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Archive for the ‘Entertaining’ Category

Photo: Susan Reimer

Photo: Susan Reimer

I’d love to meet you next month, during a special class I’m hosting for the University of Denver’s Enrichment Program in conjunction with the Central City Opera Guild.

Every year the Guild’s L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour kicks off the yuletide season with a tour of historic Denver homes decorated by some of the city’s leading table and floral designers. Have you ever toured those elegantly appointed homes and wondered, “How do they do that?”

Home for the Holidays: Secrets to a Memorable Celebration
will be held on two consecutive Saturdays. The first session is Saturday, November 16 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at my home. During this workshop,  you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how those designers take simple objects and transform them into elaborate yet tasteful decorations.

First, we’ll cover the planning process, starting with tips for creating a noteworthy invitation and steps to conceiving the perfect mood for your event. You’ll enjoy a cooking demonstration and get expert advice on creating a delicious yet easy to accomplish menu, compliments of cookbook author Eliza Cross. We’ll talk about décor and how to create a beautiful holiday table, and floral designer BJ Dyer of Bouquets will lead you through a variety of ideas for stunning floral arrangements and holiday decorations.

The following Saturday, November 23rd at 10:30, you’ll enjoy a docent-led tour of the 2013 L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour in the old Crestmoor Park neighborhood. You’ll see firsthand how these impressive techniques are used in some of Denver’s finest homes. Discover the designer secrets for your own memorable and beautifully decorated holiday celebration.

The cost for the two-week class is $95, and Central City Opera Guild members receive a 10 percent discount. To register, visit http://www.universitycollege.du.edu/enrichment or call 303-871-2291.

I hope to meet many of you in person during this fun, festive event!

Hugs,

~Maury

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Surprise Party at MauryAnkrum.com

"SURPRISE!!" Photo by Ubo Pakes

If you were to research “Surprise Parties,” you would find that virtually every article addresses how to throw one, but not whether or not you should. The advice given carefully lays out tips and suggestions on time frames, communication, parking, alibis, and even back-up plans, yet every article ignores the most important question:  does the recipient want or even like surprise parties? Given my ten years of practical party planning, I strongly recommend considering this. A surprise party likely has four possible scenarios that will play out:

  • The first: “Surprise!” – you pulled it off – he/she is genuinely astonished and happy about it.
  • The second: “Surprise!” – you pulled it off, but the recipient is not happy.
  • The third: “Surprise!” – no surprise – he/she was on to you and despite appreciating your time and effort, you’re frustrated and disappointed.
  • And finally the fourth: “No Surprise!” – he/she knew in advance, isn’t happy and neither are you.

So what you’re left with is a 50/50 chance that all your hard work will be worth it in end. The fourth scenario is what played out when I tried to throw my husband a surprise 35th birthday party. We spent the better half of twenty minutes in the car arguing before putting him up to making a halfhearted appearance. Needless to say, it was the last time I did that. Reflecting back weeks later, I realized that the failed surprise party was my fault, not his. I like surprises; I love the attention and flattery that comes with it. That’s not him.

So the point is, before diving headfirst into planning this type of venue, find out whether or not this person likes surprises of any type, if he or she likes being the center of attention and if the guest of honor handles spontaneity well. If you’re uncertain, the odds are you may want to probe a little further or consider another type of party.

On a personal note, I still love surprising my husband, but now I do it with surprise trips, surprise themes (to a party he knows is going to take place) or simply surprising him by having doughnuts delivered.

For tips on how to pull off a surprise party–if you’re brave enough to go for it–watch for next month’s entry for my tips and advice on planning a surprise party.

As always, I would love to hear your stories or thoughts.

~Maury

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Throw a great picnic with Celebrated Gatherings

I love dining outdoors, and with 300 days a year of sunshine in Colorado we try to take advantage of every opportunity to share a meal al fresco. The key to enjoying a great picnic is to give the occasion a little forethought and planning. Here are my favorite tips for hosting an unforgettable outdoor meal:

1. Pack or purchase a beautiful picnic basket. Organizing a dedicated bag or basket with unbreakable plates, cutlery and servers, cups and glasses, salt & pepper shakers, a corkscrew and napkins will make spontaneous picnics a breeze. Just add the food and drinks and you’re good to go!

