Party Ideas




Set an Elegant Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving table settings, in my experience has been a more formal occasion from other meals and family gatherings. However, I was raised in a rural community so the standard of living was not a five star hotel quality experience by any means. My mother had formal training and a life in the city before she fell in love with her country boy husband, my father. She was bound and determined that her children would not grow up uneducated on proper etiquette. Yes ma’am, we had formal meals with chargers and goblets. However, we didn’t have three course meals. There was dinner and then there was desert, if we were lucky.

Despite my mother’s efforts, the different sizes of forks didn’t take on any more meaning than the smaller one fits in my mouth better and the bigger one has more shoveling capacity. In fact I don’t know that we ever had enough matching utensil sets to ever really set a perfect formal table. We had nice dishes, but with so many kids and a father who ran-off with the the spoons for lunch at work, it was tough to keep a full set around. Looking back, I suppose we looked kinda cute trying so hard to set a nice table with mismatched dishes. But I loved it. Setting the table was my favorite job for family gatherings.  

In our small home, especially with all the extended family and the extensive table decorations, buffet style was usually the way the meal was served. This may have also had something to do with the sheer amount of food. There was simply not enough room for Aunt Lou’s gluten-free stuffing, Grandma’s whole wheat stuffing, and mom’s cornbread stuffing. For everything to fit, and everyone to get a fair shake at at least a little taste of everything — if you like celery in your stuffing — it had to be a buffet. This eliminated the need for salad plates or soup bowls at the table. Actually, salad plates, in my childhood view were actually just plates made for small people such as my younger siblings.

The good news, from our hodgepodge efforts at a formal Thanksgiving dinner, I was not completely lost when I found myself seated at a formal meal in a fancy hotel. I was not taunted by three plates, three forks, two goblets and a coffee cup. Nervous, but not overwhelmed as I could have been, if not for my mother.  By that time I knew what a salad fork looked like and to start from the outside and work inward. Thank heaven’s! That was not the time to be asking for instructions.

The point I am trying to make is this. A homemade Thanksgiving dinner is exhausting effort. Formal table settings may seem like overkill and create an seemingly unnecessary amount of dishes to clean. Please remember to look past the extra work and recognize the opportunity this is to prepare your kids for life one day. The cooking can be a bonding experience with your child. Trust him or her enough to let them help prepare the turkey and bake pies. The formal table setting is a teaching opportunity. Trust your son or daughter to set the table with the fine china. Broken dishes, if something does break, can be replaced and aren’t worth getting angry about. These moments may never come again, don’t lose them.     

Make Thanksgiving a time to remember how to be refined. Stop and actually taste your food, be grateful for the good things in your life and reflect on how you have changed over the past year. Despite everything life continues to throw at us almost daily, we have so much to be thankful for.

I have included a diagram of a formal table setting and a video to help you set your Thanksgiving table, in case you are completely lost.


Set an Elegant Thanksgiving Table

Good Luck!

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While entertaining during the summer means all sorts of outdoor parties, it also means dealing with the sticky heat. Keep your guests hydrated with these quirky drink recipes.

Green Tea Soda from Midwest Living

Servings: Makes 8 to 10 servings.
  • 8 bags green, gingko or ginseng tea
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup orange or tangerine juice
  • 1/2 cup lemon or lime juice
  • 4 cups  assorted fresh fruit, such as lemon slices, orange slices, white or regular nectarine wedges, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and/or pitted dark sweet cherries
  • 1/2 of a 1-liter bottle plain or flavored sparkling water, such as raspberry, strawberry or peach, chilled (2 cups)
1. In a heat-proof medium glass bowl or a heat-proof 2-quart pitcher, add tea bags and honey to boiling water, stirring until honey dissolves. Cover; steep for 10 minutes at room temperature. Carefully remove tea bags, gently squeezing to remove liquid. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Add orange juice and lemon juice to pitcher with brewed tea. Cover; chill tea mixture 4 to 24 hours.
3. To serve, fill eight to ten 12-ounce glasses with ice cubes. Divide tea among glasses; add fruit and fill with sparkling water. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Nutrition Facts
Calories 119, Total Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 3 mg, Carbohydrate 31 g, Fiber 2 g, Protein 1 g.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Spiced Tea from Better Homes and Gardens

