Personalize the Details in Your Big Celebration

After all of the time and money you’ve spend planning a large party, it makes sense to invest a little bit more of your energy in the personal touches that make the biggest impression on your guests.  People always offer their opinion, usually unsolicited, about the party in the days after  a big wedding celebration or birthday bash. Party goers will comment on the hors d'oeuvres, the cocktail hour, the décor, the music and the cake. But sometimes of the best way to impress a guest or leave an impression is to put in some thought and effort on personalizing their experience. This can be done in a number of ways.

Menu Selection

These days so many people are going with gluten free or vegan diets, so offering up alternative dietary and dining options to your guests with special dietary restrictions will go a long way.  You can go through your list with a friend who has more knowledge about special eating habit, or you can ask for special requests during the RSVP process or when you follow-up with event reminders. Paperless Post has many invitation options that can accommodate you on this.

Place Setting

Again, while some people will love your selection of flowers and colors, others may not. If you know some of your guests have allergies to certain plants or flora, that why sit them at a table that might make them uncomfortable. And if your college roommate is coming, make sure you have her favorite flowers and dessert made just for her. She’ll remember that more than anything!

Photos

Everyone has smart phones with fancy cameras these days, but a really nice old-school touch at a wedding party is to leave a disposable camera on each table and then collect them just before the party end. This way the hosts can have the cameras developed and see some of the fun faces they may have missed during the actual party. Then they can put together an edited slide show and send them to their guests after the party is over. This is a way for the guests to give back to the host by giving them some fun mementos of the party that belong to them.

 

Throwing a big party is a lot of work and you won’t please and impress everyone. But sometime pleasing those you love the most with a personal touch will make the biggest impression.

Take It Outside

Jenna Rath was afraid she’d blow the budget for her husband’s, Wally, 40th birthday bash. The size of her house dictated that the party had to be outside. But a cold front threatened, making a rented tent with heaters a last-minute must. The tent she could afford was big but not big enough to fit everyone for dinner. Scanning her yard for clues, the Portland, Ore., native spotted the hardly used outdoor fire pit her brother had given her. Four hay bales and a few logs later, Rath had hit on a budget-friendly solution: a campfire set up a few yards away from the tent with seating for eight. The fire “place” was the hit of the evening.

Maximizing your outdoor space -- using items you already have on hand -- can make throwing warm-weather parties much less work than indoor entertaining. Tidy up the lawn, throw a few twinkly lights from the holiday bin and voila. No vacuuming, no dusting necessary!

With all parties, the No. 1 priority is making guests feel relaxed and comfortable, says Genevieve Ferraro, owner of The Jewel Box Home, which helps owners of smaller homes decorate and entertain. “No matter how small your garden or budget, applying a few rules to your outdoor decor will put friends at ease and let you have a good time too,” says Ferraro.

Here’s how to turn your outdoor space into a party palace.

Make room for the festivities Define your space so partygoers don’t wonder where they’re “allowed” to go. Patios and porches make it easy to understand where the party perimeter lies, while open lawns may suggest too much space and make mingling more challenging. Here’s where those twinkling lights come in handy. Arranged on shrubs or potted trees, lights visually rein in space and give a shape to your party space. Set up the buffet table and bar so that they too suggest edges of the “room.” Do the same with card tables, folding chairs or whatever seating you have available.

Give them an eyeful If you’re serving food, chances are good that the focal point of your party will be the table. So make it spectacular. A vase bursting with flowers or greenery from your garden coupled with a bountiful array of colorful dishes will earn you a round of oohs and ahhs from your guests. A couple of two- and three-tier serving racks will help balance the table and allow you to put out more food than will individual platters at the same level.

Dress it up in white When entertaining indoors, you think about whether your napkins clash with your tablecloth and dishes, and whether they all clash with the colors in your house. Outdoor party space deserves the same consideration. Ferraro likes using all white linens, in part because almost everyone has them, but also because they work in any environment. “White tablecloths and napkins -- paper or cloth -- are like clean canvases,” she says. Anchor white cloths on card tables with a single flower in a small vase and a votive candle. Ferraro carries the white theme to her serving pieces, which are inexpensive to buy and indispensable throughout the year. She complements white pottery with glass vases and bowls and stainless steel cutlery.

Lose the smoke machine Assuming it’s on wheels, move your barbecue or grill away from guests and decorations, particularly if children are present. You wouldn’t want your outdoor decor to be lost in a haze of smoke!

“Best Wedding Gift I Ever Got”

Gearing up for wedding season? For a memorable gift, skip the registry and think outside the Crate & Barrel box. To help your creative juices flow, we talked to real brides and discovered that their favorite gifts fall in one of these three categories.

1. Experiential Wedding Gifts
Kitchenware is always useful, but couples-to-be often receive five of the same ones and have to return four. Opt for an invaluable gift instead: a memorable experience.

