Surprise Party! (Part 1 of 3)

Alternate title:  Surprise Party - Planning, Details, and Decorations Edition Mom, this is where I will attempt to explain everything you missed out on over the past few weeks.

Let's get started.  When did we decide to throw a surprise party?  I'll be honest, it was during church one Sunday.  After discussing that my mom had a milestone birthday coming up, my sister-in-law Beth asked me if we were throwing a party.  I cocked my head to the side and mulled that over for a minute, and before the preacher could wrap up his sermon and give a benediction, the wheels were already turning and I was forming a plan.  I knew I needed to do some preliminary research and figure out a few details before I took the idea to my dad.

The following Sunday in church (apparently that's where we have our family meetings) I leaned over to my dad who was sitting next to me in the pew and whispered, "What do you think about a surprise party for Mom?"  He gave me a little half shrug, half nod that I took as a positive sign.  Now came the crucial part.  I leaned over one more time, "Is your checkbook in?"  He turned and gave me a glance and I flashed my I'm-your-only-daughter-please-daddy-please-it-would-make-mom-so-happy look and guys, he gave me the nod!

So that was that.  I immediately went into planning overdrive.  First things first, we had to settle on a date.  This was the biggest stress of the whole party.  We were about 5 weeks out and I'm sure I don't have to tell you how busy summers are.  Between holidays and weddings and beach trips and canoe trips, pretty much every weekend was book.  I practically cried in my cubicle as I slowly watched all my surprise party ideas fade away because we couldn't even decide on a date.

I'll spare you all the back-and-forths and just say we finally landed on Sunday, July 10, just two days before my mom's actual birthday.  Next step: location.  I already had a great venue in mind but my dad was all over me about keeping the budget low.  Luckily, since our party was now officially on a Sunday, I was able to weasel the price down a little.  (It's amazing how much cheaper things are when your party's not on a Saturday and the word "wedding" isn't attached to it.)  The space was available so we locked it in.  (By the way, my dad's idea was to have the party in his backyard.  For any of you reading this that actually attended the party on Sunday when it was 100+ outside, you can thank me nixing that idea.)  I was also on the hunt for some kind of musical act.  I had originally thought of just getting a two-person act for a little background music, but when I asked my dad if he had any ideas, his response was, "We gotta get that band from your wedding!"  I reminded him how much we paid them for my wedding but he said to give 'em a shout anyway.  Remember how I said things are cheaper when you ditch the word "wedding"?  Worked here too.

Ok, with three major things nailed down - date, venue, music - the only big thing left was food.  I wanted to outsource it so I didn't have to spend all weekend cooking.  (I already knew I was going to be busy since it was Kendra's wedding weekend.)  I convinced my dad to meet me with me and the same caterer that did our wedding.  It wasn't hard to get my dad on board with this since he was pleased with their food a couple years ago.  Done.  Check that off the list.

All we needed now was decorations.  In keeping with the repeat-everything-from-my-wedding theme, I raided my mom's attic while she was out of town and pulled down all of our glass candle holders.  If you attended our wedding, or even if you've just seen pictures, you may remember that we filled the bottoms of them up with green gumballs, like this:

And this:

Maybe you also remember the candy buffet from our reception.  While I was up in the attic, I went ahead and grabbed everything from that too.

At this point, everything seemed to be falling into place and going really well.  And then, just like that, everything decided to cause me stress.

First, my dad calls me to tell me he handed Mom his phone to find an email and she asked about an email I sent him with the caterer's name as the subject line.  "You did WHAT??"  Rule #1:  When planning a surprise party, never ever ever let the surprisee read through your emails.  Geez.  You'd think that was common sense.

Invitations were a cause of stress too.  Not the making of them (thanks, Matt!), that part was fine.  But the minute I put them in the mail, I freaked out.  Now it was no longer a secret that just my family and I was keeping.  Within 24 hours 120 more people would know about and any one of them could slip and tell her.

Speaking of invitations, wanna see them?  They turned out really cute.

You know how they say when you're planning a wedding, you take the total number of people you're inviting, divide it in half, and that's how many you should plan for?  Well, I wasn't sure if that formula worked for surprise parties, so I thought ahead and included an RSVP card with each invitation.

Two days after the invitations were mailed out, I excitedly ran out to get the mail after work and....nothing.  Not a single one.  The next day I got about 5.  Only five!  Weren't people excited?!?  I started freaking out again.  They trickled in in threes and fours for the remainder of that week, then I had to wait over the holiday mail break.  That Tuesday, the 5th, I only got 3 more. Finally, on Wednesday, just 4 days before the big event, I got what I'd been hoping for: 17 RSVP cards in my inbox.  Jackpot.  I could finally rest easy knowing people were coming to the party.  Oh, but you know what's weird?  Every single day when I pulled out the RSVPs, the first one I opened was always a Regret.  Even the day we got 17 cards and 16 of them were Yesses, the first one was the Regret.  And every single time, my heart sank.  I was terrified of noone showing up.

In case you're wondering how we were planning on getting my mom to this never-heard-of venue on a Sunday night, I had already thought of that too.  The week my mom was at the beach with her friends, this invitation arrived at her house:

An engagement party for Grant Hubbard and his fiance Angela Ray.  Grant is the son of one of my dad's coworkers.  Angela Ray is 100% completely made up.  Actually, I'm sure an Angela Ray or two exists out there somewhere, and hey, maybe Grant has even dated one, but for the purpose of this party and this invitation, Angela Ray is as real as the WWF Wrestling my brother used to make me watch when we were little.

