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.

Celebrating like Dad

Hi friends! Today is a big day of celebration! Why, you ask? Because today is my dad’s birthday! It’s one of those milestone birthdays too, so it’s kind of a big deal. So in honor of his birthday (and while still brainstorming what I’m going to be doing for mine this year) we’re going to talk about 4 ways you can celebrate your birthday, Chrystina’s dad style.

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Play with Toys

What does this mean for my dad? Flying his drone, driving, using a new camera, or installing some new piece of technology somewhere (think Mr. Dink from Doug). I mean, he’s the reason we all ended up addicted to N64 in the early 2000s – and Ms. Pacman.

Buy a New Toy

This is why my dad is so hard to buy gifts for, because if he wants a new toy he’s going to go buy a new toy. (You can read these two posts on how impossible he is to buy for here… and here.) So think about something you’ve really been wanting, and splurge because it’s your birthday.

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Bake a Cake

My dad’s dad was a baker, so my dad actually has some pretty legit baking skills from back in the day – my favorite cake he makes is his German Chocolate Cake. Although his vanilla bean rice pudding is pretty delicious as well. Find a new recipe or something you’ve really been craving and make it happen.

Treat Yourself

I’m pretty sure I get this from my dad. I find it completely acceptable to stop on the way home from work to buy a cupcake, a hot fudge sundae, or some bubble tea. (He’d probably pass on the bubble tea.) But my dad and I are two of the few people I know who are on a first name basis with the owners of their favorite cupcake shop.

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Play a Game

So, my dad hates board games. He finds them boring. No pun intended. That said, he definitely appreciates a thought-provoking game of chess, an afternoon at the bowling alley, or a round of Tiger Woods Golf. Choose a game, find a partner, and make it happen.

Go to Dinner

This comes with the treat yourself category. My dad has a favorite restaurant in every city he’s ever been to, we’ve purposely sought out some pretty specific restaurants over the years – The Magic Time Machine and Houston, TX; Red, Hot, and Blues in Maryland; and Jekyll & Hyde in New York City. And if you’re wondering what his Philadelphia restaurant is? It’s Moshulu.

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Plan a Trip

I’m pretty sure this comes with the Life of a Consultant territory. My dad was a consultant, now I’m a consultant – traveling is what we do. If there’s somewhere you want to go, book a trip! (Which my dad has definitely done with or without any companions – props to him for solo traveling.)

Aside – I remember when I was around 12-years-old and I had slept through my parents going to breakfast on vacation and my dad told me I should go down and get breakfast alone because it said a lot about a person if I could go eat on my own without any company or entertainment. So I did. And from that day I’ve never thought twice about heading to a restaurant to eat alone.

Take a Nap

I mean, I did say it was a milestone birthday, right? Just kidding. I think this sounds like a glorious way to spend a birthday. What I would give for a nap most days. And if it’s your birthday you can even continue to hog the television while you’re taking that nap, otherwise it’s poor form.

And that’s it, 8 birthday ideas inspired by my dad. Dad, I hope you get to do all of them today.

Looking for other ideas to celebrate your birthday? Check out my newest free e-book, Themed Party Ideas. It’s full of over a dozen ways to celebrate any occasion and exactly how to execute it.

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