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Hitting the bull’s eye..

James D. Easton Inc manufactures aluminum sporting goods equipment for team and individual sports. Owner James L. Easton claims the company ranks fourth in the sporting goods market with 1,000 employees and annual sales of about $120 million.

Seventy years ago, a teenager named James D. “Doug” Easton suffered a gunshot wound in a hunting accident. While he recuperated, he started making arrows at his home in Watsonville, south of San Francisco. He sold them to archers, as a part-time business.

Easton continued making arrows part time for over a decade. In the mid-’30s, he quit what was then his regular job– driving a delivery truck–to become a full-time fletcher, or arrow maker. A few years later, he moved to Los Angeles.

Easton died in 1972, but James D. Easton Inc. is still in Los Angeles–in the Van Nuys section, in the San Fernando Valley–and it still makes arrow shafts. In every other respect, the company has changed radically. Doug Easton’s son, James L. Easton, 56, has transformed his father’s tiny business into a sporting-goods powerhouse with around 1,000 employees and annual sales that industry sources put at $120 million.

Under Jim Easton, the company has won success in a remarkable way: by expanding its product line rapidly, even while remaining intensely focused. Easton is, at its core, not a sporting-goods company, but an aluminum company. “Easton products are lightweight, high-strength aluminum products,” says ‘Steve Whiteley, manufacturing manager at the Van Nuys plant. “That’s where we’ve made our name.”

Most of Easton’s output is in two categories: equipment for team sports–sold by a branch of the company that calls itself Easton Sports–and equipment for individual sports, like archery, golf, skiing, and bicycling. Easton tends to sell products of the latter kind to other manufacturers, as opposed to selling them directly to dealers. Doug Easton stopped making finished aluminum arrows in 1949 and restricted himself thereafter to making arrow shafts–a policy that his son still follows. Otherwise, Jim Easton says, “we’d be competing with our customers.”

Easton now produces around 20 million aluminum and composite arrow shafts every year–most of them at its plant in Salt Lake City–making it far and away the largest such manufacturer. Easton’s most impressive growth in recent years, though, has come as a purveyor of equipment for team sports–baseball and hockey, in particular.

Between 1985 and 1991, says Doug Kelly, president of Easton Sports, that branch “had a compounded annual sales growth of 29 percent a year”; it now accounts for the largest share of the Easton company’s revenue. Easton products have won endorsements from such well-known professional athletes as hockey star Wayne Gretzky, of the Los Angeles Kings,’ and baseball star Will Clark, of the San Francisco Giants.

Comparisons with Easton’s competitors are difficult, because all the companies involved are either privately owned, like Easton, or part of a larger concern; but, Jim Easton says, “I think we’re No. 4, behind Wilson, Rawlings, and Spalding.” He sees Easton climbing to the No. 2 spot in a few years if its current growth pattern continues. The endorsements by the likes of Gretzky and Clark are part of an effort to, as Easton puts it, “get that brand building.”

All of the products that Easton makes itself, like arrow shafts, baseball bats, and hockey sticks (it contracts out the production of such things as baseball and hockey gloves), start with aluminum tubing. Easton makes some of its aluminum tubing, but it buys most of it from larger manufacturers; in either case, it’s what Easton does to the tubing that really matters.

As Whiteley says, “We add value to it by manipulating the grain structure in the aluminum. Many, many years of research have gone into working the aluminum to give it the strength that’s necessary for our products. We’re able to make a stronger, lighter bat, which is what the player wants.” Easton makes around 1.5 million slow pitch mens softball bats a year.

You might assume that the technology that Easton has developed for sporting goods would be readily adaptable to other uses, and you would be right. But as Jim Easton decided some years ago, for a company to be capable of doing something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should do it.

“When I was looking for new products to bring into the company,” he recalls, “we went off for a couple of years trying to sell our tube-drawing expertise to other manufacturing companies. We offered ourselves as a custom house, when they had a customer who could not find something in the standard mill.”

The idea, he says, was to “play off our expertise that we developed in producing arrow shafts, which was drawing aluminum tubing to precision tolerances” that were 10 times better than those that an ordinary tube mill could produce.

“We did that for a while,” Easton says, “but then I realized that we were a job shop,” and, as such, vulnerable to the economic ups and downs that afflict any job shop. “I felt it would be better to put our time and energy into product lines that we would own, and try to get some continuity in our production.” Easton all but dropped the custom work, except for a few long-time customers–and an occasional challenging high-tech project that is potentially of benefit to the sports business. (A current example: less-than-paper-thin aluminum tubing for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.)

Unlike the kind of work that comes into a job shop, demand for sporting goods doesn’t wilt in the face of recession, Easton says. “We’ve gone through this recession with continually growing sales and profits,” he says. “A $50,000 sports car is recession-sensitive, but a $30 or $40 baseball bat is less so.”

Doug Easton started making aluminum arrows when the difficulty of achieving uniformity in his wooden arrow shafts drove him to look for a more cooperative material.

He bought some aluminum tubing and made a few sets of arrows in 1939, but World War II interrupted his efforts. After the war, he couldn’t get a mill to produce tubing to his specifications–the quantity was too small–so he bought some standard tubing and figured out how to make it into what he wanted.

“He was willing to try things that other people weren’t,” Jim Easton says. “He developed a tube with a particular hardness,” combined with resilience, that permitted an arrow to stay straight even when it was shot into a target. The Easton company still relies on Doug Easton’s key discoveries. “To this day,” Jim Easton says, “we haven’t had a competitor that has put all the elements of our trade secrets together.”

Doug Easton’s techniques weren’t directly applicable to such products as baseball bats, Jim Easton says, but “it’s been basically that technology, and our amplification of that technology, that has led us into all these other areas.”

The senior Easton began hiring his first employees outside the family in the mid-’50s–around the time that Jim Easton was completing his studies for an engineering degree. “It was an issue, yes,” Easton says of his decision not to quit school and go to work full time when his father asked him to. “I wanted to finish school. So there was a conflict.”

Rather than give in, Jim took a job with an aircraft manufacturer and completed work on his degree by attending classes at night. He worked for that manufacturer for five years–long enough to realize that he didn’t want a career with a large company; then, he recalls, he and his father “got together.”

Jim Easton’s return in the early ’60s coincided with a major change in the Easton company–at his direction, it began expanding beyond arrow shafts. Ski-pole shafts came first, in 1964. His father “kind of got pushed and shoved into that by my insistence that we try something new,” Easton recalls. “I did a lot of it on my own, after hours.”

