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Vodka, vodka everywhere!

Vodka has certainly enjoyed quite the renessaince over the past 15 years or so. Of course you know that flavored vodkas started appearing en masse several years ago (yes, I know the Absolut flavors have been around longer than that, but things have certainly gotten more exotic lately, no?). Here are a few that interest me, and with which you could make some intriguing cocktails. New this summer is Firefly's Sweet Tea Vodka. I don't think it's in Chicago yet, but I imagine you could have some fun mixing it with lemonade, or perhaps lemon-lime soda or ginger ale.


For warmer weather, I like coffee vodkas such as Vincent Van Gogh Double Espresso. Mix it with some Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur, and you have a reason to stay in!


I saw this mentioned on a message board this spring, and have been dying to make it ever since. I think bacon-flavored vodka could be just the thing for Bloody Marys while tailgating...



RoR on RSVPs

How many people can you expect at your event? This depends on a number of variables.

1) The host's history of hosting and attending parties. If you try to throw the same party every month, you can expect a low Rate of Return because there's little anticipation. Likewise, if you're a bad guest (constantly flaking out on others, not RSVPing but then showing up, etc.), expect your event to be low on the priority list of others.

2) Guests' other options. If it's New Year's Eve, you'd better come up with a hell of a party if you expect the turnout to be significant.

3) Amount of notice. This is a given. People are busy, so the earlier you can get on people's calendars the better. That's why save-the-dates for weddings have become so popular in recent years.

4) The event itself. Is it a fantastic bash on the beach or a simple Gray's Anatomy viewing? What do your guests like to do? On a related note, does your invitation make people excited to come? Thinking about recent events I've had at home, our annual rooftop party had an amazing RoR. We sent the Evite out over a month in advance because I know what summers in the city are like - everyone is booked weeks in advance. Also, this is a party we only do once a year. In fact, I do no more than two huge parties a year. Any more than that and they become old hat. On the other hand, our little New Year's Eve potluck dinner had a purposely low turnout. We sent the invite out just two weeks in advance and didn't hype it too much beforehand. It's an exhausting time of year for an event planner and fewer guests meant an easier party!


Making the mood - Music

Would you play the same music for a pool party as you would for goth-inspired Halloween party? I'd advise against it.

Music is the wallpaper that can hold your mood together or make it fall apart. I'm not talking about theme, here. Themes are easy (tropical, Vegas, 70s) but mood is a little more elusive. For instance, let's say you're throwing a daytime pool party for about 35 people with a median age of 30. Just adults - no kids. You want the mood to be light, fun, and perhaps a little glam.

The mood for aforementioned Gothic Halloween, on the other hand, is dark and sexy, with a touch of evil. If the mood is right, the guests won't notice. On the other hand, if Katrina and the Waves comes on in a room full of red light, spidewebs, and black candles, there's a disconnect and everyone will nervously titter and say "Well, that's certainly unexpected..."

Another thing to keep in mind - party energy. Start out with some slower, lower energy songs. Keep the kickin-est tunes for about 3 hours into your party (so, 11pm for a party that started at 8pm)

Here's a sampling from playlists I've created for various events...

Gothic Halloween (dark, sexy, evil. Mix of rock and electronica)
Hey Pretty - Poe
Machinehead - Bush
Faint - Linkin Park
Devil Inside - INXS
The Bad Touch - Bloodhound Gang
How Soon is Now? - LoveSpitLove
Black Velveteen - Lenny Kravitz
Frank Sinatra - Miss Kittin
Impressive Instant - Madonna
Medazzaland - Duran Duran
Mega C - Fischerspooner
Robot Rock - Daft Punk

Big Dinner for Family and Friends (Elegant. Mix of jazz/big band and chill-out electronica)
From this Moment On - Diana Krall
Spooky - Dusty Springfield
Eres mi Vida - Mocha Lab
Desafinado - Stan Getz
I Concentrate on You - Frank Sinatra
The Gardens of Sampson & Beasley - Pink Martini
The Cure and the Cause (ambient mix) - Fish Go Deep
Dance me to the end of Love - Madeleine Peyroux

