I told y’all about the surprise summer dates that I had planned for Russell throughout the summer…what I didn’t tell you is that they were my cover story! The entire time, I was planning a surprise 30th birthday party for Russ and didn’t want him to know. I set up a bunch of other surprise dates so when the time came for the party, he wasn’t suspicious.
With the help of my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and a bunch of really good friends and family members, we threw an epic surprise party. Seriously, I’m just going to toot away at the horn here for a second, because it was so much fun. I had more fun at his party than I did at our wedding!
The Theme: Cheers & Beers to 30 Years
Russell is an outdoorsy type, who really likes hiking, camping, and…beer. One of his fave brews is Sierra Nevada and the branding is perfect for what Russ likes – mountainous scenery. I took this as a theme and ran with it. His cake and the decorations were coordinated with both the outdoor theme and beer theme. We used chalkboard accents such as food/menu signs throughout the party, too. Then I used chalk on our deck to create a happy birthday banner.
I also found an awesome six-pack-themed party suite on Etsy (by LyonsPrints). We had the invites printed and a poster made, and then picked all of the other party decorations (like plates and streamers) by color scheme to match.
How To Plan A Surprise Party (when you live with the guest of honor!)
- Start early. I began planning in April and had the save the date out by early May for an August party. It helped to avoid the last-minute crunch of planning freakouts.
- Create a secret event on Facebook. Did you know you can do this? I made a private event, did not invite Russ, and he never saw all of his friends/family accepting and chatting. Private events don’t appear in the newsfeed unless you’ve been invited to them.
- Enlist help. I couldn’t have done the planning without my mother and sister-in-law. They made the food I couldn’t, helped mail the invites so Russell didn’t see, and helped set up the day of. One of Russell’s co-workers snuck invites to others. All of our family and friends helped in some way; every guest to the party brought a six pack. I never would have pulled it off without help.
- Buy/rent where you can, don’t DIY. The only reason this party actually worked is because I had it catered by a local grocery store chain. I didn’t even attempt to make food for 50+ people. Obviously, I had the budget to do this, so it was ok. But if you do have to make the food yourself, find a good friend who will let you use their kitchen and freezer prior to the party. It would have been too much to do the food myself since I live with Russ; he would have seen the food. I rented tables and chairs and paid a delivery fee, because even though I have a truck, I couldn’t load and unload alone.
- Have a cover story. And a back-up cover story. Here’s how the weekend went: Friday night, I took Russ to the drive-in, which is by the airport. After the first movie ended, I told him we had another surprise and to drive to the airport. Once there, we picked up his best friend from out of town. I then surprised Russ with a pedal-paddle adventure for him and Shayne to get them out of the house the next day. When they came home from that, the surprise party was on. So if you count, I had 3 surprises lined up just to cover up the actual surprise, which was the party! It was worth the extra effort.
- Scale it back. Russ doesn’t care about decorations; I do. I had a massive DIY list of crafts I wanted to tackle and in the end, I chose two or three and that was it. The people, the food, and the fun were the important parts. I had to talk myself off the ledge a few times and I’m glad I did. Russ loved everything I did, but what we both loved most was spending time with our friends and family. Sanity and time were both saved!
- Hide things in plain sight. I worked on a few crafty things right in front of Russell and told him that they were for other people’s parties – like an upcoming baptism. He believed me without question. (It helps if you don’t usually fib to your spouse and they trust you, ha).
- Enlist someone to take photos. I was on my feet all day, running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I asked a friend to be in charge of photos and video and am so grateful – they caught moments I missed (we forgot to take photos; so did everyone else). These photos ended up being the only ones I have of the party!
- Buy thank you cards for the guest of honor. You just threw a party for someone, and now they have to write out a bunch of hand-written notes (which, let’s be honest, everyone hates doing) – oops. Make it easier by having thank you cards and stamps ready to go. Help fill them out. Do it as early as possible while you are still smiling at the memories you made and mean what you write in the card. It keeps the love going.
- Don’t forget the day after. Have food in the house, cold drinks, and a place to kick your feet up. We were exhausted the next day and didn’t want to do a single adult thing, like laundry. It kept the happy feeling going to have built-in, much needed R&R time. Also, there may be hangovers. Have Advil ready.
Cheers & Beers to 30 Years Surprise Party Gallery
Even though planning a surprise party for months while keeping it a secret from the person I live with was pretty hard to do, it somehow worked and was worth every stressful second. We had the most fun with ours friends and family…more fun than we had at our wedding, more fun than we’ve had in a long time. I was on a quest to recreate our #hssweetheartsummer and this party was the highlight. I feel closer to my family and friends, and closer to my husband. I wish I could do things like this for him all of the time, every day of the year. He deserves it. Every day should be a party!
