today i thought i would share some snippets of what’s really been occupying my time and attention since christmas.  all these posts you’ve been reading?  they were carefully archived over the holidays so that i could continue posting as i worked slowly and methodically on executing a rather significant event that, in a night, has come and gone in a flash of friends, flowers, and flan.

this year, my mother in law turned 70, an event certainly deserving of celebration.  she spent most of her adult life in san diego, where she left her friends to join us in davis.  unfortunately, we aren’t always the best company given life’s current demands of us, and we actually missed her birthday when we were away at a conference!  we excused that hiccup by planning to do something really grand, and months ago began orchestrating a surprise family trip back to san diego for the occasion.  when some travel limitations were imposed on her a few months ago, we shifted gears and decided to bring san diego to her.  and the surprise party was born.

i am no stranger to hosting parties.  if you know me from my time in public health school, you will remember our weekly galas that began as potlucks and quickly morphed into several-day experiments in cooking for me…i spent those years exploring novel cooking techniques, regional cuisines, and ingredients.  in my days before children, i could shop each week at 5 (not an exaggeration) stores and markets to obtain all the supplies, spend 3 days doing prep work, and set alarms for various times of the night to proof my bread dough.  now, not so much.  between the food, decorations, and gifts, this party was a grueling few months in the making, rife with disasters small and large, not to mention more cooking and certainly more cleaning than i’m partial to.  but, for a select few special occasions, the sacrifices are worthwhile.


food.  i am a confessed cookbookaholic.  maybe two years ago, i had to recognize this very real problem and put some limits on my obsession for the sake of both finances and shelf space, so i cut back to one purchase per year.  i have longingly been watching this gentleman for years as three cookbooks have come and gone.  finally, this party gave me a perfect excuse to purchase jerusalem, a cookbook rich with history, beautiful color photographs and stories, and a serious arsenal of recipes unlike any other cookbook i own.  this is the favorite cuisine of the birthday girl, whose parents immigrated from lebanon to colombia before she was born.

while i’m no stranger to the kitchen, cooking for a crowd always poses some challenges, and some techniques and ingredients were somewhat unfamiliar to me.  i myself grew up in the largest arab epicenter outside the middle east, where fantastic lebanese food can be found at nearly every intersection.  thus, i might be a stern critic, but i’d call the turnout of our spread good but not great.  however, i look forward to tinkering with some of the recipes on a smaller scale (i have minced more mint and parsley in the last week than i hope ever to again) so they taste more like what i’m accustomed to on an (i think) pretty authentic palate.  as an aside, my camera mysteriously disappeared for most of the evening, so this is the only picture of the food, and pictures of the night overall are generally lacking…

decor.  unless you really have a knack for these things (i do not), i daresay it’s impossible
DSC04337 to dream up decor for a party that somehow combines elements of class and elegance with cost effectiveness and efficiency.  without the luxury of just sitting down, figuring out what the ambience should be, and then shopping around for the best deal, the decor for this party was a continually and rapidly evolving beast that included little bits and pieces picked up here and there over the past several weeks with really no clear idea of how they might come together until the table was set at t-5 minutes last night.  so, what does a dinner party look like when the planning is totally dictated by two toddlers?  some candles here, some flowers there, and balloons.  lots of balloons.  not the most environmentally friendly, but the kids and their grandma are equally fascinated by them.

i dragged my starving, exhausted children for what would be their worst outing to joann fabric last week in search of table linen inspiration…my kids, like all kids, get squirrelly at the fabric store and believe me when i say i try to avoid such joint ventures at all costs.  seeing as the party was days away and i had no table linens, no money to buy table linenes, and no time to make table linens, i showed up to joann with my 20% coupon in hand, a vague idea of table dimensions, one pb&j, and my conviction.


things devolved quickly from there.  the pb&j went fast–too fast, and i knew we were in trouble in terms of both hunger and
entertainment.  i hadn’t even found the muslin yet and the kids were already in tears, very likely considering cannibalism.  at one point, bean who’d been ill a few days looked at me with urgency and said “my tummy hurts, i don’t feel good,” words she’s never before uttered that made me fear we were about to have a cleanup-in-quilting-cottons situation.  after a lengthy debate at the fabric cutting counter over the sound of my two screaming children about the appropriate width for the tablecloths (how much overhang is TOO much if i want to avoid any cutting or seaming?) and size of napkins for 14 guests (am i right that 1 1/8 yds sounds a little skimpy?!), i walked away with a whopping total of a combined 7 yds of two different types of muslin.  my friend alyssa quite reasonably asked me the other night what i planned to do with all that muslin, and i confessed i hadn’t a clue.  but it’s about the cheapest fabric money can buy, it’s neutrally colored, and can be reused in a million different ways.  under the circumstances, it sounded like a real winner.

