Ring in the New Year, 2010!

New Year's Eve is one of my family's favorite holidays! We spend it with my husband's sister's family; she has 2 kids about the same age as my girls so everyone plays really well together. We alternate hosting but the formula is always the same - take-out dinner from Outback, followed by lots of playing and then, dessert and a toast to the New Year. Last year, we added a sleepover - and the kids are super excited to do it again this year!
While I'm not hosting the festivities this year, I know that quite a few of you are so I have some ideas to share with you. Whether your celebration is adults-only or family-friendly, I have an idea or two to make it posh in a pinch!
Above is a photo of my table decor last year. Using candles, I created a "Countdown" design. I bought 5" round [unscented] candles from Target. I wrapped scrapbooking paper around them (gift wrap will work, too) and tied with gift wrap garland (ribbon will work, too). I used silvery-glittered chipboard numbers and letters (from Michaels). To give the candles a little height, I turned my candlestick holder over but you could also put the candles on a [decorated] cake stand. To enhance the sparkle, I have a twinkly LED light table runner. Further, I wrapped the napkin and flatware with a piece of the garland and inserted a colorful noisemaker. The result was absolutely festive. The kids had a great time blowing out the candles as we counted down to the New Year!

I came across 3 neat ideas for entertaining guests - 1) Bubble Jump and 2) New Year's Favors on marthastewart.com; and 3) New Year's Playing Cards on realsimple.com. I can't wait to watch my girls "POP" the bubbles!
If you're interested in more bubbles, foodandWine.com has a great Champagne guide.

Many toasts of New Year's Eve are best wishes for health and happiness, which is fine, but I came across a toast that made me chuckle; perhaps you will, too.
Raise your glass. Let the old year pass.
Just don't drink so much you fall on your a**.

Auld Lang Syne
This song is sung at the stroke of midnight every year yet do you know the words? Rather than humming this year, I thought I'd learn the words. Here's the chorus:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne.

However you celebrate the beginning of a new year, may it be fun and festive and surrounded by family and friends! Happy New Years! Happy 2010!


Surprise 50th Birthday Party

Now that the surprise is over, I can finally share with you a super fun event that I helped plan earlier this month - a surprise birthday party for my good friend, Erin. It was a milestone occasion so her husband, Brian, wanted something memorable but not too over the top. Erin and Brian enjoy good wine and food so I recommended the Wine Tasting Room at Trummer's on Main in Clifton. Ryan Francis and Victoria Trummer were delightful to work with; they prepared a wonderful menu and narrowed down the [significantly long] wine list to a few recommendations. The result was fantastic! On a cold, snowy night (Blizzard of '09), a small group of close friends celebrated Erin's big day with:
Hors d'oeuvre
Warm Mushroom Beignets
Pumpkin Soup (my favorite!) or Oxtail Ravioli
Angus Beef Rib Steak, Nantucket Flounder-grilled or Butter Roasted Chicken
Chocolate Cream or Seasonal Fruits
Wine Service
Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc
Peay Vineyards, Les Titans, Estate, Syrah

If you're planning a milestone birthday party in the near future and want to keep it simple, I highly recommend a dinner party at a local restaurant. After settling on a menu and wine list, there is no set up or clean up fuss - just fun! Further, to keep the invitation simple, create a design in Word (or graphic application if you have one), print on white card stock, add a few simple rubber stamp designs and mail in a matching envelope. A simply planned event is possible for a memorable occasion!


From my dinner table to yours, Merry Christmas!

This morning, I was playing around with table decor. My menu was in limbo and I still had groceries to buy but I was anxious to decorate the table, my favorite thing to do when hosting a party. Like many of you, I've come across so many great holiday ideas this year (what a creative world we live in!) and remembered two table decor ideas. One idea was a "mitten" place setting (via marthastewart.com), perfect for any winter holiday/Winter Wonderland theme. The other idea was a "bow" place setting, as if wrapping up your china like a Christmas gift (via Next Door with Katie Brown). So, in a pinch, I tried both ideas out this morning and I thought I would share them with you; see photos above.