Starting in 1970, the Easton company made aluminum baseball bats for another manufacturer, under a private-label arrangement. “But we wanted our name on the bat someplace,” Jim Easton says, “because we didn’t want them using our quality for a couple of years and then shifting over to somebody else, to save a dollar a bat.” AFter the manufacturer refused to do that, Easton brought out its own brand, in the middle ’70s, and hooked up with an independent distributor.

When Easton bought that distributor– it now calls itself Easton Sports, as part of what Jim Easton admits is a confusing clutter of names–it was distributing only one product under the Easton label, the bats. “We were highly spring-oriented,” Doug Kelly says, “as far as the cash coming in. We needed to develop our fall sports.” That led to the ice-hockey line; at the same time, “we also expanded the baseball line,” Kelly says, “to be more than just a bat company.”

Now Easton Sports’ plan of action, Jim Easton says, is to start with “the main piece of equipment, like the hockey stick or the baseball bat. Once we establish our reputation, we bring on other product lines to complement that.”

The Easton company has another arrow in its quiver for the competitive wars: a quality program that is transforming its manufacturing operations. Through changes in the plant, Jim Easton says, ‘”we’ve been working smarter. We’ve been able to build more without adding more people.”

Easton launched what it calls its “Total Quality Control” program about two years ago, and “we’ve had some pretty amazing results from it,” says Whiteley, the manufacturing manager. “There has been a 20 percent increase in efficiency, and our equipment down time has decreased by 10 to 15 percent. Basically, wasted time is being eliminated.”

Easton is relying on “the teamwork approach, the empowerment approach,” Whiteley says, and taking advantage of its employees’ expertise: “Most of these people have worked here for many years–we have a very low turnover rate–and they probably know, better than any of us, how to make this product.”

Each of the two dozen departments in the Van Nuys plant—many bearing such esoteric names as the “taper swage department” (that department shapes, or tapers, the bats)–wrote and posted its own “statement of commitment” early in 1992. Easton places a lot of emphasis on satisfying internal customers, Whiteley says, and that goal is typically part of the posted statements of commitment.

“In a manufacturing environment like this,” he says, “very few people ever get to meet the final customer. So we [identify] the internal customers, and that’s who [the departments] have got to please.”

Pleasing the final customer is, of course, the ultimate point of all that internal activity. Wayne Gretzky not only endorses Easton hockey sticks, he plays with one–and no one doubts that he would quit doing that if his Easton stick ever let him down. As Whiteley puts it, “We’re dealing with athletes at the top of their class, and they’re completely unforgiving people.”

The war against smoking: has it gone too far?

Watch out if you’re a student smoker at Hopewell Valley Central High School in New Jersey. Any student found smoking on school property is automatically slapped with a five-day suspension. A second offense costs a student a nine-day suspension and a possible $100 fine.

Most Hopewell Valley students seem to favor the new anti smoking penalties. The school’s bathrooms used to be blue with smoke. Teachers sometimes falsely charged emerging students with smoking because of the smoky odor of their clothing.

Hopewell Valley’s principal, David G. Oliver, is pleased with the new rules. “Our bathrooms, which used to be pretty doggone bad, are much, much, much, much better,” he says. “We’re approaching it from a health standpoint first and a legal standpoint second,” he goes on to explain. “We don’t want our kids slowly killing themselves in front of their peers.”

But some student smokers don’t agree. “It’s an attempt at social engineering,” one complained. “My health is my own health, not the school’s health.”

The antismoking rule at Hopewell Valley mirrors a trend showing up throughout the United States. Smokers feel they have become outcasts, allowed to satisfy their habit in fewer and fewer places.

The crackdown on smoking really began in 1964 when the U.S. surgeon general released a landmark report linking smoking with lung cancer. The government followed with a series of measures forbidding smoking in public places and banning cigarette advertising on radio and TV.

Private companies and local governments have followed the lead of the U.S. government in passing ever more restrictive laws against smoking.

In 1983, San Francisco became the first of many cities to ban smoking in offices and in other workplaces. This year, the McDonald’s Corporation banned smoking completely in its 1,400 wholly owned fastfood restaurants. An association of 90,000 chain restaurants has urged the government to ban smoking not only in restaurants but in all public buildings. This move, the association seems to feel, would free restaurants from having to make such decisions on their own – and possibly angering smokers.

Secondhand Smoke

Until recently, much of the opposition to smoking was based on the harm smokers did to themselves. But a 1993 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that nonsmokers face a threat from inhaling secondhand smoke. The report identifies 43 substances in secondhand smoke that can produce cancer. Just being around a person who is smoking can be dangerous, claims the report. Backing the EPA report are 30 scientific studies from around the world that point to secondhand smoke as a health danger.

The EPA now classifies secondhand smoke as a group A carcinogen (cause of cancer) – putting it among the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. In response to the EPA classification, President Clinton has given his backing to a proposed law that would outlaw smoking in all buildings used by the public.

But several cigarette companies call the threat of secondhand smoke exaggerated. Last year, the Philip Morris company sued the EPA for officially labeling secondhand smoke a carcinogen.

Cigarettes as a Drug

This year, another government agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stepped up the war on smoking by considering labeling cigarettes as an addictive drug. The FDA charges that smokers become dependent on the how much nicotine in a cigarette, and smoke to satisfy their addiction.

The FDA also accuses some cigarette makers of deliberately adding more nicotine to tobacco to hook smokers on cigarettes. “Evidence brought to our attention is accumulating that suggests that cigarette manufacturers may intend that their products contain nicotine … to achieve drag effects in some smokers,” it said.

Cigarette manufacturers deny that nicotine is addictive and deny charges that they add more nicotine to cigarettes to hook smokers. “The presence of nicotine does not make cigarettes a drug or smoking an addiction,” says William Campbell, head of Philip Morris. “We do not set does nicotine cause cancer levels,” says Dr. Alexander Spears of Lorillard Tobacco.

If the FDA proves its clam that nicotine is an addictive drug, the agency would be able to regulate the sale of cigarettes as a controlled drug. In June, the American Medical Association urged just that step. And some health experts argue that the FDA should even ban cigarettes as an addictive drug. But such drastic action is believed unlikely.

Tough Measures Go Too Far

A lot of people feel that the war on smoking has gone too far. These people argue that:

* The campaign to ban smoking will lead to “health police” campaigns banning other bad habits, such as drinking coffee or eating fatty foods.

* It’s good to try to persuade people to behave better. But the antismoking campaign tries to bully smokers.

* Adults are allowed to do many things that are bad for their health. Why restrict smoking?

* Millions of people feel that they can’t quit smoking. It doesn’t help them to be harassed about a habit they may hate.

