A professional party girl’s New Year’s tips

Posted On November 2, 2008

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Debi Lilly knows how to throw a party.

Not just any party, the perfect party. She’s had plenty of practice. After all, Lilly, founder of Chicago-based event planner A Perfect Event (www.aperfectevent.com), has been hosting get-togethers since grade school.

“My friends all used to tease me that if you moved around the corner, I threw you a housewarming party,” Lilly says with a laugh. “I just have it in my blood.”

These days, the professional party planner has much grander galas to tend to, including Oprah’s birthday bash last year. But one of her most memorable affairs was the fete she planned for her husband’s birthday, “a while back,” she says: a 007 James Bond tribute party at a downtown gallery complete with guests that came in costume. Lilly showed up as a Bond girl.

“There were people in scuba gear, snow gear, black tie, it was just hysterical,” she says. One guest came dressed as the character Jaws [from “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker”] and went the entire night with aluminum foil wrapped around his teeth.

The martinis, shaken, not stirred, of course, flowed freely, served along with worldly eats such as caviar and deviled quail eggs. And what’s a 007 party without a cigar bar?

“It was the ultimate manly man party,” she says.

For New Year’s, Lilly says she likes to keep things much simpler. One of her favorite ideas is to throw a late-night champagne and dessert soiree: “Since toasting at midnight is the pinnacle of the evening, you don’t want to start too early.”

Lilly suggests having guests arrive at 9 p.m. to begin the countdown. That way midnight is just a few hours away.

A buffet and champagne bar work well for two reasons, she says: It keeps you out of the kitchen and allows guests to help themselves.

Create an intimate atmosphere by keeping your main lights turned off and using lots of candles. Fill vintage bowls with tin noisemakers, horns, etc.

Her last hostess secret? Get your shopping done a day in advance. This will give you time to take a long hot bath the day of the party.

Some ideas for the Christmas party costumes

Posted On September 23, 2007

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Christmas is that time of year to get excited and be ready for trips to the malls, the office parties, and being the host of one at your house. The parties start the day after Thanksgiving and go until the New Year. Here are some ideas on costumes you can wear for all these occasions.

The most famous costumes is Santa Clause of course. To get the jolly suit plan ahead and order online, or you can rent it at a costume store. They will have everything you need to make you look just like the ho, ho, ho, man himself. Just know that with the Santa suit if you start looking before Halloween you will be able to find it. But if you decide to do this at last minute you can always look at the stores where they sell Christmas lights and other holiday products.

Santa always needs a helper to hand out that wonderful candy cane after the children see the big guy. The elf is the second best person in the holiday season. They are  helpful and funny, and always lets the kids see Santa. There are green outfits and big shoes help topped with a little green hat. And of course you have to paint a little red on your cheeks to make you look happy as you can be. Green tights help top off the ensemble.

Who gets Santa and the elves to the mall? It is the famous reindeer! They do have these costumes available at the costume store. If you are good at sewing you just need fur brown cloth and a big red nose for the most famous of them all.

Mrs. Claus is the right hand lady that keeps everything running smoothing. You need a red dress that goes down to the ankles, a white lace apron, and a old fashion hat that looks like the pioneers wore to bed at night. You always want to put a little red circle on each cheek to make her look rosy.

Angels are very easy costumes to make. Get a white gown, put a gold wrap around your waist, a beautiful gold halo on the top of your head, and some very nice wings on your back.

Frosty the snowman is always nice to sing with in the snow. He would be easy to find on the internet. Frosty would be good to have at an office party, or at a party you are going to have for children. They would love to have him. Just make sure he has a big black top hat with a flower on it. Add a pipe and you are set.

The Grinch that stole Christmas is always a great costume for office parties, kids parties, or when you have one at your house. If you host one just remember that he is green with fur all over, and he is mean at first. When he is nice you can put a huge heart on his chest to say I am nice and I love Christmas.

Churches always have the kids do events with the nativity. Characters include Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. You also have the angels who float around, and  the wise men that have important parts in these scenes. With the animals you have camels, goats, horses, lambs. When making the nativity costumes they are usually made by hand by the church kids. This let’s them take pride in what they did by themselves.

