Allspice Chronicles

Entertain like a Queen, Think Lean and Live Green! A personal collection of recipes,anecdotes,and good old fashioned advice…

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Nifty Napkin Folds: The Crown Fold

by Danica Waters

 

What is it?  A red banana? “

Ummmm….No.  This is the Crown Fold.  If you need something regal or royal, this is one way to pull out all the stops and embellish your table setting (in a royal banana sort of way).

Just about the time you think it’s “stuffy”, think again!  This is a terrific fold for a kids’ party; use reversible patterned napkins for fun results.

 

Don’t panic if you have to practice this one a few times.  And note: an iron and some spray starch work wonders… if you’re going to the trouble, go all the way!

 

Enjoy!

 

The Crown Fold

 

Step 1:

Lay the napkin face-down in front of you.

Step 2:

Fold the napkin in half diagonally, and orient it so that the open ends face away from you.

Step 3:

Fold the right corner up so that the point rests directly on top of the middle corner and the fold creates a center line.

Step 4:

Repeat Step 3 with the other side, and create a diamond shape with all points facing away from you.

Step 5:

Turn napkin over carefully so that the new open seam lies face down.

Step 6:

Fold the bottom corner closest to you up about 2/3rds of the way up and press down well.

Step 7:

Now take the top of the inner triangle and fold it down, bringing the point to rest on the near edge of the napkin, and exactly on the center line.  Press well.  (This is a good time for an iron!)

 

Step 8:

Curl the right and left sides of the napkin up and around, tucking one inside the other so that they securely meet and hold in the middle.

Step 9:

Now stand the napkin up and tug at the sides, molding and shaping where needed to make sure it’s even and well-rounded in appearance.

Voila!

Posted November 28th, 2011.

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The Art of Giving: The Five Week Manners Makeover Step 4

by Danica Waters / photo credits at bottom of post

With three weeks of practicing Basic Table Manners, two weeks of practicing the Art of Conversation, and a week’s worth of practice on how to nail the perfect greeting and a great handshake, it’s time to move on to the next step in our Five Week Manners Makeover:

The Art of Gift Giving

 

This next step takes some time and lots of talking, so be prepared.

 

With the sometimes mind-numbing hustle and bustle of the holiday season, all too often gift-giving endeavors are reduced to:

a)  an ever-evolving list of people who should receive something of equal or greater value to the gift slated for the next person on the list, often based on a sense of historical or social obligation vs. inspiration and joy;

b)  a distribution from a pile of whimsical but impersonal things collected from various sales throughout the year;

c)  a detached, materialistic and rather mechanical “thing that must be done” during the holidays, often accompanied by little or no thought of the person to whom the gift is to be given;

d)  a dreaded financial burden when all is said and done.

 

Needless to say, kids get confused when they are told time and again that “giving is better than receiving”, and yet they never really learn the art of giving and how it can make them – and the gift recipient – feel when the act is genuine, personal, and from the heart.  Like any other life skill, kids only know what they’re taught.  Kids can learn how to “get off the hook” and mechanically give Grandpa another token pair of holiday socks just as easily as they can learn how to really consider everything Grandpa really means to them and construct a meaningful gift accordingly.

Listen to your heart.

Try this:  before you write your holiday gift-giving list, take a quiet moment to ask yourself who impacted your life in a truly positive way this year.  What does that list look like?  Don’t be surprised if you’re surprised; the list may include people you don’t really know, but really, really appreciate, like that checker at the grocery store who always manages to put a smile on your face, even when you’re grumpy after a long day, or that teacher that makes your children feel inspired, like they can achieve anything?  (Note from author: To me, honoring these folks first makes me feel like I’m honoring myself and my intuition, adding emotional substance to the gifts I choose to give and the reasons why I choose to give them. It also helps me put my values and my relationships in perspective, while taking a good look at how I impact others’ lives, as well.)  Do this by yourself first; then sit down and try the exercise with each of your children.  You’ll gain precious insight into their lives and their values, as well.

 

Give unconditionally.

Sometimes folks can feel put on the spot, or perhaps as though you have ulterior motives, when they receive a gift of appreciation. In instances where you would like to show your appreciation but feel that it might result in an uncomfortable situation, giving anonymously is a great way to go.  Even if you don’t get the pleasure of seeing the recipient’s response, please don’t ever underestimate how much that coffee house gift card will be appreciated.

 

On the same note, unconditional giving means that even if you give personally and directly and do not receive the kind of appreciative response you’d hoped for, your heart was in the right place.  Do not become offended.  It just might be that the recipient is overwhelmed, self-conscious, or simply doesn’t know how to respond appropriately.  Move on, forgive, and be happy knowing you gave for all the right reasons.

 

A great way to teach your kids the joy of unconditional giving is to come together as a family to choose a recipient for an anonymous family gift.  In addition to charitable giving, choosing an anonymous gift for someone who is just simply an awesome human being is a fun way to bring your family together to celebrate great energy.

 

Great gifts mean something .