* Tobacco is important to the U.S. economy. There are more than 137,000 tobacco farms in the United States. Entire farming regions specialize in growing tobacco. The tobacco industry is a $48 billion-a-year giant, employing hundreds of thousands of workers.

Tough Measures Are Justified

Supporters of tough measures against smoking feel that such measures help the people. Here are arguments used by supporters of the war against smoking:

* Smoking must be closely restricted because it affects not only smokers but – through secondhand smoke – people around smokers.

* There is no indication that other habits such as coffee drinking will become the target of campaigns such as that against smoking.

* The antismoking campaign has improved the nation’s health by persuading countless smokers to give up the habit.

* It is the government’s duty to educate the public fully on matters of health.

* Overwhelming scientific evidence says that smoking hurts people. The government ought to act on this evidence.

* Shouldn’t anyone stop a person about to drive over a cliff? That is all the government is trying to do.

Invicta watches review to help you find the best watch out there

There are many companies which have made their mark in the watch making industry. The Invicta watch group is one such company which has a long standing relationship with its beloved customers. For all the exquisitely versatile products the company has launched in its century old history, several of them have made it high in the collector’s list.

This Invicta watches review is about two such products which have been delivering on their promises consistently over the years. Even with all the astonishing features, it isn’t priced very high by the company, upholding their motto of manufacturing high end watches at affordable prices.

  • The Reserve Arsenal collection

Since the time, this collection was released; it has received overwhelming praise from the horologists around the world for its perfect craftsmanship.

The 0338 model of this collection is one of the low priced watches. That does not mean the features are no good. They are uniquely designed to deliver on the requirements accurately. The case and bracelet are made of stainless steel with black links at the center of the bracelet. It has three gray colored sub dials for hour, minute and seconds along with a date window. The dial is black with numerals in white. The hands, hour markers and Arabic numerals are luminous.

The 13980 model is truly a treat to the eyes. It is a medium priced watch. The band is two toned with black and rose gold color. It weighs 1.8 pounds in total. The case is round shaped stainless steel. The clasp is of deployment type. The dial is white in color and case is 48 millimeters in diameter. Again, it has three black toned sub dials. The Arabic numerals, index hour markings and hands are luminous at night. For a slightly higher price, you can get a similar watch with mother of pearl dial and the combination of black and rose gold will be interchanged.

  • The speedway collection

These products spell out durability and sophistication. It has very attractive, vintage looking pieces.

The 9212 models of this collection are hand assembled meticulously. This elegant and sporty timepiece has a two toned stainless steel bracelet in silver and gold (24k gold plating). The case also two toned similarly. The bezel is gold plated and stationary. The dial is white with three beautifully crafted sub dials in gold tone. The markers are all in gold with a date window at 4 o’clock position. The hands are all white and coated with luminous Tritnite. You can get the same watch with black dial as a change.

The 9211 models of the speedway collection have been a favorite among customers since the launch. It is easily evident in Invicta watches review by customers. This watch is completely silver toned stainless steel with white dial. The central links in the bracelet are polished. The sub dials are black. The hands and hour markers are luminous due to Tritnite. You can totally go for this watch if you are looking for a chic and sporty look.

Building an observing chair

A telescope‘s eyepiece is never at the right height. Either you have to stand precariously on tiptoe or squat indecorously to reach it. A chair can relieve some backache but it’s usually too tall or too short. Some commercially available observer’s chairs are a little better because they adjust over a range of about six inches in height.

But this range is too small for my Dobsonian. Its eyepiece can vary in height by 30 inches. So I designed my own adjustable chair that uses a tripod base for stability. Its seat slides to a height of 42 inches and down to less than 21 inches. The chair accommodates eyepiece heights of about 40 inches to nearly 70 inches.

You can make a copy of my chair in two or three weekends from five 1x2s eight feet long, a one-foot length of 1×3, a one-foot length of 1×6, a two-foot length of 1×8 or its equivalent in plywood, and a 1′ by 3′ section of 3/4″ exterior-grade (AC) plywood. A one-foot length of oak 1×4 is optional; this piece can be cut instead from 3/4″ plywood. Hardware consists of sixteen 3″-long #8 wood screws and nine sets of 3″-long 1/4-20 bolts with washers, lock washers, and wing nuts. The total cost of parts including the finish should run under $50.

Making the Tripod

Each leg of the tripod uses two 1x2s that are 48″ long. Eighteen 3″-long 1×2 spacers separate the leg pieces. Two of the legs use four spacers glued and nailed 11″ apart. Start with the end of the first spacer flush with the ends of the leg pieces. The third leg uses eight spacers set 3″ apart. This leg will hold the seat. Be sure to use a glue rated for exterior use. Finishing nails (3d) hold the spacers in place while the glue sets.

Round the bottom end of each leg so it contacts the ground properly and the top end so it doesn’t strike the tripod head when the leg pivots. Drill a 1/4″ hole four inches from the bottom of each leg. Drill a second hole in each leg 3/4″ from the top end.

The top ends of the legs attach to the tripod head. The head consists of two parts: a horizontal top piece and three vertical leg supports. The top piece should be round or hexagonal to prevent a sharp corner from digging into your back. Cut it from the 1×6.

The three leg supports are 2 1/2″ lengths of 1×3. Drill a 1/4″ hole i n the center of each support. For added strength, you can cut one support slightly longer, about 3 1/4″. This enables you to bevel the end of the piece, so the support nestles against the ends of the other two.

Set one leg support in place, checking that the wood grain lies parallel with the top piece of the tripod head. Glue and secure this piece in place with two #8 screws. Glue and screw the other two pieces 120 [degrees] apart from the first piece.

Three spreaders keep the tripod legs from moving apart. These are 20″ lengths of 1×2. Round one end and drill a 1/4″ hole 3/4″ from the end. This end connects to the bottom hole of the leg. Drill a second hole 3/4″ from the other end, going through the 1 1/2″ dimension of the piece. This end connects to the spreader plate.

The spreader plate can be round or hexagonal, about 4″ across. Cut it from the remaining 1×6 material. Drill three holes 120 [degrees] apart and 1 1/4″ from the center. Or you can use two sturdy gate hinges mounted on the sides of the spreaders in place of the plate.

Now is the time to sand and finish the tripod parts. This will help keep the parts from swelling and warping. Use an outdoor enamel or an exterior-grade varnish. Be careful that you don’t build up too much paint in the slots of the leg the seat rests on.

The Sliding Seat

The key to the tripod chair is the sliding seat. Hidden in the middle of the seat assembly is a “finger” that engages the slots in the leg. Rocking the seat up disengages the finger and allows you to move the seat up and down.

