big shoe little shoe

We recently returned from North Carolina where we celebrated a friend’s birthday. One hundred guests spent the better part of the evening on the dance floor. Friends toasted, sang songs, and played guitar.  A loop of photographs chronicled the honoree’s life on flat screen tvs.

Our friend’s photographs included baby pictures, childhood shots, candid college pictures, wedding photos, and numerous images of his growing family and friends throughout the years.  His life looped before our eyes.  I felt fortunate to be a part of his life and grateful for the opportunity to celebrate with his friends and family.

Special occasions  are meant to be celebrated.  It’s easy to dismiss milestones, however events are worth the time, effort, and resources.

A stunning example of a family experiencing challenges yet celebrating birthdays, graduations, and Thanksgiving is the family depicted in the newly released film “Boyhood.”

“Boyhood” stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelei Linklater.  Directed by Richard Linklater, who filmed the same cast over the course of twelve years, “Boyhood” begins in the year of a first grade boy, Mason, and ends on Mason’s first day in college.

Linklater demonstrates life’s brevity.  He reminds us that life’s trajectory is a combination of grit, luck, and necessary losses.  The “Boyhood” film family grows up while the audience watches in their seats.  People in real time age in what often seems like “fast forward.”

Check out “Boyhood” in the New York Times.

If you have a birthday, anniversary, or special occasion ahead, plan an event. Your friends who visit from next door or North Carolina will be glad you did.  You will too!

Life is short.  Celebrate!

Food Trends

NACE food trends panel 2 1-14-2014 6-19-45 PM

Matthew King, Jon Riley, Jim Solomon, Linkie Marais

The Next Cupcake

Stay ahead of the party food curve: how food is served, what’s on the table, and where to repurpose leftovers.   Here’s the inside scoop from a recent New England Chapter of NACE (National Association for Catering and Events) panel featuring three expert chefs.  Presenters included: Jim Solomon, Chef and Owner of The Fireplace in Brookline, MA; Jon Riley, Chef and Owner of Capers Catering; Linkie Marais, Food Network Star; and Matthew King, Executive Chef of Smith & Wollensky.

Smith and Wollensky hosted this event in their spectacular “castle,” originally built in 1891, at 101 Arlington Street, Boston.  Tasha Bracken, of SD Events and Co-Program Chair of the New England Chapter of NACE, was an adept moderator.  After opening remarks Tasha asked the four chefs for their insights.

Jim Solomon noted that there’s an interest in small plates, wine and spirit tastings, and themes, such as the Great Gatsby and John and Abigail Adams.  Jim, a self-proclaimed history buff, serves seasonal, reliably delicious, local New England fare.  In addition, Jim sets the bar for being community spirited.

A New England chef, Linkie Marais’ cooking is influenced by having lived in South Africa as well as Mississippi.  Linkie added that many are opting for traditional family style meals.

Matthew King, of Smith and Wollensky, agreed asserting that some, however, still prefer French Style serving which is offered at Smith and Wollensky.

Jon Riley, of Capers Catering, noted that many clients have a heightened interest in food and choose a combination of served food and family style courses.  For example, some opt for a cocktail hour, followed by small soups and salads that are served, followed by a served plate of protein with family style side dishes on the table.

Having family style plates that need to be passed is an ice breaker.  Though some may think that family style serving is less expensive, that’s not the case.  Jon explains that family style serving is more expensive.  Extra food, serving dishes, and staff are costly.

All panelists agreed that they get more requests for gluten-free, allergy sensitive, and special diet foods.  They all take pride in accommodating requests.  Linkie emphasized the importance of making food attractive.  If a cake needs to be made with special flour, make it beautiful.  People eat with their eyes.

Tasha noted that 40% of food that’s processed at restaurants and catering facilities goes to waste.  And, due to the Good Samaritan Law, if food is given away and someone gets ill, the restaurant that donates the food is not responsible.  She asked the panelists if they repurpose food waste.

Jim Solomon replied that The Fireplace donates to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, an organization that picks up leftovers and delivers it to organizations that feed the hungry.

Jon Riley, who runs Capers Catering, is reluctant to give leftover food away given that after the food leaves their premises, Capers is no longer in as much control over how the food is stored.  However, when there isn’t concern about spoilage he donates leftovers to a local, appreciative fire department.

Matthew King, of Smith and Wollensky, noted that eventually restaurants will likely be required to donate compost.

Naomi Raiselle, New England Chapter of NACE PR Chair and Creative Director at Generations Cinemastories, reminded all about the New England NACE’s Feeding our Neighbors initiative, whereby leftover event food is donated to nonprofit organizations that feed that hungry – truly a worthwhile trend.

Tasha asked the panel about other notable trends that they might be noticing.  For example, some events are featuring drinks with infused ice cubes.

Linkie added that people are enjoying simple, bold flavors, organic foods; rare foods like forged mushrooms.  Desserts are often lighter than before, such as ice cream sandwiches made with frozen yogurt and sorbet.  Jim added that mini whoopee pies, invented in Maine, and desserts served as mini bites are popular.

Jon Riley exclaimed that more brides are opting not to order wedding cakes.  Rather they might cut a small cake for photographs and serve a fun, lower cost dessert such as brownie pops or a pie buffet with whipped cream and ice cream, or cobblers.

Linkie noted that many brides enjoy using dummy cakes and presenting the dummy cakes in an unexpected way, such as floating down from the ceiling.  Matthew added that bottom line, it’s important to make the cake presentation fun and interesting.

