Friday, January 30, 2009

Complete the Lyrics Game

**Update 6/03/09: If you're looking for samples of the lyric snippets or the games I've pulled together, send me an email or leave a comment here. I'll be glad to help!**

The very first year I hosted a Ladies' Tea, we played a complete the lyrics type of game. It was so much fun singing together and being silly. The next year, I didn't put the game together, but firmly decided to bring it back the following year as I discovered everyone missed it!

In a nutshell, I make up a list of 20 love songs (this is for a Valentine's Day party, after all) and select a passage with lines that are somewhat memorable. For the first couple of years, this was very easy as I just picked songs that I've always liked. Over the years, I've found that it has gotten harder to come up with songs that have lines that easily lend themselves to this type of game. My guests number around 8-9, and their ages range from early thirties to mid-eighties, so it has been a challenge to select songs that span generations, as well. When choosing the passage, you have to find a good breaking point, which is where the cue ends and your guests have to write down the lyrics that come next. For example, when given "When I get older losing my hair, Many years from now. Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings bottle of wine. If I'd been out till quarter to three, would you lock the door..." you would need to answer "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I'm sixty-four." I've been pretty relaxed in the past on how many words they have to write down to get credit. If it seems that they are having a particularly tough time, I've offered bonus points if they can at least name the artist.

Now, I am not a great singer. But do I let that stop me from singing the lead-ins? No way!! I find it rather freeing, as a matter of fact. I figure that my inability to sing on key just adds another layer of challenge to the game. A few of my guests are quite good singers, though, and so they help me out if they recognize the song and sing it properly to the benefit of the others playing the game. Once we have gone through all the songs, we score them together, and everyone sings out the lyrics with great abandon. It's funny, but we just have so much fun doing this. I always award a prize to the person who got the most correct. However, last year, I awarded a prize for second place, as well.

This year, I decided to change things up just a bit. In order to level the playing field between those who know songs across broad spectrums and those whose scope is more limited, I am going to divide the guests into 2 teams - one end of the table versus the other end. Each team will get one sheet of paper and will have to confer amongst themselves to come up with the right lyrics. In addition, I've decided to try using the laptop and actually play the song snippets instead of singing them myself. I know, I know... I hate to give up that post, but it so happens that I have chosen a couple of songs this time that I just would not be able to sing, not even badly. I mean... Whitney Houston. Need I say more? I am slightly afraid that the game might end up being too easy, as a result. BUT... I'm changing one other thing this year, too. Everyone is going to get a prize instead of just one winner. I'm thinking that I'll have the 'losing' team pick one item from a selection of wrapped gifts. Then I'll allow them to open the gifts, but then the 'winners' can choose to swipe one of the unwrapped gifts or choose from the remaining wrapped gifts. We'll see how it goes over! The final touch to making this game memorable, is at the end, I give each guest a CD which has all of the songs on it that were used in the game.

I have two other activities planned, but will go into more detail on those in the next update. I have a few things I need to get ironed out over the weekend, because it's full steam ahead with several things planned to get accomplished each day next week. And I still haven't gone shopping for those exotic ingredients yet!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: schwarzwalder kirschtorte

I made this Black Forest Cake for a past Valentine's Day Tea Party with a German Flair theme.

See more Wordless Wednesdays here and here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tackle it Tuesday: Tea Party Prizes

Tackle It Tuesday Meme
Over time, I have accumulated different tea party related items that I found on sale or for which I had a coupon. I pulled it out today to take stock in order to see what else I needed for this year's tea party. I decided to tackle the wrapping of the items that would be used as prizes for the games this year. Here is a picture of the potential prizes, potential favor bags, boxes, etc.

After looking it all over, I had a good idea of what else I needed to get for favors and more prizes. Next, it was on to wrapping! Here is the final product:

So nice to have one more thing checked off the to-do list for the party!

Visit 5 minutes for mom for more Tackles!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Valentine's Day Tea Party: Organization

It is my habit to take notes when working on a theme party. I do this with a lot of cut & pasting from the Internet when I run across something that I think may even remotely work in with my theme. I sometimes find I'm working with quite a lengthy document. Just yesterday, I did a review of my current document o' tidbits in order to get a better handle on the information I had culled. When I saw that it was 22 pages long, I figured it was time to do some organizing!