Start with the sides. Cut these from the 1 x8. The bottom of each piece is 6 1/2″ across, while the tops are 4 3/4″ wide. This trapezoidal shape permits the seat assembly to rock. The back of the seat assembly consists of three 11 1/2″ lengths of 1×2.

The front of the assembly is more complicated (see above). It consists of four pieces: two seat supports, the finger, and a seat cleat. Cut the seat supports from 3/4″ plywood. Each support is basically triangular with a skinny rectangle added to one of the long sides. The base of the triangle forms the top of the seat support. The long sides of the triangle are 11 1/2″, separated by a 21 [degrees] angle, and the triangle’s base is 81/4″. The “rectangle” replicates a 1×2; it’s 1 1/2″ wide and 11 1/2″ long.

The finger is 11 1/2″ long. I made mine from an oak 1×4 since this piece takes the brunt of the weight. The top of the piece is 1 1/2″ wide. About three inches from the bottom it starts to flare out, reaching its full 3″ width 3/4″ to 1″ from the bottom.

Sand the bottom “knuckle” part of the finger. This part must slide easily into the slots of the tripod leg, so test fit it in your assembled leg.

Make the seat cleat from an 81/4″-long piece of 1×2. Cut the ends so they match the angular sides of the top of the seat support.

To assemble the seat support, glue the three back pieces together and the finger and seat cleat between the two seat supports. Then glue these subassemblies to the side pieces using 2″-long #8 screws to hold the pieces while the glue dries. Drill pilot holes for the screws, especially if you use oak for the finger.

The remaining bit of construction is the seat itself. Use 3/4″ plywood for strength. My seat is 9″ long, 4″ wide at the front, and 7 1/2″ wide at the back. Round all the corners and the edges and sand well — you don’t want any splinters. Glue and screw the seat to the seat cleat with two screws.

With the seat in place, you can sand and finish the seat assembly. For additional comfort, you can add some foam and cover the seat with vinyl. Or try the gel seat material they sell in bike shops.

Slide the seat assembly onto its tripod leg and then attach the legs to the tripod head with 1/4-20 bolts. Attach the spreaders first to the plate and then to the legs. Now you have a working tripod chair.

To transport your chair, simply remove the bolts holding two of the spreaders to the legs. Rotate the loose spreaders toward the remaining spreader, fold the spreaders up toward the leg, and fold the legs together.

With your new chair, you’ll no longer perch precariously over your scope, risking life and optics. And as your eyepiece goes up and down, so will you.

Flower gardening: more than meets the eye

Creating a colorful garden should be a snap-a spot of yellow here, a touch of pink over there, and maybe even a splash of lavender or bright crimson just around the comer. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? We plan borders so the colors of plants blooming together are compatible, and we combine perennials of varying heights to fight that monotonous look.

A good design always strives to bring out even the most subtle features of both flowers and foliage. Perennial borders and other areas of the landscape must remain fresh and vibrant with the coming of each new season. Garden-color selection is more, much more, than simply choosing plants whose blooms complement and whose mature heights produce a pleasing flow to the eye. The best gardens, the ones that are remembered, have an ambiance all their own. Gardens have character; they develop feelings; and most of all, they create a mood.


Unfortunately, for many gardeners light simply means full sun, partial sun, or shade, and which plants will grow best under each condition. To fully appreciate how light can dominate the mood of a landscape, gardeners must have just as faithful an appreciation for the value of light as do nature photographers. Blues look much richer at dusk than in the bright light of midday. Likewise, using blue flowers near tables, benches, waterfalls, or sculptures will make these garden features even more inviting as light values diminish toward evening. Planting blue flowers near a reflection pool promotes a mood that is very restful and calming to our emotions.

It is difficult to describe the various shades of blues in words, and even harder to photograph them accurately. Some blues naturally project more intimate feelings than others. Foliage and berries can bring an added dimension to using blue in the garden. Especially in shaded areas, clusters of perennials with just a touch of blue or bluish green foliage can be quite complementary to plants with yellow or orange flowers. By comparison, most gardeners find it difficult to combine the more intense blues, like some forms of the Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens), with other colors in the landscape.


Vivid reds, vibrant crimsons, or bold scarlets are anything but subtle participants in the landscape. When backed by green foliage, red flowers appear more brilliant and distinct. Where as some colors almost seem to melt or blend in when viewed from a distance, most shades of red stand their ground well. Brighter shades of red can be used to good advantage in the landscape. With forethought and planning, they lend a dramatic statement to the perennial border. Red can be an overpowering color, however, and its use must be quite selective for best results. Large, unbroken swaths of bold red flowers can be exhausting to the eye. Such garish displays often overwhelm neighboring areas of the landscape, no matter how well-designed.

Tulips are available in many shades, from rose red to carmine or scarlet, and even groups as small as a dozen bulbs can provide refreshing pockets of beauty. Patches of the small-statured tulip Red Riding Hood (Tulipa greigi “Red Riding Hood”) offer a fresh breath of early spring color. Later-blooming tulips, such as the Darwin Hybrids, also help to set spring off on the right foot. Such varieties as “Apeldoom” (bright red) or “Red matador” (carmine red) are equally stunning, even when used in groups as small as 30 to 50 bulbs.

Yellows Yellow-hued flowers can be quite charming indeed. Soft, delicate yellows are especially inviting, because the eye is readily drawn to even the palest hue. Yet serene, yellow flowers can be used with little fear of overpowering the garden. Shocking shades of yellow or yellow-orange are too difficult for most gardeners to blend successfully into the landscape scheme. Many yellows can be used to help buffer some of the more overpowering shades of scarlet or vermilion. Even the softest yellows can stand by themselves and not simply tone down or mellow a hotter color. Do not make the mistake, however, of placing soft-yellow flowers in a location too distant for the eye to appreciate. A background of dark green foliage is greatly enhanced by a foreground cluster of serene yellow flowers. Another pleasing combination is soft-pink or light-rose blooms planted against a foreground of clear yellow flowers.

Great numbers of yellow flowering shrubs and herbaceous perennials are available to work into the garden scheme. Moreover, yellow flowers can color borders, from the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas,) in early spring to our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in the fall.

Plants having varying shades of yellow cast throughout their foliage are popular components of many landscapes. They provide the garden with a certain grace and charm duplicated in few other ways. Most landscape designers overlook the subtle beauty of yellow variegated foliage. Only a handful of overworked favorites, like some forms of liriope, miscanthus, or privet, are ever used. That is a shame, because the subtle, yellow variegated leaves of certain bamboos, sedges, and even pines, among others, can be excellent choices for many gardens. A single plant or at most a small grouping can be all that is needed in the right location.


