New Beginnings

Saturday was a very special night that I had been looking forward to for several weeks. But this last week was the one that myself and a few other friends fully threw our intention into. A Surprise 40th Birthday Party for our dear friend Jen.

Ben, her boyfriend of five years (or is it seven?) was on board with me from the idea’s beginning. “Whatever you need, let me know! I want to make it special for her,” he’d told me several times.  He would be ordering food from a Persian restaurant and I would be decorating my yard “Arabian Nights” style. I could call it Turkish or Middle Eastern, it was a mix of whatever we could find. Ben is from Tunisia and Jen loves to embrace the northern African culture whenever she can.

Fortunately I have a lot of generous and creative friends who lent me various blankets, furniture, and candle holders.  Here are some pictures of the garden before it was lit up and filled with guests.

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Notice the pièce de résistance: this table cloth made from a vintage Afghan skirt (and a black sheet) by the magical Mrs. Candy Martin. I spent a few hours with her throughout the week at her house, which is like some charmed other world with a living, sprouted kitchen and beautiful projects in various forms of completion: quilts, needlework, mosaic tiles, bits of woodwork and woven baskets. So though this was ultimately all for Jen, I certainly got more satisfaction from the planning process than one girl deserves.

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The decorating was one thing, but the surprise was what really made it fun.

Everyone there had been handpicked as a special friend to Jen, and most knew that there would be more than one surprise in store for her. It was a little tricky as Jen has never been one to bring attention to herself, instead she spends her time making sure everyone else feels special. She’s never been one to like big surprises either, but we hoped she would recognize the LOVE put toward her, rather than our collective sneakiness. You may remember Jen from this very blog, as not only is she a dear friend to the kids and I, but she was Vernon’s office partner until the accident changed that.

Earlier in the week, I could tell she was feeling a little blue as no one (especially Ben) had let on that we had birthday plans for her. As much as she didn’t ask for special attention on birthdays past, this was going to be a big one.  So we went out to dinner on Wednesday, “just in case” Ben had plans for her on the weekend.

She felt better by Friday, after he had told her to buy a nice dress and make sure she left the weekend open. I think he may have also told her to pack a passport. I’m sure she was thoroughly confused.


Now, when Ben decides to do something, he goes BIG. Here she is, blindfolded, entering the house, with all the guests shushing each other in the backyard with great anticipation.


The next day, she told me that when the blindfold came off and she saw such a random mix of loved ones, it felt like a dream. “You know those dreams you have full of people you know who shouldn’t be the same place at the same time? It took a little bit to get my head around seeing so many people who are special to me together. And they were there for me!”


But that wasn’t everything. After dinner and before cake (Jen’s best friend Jackie hadn’t been able to make it but had ordered a delicious red velvet cake from the best local bakery) we broke out the microphone and opened the floor for those who had some loving words for Jen.


After saying some beautiful things about her,  Ben took the opportunity to give her the gift he’d bought: blue topaz earrings and a necklace.  Although they were beautiful, I’m not sure its what Jen REALLY wanted. DSC_1936

That was just Ben working another surprise angle. Once she was caught off guard by his gift, he handed her a box with a gorgeous diamond ring and asked her to marry him! Now THAT is what she really wanted!


It was a beautiful night! Life has so much to celebrate. We should make a big deal of these things whenever we can! I think I’ll be enjoying the afterglow of this one for awhile.

Happy Birthday, dear Jen. May your 40s be the best season yet. And congratulations, Ben and Jen. You are so loved!


PS Special thanks to all who collaborated with me for ideas and loaned goods. I’m talking to you: Jeanne, Theresa, Nancy, Erin, Sharon, and my mom, Anne. And of course, Ben! It wound up being the busiest week of summer, but with all the planning buzz and the party to look forward to, it was one of the best!





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New Beginnings