2. Consider your location ahead of time, and arrive early to set up. An area with big trees will provide both shade and sun for changing weather. If children are coming, a picnic area in a park with a play structure gives kids something to do which may in turn make the picnic more relaxing for adults. An on-site picnic table is ideal, and I like to cover it with a colorful tablecloth and arrange soft, folded blankets on the benches. In a pinch, you can spread a waterproof tarp on the ground and top it with a blanket.

3. Choose food that keeps and transports well like salads, sandwiches and finger foods. (Here are some fresh picnic menu ideas from the Food Network.) Prepare everything ahead of time (cut up the ribs, slice the watermelon, etc.) so you can relax at the picnic site.

4. Chill out. Pack everything in an insulated cooler with plenty of ice packs, and set up the picnic in the shade. Or freeze water bottles the night before, and they can serve as ice packs, and later, drinks.

5. Games like Frisbee, croquet and badminton can easily accommodate varying ages and groups of people.

6. Don’t forget bug repellent. If it’s especially buggy outside, you may want to pack citronella votive candles to place on the table.

7. Bring trash bags, paper towels or cloth dishtowels and disposable wipes or damp washcloths packed in zip-lock baggies for cleaning up after the picnic.

Are you picnicking this summer? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

~Maury

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As the saying goes “Everyone’s a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” and who wouldn’t want to be part of one of the world most fun-loving and spirited holidays of the year?

This year, I recommend skipping the bars and opting for a beer tasting bash at home. Similar to a wine tasting party, serve up some of Ireland’s finest stouts, ales, and porters and let your friends taste the nuances in flavor and style. Pair the brews with a St. Patty’s Day meal rich in tradition- corned beef and cabbage, potatoes and Irish soda bread.

Epicurious created this comprehensive list of beers made in or inspired by Ireland. Here are a few favorite beers I pulled from the list, and any of these would be perfect for the party:

  • Beamish Irish Stout
  • Boulevard Irish Ale
  • Diamond Bear Irish Red
  • Finnegans Irish Amber
  • Georg Killian’s Irish Red
  • Great Divid Saint Bridget’s Porter
  • Guinness Pub Draught
  • Harpoon’s Celtic Ale
  • O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale
  • Murphy’s Irish Stout
  • O’Hara’s Irish Stout

Finally, here are some tips on “How To Taste Beer” with advice on pouring, appearance, aroma, first sip, mouthful, finish and styles.

Have a happy, healthy holiday!

Slán leat (goodbye),

~Maury

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On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…..

  • 12 Drummers Drumming
  • 11 Cousins-a-Bickering
  • 10 Lords-a-Leaping
  • 9 Kids-a-Shouting
  • 8 Maids-a-Milking
  • 7 Aunts-a-Meddling
  • 6 Brothers-a-Quarreling
  • 5 Golden Rings
  • 4 Sisters Prying
  • 3 French Hens
  • 2 In-Laws-a-Ranting
  • 1 Drunken Uncle

…and a Partridge in a Pear Tree!

Ahh, nothing says “holidays” like a good, old -fashioned family feud. The holidays can be tough, and not every gathering is grand –or even peaceful, for that matter. The added stress of stretched finances, packed schedules (more…)

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The old saying “don’t mix religion and politics with friends” — while not always an absolute — is pretty good advice when you’re throwing a party. Nothing kills the festivities faster than a heated debate that can never be won. I can think of very few more sensitive and personal topics that can result in hurt feelings and create potentially permanent rifts between friends and family. This is not to say that these are not valuable conversations to be had — or that in the right place and time they can be anything less than educational and enlightening — but rarely can this happen with a large group. (more…)

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A party is a great opportunity to expand your social network by getting to know new people and reconnecting with those near and dear to us. It is also a chance to cultivate new friendships among your friends and family by allowing them to get to know each other better.