White, when used to its fullest potential, is in many ways the most adaptable of colors. White can be a supreme complement to other colors, although few flowers are actually pure white. Most have tinges of pink, violet, or some other shade. The subtleties of many white-flowered plants are seldom appreciated by most gardeners. The white petals of some lilies are quite vibrant, compared with the blooms of a sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), which appear more cream colored and rank among the most beautiful flowers to be found anywhere in the garden.

The use of brilliant or dazzling shades of white must be tempered somewhat in the landscape. Whites are in many ways, however, the mediators of the garden, allowing most other colors to blend together more harmoniously. White flowers are also easier for the eye to pick up in dim or fading light. The time of day one tends to enjoy a garden may, for instance, influence the quantity of white flowers used in a perennial border.

White flowers can make dark green foliage appear much more vivid in a garden setting. This is one reason the deep evergreen leaves of the southern magnolia are so well-complemented by its own white blooms. White flowers also complement a range of garden furniture, fountains, or walkways better than many other colors. The cold, stark appearance of stone seats or statuary is greatly softened by the white blooms of a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), Merrill. magnolia (Magnolia denudata “Merrill”), or Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata). Likewise, white emperor or lily-flowering tulips always look at home along a red brick walkway.

Even more than whites, the silvers and grays are especially overlooked by most gardeners. The foliage of many plants can be quite stunning and can range from pewter through various shades of blue-gray or greenish-gray to light silver.


Green is so common before our eyes in nearly any garden that we almost forget it exists. The foliage of most yews or boxwoods is quite dark compared to the much lighter leaves of a tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) or the bluish green hue of a Bar Harbor creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis “Bar Harbor”). Green as a color is quite soothing to our eyes. We take for granted the restful qualities of a simple green lawn. Even the green foliage of our common maples, ashes, or oaks is too often over looked. Green tends to take some of the harsh edge off the hot reds or oranges. It is also not given the credit it deserves for accentuating foreground plantings of flowers from pink to yellow or blue. Finally, even earth-toned garden structures from brown benches to slate gray statues are complemented by surrounding green foliage.

Changing Colors

Much more goes into the planning of a garden than simply choosing a handful of compatible colors. A few of our most popular flowers even change color as they mature. The flower buds of some viburnums and crab apples start out pink but often turn a stunning white. Other flowers may have broadly striped petals. The Kaufmanniana-type tulip “Stresa” is well-known for its attractive red-yellow blooms. Finally, many daffodils boast bicolor flowers. “Barrett Browning” features white petals and an orange inner cup.

Designing a garden that will be remembered for its beauty is no easy task. Of all factors to be considered, the proper use of color is perhaps the most elusive. Some colors will make a garden appear significantly larger than it really is; others may convey to visitors the feeling of peacefulness or serenity. A few colors even accentuate the shape or form of an object in the garden, such as a planting urn or sundial. Take the time to use each color to its fullest advantage. Your efforts will be repaid many times over.

5 Simple home-life improvements

1 Get your caffeine fix down cold

It’s iced coffee season, and the richest-tasting version is cold brew. Fair warning: It’s potent, so dilute with water or milk, unless you enjoy acting like a crazy person. You’ll need coffee grounds the size of kosher salt, says Liam Kenna of Stumptown Coffee Roasters; if you’re grinding at the supermarket, it’s the setting between a flat-bottom basket and French press. Use 4 cups cold water to Vi lb coffee. Combine in a pitcher and steep in your fridge 12 to 18 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain it twice through a paper filter. The smooth, delicious result will keep refrigerated up to two weeks.

2 Cooking tips from a cutie

Do those crinkly eyes look familiar? That’s Ben Ford, chef and owner of Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, CA, author of the fab new cookbook Taming the Feast, and dead ringer for his dad, Harrison Ford. Obviously, we wanted to know what he’s eating now: “Grilled corn on the cob. Peel back the husk–but not totally off–and remove the silk. Slather an herb butter all over, pull the husk back up, and grill for a few minutes. It’ll taste so smoky and delicious.”

3 Master prints

Pattern mixing isn’t only for outfits (see page 68), as Jamie Meares, a Raleigh, NC-based designer, proves with the gorgeous room below. “Stick to one color family, then layer different patterns and textures. Start with small, affordable accents like pillows that can easily be swapped out,” she says. Lastly, “Be confident. When it’s stuff you love, you can’t mess it up.”

4 Perked-up pots

A Make over those terra-cotta pots gathering dust in your garage with this trick from Cheryl Najafi of cherylstyle .com: Wipe off any dust, plot your design freehand or with stencils, then put it on using two coats of exterior paint. She likes doing a street number or last name and setting the pot on the front stoop.

5 Watermelon wonder

We love this summerific take on pico de gallo from the new Dos Caminos Tacos cookbook. In a large bowl, gently toss 2 cups watermelon cubes with a dash of sea salt. Add 2 serrano chiles (sliced paper-thin) with seeds, 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice, 1 1/2 Tbsp thinly sliced mint leaves, and another teaspoon of sea salt. Toss and refrigerate at least 2 hours, so the flavors meld. Your chips just made a new friend.

Maximum overdrive: six stompboxes go for the gain

A survey of six top rated overdrive pedals. Some have tubes, others are solid-state, but all aim to replicate the organic-sounding burn of hard-working tube amp.

With all due respect to the “Fuzzbox Revival,” there’s still a place on the pedalboard for boxes that sound more like the smooth overdrive of a tube amp than a swarm of killer bees pollinating a Skilsaw. The half-dozen contenders surveyed here go for the sort of real-life distortion that, at its best, adds girth without compromising the innate color of your guitar or amp.

Budda Amplification Phatman

With its dual 12AX7 preamp tubes, it’s no surprise that the Phatman Pure Vacuum Tube Overdrive offers convincing, tube-flavored gain. More remarkable are its beautifully tuned tone pots and the subtle shadings of its supersensitive gain control. Warm and musical, the Phatman is a tone-fiend’s dream. There are no midrange or presence knobs, but the wide-ranging treble and bass controls cover that ground just fine. Cranking the treble adds articulate bite, and rolling back the bass clarifies the lower midst It’s almost impossible to find a bad tone–even extreme settings are usable. Treble up/gain down yields a clean solo boost; the opposite configuration provides tubby-in-a-good-way blues tones. All settings are extremely responsive to playing dynamics and volume-pot manipulations.

Thanks to a light (but sturdy) brushed-aluminum housing, the Phatman’s big, 8″ x 7″ enclosure is not as cumbersome as it looks. The plate that protects the tubes pops off in seconds for easy re-tubing. The interior work is tidy, with all components mounted on a single PC board. A 12-volt, wall-wart adapter is included.