Retailers are there to be, well, retailers.  They put lots of “pretty shiny things” out to attract and distract shoppers, usually overwhelming and confusing them to such an extent that they end up purchasing items they never intended to buy in the first place.  Putting thought into the meaning behind your gift-giving will not only help you stay on track with your budget, but it will ensure that the meaning behind the gift you give will not be diluted along the way.  Does your aunt really need another scarf/hat/mitten set?  Or would it mean more to her for you to give her a unique piece of vintage jewelry to add to her collection?  In talking with your son about a possible gift for Grandpa, chances are that token pair of holiday socks will turn into an elaborate handmade picture of the time he took your son fishing, accompanied by an assortment of Grandpa’s favorite fishing snacks.  More expensive?  Nope.  More meaningful?  Absolutely.

 

“Think beyond the stuff”.

Most of the time, stuff is just that:  STUFF.  We don’t know what to do with the stuff we’ve already got, let alone more of it.  As a happier alternative, give gifts of shared time and/or experience, such as a monthly scheduled tea party with Grandma or tickets to the museum for your child and his/her BFF.  Be creative.  Make it special.  Try giving Grandma a new calendar with pre-scheduled dates for your tea parties already marked in bright, happy colors – make each party have a different theme, i.e. – February = Valentine chocolates, March = lemon cakes, September = celebrate the blackberries, etc.  Lighter on the heart, easier on the environment!

 

Wrap It Up!

Yes, it takes time.  And patience.  And maybe even a couple of tries.  But what would YOU rather receive:  an unwrapped gift, or one that had been carefully wrapped to the best of the giver’s ability?

 

Now take gift wrapping one step further:  how can you make it eco-friendly?

 

Here’s a video on how the Japanese utilize pieces of cloth to wrap their gifts:

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
Gift w/ Gold Ribbon courtesy of www.mysmartshop.wordpress.com

Hands holding heart courtesy of www.esquire.com

“Pay it forward” courtesy of www.midatlanticarthritis.wordpress.com

Smiling Child courtesy of www.couponsaver.org

Seedlings in eggshells courtesy of www.themorningnews.org

Clip art gifts courtesy of www.absoluteuniquegifts.com

 

Posted November 8th, 2011.

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Nifty Napkin Folds: Tiered Silverware Pouch

by Danica Waters

Now that we’ve mastered the Basic Silverware Pouch, it’s time to turn the aesthetics up a notch.  Ready?  You’re about to become a napkin-folding, silverware-pouch-creatin’ BOSS.  Here’s instructions on how to make a Tiered Silverware Pouch.

 

Tiered Silverware Pouch

 

Step 1:

Lay the napkin face down in front of you.  Keep your tag in the upper left corner.

 

Step 2: 

Fold the napkin in half so the open end faces towards you.

Step 3:

Fold the napkin in quarters.

Step 4:

Orient the napkin so that the open corner faces away from you and to the right.

Step 5:

Roll the top layer down to the center and press down.

NOTE:  Your tendency is probably going to be to try to create a hard fold the first time out.  Don’t – it overcomplicates everything and causes your tiers to overlap rather than lay flat neatly next to eachother.

Simply roll the first layer down…

 

Step 6:

… and then roll the second layer down to meet the first; press flat…

Step 7:

… and then repeat with the third and final layer.  Press all layers down well – you might want to use a warm iron at this point to reinforce the folds and give a super-crisp appearance.  Usually, though, pressing the folds with your hands is sufficient.

Step 8:

Carefully turn the napkin over.

Step 9:

Fold the right side in about a third of the way and press it down hard.

Step 10:

Now fold the left side back and press down hard.  This is another good time to use an iron, to make sure everything looks nice and crisp.

Step 11:

Flip over your pouch, insert your utensils, et voila!  Oooooh – Aaaaaah!  The Tiered Silverware Pouch is so pretty, it brings “tiers” to my eyes.  (Ok! Ok!  I couldn’t resist!)

Posted November 7th, 2011.

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The Art of Greeting: The Five Week Manners Makeover, Step 3

by Danica Waters / photo courtesy of liluinteriors.com

Remember being a little kid and absolutely dreading those first few awkward minutes of meeting someone you hadn’t seen in a long time, or perhaps didn’t know at all?  No matter if the semi-strangers had extended an invitation to an event at their home or if the occasion found them invading your home, one of two things was certain to happen during the greeting process:

1.  You’d be eyeballed up and down like you were some sort of germ-ridden-troublemaker-to-be and summarily dismissed, or;

2.  You’d end up having your cheeks pinched off your face as you were slathered in kisses and lipstick stains,  barraged with a million questions you didn’t know how to answer, by someone you really didn’t know all that well at all.

Not knowing what to do in either instance, you’d visibly shrink there next to your parents, feeling awkward and silent and uncomfortable and wishing to all heck you could will yourself to disappear altogether.  Anxiety amplified as you quickly realized that your own embarrassment was unwittingly embarrassing your parents.   “Say something, silly!” they would admonish, nudging you further into the line of fire. “Don’t just stand there like a bump on a log!  Ha ha ha….!  Kids – I’ll tell you…”

And there you were, feeling like a germ-ridden-troublemaker the rest of the evening.

 

In the words of America’s etiquette expert, Peggy Post, “Most etiquette dilemmas arise when people don’t know what to do. This results in a feeling of uncertainty and, ultimately, a sense that you may do something wrong or offend someone.”  Yep.   And that’s not a happy space for anyone to be in – especially kids.

