In many cultures, going to grandma's house for the holidays has always been the thing to do. But as we get older, things change. We move to new cities, start our own families, and our grandparents may no longer be around, so our homes may now be the holiday destination for extended family. However, playing host can be a hassle, especially during the holidays when your home becomes your family and friends’ home for a short period. And if this is your first year hosting the holidays at your place, you can be in for a rude awakening if you don’t make the necessary preparations beforehand.
We spoke to NYC-based experience curator and owner of POP! by Yaz, Yasmin “Yaz” Quiles to help guide first-timers. According to Yasmin, an experience curator is “someone who not only focuses on an actual event but the entire experience and that can mean anything from the first point of contact, things from an invitation, a website, all the way to the end and after effects.”
If you are hosting the holidays in your home, it is important to touch on all of these points so that way your guests can have an experience to remember. Here are the steps to successfully host family and friends for the holidays.
1.Plan and Organize:
Before people start showing up to your house, you must plan out what you need and for how many people. It's also a great time to be creative. “The first part is the dream part because it’s the fun part. What do I envision my event to look like? What do I want my people to feel when they come to my space? Ask all of the questions for the first point of contact,” says Yasmin. “What kind of invitation [am I using?] Who am I inviting? What kind of music are we listening to? The food. So, you start thinking about what the vision is, and then after the dreaming, you organize your thoughts.”
That includes putting together a budget. “See what you have access to, what you need help with, and what you may need to outsource,” she advises. Meaning, this is the time to decide if you and your family will be cooking or if everyone will chip in to get dinner catered.
2.Repurpose Your Items:
Photo courtesy of Yasmin Quiles
As you continue to plan and organize, it's important to take stock of what you already have at home. This can also help you stay within budget. If you have a limited budget then start thinking about how to utilize what you already have in a innovative way.
“I also like to start with inventory. What [are] items in your house that you can use? That way you can determine what it is that you have to get,” she suggests. “I feel like a lot of people always put together a list and it's always 'buy, buy, buy, buy,' versus ‘oh, wait a minute, I actually do have some things that I can utilize and I can just use it in a different way.’”
For example, “Utilizing a console as a small bar area or creating fake fireplaces. I think there are ways to use items in your space so that you don’t have to continue to fill it up with new things.”
3.Make Your Guests Feel Like They Are at Home:
Ever heard the saying, "mi casa es su casa?" You want your space to make guests feel like a home away from home and having a cozy place to sleep plays a major part in that. Be realistic about how many people you can fit comfortably in your home. “Figure out how much space you have in your house and how many people you can truly accommodate,” she says. “What that means is even if you have a two-bedroom apartment, what are some creative ways you can create some space for them? Is it an air mattress or is it getting a hotel that is close to you; Airbnb's?”
You also want to provide your guests with the necessary accouterments and the gift of convenience. If you have certain rituals in your home, you want to make sure your guests can also participate in them. “What I love to do with my guests, I always love to make them feel like they're at home even when they are not, so I like to replicate the things I love in a hotel room. In our house we take off our shoes so we always have disposable slippers here that people can slide on or brand new socks in a basket,” she explains. “That way they can feel immediately comfortable the moment they pass the threshold in your house."
"And in the bathroom or if there’s a powder room, I like to put together a little welcome basket and it can be something as simple as here’s your towel, here’s your washcloth, all the little toiletries you may need," she adds. "I give them their own little stash, that way they don’t feel like they’re burdening me by asking, 'oh, do you have q-tips' or whatever it is. It’s all already set up there for them and it makes them feel so welcome and thought of.”
4.Food and Entertainment:
Photo courtesy of Yasmin Quiles
Along with welcome baskets, the Afro-Latina entrepreneur also enjoys putting lists together with a few of her recommendations. Think, welcome lists you receive at hotels and Airbnb. “I’ll put together a short list of my favorite restaurants, my favorite channels or shows to watch that way they can be entertained while I’m doing other things,” she says.
The holidays involve a lot of cooking and so going out to eat may not be an option. But neither is eating mac and cheese, collard greens, and ham all day, every day. So, it's best to provide options for your guests. “When people go to other people’s homes, they really want the house experience so eating out is great, it’s fine, but I think it really makes people happy when immediately there at home at your house," explains Yasmin.
"What I like to do is immediately have an assortment of snacks available and that means everything from the folks that are on a diet to folks who want to indulge and have a little bit of everything. That way we have a good selection. And [I like to have] things that can be left out for a couple of days as well so I’m thinking pre-packaged items that way [they can] 'grab and go.'”
When having guests stay over for a few days, you should want to do more than just stay in and look at each other the whole time. Similarly to the way Yasmin advises providing a list of recommendations for eating out and indoor entertainment for guests, she suggests providing guests with a list of favorite stores or favorite markets with recommendations of what to buy.
This can also be a great time to show your guests where you live by going on walks or a scenic drive. "A lot of times these holiday celebrations happen when we are in the midst of planning and doing things and doing all the last-minute errands. Another thing I like to do is photo albums, people love photo albums.”
Yasmin recommends having a physical photo album that you and your guests can look through or a digital frame such as Aura Frames that holds photos online that you can continue to add to.
What’s left is providing the ambiance. One of the many ways that people do this is by having a playlist. Creating a playlist is fun but can also be time-consuming. Not only do you have to add your auntie's favorite Christmas song to the playlist but you may also want to take a trip down memory lane with your siblings and jam to a throwback from your childhood. Yasmin reveals a solution, which she refers to as an “elevated” experience.
“You can hire a DJ. They can do a set on Twitch,” Yasmin says. “There’s a chatroom function so you can put it on your TV, so all the guests who are there can listen to the music live but if there are guests who can’t make it for whatever reason, they can tune in and participate via the chat.”
The experience curator also suggests having a quiet space for those who are more introverted or need a break from the loud music and crowd.
Whether you and your family decide to cook together or hire a caterer, cleaning up after a big event is always a buzz kill. Yasmin recommends outsourcing help as a way to enjoy yourself and not worry about the aftermath. “Clean up can be a big hassle. It is okay to get a cleaning team. It is okay to hire a bartender. It is okay to hire anybody who can make your job easier,” she assures.
“The point of these events really is to connect and I feel we get so caught up in the doing that we forget that and the party ends and we’re like ‘dang, I didn’t get to have a conversation with my best girlfriend who I haven’t seen in six months.’ Give yourself permission to outsource so that you can have a good time.”
For more information about Yasmin, you can visit her website at yazquiles.com and follow her on Instagram @popbyyaz.
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Feature image courtesy of Yasmin Quiles
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London Alexaundria is a writer and contributing editor for xoNecole. After graduating with a B.A. in mass media arts from Clark Atlanta University, London went on to work for several media outlets and started her own writing coaching business.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
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In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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