5 icebreaker games for your next party

5 Icebreaker Games for your Next Party

It’s about time I bring back a post topic that’s an oldie, but a goodie. It’s something that people ask me about all the time: icebreaker games.

At 27, I find that I’ve gotten to the age where I know people from many different areas of life. There are co-workers, bloggers, church-goers, choir singers, RAs, engineers, friends of friends, and people I randomly introduce myself to. How they heck do you get them all to talk to each other at a party? An icebreaker game is sure to do the trick. Here are my top 5 tried-and-true icebreaker games to get people to connect at a party.

Give ‘Em Something to Talk About

Whether your party is extravagant or simple, it’s easiest to get people to start talking when there is a theme or activity to talk about. You don’t need to know the person next to you to talk about how cute the cheese tray is or ask “what does that one taste like.” You also don’t need to know the person next to you if you’re all playing a game – you can skip the introductions and head straight to what’s in front of you right now. My favorite of the themed parties have been: a chai tasting, a beer & cheese party, a find the best bottle of wine under $10 party, and a find the best hot fudge party. Each one of these parties in itself provides questions for the guests to talk about right off the bat.

Ask a Question

One of my favorite, and the simplest one of the icebreaker games, is to ask everybody to answer a question at the start of an event. And no matter how formal the event is I like to keep the question relaxed. What is your favorite new restaurant? What cool new thing have you discovered lately? Where did you grow up? What’s your favorite Disney movie? I even once had a party where we started with “what’s your favorite kind of salad dressing”. Unexpected answers keep things interesting and give people something to talk about later. I recommend the party host answer the question first and then everyone else answers in a (counter-)clockwise circle. That way the host can set the tone right off the bat and nobody needs to “volunteer” to go next.

This is also way easier than something like “two truths and a lie” where people have to come up with something about themselves. That always puts people on the spot of needing to come up with a topic cool enough to use.

Pair People Up

If you want to take the “ask a question” to the next level, you can pair people up. The thing about forcing two people to talk to each other is that somehow the pressure is off (probably because you already have a partner). And it’s really easy to start with something like, “wow, this is ridiculous, isn’t it?” I’ve been to many events where you have to introduce the person you get paired up with to the crowd, which also keeps things interesting. Not only that, but it helps people feel accountable for making sure others have a really fun introduction.

Go Move Your Car

This is now and forever will be my favorite one of the ice breaker games. It only happens a few times a year that I get to use it, and in all honesty it’s not really easily replicated, BUT I feel the need to tell you anyway. Every year I host a Christmas party in Connecticut at my parent’s house. We have a very long driveway and there’s not that much parking at the top, so sometimes when it gets too congested I send people down to park. What usually happens is I find 5 people who drove and don’t know each other very well and I say, “you, you, you, you, and you, go down the driveway in 5 cars and come back up in 1.” It’s an interesting way to throw people together. Plus, it’s efficient and effective.

Give ‘Em Something To Do

If you’ve tried a bunch of icebreaker games, you’ve tried the “hey Sara, Louise is planning a trip to San Francisco and I know you just went there, you should totally give her some tips about it,” along with the “hey Tom, Sam plays tennis too,” but there’s still somebody hanging out that seems like they don’t have anyone to talk to, ask them if they will help you with a task. I know that when I feel awkward at parties it always makes me feel better when I have a task. It makes me feel more important, like I’m helping the host, and gives me something to talk about.

Do you have any other tips that you use to make people feel included? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

 

Simple Tips for Planning a Movie Night

Simple tips for planning a chick flick and hot beverages movie night. Once you do the first step the rest is easy!

This party was sponsored by Uncommon Goods. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Over a month ago I emailed a few friends to see if anybody wanted to come over for a movie night of chick flicks and hot beverages. There’s a few reasons I chose hot beverages instead of wine: (1) the day I was available to have this party was a Sunday, and who wants to start their week already feeling behind, (2) I’ve been trying to be a little bit healthier recently and to avoid unnecessary extra calories, and (3) it gave me a chance to use my fancy new cuddle mugs given to me by Uncommon Goods.