Servings: 8
Prep: 15 mins
Total: 4 hrs 15 mins


  • 2 cups  water
  • 3 inches  stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon  whole cloves
  • 3 tea bags
  • 3/4 cup  sugar
  • 3 cups  pineapple juice
  • 3 cups  orange juice
  • 1/4 cup  lemon juice
  • Ice (optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, cinnamon, and cloves. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add tea bags. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and spices. Stir in sugar and juices. Cover and chill thoroughly. Makes 8 (8-ounce) servings.
Nutrition Facts
Calories 167, Total Fat 0 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 5 mg, Carbohydrate 42 g, Fiber 0 g, Protein 1 g. Exchanges: Fruit 3.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Honey-Lemon Tea from EatingWell

Servings: 4 servings, 1 cup each

Prep: 5 mins

Total: 3 hrs 30 mins


  • 1/4 cup  dried chrysanthemums, (see Shopping Tip)
  • 3 lemon slices
  • 4 cups  boiling water
  • Honey, to taste
1. Place chrysanthemums and lemon in a glass or ceramic pot. Add boiling water. Cover with a lid and let steep for 5 minutes. Stir in honey. Refrigerate until cold, about 3 1/2 hours. (It’s not necessary to strain the tea.)
Shopping Tip: In China, you can buy dried chrysanthemums at “medicine stores” or vegetable markets; in the U.S., look for them at natural-foods stores or Asian markets.
Nutrition Facts
Exchanges: Other Carbohydrate 0.5
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Basil Lemonade from Better Homes and Gardens

Servings: Makes 12 servings.

Prep: 15 mins

Total: 8 hrs 15 mins


  • 12 cups  cold water
  • 2 12-oz. cans  frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 1/3 cup  sugar
  • 1/4 cup  fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup  firmly packed fresh basil leaves, torn (one .75-oz. pkg.)
  • Lemon slices and fresh basil (optional)
1. In extra-large bowl or pitcher combine water, lemonade concentrate, sugar, and lime juice. Stir well to combine. Stir in torn basil leaves. Cover; refrigerate 8 hours.
2. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into serving container; discard basil leaves. Chill up to 3 days.
3. Serve over ice with lemon slices and fresh basil. Makes 12 servings.
Make Ahead
After removing fresh basil, lemonade may be held in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Nutrition Facts
Calories 125, Total Fat 0 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Monounsaturated Fat 0 g, Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 9 mg, Carbohydrate 33 g, Total Sugar 31 g, Fiber 0 g, Protein 0 g. Daily Values: Vitamin C 19%, Calcium 1%, Iron 2%. Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Sparkling Peach Punch from Better Homes and Gardens

Servings: makes 6 servings


  • 3 cups  water
  • 1-1/2 cups  sugar
  • 1 3-oz. pkg.  peach-flavored gelatin
  • 1 29-oz. can  peach slices in light syrup
  • 4 11.3-oz. cans  peach nectar
  • 1/2 cup  lemon juice
  • 8 10-ounce bottles  ginger ale or club soda
1. In large saucepan combine water, sugar, and gelatin. Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve.
2. Place undrained peach slices in blender. Cover; blend until smooth. In extra-large bowl combine gelatin mixture, pureed peaches, peach nectar, and lemon juice. Divide peach mixture among four 1-quart containers. Cover and freeze overnight or until firm. NOTE: Mixture can be frozen up to 3 months. Use as many containers as needed to continue with Step 3. (Each quart makes 6 servings.)
3. To serve, place one or more containers at room temperature for 1 hour. Break in chunks with large fork. Place in punch bowl or jug. Stir in 2 bottles of ginger ale per container of peach mixture until slushy. Makes 24 servings (four 6-serving batches).
Nutrition Facts
Calories 143, Total Fat 0 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Monounsaturated Fat 0 g, Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 26 mg, Carbohydrate 37 g, Total Sugar 36 g, Fiber 1 g, Protein 1 g. Daily Values: Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 10%, Calcium 1%, Iron 2%.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Orange Julius from Better Homes and Gardens