CTech Sonny Boy

An asymmetrical housing is only one of the offbeat features of the Sonny Boy. Like a SansAmp, this pedal aspires to work as both an overdrive stompbox and a direct-recording tool. The solid-state device delivers detailed tones that imitate not only tube-preamp overdrive, but also power-amp thump and the tonal contours of a miked speaker. Marketed as a blues pedal, the Sonny Boy offers 10 presets with evocative names like “Texas Flood” and “Boogie Chillen.” While the settings don’t necessarily sound like their namesakes (don’t expect instant SRV or John Lee Hooker), the box offers an impressive array of blues-approved colors.

“Stone Crazy,” for example, has a peaky, notched-wah quality; “Back Scratcher” is dark and swampy; and “Chicken Shack” is pointy and aggressive. Separate gain and presence controls let you draw tonal variations from each preset, while a “’50s/’60s” switch kicks in a harsher distortion sound. There are a lot more than ten sounds here, and you don’t have to be a blues player to appreciate them.

The Sonny Boy works best straight into a mixing board. Its sounds are so strongly flavored that they tend to clash with those of a strongly flavored, vintage-style amp. And, unlike a SansAmp, the Sonny Boy is not very dynamically responsive–it refuses to clean up as you back off your volume pot. The presets aren’t arranged in any particular order, and because the selector knob and its detents are rather small, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the settings before you attempt to dial in tones on the fly. The pedal requires a 9-volt battery or AC adapter (not included). Battery changes are quick, but the detachable compartment cover is easy to lose.

DOD Mystic Blues Overdrive

Housed in the company’s standard box (which has been upgraded with a hinged battery-compartment cover and a sturdier footswitch), the FX102 Mystic Blues Overdrive is a straightforward overdriver with simple drive, level, high, and low controls. The Mystic Blues offers a relatively subtle overdrive from somewhere in the Tube Screamer quadrant, but with a sharper treble attack. It can generate plenty of high-end sizzle, but while preserving lows, it doesn’t much augment them. At lower settings, the pedal adds subtle bulk, but overall, it emphasizes bite over wallop. Requires a 9-volt battery or adapter (not included).

Dredge-Tone Audio Dredge Overdrive

You’ve got to love the simplicity of the Dredge Overdrive–its only controls are an on/offswitch and a “more” knob. Despite the absence of tone pots, the Dredge delivers the sort of overdrive sought by many ’90s rock players, adding pumped-up lows and a high-end fuzziness that manages to sound raucous without overshadowing your sound. It offers convincingly tubelike response, especially at lower settings. In fact, you might even leave the Dredge permanently engaged in order to add girth to a guitar with less-than-studly pickups. The lack of separate level and gain controls means you can’t really get a semi-clean solo boost, but you may be surprised by how this seemingly inflexible pedal administers precisely the jolt you seek. Requires a 9-volt battery or adapter (not included).

Menatone Blue Collar

The Blue Collar makes good on its promise of capturing the sound of a vintage plexi Marshall. Like the amp whose gain stage it imitates, the Blue Collar is less about overall tonal range than delivering one very particular type of crunch. Plexi fans adore the way their amps ease into buttery overdrive without losing their bell-like highs, and the Blue Collar nails that basic quality. Single tone and presence pots offer gorgeous flavors throughout their ranges. Tone down/presence up yields a smoky blues vibe, while the opposite setting crackles with ’70s-glam-rock fizz. Lower the drive and raise the output for a lovely, semi-clean solo boost, or floor the gain and thrill to the way the tones swell without becoming raspy. Even at full distortion, major and minor chords played across all six strings sing sweetly. I was amazed by the extent to which the Blue Collar made a super-clean blackface Fender Showman sound like an old 50-watt Marshall. Requires a 9-volt battery or AC adapter (not included).

Overdrive Electronics Valve Grinder

The Valve Grinder is big in every sense. The 7″ x 4’/2″ X 3″ die-cast box weighs almost four pounds, and a peek inside reveals why: It’s full of hefty, hand-wired components–including a large transformer, dual 12AX7 tubes, and an internal power supply connected to an 8′ appliance grade power cable. There’s even an external fuse socket. In addition to its bass, mid, and treble knobs, the Grinder employs separate “fuzz” and “crunch” controls to evoke the overdrive of an amp’s preamp and output stages. Cranking the fuzz adds bright, fizzy distortion. Raising the crunch knob introduces a deeper, sweatier grind. The pedal’s gain knobs act like additional tone controls. There are many timbres in the Valve Grinder, and they are uniformly big and aggressive. It’s the 18-wheeler of gain pedals.

The Valve Grinder’s interior has a home-workbench look, complete with gloppy soldering. But despite the less-than-stellar wiring, the unit feels genuinely roadworthy. Be warned, however, of certain tonal eccentricities, such as the ranges of the tone pots. Below two o’clock, the treble control drastically siphons off highs. Cranking the bass knob unleashes major low-end mass, but the relatively mild mid control is pitched unusually low. Another quirk: the input and output jacks are arranged in reverse order.

Buzz Factor

Depending on your needs and tastes, most of these pedals do a good job of delivering warm, smooth distortion colors. In particular, the tube-powered Budda Phatman is a great choice for grind gourmets who want to preserve the flavor of a great guitar/amp combo, while the Overdrive Electronics Valve Grinder offers myriad shades of aggressive crunch. Both units consume large amounts of pedalboard space–their only downfall.

Each of the solid-state boxes does its dirty deed in a unique manner. The CTech Sonny Boy is a cool direct-recording tool, but listen before you leap if you plan on using it with an amp. The DOD Mystic Blues sounded overly edgy when used with a single-coil guitar, but it might be just the thing for adding crisp attack to a humbucker-equipped ax. The Dredge-Tone Audio Dredge Overdrive is a great-sounding distortion booster for those who like to keep it simple. And if ’70s British rock tones suit you, you’ll love the vintage-Marshall vibe of the Menatone Blue Collar.

The party house: how to create the ideal home for a grown-up mixer


It needs to be comfortable, stylish, and flexible. This rules out 90 percent of all furniture on the market.


For starters: A recliner is an argument with every woman who ever lived. Instead of putting a giant, cock-blocking marshmallow in your living room, buy good armchairs with footstools; perfectly comfy, and the ottoman doubles as another seat. Or, with a tray on it, a place to put pretzels and beers.


Go conservative with color and (if any) pattern, and don’t go too big; a sofa needs to be only long enough for a nap. Plus, nobody likes sitting in the middle of the seat.