Tasha moved on to the next party ingredient – beverages.  She asked panelists what they see trending in alcoholic drinks.  Matthew replied that vodka is the “go to” liquor.  It blends well with other flavors.  Jon agreed adding that herbs and fruits are popular ingredients of specialty drinks.  And, he added, lemonades and teas are big.

Jim said that some restaurants are featuring imaginative drinks combining alcohol in typically nonalcoholic drinks, such as snow cones, milk shakes, and cotton candy.

Linkie noted that lemon is the fruit of the year.  She’s also noticing that people are ordering infused dark liquors like Honey Jack Daniels, as well as craft beers, and beer and whiskey pairings.

In wrapping up discussion Tasha asked if there were any overall trends that hadn’t been discussed.

Matthew replied that Middle Eastern spices and heat (hot peppers, etc.) are more prevalent.

Jon noted that as much as some customers are still enjoying cupcakes, cupcakes are gradually being replaced by other creative, fun desserts, such as anything (brownies, pies, cookies, cake) on a stick.

Jim said that he sees more restaurants incorporating farm to table and becoming more conscientious about their environmental footprint.  Sometimes farms are listed on menus.  He is dedicated to serving what’s in season.  For example, The Fireplace will not feature asparagus in the middle of winter.

Jon noted that he gets produce by working with the Chefs Garden in Ohio.  Matthew, who oversees the purchasing for the 9 Smith and Wollensky restaurants all over the country (Boston to Las Vegas), creates a core, seasonal menu and contracts with produce companies all over the world.

Hearing how these chefs get, serve, and repurpose food was enlightening.  Though cupcakes still enjoy a place at some tables, it’s clear from Jim Solomon, Jon Riley, Linkie Marais, and Matthew King that other foods and traditions are the “new cupcake.”

When you go to a restaurant or entertain what foods are appealing?  How do you prefer to serve or be served?  Does the restaurant or do you have a plan for unused food?  What trends interest you?

Life is short.  Celebrate!

Birthday Party

birthday horns


5 Easy Pieces of Cake Plan

Planning an ordinary “cake, candles, and card” birthday party may seem feasible. Orchestrating a special “bucket list” birthday party – wowing the birthday honoree – may seem daunting.  If you’ve ever scratched your head and wondered how to plan a bodacious birthday party without losing sleep, worry no more.  With due diligence and a little luck, anyone can plan a  Happy Birthday.

Step #1: Know your guest of honor.

What kind of celebration might be on the honoree’s bucket list?  If the honoree doesn’t like surprises, scrap a surprise party.  What date/time is best?  What kinds of activities or venues are in keeping with his/her preferences?

Some prefer celebrating with one other person, some hundreds, others in-between.  What is the birthday person’s comfort zone?  What guests would be especially appreciated by the birthday person (family, friends, colleagues, etc.)?

Step #2: Take inventory.

Consider the honoree’s preferences in light of your resources.  Think about venue, food & beverages, entertainment, transportation/parking, technical/lighting equipment, rentals, photography/videography, decorations, invitations, and guest list.

Though staging a small, simple celebration or large complicated event may be costly, there are ways to incorporate the honoree’s preferences while staying within your budget.  Henry David Thoreau believed, “All good things are wild and free.”  Whether the honoree agrees with Thoreau or not, he/she will likely appreciate the endeavor.

If your resources don’t match the birthday person’s core interests, there’s an opportunity for creativity.  If, for example, the honoree’s ideal celebration is a romantic dinner for two in Paris, and your wallet doesn’t stretch to Chicago, “duplicate” Paris. Plan a romantic dinner for two with French food & wine, music, and ambiance.

Or, if someone’s wish is a dance party, and a five piece band is too expensive, arrange to meet at a club that features the kind of music that the honoree likes.  Or play recorded dance music in an affordable venue – home if that works.  Bottom line: honor the honoree’s interests in keeping with your resources.

Step #3: Research.

Ask friends for recommendations.  People you know are great resources for finding the best caterers, florists, or whatever kinds of services for your event.  Google.  Check reviews.  Interview service providers.  Get three references.  See Good Celebration, LLC blogs: “Happy New Year of Easy, Fun Party Planning,” “What is the #1 Ingredient of a Great Party?,” “Hire the Best Photographer.”

Step #4: Incorporate brilliant details.


Tips – “Dos and Don’ts of Throwing a Great Party,” by Brian Rafanelli, Huffington Post

Ideas – whimsical party elements for a milestone event by Anne-Marie O’Neill, Real Simple

Decorations – easy, low/no cost ideas by Nate Berkus and LuLu Powers

Toast – “Tips on Toasting Well,” by Michael Varma, ATMG, ALB, Toastmasters International

Presentation – “7 Lessons from the World’s Most Captivating Presenters,” by Marta Kagan, Hubspot

Gift Giving – true spirit of gift giving, photographer Lee Morris surprises his dad with his dad’s dream car

Gifts – Etsy or shop local

Scrap Book – by Martha Stewart

Memory Quilt – Pinterest photos

Photo Repair – Want to make a special gift using old photos but images are damaged?  Costco restores old photographs!

Step #5: Enjoy the process.

Whether you’re a “glass half empty” or a “glass half full” kind of person, planning a bucket list birthday celebration can be easy.  Plan ahead.  Choose the details that you enjoy pursuing, and if possible delegate the rest.  Keep track of details in excel or other reliable database.  Reward yourself for achievements.  Improvise when unexpected glitches occur.  You’re resourceful and resilient.  You can do it!  Piece of cake.  Toasts to you!