Christmas costume theme parties are very popular now. You just host a party and have every one dress in there character they love the most and have a wonderful themed party. Dressing up is not just for Halloween and for kids any more. Remember the Christmas season is to have fun and being at a theme party where every one wears a Christmas costume will be festive and will remembered for a long time.

Choosing the right melodies for holiday parties

There are certain songs so magical, so enchanting, they have the power to put even the worst scrooge in a merry holiday mood.

But for every “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole or “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, there are also those dreaded songs that have the reverse effect, turning Christmas cheer into holiday jeer as soon as the first note blares from the speaker system.

“Holiday depression is caused by those barking dogs,” insists Scott Frampton, contributing music editor for O, The Oprah Magazine, referring to the semi-humorous, mostly maddening rendition of “Jingle Bells” by the Singing Dogs.

What’s irritating to one ear, however, may be intoxicating to another. If you’ve been delegated to come up with the musical mix for an office party, family gathering or blowout with friends, devising a holiday soundtrack that will leave everyone happy may seem as elusive as a Santa Claus sighting. But music aficionados say it’s doable with good planning and good taste.

“I think people start going wrong when they bring out ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ and those kind of novelty hits, because they wear on people,” says Frampton, who has more than 200 holiday music CDs and creates special-mix CDs for family and friends each year.

“They don’t look around, because they just don’t know that there is a lot of really great stuff out there that would appeal to a lot of different people.”

Indeed, for a genre that’s popular only about two months a year, the variety of holiday music is staggering, from jazz to hip-hop, from comedic to religious. This year alone, artists putting out holiday CDs include R&B songstress Faith Evans, jazz siren Diana Krall, veteran rocker Brian Wilson and country singer Ricky Skaggs.

Herb Agner, vice president of catalog marketing for EMI, which puts out several Christmas albums each year, says there are obvious songs to dust off every holiday season: “White Christmas,” the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Charlie Brown Christmas,” or Elvis Presley’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” are among the enduring favorites.

“Obviously people want the classics,” says Agner. “It’s part of a sense of home and staying a part of something you grew up with.”

At the same time, many people want something fresh and updated; even old-timers get a little weary hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” the umpteenth time.

Frampton suggests mixing some updated renditions from current artists with tried-and-true gems, putting a Destiny’s Child remake of “Silent Night” in the same rotation as Dean Martin’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” for example. Or adding Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” after Eartha Kitt’s campy “Santa Baby.”

But picking the right modern-day interpretation of a holiday standard can be tricky, says Ron Zellner, senior vice president of XM Satellite radio, which is adding five different channels of holiday music for the season.

“It’s sort of a Catch-22 that many artists go through when they launch a holiday album because they obviously want to sing songs that are familiar, but they run the risk of people comparing them to these icons,” he says.

Agner’s company has tried to incorporate the best of both with funky, chill-out remixes of old favorites on the new CD “Merry Mixmas.”

“You’re getting those songs and those artists that you know and love, but basically, you’re getting them as a twist, seen through a new set of eyes, and we thought that was a great way of basically having it both ways,” he says.

It’s also important to time the tempo of the evening with the music.

“If it’s a dinner party, where people are going to stay and want to talk throughout the rest of the night, you can’t go too dancey,” says Dahlia Ambach-Caplin, a Verve Records executive and producer of its “Verve Remixed” series, which give jazz classics a modern spin. “People won’t be able to hear one another.”

Frampton agrees. Think about Christmas music as you would any other music when planning the evening, he advises.

“If you were going to have a dinner party … during a salad course, would you have a bunch of rousing singalongs?”

It also might be good to add some non-holiday songs to the rotation.

“Everywhere you go during the holidays, you hear Christmas music ad nauseam,” says Ambach-Caplin. “Not everyone wants to listen to Christmas music all day all the time.”

And as on any other evening of entertaining, it’s important to know your audience and which songs will elicit a knowing smile or a grimace. Cheech & Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” might be a riot for your friends, but raise eyebrows at an office party.