Servings: 3 servings
Total: 5 mins
  • 1 11-ounce can  mandarin orange sections, drained
  • 1 cup  orange sherbet
  • 1/2 cup  orange juice
  • 4 to 6  ice cubes
Directions 1. In a blender container, blend together drained mandarin orange sections, orange sherbet, and orange juice. Add ice cubes, one at a time, blending to form a slush. Makes 3 servings.
Nutrition Facts
Calories 117, Total Fat 1 g, Saturated Fat 1 g, Cholesterol 3 mg, Sodium 27 mg, Carbohydrate 27 g, Fiber 1 g, Protein 1 g. Daily Values: Vitamin A 17%, Vitamin C 84%, Calcium 4%, Iron 2%.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Vanilla Dream Float from Better Homes and Gardens

Servings: Makes 4 servings
Prep: 10 mins
Total: 10 mins Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 pints  cookie dough ice cream
  • 2 cups  cream soda
Directions 1. Place 2 large scoops of ice cream in the bottom of each of four 8-ounce glasses. Fill each glass with cream soda. Makes 4 servings
Nutrition Facts
Calories 333, Total Fat 14 g, Saturated Fat 8 g, Monounsaturated Fat 0 g, Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 38 mg, Sodium 112 mg, Carbohydrate 48 g, Total Sugar 39 g, Fiber 0 g, Protein 5 g. Daily Values: Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 0%, Calcium 10%, Iron 3%. Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

What better excuse to throw a party than a beautiful summer night? And by party, we don’t mean the traditional American barbecue (although those are fun too!). With proper lighting and a little eclectic flair, you can transform your backyard into a whimsical wonderland and provide your guests with a night they’ll never forget.

1. Bust out those lights from storage. White Christmas lights strung around trees, bushes or a fence brings light to all areas of the backyard. You could also try stringing strands of light bulbs overhead or hanging clusters of battery-powered paper lamps. If you’re looking to be eco-friendly, solar-panel outdoor lights provide a viable option. Be sure to hang the lights with plastic hooks rather than staples or nails, which can puncture the wire.

Photo courtesy of apartment therapy

Photo courtesy of ENVI Consulting and Associates, Inc.

Photo Courtesy of E+O Supply

Photo courtesy of RealSimple

2. Furniture placement is key. Rather than eat on the deck or patio, move the table and chairs under a tree and/or on the grass. If you’re worried about bug-bites, put up some insecticide torches or candles and provide the guests with bug spray.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of E+O Supply

3. Scatter whimsical accessories through the party space. For instance, the three-foot Nutcracker that gets to see the outside of the attic only a couple weeks a year serves as an unusual guardian over the food. Clear glass orbs interact nicely with the lighting, evoking bubbles. A hand-made broom resting against a tree draws the past into the present, giving the party a timeless flavor. Colorful pinatas can either be hung or propped against furniture and trees to serve as festive statues. has a How-To on turning paper bags into hanging flowers.

Photo courtesy of New Haven Register

Photo courtesy of Room Polish

4. When serving food, go for the unexpected. recommends using giant, paper fortune tellers to serve smaller food items and fresh cut leaves as coasters. Baskets and mismatched chinaware can also enhance the overall dream-like atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

5. Use plants as centerpieces. recommends pots of moss or herbs. Or you can fill vases with flowers, candles or pieces of colored glass.