  • Honeymoon surprise: “We went to Bora Bora on our honeymoon, and knew there were some activities we would love to do,” says Jennifer Matthews. “One of our friends sneakily asked us details about our honeymoon, and when we got to our hotel, we found out she booked us a day trip to swim with dolphins. We were thrilled!” You can also ask the bride and groom if they have a honeymoon registry, such as HoneymoonWishes.com or HoneyFund.com.
  • Chef’s hat special: Perhaps the bride and groom have registered for every kitchen utensil under the sun, but do they know how to put them to good use? “Neither of us knew how to actually cook,” says Rebecca Scott. “Friends of ours realized this, and bought us a cooking class so the kitchen items would actually be used -- and be used well!” Plus, a cooking class is a great bonding experience for newlyweds.
  • Outdoor adventure: Are the bride and groom daredevil types? “A friend of ours got skydiving lessons for their wedding to remind them to keep the excitement and adventure in their lives,” says Maria Weicker. Once the excitement of the wedding is over, this is a great way to help an (adventurous) bride and groom keep the excitement alive.

2. Sentimental Wedding Gifts
If you’re a crafty or creative person, sentimental gift ideas will allow you to put your creativity to work to make a truly unique gift.

  • Threads of joy: “My mother-in-law sent a fabric square and marker to each guest, to write us a message on it,” says Diane Weiner. “She then quilted them together, and we have the quilt with the heartfelt memories in our bedroom.” If you can’t send to every guest, group together some close friends and family.
  • Photographic treasure: Has the couple registered for picture frames? Think about ways to personalize a frame. “One of my bridesmaids woke up before the sunrise, went to the beach and wrote my name and my husband’s name in the sand,” says Alison Hubbard. “She took a picture of our names with the sunrise in the background and the waves coming up to it. She enlarged it, framed it and gifted it to us. It’s beautiful.”

3. Long-Lasting Wedding Gifts
Why not give a gift that keeps on giving?

  • Wine lovers’ treat: If the bride and groom enjoy wine, or registered for a wine decanter, create a milestone wine gift. “A few of our friends got together and created a beautiful basket with wines for major milestones in our marriage: our first anniversary, our first home, first dinner party, first baby, first New Year’s celebration as a married couple,” says Rachel Ross. “They decorated each bottle for each milestone, and we’ve made sure to remember to drink it at each occasion!”

6 Ways to Save: Big Celebrations

Wedding brunch for 80? Family reunion for 150? It’s the perfect season to celebrate life’s special events. And because keeping costs down is on top of everyone’s party to-do list, we asked the most fun-loving frugalistas we could find to share their secrets. 

It turns out a big budget isn’t nearly as important as big ideas. “Creativity and personal touches definitely outweigh the money you’d spend to do something chic and memorable,” says Erika Lenkert, author of The Last-Minute Party Girl: Fashionable, Fearless, and Foolishly Simple Entertaining. “The more personal it is, the more impact is leaves.”

Creative thinking really pays off in these six places:

1. Location, location, location 
The right venue can elevate a party from mundane to magic, but hotels and banquet halls are pricey and predictable. Instead, look for character: historical societies, funky VFW halls -- even churches and libraries often have portions of the building, including garden spaces, available to rent for reasonable rates. 

To celebrate her father’s 80th  birthday, Julie Rains of Winston-Salem, N.C., and her family rented a banquet room in a park in Charlotte, N.C. With linen tablecloths and a glass wall overlooking the park, the $250 room “just made the event," says Rains. "It was so pretty!” she adds.

2. One-of-a-kind invites
For her wedding invitations, Lenkert and her husband posed for 30 strips of dime-store photo booth pictures, cut them out with craft scissors and attached them to card stock. They did all the printing on her computer. 

“I tried to match funny pictures with people who’d get a kick out of it and romantic ones with others, and I included antique postcards for the RSVP, which I also personalized," says Lenkert. People were blown away. "One even gave me back that same photo as a wedding gift -- she loved it so much she had it mounted and framed,” she says.

Savings on invites can be significant. When Janis Brett Elspas’ two triplet daughters chose a roaring ’20s theme for their bat mitzvah, the Los Angeles mom designed invitations with recycled paper textured like alligator, then accented it with a rhinestone buckle and velvet ribbon to make it look like a 1920s purse. “It cost us about $4 each -- we saw the same type pre-made for $18 to $20 elsewhere,” she says.

3. Unforgettable food
Feeding people well doesn’t have to break the bank. Sheila Lukins, a Silver Palate legend and author of Ten: All the Foods We Love and 10 Perfect Recipes for Each, swears by big pots of ethnic foods, “like a curry or couscous." Because they’re usually served over rice or pasta, they’re inexpensive, she says. "And because they’re a little exotic, they’re very impressive.”