Using my girls new snow accessories, I created a snow man place setting, which is quite adorable, as well as a colorful hat place setting with a "chair sash" made from a matching scarf, which is quite festive, too!

For the bow place setting, I had red wired ribbon on hand; it looks pretty though I'm positive other people (like my mother) can do a much better job at making a bow. To enhance the look, you could also use an ornament tied to the ribbon. To complete my 'posh in a pinch' Christmas tablescape, I clipped holly and pinetree branches from my yard and put them in a glass bowl with Christmas ornaments (red glass balls and a sparkly snowflake).
These place setting ideas can be used for other dinner parties, too. As I mentioned, the mitten concept would work for any winter party and the bow place setting would be ideal for any "gift" occasion like birthdays and anniversaries.
However, you dress your table, may it be 'posh' (preferably in a pinch) and above all, enjoy your meal in the company of family and friends! Merry Christmas to you.


1950's Romance at the Torpedo Factory, Alexandria VA

By day, it's difficult to imagine the Torpedo Factory as a venue for a beautiful wedding reception; it has a raw, industrial interior. But at night, if you add a little atmospheric lighting it's like magic; the atrium glows with warmth and charm.

Last month, from a recommendation by Fusions Cuisine, I had the pleasure of working with a couple who married in Fairfax Station and celebrated at the Torpedo Factory. About two months before the event, we met to review and finalize plans. The bride had already assembled an A-list of vendors (Fusions Cuisine, Stephanie the Baker, John Farr Lighting, Sound Nation via Entertainment Exchange, Capital Party Rentals and Room Service) and I was able to help by recommending Galleria Florist, Reston Limousine and White House Nannies.

The bride envisioned 1950's romance complete with a cocktail lounge and big band sound. The result was impressive, very 'posh'. Photos above courtesy of Freed Photography.


White House Gate Crashers ... for your Holiday Party!

I just learned from BizBash that my friends at Cast of Thousands Entertainment (www.castof1000s.com) have the best holiday party entertainment ... Tareq and Michele Salahi look-a-likes to 'crash' your holiday party! Supposedly, when asked for an invitation, Tareq Salahi shows a subpeona! I love it! [And it's great to see that more people than just the Salahi's are making money on this craziness!]
Call security, create some [timely] fun ... and make sure you take lots of photos!


Happy Hanukkah ... DIY Menorahs

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. It reminds me of the first night of Hanuakkah in 2002. My husband and I were still newly married and expecting our first baby (who just turned 7 this week!). We invited his parents over for dinner. I made a menorah using my favorite Crate & Barrel wine glasses (8 'white' plus 1 'red' for the shamash candle) and blue glass beads from Michaels (you can kind of see my menorah in the photo above). I'm not Jewish but I recall my mother-in-law being impressed by my creativity. I was inspired by a Martha Stewart article (photo above, click here to read). This year, I came across a similar article in Real Simple; it suggested unfinished candlestick holders (photo above, click here to read).
Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you're celebrating Hanukkah this year with someone special and need a quick menorah, I hope I've inspired you with these 'posh in a pinch' clever ideas. Happy, happy!


Holiday Party Entertainment - Photo Booths

Photo Booths are super popular at all types of parties; it's amazing how much fun people have taking zany photos of themselves! Plus a photo is a nice, inexpensive keepsake. You can rent photo booths or DIY for less. I found a great how-to article on the HWTM Blog. For holiday party "props", I like a string of lights or mistletoe, as shown above, but also an assortment of colorful hats, boas and glasses, especially for a festive New Year's Eve party!


Christmas Decorating Made Easier ...

I love everything about Christmas except decorating. The fuss of bringing boxes in from storage, sorting, untangling and sometimes, breaking can drive me crazy. I would really procrastinate except I have 3 little girls who swear Santa won't visit unless there's a tree. But in yesterday's mail, I came across a clever idea ... a Baroque Christmas Tree wall sticker. It looks lovely, and it's inexpensive and removable (without wall damage); perfect to use year-after-year. With this sticker, you now have time to celebrate!


