My Favorite Holiday Parties

December is rapidly approaching, and with it, holiday parties! I love when folks get creative with parties, so I’m going to share some of the best party ideas/themes I’ve come across over the years. I love holiday fun!

  • Holiday Cookie Swap. This one is old school, and almost everyone has heard of it, but because it’s fun, I’m starting with it. If you aren’t familiar with it, it works like this: Plan to have between eight and sixteen guests, and ask them to bring three dozen of their favorite homemade cookies on a platter. Serve finger foods and beverages of your choice. After visiting for a while, have everyone two or three of each type of cookie and put them on paper plates (divided by you), because their platters will be on the table till they are ready to leave. So easy and so fun, and everyone gets to take home lots of cookies! I also think it’s fun to have prize drawing for small prizes like fun cocktail napkins or tea towels. See some at Swoozie’s here.
  • Ornament Exchange. A fun, holiday-themed party, this one is super easy too. Have guests bring wrapped ornaments to put under the tree when they arrive. Serve finger foods and beverages, and maybe play a game like “Who’s Most Likely To…” if everyone knows each other. Have guests draw numbers from a hat, and whoever gets number one starts picking an ornament to take home. Remember, they’re wrapped, so they can’t see the ornament they’re getting till everyone picks one, and they are unwrapped! Anthropologie has some cute ornaments. Shop them here.

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  • My Favorites Party. A friend told me about this recently. Everyone brings a gift valued at $25 or less. One of their favorite things, and it can be anything…soap, candle, earbuds, beanie…anything you like. Again, it needs to be wrapped. It works the same way as the Ornament Exchange by drawing numbers to decide the picking order. Serve finger foods and beverages. As a host, I would want to have four or five of my own favorite things to give away in a prize drawing.
  • Gingerbread House Party. It sounds like something kids do, but moms can build them too! It’s OK to use the pre-fab kits or put the houses together before the guests arrive. That way everyone just does the fun part…decorating the houses! Of course, serve finger foods and beverages. At the end of the night, the guests take home their creations! You can purchase pre-fab kits for $9.99 each from Target here.

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  • Christmas Show PJ Party. I don’t know about your kids, but my daughter doesn’t enjoy the Christmas shows I watched when I was a little girl. My friends do, though! For this party, invite friends to show up in their pajamas and watch shows you’ve downloaded on your DVR or something from Amazon Prime. It can be a few old shows like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, or maybe a Christmas movie you love like Miracle on 34th Street. Serve popcorn and candy and fun beverages! It’s a great thing to do with good friends.

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Maybe you have some other ideas! If so, please share them! I’m always looking for something fun to do during the holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday To Me!

They say it’s your birthday!
It’s my birthday too, yeah!
They say it’s your birthday!
We’re gonna have a good time!
–The Beatles, Birthday

Every year when my birthday rolls around, I sing that song to myself. It makes me think of the movie, Sixteen Candles, which was released when I was sixteen (almost seventeen). You can see a quick clip of that scene here. And what 16-yr-old girl didn’t love Jake Ryan then?

TOMORROW, I turn 51. Nothing special about 51, but nobody loves a birthday like I do! Do I need fancy gifts? No. Do I need adoration? No. I just like that it’s MY day…well, it’s my day and lots of other people’s day. I have a friend in California who has the same birthday and a friend in Pennsylvania who has the same birthday too, so it’s their day too.

I love a birthday. Always have. Between the ages of two and five, Happy Birthday to Me was my favorite song. I walked around singing it all the time…year round. In fact, my family teased me mercilessly about it. As an adult, I start celebrating before my birthday and keep celebrating for a while. My husband’s birthday is six days before mine, so I wait till his is over, and then, it’s on!

I remember lots of childhood birthdays, but my sixth birthday really sticks out in my mind for lots of reasons. It was 1973, and my birthday fell on the Sunday following the Friday that was the last day of kindergarten.

