rocks and pillar candles, alternated with bouquets of fall flowers. Since I’m rotten at arranging fresh flowers, the folks I work with take pity on me and pull together gorgeous bouquets.

Normal people use the countertop by their grills for food prep or food service. But I fill mine with decor because I can’t contain my urge to decorate any and every open space. This sweet display was a snap to pull together: I loaded a tiered server with a few succulents (one of the few plants I don’t kill), pumpkins and gourds and candles. Servers are the perfect tool for crafting displays that look like a million bucks but are super easy to pull together. The levels add drama and allow you to bring in lush layers.

Call me crazy for giving kids sharp sticks, a roaring fire and too much sugar. But, surrounded by lots of jumpy adults who provided an overabundance of supervision, the only casualty was Charlotte’s tummy, which hurt after eating too much from the candy food group and not enough from the healthy food group. Next time, I will go lighter on the Hershey’s!

Thanks for spending time with us at Innisfree, my cottage by the lake. It’s a blessing for me to invite you into my life and heart!

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com.

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