Entertaining

Diamonds Are Forever, Monogrammed Gifts Are Not

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When my twins were born 17 years ago, we received not one, but two decorative, monogrammed seesaws…from one store. It’s difficult to imagine that the store wouldn’t have told the second person ordering this “gift” with the same names and delivery address to select something else, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that I was stuck with two seesaws that were, in my practical mind, a waste of space and a silly gift. So, I did what any self-respecting professional organizer would do and put them both out on the curb the next morning.

Although this can be difficult for some people, never feel compelled to keep a gift you don’t like. It will end up taking up space in your home and your psyche for what is often literally years. To avoid this, consider these tips

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Unexpected Guests

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Recently, after a great day boating with friends, we decided to meet at my house for drinks before having dinner at a nearby restaurant. Some of our guests were on the boat with my husband and I, and others would drive to our house. They would arrive before I did, so there would be no time for a last minute clean up. Since I’m a professional organizer, that didn’t pose a problem for me. My house is almost always company ready. However, if you’re not like me, what can you do if you get a call that friends “are in the neighborhood” and will be there in 20 minutes? Tilly Rose, founder of TenancyCleaning, a cleaning service in London, offers these tips for de-cluttering your home when it needs to done quickly.

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No Fuss Entertaining

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Every year, I host the holiday meal after Yom Kippur (called “Break Fast,” when you literally break the fast from sundown the previous day).  This is the only holiday I enjoy hosting for several reasons.  First, the traditional meal is bagels and appetizing which I order already on platters. Second, it’s buffet style, so no serving is required.  Third, while some of my guests may wait until sundown to eat, others eat as soon as they arrive.  This means I don’t need to have seating for each guest.  Finally, I use paper plates and plastic utensils, making clean up a breeze!

The only thing I actually cook is my “famous” baked cinnamon French toast.  I say it’s famous because I refer to it in my book, Secrets of an Organized Mom, and it’s amazing the number of people around the country who have emailed me asking for the recipe.  I prepare it the night before and heat it up as my guests arrive. My house smells delicious and people think I slaved all day in the kitchen. Here’s my recipe, so you can try it yourself:

 

Recipe: Baked Cinnamon French Toast

Ingredients: 6 eggs
2 1/2 cups of milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon (can use more)
1 baguette
1 stick butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Method: Combine eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon in bowl. Slice baguette into thin slices and layer in a 9 x 9 pan.
Pour mixture over bread and refrigerate (overnight if possible).
Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and nuts.
After bread has soaked in liquid, spread over top of bread.
Cook on 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until puffed and golden.

 

Hosting a Stress Free Summer Barbecue

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Are you hosting a barbecue this summer?   If planning your party is putting a dampener on beach weekends, here are my tips for a stress free barbecue!

One Week Before:

  1. Finalize your headcount.
  2. Figure out the menu, including what drinks you’ll serve.
  3. If guests ask to bring something, have suggestions ready.  Then, keep a list so there are no repeats.
  4. Shop for food and drinks.  Don’t forget to purchase alternative options for vegetarians, and condiments, too!
  5. Shop for plates, utensils, and linens.
  6. Check your grill: if you are low on supplies like propane or need new tools, purchase that too.  Don’t forget to purchase bug spray and citronella candles!
  7. Make sure you have enough tables and chairs for the event.

One Day Before:

  1. Prepare whatever food you can.  You don’t want to be working during your own party!  And if your budget allows, hiring help for food prep and cleanup can change the tone of the day for you, too.
  2. Put all drinks in the refrigerator.  In summer weather, you’ll need to have plenty of cold water and ice available throughout the day.
  3. Tidy the house, inside and out!
  4. Figure out your summer music playlist.  If you dare, you can leave this one up to one of your kids.

Day of the Party:

  1. Wake up early.  Get dressed — keep it casual for a barbecue!
  2. Set the table early and make it festive with flowers and great summer serve ware.
  3. Make sure to have some outdoor games available.
  4. Make sure that no food is overcooked or undercooked!  And set up your grill somewhat distanced from the center of the party.
  5. Pour yourself a drink before guests arrive, and get ready for some real summer fun!