Life is short.  Celebrate!

December Unwrapped

IMG_0677‘Wondering what to do this Holiday Season?  The best of December doesn’t fit in a box.  Here are gifts for you and yours that can’t be wrapped:

  • Contribute time or money to a nonprofit organization.
  • Phone or Skype friends and family.
  • Write holiday cards.
  • Invite friends, family, neighbors, and/or co-workers for dinner.
  • Play charades with friends.
  • Teach a child or adult a new skill.
  • Share a hobby.
  • Visit a museum.
  • Go to theater.
  • Listen to jazz, blues, or rock.
  • Get concert tickets. 
  • Attend a ballet.
  • Go to a live opera.
  • See a movie.
  • Help someone move.
  • Paint a room. 
  • Help someone paint a room.
  • Host a “Come as You Are Party.”
  • Take a road trip.
  • Go bowling.
  • Walk.
  • Run.
  • Dance.
  • Sing.
  • Skate.
  • Ski.
  • Sled.
  • Read.
  • Write.
  • Draw.
  • Paint.
  • Throw a pot.
  • Sew an outfit.
  • Knit a scarf.
  • Enjoy a “crafternoon.”
  • Design a flower arrangement.
  • Repot plants.
  • Buy new plants.
  • Plant a kitchen herbal garden.
  • Play basketball, tennis, soccer, or squash.
  • Roller skate.
  • Get tickets to a professional, semi-professional, collegiate, or high school sport.
  • Watch a ballgame on TV with friends.
  • Watch movies on TV with friends.
  • Take a cooking class.
  • Sign up for an adult education class.
  • Take a child to a puppet show or children’s theater.
  • Build an indoor fort with kids.
  • Read to kids.
  • Play games with kids of all ages.
  • Babysit.
  • Offer to do errands for a home bound neighbor.
  • Shovel someone else’s sidewalk.
  • Make a snowman/woman.
  • Organize old photos and frame prints for those who will appreciate them.
  • Clean closets and give away stuff in good condition.  Toss junk.
  • Get a head start on end-of year tax organization.
  • Plan a trip.
  • Invite out-of-town friends for a visit.
  • Go out for breakfast.
  • Sleep late.
  • Eat breakfast in bed.
  • Sign up at a Karaoke bar.
  • Sing at a sing-a-long pub.
  • Dance at a club with live music or D.J.
  • Go Square Dancing
  • Play indoor mini-golf.
  • Explore a new neighborhood.
  • Take an architectural, historical, or culinary tour.
  • Tour a chocolate, beer, or potato chip factory.
  • Go to a comedy club.
  • Sign up to usher at a theater.
  • Buy a one day pass at a hotel swimming pool.
  • Surprise kids with a “Backwards Day.”
  • Visit a church or temple that you’ve never attended.
  • Listen to a gospel choir.
  • Invite a friend to high tea.
  • Attend a lecture at a local school.
  • Explore the library.
  • Declare “No Screens Day.”
  • Visit a greenhouse.
  • Write a review for your favorite local business.
  • Make a scrapbook.
  • Get a jump on New Year’s Resolutions.

Happy – Healthy – Humorous Holidays!  

Life is short.  Celebrate!

No Stress Annual Mail Solicitation Preparation – 10 Easy Steps

IMG_0666The arrival of annual mail appeal letters is as predictable as autumn in New England.

Each fall red, yellow, purple, and brown confetti leaves sprinkle the ground.  Cool dry air replaces warm summer humidity.  Morning sunrise looms later and by rush hour sunlight disappears.  Dedicated shorts and t-shirt types begin to sport sweaters and long pants.  As portrayed in Official Comedy’s “Pumpkin Spice: Official Movie Trailer,” pumpkin-flavored coffee, muffins, and beer get top menu billing.

Nature’s seasonal transitions mark time and direction.  Falling leaves announce the upcoming barrage of annual mail appeal letters.  Nonprofit organizations typically schedule letter delivery post-Thanksgiving, prior to Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanza; before the end of year income tax deadline.

Late November inboxes and mailboxes swell with solicitations.  Donors are left to decide whether to give and if so how much.  Unlike ubiquitous falling leaves that get raked away, each annual mail appeal letter calls for attention and direction.

The best mail appeal letters feature compelling, heart grabbing, substantiated by statistics stories.  Letters concisely inform donors how their contributions make a difference.  Printing, including mail merge information, is accurate.  Personal, hand written extra bursts of “please give because…” notes are attached from friends of each mail recipient.

Though many causes are well presented, even carefully composed and personalized letters warrant scrutiny.  To do due diligence while avoiding “mail appeal overload,” here are 10 easy steps.

1. Craft a plan with the following considerations:

  • Budget money toward philanthropy.
  • Consider applying your skills as a volunteer.
  • Research charities or categories of service with missions that align with your interests.
  • Decide if you prefer to support local charities, national, international causes, or all.
  • Plan to make philanthropic decisions either as an individual or with family members.
  • If and when appropriate consider contributing in-kind gifts (i.e. pies if you’re a baker, signage if you’re a printer, legal work if you’re a lawyer), bequests (money or property in a will), annuities (fixed payments on investments), or an endowment (gift that provides a permanent source of income).

2. After you’ve narrowed the possibilities, be sure that the organizations that you   choose to contribute to are 501(c)(3), tax-exempt under the IRS code.  If in doubt search GuideStar.org.