My favorite parts about Uncommon Goods are that you’re getting something unique, supporting artists and designers (and handmade goodness), supporting upcycling and recycling, and giving back to non-profits. Uncommon Goods also gives back to charities around the world with their Better to Give program. In the past 12 years they have donated over $1 million to charities including RAINN (anti sexual violence), American Forests, Women for Women International (support for women survivors of war), and City Harvest (ending hunger in NYC). And did I mention these cuddle mugs made by Steven R. Nezda are just beautiful? (If you’re feeling really ambitious and want to start shopping for Mother’s Day gifts early, props to you.)

Cuddle Mugs from Uncommon Goods

As for why I chose chick flicks, I don’t think that needs any explanation.

My favorite part about planning a low-key girls’ movie night in is that it’s a simple way to see your friends and relax. All you need is a date on the calendar, an assortment of beverages, an array of snacks, a good selection of movies, and a television. There’s definitely a way to do a not low-key movie night, but that goes against the post I wrote about why I will never have a party blog.

Here are my tips and tricks for planning a movie night with chick flicks and cozy hot beverages:

Get the date on the calendar

This might be the hardest part of this whole process, getting the date on the calendar. I started planning this part in February and the first date available for me was in April. Doesn’t matter how far out it is; email your friends and get the date on the calendar. Then as it gets closer you’ll have something to look forward to that’s relaxing already built-in to your to-do list. Also, I totally gave people an “out” on the invitation that said “if chick flicks aren’t your jam, don’t worry about coming, there will absolutely be other parties.” Because contrary to popular belief, not all girls like chick flicks.

Only buy what you need to buy, only make what you need to make

I was really proud of myself, guys. I spent $16 on this party by just taking a good look in my pantry before going shopping. And no, it’s not cheap, it’s resourceful. I realized I had all the ingredients for rice krispie treats already in the pantry – not only that, but rice krispie treats are also scalable so you don’t need to end up with a million extras. I also had Easter basket goodies available, which there’s pretty much no way I can eat through alone, so that was a good chance to put out some Hershey kisses and open a box of Girl Scout cookies. (Let’s be honest, I could have eaten through all of that, but I’m trying this new “healthy” thing.) I also always already keep popcorn on hand, so I just supplemented what I already had with guacamole, hummus dip, carrots, and a small bouquet of flowers (for ambiance).

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Choose all your favorite things

This is one of the best parts about hosting a party – sharing all your favorite things with your guests – your favorite teas, your favorite movies, your favorite mugs, etc. Have fun with it and choose to share things that your guests might love as much as you do. I pulled out my favorite teas (although everyone ended up wanting hot chocolate) and my favorite movies and even just physically pulling all of those things out relaxed me and made me very happy. (Aside: Did anybody else know Aveda sells tea? It’s flipping amazing.)

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Check the technology ahead of time

There had to be something that went wrong, right? I pulled out (and guests brought) their favorite DVDs and then I found out that my DVD player didn’t work. You’ve Got Mail got stuck in the DVD player and it took me 10 minutes to get out. Then When Harry Met Sally Got Stuck in the DVD player. So then we hooked my computer up to the television to try to choose a Netflix movie, but I couldn’t get the sound to come out of the television speakers. So then I ran upstairs to get my speakers to hook up. This all took far longer than it should have, but everyone was a good sport about it. We ended up watching Notting Hill, which I’d somehow never seen and all we loved it.

Set the mood to cozy

There are three things we did to set the mood:

  1. We deemed it a no-real-pants-necessary zone. Stretchy pants and sweat pants are more than acceptable. I was wearing slippers. That’s how we roll. Next time I would definitely put “no real pants needed” on the invitation.
  2. We pulled out blankets and turned up the heat a bit to make everything feel cozier.
  3. We used cuddle mugs from Uncommon Goods. I had been looking for mugs like this for a long time, the ones that have indents for you to wrap your fingers all the way around and feel like you’re part of the mug (the prime cozy position). While I was fixing my technology setup the other girls started pulling out their phone and looking through other items on Uncommon Goods, which was a lot of fun as well. (You can get lost in that site for hours, man. This cutting board is pretty much ideal for any newly weds – and I can’t wait to check out their host & hostess gift section.) So we each made our hot chocolate and tea and cuddled up with our mugs on the couch to get started with the feature presentation.

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Thanks again to Uncommon Goods for sharing these mugs with us, it definitely added to the experience and provided just the right level of cozy on an overwhelmingly cold Sunday evening in Philadelphia.

