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Ask the Expert: Disneyland

2 Dec

Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

This is a very special Ask the Expert featuring one of the world’s foremost experts on Disneyland: my five-year-old niece, Jadyn. Last month Jadyn’s parents surprised her with a trip to the Magic Kingdom. I tagged along because I love waiting in really long lines.

Me and the Expert

Everybody’s Invited!: How did your parents tell you that you were going to Disneyland?

Jadyn: When I woke up at six o’clock, my dad told me.

Jadyn’s mom [in background]Hey!

J: Okay, okay, both of them told me.

EI!: Did you believe them?

J: No, I said, “Mom, why are you teasing me?”

EI!: Were you excited?

J: Yeah, except I was tired and yawning for the first day. But when I got used to the day, I was sooooooo silly.

EI!: Yeah, I remember. What did you do on the plane?

J: I watched Snow White and Spy Kids, and a little bit of more Snow White again.

EI!: What was your favorite ride?

J: Star Tours. Because I like Star Wars.

EI!: What was your least favorite ride?

J: Splash Mountain.

EI!: Why didn’t you like it?

J: Not at all.

EI!: No, why didn’t you like it?

J: Because stop talking about it.

EI!: Should we not have let you go on that ride?

J: Yes. Stop talking about it.

EI!: Okay, what was the best food you had at Disneyland?

J: Sugar.

EI!: In any particular form?

J: The cake in the treasure chest.

EI!: Who did you meet at Disneyland?

J: Sleeping Beauty. Jasmine. Belle. I even saw Ariel out of the water.

EI!: You did? How was she even breathing?!?

J: She’s a human, silly.

EI!: Oh right. What would you say to another kid who was going to go to Disneyland soon?

J: I would tell them, “Hey, I know what you can do. You can go on the same rides as me, Aidan.” I think Aidan should be the other kid.

EI!: What should other parents say when they want to surprise their kids with a trip to Disneyland?

J: “Hey, you’re going to Disneyland!”

EI!: [kicks self for asking such a dumb question] Do you think your parents are the best parents in the world for taking you to Disneyland?

J: Yes. [During this part of the interview, the interviewee starts laughing uncontrollably, and the whole thing sort of deteriorates.]

J: Hey, Auntie Hannah, do you have everything you need in your apartment? Do you have a washer and dryer, and a refrigerator, and food?

EI!: Yes, I do, thanks for asking. Would you go to Disneyland again?

J: Yes, I would go every single day. But next time I would swim in Splash Mountain and eat a shark.

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Ask the Expert: Hosting an Oscar Party

23 Feb
Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

For this edition, I interviewed Phil Haas, an Oscar fête-throwing man about town who graciously offered his advice on themed foods, Oscar pools, and the greatest Oscar injustices of all time.

Don't forget to pick up a red carpet!

Everybody’s Invited!: Do you remember your first Oscar party?

Phil Haas: When I was in the 7th grade, I was struck with chicken pox the week of the Oscars.  It was really horrible, but I survived on oatmeal baths and daytime television.  At the time, there was a show on ABC  called “Mike and Maty” and they had a great episode on about creating dishes inspired by the nominees for Best Picture.  So, I told my Mom all about it and we bought the ingredients to make a wonderful meal.  It was absolutely delicious and I remember the menu to this day: Little mini-pizza appetizers for Il Postino, a garden salad for Babe, shepherd’s pie for Braveheart and an English berry trifle for dessert for Sense and Sensibility. For Apollo 13, we drank Tang.

EI!: What would you say are the most important ingredients for a successful Oscar Viewing Party?

PH: Themed food is key.  Create dishes based on the nominated films.  You can either pick food that was featured in the films (i.e. a celebratory cake with pink roses that says “Congratulations, Nina!” from Black Swan) or you can go for food inspired by the locales of the nominated films (i.e. New England Clam Chowder for The Fighter). You may also want some fun movie-themed decorations: popcorn buckets, black and gold tablecloths, even rolls of old camera film scattered about tables.  It all lends a little bit of spectacle to the occasion.