Now’s the time to practice the Art of Greeting, so that your children can negotiate these awkward moments with confidence and poise now and in the future.

 

Tips to a perfect greeting:

1.  Look the person in the eye and smile!

2.  No mumbling!  Speak confidently and clearly, even if you’re feeling shy.

3.  It’s best to call the person by name:  “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Humphries / Aunt Matilda / etc.  It’s nice to meet you/see you again.”

4.  Strangers or acquaintances should be greeted with a handshake; if the person is a relative or someone close to you, you should greet them with a hug.

 

How to give a proper handshake:

1.  Right hand to right hand, thumbs up (not a limp, palms-down hand)

2.  Firm grip, but not too tight or too limp

3.  Only two to three “pumps”, then release hands.  No shaking the other person’s arm off!

 

Other tips:

1.  Feeling useful is one of the most powerful confidence builders out there.  If the event is being held in your home, children can offer to help take guests’ coats or show them a secure place where they can put their bags.  Teach them to treat these articles with care.  (If you are attending an event at another home, remind children to say “thank you” when someone takes their jacket.)

2.  If you’re hosting the event, it’s a great idea to review the guest list with your kids in advance.  Letting them know about the personalities and interests of the people coming to the party goes a long way towards helping kids feel confident about their participation in the event.

 

With practice, your kids’ kind, confident greeting skills might even help them avoid lipstick and cheek pinching altogether.

And remember:  keep practicing Basic Table Manners  and The Art of Conversation!

 

 

 

Posted November 1st, 2011.

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Camille Glenn’s Golden Cointreau Cake

by Danica Waters

 

This is one of the most fantastic and truly unusual cakes I’ve ever made.  Having contemplated this recipe again and again over the last five years or so, I finally decided that an occasion such as my daughter’s 23rd birthday would warrant the labor involved.  Honestly, the cake turned out to be surprisingly easy to make; it was just very different from anything I’d done before.

 

The recipe was created by the late Camille Glenn (Queen of Southern Cuisine) when she catered debutante parties and weddings in Louisville.  The passage that hooked me can be found in her cookbook The Heritage of Southern Cooking, where she writes:

 

“This cake holds a secret all to itself – a magical formula that will fool you.  The texture is unusually moist, tender, and diaphanous.  This delicacy in contrast to the elusive, rich frosting sets the cake apart.  It is a gala occasion cake.  In fact, if the occasion is not gala, the cake will make it so.  You’ll see.”

 

She was right.  It’s almost like an ethereal combination of an angel food cake and a pound cake; it’s light as a feather but incredibly moist like a sponge cake.

 

With this recipe, Camille provides two options for frosting the cake; one is a bit heavier on the Cointreau, and the other is more a classic buttercream.  I chose the first option and it was wonderful.  I must advise, however, that the frosting is very strong, and is actually better when allowed to rest overnight in the refrigerator.  The resting time not only allowed the sharpness of the Cointreau to mellow a bit,  it also seemed to enhance the overall texture of the cake.

 

Enjoy!

 

Camille Glenn’s Golden Cointreau Cake

(from the Heritage of Southern Cooking)

 

8 large eggs

1-1/2 C sugar

1/3 C fresh orange juice

1 C all purpose flour

1-1/2 tsp Cointreau

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp cream of tartar

Cointreau Frosting or Classic Buttercream with Cointreau (recipe follows)

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

 

Separate the eggs.  Put the yolks in one large mixing bowl and the whites in another large mixing bowl.

 

Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until they have thickened and are smooth.  Beat in the sugar slowly, then continue beating until the mixture turns a lighter shade of yellow and is smooth.  Add the orange juice and blend thoroughly.

 

Measure the flour, then sift it twice.  Sprinkle the sifted flour over the egg yolk mixture and gently fold it in by hand with a whisk or a rubber spatula, or with the electric mixer on a very low speed.  Fold in the Cointreau and vanilla.

 

Add the salt to the egg whites and beat until they begin to turn white and foamy.  Add the cream of tartar, and continue to beat until the egg whites hold a stiff peak but are not dry and grainy, about 4 minutes more.

 

Fold a few spoonfuls of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it.  Then add the remaining egg whites to the batter, gently folding them in.

 

Spoon the batter into a 10 x 4-1/2 inch angel food cake pan (a tube pan with a removable bottom)  The pan should be no more than three quarters full.

 

Place the cake pan on the middle shelf of the oven and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, or until the cake springs back at once when lightly touched, about 1-1/4 hours.

 

Remove the cake from the oven, turn it upside down on the tube pan legs, and allow it to rest overnight before frosting.

 

Loosen the cake with a thin sharp knife, and unmold it.  Put the cake on a plate or on a flat surface covered with wax paper or foil.  Spread the frosting over the cake.

 

Cointreau Frosting  (*** I used this frosting***)

 

8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2-3/4 C confectioner’s sugar sifted

1/8 tsp salt

1 large egg yolk

6-8 Tbsp Cointreau or more as needed

 

Put the butter in a large mixing bowl.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt.  Beat well with an electric mixer.  Add the egg yolk, then slowly add 6 Tbsp of the Cointreau.  Continue to beat the frosting until it is smooth, thick, and pliable, 3 minutes.  Add more Cointreau as needed; it usually takes 8 Tbsp.  This frosting must be thick.