I love fall for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: the weather; sweater season; Halloween(!!); caramel apples everywhere; cinnamon candles; football (!!); and last, but in no way least…my orange couch looking like it finally belongs in all of its festive glory, haha.
Most of all, I love decorating for fall. I probably own more fall decorations than Christmas decorations, and my house smells like pumpkin and cinnamon continuously through December. Walking in the door from a long day at work and being greeted by that scent automatically makes me feel all cozy and relaxed inside.
I decorated two weeks ago and then redecorated this weekend because I wasn’t happy with my first round of choices. (I know, I know, type A). But I think I’ve finally settled on this year’s layout, so here we go – my fall 2016 decor tour.
(I like saying that because it rhymes).
Dining Room Fall Decorations
Dining Room Buffet
Our dining room is pretty neutral, but I have a few blue accents in the form of dishes and pottery. It’s rare to find autumn decorations that aren’t purely orange, so when I saw these cute little floral buckets at Michael’s, I picked up two. The cake stand was a bridal shower gift from my friend Laura…I love it so much that I keep it out all year round. The white pumpkin dish is from the Martha Stewart collection at Macy’s. I use it to hide candy and for gravy at Thanksgiving, haha. Russ calls it my gravy pumpkin. We’re a strange bunch.
Dining Room Table
The copper-colored glass pumpkin I bought recently at Pier1 Imports. The two silver mercury glass pumpkins I purchased last year at TJ Maxx. I’ll have to move these if I want to serve Thanksgiving dinner, but they’re pretty for now.
I went on a HomeGoods adventure over the weekend, where I found the above tablecloth (again, there’s blue in it! Winner winner, chicken dinner!) and table runner. I could freaking live in HomeGoods, man, it’s a dangerous place. I’m not really one for pure paisleys, so I have a hard time finding tablecloths that I really like. This one was folksy in my eyes, kind of woodsy, so even though it’s too long, I bought it anyways.
My favorite fall decorations are the glass pumpkins scattered throughout my house. I buy one or two every year. It started with our wedding and my quest to buy as many mercury glass things as I could find, but now it’s a thing. I plan on having a massive collection to donate to some poor unsuspecting soul once I’m dead.
The large, orange swirly glass pumpkin and the copper colored pumpkin came from Pier1 Imports; the silver mercury glass pumpkin came from TJ Maxx. The above picture was before I decorated…I just put everything I own on the dining room table and then decided which room of the house it should go in. I have a system. haha.
Living Room Fall Decorations
The above purple-looking (ok, it’s almost black here, but in real life, it’s purple) pumpkin I made last year in a glass-blowing workshop. It was probably the neatest thing I’ve ever done in the city. The name of the studio is Vessel Glass, and they do all sorts of workshops throughout the year, including one for Christmas ornaments. I recommend going if you’re ever planning a trip to Pittsburgh. I bought the wreath at HomeGoods a few years ago and the other mercury glass items are my mantle decorations throughout the year.
I guess my taste is sort of spooky no matter the season.
And finally, this is where I’m sitting right now…on my orange couch, snuggling up to my two brand new Pottery Barn pumpkin pillows. The one on the right is actually a pillow cover, which I’ve recently discovered is the best of both worlds. I don’t get in trouble for adding more pillows to the couch, AND I get to swap out decorations seasonally.
There you have it! My cozy, little, pumpkin-everything fall decor tour. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to continue binge watching Longmire on Netflix before season 5 starts, while snuggled up in a blanket, with a candle burning nearby, eating autumn-colored peanut m&ms and pumpkin-shaped frozen Reese cups. #fallftw
It may only be September, but I am already getting started on the holiday crafting bonanza! I took inventory this past weekend; I have glittery gold, hot pink, blue, purple, and more ornaments in stock, just waiting to be put together for a custom ornament wreath.
The most popular request I receive is for rainbow ornament wreaths, which I consider my trademark. But I also get a lot of messages from folks who aren’t sure what they’d like. Keeping this in mind, when I took inventory I decided to put together a few ideas based on requests I’ve received.
This list is by no means comprehensive; as long as I have the colors, I’ll make you any custom ornament wreath you want!
If you’re interested, get your orders in early. I always try to have the orders completed by Thanksgiving so that I have time to enjoy the holidays, too. If you do place a custom order and let me know that you found my Etsy shop via this blog, I’ll give you a coupon code for 10% off!
Check out my Etsy shop to get started. It’s never too early to start celebrating the holidays!
I’ve wanted colorful hair my entire life. When I was a little kid, I used to hoard those Halloween colored-hair-spray-in-a-can contraptions that would turn your whole head (and your brush, bathroom, clothes, and lungs) hot pink. Arguably, the best time to experiment with wild hair color would have been high school or college, but I didn’t have a normal or easy experience with either of those due to one thing or another. Then I got my first corporate job where there was a strict dress code, so my dream of fun hair was put on hold – perhaps indefinitely.
