Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My 40th Birthday Party: The Untold Story

Did I lure you in with my scandalous title?? This post is going to be exciting, but maybe not Fox-worthy. I wanted to share all the vendors and details that made my party a success so you can start planning your next birthday party. (Did you get my lecture on why you should throw yourself a birthday party? It's quick: You should.)

Let's begin at the very beginning...the inspiration photo that I took last winter:

Designed by Margot Madison, world-famous invitation designer ;o) Letterpress with hot pink ink and inkless impression on Crane's Pearl 600 gsm cardstock. The liners were designed and printed in full color and cut to fit the envelopes. Envelopes were from Paper Source, A7 fuchsia. Fonts were Century Gothic and Aphrodite Slim Pro. You can read a little more about them here.

I used white stock tablecloths from the vendor. I purchased white paper doilies in 4", 8" and 12" sizes and placed them in a random (which means very purposely placed to look random) pattern along the length of the table. I used double stick tape for some of the doilies so they wouldn't be blown away when the AC kicked on. I spent several months collecting miscellaneous milk glass vases and containers from my local Goodwill. Not one was more than $2. If you don't have that kind of time, you can check around etsy vendors like this one and amass a collection pretty quickly. I focused on patterned designs and skipped the fruit and floral designs since my inspiration was more about graphic repeated patterns. The flowers were designed by my friend Joni from Sprouts Floral Designs who filled them with red, pink and orange roses and carnations. In an ideal world, they would have been ranunculous or peonies but those are just not available at the end of June in Cincinnati, Ohio. I thought the roses and carnations were an excellent substitute. Joni and I arranged groupings of vases based on differing shapes, heights and patterns. I loved how they looked, and also thought that even though they were so full of color, they still struggled to stand up to the bigness of the room. Had I a chance to do it again, I'd include at least twice as many per table.

The candles were Fenomen white pillars from IKEA that I covered in my Chiyogami decorative paper (found here) and adhered with my handy-dandy tape gun. The Glimma glass votives and votive candles were also from IKEA. I used some white puff paint to add a dot along the edge of the votives. I thought they needed a little somethin-somethin, you know? Of course I don't have a photo of the votives. I think I'll show that little project later on in a DIY Friday post.

These were my favorite to create and felt most like a gift from the essence of Margot-ness. I wanted to find some way to make my guests feel truly special and honored. I also wanted all my friends and family to mingle, which as a sometimes introvert I can understand the need for a little push in the social direction. The packets were custom envelopes created from left-over envelope liner stock. I created the die on my computer and gave it a disappointing try on the Silhouette SD. NOBODY told me that you can't put text stock on the adhesive boards without ruining both the paper and the board. That was very annoying but I persevered printed the template on the back of the paper (the white side). I then cut with my X-Acto knife and folded them into the little envelopes. I used Divine Twine in hot pink to tie them shut and wrote the guests names on pink, orange or red tags. Adorable! Inside I included custom name tags, using the round mandala design from my invitation printed onto pages of adhesive 2" circles from this on-line vendor. In addition to the guest's names, I included their relationship to me; Amy Benavente, Best Friend from College or Gail Bason, Margot's Mom etc. I think another great idea would be to include a fun fact about that person, but there were just too many guests to do that in my case. I included 2 Question Cards that had a set of 5 simple questions, encouraging guests to talk to someone they didn't know to get the answers. The cards were to be returned in a large glass container, where later in the evening I raffled off gifts that I'd brought with me. I must say, that I was most pleased with the results of this game. I saw friends and family from totally separate worlds talking to each other. It was really a joy for me to see that because awesome people should meet other awesome people! This approach took the awkwardness out of that first conversation, you know? I also had a hand-written note inside, thanking the guest for coming and for the other things they did for me throughout my 40 years of life. These notes were made from scrap envelope liner paper (I made good use out of that paper, didn't I??) folded on the short side and tucked into a business-card sized envelope that had the top chopped off with my rotary cutter scallop blade. Total cuteness.

The party started at 8 p.m. so most people should have eaten some kind of dinner. I wanted to make sure everyone had enough wine and beer, so I focused on that. Then I added snacks so that the wine and beer were absorbed into the system before they had to leave. The birthday cake was baked by George Sias, who was recommended to me by Karen from the I-Do Boutique in O'Bryonville. He is totally off the grid (meaning, he doesn't even use email *gasp!*) so if you would like his contact info, you can email me and I'll send it to you. The cake was white with strawberry filling, and chocolate with chocolate filling. Totally delish! The cake decoration was one of my sticking points in the planning process. I met with one cake vendor and left feeling totally afraid that they were going to give me something that looked too much like a wedding cake. And I had wedding cake trauma that I won't bore you with right now, but suffice it to say: I did not want a repeat disappointment. I saw a wonderful post on how to make ruffle flowers from fondant and thought, "Why not? I'll give it a shot myself." Several days and red-stained hands later, I had some decent ones and packed them up for the final day. I asked George to keep the cake decor a simple white with dots around the edges, and I would add these brightly colored ruffle flowers myself. When the time came to add them to the perfectly white cake, I panicked. I didn't want to put them on and hate it! And then it would be too late to change. I opted for the "less is more" approach and filled the top with my orange, red and pink candles. I'm SO HAPPY I did that. It looked perfect to me.

