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Mardi Gras — It’s all in the attitude

THERE MAY NOT BE PARADES with colorful floats and crazed womenwho do just about anything for beads, but you can still be part of the MardiGras fun though you’re miles away from Bourbon Street.In fact, you really only need five things for a good ol’ fashioned Nawlinsstyleparty in your own home: Music, masks, costumes, beads and king cake.Put it together with some decorations in the traditional Mardi Gras colors ofgold, purple and green, and you’ve got a Big Easy bash.

The day most Yankees know as Mardi Gras is actually the end of the carnivalseason in New Orleans. This year, it’s Feb. 24, Fat Tuesday, just beforeLent begins. But the season officially starts at Twelfth Night, which occurs 12days after Christmas, and there are many celebrations around New Orleans.Carol Blake has been shipping party accessories from Louisiana aroundthe country for more than a decade through her Web site, www.mardigrasday.com, and she says over the years more and more peoplefrom Ohio to Arizona to Florida are getting togetherto party on Fat Tuesday.

Nearly all of her business now is to patronsoutside New Orleans.“If I see any trend,” she says, “Ithink people in the Midwest havea tendency to spend a bit more ontheir products. But that’s probablybecause if you’re in NewYork, there are a million placesto buy beads. Outside of bigcities, there’s not as much accessto a wide variety.”

After Hurricane Katrina flooded herstorage space, Blake had to find a newwarehouse and business suffered a bit, but,like Mardi Gras itself, she’s made a comebackand is on track to have the best year ever, despite thedismal economy.

“People need a release, and good party is just the thing,” she says.You don’t have to spend a lot of dough to make a party fun, says EduardoXol of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and author of“Extreme Entertaining Made Simple.”Xol suggests offering Louisiana-style appetizers instead of a wholemeal, and serving a theme drink to save on the alcohol, like, for example,the city’s signature Hurricane, a blend of rum, vodka, grenadinesyrup and gin.

New Orleans natives will say they don’t spend much time onBourbon Street, anyway, but instead attend costume partiesand balls around the city where a king and queen are chosenand hosts serve king cakes, a sticky-sweet coffee cakebaked with a teeny plastic baby inside. Whoever findsthe baby either throws the next party, is named kingor queen, or wins a prize, depending on the bash.Beads, masks, cups plates and napkins in theright colors can be found at any party store, orat big box stores.

“People get really into it, they stand onboxes, decorate wagons and trees and yardswith the beads,” says Blake, who sells everythingyou’d ever need on her site. Xol suggestsmaking it a costume party and handingout masks as friends arrive, thenchoosing a king and queen who get to decidewhat to do with the rest of the evening.“You could start out at a house then go ona pub crawl in costume to make it more likeBourbon Street,” he suggested.

As for music, it’s not easy to import a live jazz band,so instead splurge on some New Orleans style tunes fromThe Meters, the Rebirth Brass Band. If you don’t have theextra bucks, Xol suggests just making a playlist of funky songs.“No one will notice after a few drinks,” he quipped.

And in the end, it’s all about the attitude. “As long as you’re in good spirits,you’ll have a great time. That’s what it’s all about anyway,” Blake says.— Colleen Long, The Associated Press

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