3. Read the organization’s Annual Report.   Get a clearer idea of their programs, board and staff composition, and budget.  Be sure that you’re contributing to a strong, sustainable effort.  Annual Reports and IRS 990 forms are oftentimes posted on websites.  All 501 (c)(3) organizations must file an annual 990 form with the IRS.  This form is public and provides financial information.  GuideStar.org lists 990 forms.

The budget should list a mix of revenue sources.  If contributions are stopped from a reliable source, other funding mechanisms must be in place.  Funding sources might include: fees for service; membership fees; product sales; individual contributions; family, corporate, and community foundation grants; local, state, and federal government grants; corporate sponsorships and cause related marketing; and federated funds such as the United Way.

If the budget in the Annual Report reflects higher than expected administrative expenses, this could be cause for concern or might not necessarily mean that funding is misspent.  If a robust infrastructure exists, including necessary computer equipment and competent staff, those resources contribute to the organization’s strength.  If, however, the numbers seem unusually skewed, it merits further inquiry.

4. Does the organization have a Strategic Plan?  If so, how do they measure and track progress?  Are they planning to embark on a Capital Campaign?  If so, does the organization have the resources and resolve?

5. Talk to knowledgeable donors and Board Members.  What is their experience?  What is the culture of the organization?  Visit the organization if you have the time and inclination.  There’s no substitute for seeing what funding actually benefits.  If you have questions, contact the appropriate staff person.  Sometimes organizations have open houses to welcome prospective donors.

6. If feeling pressured into giving, it’s best to wait until you learn more to either contribute with peace of mind or not give at all.

7. If your company matches gifts, apply for your company’s contributions.

8. Consider contributing in honor or memory of someone.  If you choose to do so, inform the organization of the purpose and person.

If you wish to remain anonymous, make that clear to the organization.  If you want to be publicly acknowledged be sure to write your name exactly as you prefer.

9. Keep a receipt of your contribution for tax purposes.  Unless you receive something in return for your contribution, such as a dinner, your contribution is likely to be 100% tax-deductible.

Oftentimes the request letter will state that the gift is 100% tax-deductible.  If a credit card is used or the payment is made online with an online contribution service, it’s likely that the gift will still be 100% tax-deductible, however the organization pays credit card and website fees.

10. Throughout the year review and revise your plan as needed.

Establishing and maintaining a plan makes charitable giving easy.  Core values are illuminated.  Gifts are invested wisely, so contributions have optimal impact. As years pass – like seasons in New England – giving marks time.  No doubt your time will be well spent – improving the world one contribution at a time.

Life is short.  Celebrate!

No Fear Halloween Party Plan

You don’t have to live in Salem, MA to enjoy Halloween.  People throughout the country celebrate.  In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, 158 million consumers will spend an average of $75.03 on decorations, costumes, and candy.  Total spending is expected to reach $6.9 billion.   Halloween costumes are selling for pets!

Trick or Treating is an American tradition.  Though dressing up and ringing doorbells to ask for candy can be fun, Halloween Parties provide an opportunity to get together with friends.  Unlike Trick or Treating that’s child centered, Halloween Parties can be for kids or adults or all ages.

If, however, you’re haunted by the prospect of planning and hosting a Halloween Party, there’s a spell for that.  Follow these simple guidelines, and you’ll be a Halloween Party Pro:

1. Determine who you’re inviting and what you want to accomplish.   Then, it’s easy to assess age and interest appropriate activities.

2. Decide how you would like to set the stage for a spirited celebration.  For example, you might want to incorporate a cauldron of “witches brew,” chilling background noise, or cob webs.  Activities could include pumpkin carving, palm reading, playing games, listening to spooky story-telling, or watching a scary movie.

3. Visit a few of the better Halloween Party planning websites.   Real Simple features Creative Halloween Party Ideas, including a whimsical invitation suggestion, fang napkin rings, bat drink stirrers, and spooky labels on familiar drinks.  These ideas are easy to assemble and easy on your wallet.  Disney’s Spoonful has a Halloween Headquarters, featuring party, costume, and activity ideas.  You’ll even find quotes from Disney movie villains, like the Queen of Hearts and Captain Hook.  Martha Stewart crosses all t’s and dots all i’s with a comprehensive Halloween Party Planning section, including Last Minute Halloween, Halloween Make-Up, and Pet Costumes.  Get inspired by zany décor on Pinterest.

4. Consider all possible Halloween Party planning tasks with a step by step Halloween Party planning checklist: Real Simple Party Planning Made Easy.  All steps include detailed ideas and resources.  For example, host a Pumpkin Carving Party, and get a “how to” link.  In the costume category there’s a link for no cost/low cost last minute adult costumes.

Stretch the right side of your brain!  Levitate your party to the next level.  Make unusual, easy choices for decorations, activities, and menu.  Halloween is creeping up.  Be prepared with resources and resolve.  Enjoy party preparation.  Have a wickedly wonderful Halloween!

Life is short.  Celebrate!

What NOT To Do for Thanksgiving


Remember when you sat at the “kids table,” and your only concern was who sat next to you?  You might have hoped to sit next to your favorite cousin and your cousin was five chairs away.  Now – fast forward – you’re hosting Thanksgiving, and you’re in charge!  You can designate who sits next to who (place cards!), decide on the menu, and choose entertainment.   You establish the look and feel – china & silver, pumpkin soup bowls, whoopee cushions, whatever.