it’s evident i still don’t really understand, even with the assistance of people who spend 40 hours weekly dealing with it, the dimensions of fabric.  3 yards became a perfectly sized tablecloth for the monstrosity that took over our foyer for 24 hours, 3 yards remains on the craft room floor, and the 1 1/8 yard that i argued over turned into 14 silkscreened napkins the size of kleenex tissues (i TOLD her that wasn’t enough fabric…another hatch mark on the hate side of my love/hate relationship with joann’s).  totally useless as napkins, but also easily repurposed for as yet unknown projects.


DSC04318and finally, gifts.  i’ve discussed many times over on this blog how much i love to make gifts for people, especially when i have an excuse to invest in expensive materials.  like, to acknowledge the start of someone’s 8th decade on earth.  when the concept of this party was still in its most infantile stages, i saw this post on the purl bee (my virtual happy place that i visit several times daily just to center myself) and was even more over the top inspired than i usually am.  i wanted to make everything.  all of it.  but i narrowed it down to two with the help of my husband, and so, work began.  when we emerged from yosemite in mid january, i had a white caps cowl just waiting for gentle blocking.

i immediately began the next project, which i calculated would require 4 hours of work a day every day from then until the party, which is precisely the amount of hours on a good day that i might have available to spend on everything aside from childcare.  a few days of this, and my children were poised for mutiny (hungry.  not bathed.  very bored.), all aspects of my life were neglected (both dust and dirty laundry accumulated with terrifying ferocity), and the project was developing too many errors.  so, it has been set aside for me to pick up more leisurely once life post-party resumed normalcy and will remain a secret until then.


so, i turned to my sewing machine, collecting dust since 2012, to whip up a little something instead.  it had been so long, i really thought i wouldn’t even remember how to thread it.  but, after incorrectly cutting my fabric four times (apparently, i did forget how to use a rotary cutter), i came up with this little number in a single afternoon.  i followed a pattern from this book, which i bought before i even touched a sewing machine, and was pleased that i retained enough from my holiday sewing blitz that i was able to (in my humble opinion) improve upon the pattern a bit with the some added interfacing, canvas, a magnetic closure and internal pocket.

DSC04314it was looking a little simple, and as someone whose wardrobe is 99% dictated by practicality, i relish the opportunity to make more interesting items for others.  i picked up this little bauble in the michaels beading section and sewed it on over the magnetic snap…it was just enough sparkle to really change the feel of the clutch to something more glamorous.

and so, after much plotting and planning, chopping and frying, browsing and buying, sewing and knitting, and two failed attempts at flan (third time’s a charm), we somehow managed to successfully pull of what ended up as a small dinner party, but was actually a major undertaking.  fortunately, one only turns 7o once!  we spent yesterday restoring our home and lives to a more natural rhythm, forgoing usual projects to relax outdoors and reconnect.  i am looking forward to returning my attention to past ideas put on hold, and to nurturing whatever new ones arise, always in the most unexpected and delightful ways.

4 Comments on surprise

  1. Whew. That’s a lot of work, Ash. The clutch is beautiful, and I love the cocktail napkins (can we call them that)? Haven’t you read my napkin tutorial?? “I cut 18″ squares, which produced 16.5″ square finished napkins. So for four napkins of this size you’d need just over a yard of 44″ wide fabric to give yourself some wiggle room. ” Yup, I’d say the 1 1/8 yard is quite a bit skimpy. Can’t wait to see what you turn your attention to next! I hear Rae (Made by Rae) and Dana (MADE) will be making an announcement tomorrow – Celebrate the Boy, I believe. Let’s do it. xo

    • i’m still recovering! didn’t you see, i linked to your napkin tute! totally used it! loved it! unfortunately, i thought of that AFTER i went to the fabric store…i didn’t even show up there knowing i was going to make napkins. is it harder for me than average mothers to have a cogent thought between my ears? i actually have my own napkin tutorial stockpiled away and they are appropriately sized…i really should have known better, but the screaming kids and defiant fabric cutter totally threw me for a loop. does anyone in this century use fabric cocktail napkins? i could definitely be down for some boy celebration.

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  1. […] modern meadow leftover from a previous home dec project, and more of my ample supply of muslin.  it’s a housewarming gift for my friend who loves trees and just purchased her first home! […]

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