Throw the Perfect Fiesta!

Time to bust out the piñata! Cinco de Mayo is the perfect occasion to show off your party-planning skills. A festive atmosphere and a lot of great food will help fuel the fun.

Set the mood. Before the party, fill green, white, and red paper bags with sand, and add a tea light to each one. Line the sidewalk leading up to your house with the luminaries for a festive entrance. Inside, string colorful paper banners along the ceiling (warning, they’re so bright and happy that you might not take them down), and make a playlist of mariachi and salsa music so guests can try their hand at dancing.

Scatter appetizers. Serving up your world-famous guacamole and homemade pico de gallo? Set appetizers on different tables around the room to keep guests from clustering in one area. Ask guests to pitch in and bring a homemade salsa or dip of their choice. Print copies of each recipe and set them near the dish so everyone can take home their favorites.

Make dinner DIY. Cinco de Mayo involves a smorgasbord of delicious dinner ideas, like burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and an array of tasty dips. Use the days leading up to the party to chop veggies, and set out serving dishes ahead of time. On the day of the party, make pulled pork in a slow cooker for hands-off prep and easy cleanup. Then set out a range of hard taco shells and soft tortillas with the pork, veggies, and cheeses for a DIY buffet. Guests can create their own perfect dish! Be sure to label hot sauces on the buffet table so guests can turn up the heat according to their liking.

Give salsa lessons. Maybe you have a talented friend who can lead the group, or you could invite an instructor from a local dance studio to teach everyone how to salsa. A friendly dance competition gives guests an opportunity to shake off some of that pulled pork dinner and show off their skills. Award the best dancers with prizes, like margarita-making supplies.



4 Steps to the Best Mardi Gras Party Ever!

Down in New Orleans, the Mardi Gras season leading up to Lent culminates on Fat Tuesday with colorful parties, rowdy parades, and loads of good, soul-satisfying Cajun and Creole food. Get in on the fun: Follow our simple tips, rally some friends, and let the revelry begin.  

Create a custom playlist. For a true Mardi Gras bash, say no to contemporary pop. Instead, embrace the sounds of Louisiana and include lots of New Orleans–style jazz and blues. 

For décor, think: bright! Paper garlands, feather boas, and anything shiny (including crowns, strings of beads, and masks) hit the mark. Be sure to look for the classic Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold, which represent justice, faith, and power, respectively. (Party stores have surprisingly large Mardi Gras selections.) Before guests arrive, light a few candles to fill your home with a lively, fresh scent and set the mood with ambient light.

Cook like a Cajun. Serve spicy boiled crawfish or bite-size crab cakes, and steamed rice with Louisiana-style gumbo that’s loaded with chicken, sausage, and shrimp. Wash it all down with traditional or alcohol-free Hurricanes, the cocktail of choice on Bourbon Street. Don’t get the blues over a messy cleanup—toss dirty napkins and aprons in the wash with a great smelling detergent with stain boosters and revel in the super clean, nose-pleasing results.

Serve a royal treat. The signature Mardi Gras dessert is a ring-shape cake—called a “king cake”—covered in white icing and colored sugar. Traditionally, a tiny plastic baby is hidden inside. The guest who gets the slice with the baby in it has certain obligations, like buying next year’s cake, and also gets some VIP treatment, like being crowned the king or queen of the fête. Ask your local bakery if they’ll make one, or bake one yourself!

Incoming Holiday Guests! 5 Ways to Prep the House


Sweet dreams



Holiday travel can be exhausting. Spread some cheer by providing a warm, comfortable place for weary travelers to rest their heads. Launder the bedsheets and guest towels so they’re fresh, soft, and warmly scented. Does the comforter need refreshing? After washing, slip a scented fabric softener sheet into the dryer with it. 



Comfort test



Before everyone arrives, spend a night in your own guestroom. There’s no better way to gauge whether the room is too hot or too cold, evaluate the comfort level of the mattress (just right or way too lumpy?), and get the general feel of the room. Take note of how sunny it is in the morning. If it’s blindingly bright at 6 a.m., you may want to invest in blinds or curtains. If you can hear the kids shouting through the walls at oh dark thirty, you may need to institute a quiet rule while guests are in residence. Go the extra mile and leave an alarm clock, magazines, and a few bottles of water on the bedside table.



Hospitality 101



You’ve scrubbed the floors, dusted every room, and vacuumed up the pine needles on the carpet, but anticipating the items that guests might appreciate while they’re away from home is the sign of a truly thoughtful host. Have backup toiletries, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, sample-size shampoos, and liquid soap, available for visitors who may have forgotten to pack something. Keep cozy throws for snuggling in living areas and bedrooms, and leave an index card with your Wi-Fi code for guests. Bonus points for having puzzles or coloring books for kids.