 

Frost the cake generously in a swirl design.  Allow the frosting to firm for 30 minutes, then lift the cake to a serving platter.  Keep cake refrigerated.

 

 

Classic Buttercream with Cointreau

 

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

5 large egg yolks

2/3 C sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar

1/8 tsp salt, or to taste

5 Tbsp cold water

3 Tbsp Cointreau

 

Cream the butter until it is light and smooth; set aside.

 

Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until they have doubled in bulk, 3 minutes.

 

Combine the sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and water ini a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat until the syrup spins a thread when it falls from a wooden spoon or until a candy thermometer registers 235-236 degrees F.  (If the syrup is not cooked to this point, the frosting will never firm up.)

 

Immediately pour the hot syrup in a steady stream into the egg yolks, beating constantly.  Continue to beat until the mixture has cooled, 15 – 20 minutes.

 

Add the butter to the yolk mixture a tablespoonful at a time.  If the frosting should look curdled while you are adding the butter, place the frosting over hot (not boiling) water and beat vigorously until it is smooth again.  Add the Cointreau and mix thoroughly.  If necessary, chill the frosting until it has a good spreading consistency, 35-45 minutes.

 

Frost the cake generously in a beautiful swirling design, and then keep the cake refrigerated.

Posted August 17th, 2011.

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A Most Delicious Vodka Mojito

by Danica Waters

 

For her 23rd birthday celebration, my eldest daughter suggested we try Mojitos as an accompaniment for her all-time-favorite Southwestern Chicken and Pasta Salad.  Rather than use the traditional rum in our Mojitos, we tried vodka.  To everyone’s delight, the substitution was magical!  The transparency and lightness of the vodka allowed the full flavor of the lime and mint to fully shine through.  Topping it off with generous splash of a lime-flavored sparkling water in place of the traditional club soda only served to amplify the yumminess.  The best part?   Because the mojito is enhanced with sparkling water, it’s big on flavor but lighter on calories than most alcoholic beverages.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Vodka Mojito

 

1-1/2 oz vodka

½ tsp sugar

3 mint leaves

¼ lime

Lime-flavored sparkling water to taste

Lots of ice – enhance with crushed mint leaves and lime juice for maximum flavor

 

 

In a cocktail glass, place several slightly crushed mint leaves and fill with ice.

 

In a cocktail shaker, muddle ¼ of a lime and three mint leaves with ½ tsp of sugar and a splash of sparkling water.  Add ice; pour vodka over the top.  Shake well; strain and pour into prepared cocktail glass.  Top off with lime-flavored sparkling water to taste.

 

Makes 1 delicious mojito.

Posted August 16th, 2011.

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Southwestern Chicken and Pasta Salad

by Danica Waters


For all you pasta salad lovers out there, hold on tight, because this just might be the best pasta salad you’ve ever eaten.  My eldest daughter, who is a pasta salad fanatic, claims this as her very favorite.  She loves it so much she’s requested it for every single birthday dinner she’s had over the last ten years.  Today is no exception.  And in honor of her birthday, I am sharing this with all of you.

Enjoy!

 

 

Southwestern Chicken and Pasta Salad

(from Better Homes & Gardens Hot & Spicy Cooking)

 

In stockpot, cook per package directions:

 

4 oz rainbow rotini

 

Drain; rinse with cold water to stop cooking process and drain again.  Place cooked noodles into large bowl; set aside.

 

Mix dressing:

 

¼ C salad oil

2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp lime juice

½ tsp chili powder

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp dry mustard

Several drops Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

 

Mix well and pour over pasta in bowl.  Add:

 

3 fresh or canned jalapeno or Serrano peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced finely.

 

To pasta & pepper mixture, add the following:

 

1 C chopped cooked chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper

1 ear fresh corn or 1 8-3/4 oz canned whole kernel corn, drained (fresh preferred!)

½ medium avocado, seeded, peeled, and cut into bite sized chunks

2 oz Pepper Jack cheese, cubed

¼ C sliced pitted ripe black olives

2 Tbsp sliced green onion

1 – 2-oz jar diced pimiento, drained

 

Toss all ingredients together well.  Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.

 

Serves 4.

 

 

 

 

Posted August 15th, 2011.

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Icebox Banana Cake With Chocolate Cream

by Danica Waters

My youngest daughter has loved to be in the kitchen since she was, well, born.  She never wanted to be far from me; her favorite place as a little baby was in her bouncy-chair on the kitchen counter, and she always reminded me of a little alien because of how intently she would watch and listen while I told her about everything I did.

 

She learned about fractions by using our measuring cups.

 

She learned about spices by tasting each and every one individually (cardamoms were complex and fascinating, cayenne pepper, not so much).

 

And by her early teens, she knew how to pick out a great recipe simply by eyeing the list of ingredients.