Perhaps the worst offense is repetition: As enchanting as “The Christmas Song” is, even Nat King Cole can get stale after a gazillion listens.

“That’s the biggest challenge, for people to find something that they really like that’s fresh,” says Agner. “You don’t want to be only playing ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ … Although at the right time, that song might be the perfect thing to throw into the mix.”

It’s hard to put a new spin on holiday classics like “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night.” Yet every year, several artists try, hoping their rendition may stand out from the crowd and become part of the Christmas musical canon.

A few notable albums from this year’s hopefuls:

  • Anita Baker, “Christmas Fantasy”, The husky-voiced R&B diva brings her sensual tone to classics ranging from “O Come All Ye Faithful” to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
  • Brian Wilson, “What I Really Want For Christmas”. One of the most melodic rockers takes on melodies including “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
  • Jane Monheit, “This Season”
    The jazz siren with the lush pipes covers traditional songs like “Have a Merry Little Christmas” and “This Christmas.”
  • Martha Stewart, “The Holiday Collection”
    Can she get any more overexposed? The recently freed felon, who seems to be making up for lost time with two TV talk shows and a host of new products, puts out this three-disc box set. Thankfully, she doesn’t sing. Instead, she selects the best holiday music for your soiree, from traditional pop to jazz to classical. And of course, there are recipes and tips to make your own decorations.
  • Diana Krall, “Christmas Songs”. Just the cover, which features Krall leaning back in a sexy pose, gives you an idea of the mood the album inspires. Seductive and sassy, Krall is joined here by the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
  • The LeeVees, “Hanukkah Rocks”. Plenty of humor, with tracks like “Jewish Girls (at the Matzoh Ball)” and “At the Timeshare.”
  • Various Artists, “A John Waters Christmas”
    Anyone who picks up a Christmas album with an “explicit lyrics” tag on it probably isn’t worried about offending anyone. In fact, that may be the goal. If so, this Christmas CD from director John Waters will more than deliver, with songs like “Happy Birthday Jesus,” “Santa Claus Is a Black Man,” and “Little Mary Christmas.”
  • Yourself, “U Sing It Christmas”
    Hey, why should those “American Idol” kids have all the fun? This album lets you sing Christmas classics and have an instant karaoke party. Pop it into your computer, sing and e-mail it to the universe for a laugh or to become the next Nat King Cole.

Wine Q & A for holiday parties

Third generation winemaker Gina Gallo of award-winning Gallo of Sonoma Winery in Healdsburg, California, offers these answers to questions regarding wine for holiday parties:

Q. Which are the trendy wines for holiday entertaining?

A. Particularly festive wines this time of year are California sparkling wines, which are a nice alternative to Champagnes, and rose wines that are beautiful shades of pink and always look great on a holiday table. And it’s hard to go wrong with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to start a meal.

Q. How much wine should be ordered per guest?

A. Generally a bottle of wine is equivalent to four glasses of wine. For a dinner party, where wine is the only alcoholic beverage being served, you can estimate that each guest will consume about 2-1/2 glasses of wine.

Q. How many varieties should the host offer?

A. You should offer at least one red wine and one white wine at parties. But if you are serving many different courses, you may wish to highlight a specific wine to complement each course.

Q. What stemware is best for serving wine?

A. The best is a standard long-stemmed 12-ounce glass with a clear bowl and thin rim. The bowl makes it easy to swirl the wine, capturing its aroma.

Q. What are the best corkscrews?

A. A “deluxe” corkscrew that comes with a foil cutter is a great tool because it makes opening wine fast and easy. If you don’t have a deluxe version, the standard corkscrew works just fine as well.

Have a ’70s holiday party

Posted On December 21, 2006

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It must have happened while we were shining our disco ball. The ’70s came back. To the max.

Platform shoes and maxi skirts. Groovy graphics on dinner plates and wrapping paper. “The Jeffersons” on cable. The first season of “Saturday Night Live,” circa 1975, just out on DVD. Even the Captain and Tennille have a new Christmas CD. So in that spirit, let’s have a very Brady Christmas!

