The past few weeks have been busy ones. There's been a lot going on as I try to finish up things at work, but also my sister, brother and I pulled off quite a coup: a surprise 60th birthday party for my mother.
Now, my mum is someone that nothing gets past. She doesn't miss a trick. So organising a huge party for her without her knowing was always going to be tricky. And made especially tricky by a couple of factors: we'd planned to hold it in my brother's shearing shed ... which is great except for the fact that it would be mid-winter (brrrrrr!); the shed was full of stuff; my brother only has a small oven so how on earth were we going to feed the hordes?
So began a rather massively logistical exercise. First, my brother spent his weekends moving things out of his shed. Next, my sister and I basically kept Telstra in business as we figured out the big things (should we cook or get it catered?) and the little things (what colour napkins?).
In May my mum came to stay with me, so while she was having a shower one evening I rang my dad and he grabbed her address book. I scribbled down the names and addresses of all her friends - some of them old, old friends she rarely sees - and some of the local people she's good friends with too.
Then Fiona made up an invitation, complete with map (so no-one accidentally turned up at my parents' place) and we sent it out to 47 people.
Amazingly - well, not really amazing because my mum is a lovely person and lots of people know this - 34 came. That's a very high acceptance rate!
Fiona and I had agreed that any number over about 25 would be too hard to cook for ourselves in my brother's little kitchen, so we looked for a caterer. Except the one I remembered in my parents' small town had gone out of business. One of Mum's fiends suggested a lady who might be able to help us.
I called her and, yes, she was free - yes, she could cook whatever we liked. This was a huge relief, because the thought of cooking up a three-course meal for 34 people in my brother's kitchen (at 8 months pregnant) was quite simply ... daunting.
So then my sister and I bought 12m of bright yellow fabric for the tablecloths, I picked up some $2-a-metre spotted fabric in Marrickville that Fiona zipped up into beautiful, festive bunting (she's very, very handy with a sewing machine - unlike me). I sought out the perfect spotted napkins to go on the tables (not easy - eventually fluked it at an online party store).
I'd seen a table setting where old jars were wrapped in tissue paper and then had a tealight placed inside, so we set about collecting as many old jars as possible (in the end we amassed 30-35). The tissue paper was bought, the fishbowl-shaped vases found at a $2 shop, the cases of wine and bubbly ordered, the plates, bowls, wineglasses etc hired from Dubbo ... sheesh!
We sorted the menu with the caterer - all hearty winter fare. Then, at her suggestion, we tried to find someone with a bain marie. Eventually we arranged to borrow - free of cost - a bain marie from one of the local cafes.
On the day, we set all the tables, seating everyone so they knew at least someone next to them. We pinned up fairy lights. We worked out how we could get Mum there without her knowing too much. It actually all went relatively smoothly. Except for the bain marie, which turned out to be quite a bain...
We hadn't realised quite how much power it was drawing and while it was warmish it wasn't exactly heating the food (outside it was below zero, that didn't help). So it was 9.15 before our main courses were warm enough - just - to eat. Bummer.
Anyway, the main thing was that my mum got the surprise of her life - and she DID! She knew we were up to something but had no idea just what. When the lights went on in that darkened shed and we all yelled 'surprise' she was pretty shell shocked. It took her a couple of minutes to scan the room and when she saw friends she'd not seen for YEARS she got a bit teary...
I think she was pretty delighted about the whole thing - I just hope she's not going to expect that kind of effort every birthday from now on...!!