Hosting has perks, though planning might seem overwhelming.  If you’re at the Thanksgiving five yard line, the end zone might be out of sight.   Fortunately, no matter where you are in the planning process, it’s easy to host a winning Thanksgiving with a solid game plan.

Envision your ideal Thanksgiving Dinner; then list steps to accomplish your goal.  For example, I want to spend as much time as possible with guests, as well as orchestrate a fun, entertaining, delicious dinner.   One way to spend time with guests is to enlist them in food preparation.  Volunteers congregate in the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning.  This works well if you’re comfortable with organized chaos.

Only once did this tradition go terribly bad.  After reading that cutting the turkey results in a more evenly baked bird, one of our sous chefs cut it up – not delicately, not without flying bits of raw turkey.  Other cooks took cover and escaped.  The clean-up crew disinfected the scattered mess, shoved the hacked turkey into the oven, and sous chefs returned – peace restored.

Another family tradition that dates back to past family vacations is Charades, an interactive, inclusive game.  Our family comedian’s first “stage” experience was collaborating with his grandmother, brother, dad, mom, aunt, and uncles in competitive rounds of Charades.   Today he’s acting and producing sketch comedy like Zip Baby, Millennials in the Workplace, and Pumpkin Spice: Official Movie Trailer.

Thanksgiving provides a stage for a range of emotions.  There’s a reason why many films include Thanksgiving scenes (IMDb).   People’s histories intertwine at the table. I have fond memories of Thanksgiving as a child.  Growing up, my immediate family converged with over 50 relatives and packed into the living room, dining room, and hallways of my Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Lou’s home.  Aunt Myrtle introduced us to a variety of children’s games with toy prizes and baked a chocolate cake roll that was the highlight of the meal.  The entire evening was chaotic, noisy, and fun.

Years passed, and Thanksgiving dinner locations and participants changed.  Having experienced the joys and challenges of each Thanksgiving, I appreciate the inherent opportunities of the day.  As an “Aunt Myrtle,” I want to sustain successful Thanksgiving traditions.

If you would like to plan your ideal Thanksgiving Dinner, here are a few tips for what not to do:

1. Procrastinate. 

Thanksgiving is a perfect occasion to dine with “the team.”  Planning requires time and imagination.  The more complicated the menu, décor, and possible activities (family touch football, watching TV football, anything but football, etc.), the more planning required.

But whoa, let’s face it; there are tasks in life with higher priority.  Though procrastination is not recommended, procrastination happens.  Thanks to Food and Wine, there are recipes for that.  Make reservations.   Or hire a caterer.

For those who can plan ahead, check the Epicurious Thanksgiving Planning listEpicurious also features a variety of Thanksgiving recipes

2. Guess. 

Rather than assume that everyone will enjoy the menu, ask guests about food allergies and preferences.  If your table is comprised of people with food restrictions, it’s an opportunity to be the “Iron Chef.”  Work with ingredients that are ok.  Make two versions if necessary.  Our table features people with the following diet resstrictions: low fat/low salt; no nuts; no nuts or fish; no meat, fish, dairy, nuts, or oil; no hot peppers; no dairy; kosher style; and baby food.

3. Stress. 

Are you concerned about the appearance of your home?  Bottom line: keep it clean and comfortable.  It’s likely that guests care most about being together, not whether your home is worthy of an Architectural Digest cover.   If you’re worried about worn wooden floors, my friend Judy suggests filling the house with flowers and tea candles, and guests won’t notice the floors.  It works!

4. Strain.

Delegate.  Consider letting others contribute food, beverage, or table décor.  Consider assigning cooking, set-up, and clean-up tasks.  Epicurious features a helpful Pot Luck Thanksgiving Planner.  (Wedding Receptions, Milestone Events, and No Reason Necessary Celebrations are ripe for “Operation Delegation” – an article for another time).

5. Disregard.

Decorate!  A Welcome Sign can be made out of newsprint, freezer paper, or clothesline or colorful ribbon with clothes-pinned lettering.  Pumpkins, squash, and Indian corn adorn side tables.  Background music sets the mood as people arrive.  If any guests are arriving early to help cook, have extra aprons on hand.  Leave a basket of silly Thanksgiving hats in a conspicuous place.  Martha Stewart offers decoration craft ideas.  Find more Thanksgiving decorating suggestions on Pinterest.  Or purchase Thanksgiving decorations at your local Paper Source store.

Any event is memorable with elements of surprise.   Create a turkey vegetable platter as shown on Mavis Butterfield’s site.  Present sweet potato surprise balls, as described by Tish on Food.com.  Make surprise party ball favors buy following Robert Mahar’s easy u-tube instructions.  Customize cocktail plates, napkins, and mugs at Café Press.  Or do it yourself at your local ceramics painting store.  Include a casserole dish with a lid as a “side dish.”  Rather than filling it with food, fill it with a colorful giant sign or felt tipped penned helium balloon that reads, “Surprise! Look under your seats (or plates).”  Have a message or favor taped under the seat of each chair (or plate) – Oprah style.

6. Overlook.

My hosting Achilles heel: By the time we sit down to dinner, I realize I haven’t given much thought to conversation.  This year I’ve gathered expert advice:

“Table Talk, the New Family Dinner,” by Susan Dominus, New York Times, is about making an effort to have meaningful conversation.

“The Stories that Bind Us,” by Bruce Feiler, New York Times, reveals that children who know about their family’s history have stronger self-esteems.

“Family Dinner Download, Huffington Post, offers timely topics for family dinner conversation.

