14 August 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream: or a final hello to my twenties

this August 27, I turn twenty-nine. Frankly, this number is far less stressful than twenty-five was, even if it is the start of my final year as a twentysomething. I've greatly enjoyed my twenties, and I'm looking forward to my thirties.

Perhaps it is a growing maturity, but all the things on my mental checklist that freaked me out by their lack of completion by twenty-five aren't such a bother with thirty looming. Thirty doesn't even seem to be that great at looming. It is just there, the next milestone, something else to celebrate on the road of life.

Even though I'm approaching thirty with a friendly wave and a cheery "hello," I'd still like to mark the final year I get to be in my twenties with a bang. As such, there's to be a party.

I've invited as many people as I can {which is still a fairly small number} and have planned a fancy dress party. If Jay Gastby threw a "Midsummer Night's Dream" themed party in my backyard, this would be it.

Planning and prepping for this boho bacchanalia reminded me that while I often blog here about my menus and post photographs from this or that bash, I've never really explained how I go about dreaming and planning a party.

 Parties often begin life as a dreamscape: at first, this one was something of the wedding I never see myself planning. {I hate the idea of a big wedding and would rather just run off & get to the traveling honeymoon} That doesn't mean that thoughts of dresses and celebrations with all my friends haven't passed through my mind...I just rechannel them into this sort of thing.

Panic about actually throwing a party must be derailed: I nearly cancelled the celebration altogether: my birthday is in late August, the date this year falls on a Tuesday, many of my friends are schoolteachers who cannot stay out late on a weekday during the school year. The Saturday before is great, but Saturdays are one of our busiest days of the week in the store. I can not bake and make and decorate and be ready for guests for an afternoon or early evening party.

It was all starting to be too much. Finally, one of those schoolteacher friends sat me down and reminded me that this birthday party for myself should not entail so much trouble. I could make a couple of things, tell everyone to bring an appetizer, make it later than our rural evening meal schedule, and be done with it. She is right. The date was chosen for the Saturday before my birthday.

Remember that you are human, not Martha Stewart: as such, I narrowed my impossibly huge Pinterest board {there did not need to be 28 different dresses, let alone 17 pins of fairy lights strung in trees or 22 recipes from Saveur} and tailored my plans to the manageable and fun. All party planning requires this stage: one where dreams coalesce into reality.

Menu plan according to your budget, time and money: there are a couple of things I make that everyone loves, and there are a couple of things that I've been craving, and throw something in here and there to do differently. You don't want to repeat yourself all the time, nor do you want to forget that you won't have time to make things that day or in advance as necessary. Never, unless this is the purpose of a gathering, make something to eat or drink that you've never made before.

I'm making a huge batch of my Lemon Ricotta Garlic spread the Thursday night before, putting out crostini {not baking the bread as I'd like but buying excellent from a local bakery as a sop to the business of August in the store, then toasting it the night before}, and baking a blackberry lemon variation on my Raspberry Mojito Cake, and satisfying my cravings for Red Wine Chocolate Cake {recipe from Smitten Kitchen.}

Since the Blackberry Lemon Cake freezes well, I've made two and wrapped them up. Taken out to defrost the day of the party, they'll be perfect to cut Saturday evening. The chocolate cake tastes best with a day to meld the flavors, so I'll make them Friday night as well.

As for drinks, I've already infused gin with blackberries {1 bottle gin + 12 oz fresh or frozen blackberries + 2 teaspoons sugar + maceration for 24 hours. Strain, freeze blackberries for use in frozen blackberry gin & tonics, bottle & store in refrigerator for up to 2 months}.

I will make limoncello this weekend, posting the recipe here soon, and will throw together two large pitchers of, likely, peach and blueberry sangria the night before. Those, plus some fancy sparkling lemonade, seltzer, and tonic should allow for tippling and sipping to one's heart's delight...and maybe even some dancing on tables.

As everything will be made by Saturday morning at the latest, all I'll have to worry about after we close the store at six will be to get dressed and set out the cushions, blankets, flowers, and food & drink. It's very important to take the set-up time into consideration when mapping out your timetable. Lists are handy for everything!

Utilize your space, don't try to make it something it cannot be: Once the menu is planned, or while planning the menu, one should be pondering decorations and location. My backyard is both large, interestingly strewn with trees, and has a freestanding 8' x 8' deck, conveniently strung with fairy lights.

Setting out all sorts of lawn appropriate furniture {and some non lawn appropriate furniture}, tons of blankets & cushions, stringing any other available surface with more fairy lights, and cutting as many blooms from our snowball bushes as possible will leave us feeling as through we are wood sprites flitting about for the evening. I'll set out the weather safe furniture the night before & stack up the blankets & cushions & vases Saturday morning to free up time for personal party prep Saturday night.

{not my actual house, but a pin on my board}

Idealize your outfit, but remember to be comfortable: I've had so many chiffon vintage gowns floating by on Pinterest, it was almost a let down when the perfect dress jumped out at me at my local JC Penney's. It is floor-length green jersey with a cream macrame back to the waist. There is no hint of chiffon, but it manages to be sexy and comfy and ideally woodsy and feminine. I love it.

The one thing I have not compromised on, though, is a floral headdress. No joke. I wanted a floral headdress and I wanted floral crowns for anyone who wanted one. If someone is wearing something outrageous along with the other guests, that it is something special for just this occasion, people are more willing to be silly and have fun and loosen up. {limoncello speeds up this process}

Rather than heading off to Etsy and going crazy {even if I only spent $10 on that dress, I'm still frugal} my coupons and I were off to Michael's for long stemmed florals to weave together. Somehow, two headdresses later, I've still only spent $7. Long floral garlands should slide into crowns with ease to fill out the numbers.

Don't get to caught up in planning & forget to have fun: in the end, though, I'm most excited that much of my family will arrive for my party. It is rare that we all get to gather, so their presence for my birthday is the best gift of all. Some of my dearest friends will be there, too, and that's what is important about party planning: invite the guests you want to see and spend time with. Try to bring some new faces together, but the key for any party it is that you want to gather together, not that you want to show off. {show off a tiny bit, just don't make the guests feel fussy}

"Be well. Do good work. Keep in touch." - Garrison Keillor


  1. Sounds like a fabulous party! Happy early birthday!

  2. thanks so much! It was a beautiful night. Hope all is well with your growing family!