 

Now she’s 18 (sniff!) and this cake happens to be her most recent culinary success.  While the original recipe called for a whipped-cream frosting, she modified it to a cream-cheese base.  Not too sweet but just enough, this cake looks impressive, freezes beautifully and is terrific to serve on a hot summer evening.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Icebox Banana Cake with Chocolate Cream

(adapted from Land O Lakes Treasury of Country Recipes)

 

Cake

 

1 C sugar

2/3 C butter, softened

2 tsp vanilla (Madagascar bourbon vanilla is best)

2 eggs

1 C mashed ripe banana

¼ C dairy sour cream

1-1/2 C all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

 

Chocolate Cream

 

¾ C heavy whipping cream

8 oz cream cheese, softened

3 Tbsp powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

½ C chocolate chips, melted

 

2 bananas

2 Tbsp chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts are delicious)

 

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  In large mixer bowl combine sugar, butter and vanilla.  Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until light and fluffy (1 to 2 minutes).  Continue beating, adding eggs one at a time, until creamy (1 to 2 minutes).  By hand, stir in 1 C mashed bananas and sour cream.  Fold in flour and baking soda.  Pour into two greased and floured 8” round cake pans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 5 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely.

 

In chilled small mixer bowl, beat chilled whipping cream at high speed, scraping bowl often, until soft peaks form.  Gradually add sugar and vanilla, continue beating until stiff peaks form (1 to 2 minutes).  Add softened cream cheese and melted chocolate; continue beating until well-mixed (about a minute – do not overbeat).

 

On a serving plate, place 1 cake layer.  Spread with half the chocolate cream.  Slice 1 banana and lay slices on top of chocolate cream.  Top with remaining cake layer, and frost with remaining chocolate cream.

 

If serving that same day: 

Place frosted cake in refrigerator for two hours.  Just prior to serving, slice remaining banana and arrange slices on top of cake.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts.

 

If planning to freeze:

Slice remaining banana, arrange slices on top of cake, and sprinkle with chopped nuts.  Freeze immediately to prevent banana slices from turning brown.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Posted July 22nd, 2011.

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Etiquette and the Birthday Bash

by Danica Waters

If ever there was a hotbed for potential etiquette nightmares, the birthday party is IT.  Here’s what you need to know about Etiquette and the Birthday Bash:

 

(Oh, and BTW:  most of this information is directed towards children’s parties, as they are sadly, but typically, the most politically-charged.  All of the information will easily carry forward to adults’ parties, as well…)

 

On the subject of Invitations:

 

How many people should I invite?  Of course, when it comes to a birthday celebration, most kids want to invite everyone they know.  This will never be a comfortable situation, as you, the parent, are put in the unenviable position of needing to balance your sanity, your budget, and the feelings of the 20 other friends or schoolmates who may or may not receive an invitation.  Here are some things to think about:

    • Age:  A good way to avoid an overwhelming situation (for both you and your child!) is to invite as many children as your child’s age – plus one.  So if your child is turning six, invite seven children to the party.  This way the small child will not be overwhelmed, and with every passing year they’ll learn to handle bigger and bigger crowds.
    • Budget:  Do yourself and your child a favor, and get real about your budget.  It’s really easy to feel like you need to “Keep up with the Joneses” – and the peer pressure can be brutal.  But giving in to that kind of mentality ties your child’s esteem to things that are unreal, and sets a potentially dangerous precedent in their future approach to money management.  Respect your budget, get creative, and remember that sometimes the simplest approach is the most effective.
    • Location:  Lots of guests in a tiny indoor living space is a recipe for disaster, no matter what their age.  It will be much easier to host a larger crowd in a larger space such as a park, gymnasium, or large back yard.
    • Your Time and Energy Level:  Don’t. Underestimate.  Anything.  Ever.  Sure you’re going to meet that drop-dead work deadline, be back in time to clean the house, do the shopping, put up the decorations, bake a cake, prep the party fare, actually take a shower and look like June Cleaver by the time the guests arrive 24 hours from now.  Mmmmm-hmmmm…..  Be kind to yourself; save your sanity and understand that there are many ways to make a celebration special.  Look for the solution that allows you to gracefully get to the point of it all:  celebrating the birthday boy/girl.

 

What about the kids who didn’t get invited?

Lots of parents worry about making children feel “left out” if they don’t receive an invitation to the celebration.  On the flip side, it is easy to feel like you or your child will have some explaining to do to all the other folks who were not on the list of invitees.  This is not fun for anybody, and sadly, it can turn into a political tit-for-tat on the part of children and parents alike.  But there are ways you can minimize or avoid these situations:

Bring treats to the classroom / team.  Approach your child’s teacher/coach and ask if you can bring a special treat for the whole class/team to share.  Sometimes a couple of pizzas and some juice go a long, long way towards making everyone feel included, and it teaches your child that giving is usually even more fun than receiving.

Be discreet.  If you’re having a smaller party, teach your child the art of discretion and consideration for others’ feelings.  Some children will see their party- or their invitation to a party – as an opportunity for a power play; teach them early-on that this isn’t the right approach.

 

What information should be included on the invitations?

Online services like www.evite.com make sending invitations paperless and easy.  Should you choose to send invitations through the mail, they should include the following information;

–         The type of party being given;

–         For whom the party is being given;

–         Date (include the day of the week and the date!);

–         Time (give both a specific start time and end time, and if your event requires a very specific start or pickup time, such as at a theater, include the word “sharp” after the times.  If you’d prefer parents not to stay for the party, simply insert the words “drop-off” and “pick-up”prior to the requested times;

–         Location (include the complete address, name of the facility, if applicable, and directions or cross-streets if there’s room);

–         Contact telephone number at your home or at the venue, and your cell number.