Photo courtesy of Sugar, Inc.

Photo courtesy of

6. For the menu, serve artisan bread, gourmet cheeses (Havarti, goat, Gouda and Brie), fresh produce and cake (like carrot or ginger). Marmalade, honey and olive oil will complement the bread and the produce will go great with cheese. If you’re looking for something more filling, try chicken breasts marinated in rosemary, pepper and lemon. To quench your guests’ thirst, whip up a batch of limeade with fresh ginger pieces or lemonade with springs of mint.

Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Photo courtesy of Luxist

Photo courtesy of Room Polish

Photo courtesy of ThisNext, Inc.

7. You don’t need a DJ to provide the music. Explore different styles of music on Pandora or LastFM. If your want a relaxed atmosphere, try folk music. If your looking for a more eclectic mix, try music from different cultures.

Photo courtesy of VanityFair

Now all that’s left is to pick a day and invite your guests!


Another Fourth of July is almost upon us. What better way to celebrate than by throwing a party? Whether it’s your first time hosting a Fourth of July celebration or your a seasoned pro, here’s some ideas to spark some patriotic life into the festivities.

1. Keep the kids (and adults) entertained with some fun games. Disney’s Family Fun web-page has great indoor and outdoor game ideas, such as Hose Head and Toppling Towers. Or maybe it’s time to break out the water guns and have an epic battle.

Photo courtesy of We Are Heros

Photo courtesy of Disney FamilyFun

2. In addition to the traditional BBQ, wow your guests with desserts decked out in red, white and blue. While the local bakery is always a good place to start, don’t be afraid to whip up your own batch of star-shaped cookies (in fact, you could even have guests help decorate them when they’ve finished cooling). If you need some inspiration, has a slide-show of 28 mouth-watering dishes and corresponding recipes to get you started.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

3. Have a lot of picky eaters? Or guests with dietary restrictions? Accommodate them all with Foil Dinners. You can lay out a spread of dining options, such as chicken, tofu, vegetables and hamburger and then have guests customize their meal. For more details, check out this article by FamilyFun Magazine.

Photo courtesy of FamilyFun Magazine

4. If there will be kids present, you can keep them entertained by assigning them party favor detail. Set up a craft table where they can make Confetti Launchers, Firecracker Crowns, and Patriotic Pom-Poms.

Photo courtesy of Craft Jr.

5. Using red, white and blue dinnerware is a simple way to bring patriotic colors into your party. However, if you’d rather choose a more eco-friendly option, you can use sugarcane or bamboo ware instead. We couldn’t find any in colors other than tan and white, so if you’re relying on your dishes for holiday color, you might want to consider additional decorations as well.

Photo courtesy of

6. What’s a party without music? Create a John Phillip Sousa station on Pandora or and play patriotic brass all night long.

Photo courtesy of LI

7. As for decorations, you can use anything at your disposal, so long as it follows the holiday’s color scheme. This includes balloons, streamers, paper stars and anything with an American flag.

Photo courtesy of Places We Go, People We See

Photo courtesy of Simplified Bee

Photo courtesy of Balloon Decoration Guide

8. If you’re going to be outside, you might want to consider hanging lights so your guests won’t be left in the dark when the sun goes down. These could be Christmas lights, strands of light bulbs or battery operated lanterns. If you’re looking to make s’mores, you could buy a fire pit or chiminea and roast those marshmallows over a few logs.

Photo courtesy of Garden Lights Guru

Photo courtesy of ThisNext, Inc.

9. What’s a Fourth of July event without some fireworks? Of course, it’s against the law to set off fireworks in some states and cities, so you might have to travel to a local park to see them first-hand. But, if you can light your own fireworks, be sure to do so responsibly and safely. No one wants to spend a holiday in the hospital.

Photo courtesy of Mel's Internet Universe

Happy party planning and good luck! Tell us about your Fourth of July event in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you.