I hope I’ve made a party like this sound easy enough that you could throw one together. Remember, the hardest part is getting a date on the calendar. Once you do that it’s all a breeze.

Anybody have any movie suggestions for next time? All chick flick suggestions welcome.

Tips for Hosting Monthly Dinner Parties

Simple Tips for Hosting Monthly Dinner Parties with Your Friends!

There’s a group of friends that I have from college that gets together for monthly dinner parties. Believe it or not this wasn’t my idea. It was the boys’ idea – which makes me all sorts of giddy on the inside. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been doing it for over a year now.

Not only is it a great excuse to sit down and eat a delicious meal andan awesome break to the week, but sometimes it provides a space for that much needed real conversation that you want to have. Conversation that’s deeper than the weather and deeper than what you did last weekend. Which, for somebody who is currently spending two days a week in transit not talking to anyone at all, is super duper appreciated.

Today I wanted to provide some tips for you about how we make it happen and why we’ve been able to stick to it for a whole year. Let me know if you decide to start a monthly dinner party of your own, I’d love to hear about how it goes.

One person cooks at a time

This is probably one of the reasons it’s been so easy to keep going, only one person cooks at a time. It’s not a potluck, you’re not required to make one dish every month. You cook once, and then get to be spoiled many times before you have to cook again. We even split up the couples in the group, every person has to cook their own meal. And then everybody else brings beverages.

Keep it small

Our group right now ranges from 4 to 6 people depending on the month, significant others, and who happens to be in town. It’s a manageable-sized group. If you’re buying meat it won’t totally break the bank. It’s a small enough group that you can plate some of the food beforehand and keep it in your fridge. And it’s a small enough group that you can fit everybody at one table.

Make it fun and keep it interesting

We have a hashtag that we use to capture the meals (#wepretendtobecooks). One friend always tries to cook a new ethnicity of food  – and he’s the only person I know in life who took on the challenge of cooking calamari. Another friend watches a heck of a lot of cooking shows, so he’s always got something fun up his sleeve.

When it is your turn to cook, plan ahead

We decided early on that when it’s your turn to cook you are respoonsible for having an appetizer, entree, and dessert, which has definitely been a fun challenge. Menu planning is new to me, so the first time I was definitely stressed out, but then it got better. Think about things like if you’re having a heavy meal, you probably want a light entree and light dessert. Think about what produce is in season. Ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions ahead of time. And if you know you’re going to be low on time, find something that can sit in the crockpot all day.

Schedule the next one before you leave

This is probably the key to why we’ve been able to keep it going so long. Every dinner, right before the first person goes to leave, we all pull out our phones and find the next date – whether it’s two weeks away or two months away we want to make sure we have it on the calendar. This way even if you have to cancel you still need to reach out to everybody to let them know, which inevitably leads to choosing the next date.

So what now? I recommend you call up four of your closest friends and find a way to make it happen. At least get the first one on your calendar and see where it goes from there. And think about all the delicious food you’ll get to eat along the way.

PS. If you have a chance I’d really appreciate it if you could take the 2016 Chrystina Noel survey. It’ll help me create even better content.

Host a Chai Tasting Party

How to Host a Chai Tasting Party via Chrystina Noel

I’ve had this party idea for a while – Chai Tasting Party.

Let me start at the beginning. I can’t really drink coffee. After about half a cup my insides start shaking, I can’t shut-up, and there’s a 100% chance that I’m not going to be able to fall asleep that night. So years ago I decided my hot beverage drink of choice was going to be chai. (And yes, I know there’s caffeine in chai, but it usually takes at least 2 drinks until I start shaking.) Recently I’ve been buying a bunch of the premade chais to try at home. I knew there was no chance I was going to be able to finish all the ones I started, so I decided to look at it as a good opportunity to throw a party. (Because everything is a good opportunity to throw a party.)

I am not an expert in chai, I just know what I like. According to the Chrystina world of chai there are two different types of chai: sweet chai (like Dunkin’ Donuts’) and spicy chai (like Starbucks). Actually, my favorite coffee shop in Philadelphia, Good Karma, has both, which I always find pretty gratifying. I’ve found that as I’ve gotten over I prefer the spicy chai over the sweet chai. I even used to get extra sweetener added to my Starbucks chai at the beginning, but not anymore.

