Valentine’s Day Soirée!

Someone like myself, who prefers Halloween to all holidays, watching documentaries about diseases, sharks and/or massacres, as well as the generally macabre aspects of life, may not truly appreciate the saccharine, heart-shaped miasma that is Valentine’s Day. I do, however, love a good theme. One I can really run with, like the goddess Diana, through a beautiful forest of decorating possibilities!

Given this fact, and Valentine’s Day being on a Thursday last year, I decided to host a fabulous Valentine’s soirée! I thought it might be much more enjoyable than a “fancy” date night at some restaurant, surrounded by a bunch of desperate strangers, with outrageously high expectations, eating overpriced steak and mediocre desserts.

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So yummy!

Again, because I have doting parents who are willing to help me, and provide excessive amounts of table settings, decor and silver pieces, this party was an over-the-top success! Not to mention, the house lends itself extremely nicely to this color scheme, given the vintage pink linoleum covering the kitchen, pink curtains in the dining room, pink sectional sofa and dramatic peacock feathers in the foyer. I invited so many people that we had all three tables set up (one in the Library/Study, Dining Room and Breakfast Room). Each was set with a different combination of colors, all of which featured pink heavily.

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Fancy folks in the Dining/Cherub room!

The Breakfast Room! (My favorite table cloth, the vintage net and sequined felt!)

The Breakfast Room! (My favorite table cloth, the vintage net and sequined felt!)

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Sophisticated romance in the Study!

I served Mexican food, mostly because you can cook a lot of it at once without too much effort, and it has less staining properties than Italian fare. (Red sauce and white table cloths DO NOT mix.) So, I opted to make 40+ enchiladas, with chicken and veggie options! Never before attempted, but they were delicious! I bought rice and beans from Chuy’s (they were SUPER gracious about it), and a couple of my friends provided the (totally necessary) crock pot queso.

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My mother, and guests, were very helpful!

Not sure how I got away with not wearing an apron. (ALWAYS wear an apron!)

Not sure how I got away with not wearing an apron. (ALWAYS wear an apron!)

We also had a pink champagne punch (OBVS), with a frozen juice/blueberry-filled heart to keep it cool, and make my great grandmother’s punch bowl look even more fabulous!

Gorgeous in all the ways!

Gorgeous in all the ways!

For dessert (along with the many amazing guest contributions), I made what my family now calls “Strawberry Collapse Cake.” So named because of an incident in my childhood involving my mother, covered up to her elbows in pink, strawberry/coconut icing, weeping and babbling incoherently while what was once a layered cake slowly oozed sideways and simultaneously imploded. Being a relentless problem-solver, she decided to put the “cake” in an antique trifle bowl. Alternating cake, icing, sliced strawberries and cool whip, she created a beautiful dessert, and effectively masked it’s inherent instability.

*Somehow the desserts went unphotographed, however, if you have any pictures, please let me know!*

The decor for this party was absolutely incredible. Seriously. We’re talking gold lame swags, punctuated with my mother’s (seemingly endless) supply of heart-shaped candy boxes, in the living room. A silver epergne (pronounced: ay-pern), adorned with piles of hearts and cherubs, not to mention the ever-present pink cow hide rug, and pink and green sofa.

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So many golden swags! (It’s all one long piece, btw.)

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Silver epergne and pink cow hide rug. So classy!

Pink sofa! And the gorgeous flowers Boyfriend bought just for me!

Pink sofa! Plus, gorgeous flowers!

We added some hearts to my mother’s antique wall-o-drawers piece in the Breakfast Room, plus some hanging on her stick arrangements, for good measure.

My friend's camera had a color filter! We USED it!

My friend’s camera had a color filter! We USED it!

The cutest!

The cutest!

My father’s Study/Library was made more festive with two enormous Styrofoam hearts, on loan from my maternal grandmother. I used one of the three hearts as a background for the “photo booth” we set up in the entry way! This was also a big hit, especially for those who donned some of the “costumes” provided: feather boas, oversize pearls, ladylike fans, and the token mustache guy we inherited from my grandparents’ furniture store.

So demure!

So demure!

Perfect friends!

Perfect friends!

Also meant to be!

Also meant to be!

Or does Matt love this guy??