 

 

Hosting a Super Bowl Party

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I admit to not being a sports fan, not knowing who the contenders are for the 2014 Super Bowl, and even (gasp) not really caring.  Yet, I find myself hosting 20 to 30 people each year for a Super Bowl party that’s often pulled together at the last minute.  Since clearly I’m not a last minute party planner, you might wonder why this happens, and the answer is twofold.  First, my husband and son spend the week or so before the game casually mentioning to friends that they should come over to watch the game without keeping track of how many people “might” be coming. And, two, the Super Bowl lends itself to such casual entertaining, that it’s not difficult to pull off.  So, if you find yourself in this position, here are my tips for a simple but easy Super Bowl celebration!

  1. Assemble a guest list.  Or, in my case, figure out who has already been invited and confirm who is actually coming.
  2. Consider a simple email instead of an actual invitation.  In the email, you can clarify the time you want people to arrive and ask for an RSVP response.
  3. Encourage guests to bring specific items.  I always request that guests bring dessert.  It’s one less thing to worry about.
  4. Easy appetizers are perfectly appropriate.  This is the one party where you can simply pour some chips and pretzels in bowls, and you’re all set.
  5. Create party areas.  Make sure you have enough seating for people to watch the game, but also be prepared for those who may want to mingle (or just watch the commercials).  I leave televisions on in the kitchen, living room, and den and encourage people to move around.
  6. Serve dinner buffet style.  And there’s no shame in just ordering in pizzas and eating on paper plates.
  7. Do most of the clean up during the last quarter of the game.  Admittedly, this only works if, like me, you’re not vested in the outcome of the game.  If you use disposable plates and utensils, all that’s required is throwing things in one big garbage bag and taking it outside.

 

 

Dress ↑

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‘Tis the season of many parties, and as invitations start appearing in your mailbox, you can’t help but be confused by the dizzying display of dress codes.  There’s business casual, casual chic, country club casual, dressy casual, resort casual, and just casual.  There’s also black tie, festive, cocktail, and my personal favorite, “dress ↑”.  Dress codes, like Henry Ford’s Model T, used to be a lot simpler.   Now, even when there is a dress designation on your invitation, it’s unclear what to wear.  So, what can you do?  Ask yourself these questions, and you’ll be dressed to impress this holiday season.

  1. Who’s on the guest list? If it’s an office party, you might dress more conservatively than if the party will be attended by your still wild and crazy college friends.
  2. What will your host/hostess be wearing? There’s no shame in asking when you’re really not sure.
  3. Where’s the party being held? If the party is being held in a fancy hotel you can dress more formally then if the party is held at someone’s home or a more casual restaurant.
  4. When is the party? Weekends, especially Saturday nights call for more formal dress than a weeknight party.
  5. Why stress when you have a Little Black Dress? There’s a reason why this wardrobe staple has stood the test of time so well.  No matter the occasion, there’s never a time when your LBD isn’t perfectly appropriate.   Change your lipstick and your jewelry, and you can step it up or down in minutes.

Party on…and dress ↑!

 

 

 

Organizing for Guests

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There are some people who love playing host and those who believe that guests and fish stink after three days. I have to admit, that I fall into the latter category. Yet, even though my guests’ visits are short and sweet, I still make sure my guest room is well stocked and my guests are comfortable for the duration of their stay. If you want to ensure that the time you have guests is as enjoyable for you as it is for them, here are my tried and true “guest rules”:

1. The guest room and bathroom should be dusted and clean, including clean sheets on the bed and fresh towels and soap in the bathroom. Have extra pillows and a blanket available. A light for reading, an alarm clock, and a working television are also nice to have.

2. Consider sleeping in your guest room for a night. It’s the only way you’ll know if it’s comfortable or if there are other issues that need to be fixed.

3. Remove any personal items that you may have been storing in the guest room. If you can’t allocate an entire dresser or closet, empty a few drawers and a portion of the closet. Empty hangers should be in the closet.

4. Let guests know about any house rules. For example, you may not allow eating outside the kitchen, and there may be specific instructions about turning on or off an alarm.

5. Your guests should be told what time meals will be served and whether there are any structured activities that are occurring on a schedule.

6. Be specific about when your guests should arrive and when you expect them to leave. There’s nothing worse than guests who arrive at inconvenient times and/or overstay their welcome.

7. If you have a vacation home, consider not inviting guests on consecutive weekends. Playing host/hostess is exhausting, so having your own weekend in between hosting guests gives you time to unwind and do what you want to do.

8. Leave some time unscheduled so everyone can relax.

9. Ask in advance about food preferences and allergies. Do any necessary grocery shopping prior to your guests’ arrival.

10. Add fresh flowers in a small vase to the guest room. Your guests feel special, and it requires minimal effort on your part.