No other factor may be as important to the successful outcome of a party as the people you invite.  No amount of decorations, enticing entertainment or appetizing food can or will save an event if your guests don’t mesh, mingle or play nice with one another. So here are a few tips to ensure you gather a diverse and intriguing grouping of friends and family for your next affair.

The occasion for the party largely stipulates the majority of the guests. Reunions, baby showers, and birthdays are just a few events in which you may have limited control over the attendees. However, you’re not totally out of luck. My husband’s birthday party is a great example; my in-laws have a hard time relating to most of our friends, so we have a dinner party with the just the family, and later have a themed party with friends. This is also true of parties in which colleges or co-workers need to make up to majority of the guest list. Knowing that shoptalk is inevitable, I would spare certain friends the discomfort of attending.

With that said, the remaining tips are for the events in which you have control over who does or does not come.

Select the size of function you are comfortable with. Over-extending yourself is a near guarantee of undue stress and probable disappointment. The original rule of thumb is that one-fourth of your guests will not be able to make it, so send out extra invitations in anticipation of this. In all my years of planning parties, I have never seen that rule play out. Who you invite, the type of parties you host, and the time of year the party is planned for — these are the largest determinators of attendance. My Halloween parties over the years have taken on a life of their own. Regardless of how many invitations I send out, it is rare to get even one decline. This is largely because there are very few adult Halloween events, and with school back in session, fewer people are traveling. The opposite is true of Christmas parties, where you are competing for a three-week window jammed with festivities and travel plans. My advice is to look at every event individually, taking these factors into consideration. Never invite more people than you could possibly handle.

The type of people you include is the second most important consideration and often what causes the most stress.

First, do not invite people who all share the same career, background or set of beliefs. Bankers rarely want to talk to other bankers in their leisure time. Invite people who are lively and engaging, and who will contribute to conversations. However, avoid inviting those who are so dominating or adversarial that they could intimidate other guests. Likewise, steer clear of those who become obnoxious when they have had too much to drink. Realize that most of us want to hear or be heard by those with different interests and perspective.

If possible, try to include a lawyer or a doctor. Everyone loves a little piece of free advice! Other interesting guests include:

  • Someone involved in restaurants or entertainment, as everyone loves gossip or ideas on dining out.
  • A realtor as they are often well versed in trends of different neighborhoods and changes to schools and government policies.
  • Someone in investments, as these individuals usually know a lot about the economy and a variety of industries.
  • Entrepreneurs, as they are risk-takers and usually have grand ideas and ambitions.
  • A stay-at home mom, as they are often more knowledgeable in a variety of subjects than people expect and usually have a couple great stories or anecdotes up their sleeves.

Second, don’t invite those who clearly will be uncomfortable, such as your ninety-year old grandmother to your Indy 500 party, your only Democratic friends to your Republican candidate’s victory party, or anyone you feel would be so out of place that they are likely to have a miserable night and you are likely to continually try saving.

Third, don’t waste much time worrying about the male to female ratio. You’re not hosting a dating party, and therefore don’t need to match people up together.

Fourth, don’t worry about excluding people (this may not be the case for family get together or smaller venues). I do not try to hide or excuse the fact that I do host functions that not all the same people are invited to. People don’t expect to be included to a dinner party for your new neighbors, your boss’s retirement party, and your 8-year old’s pool party.

Finally, have faith that your friends will enjoy each other and get along. If you find redeeming qualities in them, trust that they will find those qualities in each other. (If they don’t, make a mental note to reconsider them for the next time!)

~Maury

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© Chris Gardiner - Fotolia.com

In a futile, rather weak moment I recently agreed to host six 6-year olds for a backyard campout. I think I panicked, realizing I hadn’t made good on all of my summertime promises to the kids. Or maybe deep down I wanted to be ‘that’ mom — the one others think of as SuperMom, brave and fearless. More likely it was to make myself feel better for knowing I am anything but ‘that’ mom. I’m the one who never participates in play dates, fails to come up with Martha Stewart-like crafts, writes my kids’ thank you notes for them, and always forgets to bring the camera for each and every recital. Nonetheless, I started out the evening with grand ambitions.