Or does Matt love this guy??

Nope. It's this pretty lady!

Nope. It’s this pretty lady!

Adorbs!

Adorbs!

So happy!

So happy!

My anti-Valentine's friends came too!

My anti-Valentine’s friends came too!

Since we are a pretty crafty group, I also set up my mother’s craft room as a place for people to make their own Valentine’s Day cards and/or paper bags to collect goodies! (Like the Spanish conversation hearts my mother managed to accidentally purchase!)

Te amo!

Te amo!

I collected some pre-made Valentine’s cards, along with paper, glue, scissors, stickers, GLITTER, doilies and so much more! Giving people something to do before and/or after dinner encourages creativity and conversation. Plus, if you haven’t put together gift bags, they have something to take home that will remind them of how much fun they had!

Brian was super excited about his Valentine's bag!

Brian was super excited about his Valentine’s bag!

Craftin!

Craftin!

And lookin' good!

And lookin’ good!

Also, for this event, I decided I needed to create an ensemble that would be memorable and gorgeous. Thankfully, my mother has a pattern collection that would rival that of Vogue or McCall’s, so I quickly found a pattern that NEEDED to be real.

Isn't everything about this incredible??

Isn’t everything about this incredible??

So, Mom also had this fab silky red fabric that happened to be a shade darker on the “wrong” side, which was PERFECT for this dress, and I didn’t have to line the peplum! It was one of my first attempts at dealing with boning (re: buy boning that hasn’t been wrapped in a circle for 20+ years), and sewing this particular pattern. It went pretty well, though, and the final product turned out to be quite the conversation piece!

Dramatic in red! (Look at my pink cheeks!)

Dramatic in red! (Look at my pink cheeks!)

Worn with my PEACOCK FEATHER BOA!

Worn with my PEACOCK FEATHER BOA!

This party was a wonderful way to spend Valentine’s Day! Everyone had a wonderful time, contributed so much, and were able to wallow in the evening’s romantic theme.

Have you been to a Valentine’s Day party? Do you and your other celebrate Val-D? Do you have an anti-Val-D tradition?

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Host the BEST Christmas Gathering!

We are down to the wire, people! If you are hosting a holiday party this year, now is the time to get going with the party planning! Unless you’re a lonely butler, chances are you know some people, and those people are likely to invade your house at some point during the month of December. The closer you get to Christmas, the more true this becomes. So, with the inevitable onslaught of guests, it’s advisable that you decorate your abode, and perhaps have some last minute party-making tricks up your sleeve.

This guy knows about deadlines.

This guy knows about deadlines.

In the event that you’re spending Christmas away from family traditions, creating some of your own, or hosting a party for friends, this article/video by Julia Ziegler-Haynes is full of SUPER helpful hints, tips, and recipes! She basically tells the ultimate hosting-on-the-cheap secret, which is DO IT YOURSELF. If you opt for ingredients instead of pre-made stuff, you’ll almost always save money. With just a few items, and for about $100 total, she puts together a lovely party in not much time!

She tried the punch, and it was gooood.

She tried the whiskey punch, and it was gooood.

Even if you have never hosted a holiday party, or any party for that matter, the above links and video should be a fantastic guide toward making you a successful host! That being said, here is a collection of amazing Christmas “celebrations” and personal holiday stylings from the Internet. Feel free to attempt any of these you prefer, and impress all of your guests! The following are my favorites:

Christmas HAIR! She and Gaga should hang out.

Christmas HAIR! She and Gaga should hang out.

I love the super resentful, angrypants look on this guy's face!

I love the super resentful, angrypants look on this guy’s face!

Bahahahaha!

Bahahahaha! Wrecking Balls! This could definitely be a “pornament” on a naughty Christmas tree!

I'm not all about babies, but his dude is giving some fierce crazy eyes.

I’m not all about babies, but his dude is giving some fierce crazy eyes.

Star Wars nativity is THE BEST!

Star Wars nativity is THE BEST!

I did a “Star Wars” themed Christmas a few years ago, and although I’ll clearly have to do a (way better) repeat performance, it was a blast! If you’re a Christmas traditionalist, that’s great, but I since it comes around every year, I like to use it as an opportunity to try lots of different themes (Elvis/Blue Christmas, Turquoise & Purple Peacocks, Star Wars, Nightmare Before Christmas), and they have all been delightful! It’s much easier to feel motivated and festive for a party if you have chosen a great/simple/clever theme to bring everything together.

