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I have never been so thankful for horrible icy weather as I was on a special Fat Tuesday a few years ago, when the car’s inability to get traction on the highway scored me an invite to one heck of a Mardi Gras party. I was out shopping with girlfriends when the weather turned bad, so my friend Brenda, who lived nearby, invited us to spend the night. It just so happened she was attending a Mardi Gras party that night, and invited us to crash the bash.

Our hosts, Ann and Guy, were big-hearted people who were always looking for an excuse to have fun. You felt like a royal guest in their home, because Ann didn’t spare any detail when it came to decorating or dining, and their warm personalities enveloped you in friendship. (Ann lost her battle to cancer a few years back, and I miss her desperately. But her zest for life lives on in those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, and inspires me still to celebrate each and every moment.)

Ann and Guy’s Mardi Gras dinner started out as a way to beat cabin fever, and grew into an anticipated annual event that was as much fun as you can have this side of Bourbon Street. Ann knew how to set the stage for her parties, letting you know the minute you walked in the door that you were in for a good time. She turned the butler’s table in her entry into a bar, stocked with everything you’d need to have a good time, from Mardi Gras masks and beads, to tall glasses of New Orleans vodka freezes.

The magic at this party happened in the dining room, around a table set to stun. Colored beads dangle from the chandelier, like they’ve been tossed by a passing float in a Mardi Gras parade.

An antique centerpiece holds tiny bouquets of fresh flowers, masks and glasses filled with Mardi Gras beads. Each guest’s chair is also playfully decorated with beads and masks.

When you put a place card at each guest’s seat, you let them know you were excited for them to join you. Ann zipped up plain card stock with a few stickers — easy! Each place setting is layered in Mardi Gras colors, playful and a bit mysterious.

The sideboard carries on the theme set on the dinner table. All it took was draping strands of beads around the bank of candles. The dining table is beautifully reflected in the large mirror resting atop the lovely old chest. Because the table was filled to the brim, Ann opted to serve the soup course from the buffet.

For the longest time, Ann was a member of the I-can’t-cook-to-save-my-life club with me. Then she became a gourmet. The menu for this event was amazing: sun-dried tomato and goat cheese nachos, seafood cakes with creole sauce, crab bisque, oven-roasted Cajun shrimp and corn, and New Orleans king cake.

This Mardi Gras, I will raise a glass to my dear friend Ann, for all the light and joy she brought into my life. I want to encourage you to open your home to friends on this fun-filled night, and let the good times roll as you make memories that will last a lifetime, too.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com.

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