Stress-free party plan­ning

Thrill your guests with an un­for­get­table event

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page - By Beth Bright, pho­tog­ra­phy by Richard Ras­mussen

The hol­i­days are the per­fect time of year to throw a fab­u­lous party, but where does one start? With the help of Michelle Mou­ton Har­ri­son of M-Har­ri­son De­signs, we have the tips and tools you need to pull off a suc­cess­ful event.

The hol­i­days are the per­fect time of year to throw a fab­u­lous party, but where does one start? With the help of Michelle Mou­ton Har­ri­son, of MHar­ri­son De­signs, we have the tips and tools you need to pull off a suc­cess­ful event this sea­son.

Michelle said she learned the art of hos­pi­tal­ity from none other than her mother and grand­mother.

“As the old­est of 17 grand­chil­dren, there were al­ways events to be planned — al­ways some kind of or­ches­tra­tion from hol­i­days to wed­dings,” she said. “I'm in my fifth year with my business, but I've been do­ing this my whole life. Ev­ery­thing from wed­dings to events to fundrais­ers.

No mat­ter what's on the agenda, Michelle said plan­ning a ca­sual or for­mal event should not be a daunt­ing task and with that, she of­fers th­ese tools for host­ing a mem­o­rable event this sea­son:

Set your bud­get and stick to it. It's easy to get over­whelmed when you don't set a limit for your­self. And let's face it — you're go­ing to have to splurge on one thing, so de­cide what that is early on and build your bud­get around that. “You may say `Well, I can't cook so I'll need to have it catered,' and know your pa­ram­e­ters when you meet with your caterer,” Michelle said. “Be­ing able to tell them to plan a menu at, say, $10 a head will keep you, and them, on track.” Ac­cord­ing to Michelle, dif­fer­ent nights of the week are bet­ter for for­mal or ca­sual events so se­lect your date ac­cord­ingly with drop-in hours per­fect for ei­ther style. If you're go­ing for a more ca­sual event, Tues­days and Thurs­days are per­fect to bring the kids and come as you are. Fri­days and Satur­days, on the other hand, are

in­stantly more for­mal be­cause it's the time to un­wind after a busy week.

Pick a theme that fits your style. “A theme like `Nordic Hol­i­day' is clas­sic and can be dressed up or down,” she said. In­cor­po­rat­ing reds, whites and browns into your decor is easy, and de­pend­ing on whether you're go­ing ca­sual or for­mal, your in­vi­ta­tions will re­flect that.

“For a ca­sual party, get the kids in­volved by mak­ing hand-dipped or­na­ments with all the party de­tails on brown pa­per tags, then per­son­ally de­liver them,” she said. “If you're think­ing more for­mal, step it up with the writ­ten in­vi­ta­tions, tai­lor­ing them to your own style.”

When com­ing up with your guest list, you want peo­ple who will keep con­ver­sa­tions go­ing. “Whether it's ca­sual or for­mal, have a good mix of col­leagues, neigh­bors, and fam­ily and friends who will min­gle well with each other,” she said.

Whether you're pre­par­ing the food your­self or call­ing in a caterer, plan­ning a mem­o­rable menu is key to a spe­cial evening. “Keep it sim­ple by hav­ing large amounts of a few things that can be re­plen­ished quickly and if you're mak­ing the spread your­self, cook ahead of time and call in the help of friends as needed,” she said. “Ev­ery good party has a sig­na­ture drink and this can be any­thing from mom's recipe for hot choco­late to a spe­cial mar­tini if you want some­thing for­mal.”

Showcase what you have in your dé­cor. If you have a spe­cial tree de­voted to a par­tic­u­lar group of or­na­ments or you have an ex­ten­sive nutcracker col­lec­tion, fea­ture it some­how in the look and at­mos­phere of your party dec­o­ra­tions. “There's no need to re-do the whole house for one evening,” she said. “Have your tablescape­s and buf­fets re­flect the theme and dé­cor you al­ready have on dis­play.”

If you're plan­ning to go ca­sual, Michelle said the per­fect gift has al­ready been given with the home­made or­na­ment, or by mak­ing your fa­mous cook­ies that ev­ery­one loves. But if you're go­ing a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, she sug­gests giv­ing your guests some­thing small from one of your fa­vorite lo­cal shops. A spe­cial treat from the best bak­ery in town or lo­cally made soaps put your per­son­al­ity into the gift and, as they say, “It's the thought that counts.”

Lead­ing up to the big night, have your time­line at the ready. “I like to work back­wards — guests will be here at 7 p.m. so what do I need to have ready at that time?” she said. “Work out the kinks of when and how ev­ery­thing needs to be done and you'll have a suc­cess­ful night.”

“En­joy your­self. The key to be­ing a good host or host­ess is be­ing re­laxed be­cause, if you aren't, your guests won't be,” she said. Let oth­ers who have of­fered to help han­dle cer­tain as­pects of the evening so you can visit with all of your guests.

As host, you'll re­ceive gifts as a “thank you” for the in­vite. “After the party, you'll want to say thanks for all the won­der­ful gifts, and after all thank­ful­ness and giv­ing is what the hol­i­day sea­son is all about,” Michelle said.

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