Are you hosting a holiday gathering this year? Have you already? What theme did you go with this year? Do you have a Christmas celebration tradition?

Happy Halloween!!!

It’s FINALLY here!!! It’s Halloween, and I am SOOPER excited!

This is my work-propriate outfit, complete will tiny top hat "black cat" fascinator and skull-cessories!

This is my work-propriate outfit, complete will tiny top hat “black cat” fascinator and skull-cessories!

According to Jezebel’s “People Who Love Halloween are the Best Kind of People” I, and those like-minded others are truly fantastic! So, rejoice! Not only do we get one more day of non-Christmas, but we are also all officially amazing!

Boyfriend and I opted for the more "traditional" Witch and Wizard!

Boyfriend and I opted for the “traditional” Witch and Wizard!

Here we are as Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas!

Here we are as Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas!

Sexy Atreyu and the (Beardy) Childlike Empress are seriously concerned about The Nothing!

Sexy Atreyu and the (Beardy) Childlike Empress are seriously concerned about The Nothing!

If I were a celebrity, or just a person of means, I would spend SO MUCH MONEY on Halloween decor and costumes. (It would be inappropriate amounts.) Even though they aren’t going as mad crazy as I would, here are some celebs who are totally bringing it this year:

Doesn't she look amazing/terrible!?!

Doesn’t she look amazing/terrible!?!

Uh, that is INCREDIBLE!

Uh, that is INCREDIBLE!

HWFergie

Fergie And Josh Duhamel look AMAZING as Elvira and Riff Raff!

Family friendly with NPH and his ADORABLE Alice in Wonderland-themed costume!

Family friendly with NPH and his ADORABLE Alice in Wonderland-themed costume!

So, if you’re going to a Halloween party tonight, take tons of pictures and have a wonderful time relishing the madness! If you, like me, are playing it low-key on this mid-week Hallow’s Eve, here are some movie options. I will likely be watching several, but Hocus Pocus is a definite. (The Divine Miss M loves it, too!) Poltergeist is another I haven’t gotten around to watching this season, and since my Dad and I enjoy doing our own MST3000 commentaries, I know there will be some silly cult horror, too.

We watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show the other day! If you haven't, DO IT!

We watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show the other day! If you haven’t, DO IT!

As a background to this marathon, will (hopefully) be one of my favorite Halloween activities, now that I’m an adult. I get a particular thrill out of listening and/or watching my Mother scare the little kids who come Trick-or-Treating. Since children are scared of pretty much everything, it isn’t hard, but she gets dressed up like a witch/crazy woman, exaggerates her expressions, talks really loud, and that seems to really unnerve them.

See?

Imagine yourself as a child and standing within mere inches of this woman!

Now that I think about it, I don’t remember being frightened of the strangers and/or neighbors who opened their doors to offer me treats, so I guess my Mother’s propensities lean slightly toward the abnormal. (But I knew that already.) Considering the absolutely evil, voyeuristic delight it provides me, I suppose I’m abnormal as well. (Just call my Abby.) Normalcy be damned! I can’t WAIT to watch a horror movie marathon, eat themed food, and giggle at the sound of screams emanating from terrified children being harassed on our porch by my (fabulous) cackling witch-mom.

Benedict Cumber-Brunch!

My friend Elizabeth is an ardent fan of BBC‘s Sherlock, which is understandable, given that the show is INCREDIBLE. She came up with the brilliant “Benedict Cumber-Brunch” theme idea, which I expanded into more of a detective theme, but could be specific to the show, or even one of the episodes.

A lady of taste and class!

A lady of taste and class!

So, in terms of décor, I set up three different crime scenes, each in a different room of the house, but not in the Dining Room where we were going to eat. Not too long ago, the Downtown Houston Macy’s store closed for good (and was subsequently imploded), and being conscientious hoarders, my mother and I went to raid their display items. We came away with four pairs of hosiery-display legs (one of which I bequeathed to a friend for her birthday, at her request), and they have come in surprisingly handy already!

