Themes

Rooftop Dance Party

This party is perfect for someone who loves to dance, and wants to amongst a bunch of people that they know. The benefit of creating a party space where there wasn’t one before is that you are free from the trappings of apathy which tend to pervade places that extend themselves in a certain way for too long. You know you are in a place like this when the corners seem stale. Stale is only good for bread and for the birds.

Objective

Facilitate a dance scene reminiscent of a hot Miami night on a rooftop except on Bainbridge Island.

Details

  • Guests: 50-80
  • Rooftop adjacent to the art museum was something I had been eyeing since its construction. Several introductions, personal emails, and emails on my behalf later, I had it booked and insured–as a gift no less! The universe wanted this party to occur, clearly, and so I pressed on.  To the police station.

Note: It’s important to consider all the people you may effect and try to mitigate circumstances before they occur.  For a perceived positive impact: look to extend. For a perceived negative impact: look to hedge.  Big mistakes are made when the focus is too narrow, although one cannot avoid mistakes altogether as long as one is human, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Be merciful because the less beat-up you are, the more fun you will have.

  • Get all the permits. Meet the police. Find out who will be on duty that night, and send a personal email. Make it clear to everyone that you are a law-abiding citizen and wish to remain so.
  • Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Plan as if someone will call the police to complain.  I proposed to the police chief that callers be given options: a) attend the party, or b) a trade of 2 hours community service by yours truly in exchange for them shutting their pie hole, er…allowing the dance music to blast through midnight.
  • Assign someone to manage the police the day of the event.
  • Signs/Directions: Consider all possible entrances and exits, decide the best, and sign affectionately.

Props

  • Outfit outdoor fireplace area at the entrance with rug and throw pillows to affect a posh and inviting scene.
  • Consider lines of sight from all major areas. Adjust furniture and props accordingly. (I prefer to do this process alone because it looks weird to do, and I cannot be concerned with how I look at this stage or the space will suffer.)
  • Hand-lettered signs–food, bathroom, %alc on the beer in the keg, etc.
  • White tablecloths for food areas, patterned tablecloths and pillowed seating at cafe tables.

Note: Why mix it up, re: tablecloths?  You have a bunch of tables, why not give all tables white tablecloths? The answer is, you are communicating to people what to do within a space in a variety of ways, and if successful, you will facilitate connection between people. Using cues to minimize conflict between people and the space they are in is key.

The tablecloth color was one of the ways I communicated what was happening within each space so people could spend their energy on other, more fruitful things like socializing. Also, signage. You know how it feels when you are running around looking for the bathroom. Terrible. You’re in a panic, and probably not connecting with people as a result. Social events tend to be short and so there really isn’t time to recover from something like this: it’s a good night if you don’t pee your pants. Set the bar higher.

  • Situate cafe tables to emphasized the dance floor, like hands holding prayer space.
  • String lights, crisscrossing over the dance floor, further delineating the dance space and creating warmth.
  • Hobbled glass candle holders at tables, another layer of lighting and texture.  Ideally, there are at least 3 layers of light in any scene. This provides that comfortable feeling you can’t quite put your finger on.  It’s like a light hug, feels so good.

Note: Layer textures for delight. Take a view of a space and make it flat, like a picture. Identify the textures in the picture to see that they are alternating well. For example: floor–sandy, gritty | table–steel, smooth, hard | tablecloth–soft, flat, patterned | candle holder–nubby texture, solid | space above table–blurry mess of movement | string lights–solid, steady.

  • Pick a color palette.  I chose a sunset at the beach theme: blues up high, reds and oranges at midline, ground the color and texture of sand–this detail delighted me most because I could have it no other way without a ton of effort, and the way it was could be no better.

Outfit

Vintage silk shorts/tank onesie in a flowering squash pattern with onyx buttons cast in gold frames down the front; black-glitter keds; spray tan.

Food & Entertainment

Interactive Art

Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company. – Rachel Naomi Remen

It started with a couple of extra large picture frames, burning a hole in my garage:  an interactive art piece to be created at the party.

I had two existential-type questions that I had planned to fashion the words out of felt or wire and affix to the top of the frames.  With my dear neighbor during the odd hours, we made die-cuts in two shapes, one to represent each question on which guests could write their answers with a hearty ballpoint pen, and affix somewhere within the respective frame. One frame was black, one what white, I had mats made (Julie’s Frames) to bring the initially blank visuals up a notch. I eyed them for weeks. I was thrilled.