How to trim your home:
From shag rugs to bean bags, our prop designer found it all. There’s so much ’70s out there right now. Decorate your home with a 7-foot yellow Christmas tree from the ’70s, decked out in lime-green ornaments. Muted greens and golds are the colors of a ’70s Christmas vibe. Check your local antique shop, maybe you will find a treasure trove of ’70s goodies, from teardrop-shaped ornaments to plastic lighted Santas.

What else you need:
• A felt tree skirt. Check also to find some nice 70s tablecloths with vintage prints.
• Gold garland. As artificial as you can possibly get. Gold garland was the major trend, and it’s back.
• A retro Nativity scene. Oversized figurines, a big-big baby Jesus.
• Vintage-print wrapping paper. Check party related shops.

What to give:
The car aisle at Toys “R” Us is where you can find miniature remakes of the hot cars of the ’70s, including the Mustang and Firebird. The one in the show is that weird lime-green color from 1971.
You may also find a stash of ’70s-inspired lunchboxes at other retro shops. Is there someone on your shopping list who would love a Holly Hobbie lunchbox?

What you need:
• For the home: A Tupperware deviled egg container and a lava lamp. Buy some shag rugs and beanbags too.
• For the kids: Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Mystery Date board game.
• For the fashionista: Adidas or Puma sneakers, big hoop earrings, a halter blouse, sweater coat, a Keep on Truckin’ T-shirt.

What to wear:
Look to find the ’70s alive and well, from the colors to the mixing of patterns to layering. All of those things are very reminiscent and just scream ’70s. Check at your local vintage shops. 

What you need:
• Something crocheted, preferably in an open-weave. Think scarves, hats, shawls and ponchos.
• A macrame choker.
• Candies. Those are shoes.
• Anything embroidered. It was very “in” to embroider all over Levi jackets, to repair holes, and sew on patches, and to decorate with names, flowers, suns, peace signs, hearts.
• A wrap dress. The wrap dress in cotton jersey by Diane von Furstenberg was very big in the mid-’70s. Very flattering to most women’s figures.
• Something plaid, a skirt, pants, jumper, blazer. Even better, mix your something-plaid with something-striped.
• Corduroy pants, flared. True-to-the-era colors: various shades of tan and brown, burgundy and bottle-green.
• Knee-high socks or striped tights.

What to listen to:
There’s no shortage of what refers to as “so many idiotic Christmas records” from the ’70s. Everyone from the Partridge Family and Brady Bunch to Johnny Cash and Grandpa Walton, to Mud and Slade and Rod Stewart recorded holiday songs. One of the most popular Christmas crooners of the decade? Karen Carpenter. Merry Christmas, darling.
But don’t stick with Christmas music while you’re making gingerbread. To keep the action in the play moving, set it to lots of pre-disco ’70s funk and soul, because it’s more interesting than James Taylor.

Music you need:
• Stevie Wonder
• The Jackson Five
• David Bowie
• Led Zeppelin
• Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” 
• The “Superfly” soundtrack

What to eat:
You can’t have a ’70s Christmas without Pop Rocks, Necco wafers, Lemonheads and Pixy Stix in the stockings. Candy cigarettes would be so-oooo politically incorrect. But they were fun in the ’70s.
For your retro Christmas party, channel Carol Brady. Even though we suspect housekeeper Alice did all the cooking.

What you need:
• Appetizers: Fondue, deviled eggs, stuffed celery
• Dessert: Hummingbird cake, baked Alaska, cherries jubilee. (Search cooks.com.)
• Main course: Quiche Lorraine, beef Stroganoff
• Side dishes: Three-bean salad, green beans au gratin, ambrosia salad, Watergate salad, Waldorf salad
• Beverages: Kool-Aid, Harvey wallbangers, tequila sunrises 

The perils of the office Christmas party

Posted On December 19, 2006

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According to research by The Register, a management magazine in the UK, 40 per cent of staff throw-up at their office Christmas party. They don’t go on to say whether this is the affect of alcohol or of seeing Mr Jones from accounts in his flashing reindeer antlers, but love them or loathe them, we all have a Yuletide bash.

