How to get invited back to that Mardi Gras party

Offer to bring something, even if the hosts have said they are going to provide nipping and noshing. Some suggestions?

Generally, if it has "paper" in the name, it's a good thing, Martha. Paper towels, paper plates, paper bowls, paper napkins and toilet paper (most appreciated) -- all of these keep and can be used for other purposes.

The same goes for many things with the word "plastic" in the name. Plastic utensils, plastic serving trays and plastic cups are just like the paper products. And trash bags help keep the paper and plastic products under wraps. Cups caught off floats, with a little rinsing, can hold a beverage just as well as anything else.

Food, particularly finger food, that doesn't need a utensil or cooking. And if you have kids that are particular or if you have special dietary concerns, I have news for you: during Carnival, I am NOT a short-order cook. Other big hits include bourbon balls, pound cake, egg salad sandwiches, brisket, spinach dip and anything people bring.

If you are new to the group or to this particular house, arrive early (not too early), introduce yourself to the hosts and find out where things are located (like the bathroom). One of my pet peeves is to have to open the house and point the way to the facilities as the first floats arrive.

The ladders you and your kids have been standing on don't miraculously make their way back to the house. After the parade, grab a ladder and a chair before walking back for a plate of lasagna.

Speaking of ladders, offer to take a shift watching the ladders and the other accoutrements that are part of the parade parcel protection plan. It can be great fun meeting new people (who are sitting next to you, doing the same thing).

Keep an eye out for the owner's home and furnishings. We can't always be there (Hello, there's a parade to watch!) to make certain the Lalique vase doesn't walk out the door. If you are a friend, at least tell the owner when something strange happens. If something breaks, nine times out of 10, it won't mean the end of the world. Most parade route veterans know to put the good stuff away.

Volunteer to help clean up at the end of the day or evening. Some of our best friends are great about helping out around the house while they wait for the traffic to subside. They are always welcomed Be prepared to share with everyone. Stingy people can find another place to be.

Leave four-legged friends at home -- your home. They aren't supposed to be at the parades (and can't catch anything much except a Frisbee). From yappy little purse dogs to behemouth mastiffs, canines can do strange things at Carnival. Trust me on this one.

Participate and have a good time. If your mood is melancholy or malevolent, find another place to be.

And if all you want to do is sit and watch television, you better be a really good friend that I trust to be in the house.