–         Suggested attire:  Will their child need a swimsuit and towel?  A paint smock?  Clothes for muddy or messy activities?

–         Food provided:  This is really helpful for parents to know, especially if the party time is close to a normal mealtime.  If you’re just doing cake, specify that.  It’s also prudent to ask parents to notify you of any food allergies or other special needs their child may have when they RSVP.  Better safe than sorry!

–         Specify how you’d like your guests to RSVP, and do include a deadline of no later than about a week before the party.  The most common RSVP formats include:

      • RSVP to Dinah at [phone number] or [email].
      • RSVP by June 1 to Dinah at [phone number].
      • Kindly respond to Dinah Johnson at [phone number].
      • Please reply to Dinah Johnson at [phone number].
      • Regrets only, to Dinah at [phone number]. (Please note that “regrets only” means that you only want people to call if they cannot attend. You assume everyone else is coming.)

How to handle RSVP’s:

Most parents will RSVP by the requested date; however, sometimes things fall through the cracks and folks forget.  Don’t hesitate to call potential guests to see if they’re coming;  never assume their child won’t attend simply because you haven’t heard back.

If you’re the guest, be sure to RSVP promptly.  Your host/ess will need an accurate head count to make appropriate plans.

In the event your child has food allergies or special needs, let the host/ess know ASAP, and kindly offer to bring something to accommodate your child.  Be sure to bring enough for others to sample!

 

What is the best time for a children’s party, and how long should it last?

”For babies and toddlers up to three years old, when naptime is still a consideration, a one-hour party is long enough. When children are four to seven years old, plan on one and a half hours for the party. By the time children are eight to eleven years old, they can easily handle a two-hour party. Children twelve and up can entertain themselves to some extent, so they will likely want an evening party or sleepover.

The best time of day to have a baby or toddler party is probably 10:00am–11:00am. This lets you work around nap time, and is long enough for some free play and cake. As children get older, parties are usually from 1:30pm–3:00pm or 2:00pm–4:00pm. This gives plenty of time for games, snacks, and cake.” (http://www.birthdayinabox.com/)


If you would like parents to stay at the party as chaperones:

The general rule of thumb is that parents should stay to chaperone their child if they are under the age of five. Feel free to make your need for assistance clear by adding wording on the invitations asking that the invited child come with one parent. Be sure to confirm the parent’s attendance when he/she RSVP’s.
How to address the invitations/envelopes:   Address each invitation to the person being invited. If you’d rather little Mary attend without her brothers and sisters, simply address the envelope to Mary Johnson.   If you look forward to having an entire family attend, address the invitation to “Mary Johnson and Family”, or to “The Johnson Family”.  The words “Siblings Welcome” inside the body of the invitation works, as well.

 

On the subject of party games and activities:

The biggest rule of thumb here is to let the children set the pace of the party.  You may have a lineup of the most fantastic games the world has ever known, but the fastest way to ruin a good party is to force kids to play them.  More often than not, you’ll find party-goers completely engrossed in simply playing together.  However, it’s always good to have some planned activities or crafts ready to go in the event of an impending meltdown.
What about competitive party games?

“Laurie Wrigley, founder of Birthday in a Box, adds this great advice:

“On the subject of competition, I think that children four and under are probably too young for competitive games in which there is a single winner or players are eliminated. While most may be able to handle it, there may be one or two who cannot. Instead, I would advise that each young child be given a participation prize or be made to feel like a winner. For instance, with a musical game, the adult can ensure everyone wins by stopping the music appropriately. Or, if there is a broad range of ages, you may want to pair younger children with an older partner or an adult who can share in the win or loss.”

    • When planning party activities, always add two more games or crafts than you think you will need. These extra ideas will rescue you on the party day if the children finish a game more quickly than you expected. For a toddler party, it is generally accepted to let the kids play freely most of the time, so one or two games are all you will need.
    • For other age groups, plan 3-5 crafts or games if your party will last one-and-a-half hours. For a two-hour party, you will need 4-6 activities.

Don’t push the children to finish a game that they are enjoying. If you’ve hit upon a winner, the kids may want to play it again! Forget about getting through your entire list of games, and let the party flow at its own pace.” (http://www.birthdayinabox.com/)

 

On the topic of behavior – and misbehavior:

Set clear expectations without being “preachy”: 

Communication and preparation based on kindness and empathy are worth their weight in gold.  Let’s face it:  kids don’t know  good party manners from a hill of beans until they’re taught.  Be a good parent: talk to your child before the party about your basic expectations, rather than chiding them for poor manners in front of their guests.  Good things to start out with include:

–         Saying hello to each guest as they arrive, even if you’re playing with someone else;

–         Being friendly to everyone;

–         Saying “Thank You” to each guest for the gift they brought;

–         Saying “Thank You” and “Goodbye” to each departing guest.