My particular worse memory is of one a few years ago when I was working in a very sharing, caring international school. The party arranged at the end of the school term, when we all really just wanted to hit the beer and disappear, was based on an Inuit bonding weekend my Head of Department had recently attended. As the school had a no smoking, no drinking policy, it was never going to be a riot of debauchery, but we were looking forward to gingerbread biscuits and hot chocolate.

Encouraged to sit in a circle, we were told, one by one, to pull a name out of the hat. Got hopeful, remembering days of postman’s knock and truth or dare but, no, our purpose was to say something “warm and positive about our fellow colleagues”. First up was Sara from Geography who told Mrs Holmes the Music teacher that her music helped fill the school with glorious harmony. Perhaps I do know why so many people are ill at Christmas parties.

Next, and I shall be eternally ever grateful to him, was Mac from Maths, the only other Brit on the staff, who came from Glasgow. He got Lucy, our earnest and very timid librarian, from Seattle. There was a long pause, we all waited. And waited. He was staring at Lucy very intently. I’m pretty sure he’d already been at the single malt he kept hidden in his book cupboard. “I’ve meant to tell ye this fer a long time, yer got great tits.” Well, I thought it was warm and positive, but we abandoned the game and ate the biscuits.

But truthfully, I love office Christmas parties. I think it’s great when people let their hair down and render their own version of Rudolph with the rugby club lyrics. It’s ours here at the newspaper tonight and I’m looking forward to it. There will be good food and good craic and I hope a dance or too.

According to HR experts in the States, the top blunders at office parties are: drinking so much you’re sick, taking your clothes off, and declaring undying love for a colleague. But the most heinous crime by far and which led someone to say, “I hate office parties, it’s always such a fag having to look for a new job the next day”, is “dissing de boss”.

So I’m taking the advice of an Australian friend, he says it’s foolproof. He’s given me his three golden rules for making sure I don’t make a fool of myself. There is after all decorum and dignity to consider:

1. Drink plenty of water. The best stuff is Russian, comes in a glass bottle and has Vodka (their equivalent to Perrier) written on the label.

2. Sing. The word ‘karaoke’ is Japanese for sophistication and talent. So show yours off (after you’ve had plenty of the water).

3. Dance. The hippy look is back in this year, so grab the bosses’s tie and wrap it around your head. Get up on a table and do your Jagger impersonation. Always impresses.

If I’m not here next week you’ll know what happened… I’ve been promoted.

Is everything on your holiday list?

Holiday Party Planning > At this time of year, your social calendar can begin to look like a railway timetable. Smart planning is the key to success and survival. Get ready for all your home entertaining early and stock up on plenty of good cheer for the new year.
Setting the table > Whether you’re hosting an elegant sit-down dinner or a casual buffet, find everything you need to set off your festive feast. Do not forget to renew your flatware glass and tableware, to buy your gourmet food from your specialist and to buy some new and elegant table linens.

Stock the bar > Throwing a swank cocktail party? Dig out the punch bowl, order some fine wines and make sure you have all the essential bar tools on hand. Remember to check your stock on bar glassware, cocktail accessories, wine accessories and certainly to order bar supplies from your wine shop, have a shopping list handy where you written down your required supplies of wine, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, etc.

Host and hostess gifts > When it’s your turn to be the guest, make sure you’ve got a little something for your hosts. Smart revelers keep a few gifts on hand. Such as gifts for her and for him. Some ideas to help you are: gourmet gifts, wine gift baskets.

Get in the spirit > Holiday music and movies can help you get in the mood for celebrating the season. Add something new to your collection this year. Think what you like, decide on your budget and prepare your final list and do it! Buy them! Books, decorations, movies and music cd’s and dvd’s.

More Ways to Shop and Party Planning > Are you looking for a new digital camera or a home-entertainment system? Then read the Editor’s Picks of your fave magazine, newspaper or watch TV! Don’t forget about buying some new Christmas décor, to send out, on time, your party invitations, do not forget to add an RSVP telephone and contact details. Plan ahead all your wine shop party supplies and gift wrap too.

And a final piece of advice: Planning, planning, planning is the only way leading you to complete success and enjoying a great time on Christmas! 

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