1973 was a big year in my life, especially those weeks around my birthday. Not only was my birthday coming up just as school was getting out, but I was going to Walt Disney World (that’s what we called it back then) for the very first time the week after my birthday! I had two big things happening almost at once, and I was beyond excited!

My mother planned a birthday party at our home. We invited my entire kindergarten class. We ate cake and played Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey, because that was what we did at parties then. Mother’s friend, Martha, was there to help her with wrangling all those kids, and fortunately, we had a big backyard, so they could move us outside. I had gotten a piece of playground equipment for my birthday…a whirlybird. I had begged for it. We all got to play on that at my party. (See photo below) We also played on the swingset, but back then, swingsets had metal slides, and in south Alabama, those slides got pretty hot. Lots of kids blistered their backsides sliding down those slides in the 70s, but I don’t think anyone got blistered at my party.

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I also remember that I got in trouble. Having your entire kindergarten class over for your birthday when you’re turning six is a big deal. Apparently, I thought it made me the boss of the world. I have a vivid memory of my mother pulling me aside…literally pulling me aside by my arm…and whispering in my ear, “You’re being bossy. You need to settle down and be nice.” I remember feeling a little shocked, because somehow, I didn’t realize I was acting like a Queen Bee, but I’m sure I was. Some people, right now, are thinking, “Some things never change!”

Maybe that day it was the pre-Disney excitement. I’m sure everyone at my party also had to listen to me say repeatedly, “I’m flying to Walt Disney World in six days.” They probably wanted to punch me in the face.

Walt Disney World was just the Magic Kingdom back then…no Epcot, no Hollywood Studios, no Animal Kingdom..and it had only opened about 20 months prior, so I was among the first of my friends to go. Big stuff, especially since I had loved Mickey Mouse my entire life.

Six was a big birthday.

There were lots of memorable birthdays for obvious reasons: 16, 18, 21, 30, 40.

And then 50 came around last year. Wow! Half a century! What a glorious birthday! Lunch and Smokey & The Bandit with friends! Surprise dinner with friends! Brunch with the family! And I went on a fabulous birthday trip and stayed in my favorite hotel with my daughter and one of her friends. We had a wonderful, relaxing suite, and I loved every minute, drinking champagne with every meal and lounging on the patio of our suite. We ate at some of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, and it was a birthday to remember.

But as I think about past birthdays, I realize the best thing about birthdays, aside from celebrating another year of life, is the people…people who send Facebook messages, people who call, people who celebrate and/or send gifts or cards. All those things mean someone thought of me.

My mama isn’t here to celebrate 51 with me, but I have great memories of her on my various birthdays. She was there for all my childhood birthdays and made lots more of them special. For my 40th birthday, the first one after Daddy died, we had brunch at The Grand Hotel in Point Clear and spent the day there. Ten years later, when I turned 50, she found great joy in my excitement about that milestone birthday. It’s a great memory: Mother laughing at how happy I was to be 50. Even though she couldn’t go on my birthday trip with me, I sent her pictures and videos from the trip, and she enjoyed listening to every detail.

I know she would want me to enjoy this birthday too. My friends and family should hope I don’t get too bossy, though, because Mother’s not here to pull me aside and tell me to chill out.

So, what do I want for my 51st birthday? This weekend, I just want to do whatever comes to mind. I want to relax. My husband knows I just want some rest and relaxation. Well, that and some cake. I do love birthday cake. And some Champagne. I do love Champagne too. OK, maybe brunch with the family…that rounds it out. Oh, and I want my brother to call me and sing the Little Rascals birthday song from the episode titled Feed ‘Em And Weep. It’s what we do…for every birthday. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can watch it here.

But seriously, one of the best gifts my husband ever gives me is that first cup of coffee in bed every morning. He really doesn’t need to do anything else for me as long as he continues that practice. He started doing that a couple years ago, and I am a much happier person because of it. It makes me feel like every day is my birthday!

Happy Birthday to me!