EI!: You’re known for your creative dish competition with the Best Picture nominees. How does that work? Are you worried about overeating given the large number of nominees this year?

PH: I actually found a way to counter this. Everyone’s name goes into a bowl. Then there are two other bowls.  One with the Best Picture nominees and the other with slips that say either “Appetizer” or “Dessert.”  This way we’ll end up with five wonderful tasty snacks and five scrumptious desserts.  I can set out a salad or pasta dish in case there isn’t enough snacky stuff and no one will leave hungry.

EI: What’s the best dish anyone’s ever brought to one of your parties?

PH: The best dish anyone brought was when someone made a delicious white coconut cake and put a red hand-print face on it so that it looked like “Wilson” from Cast Away. It was delicious and beyond creative!

EI!: How many categories would you recommend including in an Oscar pool? Do you stop at acting, writing and directing, or do you go all out – Best Sound Editing and Best Art Direction, etc?

PH: Oscar pools should use all the categories.  Sometimes the person who picks Best Art Direction and Best Documentary Short can win it all.  I love when someone wins the pool who manages to still get all of the major categories wrong.

EI!: If someone wants to supplement their Oscar viewing with live commentary from a blogger or entertainment journalist – who, in your opinion, provides the best snark?

PH: I’m not one for a lot of snark, but I’ve found that Tom O’Neil and the folks on the Gold Derby blog for the LA Times has pretty extensive coverage.  Also, if you want some total trash, you can’t go wrong with CNN’s choice of hiring Beverly Hills-trainwreck Camille Grammer for their red carpet commentary.

EI!: I have to admit, I feel kind of icky after watching the Oscars. So much self-congratulation and unabashed displays of wealth. Do you have any recommendations for how to unwind after Oscar night?

PH: The best way to unwind after Oscar night is by watching a favorite movie.  Who cares if it’s not an Oscar-winning classic?  And who cares if you fall asleep 15 minutes into it?  If the Oscars is about celebrating movies, the best way to do that is to watch one that you love.

EI!: Finally, what do you think is the biggest Oscar injustice of all time?

PH: There are several that stand out in my mind. One is when Matt Damon wasn’t nominated for Best Actor for The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Granted, it’s my favorite movie, but a lot of critics and film buffs agree it’s his finest performance.  Others are: Sigourney Weaver being snubbed for The Ice Storm; Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me) losing to Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich); when The Color Purple lost all 11 awards it was nominated for in 1986; and when Singin’ in the Rain lost the Best Picture Oscar in ’52 to The Greatest Show on Earth.  There are actually some pretty terrible snubs this year, too: Ben Affleck for Best Director and The Town for Best Picture, the stunning Lesley Manville in Another Year, Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine and Julianne Moore for The Kids are All Right.

Ask the Expert: Murder Mystery Party

15 Apr

Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

For this edition, I’ve interviewed pretty much my favorite person ever: my mom. A few years ago, my family decided to have a Murder Mystery theme party. Rather than use one of those Murder Mystery in a Box kits, we decided we wanted to have a custom party tailored to our family, and my mom stepped up to pen the script. Read on to find out how she did it, and what exactly was going through her mind when she chose me as the murderer and my father as the victim.

Everybody’s Invited!: How does a homemade murder mystery party work?

Mom: Well, in advance of the party, everyone is assigned a character with a backstory, some costume recommendations, and several important personality traits. A premise is established for the dinner party, and when guests arrive they settle in to a delicious dinner. Then, just before dessert, the murder is staged! Each character receives a little booklet which contains important clues and information about their own character as well as the others, and a series of discussion rounds begins. For our party, I served as the emcee for the evening and instructed people when to turn the pages in their booklets to learn more information. Guests improvised conversation and revealed more and more clues each round. At the end, everyone guesses the identity of the murderer.

EI!: How did you get started writing the materials for the Murder Mystery party?

M: I started out brainstorming around “Death by Chocolate” which was the gastro theme we’d all agreed upon. That was the inspiration for choosing when and where I wanted the action to take place.  I chose a place with a cooking connection – the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The time would be the present.