So here’s the story of my Midsummer Night’s Disaster. When I played this out beforehand in my head, it looked so different. I envisioned a perfectly behaved group of wood-whittling Girl Scouts. I figured we would braid hair, make S’mores and map out our favorite constellations on my newly acquired telescope. After all, I can pitch a beautiful tent, build an incredible campfire (in a little fire pit), make delectable custom S’mores, and break out a quartet of singing crickets — via a sleep machine.

But none of these things transpired. Rather it was a night of hair pulling, crying, fears of barking dogs and a seemingly constant stream of ambulance sirens and Harley motorcycles. My little cricket sound machine didn’t stand a chance amidst the racket. The S’mores were a gooey mess, and I wondered if SuperMom had ever tried to comb melted marshmallows out of a 6-year-old’s hair. The fire, as it would later turn out, did nothing more than smoke us out — giving us all a brief introduction to emphysema. And as for that beautifully pitched tent? Funny thing, I discovered that it’s not waterproof — or even water-resistant. So that’s how our evening ended: washed out in the backyard by eight.

The silver lining: I don’t think I’ll get hit up for leading the local Girl Scouts or for play dates any time in the near future. SuperMom will have to live to fight another day!

~Maury

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As the Fourth of July weekend wraps up with all the backyard barbeques and relaxed get-togethers, I’m struck by the notion of what makes a good guest — the kind who gets invited to the next gathering time and time again. I’ve spent my fair share of time both hosting and being hosted by friends and family, and after a while you begin to notice some of the same faces in the crowd — as well as those whom you see less frequently.

Of course there may be numerous reasons for this, but what if one of them is that certain people — or even we — can sometimes be lousy guests?

After spending a busy weekend at several Independence Day parties, I’ve compiled a list of the top seven behaviors that are sure to keep the door open to your friends’ hearts and homes year after year:
  • 1. After responding to the invitation in a timely manner, offer to bring something like an appetizer, salad or dessert. If your host accepts, check to be sure your culinary offering will be appropriate with the menu or theme. If your host declines your offer, you may still wish to bring a small hostess gift or bottle of wine.
  • 2. Be on time. Nothing throws off a meal more than guests who arrive late. If your tardiness can’t be helped, call your host and express your hope that he or she will not delay anything on your behalf.
  • 3. Offer your sincere and specific help. That means with anything from clearing the table to doing dishes. If your host declines your offer, respect that as well; maybe she doesn’t want all of her guests in the kitchen doing dishes and unveiling the take-out cartons.
  • 4. Uphold your end of the socializing. You don’t always have to go home with a new best friend, but do make an effort to mingle and engage in conversation with most of the other guests.
  • 5. Avoid the hot buttons in conversation topics:  sex, religion, politics and my new favorite, advice on child rearing.
  • 6. Stay sober.
  • 7. Leave within an appropriate time frame. If the invitation specified times, adhere to them. If not, leave with the majority of the other guests and don’t habitually be the last to always leave. They have names for people who do this.
Enjoy the party, enjoy your friends, and remember that anyone who has gone to the trouble of arranging a party — regardless of its size and formality — has put a lot of time and effort forth. Express your appreciation and gratitude to the host (thank you cards are a nice touch), and you will always have a seat at the table.

~Maury

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Looking for a simpler, shorter, summer soirée?  I love the typical seasonal BBQ, but occasionally I am looking for a way to gather friends and family with less of a commitment to time and effort. So consider a sundae buffet. Invite your friends over — Pj’s and all — for a sweet nightcap and some stargazing. 

Start with a covered table and three staple flavors of top-shelf ice cream:  vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  Put out four types of sauce; fudge, caramel, strawberry, and the much-loved marshmallow creme. The added toppings can be as simple or elaborate as you want; chocolate chips, gummy bears, sprinkles, cherries, marshmallows, cookie crumbles and chopped nuts (check for allergies) are a must! Both adults and children love this dessert-only party. For a slight variation for adults, consider making ice cream floats or malts with your favorite liquors and liqueurs.

To bring something unique to the evening, lay out a group of blankets and grab some binoculars and a telescope if you have one. Download some basic constellation maps, lay back, and enjoy exploring the summer sky.

~Maury

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