My parents threw great parties when I was a kid — sledding parties with hot chocolate and marshmallows for kids, rum toddies for adults; pioneer reenactments complete with a conestoga covered wagon that doubled as a catering van; and Mad Men-style martini parties my sister and I would watch late into night from the staircase.
Mine never seem to be that elaborate but I do love a dinner party. Most of my friends are movie buffs so I usually plan a location or historic theme. A recent party was centered around a Daniel Boone DVD someone received as a present. I built a campfire of candles on the coffee table and found an old southern recipe for squirrel stew — don’t worry, I used pork instead. I dreamed about papering the living room walls with “log cabin” but there was only so much time.
For the past 20 years, my job at Thanksgiving is to design the place cards. It’s always a game. People have to figure out their seating assignment or be banished to the living room. One person always uses the process-of-elimination technique, but most figure it out. I’ve used anagrams, sentences whose first letters spell out a name, crossword puzzles, and this year, reproductions of Eric Enstrom’s famous portrait “Grace” of a man praying at a table where I’ve hidden letters on the loaf of bread — don’t tell anyone!
Planning is what makes a party. Whether it’s invitations, place settings, table decorations, or small touches like tying ribbons on wine glasses, even the smallest attention to detail make guests feel special.
Minnesotans must love to celebrate because party supplies are bountiful. Cute holiday garlands, reindeer place cards, snowflake luminary bags, and custom printed napkins are in stock now at Paper Source (3048 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.; 4954 France Ave. S., Edina). Balloons, foil pans of every shape and size, wrapping paper and boxes, glow jewelry, and life-size cardboard cutouts stock the shelves at the giant Litin Party Value — have Hillary Rodham Clinton at your party this year! (434 Lakeside Ave., Mpls.) For high-end paper napkins in beautifully printed elaborate patterns and faux fabric designs, visit Ampersand (the Galleria, 3445 W. 70th St., Edina).
But if you want to make a true adventure out of your party planning, head to Stillwater. Mara-Mi (201 Main St. S.) was founded 30 years ago by two designers who created stationery products for boutiques. They believe good design and irresistible products enhance life’s celebrations. The light and airy, sun-filled store is filled with party invitations, plates, napkins, wrapping paper, cards, notecards, journals and fun pens. Stand in place too long and you’ll fill your basket. The second floor above the retail store is busy with designers sketching out new products. About 85 percent of the products in Mara-Mi are designed right on the premises. Beautiful, elegant, tactile planners, calendars, and binders in their Russell+Hazel line will make you look forward to all appointments in 2016. They have an entire alcove of crazy tie-dye, striped, polka dotted baking mixes designed in collaboration with Food Network star pastry chef Duff Goldman. Cookie exchanges will never look the same! As you enter this holiday season, have fun with it, make it an adventure, and be sure to save time to celebrate.
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COFFEE BREAK: Right inside Mara-Mi is a cafe, bakery, and ice cream bar. A cluster of tables in the middle of the store allow for sip and shop relaxation.