EI!: The murder mystery script you wrote for our theme party featured great character names: Leonard Smithson, Music Critic; Renee Flambert, Opera Singer; Marie E. Claire, Pastry Chef; Maxine de Winter, Attractive Woman; and, my favorite, Al Truist, Socialist. What was your inspiration for those names?

M: I decided who my cast of characters would be based on the folks that were coming to the party. I tried to choose fun names that would fit with the characters as well as be memorable. I particularly like Renee Flambert.

EI!: What’s the secret to keeping the guests engaged in the game?

M:I made sure that each character had a motive for the murder and a way to carry it out, and that those details would be revealed throughout the evening. And, of course, I threw in a few red herrings.

Not a bad way to die.

EI!: Do you remember what we ate?

M: I hope we had some great chocolate dessert to end the evening, but to be honest, I can’t remember what that was.

EI!: I remember. It was called Death by Chocolate Cake (Editor’s note: this isn’t the recipe we used, but it looks off the hook. Plus, there’s a gluten-free adaptation). We also had Chocolate Chili and Chocolate Cherry Cordials. How long did it take you to prepare the materials?

M: I had never done this sort of thing before, and it took quite a few index cards and a number of days to accomplish, but in the end, it was a lot of fun for everyone.

EI!: It was always funny to me that you made me the murderer and dad the victim. He recently sent me a piece of writing he did reflecting on this party. It included this paragraph:

“Here you are, your part is underlined. You need to go into the bedroom and lie down.”
“Okay.”
Here I am reading my part. It’s short on dialogue and not much on stage direction.
I’ll write it here for you to see for yourself:
“Dad’s part: VICTIM. (Go to bedroom and lie on bed. You are dead. At some point you will be discovered. Don’t move until then).”

Do you remember why you made the choice to have dad be the victim and me be the murderer??

M: I think I was just being Shakespearean.

Ask the Expert: Making a Party Playlist

25 Jan

DJ Jojo contemplates music and dessert.

Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

For this edition, I interviewed friend and music aficionado, DJ Jojo (who moonlights as the editor of a popular social-good-meets-social-networking website). In this entry, DJ Jojo shares her secrets for creating the perfect blend of songs for a party or event. Read on for tips to consider, pitfalls to avoid, and solutions to pressing moral dilemmas.

Everybody’s Invited!: Grammar nerd alert.  I must know, do you say “mix tape” or “mixed tape”?

DJ Jojo: I tend to use “mix tape” for the kind I made on my stereo in high school, and “mixtape” for compilations that are produced or remixed by a DJ. I hope that doesn’t ruin my reputation as an editor, since “mixed tape” makes more grammatical sense. But it probably helps my reputation as a fake DJ, so it’s all good.

EI!: You are obviously not afraid to take editorial risks! Does that apply to playlists as well? How would you describe your basic approach to selecting songs for a party playlist?

Jojo: Yes, risk-taking is key. There are two basic principles to consider: balance and mood. I strive for a balance of types of songs: old and new; ones that everyone will know and ones that hardly anyone will know; songs to sing along to and songs to fade into the background. And to determine the appropriate mood, I ask myself: Will people be dancing? Eating? Playing games? Reminiscing about high school? Having philosophical conversations? Getting wasted?

EI!: The playlist influences the vibe of the party. What are your strategies for determining song order?

Jojo: I like to start with some mellow songs for the beginning of the party, when people are still being introduced and settling in, then go into more upbeat or danceable songs during the middle when people are likely to be having the most fun. Then towards the end of the party, I like to emphasize the old-school tunes so the tired and/or drunk guests can feel that warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Then I’ll switch back to mellow tunes at the very end of the night, so the stragglers feel so sleepy that they want to go home.

EI!: Any common pitfalls to avoid?

Jojo: One common pitfall is getting to the best part of the playlist too early, before most of the guests arrive. It can be a wasted opportunity to show the guests how cool you really are! To avoid this disappointment, you can prepare a less carefully-selected playlist to listen to as you set up for the party and as the first few guests arrive.