Create a “Conversation Wheel” with ideas from Real Simple.

“The Family Dinner, Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time,” by Laurie David (producer of “An Inconvenient Truth” and former wife of Larry David), is a compendium of conversation starters, poetry, recipes, and ideas to inspire family dinner traditions.

Marcie McGoldrick, featured on Martha Stewart’s site, shares how her family created a Family Trivia Game.

Write “Thank You Notes” Jimmy Fallon style and share.

7. Neglect.

Reach out with money, food, or time.  Contribute to a nonprofit organization.

8. Forget.

Remember to take a good look around the table.  A nod to the Kids Table, Kids Table Graduates, and Hosts.  Enjoy.  Toasts!  Accolades!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Life is short.  Celebrate!

Company Holiday Party Plan – √

Soar with Successful Company Celebrations

Soar with Successful Company Celebrations

Office parties are an oxymoron for some.  They’d rather be stranded on a grounded airplane.  Others like spending time with co-workers.  They believe that office parties:  1. validate staff, 2. improve morale, and 3. build trust.

If party planning is thorough, even those who resist might enjoy attending.  I was recently contacted by a company that wanted to host a party for 100 employees and their significant others.  The party “had to be fun.”  The company’s party committee was considering bowling, a murder mystery dinner, or a scavenger hunt.  They wanted to host an interactive, inclusive event.  Staff would have opportunities to get to know colleagues from different departments.

Like this company, many businesses are currently in the process of planning Holiday Parties for December or post Holidays in January.  To simplify this year’s Holiday Party decision making, here are further company party suggestions and a few basic steps to party success.

Party Ideas

  • Museum Event
  • Karaoke Party
  • Piano Sing-a-long
  • Indoor “Field Day” Picnic
  • Theme Party (Circus, 80’s, Medieval, Casino, Luau)
  • Yankee Swap and Lunch
  • After Hour Cocktails
  • Cookie Swap
  • Potluck
  • Talent Show
  • Concert
  • Volunteer for Local Nonprofit and Meal
  • Toy Drive and Meal
  • Cooking Class and Meal

Workplace culture varies.   Decide on a mutually satisfying event.  Establish the party budget and date.  Invite colleague planning input and involvement.  The rest is easy.  Depending on the party, here are a few basic planning steps.

Planning Steps:

  1. Establish party goals, design, and leadership.
  2. Draft a planning timeline and a party timeline.
  3. Reserve a well located, interesting venue (including parking and transportation).
  4. Arrange for catering.
  5. Hire Entertainment (live music, DJ, magician, comedy improve troupe, dance instructor, circus performers, etc.)
  6. Determine “elements of awesome,” such as unusual venue, food, design, or entertainment that will be especially exciting to guests.
  7. Arrange for necessary rentals (technical equipment, lighting, furniture, linens, tableware, etc.).
  8. Decide on decorations.
  9. Invite with a creative invitation (introduction to the look and feel of the event) and keep track of RSVPs.
  10. Hire professionals or reliable volunteers to be in charge during the event.
  11. Acquire any necessary permits and licenses (such as alcohol).
  12. Hire security if necessary.
  13. Plan and rehearse any brief presentations.
  14. Follow up with a survey.
  15. Convene the party planning committee for a post party critique & celebration.

Those who plan the party generate good ideas and build excitement.  Like arranging a trip, party organization is enlightening.  Party preparation requires an understanding of the invited guests, company culture, and how the company wants to be perceived into the future.  Events that bring employees together give management an opportunity to thank staff and celebrate the company’s accomplishments.  Sentiments, such as appreciation and celebration, can be echoed in elements of the event (communication leading up to and at the event, design, and features).  A party endorses a company’s values and honors traditions.

With thorough planning and a little luck, the party will “take -off.”  Hopefully, guests won’t feel like they’re stranded in an airplane.  Ideally, the party will be a great success and propel the company community to new heights.  Bon Voyage!

Life is short.  Celebrate!

Silent Auction Shout Out


 Take the Angst out of Auction; Put the “Fun” in Fundraise

Silent Auction planning, implementation, and close out has been vastly improved – thanks to Bidding for Good’s technology,  No more worry about last minute tabulating for who gets what item for how much.  No long lines.  No “rugby” dance to the auction tables.  Guests can even bid online prior to the event.  People who can’t attend an event but want to contribute, or just shop, can bid online.

Until now silent auctions screamed for improvement.  Managing or participating in silent auctions used to be challenging.  In addition to orchestrating volunteers to get auction items, silent auction managers had to cope with less than ideal logistics during the event.

Guests were expected to place bids for items listed on several tablets strewn over long tables.  Oftentimes squeezing through crowds to get to the table wasn’t worth the hassle.  It was easier to grab the “drink-a-tini” of the evening.

If you were lucky enough to “rugby” squeeze through bodies to get to the table and place a bid, it was likely your bid – within minutes – was surpassed.  So, you could guard the tablet or wander back for hors d’oeuvres.  Or, you could skip the silent auction altogether.

Auction managers were responsible for closing out accounts, handing guests the right item and making sure that guests paid.  This wasn’t easy.  Tabulating winning results by hand was time consuming.  There was room for error.

It wasn’t unusual for lines to form as guests left an event to pay for their auction items.  And, it wasn’t unusual for guests to choose not wait in line and leave their items behind, not paying.

“Winners” who left without waiting to make the transaction had to be contacted after the event – not ideal.  And, those who did wait in line to purchase their items exited the otherwise inspiring event with a negative impression.