But something has been happening to me and my mind lately…and it’s that my 30th birthday is looming. It’s got me feeling as old as the crypt keeper and also more confident in my own skin than I think I’ve ever been.
I didn’t have an easy childhood, so college should have been a blessing for me. I got away from the small town I grew up in and had a chance to start over, make my own name worth something. I worked my butt off and didn’t have nearly as much fun as I could have, because I didn’t really know how to – survival mode and all that.
And then…I got sick.
I was 20 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease; 23 when I started my first full-time professional job and had my first chemotherapy infusion (the same week…don’t know how I ever did that); 24 when Russ and I got married and I was able to stop taking chemo treatments (woot!); 27 when I started my current job and then had my gallbladder out a week later (wow, what is it with me and starting jobs?!)…you get the picture.
My roaring 20s had nothing to do with finding myself, soul-searching, traveling the world, or anything else you’ll read about in self-help books and on lifestyle blogs – no, my 20s roared for entirely different, much more traumatizing reasons.
But I’m ok with that. Because I’m healthy now, and damn it, I’m not going to let a big birthday stop me from having a little bit of fun. Which is why I decided to finally take the plunge and have purple highlights placed in my very dark hair:
I also had my stylist add bronzy/auburn, natural-toned peekaboo highlights throughout my hair to add more dimension. The purple streaks are only under my top layer of hair, allowing the color to peek through but not always be seen. I like the combined contrast of the purple and bronze – in some places, it looks like I have slightly pink highlights, too.
I was at the salon for about 5 1/2 hours total, to have my hair bleached, washed, dried, toned with the bronze dye, toned with the purple dye, then washed (3 more times), dried, and styled. I have very dark, very thick, very course hair that takes a long time to process and dry, period, so your time in the chair will mostly likely be different. It was worth it for me. I love it!
Most of the pictures on Pinterest of purple highlighted hair are photoshopped. I wanted to show the fresh color in its un-edited form so anyone else out there can see real results. It’s hell for my poor stylist to have someone like me, with black hair, walk in asking for a pastel lavender that can only be achieved if I make my hair Elsa-levels of white first, thus destroying it in the process. The color looks vibrant and sparkly in natural sunlight, but you can barely see the purple when I’m indoors. It’s the exact kind of subtle I wanted – fun underneath for the weekends, but what I believe to still be professional enough for work.
I truly love it and feel that…maybe if my 20s weren’t the greatest, my 30s could be even better. I know it’s silly and maybe a little immature, but I’m not sure that I care. I wanted to do this for so long and I love the results. My hair turned out prettier than I ever thought it could, and I feel pretty with it.
Thank you to my stylist Alayna, who has always made my hair come out looking better than I could ever imagine, and to Be.Salon for making my sunset hair dreams come true. Thank you for helping me to feel…proud and happy to be me. I love my hair, and I like me. That’s a pretty cool thing to feel before 30. :-)
Do y’all remember about two months ago, when Russell and I bought 50 pounds of sweet Georgia peaches from The Peach Truck? We…erhm…severely overestimated our love for the fruit. And we had to do something with all of those peaches…
I made peach pies and took them to parties. We made peach pie filling and froze it by the gallon bagful. I gave away peaches by the dozen. I ate them straight up. But what I really wanted to do was make homemade jam.
Russell and I enjoy canning – especially tomatoes from our garden because nothing makes a winter chili taste better than homegrown summer tomatoes. It’s an unexpected delight when it’s freezing outside. But I’ve never canned jam. As it turns out, it’s much harder to can tomatoes because of the whole nasty botulism thing; sugary-sweet jam is less terrifying to make, in my opinion.
I love my Ball Canning Cookbook, but I didn’t want to make jam with pectin as all of the recipes in the cookbook called for. These peaches were too delicious on their own to go adding more than the necessary ingredients. In the process of researching, I found my absolute favorite new food blog: Taste of Southern. If you love good old fashioned comfort food like I do, you must follow Steve.
I followed his step-by-step peach jam recipe to a T and we ended up with the best tasting peach jam I’ve ever had. Go on and check it out. You won’t regret it.
As for me, I’m going to be eating peach jam until I turn into a peach. Which let’s face it, is my life goal anyways.
A few weeks ago, the hubs and I had another surprise summer date at my favorite local restaurant. Bistro19 is where my bridal shower was held, and where Russ and I celebrate every special occasion – each anniversary, birthday, even a good day at work because I don’t believe in looking very hard for reasons to celebrate, haha. The restaurant puts together special tasting menus throughout the year and we’ve always wanted to go, but never quite made it.
This time I put reservations in two months in advance and off we went on a Tuesday evening after work. I thought it was a proper way to spend an August night, eating four delicious courses of peach this and that. The food was incredible. Like an absolute idiot, I forgot to take pictures before we chowed down. But hey, I choose to live first and document life second. I won’t beat myself up too bad for that.
