Surprise! Happy 70th Birthday Mom!

My Mom was born on July 26, 1941 and, before today, she had never had a “real” birthday party. She had birthday celebrations with her immediate family and her grandparents, but never a birthday party with friends and family. She only told me about this fact less than two months ago while I was in the midst of planning and preparing for our big Costa Rica trip.

70 is kind of a big deal birthday so I decided that she should have a party. Not just any party, a surprise party. I called my sister and she said she was in. I sent out save the dates pretty much as soon as we decided on a date. I decided that we should have the party at Doheny State Beach and reserved a picnic area that would accommodate 50 – 100 people. The day before we left for vacation, the invitation went in the mail.

My sister on fried chicken, which we would buy and ribs that we would prepare. We also decided to make baked beans (me), pasta salad (sister) and asian inspired cole slaw (sister). In the end we also had we had rolls; chips and dip; watermelon; nuts; candy; cheese and olives; strawberries and dip; oh and cakes – about four of them. My aunts, cousins and friend provided some of the additional items and my sister and I brought the rest.

I am not sure what it is, maybe it is being born of depression era parents or being decended from farmers who cooked large meals to feed all the farm workers, but we always are afraid that we are not going to have enough and then end up with way more than we need. These days, we come prepared with to go containers. Today was no exception. We also seem to have a family trait of fearing that nobody will come to our parties. I am not sure where this comes from and it is a bit weird when you pair it with the excessive amount of food issue. Anyway, we had about 55 people at the party and an excess of food.

I am super grateful to my best friend who has worked with me on many projects such as this one in the past. She agreed, without hesitation, to help me set up for the party and also helped me come up with the “theme”. My sister was not able to help with set-up because she was in charge of getting my mother, along with my dad who was in on the whole thing, to the event.

I picked my friend up at 8:30 AM and I couldn’t have gotten it done without her. My husband was also a huge help. He made about 20 trips hauling things from home to the beach.

Here is the back story on our party planning – my friend and I worked together for several years a few years back. At the time she was the office technician and I was the a supervisor at a school for people with developmental disabilities. The school is located on the campus of a state residential facility for people with developmental disabilities where we both still work, just in different capacities now. At the time, among other things, I oversaw adult education at the facility. The school also served individuals who were high school aged.

The wonderful man who oversaw the high school and who my friend worked for at the time wasn’t much into party planning. I, on the other hand ,like to plan parties and really thought that the students should have a more “normal” school experience that included things like proms and other dances.

I wrote a lottery proposal (that was before the State of California was broke) and secured funding so we could provide the students with some of these types of experiences. My friends boss and I had a good working relationship and he was in support of me taking over the planning of events at the school, including those for the high school aged kids. I am not sure how I roped her into it. At the time we began working on these events together we did not know one another that well, but she jumped right in with both feet. She is a very creative person and has a great eye when it comes to spaces.

We transformed the gym at the school into many things over the years: The Arctic; A Rain Forest; a Disco Party; a Black and White Ball; Central Park Rose Garden; and Arabia to name a few.

Our process for choosing themes was a bit unconventional. It consisted of roaming around a local design warehouse, looking at things and talking. By the end of the trip, we had a theme – it just came together. It was like we shared a brain at times.

Putting together these large scale events was hard work that sometimes kept us at work until midnight the night before an event. it also sometimes involved my husband mixing cement while wearing my sweat pants, but that is a story for another day. All of the work was worth it to see how the “clients” lit up when they saw the room and how beautiful they looked at acted at the events.

My mom’s party came together much the same way only on a smaller scale with the walk being around party city. We went with a colorful beach theme. The table decorations were sand buckets filled with colorful tissue paper flowers (that I made over the course of the last few nights). It wasn’t fancy, but it was colorful, the food was plentiful (and people seemed to like it) and best of all, my Mom was surprised and had a good time. It reminded me of how much I enjoy planning events.

Just as expected, we had a ton of food left over, but people happily took it in the to go containers that we had brought. It was a long day, but by 8:30 PM I had the dishes done and was soaking in a hot bath. Other than a bit of a sunburn and a broken crock pot, I think the day was pretty perfect. Check out the pictures in my album. Also, please visit Mamma Chaos’ Blog, Chaos & Love.


Here is the recipe I came up with for the ribs i served today;

Baby Back Ribs

Pork Back Ribs
Monterey Steak Seasoning
1 -2 Onions sliced
Barbecue Sauce

Pre-heat oven to 330 degrees. Spray a baking pan that will accommodate the ribs with Pam. Sprinkle steak seasoning on both sides of the ribs. Layer the onions between the ribs. Poor beer into the pan to about 1 inch deep. Bake, covered with foil, for 2 hours. This can be done the day before. On the day that you plan to eat the ribs, heat grill (charcoal or gas). After the grill is ready, place ribs on the grill and baste generously with your favorite barbecue sauce. Grill until heated through and no longer pink. Serve with additional barbecue sauce if desired.