Another common error is including songs that are much quieter or louder than the rest of your playlist—you’ll find yourself fiddling with the volume knob for the rest of the night and never finding quite the right decibel level. The low-tech way to avoid this problem is to quickly run through your playlist before the party and listen to the beginning of each song (which I recommend doing anyway to make sure the song order feels right).

EI!: We’ve got a question from a reader who writes,

Recently I’ve had a couple friends ask me to make them a mix. Instead of spending hours curating the perfect playlist (like I used to back in the day), I’ve gotten a little lazy and have turned to Pandora or iTunes Genius to, um, speed up the process. My question is two-fold. First, am I a bad person? And second, who do you think would win in a contest to create the best playlist – a living, breathing human being, or the world’s greatest music algorithm?

Jojo: Quite the moral dilemma you pose here! First, you are not a bad person, but your laziness might come at a cost. Tools like Pandora don’t know you very well, and they definitely don’t know your friend, so the playlist may fall a little flat to the recipient’s ears (and heart!). Second, I believe a living, breathing human can make a better mix than any computer—but only if the human has an insanely encyclopedic knowledge of music, an extremely close relationship with the listener, and a lot of free time.

(Editor’s Note: Is that a challenge? Hmmm…)

EI!: Finally, if your life had a soundtrack, what would the theme song be?

Jojo: Hmm. I can’t choose just one—I’m a Gemini, so I think I’m entitled to two songs: “Not Like Me” by Jean Grae, and J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C Major for piano (from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I).

Ask the Expert: Naked Tree Party

17 Nov

treefar

Very similar to the tree at Rockefeller Center

Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

For this edition I interviewed Trish Tchume, co-host of the much anticipated annual event known as the Naked Tree Party. Read on for clarification, inspiration, and cultural references.

Everybody’s Invited!: Who exactly is naked at a Naked Tree Party?

Trish Tchume: Ah yes, an important question – as a courtesy to our guests, we do make it clear pretty early on in the invitation that “the tree is naked, not you.” But there is a not-so-secret part of me that hopes against hope every year that we’ll have a ‘Perfect Strangers’-type incident where someone gets confused by the name of the party and hilarity ensues.  As such, I do make a point of inviting all friends who live with recently-emigrated cousins from small Greek islands.  Then I keep my fingers crossed, and wait…

Oh, we also explain in the invitation that each guest should bring an ornament made of found or gently used items.

EI!:
I think I’m offended. Why not call it a Tree Trimming party?

TT:
Because a “Tree Trimming Party” is something hosted by people who “summer” or refer to the thing in their living room as a “Davenport.”

EI!:
In your opinion, how do NTPs compare to USPs (Ugly Sweater Parties)?

TT:
NTPs and USPs are ‘kissing cousins’ as they say (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase – thanks for the opportunity, Everybody’s Invited!) as both are built around a common principle that parties are way better when your friends are encouraged (read: forced) to explore their creative side before they will be let into your apartment.

EI!: Popcorn and cranberry chains – for or against?

TT:
For…if the popcorn is found and the cranberries are gently used.

EI!:
Top three homemade ornaments of all time?

TT:
I am a huge fan in general of the ornaments that do NOT stand the test of time.  I have to say, there is absolutely nothing better than pulling out an ornament that was totally relevant at the party but today makes you pause and think, “Oh yeah…Rick James died in 2004.”  To me, that’s the true spirit of the holidays.

I also have a special place in my heart for the ones I like to refer to as ‘panic ornaments’ or “P.O.s.”  From what I’ve observed, P.O.s are made by hastily looking around your apartment, your desk at work or (my personal favorite) by discreetly peeking into trashbins on the walk from the subway and somehow some crazy David Copperfield magic happens (the Vegas one not the Dickens one.)