I have a basic template that I use each year for my Valentine's Day tea party. The template basically goes like this:

Valentine's Day Tea Party
Theme: ________________
I. Invitations
A. Guest List
B. Wording of Invitation
II. Menu
A. Tea Variety:
B. Listing of foods
III. Games
A. Game 1 Title and description of how it's played
B. Love Song Complete the Lyrics Game (we always play this game, it's expected!)
IV. Prizes
A. Game 1 Prize(s) & method of awarding them
B. Song Lyrics Game Prize(s) - method varies if playing in teams or as individuals
V. Favors
A. Miscellaneous, theme appropriate small gifts in some container for each guest
B. Always includes a CD I've burned of the songs used in the Complete the Lyrics Game
VI. Decorations
A. List ideas about table setting and room decor here
VII. Tidbits
A. Various information that could be worked into the party somehow are listed here until sorted further, or are kept here as conversation starters if there is a lull in the party.
B. Sometimes, the information is printed out in the form of bits of trivia and placed at each place setting. This provides conversation starters and could be read aloud during the party if there is a lull.
VIII. Itinerary
A. Starting with the time of the party, I sketch out what should happen when to make sure things move along accordingly, and also so that I don't forget anything I have planned.
B. After the party time has been laid out above, I make a list of things that can be done up to 2 to 3 days ahead of the party.

This is what my itinerary for last year's tea party (A Royal Renaissance) looked like:
11:30 - Set out torta & water; have different fact-sharing sheets on place settings for initial mingling; have guests write 3 little known things about themselves on paper and place in bag to use later; heat water & steep tea
12:00 - Serve scones & tea; Start 1st activity (sharing secrets)
12:30 - Set out meat pies/sandwiches/turkey drummies/eggs/arancine
12:45 - Start 2nd game (Love Songs) Phase I; heat water & steep 2nd batch of tea
1:00 - Serve 2nd batch of tea & battenberg cake/fruit salad; Recommence Love Songs Game Phase II
1:30 - Review 2nd game results and award prizes for 1st & 2nd place; invite guests to fill treat bag with various cookies; give Love Songs CD to everyone
**Make sure to take group photo
**Discuss date for next year

So the first thing I did yesterday was to find the document from last year's party, click "Save As" and insert the current year. Then I set about making the appropriate adjustments so that my information reflects the planning thus far for the current party. Once that had been accomplished, I had an idea of which bits of information I am not going to be using for the current party (usually extra game ideas). When that information has been weeded out, I put it into another file called "Not Used" so that I can try to use it in future parties.

I spent a fair amount of time cleaning up the information to be used for the games I'm planning on having at this year's party. There are two main games, Love Songs Complete the Lyrics & Flower Meanings Match Game. I am also having a third game/activity that I'll use as filler to help give me some time in the kitchen to work on getting the food out. It's a variation of the old "Consequences" game, sort of like mad libs. I will be working on organizing these games more over the weekend.

And that is about where I am in this party planning. My RSVP date is set for tomorrow, so I should have my final count, which will make the preparation for the rest of the details a little easier. I'm wiped out now. I need a break from planning. (Of course, my fatigue could also have something to do with having donated blood today....) At any rate, to be continued...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tackle it Tuesday: The dreaded dining room table

Tackle It Tuesday Meme

This is my first Tackle it Tuesday! What better way to jump in than with the dreaded, catch-all dining room table. This mess has been a mental block for me for a while. I have been using it as my coupon (yes, I am a couponer!), cookbook software entry, and greeting card writing station for far too long. I finally got my own space in what I now call 'the studio' (formerly the nursery, sunroom, place-to-put-all-the-stuff-to-be-dealt-with-later area). It has just taken me a while to shift my projects up there.

I am at the point in my tea party planning that I want to start thinking about the table setting. It has been lacking luster the past few years, and I really want to do it up this year, what with the floral flourish theme and all. Party time is getting closer, so I need to get to work on it. But I just couldn't make my mind go there because all I saw was this chaos.

Now, I *could* have just cleared the stuff off of the table, polished it up, and voila! But I decided to tackle it a bit more thoroughly and organize this stuff while I was at it. I moved my mobile coupon station and all of the cookbooks and magazines up to my studio to be input at leisure (I would be holed up a year if I tried to glean the good recipes from all of those sources in one sitting!), put my ipod and various accessories where they belong, finished the Christmas cards (yes, I said Christmas cards - long story - company didn't actually deliver these until January, so I went back and forth on whether or not to send them late or just forego, finally decided to send them with the dubious distinction of being the last Christmas card folks got, why not?), put the kids' toys in their room, and put the box-o-diskettes by the back door so I remember to take them to donate to the school. There!

