Archive for the ‘Personal Touches’ Category

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!)


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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!


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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.


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Whether he puts on a suit and tie or a pair of cargo pants- he is undoubtedly the single most influential person in your children’s lives. So this year, set aside the day to show him just how much his love and devotion means to you and your family. Plan a customized day around memory-making experiences.

Start by making a list of all your husband’s hobbies and favorite pastimes — as well as his most objectionable chores. Don’t forget to get the kids involved; not only will they love to be included, but their observations of dad’s likes and dislikes will astonish you. Then together, map out the perfect day for Dad. Start with his favorites for breakfast; be creative, even if it’s not your typical morning meal. Follow up with a few hours of whatever activity he likes best. If it’s golf, suit up the whole family in knickers for nine holes. Regardless of skill or age, the attempt to learn and become interested in one of his favorite pastimes will go a long way.

If watching football makes the top of the list, then jump online and order a few highlight reels of his favorite game, team or season. Then pop some popcorn and settle in by cheering or booing at the appropriate times (fake it, if you must). Round out the afternoon by relieving him of any household duties he can’t stand; taking out the trash, changing dirty diapers, or mowing the lawn. Whatever the task may be, it’s made meaningful by taking it off his “to-do” list. Ultimately, this is a day where effort counts. Spending quality time with you and the kids is what will make it memorable and a sure hit.

How are you celebrating Father’s Day this year? I’d love to hear your plans and ideas.


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My husband and I have known each other for 12 years and been married for seven, and for the better part of that time we have counted our blessings. Among so many, we feel fortunate for the financial means to alleviate some of life’s basic monetary stresses. But that security has meant that years sometimes pass by without our buying each other presents or more importantly, small tokens of appreciation. We’ve always said we didn’t need anything — or if we had wanted it badly enough, we had probably already gotten it. So Christmas, birthdays, respective Mother’s Days and Father’s Days, anniversaries, and any other gift-giving holidays have passed with little more than a card, a wink and a smile. Our practicality took precedence, but in retrospect perhaps it took some level of romance with it.

So this year — our seventh anniversary — I’m reneging on our deal. I want to show my husband how much I still love and feel connected to him.  I want to give him something meaningful that doesn’t have a hefty price tag; that means an iPad, fancy trip and sparkly watch are out. I’ve considered a completed photo album, silk pajamas, a custom CD, a dinner made from scratch, or a screen saver with our kids picture. The price tag doesn’t matter as much as the thought.

As our anniversary approaches, I’ve decided I’m going to show my husband just how lucky I am to have him in my life. I’ll start the day off by serving up a full bowl of Lucky Charms cereal (I’m not a morning person), followed by seven lottery tickets, carefully placed along the dashboard of his car. When he enters his office, he’ll find a vast collection of horseshoes, dice, (faux) rabbits foot, stars, shamrock plants, playing cards, stars, and any other symbol of luck I can come up with. That night, after we put the kids to sleep, we’ll cozy up and watch his favorite 007 James Bond movie and later conclude the evening with his real gift — a personalized star named after him that I ordered from Star Registry. This clever certificate comes complete with registry information, a star map with coordinates, and an astronomy book. 

As I reconsider the ideal of practicality over romance,  I’ve begun to realize that what keeps people connected is to continue to connect- not always with gift, but with tokens of love and affection.

Maybe I’ll even make something special for dinner that night. Lucky him.


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This month, hundreds of thousands of kids will be graduating from school. From preschool to college, this great achievement is cause for a great celebration. I don’t think you can ever start too young or too early in encouraging continuing education. It is possibility the single greatest factor in determining future success. That’s why I’m throwing my preschoolers a graduation party this year. The theme:  career day. (This can work for much older kids as well.) I plan on hosting sixteen adorable future firemen, princesses, astronauts, veterinarians, Spidermen, teachers, horse trainers, actors, and so on, and commemorating each of their accomplishments.

We’ll take pictures and create time capsules to open at their college graduation. I will make a special card to add to the capsule, and every year I’ll write down some of the highlights and personal achievements as well as their latest thoughts about what they want to be when they grow up. We’ll sing, dance and feast on a not-so sophisticated menu, and celebrate this first important educational milestone.


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