A good party depends on good equipment. All the basics are in my kitchen: an electric mixer with all the requisite attachments, a toaster oven, a wine fridge, a no-stick automatic icemaker and a flexible neck instant hot water faucet. It must be sleek and modern in polished chrome. It must not be too low to prevent rinsing of pots and pans. It makes prepping so much easier to have everything you need close at hand. It also doesn’t hurt to have a well-designed kitchen with enough cabinets for all your gear. If they are too high, you won’t use them. Separate drawers for utensils and small items are mandatory—and more than a few. After all, this room is the heart of the home. I wanted a classic, cozy space that is warm and friendly while also featuring state-of-the-art appliances and fixtures. Volumes have been written on kitchen style. A designer kitchen is a real coup. Technology has brought everyday tasks like cooking far into the future. Most kitchen layouts depend upon available footage, but even when it is sparing, you can follow some basic rules.

First and foremost, the sink must be below a window, so you can look out in the yard and watch your kinds at play. It simply looks strange if this rule is not followed. No one wants a claustrophobic kitchen, especially if you spend a lot of time in the space, prepping or eating. Even a single cup of coffee needs a pleasant environment. Next, it is vital to be able to reach your stove from the sink if at all possible. It makes cleanup spill free. At most, it should be a step or two away. The fridge should be in the same room and not in the pantry or laundry area. It is so time consuming to retrieve ingredients while you are cooking. A real plus is the space to have an island to house a bar sink, an extra oven or even a set of knives on top.

The kitchen should be designed for prepping and also socializing, and I don’t mean on Facebook. At parties, it is where the guest love to congregate and watch you at work. Everyone loves the warmth of an oven and the fabulous aromas. Families also enjoy their time together in the happiest place in the house. Builders do not go the extra mile in spec houses and it is the first thing buyers notice. Realtors are said to sell houses based on the kitchen and the bathrooms. They must be up to par for the price point or a big discount is expected for remodeling. While I would love to design my next chef’s kitchen, I know that it is a very big job. Meanwhile I enjoy what I have and admire the care that has gone into the layout. Designers know the importance of placement, convenience and style.

How I love a good time. We know how to party in my town. It is in the water maybe. Well, I know that it is in my blood. Hence this blog about festivities of any kind. Life is too short to cheat ourselves out of diversion. It is necessary to alleviate work tedium and family stress—whatever ails you in particular. I say, let’s stop a moment and celebrate. Don’t miss any opportunity to rejoice. It can be a holiday, a friend’s graduation or birthday, an anniversary or a commemoration of a milestone. These are the special times in life that we cherish.

Given these beliefs, you can be sure that I have parties all the time and many tips and tricks up my sleeve. I insist on great food that is interesting and tasty—not just the usual cheese and crackers fare. I actively look for new ideas. I also believe in plating the food on gorgeous, colorful trays. There must be fresh-cut flowers in the center of the table. If it is outside in the yard, I need to find the best portable speakers that are easy to move around so they do their job without getting in the way. Of course, they should be wireless of the Bluetooth kind. They come in a few finishes to match your yard. I like to decorate them if they are visible. When I found some that look like boulders, I was ecstatic. Now, that’s a cool look! But, they must have a quality sound and volume control.

Other party musts are a signature drink that everyone will love. If you have a bartender, you can get fancy. I love a kir, champagne and blackberry brandy. I also like making a giant bowl of punch with Seven-up or Ginger Ale and champagne. You can float raspberries and mint leaves on top. Make colorful ice in fancy shapes like stars. You just add juice to the ice tray.

Apart from food and drink, a party must have a purpose. Perhaps there will be gifts or games as in a bridal or baby shower. Theme parties are my specialty and I go all out to make everything match. I pick a color scheme and buy napkins, streamers, paper goods and assorted décor items. If it is a party for its own sake, games are still relevant, and you can go for the tried and true (charades and Pictionary) or the novel. Make up a guessing game. Attach a sheet of paper on the back of each guest and itemize personality traits. The guest will ask others to guess who he or she is. Of course, he will have to give hints. It is a great way for people to get to know each other.

While these are the basics, there is something that has been left out: music! Be sure to select what your guest will like and turn up the volume. Remember those outdoor wireless speakers? Here’s how they come in really handy.

Enjoying life for most people means what they do for recreation and fun. Passing time means more than work; it includes play and leisure activities. We all have our favorites. For some it is sewing and crafts, watching old movies, taking on a sport as a fan or participant, and, of course, parties and social occasions. I specialize in the latter. Throwing a good party is my forte. I try to make each one unique and individual. No theme is too much of a challenge.