Crime Scene #1 - Library

Crime Scene #1 – Library

Crime Scene #2 - Den (Can be seen from the entry!)

Crime Scene #2 – Den (Can be seen from the entry!)

Crime Scene #3 - Fireplace

Crime Scene #3 – Fireplace (I surmise that she must have tried to escape.)

I set up the Dining Room with a center piece dripping with pearls, diamonds, various necklaces, my tiara, and fake, chocolate coins. Since this was a brunch accommodating 12+ people, I was able to seat everyone at a single table, but splitting into several tables could easily work, and each table could have a different center piece/clues to the murder(s)!

I like purple!

I like purple!

I also included a mini-costume area that included: a pipe, a Sherlock-type hat, fake cigarettes, handcuffs, a magnifying glass, eye/nose disguises and a red Watson-type hat. I have found that people enjoy playing with props (at least my zany friends do!), and if you put them out you’ll inevitably have multiple “Kodak moments” to randomly capture. Even though I hadn’t planned it, some of the ladies used the fancy center piece décor as costumes!

Sherlock, Watson, or a criminal in disguise!

Sherlock, Watson, or a criminal in disguise!

BCBMere

The thinkin’ pipe!

Lee means business in this Sherlock hat.

Lee means business in this Sherlock hat.

Bedazzled!

Bedazzled!

In terms of the menu, I was outrageously fortunate to have a volunteer chef! One of my friends has worked in country club kitchens, and offered to make the signature dish: Eggs Benedict Cumberbatch! They were excellent, and thank goodness someone volunteered, because I have never poached an egg in my life. By the early afternoon, he had managed to poach nearly four dozen eggs, toast my (homemade) English muffin bread on the same griddle used to make a mountain of bacon, sausage, Canadian bacon and mushrooms for the vegetarians. Everything tasted glorious, and looked incredible.

Only the best team ever!

Only the best team ever!!!

Post-delicious food, my final caveat was to arrange for a guest appearance by Sherlock himself! My younger brother looks like a less lippy, more American version of Benedict Cumberbatch AND has a black suit, so he donned the traditional hat and pipe and posed graciously for some fab crime scene photos to the squeeful delight of the guests.

My brother's pretty cool.

My brother’s pretty cool.

We even posed together for a very film noir shot!

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The crime scene was affecting my delicate sensibilities.

This brunch was absolutely delightful, and since BBC’s “Sherlock” is readying for Season 3, I’m sure someone else will be inspired to do something similar. If so, or if you already did (good for you!), please share some thoughts, ideas, games, or pictures! I would love to see other people’s interpretations and fun times!

Becoming the Hostess with the Mostest

I have a delightful habit/compulsion to throw themed parties. This probably has something to do with my mother throwing parties basically my entire life. Also, I am fortunate enough to have immediate access to most (some is off limits to everyone) of her enormous collection of dinnerware, platters, silver pieces, glasses and goblets, candelabras, and so many more things!

Behold, the armoire...

Behold, the armoire…

It's kind of a dinnerware Narnia in there.

It’s kind of a dinnerware Narnia in there.

Being able to utilize any number of plate/glass combinations without spending a dime definitely enables me to produce a classy shindig on a budget. My (wonderful) father refuses to allow me to use unpolished silver pieces, so before most parties he spends an evening polishing silver, which quickly becomes polishing all the silver. Since food, booze and other décor sometimes cost more than expected, I am very fortunate to have such an accommodating parents.

My parents at my graduation from grad school! They're proud of me.

My parents at my graduation from UNT’s MLS program! They’re proud of me.

So, what are you to do without the extensive collection of two such generous hoarders? Well, throwing slightly less formal parties is probably a good idea, or taking the time to build up a unique serving set of your own at thrift stores. You can always paint/personalize (link) your finds if they aren’t exactly perfect. If you aren’t planning a sit-down meal for 15+ then you can easily use mismatched plate combinations, or the disposable kind (preferably recyclable, of course) are usually much easier in terms of clean up.