As it happened, I ditched this idea in favor of keeping the dancing interaction, front and center.  Sometimes you will find that more is more, and thank your lucky stars when you do.  Just because an idea is great, doesn’t mean you have to use it.  This is one of the most important lesson I have learned in curating parties.

Any unanswerable questions?  I’m yours.

xx

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Philosophy

Surprises & Bikinis Are Not Swimsuits

How to throw a surprise party for someone who detests surprises:

  1. Anticipate the needs of the person the surprise is honoring, and make those a priority.
  2. Inform guests of the schedule (and verify their knowledge) so they may be the best co-conspirators on the face of the planet.
  3.  Allow a graduation of events.  Expect something to exhaust itself and be ready with the next order.

How it started

My 2nd baby just turned a year old, I was still nursing, and I was particularly tired at the moment that planning ought to have started for my 30th. My husband at the time, wistfully reminded me of my favorite restaurant on the island, and the capacity he and my brother had together, to take me to it. That minimal effort on my part, would produce the maximum reward. I nodded Yes. The promise of getting ready for anything gave me hope, and I liked to encourage people to go places and take people along, even the sullen; creating occasions, even if there were none prior. Yes.

What I wore (Act I)

Monochrome palette of cremes with gold accents. Long gauzy skirt; linen tank tuck-in tight; double string of oversized pearls wrapped in fine netting, with a tired satin bow in front and to the side; four-inch stack heels, thick and strappy. I felt like an angel that had been flying too long, worn on the edges and beautiful for the effort.

Details

On cue, I floated to the back table at Hitchcock and around the bend, there sat all of my girlfriends. All of the good ones anyway. I was overwhelmed and so I ignored them. When the males remained standing with the baby, and handed a gift card to the nearest girlfriend “for the drinks” I realized the company I had arrived with would be abandoning me to this newfound crowd, and I had either to assimilate or to run.  I kept run in my back pocket.

They sat side-saddle looking at me expectantly, their faces especially dolled-up for an island party, their perfumes wafting, the whole of them sumptuous and embarrassing. I did what I could do at least, which is to shrug my shoulders at each pair of sweet inquiry eyes until something else happened. I don’t like surprises but I soon forgot this and settled-in like a regular surprise go-getter, chatty mcChatster.

The food courses came and went, as did the jokes we played off one another. We laughed and laughed.  My face was sore, presumably for all the smiling and not for all the eating when one of my friends remarked that the night had only begun and I was not going home.

Momentarily, I was cross. Already my shoulders were getting cold and this didn’t bode well for the rest of me, should I be subject to the rest of the night out. What had happen to me? Had I become a lame-ass ninny a mere 30 years in?! I decided that if I had, I may be young enough still to outrun it. Also, I blamed hormones, which are transitory in their effects and may be powered over and through by a willing-enough subject.

What happens with hormones is, your baby needs you (food) so your cave (feeding space) becomes desirous over anything, even the stuff you once thought entirely pleasurable. It’s like a depression only you don’t feel depressed, you feel focused, and right. I tried to be quiet about it, least something like I love my cave, leave me alone! burst out, a statement I could very well not pass without fanfare in this company, for they would pull me into explaining, and well, I might kill them. It was paranoia without the fear; sort of amazing.

I digress. What ensued felt like a movie.

We carpooled through the winding roads in the woods, on the darkest of nights. Screaming as we hit bumps in the road and turned onto dead-ends that we had only to back our way out of. We spooked ourselves into a delirium like the grown women that we were.  I loved everyone a bit more for it. The friend driving could see well out of only one eye. I was thankful she had the one eye.

Eventually set before us was a compound of sorts, a lovely estate on the water, complete with a pool house that rivaled the main house for old-world class and sophistication.  I fell in love again.  I decided to be a lover of surprises from there on out.

What I wore (Act II)

My moment was crushed by the idea that the presence of the pool would require my presence in a swimsuit. I was sure I didn’t own a swimsuit.  My husband packed a bag.  Of course he packed a bikini I thought I had thrown out when I turned 19. Of course I hadn’t shaved in this millennia, and my breasts look like something someone going into the porn industry may very well like to try on for size before they commit to the surgery because they were so large.  

I wanted a solid, sleek, racing swimsuit that cut right up to my neck, with a slight turtle, a zipper in the back, and high-cut leg holes so I could scissor kick fast or swim like a frog without any chaffing or slippage. Assholes made bikinis and even bigger assholes wore them, I was convinced.