Turning 50

Next weekend, I’m going to a friend’s birthday party. She’s turning 50, quite a milestone birthday. I asked her recently if she is as excited about her 50th birthday as I was about mine, and she said she’s not sure how she feels about it.IMG_4555

I turned 50 last year. If you didn’t have to tolerate me then, I will tell you I was pretty obnoxious. I was almost as excited about turning 50 as I was about turning 21…almost. I’ve never been as excited about one of my own birthdays as I was about turning 21. Turning 50 was a close second, though.

When my friend, Nikki, said she wasn’t sure how she felt about fifty, I thought, “She’s got this.” She’s a young fifty. She lives life to the fullest and has a positive outlook on life. All those things point to being happy about a milestone birthday.

Maybe I’m weird, but I look at fifty as a positive.

Of course, I look for reasons to celebrate. Fifty was the perfect excuse for celebrating myself! Fifty deserves Champagne at lunch and anytime I want it! Trust me, almost anyone who has had lunch with me in the past year will tell you I love Champagne with lunch.

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Bellinis in some adorable stemless flutes my friends, Jenn and Neill, gave me.

When I turned fifty in May of last year, I took full advantage of the fact that I was having a big, important, milestone birthday. My husband had turned fifty the year before, and he wanted no fanfare. I honored that. He didn’t really even want it mentioned. He did, however, go to the beach with some friends one weekend near his birthday. Judging by the late night phone call I received, he had a good time.

I didn’t want “fanfare” in the way of my husband throwing a party. Some sweet friends did come together and surprise me with a small dinner party, and some other friends took me out to lunch and to see Smokey and the Bandit (its 40th anniversary) on the big screen. Both events were great fun, as we had fun at the dinner celebrating my birthday, and we lusted after a young Burt Reynolds in the movie theatre after lunch. I wore a “50 Looks Good On Me” sash and black feather boa at dinner and a Smokey and the Bandit homemade t-shirt at the movie. ***Note: black feather boas shed, and if you have any sweat on your chest, the loose feathers will stick, making it appear as though you have a hairy chest.***

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Proof that shedding feather boas can make you appear to have a hairy chest

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My sweet friends humoring me by wearing Smokey and the Bandit t-shirts at the movie

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Drinking Dr. Peppers my friend smuggled into Smokey and the Bandit

My husband gave me a gift I planned: a trip to Los Angeles with my daughter and one of her friends (taking the daughter and a friend gave me lots of time to do whatever I wanted)…staying at my favorite hotel, where we had a lovely suite with a beautiful, gigantic patio that I enjoyed every…single…day. I love outdoor spaces; the hotel gifted me with a glorious outdoor space unlike any other.

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On my glorious patio at the hotel, recreating Faye Dunaway’s pose the day after she won the Academy Award. She posed by the pool, but she was a young, tall, skinny Hollywood star. I posed on the private patio, because I’m not.

While we were there, I visited with a friend who had just turned 40, and we traded “war stories” over dinner while watching celebrities dine. I also had the chance to meet two hot gentlemen, Tony Romo and Chace Crawford, and pretend I was just meeting them so I could take a picture of my daughter and her friend with them.

I embraced turning fifty. I see it as the age of respect. I have knowledge I didn’t have at 20, 30, or 40. I have experiences I wouldn’t trade. As a result of those various experiences, I have wisdom. If you’re thirty and want to tell me about “real life,” be prepared to get, “Bless your heart. I’m 50. Let me tell you about real life.”

There’s also something relaxing about being fifty. When you’re twenty, you worry about what other people think. When you’re thirty, that becomes less of a worry. You understand that when you go to a party, other people don’t really care what you’re wearing…they’re more concerned with what they are wearing. In fact, I like to think that at 30, that all went out the window with me. Some people refer to 40 as their “kiss my a** age” (I heard someone say that on David Letterman’s show years ago), meaning they stopped letting other people influence them and stopped caring so much about what other people think, but I think mine was 30. Some people who knew me in my 20s might argue that it was earlier.