Fundraising events evoke enthusiasm for an organization.  If negative experiences outweigh positive, the following year’s guest list dwindles.  Given the risk factors, it’s understandable if organizations decided to forgo silent auctions.

That was before Bidding for Good.  Now we have the tools to tweak silent auctions.  It’s possible to retain what’s best about silent auctions and get rid of the worst. Bidding for Good has changed the silent auction scenario.

Bidding for Good brings fundraisers, shoppers, and businesses together for “Charitable Commerce,” a phrase they coined.   Bidding for Good provides an online platform to:

  • Manage your event from beginning to end
  • Build an event homepage that can feature auction items and sponsors
  • Advertise donated auction items on a personalized webpage
  • Sell auction tickets
  • Sell raffle tickets
  • Begin the auction prior to an event
  • Enable mobile bidding in the room
  • Close-out your event and process through one of a number of integrated payment processors

During an event Bidding for Good’s technology enables guests to receive bidding notifications for auction items on their cell phones.  Guests stay informed without having to hover over the auction table.   And, guests can bid on their phones!

At the end of the auction all auction items can be closed out with the click of a button – alleviating long lines at checkout.  This advantage enhances an already successful event, creating a lasting positive impression.

So – you might wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that!”  Bidding for Good has crafted a way to enjoy silent auctions – a win for all.   Curious to learn more about Bidding for Good and how Jonathan Carson, CEO and Chairman, initially got involved, I caught up with Jon:

Debbie Good Miller:  Jon, you’re the ultimate entrepreneur.  You’ve created four companies and been inducted into the Babson College Alumni Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.  How did you become a nonprofit auction fundraising expert?

Jonathan Carson:  My most recent business prior to Bidding for Good was the Family Education Network (Fen.com) in the 90’s.  It was the largest education website, with over 20% US school (public and private) districts using our website platform.  We provided tools to enable schools, grades K – 12, to build their own websites.  There was a teachers’ version, parents’ version, and fun brain games site for kids.  The FamilyEducation Network was sold to Pearson plc in 2000 for $175 million.

While at the Education Network someone approached me with the idea that sparked the beginnings of Bidding for Good.  It seemed worthwhile, and the rest is history.  Today we’ve raised over $200,000,000 for nonprofit organizations.

Debbie Good Miller: That’s got to be rewarding.  How does it work?  What tasks are the responsibilities of the nonprofit organization, and what services does Bidding for Good provide?

Jonathan CarsonVolunteers at the nonprofit organization get the auction items.  We provide some items that can be viewed online.  I like to think about the nonprofit organization’s items as being the “cake,” and the Bidding for Good items as the “icing.”

Bidding for Good provides the tools, training, and an account representative for support.  We provide a “paint by number” build your own auction website that activates ticket sales and showcases items that are entered in the website by the organization.

Though Bidding for Good’s website attracts cause minded auction bidders, the organization should count on bringing in at least 60% of the bidders for their auction.

Debbie Good Miller: That sounds like an easy way to begin building excitement for the auction and the event.

Event planners strive to keep costs down while providing opportunities for enjoyable fundraising.  What is the upfront cost of your service?

Jonathan Carson:  The annual license for Bidding for Good is $600.  Online bidding is tiered.  For the first $20,000 raised, 9% is charged.  From $20,001 – $50,000, 6% is charged.  Proceeds above $50,000 are charged 3%.  Our website features an online cost calculator.  Mobile bidding services at the event cost an additional $200.

Debbie Good Miller:  Your website is filled with testimonials.  Schools, health and human service organizations, environmental causes, places of worship, community organizations, and support for the arts and culture have all benefited.  They clearly believe it’s worth the investment.

Jonathan Carson:  Yes.  Last year we supported over 4,000 auctions and 150 mobile bidding events.  This year we’ll host over 5,000 auctions and over 450 mobile bidding events on the calendar.

Debbie Good Miller:  You’ve over doubled your mobile bidding business in one year.  Word’s out.  Bidding for Good works.

Is there a recent success story that comes to mind?

Jonathan Carson:  As a matter of fact, the Make a Wish Foundation recently used our services for a mobile bidding golf event and raised more than the prior year.  They plan to use that funding towards their annual gala.

This past week the Texas Rangers raised over $160,000 in two hours with 48,000 people in the stadium.  The proceeds will benefit the families that were impacted by the tornados in Texas and Oklahoma.

Debbie Good Miller:  That’s impressive.  Bidding for Good helps many causes in a variety of venues.  Fundraising auctions are easy, fun, and successful – thanks to Bidding for Good.  Thank you, Jon, for talking with Good Celebrations, LLC and sustaining “Charitable Commerce” – shopping with a conscience.  Shopping and fundraising just got easier.

Life is short.  Celebrate!

Hire the Best Photographer

Photo by Shane Godfrey

Photo by Shane Godfrey

Technology has changed. The importance of preserving special moments has not. If you’re considering not hiring a photographer for your next event, think again.  Though everyone packs cameras, photographers know best how and when to use them. Planning an event can take a tremendous amount of time, and if you want to remember the special occasion, a professional photographer can capture those memories.

In Boston, as in most major cities, there are several notable photographers.  It’s convenient that there are options.  However, choosing the best photographer for an event may seem daunting.  What’s the best way to begin?  When photographers are contacted, what do they need to know?  What questions should be asked?