They can be useful, if your room is big and the pieces can be arranged in different ways. Orient the chair(s) and the sofa in an L shape, rather than facing one another–the better to actually hear what other people are saying. And on cocktail tables, consider two or three small ottomans rather than one large, room-clogging slab of wood. Again: flexibility. Additional seating. Easier to move when the dancing starts.


So, your main rug: highly patterned in dark colors. Hard to beat a classic Oriental. Also, consider a cowhide: masculine, interesting, unstainable.


Don’t serve anything red or sticky. Also: Delicate wood surfaces are just water stains and heartaches waiting to happen. Plus, you’ll be that guy who runs around putting coasters under everybody’s drink. For tabletops: thick glass, stone, tile. On coasters: They need to be absorbent, or they’ll stick annoyingly to your glass. Wood or cork is nice. Fire up the chain saw and cut quarter-inch slices off a three-inch-diameter hardwood log–perfect.


If you have space. But it’s easier and less messy to make drinks in the kitchen, where the ice and sink are. Happy medium: Get an ice bucket, and use the cart only for whiskeys while the rest of the bar lives in the kitchen. Put the bar and the table with food on opposite ends of the room. Promotes flow.


But don’t provide seating for everyone. A good party depends on movement and flow; you don’t want people parked in the same chair all night. Figure on enough seating for a third of your guests.


Light a candle; leave the matches. Go easy on the reading material; maybe a copy of Schott’s Miscellany. Offer a stack of small hand towels and a basket to toss them into; a single hand towel will be sopping (and unappealing) after the first three people use it.

Reviewing the basics: reverb

At one time or another, you’ve probably walked down a large hallway with a polished marble floor and stone walls. Each step you take is followed by an echo that seems to hang in the air for awhile. The echo is not a clear repeat of each footfall, but a smear of sound that dies away slowly.

That lingering sound is called reverberation, or reverb, and it is a vital part of virtually every sound you hear. Your brain uses it to determine the size, shape, and other characteristics of the space in which the sound was produced. It occurs naturally almost everywhere, and it is artificially simulated in the recording studio. In fact, reverb is probably the most common signal-processing effect of them all.


Almost all enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces exhibit some reverberation. The process starts with a sound wave that emanates in a more or less spherical pattern from a sound source and expands toward any listeners in the room, as well as nearby surfaces: walls, ceilings, windows, furniture, etc. (Speakers don’t necessarily radiate sound in a spherical pattern; the radiation pattern depends on the design of the speaker.)

Once the sound wave reaches a surface, it is reflected back into the room, where it’s reflected again and again by various surfaces. These multiple reflections also reach the listener. However, the initial sound waves almost always reach the listener first because the path between the source sound and the listener is shorter than the path taken by any of the sound’s reflections.

Each reflection is generally lower in amplitude than the preceding one, because the sound wave loses some energy each time it is reflected. Most materials absorb some of the sound wave’s energy and reflect the rest. As a result, the reverberation dies away over time.

Normally, you can’t hear these reflections individually because they happen in such quick succession. Most rooms are no more than a few dozen feet long in any direction, and sound travels at about 1,130 feet per second in air. Therefore, the sound waves are reflected many times per second in every direction (up/down, right/left, front/back). Our brain tends to smear all these rapid reflections into a continuous sound, which we call reverberation. This sound has a haunting, ringing quality that lingers for some period of time after the original sound stops.

Several factors contribute to the specific reverberation of a particular space. For example, the larger the space, the longer it takes sound waves to reach the walls and reflect back to your ears. Heavy drapes and thick-pile carpeting absorb much more sound than marble walls and hardwood floors. In addition, people tend to absorb a fair amount of sound energy (unless they’re wearing suits of armor), so an empty room has different reverb characteristics than the same space when it’s crowded with people.

The phenomenon of reverb can be distilled into several distinct parts. The most obvious component is the time it takes the reverberation to become inaudible. This decay time depends primarily on the reflective properties of the room–as determined by the texture of the walls, ceiling, floor, and furnishings–and the amplitude of the original sound. Also, high frequencies tend to fade away more quickly than low frequencies. In very large spaces, such as enclosed stadiums, there could be a perceptible delay between the original sound and the onset of reverberation.


One problem with acoustic reverberation is that you can’t easily control it. The physical size of the space limits what you can do, so studio recordings normally rely on artificial reverb. For maximum flexibility and creativity in signal processing, acoustic musicians are often recorded in a relatively “dead” (that is, non reverberant) environment, and their signal is passed through a reverb unit that digitally simulates various acoustic environments. Electronic sound sources also benefit from passing through a reverb unit.

Best reverb units are actually multi-effects processors that perform reverb, modulation effects, and several other signal processing chores, which I’ll discuss later in this part of the book. Many synthesizers also include onboard multi-effects processors that apply reverb in addition to other effects.

To program a reverb unit effectively, you need to know the basic parameters you will encounter. The most fundamental parameter is reverb type. Most units offer several types of reverb, generally based on different acoustic environments. As you might expect, a room reverb simulates a small to medium-size room, while a hall reverb simulates a large room or auditorium. Some units offer a stadium or cathedral reverb, as well. Select the reverb type that best suits the acoustic space you wish to simulate.

Many reverb units also include several digital simulations of early types of reverb processing. In the early days of recording, engineers sent a recorded signal to a speaker in a small, tile-lined chamber. A microphone placed in the chamber picked up the sound from the speaker along with the subsequent reflections inside the chamber. Reverb chambers are prized for their lush, blossoming quality and were a major component of the classic Phil Spector sound in the early 1960s.

Spring reverbs employ a physical spring with a microphone transducer attached to one end and a speaker transducer attached to the other end. The signal passes through the spring to create a reverb effect. Spring reverb stend to produce a boingy, chattery timbre with accentuated high end. Plate reverbs use a metal plate instead of a spring, with pickups placed at various locations on the plate. Plate reverbs typically produce a sharp timbre that greatly enhances the punch of drum and percussion tracks.

Many units also offer several reverb types that have little to do with acoustic reverb. These types are generally known as nonlinear reverb. For example, a reverse reverb starts from silence and grows to maximum level, after which it cuts off abruptly, which is opposite from the way natural reverb works. A gated reverb starts normally but suddenly is cut off after a user-definable gate time. Gated reverb is often applied to the snare drum in pop and rock music.