Here are all the invitations, including the fake one, addressed and ready to go.

Mom, are you thinking That's not the invitation that came to my house... ?  If so, you'd be correct.  This invitation, hand-written by me in cursive, which I never ever do, arrived at your house on Tuesday.  Dad wasted no time in telling me it looked just like my handwriting.  Ugh.  So I threw it away, let someone at work address a new one, and dropped it back in the mail.  Thank goodness you were gone for a whole week and I was able to get a do-over!

Moving on to something else that stressed me out: gumballs.  I wanted colorful gumballs for all the candle holders.  I was going with a colorful, festive theme.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Two Friday's before the party (July 1) I visited the local candy store and completely struck out.  No gumballs.  That afternoon I hopped on Sam's website and saw that they sold them.  I arranged to meet my SIL Erin at Costco bright and early the following morning.  I figured that since Sam's had them on their website, Costco must sell them too, right?  Wrong.  No such luck.  A few days passed and on Tuesday morning (T-minus 5 days from the party), I drove out to the nearest Sam's, bought a membership, and set out to find my gumballs.  Strike three, I'm out!  Enter panic mode.

That night I tried my luck and placed an order on Sam's website.  The price was right, but since shipping was included, I couldn't expedite my order.  Drats!  I called Customer Service to see if they could help me, but my order wasn't even showing up on their system yet.  Double drats!  My order confirmation email said my expected arrival date was between July 8 and July 14.  The party was on the 10th.  The odds were against me.  I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Two days later, this arrived on my doorstep.  Cue the hallelujah chorus!

I tore open the box just to make sure.  Gumballs!  Sweet, colorful, flavor-gone-in-sixty-seconds gumballs!

Even though the gumballs were my primary decoration, I did have a couple of craft projects to knock out.  Both were easy, but they did take a little time.  Instead of buying balloon weights (Have you seen how expensive those things are? Ridiculous!) I decided to make my own.  The ceiling in our event space was really high, so I figured the more of these I had to tie balloons to, the better.

Pea gravel + colorful celephane + curling ribbon = homemade balloon weights.

My other project was candy bags for the candy buffet.  I already had some leftover from my wedding, but they had an "E" sticker on them.  That was easy to fix with labels one size bigger with "60" printed on them.

[Side note:  I just scrolled up and realized how incredibly long this is getting.  Props to anyone who actually reads all of this.]

It's a good thing my mom didn't decide to randomly stop by house during all this planning, since my dining room looked like this.

Let's go ahead and fast-forward to the day of the party.  We all went to church as usual; couldn't do anything to throw Mom off.  As far as I knew, we had made it this far without her finding out, even though we'd had several close calls.  Several people made comments to me at church that morning ("Can't wait for tonight!" "Looking forward to it!" "What should I wear?") and they were making me nervous.  I wanted to hiss Stop talking to me! My mom could be watching!

Normally, Doc and I have lunch at my parents' house after church, but this time we needed to hit the road to start setting up.  We made up an excuse - gonna do yardwork, yadda yadda - and got the heck out of there.  The bulk of the afternoon was spent at the venue getting things ready.  Both Beth and Erin met me and Doc there and we all buckled down and got to work.  Who knew it could take so long to put helium in balloons?  Allison met us there too to get everything for the slideshow set up.  Good thing, since we had some incompatible cord issues that needed to be worked out.  Close call!

Around 4 in the afternoon, I headed home to shower and get cleaned up.  There were still a few last-minute items I needed to pick up too.  On my way home, I called Mom just to check in and see if she suspected anything.  Our conversation consisted of her telling me she didn't want to go to this party tonight, she wasn't going to know anybody, and what the heck was she supposed to wear?  Perfect.  Right where we wanted her.

An hour-ish later I was in the car headed back to the venue when my dad called and this conversation ensued:

Dad: You've gotta call your mother. Me: [panic] Why?!? What's wrong? Dad: She wants me to swing by your house on our way to the party so she can get your sewing machine.  Call her and tell her you're not home. Me: Wait, you want me to just call her and tell her I'm not home?  I just talked to her a few minutes ago. Dad: I don't care, think of something!

So I made up some lame excuse to call my mom and while I had her on the phone, just casually mentioned that we were going out to dinner with Matt and Mary.  I had to tell her we were already in the car on our way to their house for fear she might tell me to leave the sewing machine outside or something.  According to all my conversations with her that day, I'd already done yardwork (not true), gone to the grocery store (not true), and was now cleaned up and on my way out to dinner (not true).  Good thing she didn't question me!

Back at the venue, I barely got the last balloons blown up before our firsts guests arrived.  My decorations were simple - colorful gumballs and colorful balloons.  Oh, and colorful candy too.

(Some photos by me and some by Allison.)

I made little labels for each of the candy holders out of chalkboard vinyl.  My first time to use it...pretty cool.

I was able to use the chalkboard vinyl on this drink pitcher too.

I found these old framed pictures from my grandmother's house and just topped them with a little party hat.

And that was the extent of our decorating.

Mom, fill caught up?  Still wondering how you missed everything?  We're pretty sneaky, but it was really, really tough keeping the secret from you!  I needed to be able to call and bounce ideas off of you.  This may be the last time I plan a party without you.  My blood pressure can't handle the stress (see: picking a date, waiting for RSVPs, gumballs)!

One hundred thousand points to anyone who actually read this whole dang thing.  Now we're primed and ready for pictures from the par-tay, so stay tuned!