Ah, Manic Monday once again! Hard to believe it’s already March 5 and we’re blessedly well on our way to spring; I’ve even spotted a few daffodil buds on my parents’ front lawn, which is pretty exciting since I am desperately missing the ubiquitous greenery and tropical flowers of Florida. Anyway, things have been busy around here as usual, and I am finally free to blog about something I’ve spent the past several weeks planning — my cousin Annie’s Surprise 50th Birthday Party.
If you’ve ever planned a surprise, you know how tough it can be to keep the secret, especially as you get closer to the big day. But somehow we managed to fool her by claiming she was invited to D’Iganazio’s Towne House in Media, PA where my father was to receive the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Sons of Italy. Since SOI’s regular monthly meetings and special events are always held at this downtown Media landmark, she fell for the excuse easily.
And when the moment of truth finally arrived, it was incredibly gratifying to witness her stunned reaction. Moved to tears, Annie at first kept backing out of the room while my brother Mark — always the jokester — teased her, “You’re going the wrong way!” Soon after, she worked her way around the room offering hugs and gratitude for “having the best family and friends in the world!” But the truth is, planning a surprise party for someone as loving, compassionate and beautiful (inside and out) as Annie is an absolute pleasure.
Although she’s my first cousin (my mom’s sister Marie’s daughter) Annie has always been like another sister to my sister Carolyn and me. Growing up Mom and Aunt Marie, who were very close (a relationship I fictionalized in Water Signs), would often take their kids (Mom’s five and Aunt Marie’s two) out on various excursions – from visits to historical places in Philly to weekends at the South Jersey Shore to sojourns to the Poconos to evenings at the ballpark (Go Phillies!). Consequently, Annie and her older brother Merle were more like siblings to us than cousins.
Thus, the only thing that could have possibly made yesterday’s celebration even better would have been the presence of Annie’s parents Marie and Merle and our cousin Maris, though all were definitely with us in spirit.
On a party planning note, if you’re on a budget as Mom and I were, I highly recommend the following:
1. Produce Junction – We created lovely centerpieces for each table using white roses and purple flowers purchased from this fabulous store, where you can also find fresh fruits and veggies for a lot less than you’ll find them in most supermarkets. We bought seven bouquets totaling $25. And as you can tell from this photo, they were just perfect.
2. Dollar Tree – My favorite of all the “dollar stores”, at Dollar Tree we found the right vases for the flowers, priced right (yep, you guessed it – $1 each!). We ran them through the dishwasher to ensure they’d be sparkly for the big day and I defy anyone to find anything better for the money. If we’d hired a florist to create the same effect for the centerpieces, it would have mostly likely cost us double. Also purchased at Dollar Tree: a clear platter for the Italian wedding cookies (a huge hit with everyone there!) and some other miscellaneous items including picture frames.
3. Michael’s – We purchased 50 purple (Annie’s favorite color) organza pouches which we filled with Hershey’s Kisses wrapped in purple (dark chocolate), gold (almond) and silver (milk chocolate), and placed at each table setting as a party favor. We also got the deep purple ribbon here, which we tied around each vase in a pretty bow, along with the mirrors on which we placed them.
4. Party City – For decorative balloons of just about every variety, you can’t do much better than Party City, where we bought pearlized gold, black and purple ones, in addition to a special “50″ for Annie’s chair. We also found metallic confetti in the shapes of flowers and butterflies (her favorites) to sprinkle around each centerpiece; dessert napkins, purple cardboard daisies; a fun “50″ necklace for the guest of honor and tall “50″ candles for the magnificent cake (purchased from Clay’s Bakery in Berwyn).
As for the food, Annie’s husband David and son Matthew did an excellent job in selecting a nice variety from the Towne House menu. Served buffet style, the delicious offerings included chicken parmesan, penne pasta, roast beef, mixed vegetables and red roasted potatoes. Prior to the main course, the waitstaff served a crisp house salad featuring cucumbers, carrots, beets and chick peas in an Italian vinaigrette.
Speaking of service, the Town House staff could not have been more accommodating, from Nickie, our efficient, high-energy waitress (who has been working at the restaurant for 43 years) to the friendly bartender (whose name unfortunately escapes me at the moment). If you live in the area and have a special event on the horizon, give the Towne House a call today.
Saturday evening after the party, I did something pretty rare for me; I actually went to see a movie. But only because it starred real American heroes — actual US Navy SEALs — and presented a positive, albeit realistic view of this very specialized sector of the US military and the risks they take to keep our country safe and free. Go see Act of Valor as soon as you can; it will give you en even greater appreciation and respect for those willing to sacrifice everything, even the opportunity to grow old with their spouses and raise their children, to take a stand against evil.
So what’s on tap for this week? In 24 hours, I will mark two weeks on Atkins without a single deviation from the plan! I may continue on Phase One a bit longer before transitioning into Phase Two but am very pleased to have sailed through Induction seamlessly — in spite of two big events this past weekend (the other being an 80th Birthday celebration on Sunday for a cousin). Willpower aside, it’s not easy walking away from birthday cake, ice-cream sundaes and cookies, although having the freedom to eat sugar-free jell-o with real whipped cream definitely helps soften the blow!
Did I mention my wedding cookies were a HUGE hit at the party? That, combined with the fact that they are Annie’s favorites, certainly made it worth the effort to bake them without sampling; so I savored them vicariously through all the various people who raved about their deliciousness. Hey, it’s not as if I’ll never eat them again!
So now it’s back to blogging, writing, editing and following up on proposals.
What are your plans for the week? Do you have any special celebrations coming up? Wishing you success in all of your endeavors!