A swift dusting of the table made it shine, and I appreciated that I once again had a dining room table, where I could envision my friends gathered together for fun and companionship. Now I certainly have no reason to not plan a fabulous table setting for the Valentine's Day tea party! Oh, except maybe that I'm just not really really good at that kind of thing. I have my work cut out for me on this one!

Check out more of today's Tackles here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Menu thoughts

With a little helpful push from a friend, I've started focusing once again on my menu for this upcoming tea party. Why not start with selecting the dessert? She shared with me a recipe for Rose Water Panna Cotta. I had no idea what to expect, but when I saw the recipe picture, I was wowed. It is like custard, and can be molded and turned out onto a plate. And then when I read the list of ingredients, I realized I had some more Googling to do. Lychees? Huh? What's that? I didn't even know how to pronounce that word... which meant I just had to locate and master this exotic sounding fruit. Yes, I verified that it was a fruit, with a taste/texture similar to a grape/pear.

Google educated me that it is a Chinese fruit, but also grown in India and other places. I decided to tap into some of my resources here to get the low down. My husband has Indian coworkers and they directed me to a local market that might have lychees, as well as the rose water that the recipe names. In doing another Google search, I found someone else trying to locate lychees in my area. I took copious notes and now feel prepared to obtain all the ingredients I should need.

So, dessert is settled. Now I can go on to the other areas of the meal...

Some tips I've gleaned when trying out a new recipe:
1) Always search the Internet for the recipe online. Recipe sites or blogs often have comments posted by people who have already tried the recipe and can suggest tweaks that you might find beneficial. Also, seeing different pictures of the recipe helps give you an idea of what yours should look like.

2) Make sure you allow yourself enough time to get all the steps done. That means reading the recipe all the way through first. You will save yourself some stress if you can do as much as possible before hand.

3) When trying to find ingredients that you aren't used to, again, search the Internet. Sites like Yelp can shed brilliant light on services and shops in your local area.

4) And finally, it is probably the responsible thing to suggest you try the recipe out ahead of time before 'going live' and serving it to guests... but... I can't say I've ever done it that way. Sink or swim for me, ya know?

Those are just a few tips. Leave a comment if you have any other tips to share!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

PA Farm Show Surprise Valentine's Day Tea Party Find

Yesterday, my husband, my two daughters, and I made the annual visit to the PA Farm Show. Living in the city, we find a natural curiosity for farm living. This event satisfies our curiosity, and provides fun and education for the whole family.

What could this possibly have to do with my Valentine's Day Tea? Well, there just happened to be a vendor offering a plethora of teas (that's agriculture to you and me) and accessories at his booth. My eyes were first drawn to this place by the beautiful Scherenschnitte art that was displayed. There was a lovely picture of a teapot that I would love to have acquired, but at $48, it was a little too hefty a price tag for a tea party decoration right now, but I may have to go to their store, Tea Party Linens & More, sometime in the future. I did find these little earrings that I love! And they were $8, which was a price I could justify.

I offer a new tea at every party, and I had not yet decided what to serve this year. I was thinking of trying the tea that has a flower inside the teapot, but that would mean a new teapot purchase. I just wasn't sure if I wanted to go that route. I searched for inspiration among the vast selection of tea from this vendor. I located an herbal variety that had this year's floral flourish theme written all over it: Lavender! I had never tasted it before, but couldn't resist the theme tie-in, so I bought two small packets that should give all my guests a fragrant cuppa. The vendor told me about his favorite, which is Wild Cherry. As I smelled it, he told me that instead of drinking cherry coke, he drinks this tea. Well! Cherry Coke is my favorite, so I had to have one of those, too!

I was a happy camper walking away with tea and earrings for the upcoming tea party. I must start thinking about the rest of the menu...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

5th Annual Valentine's Day Ladies Tea

I am currently planning a Valentine's Day Tea Party. This will be the 5th year for me hosting this event. The guests are my friends and family, some coming from 50 miles away, some from my neighborhood. The first couple of Valentine's Day teas were simply love themed events. That was easy enough! Then I started to run dry on unique ideas. I mean, it was all too easy to get really sappy and fru-fru, but that isn't my comfort zone. I wanted my lady guests to enjoy the sweetness of the holiday, but I wanted a little zing, too. So for the third year, I started developing secondary themes. That third tea party was celebrated with German flair.  And last year's party was a Royal Renaissance.