Holiday Central: the kitchen



What are the holidays without delicious treats and goodies? Supplement the cookies and sweets with graze-friendly snacks your guests can help themselves to. Homemade baked goods are easy to self-serve (a buttery pound cake or crumb cake can be breakfast, a snack, or dessert). A large wedge of cheese everyone can slice and enjoy is smart; include fruit, crackers, and a basket of snack-size chips and pretzels for kids, as well as coffee, teas, and an assortment of bottled water and sodas.



Party time



Plan for a fun activity that gets everyone together. Let your family’s interests be the guide: Cook a large meal together, pull out a favorite board game (or a new one to level the playing field), schedule an outing to a local museum or park, or go sledding if the weather allows.


Sanity-Saving Cleaning Strategies for the Holidays


Manage expectations.



It simply may not be possible to keep your house as clean and tidy as you’d like, so set priorities and ask for help—especially if you’re expecting a crowd. Let everyone know you want their coats hung in the closet and their shoes and backpacks tucked away in the appropriate spots. If you hate clutter, deposit all of your cards and mail in a designated bin, and ask one of the kids to help keep newspapers and magazines neatly stacked and toys in their place. And, remember, if all else fails, hit the dimmer switch and light some candles.




Oh the holidays!



The time of year that’s filled with love and joy. Not to mention cooking, cleaning, and more than a few loads of laundry. But before you come down with a case of Bah Humbug, follow these timesaving tips for keeping housework under control.



Clean as you cook.



No one wants to face a mountain of unwashed dishes after a big family dinner or party, so wash, dry, and store anything you use for kitchen prep as you go along. When chopping or peeling, it helps to work from left to right or right to left consistently so that any scraps stay together in one area, making disposal easier. Another trick: Place a pot of simmering water on the back burner of your stove and use it to soak gooey utensils—and make cleanup a breeze.




Stick to a schedule.



Set a daily time limit—say 30 minutes—and tackle as many tasks as you can. In the kitchen, put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down the sink, countertops and any spills on the floor. Fluff the pillows on the living room couch, sweep up any crumbs with a handheld vacuum, and run a dust cloth over wood surfaces. Then head into the bathroom and wipe down the sink, countertops, and mirror, and give the toilet bowl a quick brush. When the timer goes off, you’re done (until tomorrow at least).




Lighten your laundry load.



The extra laundry houseguests generate won’t feel so overwhelming if you have a plan. Presort clothing (get the kids to help), and put delicates in a lingerie bag instead of laundering them separately. Wash socks in a mesh laundry bag, too; they’ll stay together, thus eliminating the pesky chore of finding singletons once you start folding. To save more time, use premeasured detergent pods, which combine detergent, stain remover, and brightener all in one no-mess, no-guess package.



Give stains the slip.



If you’re serving red wine (of course you are!), soft drinks, or mulled cider at a holiday get-together, there’s bound to be a spill. This goes double if you have a light-colored rug or couch. Instead of smiling while you inwardly seethe, do a quick smartphone search for step-by-step cleaning tips on how to remove anything, from cranberry sauce to chocolate, fast.


Share the Joy: Fun Family Photos

Another holiday season brings mailboxes full of cards, packed with updates and photos from family and friends. As you’re planning your year-end update, take a few pointers from our crazy family to yours.

Do your research. Before picture day, peruse photo-driven blogs or photography Websites. You’re likely to find a concept or post that you really like and can execute yourself. A little planning can go a long way.

Pick a prop. You don’t have to be at a party or in a photo booth to work this trend. Find something that screams fun—and captures your family—and incorporate it into the photo. Matching winter hats, wrapped boxes or strands of lights are a few good options.

Get moving. Try an action shot and play with poses and positioning. Shoot the family making snow angels, riding a sled, or doing a jingle bell jog in matching sweaters. 

Make a scene. Literally. You don’t have to live in a snowy climate to create a winter wonderland—think paper snowflakes, hats and gloves. And don’t forget the beloved tacky sweater.

Ham it up. Let individual personalities shine through in the photos. Don’t discard the outtakes—you might find they’re the most fun to share.

Create a collage. Getting the extended family together for a photo can be tough, but don’t despair. Rather than one shot, splice together pictures from the whole year to fashion a family tree. Others can catch up on what you’ve been up to for the past 12 months.