Once you have selected the basic reverb type, there are several parameters you can play with. The first and most obvious parameter is reverb or decay time. This parameter determines how long the reverb effect remains audible, and it lets you control the apparent size and reflectivity of the simulated acoustical space. For example, a room reverb might have a decay time of one or two seconds, whereas a hall reverb might last three to five seconds. A cathedral reverb might last as long as eight to ten seconds. If the environment is highly reflective, the reverb time is longer.

Sometimes, you can actually discern the first few reflections separately before the reverberation starts to smear together, particularly in large acoustical spaces. These early reflections have a strong influence on how you perceive reverb in a large space. In a digital reverb unit, the time between the original sound and the very first reflection is controlled by the predelay parameter. As the predelay time gets longer, the apparent size of the space increases and your apparent location within the space gets closer to the “center” of the room. Predelay is generally no more than 500 milliseconds and typically in the 10 to 50 ms range.

Another parameter that relates to early reflections is called, reasonably enough, early reflections (in some units, it’s called density). This parameter controls the time between the first few reflections, which is generally just a few milliseconds. This might seem insignificant, but it determines the “opacity,” or density, of the reverb sound during the first few moments. Like reverb time, density helps simulate different room sizes; higher density values simulate larger spaces, because it takes longer for the early reflections to reach your ears in a large space.

The diffusion parameter controls the separation of the reflections within the main body of the reverb sound, which determines its “thickness.” Reducing the diffusion value produces a thinner sound because the reflections are more widely spaced in time. This parameter lets you determine the complexity of the simulated acoustical space. Keep in mind that many reflective surfaces in a room result in a thicker, denser reverb.

One of the characteristics of acoustic reverberation is that high frequencies typically die away faster than low frequencies. As a result, many reverb units include a high-frequency damping parameter, which lets you control the decay rate of high frequencies separately from the main reverb decay. Some reverb units even include a low-frequency damping parameter. Both of these parameters provide additional control over the apparent size and reflective characteristics of the simulated acoustical space. For example, softer surfaces cause high frequencies to decay more rapidly, while smaller rooms cause low frequencies to decay more rapidly.


As mentioned earlier, one of the primary applications of artificial reverb is to Simulate an acoustical space within which your recorded ensemble “performs.” To accomplish this, send the entire mix through the same reverb unit programmed to re-create the type of space you wish to simulate.

You can also apply different reverbs to individual instruments for special effects. In many pop drum mixes, for example, the snare is heavily processed (often with a gated and/or reverse reverb), while the kick drum is relatively dry. This approach lends an air of drama to the snare backbeat without washing the kick drum in confusing reflections that would diminish its cohesiveness with the bass. Many guitar players like to apply liberal amounts ofreverb to enhance their solo sounds.

Another interesting application is playing in a highly reverberant environment a la Paul Horn’s Inside the Taj Mahal. Use a hall or cathedral reverb type with a long decay time and high aux-send and aux-return levels.

In many synthesizers with onboard multi-effects units, the effects are an integral part of each patch. Unfortunately, most of these kinds of synths can produce only one combination of effects at a time. If the synthesizer is multitimbral, all parts are passed through the same effects. If you’re not careful, this overall effect will be the one assigned to the last patch you called up, which might or might not serve the other parts well. Instead, you should set the synth’s effect mode to “master,” which lets you select the effects you want for all the parts from that synth. (Fortunately, some synths now include several separate effects processors; some effects are global and others are applied as “insert” effects to individual patches.)

Reverb is inescapable. You hear it everywhere, and rightly so. Almost all music sounds better with reverb, which is why church choirs generally sound better than one would expect from the singing skills of their members. Your music will sound better with reverb, too. All you need to do is experiment a bit with a digital reverb unit to discover just how much better.

20 ways to host a star

Don’t let the thought of playing hostess to a blow-you-away bash scare the party girl out of you. With these entertaining tricks, you’ll impress your guests and yourself!

[1] “Miniature picture frames make the perfect place-card holders–and they double as adorable favors.”

[2] “To keep my house smelling great, I simmer a homemade potpourri mix–apple slices, vanilla beans, ginger root, and peppermint oil–in a pot of water on the stove.”

[3] “I glam up store-bought cakes by decorating them with gorgeous edible flowers, like nasturtiums and pansies. Get them at select stores or online at”

[4] “I slice off the bottoms of lemons and limes (so they can sit on a flat surface), hollow them out, and stick white votive candles inside.”

[5] “For a quickie dessert, dip strawberries in warm Nutella, a chocolate-and-hazelnut spread available at grocery stores. After the treats cool on waxed paper, serve them with a scoop of ice cream.”

[6] “For a wintertime bash, I cover the tables with dark blue cloths and sprinkle lots of white confetti on them to look like snow. I also have my kids cut out paper snowflakes to hang from the ceilings.”

[7] “To keep my bathroom smelling fabulous, I pull back the shower curtain and fill the bathtub with scented floating candles and flower heads, such as gerbera daisies and roses.”

[8] “I freeze cranberry juice in a Bundt pan. About an hour before company arrives, I empty ginger ale into a large bowl and add the frozen ring.”

[9] “I ask friends to take candid shots throughout the festivities with my Polaroid camera. They make instant (and practically free) party favors.”

[10] “I always do themed goody bags for my guests. For a bonfire party, I gave out bags filled with marshmallows, wooden skewers, and matches so friends could roast marshmallows at home,”

[11] “I hire my babysitter to help me in the kitchen. The extra set of hands makes guests feel less obligated to take on tasks, like carrying of food back and forth.”

[12] “I make copies of how to get from my house to major intersections and highways. Then I just point people to the printed directions by the door instead of repeating myself every time a guest leaves.”

[13] “I tie colorful pieces of red-licorice laces around white napkins. Kids and kids at heart always `ooh’ and `ahh’ over these edible rings.”

[14] “I freeze raspberries and use them as ice cubes in glasses of white wine. They add taste, color, and class.”

[15] “I dig up 70s- and 80s-music CDs and encourage each guest to act as the DJ. There’s something about hearing music from your younger years that puts everyone in the mood to party.”

[16] “Tape sheets of tinted vellum paper into four-inch-round cylinders, and then place the paper tubes over lighted votive candles. These luminarias make a room glow with color.”

[17] “I set up a kids-only room with three or four activity tables in it, I put coloring books and crayons on one table, building blocks on another, and so on. This way my guests can bring their little ones along.”

[18] “To make more areas of conversation, I limit the number of chairs around the house. This also prevents people who are already close friends from plunking down in one spot together the entire night.”

[19] “An easy, but elegant, bar shortcut: Only serve champagne and Guinness beer. They can be combined to make a Black Velvet or drunk separately.”

[20] “I buy colorful Chinese take-out containers (from and fill them with leftover treats to give to guests as doggy bags.”