But in response to your question, the Naked Tree Party was never technically meant to be a competition. If I had to pick, though, I’d say my personal top three would be:

  • Peanut Disco by my friend Tim. A tiny platform made of wood, with 4 peanuts (still in their shells) glued upright to the platform, and a very tiny plastic disco ball suspended overhead. (2004 Naked Tree, Philly)
  • Aviation Influenza Prevention Cards contributed by my friend Rachael. These were a found item. Playing cards + Bird Flu health tips. Obviously. (2008 Naked Tree, NYC)
  • Baby Jesus by my friend Katie. An empty birth control wheel coupled with the working Christmas Lights. Genius. (2006 Naked Tree, NYC)

Ask the Expert: 80s Video Night

28 Oct

jermaine_pia

I dare you to watch this video and then try to remember the song two minutes later. It's actually impossible. That's how forgettable it is.

Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

For this edition, I interviewed my favorite music producer, Little Pioneer, about how to host an 80s video night. So break out your leg warmers and Rubik’s Cubes, grab a can of Tab, and cozy up to your VHS player. The plot lines may be weak, but the hairspray is strong.

Everybody’s Invited!: There are so many amazing 80s videos to choose from. How do you know which videos to screen at an 80s video night?

Little Pioneer: I feel my duty is twofold: to entertain, but also to educate. I like to mix up the fun favorites with the more obscure and unknown. One time I printed out the track lists of all the DVD compilations I have and let everyone choose their top three. But then I just took over and blew minds.

EI!: In your opinion, what exactly is it that makes 80s videos so special?

LP: The 80s were a time of experimentation in music (synthesizers finally became affordable) and also in video, which made for many amateurish but exciting works. When record companies realized videos could help sell records they forced every artist to make videos even though many were not naturals in front of the camera. Looking back twenty years, what was intended to be “poignant” often seems funny, “funny” seems surreal, “sexy” looks sexist, “badass” looks lame, and so on. I consider 1980-1986 to be the golden era – video directors and artists seemed to have gotten more comfortable by then so most of the naivete was gone.

EI!: That’s really interesting. What kind of food should one serve at an 80s video night? I’m thinking pop rocks.

LP: Yes, but not as a main course. For that maybe cheese doodle balls.

EI!: What do you recommend for party decor?

LP: Empty pizza boxes strewn across the floor, Ouija boards, plenty of pillows for fights, and mylar balloons (Editor’s note: Make sure your six-year-old isn’t hiding in one).

EI!: Seriously, what is the video for “Total Eclipse of the Heart” about?

LP: It’s an allegory for the triumph of the human spirit. It’s also Bonnie Tyler’s commentary on boarding school.

EI!: Which ten videos would make your Best 80s Videos list?

LP: Perhaps not the “best” by any stretch, but these are some of my lesser known faves:

  • Miami Sound Machine – Bad Boy. Reason to watch: Humans dressed as cats plus all the sexual innuendo that implies.
  • Jermaine Jackson and Pia Zadora – When the Rain Begins to Fall. Reason to watch: Epic fail.
  • Nelson – After the Rain. Reason to watch: Matthew and Gunnar save a life.
  • Scritti Politti – Absolute. Reason to watch: The guy in the blue hat. Also…everything else.
  • Commodores – Sail On. Reason to watch: The Disneyland green screen production values. And Lionel. (This video was made in 1979, but I’m including it because this list needs more sequins.)
  • Meatloaf ft. Cher – Dead Ringer for Love. Reason to watch: Rock n’ roll and brew.
  • Wham! – Club Tropicana. Reason to watch: George Michael’s rat tail.
  • Vanity Pretty Mess. Reason to watch: For the thiny veiled sexual innuendo, and for the shoulder pads.
  • Loverboy – Lovin Every Minute of It. Reason to watch: Loverboy’s attempt at a hair metal video. Plus, Jenilee Harrison from Three’s Company is in it.
  • Quarterflash – Harden My Heart. Reason to watch: Rindy Ross’s unitard and the mini Rindys.

Ask the Expert: Halloween Costumes

12 Oct

Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

For this entry, I’ve interviewed one of my oldest and best friends, Cady Miller, who, with her husband Chad, never fails to produce an awesome Halloween costume. See below for her thoughts on offensive costumes, staying warm, and honoring celebrities we lost this year.