The rest of the food was snacky: Fancied up hummus, kalamata olives, marinated mozzerella balls, pita triangles, Spicy pretzels, veggie shots (an inspiration after my husband found a random case of shot glasses while cleaning our garage) of red and yellow peppers, carrot sticks and sugar snap peas with ranch dressing at the bottom, Killer Brownie bites, cream puffs, fruit wands with washi tape flags and assorted cheeses with crackers. I also had Mad*Pops (made by Madisono's Gelato in Cincinnati), delicious fruity popsicles in bright pink tubs filled with ice.

The drinks included white and red wine, bottled water, raspberry lemonade (made by my amazing husband), and a delicious Amber Ale from the local Mt. Carmel Brewery. I had it in a keg because that seemed way more fun than bottles. I haven't tapped a kegger since college!

Pink, red and orange dessert plates and napkins were from trusty Target. I used white 16 oz paper cups I found on sale at my local paper store and personalized them by printing stickers with the mandala pattern. The wine cups were standard clear plastic. I prefer glass in most cases but I was on a tighter budget than that would allow.

All the food was placed on white ceramic dishes or white milk glass pedestals. I kept to square shapes because I'm neurotic that way. The pink glass bowls were a set from IKEA and very useful for stacking. I made a simple riser for the cake by covering a square box with pink tissue. The food signs were printed on white cardstock, edges trimmed into a "V" and curved on the tails like a banner that can stand itself up. You do that by holding one end of the card to a table edge, pressing the other side with your palm and firmly dragging it down (similar to curling ribbon, only without the ribbon and the scissors). The tablecloth on the food table is a vintage floral I purchased from this etsy vendor.

As you might have guessed, this part took nearly all my mental and physical energy. I ordered reams of pink, red and orange tissue and made millions of tissue poms enlisting the assistance of neighborhood kids and anyone who happened to stop by my house. The birthday swag used the poms in 2 sizes, hanging from ribbons and all attached to a Command hook. I did this part the weekend before so I could get a feel for the way it hung on the wall, which I highly recommend. I also created paper decorations with my Chiyogami paper to add some visual interest between the intense color and puff of the pom-poms. I threaded some smaller poms on the middle part of the swag and attached the "40" with tape. The numbers were cut from sparkly scrap-booking paper) I printed the number from my computer in reverse and trimmed it out with my Xacto blade. Whew!

After seeing the swag and the table decorations in place, my sister thought (correctly) that there was still not enough color. So we made a million more poms and put them on the window sills. Good thing I'd gotten so much tissue...I nearly used it all!

I would have loved to have had a DJ at my party, but again with my minimal budget it could not be done. After thinking about it though, I realized that I had several good friends who had talents and might be willing to share them with everyone. Alas, Michael Mann (music officianado) created a playlist on his iPod that was played throughout the evening (the event place had a really easy hook-up for that kind of thing). Then the amazing April Combs (singer-songwriter from the LA based Honneycombs and children's music April8) sang a few songs with the amazing Laurie Burnham on back-up and Michael Mann on guitar. AND last, but not least, I convinced my cousin Mindy Jones (whose been singing in LA with Moby mmm-hmmm) to play and sing a song on the fly. The singing was definitely one of the highlights of my night. Such special people around me! It was magical, I tell you!

This thing was massive and a lot of work, but I loved it and wouldn't have had my party without it! I used chicken wire and attached the (you guessed it) tissue poms with wire. I varied the sizes and colors so the pattern would appear random and full of texture. Again, I did this in my house the week before and hung the structure to Command hooks. This set-up was a little scary. The Command hooks fell once, but I wasn't sure if it was because I didn't wait the allotted 1 hour or didn't prep the wall properly. I must also admit to some concern with the camera set-up. I was going to just use my Canon Powershot on a tripod and use the flash attached. Not the best, but it was all this non-techie girl could do under the circumstances. Then my birthday karma came to the rescue. It turns out that the manager of the space (Gather-College Hill) is a photographer and he had a sturdy wooden backdrop that I could attach the chicken wire to, AND he let me use his professional lighting and boom, AND he even fixed the settings on my camera so the photos would work the best it could. It was truly a Birthday Miracle and I was ever so thankful. I bought some decorative frames from my trusty Goodwill, removed the glass or mirrors and painted the frames white. The guests really had a good time with the photos and I'm so glad I did it...otherwise I'd not have any pictures from the event!!
This is the photo wall in progress...

The photos gave guests a reason to be silly and have fun!
I keep forgetting things! I also suggested that guests wear something pink, orange or red. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, but I loved how everyone was participating in the theme (and looked great in all my pictures) See?

Whew! I think I got it all! Now that I've documented it, I think I can possibly not bring up my party for another week maybe. We'll see, though...  :o)


  1. i totally love your photo wall background...i've been going through the internet looking for "bright" ideas for my 40th and came across yours celebration. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful ideas. -mae

  2. This party is amazing! Every single detail was perfect! This something I would do for myself, if only I can convince my family to let me do my own 40th!

  3. Hey Margot! How do you make the big Pom poms?! What is your teqnique to get different shapes in the Pom poms since I see some have petals and some are more of a wavy look! Please help!! Thank you!

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