So I invited a bunch of my chai-drinking friends over and bought: Oregon Chai, Celestial Mountain Chai, Trader Joe’s Spicy Chai Tea Latte Mix, Tazo Chai teabags, Trader Joe’s spiced chai teabags, Tazo Chai, and ingredients to make homemade chai.

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I pulled out the smallest teacups I owned so that no one overdid it on any one chai.

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I set out sugar and honey in case anybody wanted to sweeten their chai. (They didn’t.)

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And when the guests arrived we went through the chais one at a time until we tried them all. Here’s what we learned:

  • The Oregon Chai was the sweetest. It also has the furthest out expiration date.
  • The Mountain Chai was a crowd favorite because it wasn’t super sweet or spicy, just flavorful.
  • The Tazo Chai tastes exactly like the chai that you get at Starbucks. (Unless, of course, you live in Philadelphia which is currently a test market for chai which seriously needs to stop immediately.)

For the chai concentrates the breakdown was 50% concentrate / 50% milk to make any of the chais.

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  • The Trader Joe’s Spicy Chai Tea Latte Mix also leaned towards the sweeter side, although people agreed it was a pretty solid alternative to one of the concentrates. Also, logistically speaking, this one has a much further out expiration date.
  • We didn’t actually use any of the chai teabags because there were so many other chai options. I probably should have just given them to people as party favors.

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The homemade chai, not pictured here because none of the process is pretty (and because I forgot to take a picture), was made using Wagh Bakri leaf tea, brown sugar, ginger, water, and milk. It’s an improvisational process every time I make it (because the freshness of the ginger and milk usually affect the taste), but here’s the approximate recipe.

Homemade Chai Recipe
Makes 2 cups

3 tsp. Wagh Bakri leaf tea
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 inch ginger
8 oz. water
8 oz. milk

Add tea, sugar, ginger, and water to a pan on the stove. Bring to boil and keep at a simmer for 10 minutes. Add milk, bring back to a boil and keep at a simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the tea. Enjoy.

This is a modified recipe from the one I got from my boss a few years ago. (He’s the one whose wedding I went to in India – post 1, post 2.)

I supplied all the tea so I had everybody bring food. We had plenty of cookies and one friend read on the internet that chai pairs well with beef jerkey. (It was actually pretty good and nice to have a savory snack amongst all the sweet ones.) My friend Erin made these absolutely adorable chocolate-dipped tea bag shaped cookies. She’s incredible.

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I somehow had all the ingredients in my fridge to make 7 layer cookies, which are some of my absolute favorites.

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I’m sure there’s a fancy way to host a chai tasting party that includes everybody sitting down at a long dining room table and everybody trying every chai at the same exact time. (In this scenario I’m 95% sure everyone is weawring hats.) But when you’re 27-years-old, don’t have a dining room, and your kitchen is standing-room only that’s just not the case. When everybody came in the door they came down to the kitchen, chose a cup, and chose a chai they wanted to try. I had the homemade chai brewing on the stove and my cookies had just come out of the oven so the house smelled pretty delicious. I also kept a pot of water on the stove at all times so that people could make tea as they pleased. And when it came to trying the concentrated chais? Everybody made their own whenever they were ready and then put it in the microwave for 30 seconds. How’s that for fancy?

All in all it was a blast. There were people from all different aspects of my life there and the conversation went great. It ranged from travel to politics to schooling to adulting. And I think everybody left with at least one new friend, which is cool. Overall, here are my tips for if you decide to host your own chai tasting party:

  • Make sure you have water nearby so that people can take a break from drinking chai for a while.
  • Have regular milk alternatives such as coconut milk or almond milk for people who don’t eat/drink dairy.
  • Try to have a good balance of sweet and savory items on the table for eating.
  • Keep the guest list to a maximum of 12 people so that one box of each type of chai is enough.

Also, this is a great idea for a no-alcohol party if that’s not your style. That said, by the end of the evening, I was definitely shaking on the inside, mind was running wild, and if I wasn’t so gosh darn tired that night I would have absolutely not been able to sleep.

Have you ever hosted your own chai tasting? I’d love to hear how it went.

PS. If you’re looking for ideas for a regular tea party, check out my how to host an afternoon tea party post.