Everybody’s Invited!: Scary, sexy or funny. How does one decide?

Cady Miller: Personally I think funny or ‘accurate’ Halloween costumes are the way to go. I think sexy has it’s place but only if it’s a part of a specific character that’s known for that trait. For example, if you want to be sexy on Halloween, go as Jessica Rabbit or Barbarella rather than a ‘sexy’ version of Raggedy Ann or Alice and Wonderland (these are better if you do them accurately in my opinion). Halloween should not *just* be a time for repressed people to let it all out – that’s what Mardi Gras and Spring Break are for.

EI!: Oh no! It’s October 30th and I don’t have a costume! What should I do?

Pippy Longstocking

Thrift store Pippi (with gaucho friend)

CM: Of course it’s best to prepare ahead of time, but a successful Halloween costume can be done the weekend or day of. A quick trip to your local thrift store and drug store can usually save the day. A couple years ago I put together a pretty accurate Pippi Longstocking costume the day of for around $15 (I purchased a dress, scarf that I turned into a legging, chunky shoes and a pillowcase at the thrift store. I picked up temporary red hairspray at the drug store). For last minute costumes, think of characters that are iconic and easily identified with distinct traits (e.g. Pippi’s red braids sticking up and her patchwork dress; Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Zorro with his mask/hat/cape and all black)

EI!: Dressing as a hobo – offensive or nostalgic?

CM: Every year I see people dressed as hobos… and though some are better than others I think the more accurate you get the more offensive you are as well. I also feel like that’s a bit of a cop out – there are thousands of other costumes out there that can be just as easy to make but take only a little more creative thinking.

EI!: Lots of women like to dress sexy on Halloween and this often involves wearing really short skirts. Should we move Halloween to a warmer month?

If only Audrey and Che had been a couple in real life!

If only Audrey and Che had been a couple in real life!

CM: If you’ve chosen to dress sexy, sheer/flesh colored tights are a girls best friend on Halloween. Ones specifically made for dancers are usually more durable and warmer. Also, they’ll make your legs and bum look better in person AND in pictures.

EI!: Sarah Palin and the Joker were popular costumes in 2008. What’s your prediction for the most popular costume of 2009?

CM: I think the Watchmen costumes will be popular (a good choice if you want to be sexy AND be an actual character known for that). Unfortunately, I also think Michael Jackson/Farrah Fawcett/Patrick Swayze will also be popular this year.

EI!: If you find yourself wearing the same costume as someone else at a party, how can you possibly salvage your reputation?

Chad probably ran into a few other Captain Jack Sparrows that year, but only he can do a spot on Johnny Depp impression

Chad probably ran into a few other Captain Jack Sparrows that year, but only he can do a spot on Johnny Depp impression.

CM: If you’ve made your own costume, chances are yours will be better than someone who just purchased it from the rack – where’s the creativity in that?! Or, if you have purchased it from the rack – make sure to add on some specific details: get the makeup and hair just right, make sure to get your shoes or feet covering spot on, and add a detail that didn’t come with the canned costume. Finally, if you see the same costume (or even a close similarity) just laugh it off and make sure your friends take a picture of you both together so everyone knows your’re not stewing in the corner over it.

EI!: If you were going to MacGyver a costume out of objects and materials that you can see from wherever you are right now, what would you make?

CM: I’m at our home computer right now so there aren’t that many items around besides paper and our bar behind me… but there are a couple ideas I can spot. I see my yoga mat, so I could go as a yoga instructor/fitness instructor and lug that around with me everywhere (a funnier version would be to go as a Bikram instructor and have my hair and outfit wet with my makeup running down my face). Or, there is a pack of Post-it notes here too and someone could get extra creative and completely cover themselves in them like the Office Space movie poster – you’d have to rig a good adhesive method with that though.

Extra points for creativity. Dr. Strange and Sailor Moon!

Extra points for creativity. Dr. Strange and Sailor Moon!