More [Holiday] Entertaining Ideas

'Tis the season ... to share my homework! I've been doing a lot of research lately for a variety of parties - birthday parties for kids and adults, and holiday parties at home, at school and in the office - and I thought you might be interested in my findings.

Snacks for a children's birthday party
I need 'kid-friendly with adult-appeal' snacks for my daughter's party on Sunday afternoon. I found these simple but yummy recipes on Pillsbury.com, RealSimple.com and Hellmans.com (partnered with Bobby Flay).

(though I think I'll reduce the amount of cayenne pepper sauce)

Decor and More for a Festive Holiday Celebration
In this month's issue, I share 26 'posh' (and practical) tips, ideas and even encouragement for holiday party planning

This pretty wreath is made from cupcakes, decorated with easy-to-make white chocolate leaves. Photo from the Hello Cupcake book, which also offers fun snowmen and Nutcracker cupcake designs.

From BizBash, I came across two articles, 11 Seasonal Punches and Other Recipes from Top Mixologists and 8 Punch Bowls to Rent for Holiday Drinks. Capital Party Rental, DC Rental and Party Rental are local rental companies.
Suspended decor is in. I found this hanging chandelier idea in a 'clever uses for old things' article on Real Simple's web site. The odd ornaments hang from sheer ribbon tacked to the ceiling.

School Holiday Party

I have volunteered to bring in a treat for my daughter's classroom holiday party. In searching for recipes, I determined that I wanted something different yet easy-to-make, inexpensive and kid-friendly. I must be having a retro moment because I found another festive approach to Chex Mix - a wreath. Click here for the recipe.


Ho! Ho! Ho! Holiday Entertaining Starts This Weekend ... Are you Ready?
I've been receiving a lot of catalogs this season; have you? Of the few I've managed to read, I've found some clever items for holiday entertaining. The red cocktail shaker (left) looks super sleek with a practical design; click here for more info. The Santa and Reindeer Stemware Coasters would make any glass of wine more festive; click here for more info. And the jolly [stackable] Snowman Sugar & Cream Set is absolutely adorable, ideal for a winter coffee and dessert display; click here for more info.
If you're entertaining this month, drop me an email and tell me about one 'posh' party element that you're super excited about. In later posts, I'll share your ideas with other readers. In the interim, I wish you all successful holiday parties!


{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Leftovers!

It's the day before Thanksgiving and my husband and I have already enjoyed three (3!) Thanksgiving classroom luncheons with our daughters' so we're really not interested in more turkey and my fear is that we'll have tons of leftovers. Then I received the best email this morning. From Real Simple, the subject was '10 Clever Uses for Leftover Turkey.' Yeah! They suggest recipes for Turkey Samosas (pictured above) or Spicy Rice and Turkey with Chorizo. And they have a few ideas for leftover wine because we don't want to waste important antioxidants! Click here for the web article - and enjoy!
Wishing you a 'posh' family gathering and dinner! Happy Thanksgiving!


{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Are you Mentally and Physically Ready for Company?

Hosting a dinner party takes some effort; it requires stamina to set up, enjoy the party and then clean up, not to mention shop, cook, clean and make yourself presentable. My best tip for a 'posh' party, especially a Thanksgiving gathering, is to prepare yourself mentally and physically. Get sleep the night before. Take a brisk walk in between large tasks. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. And lastly, before the party begins, take 5 minutes to sit down, close your eyes and envision your party - such as welcoming guests at the door, chatting with a neighbor, laughing with a co-worker and sipping wine (and swapping secrets) with your best friend. This mental preparation will allow you to enjoy the moment!

{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Is your Powder Room ready?

Company's coming. Your menu is finalized, your table is ready, the silver is polished. How does your powder room look? It may seem silly to remind hostesses to clean their powder room but honestly, the potential chaos of preparing dinner may leave one to forget the minor details. So ... freshen the guest towels, refill the soap dispenser, add Kleenex and put out an extra roll of toilet paper. Make your powder room 'posh' with fragrance such as candles from Anthropologie. I have the Voluspa Scented Candle Tin in my office but I also like the Voluspa Diffuser for powder rooms.