In my master suite on the bed, my dear friend had so carefully laid out a razor all tied up with a bow, and I cried at the site of it.  It was a 5 blade thing, I could do anything now, even wear a bikini.  Certainly, I had the best friends in the world.

Note: Never underestimate the power of anticipating needs.  The smallest acts of kindness can make the all difference.  There is always something you can do in a moment to connect with another person; it’s one of the gifts of being alive. If the best gifts could talk, they would say “Me, too.”

Candles, food and drinks, hot tub and pool, jaunty photo from the 60’s or 70’s of people in this very place having a hay day, stuck in the mirror of the changing room just like I was. And here we were, making another hay day! Was I dreaming? How long could I stay in the changing room stuck in the mirror with the picture?

It occurred to me that to socialize would require that I show off my crazy big nursing boobs in asshole swimsuit. It felt like a fair trade after a few glasses of wine. I was the birthday girl after all.

The rest

After kibitzing in the pools with my friends and forgetting about my breasts, the lot of us padded-out onto the lawn that rolled into the Puget Sound out back.

We took turns making wishes and lighting lanterns to hold them together until they summoned enough heat to rise into the air.  We watch them rise and reflect on the water, dancing with the moon twice.

Eventually we shuffled into hot showers and slipped into pajamas. One friend unrolled a poem she had written for me and read it aloud. We clapped. She went on the write a book. Another woke from sleep crying and begged forgiveness for missing her family. We consoled her. She went home. I fell in love many times over that night, rolling into the morn.

Thank you

I never met the woman that owned the estate, Mrs. Webster. She lived there in the main house, on the night of the party, too. I imagined her discrete, understanding, and to think bikinis assholes, although not one to use that language, but the kind to share a knowing smile.

To give of one’s place is a giving of one’s self–for a fete in my honor at the ask of a dear friend–what a gift!  I learned today that Mrs. Webster died a few weeks ago. This article is dedicated to her, and to all of her dear friends.

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“Are you ready?” Klaus asked finally.
“No,” Sunny answered.
“Me neither,” Violet said, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives, Let’s go.” ― Lemony Snicket
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Themes

Camp Beverly Hills

What I love about this party theme is that it takes advantage of the warm weather–a prize in the Northwest, a fun mix of women, and a particularly landscaped backyard, effortlessly.

Objective

Create an outdoor space to promote social connection in way that had likely not been experienced before, and in a fashion that would engage every guest for the occasion of a birthday.

Details

  • Seated dinner for 8-10 people
  • Make use of a backyard with graduated landscape, including large boulders and mature, evergreen trees.
  • Pick on an outdoor theme that excites me, which is something nearly over the top, that I have most props handy or borrowable for (in an effort keep the proverbial bank intact), and I can imagine each guest being engaged within.
  • Discover enough about each guest in advance of the party so I could imagine how they might act in the party scene that I was slotting for fruition.

Note: People are the hardest part about throwing an effective party. More on this in my next article about the power of one dud in eight to ruin things. Joy! Right? Hey, we can’t prevent what we don’t talk about.

  • Seed the party theme with guests by sending invitations written in the form and style of a camp call (the bugle not withstanding).
  • Figure the arrival experience.  At the side of the house there was a gated arbor entrance with a stepping stone path that bent around to the backyard.
  • Create element of surprise. Contrary to the popular guest-receiving at the front door of any house, I presented a shuttling the guests around back as a finer, more on-theme experience.

Note: Creating the element of surprise if often the hardest won detail of any party.

  • To accommodate the entrance surprise, I create several visual directives, aiding the guests to come around back by the path and not up to the front door. We had nary a folly. Note: If I had to do it again, I would have included auditory and olfactory cues as well, such as music and fire.
  • Consider transitions and only take the absolute necessary or pleasant ones. For instance, if guests went through the front door, they would have had to find their way through the house and out the back, to get to the backyard.  This would have been too much transition, and also, we could have lost a few.

Note: If you are OK with losing a few guests, those are exactly the people who you ought not to invite in the first place. Don’t miss the point of the party for the social pressure. Invite only the people you want to connect with now.

  • Select and fashion props to look like a girl scout setup camp except for a few finer details.