I was asked to plan and execute a kid’s event for the child of a close friend and I jumped in with both feet. They are always firmly planted on the party ground. Speaking of jumping, I must reveal right out of the box that the focus of the festivities was a huge trampoline. No mini size for this bunch. They need something dramatic. It is like a bouncy house without the castle or spaceship exterior. This way the adults can see what is going on and root for the jumpers. My friend on Facebook knows that trampolines are hot; they are the latest thing for parties, replacing a pony, clown, or balloon maker. It is completely affordable and easy to do. There are rental companies that will explain their inventory and bring and install just the right size.

Budget was not really an object, but as mentioned, the actual center of attention is not out of sight. No rental service wants to price itself out of the market. So once the vendor was selected, I was off and running, planning the food, prizes, take-home goodie bags, and games. I found some “jumping beans” online and thought it would be amusing to put them in the bags. Around the yard posted visibly for the guests will be large signs saying: “jump for joy” and “jump in.” I will certainly have a recording of the song Jump on the speaker. What a coup! I must end with my basic party tips, whatever your theme. I got some of them from https://www.trampolinechoice.com/affordable-diy-trampoline-party-ideas/ and the others are just my own ideas. It can be cowboys, astronauts, fairy princesses, a circus, toy land, or cars and trucks.

  • It is all about the theme decorations. Your nearest party story likely has a wide choice of favors, paper goods, and tablecloths to meet every need.
  • Make sure each child gets something to hold such as a hat, puzzle, piece of candy, or fun sunglasses.
  • Show the guests around so they easily find the food, drink, and games. In the case of the trampoline, it will be obvious.
  • Without being dictatorial, set some ground rules so the kids do not get rambunctious. If you don’t want them in your house, put a sign on the door. However, a bathroom must be readily available.
  • Give favors during the party and the take-home bags as they leave. Decorate them with ribbon in the party theme colors. Whatever the theme, you can put in stickers, miniature replicas, candy or other treat. It can be store-bought or homemade. The point is to make it fun.

Have you ever been to a party that was simply amazing? The guests mingled nicely, the conversation flowed, the food was perfect, and the mood was just right? You walk away thinking that every party should be that way, and trying to figure out what the secret was so that your own parties would be just as good.

Unfortunately, even the best of us don’t always throw perfect parties. We’ve got tips and tricks to make them go as well as they can, but so much is out of our control that, to some degree, it is a gamble. I’ve thrown a lot of parties in my day, and many of them were good. The guests were happy, the company enjoyed, the food eaten. Other times, I’ve had untouched food, long awkward silences, and people didn’t linger over coffee or dessert. So what made some of the fetes I’ve thrown go over well and others that went down like a lead balloon? Without a post-party autopsy, one can’t be entirely sure, but there are a few things I’ve noticed:

  1. You don’t necessarily need to have a theme for every party, but some commonality is good. For example, if you have a dinner party and invite your old college friends and your new work friends, there is a chance they might not talk and things potentially might not work out well. However, if you invite the same crowd over for the Superbowl, there will be something for everyone to talk about. If you’re getting together a gang that hasn’t seen each other in a long time, a quiet dinner might be just the thing so that everyone can see and chat with everyone else. If you have a theme, you make your own life easier. You know exactly what kinds of food to prepare, what decorations to get, and it will be fun finding the big and little ways to incorporate your theme.
  2. Planning ahead is critical. I can’t stress this one enough. When I say plan ahead, I mean, everything – from the supplies you’ll need to the ingredients required. If it’s a big event or there’s a lot to do, make a timeline or write it on a calendar so that you know what to do when. Also, now is not the time to make your 17 step dessert or homemade crepes. While they might be killer crowd pleasers, nobody likes a frazzled host or a host that has to spend the entire time in the kitchen slaving away and missing the fun. That brings me to my next point.
  3. Prep as much as possible beforehand. The whole point of hosting is because you want to spend time with your guests and to celebrate something, whether it be a good meal or a special occasion. If there is food you can make prior to the day of, do it. Measure out the ingredients of the stuff you can’t and have them ready so you can just mix and cook whenever possible. If you want music playing, assemble the playlist before the event so you can just set it to play and forget about it. If there is a big game or other televised event, you can even set your tv to turn on at a specific time or assign the job to one of your guests so that you don’t have to drop any other duties to do it. Also keep in mind that if you’re in the kitchen, guests will likely gather there too. Be prepared for this and have jobs for those who ask readily available. Maybe they can pour wine in the glasses you’ve set aside and distribute them. Or maybe they can carry out the snacks you assembled the night before. Your guests will feel like they’re helping and it will take some of the pressure off you.