{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Traditions

As a mom of three little girls, I have given holiday traditions a lot of thought. What memories do I remember most of family holidays? What memories do I want my girls to cherish when they are older? What traditions will be unique to our family?
As a child, my family ate Thanksgiving dinner at home; my mother cooked a feast. What I remember best is eating her pumpkin pies fresh from the oven (with a big dollop of Cool Whip) during the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. That was yummy! Now that I'm older and married, my husband and I invite our collective families to Thanksgiving dinner at our house. That seems to be tradition and I like it! My food strategy is still in limbo but another emerging tradition seems to be my mom making dessert with my girls and they love it! The girls and I also make some table decoration together. One year, it was glitter squash; last year, turkey placecards. This year, we're making owl placecards to complement our 'Whoooo's coming to Thanksgiving dinner' owl theme. Lastly, instead of Black Friday shopping, we go to the Holiday Parade at the Reston Town Center; it's a great family-fun activity to kick-off the winter holidays. So it seems that our Thanksgiving traditions are emerging on their own.
What are your traditions? Turkey Trot (5k) in the morning? Flag football before dinner? Board games? Home movies? Sing-a-longs?


{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} What's on your iPod?

Hosting a party is a matter of engaging all of the senses. Thanksgiving is a visual display of yumminess and the delicious smells from the kitchen hit you at the door. Other senses are engaged by touch - touch of the cloth napkin or fine silver - and of course, taste. So that leaves sound. Generally, chatter and laughter are often heard at parties - but until these pleasant noises kick in, you may want to engage your iPod and let music fill the room. But note, music impacts the pace of the party. I recommend lively music when guests arrive and then scale back the beat a bit for dinner so that guests won't race through their meal.
So, what's on your play list? My fallbacks are the Greatest Hits from James Taylor, Seal and Sting. Diana Krall is a universal favorite, as is Norah Jones. Both have sultry voices that can be heard without drowning out conversations. I can hear a fun party already ...


Paper. Scissors. Party!


I produced a very special invitation ... for my daughter's upcoming 7th birthday party! It's a scrapbooking party. She and her friends will rubber stamp, punch and embellish their own scrapbooks. So, with this theme, her invitation was easy to design. Using paper, envelopes, mailing labels and Jolee's cupcake stickers from Paper Source, I created a simple 'paper' invitation that looks pretty 'posh' (though the puffy cupcake sticker is casting a shadow)!


{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Napkin Folds

Sometimes, a 'posh' party detail is as simple as a napkin fold. I found a neat web site devoted to this subject - www.napkinfoldingguide.com; 27 napkin fold designs with step-by-step instructions and photos. I'm a minimalist and prefer the Basic Silverware Pouch but I briefly considered the Rose Napkin fold to accent the first course (soup) or perhaps as a clever pouch for a dinner roll. And then, I came across another web site with a posting that included the photo above. I love it! I'm definitely saving the Rose napkin fold for Christmas Dinner.


Personalized Soda for your Holiday Party

How cool is that? The soda is a little expenisve and takes time to produce but for an annual Holiday Open House or [older] Children's Holiday Party, I really think it's a clever drink option! Four flavors to choose from: Holiday Cheer, Reindeer Root Beer, Snowdrift Soda and Evergreen Apple. MyPunchbowl is offering a 20% discount; promo code is PB20JONES. Click here to visit web site.

{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} What's on your dessert buffet?

Pumpkin, apple or sweet potato pie? Chocolate? Cookies for the kids? What about sugar-free, low-fat and gluten-free options? Homemade or store-bought?
These are the questions I asked myself as I prepared my Thanksgiving menu. I really don't cook, especially not for a large dinner party, but I'm fortunate that my mom makes the best pumpkin pie. Remaining desserts are either store-bought or brought by a guest; yes, I've learned to say 'yes' to guests' offer to bring something.
My solution for store-bought desserts with universal appeal - Cupcakes Actually in Fairfax, VA! Everyone loves cupcakes and they have seasonal flavors (pumpkin, walnut, caramel) as well as decadent chocolate, sugar-free and gluten-free cupcakes. My daughters and I enjoy their cupcakes after Little Gym classes. The cupcakes are a little pricey but worth it considering it's one-stop shopping that everyone will enjoy!