 

A great way to prepare children for social success is to play-act with them.  Like anyone, children learn more from and are better able to appropriately react to situations or personalities they’ve previously been exposed to. Try to teach through illustration; turn into the infamously evil Nelly Olson from Little House On The Prarie for a few minutes.  Then turn into the much more kind Laura Ingalls, and let your child decide which personality she would prefer to emulate.  This is a fun way to offer a gentle behavioral reminder during the party, too.  If your child shows signs of veering in the wrong direction, all you have to do is ask, “My, did I hear Nelly in the room?”  No one else will have a clue as to what you’re talking about, and your child will get the message without feeling put on the spot.  Furthermore, if your child happens to have unwittingly invited a “Nelly” to the party, that little code word can go a long way to let them know that you are seeing the offending behavior from the guest and that your child is not alone.

 

Managing the Meltdown:

Birthday parties are huge, overwhelming things for children.  The excitement and anticipation builds up for weeks beforehand. On the day of the event, sugar mixes with all that adrenaline like a powder keg waiting for the opportunity to explode all over the place and the chance of a complete emotional meltdown is drastically increased for child and parent alike.  Just remember:

 

–         Keep your cool.  Your job is to calm your child down and get him/her back to the party as quickly as possible.  Sometimes that may entail your needing to move them to a quiet, secluded area for a bit until they calm down.  Just explain to the other party goers that Mary needs a quiet minute and quickly divert their attention by starting up a new activity or game.  Mary will come around quickly enough, and when she does, welcome her back and get her into the activity quickly and seamlessly.

–         Master the art of redirection. Sometimes your guests will be the ones with the behavior issues.  It’s always a good idea to have another adult at any party to help out; if the misbehaving child’s parent is in attendance, feel free to ask him/her to help the offending child through their issue.  If you’re the one who has to step in, try to stay positive.  Try not to make the child feel as though you’re attacking him/her; simply say something like, ‘It’s been a big day, hasn’t it?  Why don’t you come with me and we’ll get you something cool to drink?”  At this point, offer something sugar-free, like a glass of milk or water.

If wild and unruly behavior is the problem, try enlisting the child’s assistance in helping you set up for the next activity.  Usually a newfound sense of purpose will turn even the most out-of-control kid into a prince/ss.  However, if the child is just being plain mean to others, do not hesitate to contact his/her parents if the situation seems to be beyond your control.

 

On the subject of Gifts:

 

Should gifts be opened during or after the party?

The debate rages on as to whether it’s best to open gifts during the party or leave them until after the guests have departed.  A good rule of thumb is to base your decision on the size of the party; if you have fewer than ten, it’s a good idea to open them during your event.  However, during larger gatherings, the process of opening gifts can be a bit boring for the guests.  Follow your gut.

 

There is a chance that your child might be crushed if they don’t have the chance to see the recipient open their carefully-chosen gift.  If you think this is the case, general consensus says you should speak up, and ask if the host/ess would mind if the recipient opened the gift prior to your child’s departure.

 

Sometimes, simply structuring the party so that gift-opening is left for last ensures that everyone has a great time, and all the bases are covered.

 

No matter which direction you go, be sure to make a list of all the gifts and note who they came from so that Thank You Notes can be sent accordingly.

 

What if the invitation requests “no gifts”?  Shouldn’t I still bring something?

“No gifts” means NO GIFTS.  To bring something to the event might embarrass the host and the other guests, alike.  If you feel you must give the birthday boy/girl a special something, do it at another time and place.

 

 

And, finally, on the subject of Thank You Notes:

 

Yes, they are absolutely, 100% necessary.  Explain to your child how his/her friend took the time to choose a nice gift, and, even if the gift wasn’t a favorite, or was a duplicate, the friend should still get a “thank you” for his time and consideration.  The note doesn’t have to be long; it should, however, thank the giver for coming to the party, mention the gift and say something nice about it.  Thank you notes are best written right after the event; however, try to send them no later than two weeks after the party.

 

Here’s to many happy Birthday  Bashes for years and years to come!

Posted July 19th, 2011.

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Top Ten Ideas for a “Kinder and Gentler” Childrens’ Party

By Danica Waters

 

Today marks the beginning of Birthday Season at my house.  As strange as it may sound, my three children were born exactly two weeks apart beginning in mid July.  While they’re all much older now, and their idea of what makes a party memorable is far, far away from the rousing game of Pin-The-Tail-On-Tigger, I find myself looking back wistfully upon the days of decorations and party themes, goodie bags and games.

 

And then reality kicks in and I remember what those parties were really like.  Ah, yes.  The gift dilemmas, the meltdowns, the jealousy, and that helpless, nasty feeling you get when your child comes crying to you after having been told that her goodie-bags weren’t as good as the ones at another, more “popular” friend’s party last week.

 

And then I shudder when I think about all the wasted money and paper and dyes and plastic party favors and party hats and plates and utensils… the list goes on and on.

If I had little kids, how would I do it differently?  Smarter?  “Kinder and gentler”?

 

After doing a little light reading into the world of the modern childrens’ party, I came away flooded with environmentally and socially friendly ideas.  Here’s my Top Ten Ideas for a “Kinder and Gentler” Childrens’ Party:

 

1.  E-Mail Your InvitationsSave the paper and send your party invitations via email.  Check out www.evite.com – with tons of hip, colorful and hilarious designs to choose from, evite.com makes it super-easy to create and send the perfect invitation, and for busy moms and dads to RSVP right from their in-box!