Start with these three things and your next bash is bound to be a success!

Birthdays are cause for celebration at our house. We make them intoa very big deal. The kids especially look forward to it, but not just because of the presents. We do give gifts but they tend to be small. We choose to put the emphasis on celebrating the person and showing how much we care by giving attention. We hang up a banner the night before so that the person sees it when they wake up. They get to choose a special restaurant or meal for dinner and pick a weekend activity for us to do as a family. Of course, there is also a special dessert and the traditional birthday candles.

We always include some kind of gathering. The kids, if they choose, can have parties with their friends – as the years have gone by, we’ve had pool parties, arcade parties, movie theater parties, and simple playdates – but we leave that up to them to decide. We also usually have relatives over too at some point, either on the day of or the weekend before or after. We take our time with everything and make it feel truly special for the birthday person. Nobody minds because everyone in the family knows that they will get the same treatment when their birthday rolls around. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy being around all the people who love and care for them?

My favorite are milestone birthdays. I probably went overboard when the kids turned one. And when my two oldest turned 10 (I have one to go). There’s going to be huge festivities for 18 and 21 as well (assuming my kids want them, anyway). It’s a great time to acknowledge the kids and say, “hey, we’re proud of the person you’re becoming!” That’s something every kid needs to hear and what better time to do it than when it is their birthday? One day, my kids will have families of their own and I won’t be the one kissing them on the forehead and wishing them a happy birthday when they wake up. I really hope that the tradition will live on through them and they will do the same thing for their own families.

Especially as we get older, we tend to shy away from a large fuss on our birthdays. I don’t see why. I don’t look at getting older as a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I see it as an accomplishment. Just think about it: how many people don’t get to celebrate even a 60th birthday? Why be sad that you’re reaching retirement age and instead appreciate the fact that you’ve been blessed enough to be close to an age where you hopefully get to enjoy life more and work less, spending more time with those you love the most. How is reaching that age a bad thing? It totally deserves to be celebrated!!

It’s that age-old problem: you’ve cooked a meal for a party and you have no idea what wine to serve with it. I’ve developed a bit of a cheat sheet over the years and I’m going to make this post all about what goes together.

First, let’s talk about meat. Serving beef and lamb usually calls for red wine. You’ll often hear people discussing a “full-bodied” red, and that’s what you want here. It needs to stand up to the heartiness of the meat. Shiraz or Pinot Noir are good traditional choices. For gamey meats like venison or bison, you want earthy and spicy flavors so try serving a Sangiovese.

If you’re making chicken, traditionally it is served with white wine. If you are grilling or roasting the meat, a glass of Chardonnay is an excellent accompaniment. For food that will be heavily or richly sauced, serve a Cabernet Sauvignon. For other fowl like duck or quail, you can go the opposite route and serve a merlot.

White wine is also a good choice for fish or other seafood. Try a dry Riesling for flaky fish or a Pinot Grigio. Grilled fish also pairs nicely with Chardonnay.

If your food is very acidic, like pasta with a tomato sauce, your wine will have to balance out the acid. Try a nice Zinfandel. And if what you’re serving is very spicy, you want something crisp and refreshing that your guests can drink quickly. A Riesling or a sweet Gewurztraminer will pair well with the flavors of your meal. A Chardonnay, on the other hand, should be avoided because it will actually tastebitter from the heat of the food.

Cheeses or desserts can be a little less clear. Full bodied wines go well with cheeses that are hard, and soft cheeses play well with drier wines like Marsanne. If you are serving blue cheese, try something sweet. For dessert, serving a sweet wine is also fine as long as the dessert is not as sweet as the wine.

Another good rule of thumb is to think of the recipe origin. If you are cooking a meal in a French style, pair it with a wine from the same region. If you are grilling something light and California style, look for something grown in the Napa Valley.

You can also think about the way you’re cooking your meal. Something poached or cooked delicately requires a light flavor to drink as well. If you are roasting your meat, it will have a richer flavor and therefore will stand up to a richer wine. Something barbecued or grilled will have a smokiness, so a wine aged in wood will bring out that flavor. If you are making a creamy sauce, then your meal can stand up to a heavy wine.

Keep in mind that these recommendations are based my tastes and experiences, as well as some tried-and-true combinations. You may like something else, and that’s totally fine. Or, if you make something and a guest brings a wine that you hadn’t planned on but you want to serve – no problem! Be flexible and open to possibilities.