Holiday Party Aboard the Odyssey


This year, I had the pleasure to design a holiday party invitation for Fentress Architects (DC location). I proposed a fresh and modern design to include red and green embossed details, which enhanced to the look of their new logo. The 3.75" x 9" invitation slips into a #10 open end envelope with an oval shape mailing label.

Interested in custom handmade invitations for your holiday party? Visit my shop on Etsy or contact me directly. Thank you, in advance, for your consideration!

{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Wine and other Hostess Gifts

Yesterday, I read a thought-provoking article in the December issue of Food and Wine about a guest's strategies for bringing wine to a party. She suggested ideas like giving the best wine in hopes of drinking it or bringing an opened bottle and telling the host that you enjoyed an earlier glass so much that you wanted to share. I found these strategies interesting because I've never thought about a guest's intention when they give me a bottle of wine. Quite honestly, as a party planner, my menu, including the bar, is selected and prepared for in advance. I usually don't open a guest's bottle of wine unless asked to or we run out. Same thing with flowers and food. Unless these items arrive in a vase or plated on a tray, I usually set them on a counter until after the party because I find it challenging to search for an appropriate vase or serving dish while greeting guests.
So my questions for you - how do you handle these types of hostess gifts - wine, flowers, food? Do you make every effort to integrate the items into the party or do you enjoy them afterwards? And do you like receiving these gifts? If not, what items would you rather receive, if anything at all?

Birthday Broadcast Bash

Recently, I had the pleasure of producing a milestone birthday party for a man who is also launching a business venture in the US Virgin Islands. My proposed event design was 'tastefully tropical'. To that extent, he held the party at The Comus Inn at Sugarloaf Mountain, a charming restaurant with delicious food and excellent staff. To bring this isalnd party to life, we hired Sin Miedo, an awesome Latin Jazz band (local, too) and requested tropical floral arrangements for the hors d'oeuvres display and dinner tables. The floral arrangements were artfully created by Kirsten Luise of Blooming Arts; see her photos above. What was most impressive about Kirsten's interpretation of tastefully topical was that the arrangements included exotic flowers and greenery yet they complemented the venue to create a real WOW look!


{12 Posts Before Thanksgiving} Wow! What a Stunning Table!

Ok, so I've been busy working, producing 'posh' parties and designing invitations, but I haven't forgotten my commitment to share 12 Thanksgiving blogs before Nov. 26. In previous blogs, I've covered the invitation, appetizers and seating strategies. Today, we're decorating the dinner table. And since my blog focuses on 'posh in a pinch' tips, I have two quick and affordable ideas to share.

Start by dressing your table with a tablecloth or runner and adding china, silver and stemware. Embellish with colorful cloth napkins and candles (several votive or long tapers depending on your style and space). Distinguish your Thanksgiving dinner (from all other family dinners) by accenting with seasonal ornaments - gourds, pinecones, colorful leaves, fruits and nuts. You can lay these items in clusters down the center of the table or around the candles or in a pretty bowl. I found this wonderfully simple display on the Hostess with the Mostesss blog. Isn't it gorgeous yet practical enough to do yourself?

Another one of my favorite table display ideas is actually very kid-friendly - glittered pumpkins and gourds. I got the idea from Paper Source two years ago and I still think it's a great display idea (and kid's activity).


{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Let's talk seating!

You have invited guests and have probably thought about a menu. Now, where are your guests going to sit? Before you panic, I have three ideas.

1. Dinner Party Seating Strategies, a Real Simple magazine article, offers great guidance on seating guests based on their personalities. Plus the article includes a printable worksheet.