If my mother were here today, she would tell you I was the “classic strong-willed child.” I didn’t cause problems, but I was stubborn. I was known for it in my family. Daddy always talked about it and wondered aloud where I got that lovely trait. He would often say, “If she doesn’t want to do something, or if she doesn’t agree with something, she is not going to give in.” Generally speaking, I didn’t care what other people did, but I wasn’t going to do something I didn’t want to do, and I wasn’t going to be talked into changing my mind about something.

As life has gone on, I’ve become less rigid, more relaxed, and most of the time, I don’t sweat the small stuff. I like to think I quit sweating the small stuff when I was in college. My parents used to say, “She might have been ‘switched’ at college” (a reference to Switched at Birth), meaning a different person came back than the one they dropped off four years before. Whatever happened, I had gained wisdom in those four years, and I’ve gained even more since…I don’t care who is right and who is wrong…unless, of course, it negatively affects me, my child, or my family. Then…well, you already know about Mama Bear.

For me, with age has come peace. I have peace in knowing God is in charge. I truly have peace in knowing there are some things over which I have no control. I have peace in knowing that I, generally speaking, try to do the right thing. I will admit that I’m perfectly capable of being petty, but I try to do the right thing most of the time. I have peace in knowing I have a nice family and good friends. I have peace in knowing I’m trying to raise my daughter to take care of herself and others. I have peace in knowing a small act of kindness can mean a lot to someone. I have peace in knowing my brother and I will talk almost everyday, whether we have something to say or not. I have peace in knowing he is happy. I have peace.

So, to my friend, Nikki, and all my other friends who will be turning fifty in the next year or two, this is my gift to you: Embrace the 5-0! Tell everyone you see you are enjoying your 50th birthday! Enjoy it! And don’t just celebrate it for one day; celebrate the whole dang year! Find the peace you deserve at 50!

My 51st birthday is approaching one month from today, and I have called this past year The Year of Me, this year that I am 50.

Unfortunately, I lost my mother during this year, but she laughed and laughed last May at how I embraced turning 50. She had a great sense of humor, and she was happy I was celebrating life. She was glad I took some extra vacations (my favorite thing to do), and she was glad I was spending time with friends and family during the year. She encouraged me to enjoy every single day. As my parents used to tell me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Make it good the first time around.” I’m certainly trying.

Friends, enjoy every day. Be glad you’re turning fifty. It’s a milestone. Eat cake! Cake is for winners! (Nikki knows what that means.) It should be a celebration.

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Now, let’s pop the Champagne!

Cheers!

Kelly

Quick and Easy Brunch

Anyone who knows me will quickly tell you I am no Martha Stewart. I like to cook, but I’m no chef. I don’t have the attention span for recipes with too many ingredients, and I tend to be a “squirrel chaser,” i.e. I’m easily distracted.

Every now and then, though, I like to invite some friends over for a brunch. Sure, I could get it catered, but it’s a great opportunity for me to try my hand at some recipes.

As always, the key for me is the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid. When I start trying to get too extravagant, I lose control of the situation. I learned a long time ago that it’s best for me not to make it too elaborate.

I plan to host a brunch in my home later this month…a lovely, spring brunch. In the past, I’ve used plain glass or even clear plastic plates, but this year, I’m doing something different.

In the early 1940s, my maternal grandmother got her first set of Franciscan Desert Rose dinnerware. If you’re not familiar with it, the first Desert Rose dinnerware was produced in California in 1941, and it became the largest selling and longest running dinnerware pattern ever. Jacqueline Kennedy purchased some for use in the White House. In 1979, the company was sold to Wedgewood in England, and all production was moved to England in 1984. According to cedarhillfarmhouse.com, production was moved to other countries in 2000, but the entire pattern was discontinued in 2013.

It’s not a “fancy” pattern, and it was never expensive, but it’s pretty.

Over the years, my grandmother grew her collection and eventually gave it to my mother. I added to my mother’s collection over the years. When my mother died in December, I brought the Desert Rose to my house. My husband took one look at the boxes and wondered aloud what I was going to do with them. I still haven’t figured out where to keep them, but I plan to use them this spring for a brunch.