Huge Rooftop Party (Whatever the kids are listening to, plus some extras)
Viva La Vida - Coldplay
Lonnie's Secret - Owusu & Hannibal
Sexy Can I - Ray J
No Substitute Love - Estelle
Time Won't Wait - Jamiroquai
Love Today - Mika
Forever - Chris Brown
Don't Stop the Music - Rihanna
D.A.N.C.E. - Justice
4 Minutes - JT & Madonna
Good Life - Kanye West
Dangerous - Kardinal Offishall

Feel free to use these as jumping point for your next party! Most are available on iTunes. Speaking of iTunes, there are some great playlist suggestions on there if you're stuck. Spend an hour or two exploring their ideas and mix them with your own existing tracks.


Theme ideas - Back to School

Last year I planned an association meeting with a back-to-school theme. You can use elements of this if you're doing a philanthropic event that benefits education, or if the setting for your meeting happens to be at a school, or if it takes place in early September.

This particular meeting happened mid-day, and members were expecting some sort of light snack. Sticking with the theme, I created the following:

Personalized snack bags for each attendant

Each bag had a selection from the above.

These bags got a great reaction, and trading did in fact happen! It was completely cheap and easy to create - just some lunch bags, sharpie pens, and some snacks from CostCo. I think it ended up being about $3-$4 per bag. The signs were made with an apple border that came bundled with MS Office, and Kristen ITC font.

Other elements to consider:

Create a Welcome sign on a portable chalkboard
Offer crayons, colored pencils, and butcher-block paper for brainstorming sessions
Seat everyone on those really tiny plastic molded chairs (KIDDING! Guests should always be comfortable, and I know my rear has outgrown those chairs!)


Party killers

Way back in my days as an aspiring hostess I made a lot of mistakes. By my sophomore year of high school, however (what can I say, I was an early bloomer with the party-planning) I developed a small yet highly accurate list of party killers - Light, Space, and TV.

Since that revelation in 1992, I can honestly say that the list still holds true. Of course, it does not apply to backyard barbeques, Guitar Hero tournaments, or Superbowl Sunday bashes. It's more for your average cocktail-type party. Here they are, broken down for you:

Too much light: Dark equals mystery. Mystery equals sexy. When it's dark, people feel less self-conscious and inhibited. I'm not saying it should be so dark that you can't make out the hors d'oeuvre you're about to eat, but it should be dark enough that you can't read the small print on a beer bottle. Use dimmer switches or replace bright bulbs with lower wattage. Experiment with a mix of dim bulbs, colored bulbs, and candlelight. A night or two before, do a lighting run through - you'll be glad you did.

Too much space. If people are spread out, they're not socializing. Again, it shouldn't be so cramped that you can't move, but you shouldn't be able to roll a beach ball down the center of the space, either. Having your guests in close quarters encourages conversation ("I couldn't help but overhearing you're also a big fan of Siouxsie & the Banshees, pre John McGeoch"). If you don't want the party spilling over into certain rooms, make them uninviting with a lack of seating, and zero light (especially no candlelight...partygoers are attracted to candlelight like moths to a flame).

Television. Obviously, the exception for this is any sort of viewing party. If you're not getting together with the implicit purpose of watching something, then there is NO REASON FOR TV TO BE ON. Let me repeat - TURN IT OFF. Nothing will kill a party faster. The main reason for having a party is for people to have fun and talk to each other. If the TV's on, you'll get a handful of wallflowers who will sit there glued to the tube, and from there it's a slippery slope into No Interaction Land.

Halloween bash, nary a party killer in sight

Of course, it's still up to you to provide good music, libations, and friends, but avoiding the Party Killers is the first step to throwing a memorable party!

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