 

2.  Skip the Birthday CardOn your invitation, kindly ask that guests forego the birthday card.  Instead, provide a special birthday “scrapbook” that guests can sign and personalize with multi-colored markers or gel-pens (try a decorated Composition notebook or art pad).  For little bitsies, a “signature” could be something as simple as creating a handprint from tempera paint; older kids might enjoy embellishing their messages with stickers or glitter pens.

 

Or, for zero-impact, have older, more computer-literate guests create a personalized message using different font styles and colors in either a simple Word Document or a more sophisticated Power-Point slide.  Images from the birthday party can be easily inserted into the presentation for a completely paper-free and easy-to share (and easy to store!) virtual scrapbook.

 

3.  Focus on the activity, not the stuff.  If you added up all the money you’d spend on party decorations, favors, and the like, chances are you could take that same amount and do something really cool, like bring a few choice friends to a planetarium or a local museum, or even support local talent and hire a puppeteer.

 

4.  Make an heirloom birthday tableclothRather than invest in (and throw away) lots of vinyl, plastic, or even paper party tablecloths, make your own heirloom party cloth.  Using something as simple as an old sheet, choose a special color dye and go to town!  Embellish with patchwork, fabric paints, beads and sequins to create a one-of-a-kind cloth for all your family’s birthday bashes.

 

5. Ban the paper napkins!  For a fun assortment of party napkins, keep an eye out at all your favorite home stores for cloth napkins on sale.  Chances are you’ll find some super-fun colors and prints you can use (and re-use) for years to come.

 

6.  Keep food finger-friendlyEliminate the need for lots of plates and utensils by basing your party fare on finger-friendly foods.  Miniature tacos/taquitos, fresh fruit sections, and wild and colorful veggies (pick up some purple carrots and some brocco-flower at your local farmer’s market!) make for a fun and festive party menu.  Finish it off with a tower teeming with succulent cupcakes and your guests will be thrilled!

 

7.  Eliminate the juice-boxBuy re-useable stainless steel water bottles in bright colors, and have kids label theirs with an adhesive sticker-style label or tag affixed with ribbon or yarn.  Kids can take them home as a party-favor afterwards.

 

Fill a large beverage dispenser or thermos with homemade lemonade, juice, water, or milk.  Label the contents per the party theme:  “Poly-Juice Potion”, “Fairy Juice”, “Gas Tank”, “Zombie Water”, etc.  Add to the fun by setting out a few dishes filled with colored sugar (think Pixie Stix), and call it “Fairy Dust” that kids can sprinkle into their beverage.  Or, for a more healthful alternative, set out small dishes of sliced berries or fresh mint that they can add to their drink to customize their personal concoction.

 

8.  Never underestimate the attraction of a large refrigerator box.  Though you might have to make special arrangements to get your hands on one, the refrigerator box is possibly the cheapest and easiest party activity EVER.  Kids will turn them into forts, skyscrapers, giant caves… several large boxes in a back yard will become play cities that will provide hours of fun.

 

Large boxes make for great stage and backdrop surfaces, as well.  Nothing gets kids going faster than the idea of putting on a variety show.

 

The best part?  It all breaks down into a recyclable pile easily removed by the weekly recycling truck.

 

9.  Bypass the Great Gift Dilemma and eliminate wrapping paper in the process!

Avoid collecting unwanted or duplicate gifts and the embarrassment that accompanies them by shifting the focus of your party towards having everyone work together to make the world a better place.  Here’s some ideas:

 

Donate gently-used toys and clothes to children in need.  Decorate a large box (or have the kids do it!) to hold donated items brought in lieu of birthday gifts.  Then get on with the party!

 

Make a Giving Tree.  Create a large cardboard “tree”, and instruct guests to bring one-dollar bills (in whatever amount is comfortable for their budget) in lieu of gifts.  Using paper clips, poke a small hole in each dollar bill and “attach” to the tree to make ‘leaves’.  The cash can either be donated to a charity of choice, or it can be given to the birthday boy/girl to buy something really special.  Be sure to emphasize your positive impact on the planet by eliminating packaging and gift wrap, as well!

 

Throw an EchoAge party and have the proceeds go to a cause of your choice!  www.echoage.com is an outstanding resource that makes it easy for your child to choose a charity of his/her choice.  “Keeping an eye and ear on your ECHOage Party is easy and inspirational: you will be able to organize your entire party, from guests to child allergies, important parent contact information to online payments. The ECHOage Tracker provides you with everything you need to keep your party organized, safe and fun.

Once all of your guests have responded and contributed online, ECHOage sends you the funds that have been collected so that you can choose ONE GIFT for your child to cherish from all his/her friends. ECHOage makes the payment to the charity you have chosen for you, and you receive an official tax receipt.”  Check them out here.

10.  Don’t forget the party hats!

Oh, heavens.  If this little video series by party hat expert Ginny Larson doesn’t get your creative juices flowing, I don’t know what will.  Imagine hosting a “fashion show” party where guests construct fabulous frocks and hats from newsprint and paper bags, or jewelry from cut-up paper towel rings and the like…  mmmm-hmmmmm….  Sounds like the making of some historic – and hysterical – Kodak Moments, for sure.  Here’s the how-to:

http://www.ehow.com/videos-on_129_make-party-hats.html

Posted July 18th, 2011.

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