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Archive for the ‘Personal Touches’ 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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The Occasional Affair | Father's Day BBQ sauce

© Andrea Berger - Fotolia.com

I’m constantly racking my brain for creative, cost-effective gifts to give. With Father’s Day quickly approaching, I wanted to come up with something different and useful that my girls could help me create. We have enough artwork to cover a few miles of the great wall; we have enough painted mugs, bowls and plates to keep Tavern on the Green up and running and enough painted pots, patio pavers and bird feeders to remain to eyesore of the neighborhood.  Not that I don’t adore and cherish each an every one of these handmade projects, but one can only have so many…

While making a list of my husband’s favorite pastimes, I kept coming back to how much we enjoy spending our evenings outside. Grilling is a big part of that. So this year, we are going to make him three different types of homemade barbeque sauce. It’s a fun activity that the kids can help with, and the gift is practical because we know he’ll use and enjoy it. Plus, it won’t clutter the front porch or the front of the refrigerator!

I’ve listed a few of my favorite BBQ sauce recipes below, each with its own distinctive flavor and style. You might enjoy trying one style you’re familiar with, and one that’s new to you. You can find a variety of bottle styles and sizes at many different retailers such as The Container Store.

Have the kids decorate a different label (a simple piece of paper that can be glued onto the bottle).  Finally, secure the bottles in a nice box among some hickory wood chips (found at most grocery stores).  The wood chips are a great packing material as well as grill starter.  If you don’t have the time or desire to make your own BBQ sauce, purchase a favorite store brand, soak off the label and affix your own for the same effect.

Here are some of my preferred BBQ sauce recipes, all from the wonderful site AllRecipes.com:

Big Al’s K.C. Bar-B-Q Sauce

By: Alan Arthur

“This is a Kansas City-style sauce that I make in my restaurant. It is sweet and smoky with a little bite.”

Prep Time: 
15 minutes

Cook Time: 
20 minutes

Ready In: 
35 minutes

Servings: 48

Yield: 6 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 4 teaspoons hickory-flavored liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix together the ketchup, tomato sauce, brown sugar, wine vinegar, molasses, liquid smoke and butter. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, paprika, celery seed, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper.
  2. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for up to 20 minutes. For thicker sauce, simmer longer, and for thinner, less time is needed. Sauce can also be thinned using a bit of water if necessary. Brush sauce onto any kind of meat during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

North Carolina BBQ Sauce

by: WEIRDMUSIC657

“This sauce is vinegar-based with no ketchup. It’s very tangy, very thin, and wonderful on pork, chicken, and even tofu!”

Prep Time: 
5 minutes

Cook Time: 
30 minutes

Ready In: 
35 minutes

Servings: 64

Yield:  1 gallon

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon white vinegar
  • 1 1/3 cups cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/8 cups ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup mustard powder
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 lemons
  • 2 (10 fluid ounce) bottles Worcestershire sauce

Directions

  1. Combine the vinegar, cayenne pepper, black pepper, mustard powder, salt, lemons, and Worcestershire sauce in a large pot; bring to a simmer. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Applesauce Barbeque Sauce

By: YULANDA_US

“Applesauce gives this sauce a nice thick texture that coats well on meat. It has a sweet spicy flavor that is excellent on chicken or pork.

Prep Time: 
10 minutes

Cook Time: 
20 minutes

Ready In: 
30 minutes

Servings: 28

Yield: 3 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 cups unpacked brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, mix applesauce, ketchup, brown sugar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and cinnamon. Bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat, and cool completely. Use to baste the meat of your choice.

Mustard Based BBQ Sauce

By: JFREE44

“This is a great version of the traditional mustard-based BBQ sauce. Most sauces are ketchup based, but in the South we prefer the mustard variation. You ought to try it at least once.”

Prep Time: 
2 minutes

Cook Time: 
5 minutes

Ready In: 
7 minutes

Servings: 12

Yield:  1 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup prepared yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together the mustard, honey, brown sugar and vinegar. Season with black pepper. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over cooked pulled pork or beef. If you want more flavor, let the meat simmer in the sauce for about 30 minutes.

Happy Father’s Day!

~ Maury

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Maury Ankrum shares best Mothers Day inscription ideas

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, many of us will sit down with pen in hand to write a heartfelt inscription on a card for Mom. Trying to sum up a lifetime of gratitude and emotions on a greeting card can be a daunting task, though, which is why I’ve compiled a list of ideas to fuel your card-writing inspiration:

1. Make a list of all the reasons you love her (her great advice, the way she cooks the perfect omelet, the TLC she gave you when you were sick, etc.).

2. Share a special memory or two. (“I’ll never forget when we went camping in Estes Park and it snowed in June, and how happy I was when you got up and made coffee…”)

3. Borrow a quote, a song lyric, a verse or a line from a poem that expresses how you feel.

4. Tell her about things in your life that make you think of her. (“The kids and I picked lilacs today, which reminded us all of your perfume…”).

5. If you have children, tell her why the grandkids love her. Better yet, if they’re old enough to write let  them pen a line or two on the card. (Your pets can also write sentiments to your mom.)

6. Write about something you learned from her. (“Along with teaching me the secret to your chocolate chip cookies, you taught me how to choose my battles, open a bottle of champagne and ask for a raise…”)

7. Compile the reasons you are most thankful for your mom. (“I am grateful for your patience, wisdom, support and faith in me these many years…”)

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? I always love to hear your ideas. Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working moms out there!

~Maury

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If you’ve been married for as long as I have, you’ve come to realize that the most romantic of dates are not necessarily on February 14th at an overpriced restaurant with a prefixed menu.  Besides, how can one ever compete with the doe eyes, forced giggles, and hand feeding that often accompanies these evenings?

I prefer loud company, a hearty, well-priced meal and the genuine laughter that comes from a romantic dinner with the kids.

Romantic Valentine's Day dinner ideasTo create a fun and relaxing evening with the family, I change things up a bit by turning our living room into a five-star eatery. I hang curtains at the doorways, remove or push back most of the furniture, and bring in a card table and chairs. By covering the table with a nice cloth, lighting some candles, and adding a flower or two and some Chris Botti CDs – viola! – it’s the perfect dinner in, no reservations required.  I’ll prepare a nice Italian meal for my husband and me, and a box of my kids’ favorite mac and cheese (garnished with parsley for that little something extra). Our tradition has always included a new pair of PJ’s and chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert; after they’re all sugared up, we send them to bed a smidge early.

After the kids are down, we grab a nice bottle of wine, a couple of the remaining chocolates, and a ton of warm blankets — and head outside. While watching our breath and a few small stars, I give my husband what I call the verbal Valentine’s card. I tell him all the reasons I love him and love our life. (The memory of this lasts longer than a card).

Happy Valentine’s Day,

~Maury

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Appalachian goat - Photo courtesy Heifer International / Darcy Kiefel

If some of those on your holiday list are fortunate enough to have everything they need, consider donating to a charity in their name. It’s a selfless gesture that truly gets to the heart of the Christmas spirit. I believe a philanthropic gift is one of the most touching, personal presents one can give.

The fundamental logic behind most charities is to better the world for a particular cause or group of people.  However, despite good intentions, not all (more…)

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Halloween is so much more than an occasion; in our household, it’s an event!

I love anything in the name of Halloween that diverts some of the attention away from the candy and back towards the innocent shrieks and spooks of the holiday. In the spirit of playing on your kids’ imagination and curiosity, create your own friendly ghost invasion. Here are just a few simple, not-so-scary little tricks to play on your small people this Halloween: (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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