I tend to latch onto a theme, be it Valentine’s Day, a Sherlock-themed brunch, a Jaws Pool Party, or any number of other good times to be celebrated, and really go for it. Once you have your general theme, the party planning process is fairly straightforward. Prioritize your budget, decide where the majority is going to go, and how the rest will trickle down depending on the type of party, setting and guests. For example, you don’t need to worry about spending a lot on food if you’re hosting a potluck, or booze if it’s BYOB (or you’re not into that, LOL). That leaves you with table settings and décor, mostly.

Behold! The hereto unseen "party closet," which holds many additional things!

Behold! The hereto unseen “party closet,” which holds many additional things!

Since I usually host sit-down affairs, and I have access to a department store’s worth of table setting materials, my budgets are split mainly between food and any additional decorations I don’t already have. Arrange whatever you need to for the food, making sure to plan for extra (my mother always stresses the importance of feeding those “big guys”), just in case you have an unexpected additional guest, or just want to be truly Southern.

The King knew how to eat.

The King knew how to eat good!

Only slightly more important than what you’ll wear, is décor, especially if you’re hosting a theme party. You want to make the occasion special and unique, even trans-formative, without killing yourself beforehand or afterward, and without spending hundreds of dollars. This tends to require outside help, finesse, lots of thought and careful thrifting. I tend to take serious stock in the already available (free) things I can use before I even go looking for additional decorations. Contemplate creative uses for things, search Pinterest for ideas, DIY, and upcycling. Make centerpieces out of collections of similarly-colored objects, use your fancy “once a year” shoes, new or vintage hats, old famed pictures, raw branches in a vase (that is the thing in magazines, y’all), whatever you can use to create the ambiance you’re going for!

This is a closeup of the fab centerpiece I put together for Benedict Cumber-Brunch!

This is a closeup of the fab centerpiece I put together for Benedict Cumber-Brunch!

Our house tends to need pre-party prepping, and by that I mean we have to make an Herculean effort to clean all the rooms a week prior to the party so that we can then decorate. If you live in a relative state of normalcy, this may take less time, but is necessary regardless. (Obvs clean the bathrooms you want people to use without horror and disgust.) I like to decorate as much as I can, including the more complicated stuff and table settings, at least one or two days before the party, so that most food prep can be done the day/night before. You want the day/evening of the party to be all about covering any last minute chores, errands or emergencies, as well as looking fabulous as the ultimate hostess.

This didn't happen right before a party, but we did find birds nesting in our "sunroom," and their shrieking attracted this little guy!

We did find birds nesting in our “sunroom,” and their shrieking attracted this little guy! Lesson: Get rid of all wildlife in the house well before a party, as they can be quite tricky to capture.

Speaking of outfits, what are you going to wear?? Since I also enjoy sewing, I usually make time to create a specific “look” for my parties. I choose a pattern fairly quickly after deciding on the party’s theme, and make sure the dress is done a week to five days before the party to leave time for said hyper-cleaning/decorating fun. If you aren’t making your own outfit, I’m sure there’s more wiggle room, but because you are the hostess, you’ll have to be party-ready at least an hour or two before guests are supposed to arrive, so plan accordingly. I will admit, there has been more than one occasion that I was seriously rushing to get the last of my hair and makeup finished. Don’t let this happen to you!

Ha! Just kidding, this is my vintage kaftan, and it would be a terrible hostess ensemble.

Ha! Just kidding, this is my vintage kaftan, and it would be a terrible hostess ensemble.

Oh crap!

Oh crap, the people are here!

I kid, but this is good times, people! Parties are a lot of fun, and I find hosting them to be truly rewarding, and sort of cathartic. It’s like giving guests the gift of a shared, delightful memory. And even if it’s an epic fail, you’ll at least have provided a good story and lots of laughter!* Combine your passion and effort with truly good friends, tasty food and a fun theme, though, and you’ve got a guaranteed success!

See?? We're so happy! (This was NYE! Also, my Mom MADE that coat!)

See?? We’re so happy! (This was NYE! Also, my Mom MADE that coat!)

While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m happy to answer any party planning, budget or theme questions! Do you have any additional tips or tricks?? Please share any positive (or learning) party planning experiences!

*I would not recommend arranging any kind of gathering in which unhappy, drama-seeking weepers can flaunt their insecurities, so if that sounds like any of your friends, I’m sorry, but y’all should just go to the movies.