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about this year's theme, and I was at a loss as usual for ideas. I appealed for help from my friends at a forum I occasionally post to, and I wasn't disappointed. It was suggested to emphasize flowers - crystallizing them for dessert embellishments, floating them in drinks, and decorations in general. And voila! The Valentine's Day Tea Party with a floral flourish was born!

Last year I started sending the invitations out using evite. That worked out so well last year, that I decided to use it again this year. It has some good theme templates, but also allows you to customize the design to your liking.

But before I sent the evite invitation, I decided to do a poll of my guests to try to find the date that would be best for everyone. I am pretty sure that evite has a feature that allows you to poll your guests, but I didn't explore that this time. I sent an email with the subject line "Anyone out there that would..." and the email opened up to this image:

Well, I got responses, and it really muddied the waters. I ended up having to draw a little chart to sort out the information of who would be available when. Armed with statistics, I chose my date and went on to the evite invitation.

I used that same teacup image from the date poll email, and chose coordinating colors, and began to compose the wording for the invitation. Originally, I was going to try to do a play on words with flower names, eg: tulips = two lips, dandelion = dandy lion, etc, but that was impossible. I mean, my botanical knowledge is pretty limited, and the creative juices just wouldn't kick into overdrive to accomplish that feat. But, I managed to round up a herd of meaningful cliches from a website containing earth-oriented expressions (Google is my best friend!). As soon as I spied the phrase "common garden variety" I knew I what I could do. 

"Roses are red, violets are blue. It's tea party time, and I hope to see you! Friends are flowers in the garden of life, and to honor this, you are cordially invited to attend the 5th Annual Valentine's Day Ladies' Tea, celebrated this year with a floral flourish. The word through the grapevine is that Sunday, February 8th, would be the most convenient for the most guests. A garden is a friend you can visit anytime, but we'll begin our merriment at 1:30 PM. This is not your common, garden variety party, as we'll have a lot of ground to cover. Come prepared to cultivate the garden within as we celebrate the season of love with games and food, and maybe even learn a few facts along the way. Don't let the grass grow under your feet, RSVP by January 24th, 2009."

Evite lets you customize the reply area (Yes, No, Undecided), too. So, I named the reply area "Being led down the garden path" edited YES to read as "Dig it!" NO to be "Busy as a Bee" and UNDECIDED "On the Fence". Little details like this thrill me.  

Another fun thing about evite is that I can check to see which guests have viewed the invitation and for all of the guests to see who is coming. So while I continue on with my party planning, I can keep a browser open to evite and refresh to my heart's desire. I am one of those people who becomes obsessed with re-reading what I've written on a regular basis. Weird, I know.

More to come, as the party planning progresses...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Designing a blog is a lot like planning a party

I have come to realize that no matter how many times I view my blog, it isn't going to change by itself.  But nonetheless, I find myself opening a browser periodically throughout the day. Designing a header, choosing templates, fonts, colors, etc. I just can't figure out what exactly I want it to look like. I need inspiration. Aha! It dawned on me that coming up with a design for a new blog is rather like trying to come up with a unique way to celebrate an occasion that has been celebrated countless times before.

A little background... Several times a year, I host various parties to celebrate the holidays and birthdays. It started when my first daughter turned one, and I had to have a theme to plan her party around. That was almost seven years ago, and I've been a theme girl ever since. I have scoured the Internet in the ensuing years looking for inspiration, clever interpretations, and that something special that would set my party apart from the humdrum.

And I'll be darned if that isn't exactly what I've been doing over the past few days with this blog design.!

So I decided to take a page out of my party planning notebook and apply it here. When at a loss for the spark of inspiration, choose something to work with and go from there. You can always change it up later. Sounds simple, right? A good friend once shared with me a valuable piece of advice which was given to her when she was trying to get her back garden to look how it looked in her mind. Her mother-in-law said to her, "You just have to go ahead and make the first dig." So that's what I did. I designed a little header, opted to keep the background plain for now, and tweaked the font color a bit. There. Not so hard after all. And while I'm sure the look of the blog will evolve, you know, when I get that real spark of inspiration... for now, I rather dig it!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Let's get this party started...

Just getting the lay of the land right now. More to come!