Props

  • Large canvas tent, covered on all sides
  • Indoor dining table and chairs
  • Bandana napkins
  • Cowhide rug
  • Flag pole and flag fashioned with bamboo pole, guy lines, and staked out. (Higher budget: custom flag and shirts)
  • Vintage Hudson’s Bay blankets
  • 60’s kitchen cart
  • Gas fire pit
  • Gas lanterns
  • Music: campy, 50’s 60’s tunes

Outfit

Long button-up linen dress, extra-wide brimmed hat, compass necklace, clipboard, lace-up boots, lipstick.

Food

  • Appetizer: nuts, cheese, fruit (Town & Country Market)
  • Vegetarian chili in sourdough bread bowels (Cooks Illustrated)
  • Layered chocolate cake with wildflowers (Blackbird Bakery)
  • Drink: Local boxed wine and natural sodas in cans (Badger Mountain, Hansen’s)

Game

I’m a sucker for games, or some planned part of the event that is designed specifically to draw members together. Games provide a focus and certainty about connecting people, and are not for the faint of party hosts.

For this event I initiated “camp stories” which provided that we go around the table, taking turns telling a personal story. Guests could pass when their turn came if they chose. All guests shared, there was hooting and hollering, and we laughed until we cried.

The neighbors offered-up the next morning that we sounded like we were having a great time, and they were glad.

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“Never miss a party… good for the nerves… like celery.” ―F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Philosophy

Some thoughts on being social

Being social is an element of being human that we cannot escape, any more readily than we may our opposable thumbs.

Parties provide an excellent framework for true socializing to occur, and be practiced. I define true socializing as maintaining presence and engaging all the senses along with at least one other person for a duration of time.

What true socializing is not: binge drinking or drugging episodes. These are numbing and distracting actions that may be under the promise of true socializing, but are actually the opposite of maintaining presence and engaging all the senses.

Numbing and distracting has its place in society no doubt, but there is no sense in calling it something it is not.

Like, there are fruits and vegetables in the world, and arguably you need both in your diet for some semblance of health. Choosing to leave vegetables out of your diet is one thing, but going around telling people the fruits you are eating are vegetables, is another thing entirely. Or worse, telling someone the fruits you are feeding them are vegetables.

Remember that misery loves company, and so it is not too personal when these things happen.

If you become setback in your true socializing diet, let it go, and try again.

Social media. It is helpful to think of it. To turn it over and feel of it. The nature is a reflection or a symptom of our lives, and not the thing itself. We may read-in to a picture or a post and relate ourselves to it, but the fact of the matter is that we are dealing without all our sense engaged, so how well can we determine how well in fact we relate to these things?

Also, who the fuck cares? If a picture or a post doesn’t have a remarkable impact on you, it doesn’t matter how great everybody thinks it is, or whether it was photoshopped or not.

Consider your return on your investment, spending your time in front of a screen instead of truly socializing. You may have a smart investment if you own a small to medium-sized business and want to get the word out in mass. Still, don’t lose sight of the prize.

The allure of staying behind a screen is getting the fringe benefits of a sustainable connection that true socializing provides without having to do any of the work. When you start to feel bored and baseless within your person, it is a sign that something is the matter, and also, that you are free to work on figuring out a new way about yourself and your time.

If you want to find out how what you spend your time on is affecting you, try just one thing for awhile, see how you feel, and then believe your feelings. Less is more. The proof is in the putting. (I am a bottomless pit of one-liners.)

Social media lacks the benefits that in-person, party socializing provides, and most people don’t stop to see their role in their experience. Instead, they treat their experience like just the next thing in front of them that has to get done. This is not taking responsibility, and is sucky in the long-term.

Furthermore, taking responsibility is required to create anything remarkable. As long as we live, we are creating. It is the what that is the question you can answer.

Try going without socializing, and then going with socializing, at regular intervals to have any stake in the full human benefit. When it comes to what matters, you get what you give.Try getting in touch with what is important to you at a basic level so you will be of super substance to share.

Spending time on a regular basis getting to know what you love, and especially what you don’t despite what you are good at, is an ongoing process. Our current culture promotes doing over just being.  While culture changes over time, our individual lives are short, so try just being now while the gettin’s good.

I can feel the collective nervousness of people considering not doing…their ego voices hollering and jeering with self-defeating sentiments. What we know is being alone is independent of feelings, including that of the popular association of being alone, with feelings of loneliness.

Being alone and just being (allowing a moment to unfold on its own without the shit you may be tempted to throw into it) is really good for you.

Try breathing as deep into your person as your drive to do, do, do is, and you may very well experience your best self, and so others’ too.

Be well, socialize.

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“The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you brought to other people’s lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them.” ~ Harold Kushner
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