Another favorite, discovered on a recent trip to France: “A small-plate buffet, based on dishes like roasted peppers with homemade pickled onions and paella rice with shrimp and chorizo. There’s something so beautiful and inviting about all these brightly colored vegetable dishes laid out on the table -- almost like a patchwork quilt,” says Lukins. Small plates, whether it's tapas, antipasti or hors d’oeuvres, allow you serve up plenty of flavor but not too much food.

4. That’s entertainment! 
Hiring a band usually means paying the going rate for what is -- and let’s be honest here -- three parts bad oldies, two parts Macarena and one part noise. 

Try thinking smaller. For elegance, get a single harp player from a local college; for fiesta ambiance, see if the guitar player from your local Mexican restaurant ever moonlights, or book a juggler who’ll wander through your garden party. “I am hiring my girls' former gym teacher to come and teach the Charleston,” says Elspas. And for music? A pre-loaded iPod. “It’s a lot cheaper than live musicians or a DJ.”

5. Signature spirits
To save on booze, “I love to come up with a signature cocktail for the evening and put a twist on it, like Thai margaritas,” says Lenkert. “Since you mix it in batches, you don’t need to buy high-end liquor -- just serve it in really pretty glasses.”

6. Strong and simple decorations
Keep décor simple by focusing on a few colors and things you can stock up on for cheap, such as mason jars to fill with wild flowers. And be wary of themes: “Buying red, white and blue paper products for a Fourth of July family reunion, for example, is much more expensive than buying red cups, blue plates and maybe just themed napkins,” says Jenn Fowler, a mom in Syracuse, N.Y., who blogs at FrugalUpstate. Not only will it create a more unified look, you’ll get more use out of every item. “I’ve got big star platters in both red and blue, which are great in the summer, but the red ones are perfect for Christmas too,” adds Fowler.

Spring Break…in a Day

After a dreary winter, the obvious recovery plan involves tropical breezes, sandy flip-flops and colorful drinks with paper umbrellas, right? Well, yes, maybe in a perfect world. But sand and surf can cost a lot of time and money. When a week or even a weekend away just isn’t in the cards, carving out a few hours in your schedule to recharge with a change of scenery -- or activity -- can have the same uplifting effect.

What to do? That depends, says Karol Ward, author of Find Your Inner Voice (New Page Books 2009). “The ultimate goal of your minivacation should be to feel calmer, more energized, more clearheaded and happy,” says the New York City-based psychotherapist. Consider whether one of these breaks from the everyday inspires you.

A-maze-ing walks Sure, you can take a stroll just about anywhere, but have you ever traveled a labyrinth? These elaborate pathways look like mazes, but are actually beautiful, winding walkways, each with a single route and endpoint and usually shaped to fill a large circle. Thought to clear the mind and encourage relaxation, labyrinths are found in parks, public gardens and in or near houses of worship, and each has its own special history. Labyrinthlocator online can help you find one nearby.

Anything but routine workout Challenging the mind and body with a completely different kind of athletic pursuit can take cross training to a new level. Consider, for example, indoor rock climbing. Climbing gyms are everywhere, and the adrenaline rush alone of scaling a rock wall is worth the price of a lesson (the Web site indoorclimbing lists climbing gyms around the country).

Or take to the water and try sculling or rowing. Between handling the oars, balancing the narrow boat and learning to move your vessel through the water smoothly, there’s no time to dwell on work projects or household duties. Introductory rates make the sport accessible to novices. (USRowing lists nearby rowing clubs and associations.)

Make it or bake it Complete this sentence: “I’ve always wanted to make….” Share the labor (and fun) with a friend or really do it yourself -- without taking a class. Whether it’s beef Wellington or banana cream puffs, there are plenty of cookbooks, recipes and online how-to videos to guide you.

The same goes for art projects. Have you been collecting broken pottery for the day you make time to try mosaic art? Well, that day is here. Take on a mosaic tile mirror or café table, using instructions at such places as Mosaic Tile Guide.

Go to extremes Ellen Yacoe runs nearly every day, but when the dance therapist and mother of three really wants a change of pace, she goes for a Polar Bear swim in the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean -- off season. “All thoughts of work, how my kids are doing in school, even the family budget go out of my head in an instant,” says the Oakton, Va., resident. “It’s a scary but exhilarating event.”

On the other extreme, a long session in a steam bath or sauna can be so relaxing that you’ll have noodle legs when you’re done. Take a complimentary day membership at the Y or local gym. You can work out and then reward yourself with a mind-clearing blast of heat. Or skip the workout entirely and meet a friend for lunch.

Take a midday snooze Don’t discount the possibility that a two-hour nap is just the stimulus your winter-weary self needs. You may not sport a tan by day’s end, but the glow that goes with feeling good will be just as noticeable.