2. Placecards - now that you know where you want guests to sit, tell them with a placecard! For my "owl" Thanksgiving theme (see 2 blogs down), I'm making complementary Owl placecards (see above; click here to buy) - well, who am I kidding; this is a great project to keep my school-age girls busy until dinner. There is also a turkey placecard kit (see photo below; click here to buy). Alternately, Meri Meri has the cutest "turkey" placecards (click here to buy) to dress up any Thanksgiving table. If you're in a pinch, make placecards by cutting pieces of paper and handwriting your guests' name on it; place it between the fork tines or integrate it into the napkin ring.

3. The biggest Thanksgiving seating dilemma may be a shortage of dining chairs. To compensate, hosts usually pull an assortment of chairs from the kitchen and office. This is an ideal strategy; however, the key to keeping it posh is to randomly insert these stray chairs among the dining chairs rather than grouping them together. If the stray chairs still stand out, one tip is to use pillow cases (in a complementary color) on the back of the chair and embellish with ribbon. if you don't have extra pillow cases, don't sweat it; once your guests are seated, no one can see the chair!


{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Let's Talk Food

Appetizers, that is ... or hors d'oeuvres or snacks depending on the formality of your holiday dinner. Serving appetizers before a big dinner is tricky; you don't want to fill your guests up before turkey yet you want to have something to nibble on in case your cooking timetable is slightly off. I recommend something light like marinated olives with a mixed nut, dried fruit and artisan cheese display offered away from the kitchen and dining room, perhaps closer to the bar.

I received my Wegmans Menu magazine yesterday and found a great article, "Secrets to Soft-Ripened Cheese" (click here for article). It decodes soft cheese (like Brie) - suggesting what kind to buy and how to serve (set out an hour before and serve with seasonal preserves). And the photo gives you good guidance to create your own display.

For the more adventurous host, I found these small glasses (approximately 2 oz) and amuse-bouche spoons in the current Sur La Table catalog; they are ideal for serving appetizers. No doubt, these clever serving dishes will get the conversation started!


{12 Posts before Thanksgiving} Whooo's Coming to Dinner?

I know ... wrong holiday ... but by the time December rolls around (in a blink of an eye), I won't be able to blog as much so I'm committing to 12 posts before November 26 - all featuring ideas for hosting a posh Thanksgiving Dinner.
So with Halloween in the rear view mirror (and candy wrappers scattered through the house), my first Thanksgiving idea is homemade invitations designed with the cutest "owl" collection from the Paper Source.

Using Word, I designed the invitation on my computer and printed it on a khaki 4 1/4" x 5 1/2" flat card and embellished with an owl sticker. The envelope is chocolate brown and I will repeat the sticker on the mailing address. So simple, so cute - truly posh in a pinch!


7th Annual 'Magical' Boo Bash

Last weekend, we hosted our 7th Annual Boo Bash. Approximately 30 kids (mostly under 7) and their parents joined us for an afternoon of fun. This year, it was a Magical Boo Bash! In addtition to the games, [inflatable] haunted house and tractor rides, we had a magic performance. Below are some photos, as well as Halloween party ideas to share.

For this outdoor children's party, decor was playful and practical. I topped the tables with Halloween fabric from Joanns and added yellow plastic chairs from the dollar store. To complement the look, I made a backdrop for the games out of Halloween fabric, too.
Games included Pumpkin Bowling, Spider Toss, Goblin Toss, Bic-Bac-Boo (like Tic-Tac-Toe) and Pumpkin Seed Spitting (into the witch's caldron at the campfire pit). We also have an inflatable haunted house purchased many years ago, as well as my husband's tractor for "hayrides".
Snacks included Witches' Hats and Crashing Witches cupcakes (see previous blog entry), as well as chocolate brownies, barrels of pretzels and cheese balls, M&M Halloween mix, candy corn, bottled water and apple juice.
Magic was the highlight of this year's party. A magician entertained the kids for about 45 minutes, keeping the performance interactive and absolutely fun. I love seeing (and hearing) children genuinely laugh!
The Boo Bash ended with tractor rides around the house. For many of the kids, it's the best part of the party!