So here’s a cheesy picture of us, instead:
And holy cannoli, does that forsythia need to be trimmed. *le sigh*. Add it to “the list.”
Life has been pretty busy lately (there is a post coming soon about the ultimate summer surprise date – Russell’s surprise 30th party), so I suck at blogging, again. For example, I started this post…three weeks ago. It’s been sitting in the draft queue. I swear this happens every few months, then in my downtime, I get super inspired and start doing blog spirit fingers everywhere.
In retrospect, since summer is pretty much over now, I’m glad I put together these surprise dates. It really made us take pause and see each other in a new light. You have to date your spouse. You absolutely have to make time for it. It was worth the effort of secret planning and then of course, acting out all of the secret plans. There was something charming and silly and dare I say, puppy-love-esque about it all. High school sweetheart summer, indeed.
We are heading off for another adventure this weekend, in what was supposed to be the final surprise of the summer – and a farewell to the season, at that. Here’s to more feet on the dashboard and lovin’ all summer long.
Just a little #flashbackfriday action for you…four years ago today, my best friends hosted the most amazing bridal shower for me – southern peach themed, of course. (I admit, I have a problem). It was such a nice day, at my favorite restaurant, with my favorite people. Now that everyone is growing up and having babies (with the exception of myself and sister-in-law, everyone in the top photo is a mom now), it’s especially nice to look back and see how we’ve grown together.
Feeling sentimental today, I suppose. But in a happy, good way. I’m lucky to have so many sisters.
There are certain recipes that can take you back to a simpler time, reminding you of sweet summer sunshine, lightning bugs, family dinners, and childlike giddiness. This is one of those recipes for me.
My Bubbie & Nana, my grandmother and great-grandmother on my dad’s side, respectively, were two of the most influential women in my life growing up. In the true Italian grandma tradition, wherever they were, so was food. I can’t recall a single memory that doesn’t have at least one butter cookie or loaf of banana bread lurking in the background. My dad and I both loved this blackberry cheesecake dessert recipe that Bubbie used to make in the summer, and since I hadn’t had it in years, I decided to give it a whirl. It’s an easy-to-make recipe that tastes like a fruity cheesecake without actually being a cheesecake.
Ironically, there’s a bit of debate between my dad and I as to whether the fruit topping Bubbie always used was blackberry or black raspberry; when I looked at the recipe card, it said blueberry, for crying out loud, a fruit neither of us really care for. Who the hell knows what we used to eat, haha. Ah, how funny memories can be.
If anyone can find black raspberry pie filling, more power to you/send me some, please. We haven’t been able to locate it in years.
Sadly, Nana passed away when I was 18 (herself at the glorious age of 99 years young), and although Bubbie is still kickin’ (at 90), she doesn’t bake anymore. Having this recipe and making this dessert is a way for all of us to remember the good times, and I wanted to share the warm fuzzies and the recipe with you.
Blackberry Cheesecake Dessert Recipe
Blackberry Cheesecake Dessert
An easy summer dessert that tastes like a fruity cheesecake without all of the effort.
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1 stick of melted margarine OR butter (you can use whatever you prefer; Bubbie’s recipe called for Oleo, a margarine – in true throwback fashion – but I prefer butter)
- 3/4 cup sugar; divided into 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 2 eggs
- 1 large can blackberry pie filling
- Whipped topping, such as Cool Whip
- Glass 8 x 12 baking dish
- Mixing bowl and mixer
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Melt butter or margarine in the microwave for 15-20 seconds.
- Combine the 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, the melted butter or margarine, and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a bowl and mix with your hands/a fork until well-combined. Reserve 1/4 cup of the mixture; set aside.
- Press the remaining graham cracker crumb mixture on the bottom of the glass baking dish, creating a crust.
- Using your mixer, cream remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the cream cheese until well blended, then add 2 eggs, one at a time. Mix well until there are no lumps and the mixture is smooth.
- Pour the cream cheese mixture over the crust to form a thin layer in the glass baking dish, and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees until well set. Similar to a traditional cheesecake, the top will puff and rise. It’s ok if it cracks; you will be covering it up with fruit.
- Once the “cheesecake” has baked well enough, cool for about one hour on the counter.
- Once cool, pour the blackberry pie filling over the top of the cake, spreading evenly. Then add the Cool Whip or whipped topping over the fruit layer.
- Sprinkle whipped topping with remaining graham cracker crumb mixture.
- Chill before serving. Store covered, in the refrigerator.
I remember eating this often at Easter and all throughout the summer. I hope to try it with red raspberries at some point, and I’m sure it’s probably delicious with cherry pie filling, too. If you try it and customize it, I’d love to hear how it turns out!