Planning a Large Party

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On January 12th, I celebrated my twins’ b’nai mitzvah.  It was magical and memorable, and 98% stress free.  Yes, almost entirely stress free.  And, whether you’re planning a wedding, a bar/bat mitzvah, or any other large party, you’ll be calm and collected too if you follow my tips for planning that perfect party!

Party Planning Tips

  1. Determine your budget.  You can’t possibly make a single decision without knowing how much you want to spend.
  2. Assemble a guest list.  Obtain all of the addresses you don’t have, and use a program like Excel to manage your list. Timing: one year in advance.
  3. Choose the venue.  Make a list of your requirements in advance (e.g., how many people it needs to hold, where it needs to be located).  Timing: a year in advance.
  4. Trust your friends’ recommendations.  If you have friends that have hosted parties recently, ask them for a list of the vendors they used.  There’s no need to recreate the wheel.
  5. Eliminate any non-responsive vendor.  If your call isn’t returned within 24 hours before you’ve signed a contract, don’t expect responsiveness once you’ve handed over your deposit.
  6. Know your limits. If a party planner doesn’t fit into your budget, don’t pick a theme that will be difficult to execute unless you have the time and enjoy the creative process.
  7. Make big decisions early.  Chose the photographer, videographer, and décor person at least 6 months in advance.
  8. Select pictures and videos. Anything you want included in a video montage needs to be given to the photographer/videographer digitally.
  9. Create digital folders on your computer. Save the best pictures from every vacation and event, separated by who is in the picture (cousins, friends, grandparents), so the process of selected pictures is organized.

10. Select invitations. Sometimes printing takes longer than you think, and you need to allot time for the envelopes to be addressed.  Timing: 6 months in advance.

11. Limit group decision making.   If you’re planning a bar/bat mitzvah, let your child make some decisions (from a range of acceptable options that you’ve already vetted) about what s/he really cares about (e.g., party favors, entertainment, their outfits), and you decide the rest.  When planning a wedding, involve as few people as possible in the decision making.

12. Make a timeline. Write down everything you want to occur during the party and when.

13. Make a list of photos.  Be very specific about the pictures you want the photographer to take.  You don’t want to risk not having a picture of someone important to you.

14. Consider hiring a party planner for the day. It’s a small price to pay to be a guest at your own party!

15. The devil is in the details. Don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to devote to details in the last month.  You’ll need to finalize the headcount, select the menu, make sure your clothing is ready, and make table assignments.

16. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Something will go wrong, and no one will notice, and no one will care.

 

Party Favors No More

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At least twice a week, I’ll find myself on a ladder in the uppermost recesses of someone’s coat closet pulling out a crushed shopping bag filled with the extra party favors from a party hosted five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years before. Now, it’s clearly garbage, but the interesting thing is that it was even garbage at the time the party was hosted. People are just too caught up in the moment to realize it.

Today, party favors have morphed into elaborate giveaways that cost way too much money and, in my opinion, are wasteful, not useful, and not necessary. Let’s take the trophy party favor as an example. It’s bad enough that children get a trophy for playing on a team or getting a haircut, but do we have to give them trophies for attending birthday parties? The trophy saying “I Had Fun at Ethan’s 6th Birthday Party” is definitely on my list of all time worst party favors. And it’s not just young children getting party favors. Bar mitzvahs and Sweet Sixteen parties now end with giveaways ranging from sweatshirts to pajamas to MP3 players. And, even adults attending benefits and bridal/baby showers receive party favors. Clearly, this trend has gotten way out of control.

Let’s end the trend of giving party favors. You can start by eliminating party favors when you’re the hostess. Or, at least think edible and/or easily disposable. A bag of candy or an iTunes or Starbucks gift card work for everyone. Then, when on the receiving end, leave the party favor behind. Only take the favor if it’s given to you directly by the hostess. Then, follow the 24-hour rule: the party favor leaves your house within 24 hours. In the case of children’s party favors, this is plenty of time for your child to have fun with it, but not long enough to become attached to it. And for you, it’s just enough time to realize that you don’t need a chocolate lollipop shaped like a pacifier, a cheap picture frame, or yet another tote bag monogrammed with the name of a corporation or club. So, you get the message. Don’t give or accept party favors. Just say NO to the unnecessary expense, unnecessary clutter, and unnecessary effort!