There are lots of things to consider when planning a brunch at home, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here is what I make notes on:

*Dinnerware (Desert Rose), where to place food, what to serve, when to prepare food, what beverages to serve, music, seating arrangements, flower arrangements, and party favors.*

The brunch I will be hosting is for a school committee, and the date and time have already been decided, so that decision is off my plate.

The dinnerware/flatware/linens question is the first one you should decide, simply because you can build around that. I have some light green cloth napkins I plan to use, because they will coordinate nicely with the Desert Rose dinnerware. I plan to have all the food served buffet-style from my dining room table, so I’ve selected a table pad and a tablecloth that will work with the dinnerware.

As for flatware, I have collected several sets of stainless flatware from eBay for great prices, so I have place settings for 40 and serving pieces too. eBay is a great resource for collecting.

Music is easy too…we have DirecTV, which offers a myriad of music channels. Usually, for brunch functions, I find a jazz station to provide a light musical background.

For me, deciding on a menu for a brunch is far easier than picking a menu for lunch or dinner. I love the Hungry Girl cookbooks, because she offers low-calorie, healthy recipes for just about anything, and she has some awesome breakfast/brunch options.

For this particular spring brunch, I plan to have this menu:

FRESH FRUIT BOWL: (cut up strawberries and stir in blueberries the night before)

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HUNGRY GIRL CRAMMED WITH CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS from page 38 of Hungry Girl Clean and Obsessed (baked the night before and warmed before the brunch)

HUNGRY GIRL BANANA BREAD BONANZA MUFFINS from page 41 of Hungry Girl Clean and Obsessed (baked the night before and warmed before the brunch)

HUNGRY GIRL VEGGIE-LICIOUS BREAKFAST BAKE (recipe can be found here), assembled ahead of time and bake the day of the brunch

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Veggie-licious Breakfast Bake photo from http://www.hungry-girl.com

MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER’S SOUR CREAM POUND CAKE I could give you the recipe, but I’d have to kill you. That will have to remain within the family.

For beverages, I will serve coffee, water, and orange juice…easy enough. If it weren’t for a school committee, I’d also offer Prosecco.

It’s an easy-to-assemble menu. I will display the muffins on a Desert Rose platter. The Breakfast Bake will be in a Pyrex dish, and the fruit will be in a large bowl. All those foods will be on the dining room table, and I will arrange beverages on the kitchen island. I will grab coffee the morning of the brunch at Panera, and they will provide all the cream and sugar/sweetener. I will have water and juice in two pitchers.

If possible, I always recommend fresh flowers. I love having fresh flowers in the house all the time, but I get an extra arrangement when entertaining…one for the dining room table with the food, and one for the kitchen counter.

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As for seating, the group will be small enough for me to have everyone in the kitchen and keeping room off the kitchen. There is a loveseat and a chair-and-a-half, so that is seating for four people. There are four chairs at my kitchen table, and two taller chairs at the kitchen island bar, for a total of  ten. We have eight dining room chairs we can bring in as needed.

The kitchen/keeping room combo is a perfect place for everyone to congregate, visit with each other, and discuss any committee business.

When the fun is over, it’s always nice to send something home with your guests…a small token that shows you were happy to have them in your home…a party favor. In a previous post, I sang the praises of Miss Shelley’s Southern Jams and Jellies. For this particular event, I plan to have 2-oz jars of Fire Island Peach Jam and/or Apple Pecan Pie Preserves with blue ribbons around the top, because the school colors are blue and white. Everyone will love these! To see what Miss Shelley’s Southern Jams and Jellies has to offer, click here.

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Photo courtesy of Miss Shelley’s Southern Jams and Jellies Facebook page

So, if you are planning a small brunch at home that you don’t plan to have catered, this is the easy way to do it…keep it simple!

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Happy Hosting!

Kelly

***All Hungry Girl photos courtesy of hungry-girl.com or her books.***