I’ve met with several impressive local photographers.  Each has an artistic style, structure for planning, shooting, and choosing photographs; and unique personality.  Each has their own pricing and package options.  As a planner, I act as a “matchmaker” between the photographer and client.  I suggest the photographer(s) who best fit the client’s interests.

For those who do not have the benefit of an event planner, here’s an easy solution.

Shane Godfrey, of Shane Godfrey Photography, is one of Boston’s most talented photographers.  To get a photographer’s perspective on hiring a photographer, I sat down with Shane and asked Shane about the best way to land a photographer who is a “good match.”

Debbie Good Miller, Good Celebrations, LLC: Initially researching photography options may seem overwhelming.  The obvious places to begin looking are friends’ recommendations and search engine reviews.  However, each person’s event, photography needs, budget, and personal style varies.  What are your thoughts about zeroing in on the photographer who will be the right fit?

Shane Godfrey:  The first place to look is often other friends’ weddings. If you are in a wedding party and you really enjoyed working with the hired photographer, do not hesitate to strike up a conversation with them and get their contact information so you can follow up after the wedding. I can’t tell you how many weddings I get every year who are former bridesmaids or groomsmen that I have photographed at past weddings. Even if you are a guest at a friend’s wedding and you like what you see from their demeanor, personality, etcetera, get their contact info and ask your friend about their experience.

Looking on blogs is also a very popular way of finding a photographer to fit your venue and style. If you’re getting married at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Google search “Wedding Photography Royal Sonesta Cambridge” and browse through a few pages of photographers who have blogged photos from that venue. Also, sites such as Style Me Pretty and Green Wedding Shoes have a list of photographers whose work they have featured, and the editors of those blogs typically have a great eye for quality image making. You can always ask the venue you have chosen for a list of recommended photographers as well. Often they have built relationships with vendors that they feel comfortable with and have worked with before.

Checking sites like Wedding Wire and The Knot for reviews is also extremely helpful. You can feel pretty good about hiring a photographer who has 40 or so five star reviews with lengthy positive responses.

Lastly, you need to stay within your budget. Nothing frustrates me more than sitting down with a client who is trying to talk me down from the get go. If a photographer’s prices are over what you have set aside for photography, try to find another photographer that is in your price range. No self-respecting wedding photographer is going to give you a break because you don’t have the money; there are just too many clients out there willing to pay.

Debbie Good Miller:  Those are all important considerations.

So, after initial research, the potential client contacts the photographer.  I assume you need to know the:

What other information is necessary?

Shane Godfrey:  That about sums it up for an initial email.  Afterward I will send over my price list and my availability for your wedding day.  If I am not available I will send you to another wedding photographer who I know is available for your wedding day and would be a good fit price and style wise.  If I am available, then we figure out a time to meet, talk on the phone, or Skype if you are from out of town, and go from there.

Debbie Good Miller:  That’s a great service that you suggest other photographers if you’re already hired on the date of someone’s event.

When you have the conversation with potential clients, here are the questions that I think are important to ask photographers:

1. What is your style and/or how do you approach wedding photography.

2. Do you have a background in photography? BFA, Associates degree, weekend warrior?

3. Can I see a completed wedding?

4. Do you work with a second photographer, assistant, or intern?

5. Do you keep up with modern equipment?

6. Do you have liability insurance?

7. Will I have unlimited print license of the photos that you take of the event? Is there a watermark?

8. Do you have photo sharing technologies for customers and guests?

9. What is your turn around time for the final product?

10. How many images do you take at a wedding (roughly)?

11. What exactly will I get for the price?  Is this information in the contract?  What other information is included in the contract, and what is the payment plan?

12. What is the best way to work with you the day of the event to be sure that the photos that are important are made?

13. How do you like to schedule posed photos in the event plan?

14. Have you worked at or are you familiar with our venue?

After discussing these topics, what are your next steps?  How does each party access if their interests and personalities mesh?

Shane GodfreyAt our first meeting or during our first phone call I can usually get a good sense of whether or not my style and personality will mesh with a potential client, and vice-versa.  I am an extremely low stress photographer and not into a lot of the cheesiness that comes with the industry.   I find my clients are similar to me in a lot of ways, and when I run into a high-stress bride or someone who is not interested in my photographs because everything is not posed, I can tell it will not be a good fit.  If you are looking for more of a fashion or traditional approach to wedding photography, I am not your guy, but that does not mean someone else may not be, so don’t get discouraged!

Debbie Good Miller:  That’s good to know – getting the clients’ expectations established in advance.  When the job’s over, how do you know when you’ve hit the “sweet spot” and provided the client with a photo story that they treasure?

Shane Godfrey Most of my clients really let me into their family and friend group, and I try to fit in the best that I can to make everyone feel comfortable in front of the camera. Most people do not like to be photographed, but that is usually because the person behind the camera, not a professional photographer, does not know what they are doing.

Bringing a true professional in with a photo journalist’s sensibility can really lead to a fantastic set of images that tell a beautiful story of a wedding day.  I’m always confident that I will come out with a product that my clients will love and cherish forever.  I’ve been photographing weddings for almost a decade and have worked on several different jobs over the years to further my skills, along with having a BFA in photography.

Debbie Good Miller:  I think everyone strives to find a photographer with your expertise and reassurance.  Finding the right photographer – a possibly time consuming, stressful ordeal – can actually be easy and enjoyable.  Shane, thanks so much for your helpful suggestions, candid remarks, and professional perspective.  Your influence will help folks find the best possible photographer for their event, date, and budget.  Hosting a Celebration just got easier.

Life is short.  Celebrate!

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