Everyone thinks of New Orleans when they talk about Mardi Gras. However, it is a legal holiday in the whole state! And Baton Rouge can throw some great Mardi Gras parades and exciting fetes as well. We have different family friendly Krewes made up of people in the Capital area who host parades throughout the week, ranging from pets in costume to a night parade and more. It is a fantastic time for everyone, and of course you’re going to want to throw a Mardi Gras themed party if you can’t make it down here during the parade season (which lasts from the Epiphany straight through to the day before Ash Wednesday). Let’s talk about what you’ll need for an awesome Mardi Gras themed party of your own:

  1. This one is obvious, right? Do you know why they are so closely associated with the holiday, though? Krewes have always thrown objects to the crowd during the parades, but it wasn’t always these novelty necklaces – they used to throw everything from edibles to dirt! Supposedly, back in the 1880s, somebody wearing a Santa suit threw beaded necklaces instead, and crowds loved them. Other krewes followed suit, and now it’s what the parades are known for.
  2. A King Cake. This sweet, round cake is as much a part of the celebration as the parades and beads. Typically,it consists of twisted dough, colored icing, and sprinkles. The King Cake heralds the new year and the beginning of spring. There is also a bean or a trinket – often a figurine of a baby – baked or embedded (if it’s plastic) in the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the trinket or bean is pronounced King for the day. They also have to host the following year’s party!
  3. Lots of purple, green, and gold. This is more of a New Orleans thing, having come from the signature colors of one of the oldest Krewes in that city, the Krewe of Rex. New Orleans has had more parades thrown by the Krewe of Rex than any other organization, and their colors have been become synonymous with Mardi Gras.
  4. If you want to serve traditional food, think gumbo or jambalaya. The ‘official’ drink of Mardi Gras is a Hurricane. For added atmosphere, play brass band or Zydeco music.
  5. In addition to the parades, the other thing Mardi Gras is known for are the balls. Each Krewe throws one for its members, and the that year’s King and Queen’s identities are kept secret and are revealed the night of the ball. These are very formal and often incredibly exclusive events. In keeping with that spirit, you can throw a formal bash with gorgeous masks for your guests.

The history of the Krewes in Louisiana makes for some interesting reading, and I really recommend you learn more about this great Louisiana tradition! As Louisianans like to say, Laissez lesbon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)!

Every parent has experienced the stress and joy that goes with putting together a child’s birthday party. Some go all out and others try to avoid them whenever possible. I have three kids so I’ve thrown a few of these, and there are a couple of things I have learned along the way:

Let your child get involved. First, you don’t need to do all the work – they should be helping. Second, it will give them some say in how the party looks. Obviously the younger they are, the less they can do, but find something that is age appropriate. Let them pick decorations, or decide on the location. Have them help you set the table or ice the cake. Anything that gives them a little say in what is going on will be great.

Next, remember that it isn’t necessary to go too big. When they are very young, they won’t even remember their birthdays. So you are essentially doing it for yourself and your family. Keep that in mind when you catch yourself thinking of making 25 monogrammed cupcakes for each of your 2-year old’s dear friends.

Another thing to consider is the gift situation. Your kid probably doesn’t need any more crap, and that’s exactly what they get most of the time. We have a wishlist on a popular online shopping site for the kids to ask for gift items, but we often include the following phrase on the invitation: “Please don’t feel obligated to bring a gift, your presence will be enough.” The gifts that the children do receive are not opened in front of everyone, either. We learned this the hard way when some gifts didn’t even survive the length of the party without losing pieces or being destroyed.

Plan out what the kids are going to do so that it isn’t just a free for all. Free for alls usually end up making your house look like a tornado hit it, one (or more) of the kids will leave crying, and somebody always feels left out. Even putting something loosely-structured in place will work. Party games are really going to depend on the age. If they are too young to win or lose gracefully, skip the games and do an activity with them instead. Let them top their own pizza or decorate a cupcake.

Then there are the goodie bags/party favors. I try to avoid the cheap little plastic things that will be thrown away by next week. If the party lends itself to this, a great idea is to do some sort of craft with the kids. Dump a bunch of building bricks on a table and let the kids build something to take home. Another great idea is making picture frames, and what that looks like will depend on the kids’ skill level. If you have a photo printer or a Polaroid camera, you can create a DIY photo booth and props. This way, the kids can take home a picture of your event in the frame that they make.

Keep in mind that kid’s parties are usually a little awful and a lot stressful, so just plan for that and everyone should make it out alive!