Sunday, June 29, 2008

Surprise Sweet 16!

This past weekend we celebrated Lauryn's Sweet 16. Now it was a bit belated as she actually turned 16 in April. "Why two months later?", you may ask. Well, I wanted it to be a huge surprise for her as well as warmer, nicer weather than what we usually get in April which is pretty cold and windy most years. It started off with asking Lauryn whether she wanted a big party for her 16th or a nice gift. She chose the gift which ended up being a very nice digital piano. She was ecstatic and has since been playing Monkees songs, Harry Potter songs and whatever she can play by ear. However she bemoaned the fact every now and then that she never received a party. What she didn't know was that I had started planning her birthday party about a month before her actual birthday.

I knew I wanted to do something special for Lauryn for her Sweet 16 party, but I just couldn't figure out what. Like most absolutely brilliant ideas, it struck me from out of nowhere that it should be a Jane Austen-themed party. Her current favorite movie is Pride & Prejudice with Kiera Knightly, and non-reader that I always imagined her to be, she even picked up the book and started reading it, early 19th century English language and all. So it was settled. Now for the actual details...

Per the motto of professional real estate agents everywhere, it's all about location, location, location. So where to have the party? I started researching the local area which is chock-full of historical properties to see if there was something remotely like a regency-style home. What I didn't realize is that in America there was no such thing as a Regency Era. But finding a home built in the 1700's was not too hard around here, and so we settled on a beautiful Georgian mansion called the Moffatt-Ladd House in Portsmouth, NH. Now that the place was booked, I worked on researching the fashion of the period and then scoured ebay for months looking for the perfect (and hopefully, inexpensive) regency-style gowns. I succeeded with the perfect part of the goal (not always the inexpensive), and I couldn't wait to see the girls in them!

I was not expecting to be able to keep the party a surprise so successfully. After so many phone calls making plans, emails to/from friends' parents and friends speaking to and emailing Lauryn, I thought maybe this was going to be a tough one to keep quiet. After all, Lauryn is homeschooled and here most of the time. It wasn't easy to plan with Lauryn in the same house. One of Lauryn's friends who lives in Arizona made the delightful decision to join us for the weekend. So on Friday, Bri showed up and absolutely shocked Lauryn.

Coincidentally, the post came at the same exact time as Bri, delivering Lauryn's invitation to her own party with the included schedule of Events:

Schedule of Events


4 pm - Arrival
5 pm - Dinner
6 pm – Evening entertainment
Late – Retire to sleeping quarters


10 am – Break our fast
11 am – Vintage
Millinery Arts
12 pm – Light afternoon lunch
3 pm – Take te
a at Moffatt-Ladd House, Portsmouth
5 pm – Tour
Maria Tufton Haven Ladd’s Home
6:30 pm – Bid Farewell to Friends

Regency-style dresses will be provided for you for the day, but please do bring your most favored flat dress shoes to wear to the party as it is only fitting to be in our finery as we visit and take tea.

This was the official start of the party.

The rest of her friends showed up a couple of hours later, and they had a blast picking out and trying their regency dresses. After that, they all created custom-made bookmarks (going with the whole book theme of Jane Austen) and then tried to play Pride & Prejudice the board game. I say "tried" because it was so confusing and complicated that after about 20 minutes of "play", they gave up, and that was ok because it was dinner time anyway where we ate pizza followed by opening gifts then singing "Happy Birthday" while Lauryn blew candles out on her "topsy-turvy hat cake" created by our dear friend, Jill. The evening ended with our must-have movie, Pride & Prejudice followed by a sleepover where most everyone took part in the traditional way of curling their hair by rag curling.

Saturday morning started off with strawberry and chocolate crepes and then a hat decorating session to match their dresses (we called this Vintage Millinery Arts). The girls were brilliantly creative, and their hats came out wonderfully! They then proceeded to prepare for the upcoming tea party by getting dressed, doing their hair and looking very Bennett-like.

Arriving at the Moffatt-Ladd House, the girls stepped into a garden wonderland tucked into the middle of Portsmouth. A beautifully decorated table with teacups, china, wrapped favors and edible delicacies awaited them. We were greeted by beautiful English country music played by Erin's dad (with the flute) and dad's friend (with the hammer dulcimer).

With my extraordinary talent for making it downpour on all outdoor events I plan, I had been praying all week for good weather with no rain. Being the end of June, we certainly did not expect very cold temperatures. We were right across the street from the water so we were continually misted by a very cold sea mist, but at least it didn't rain! The tea party was hosted by a local tea caterer who specializes in storytelling such as reciting the history of tea or talking of local folklore as in ghost stories. Since Lauryn and I love to watch Ghost Hunters together, I chose this program of ghost storytelling while we sipped hot maple tea. Yum!

The girls' party favors consisted of brown paper-wrapped books (all authored by Jane Austen, of course) adorned with ribbon and paper fans. They had fun learning about "Fan Language" and practiced how to "say" things with their fans. Food consisted of chicken vegetable braid (recipe by Pampered Chef - Lauryn's favorite), fruit and cinnamon chips with chocolate mousse dip (also by PC), cucumber w/dill cream cheese sandwiches as well as apple boursin tea sandwiches and last, but not least, strawberry-banana punch. Also served was orange ginger scones, lemon fruit tart, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate ganache cake and a variety of yummy teas. Everything was delectable!

My dear friend Raluca who is a professional photographer had fun taking the girls pictures throughout the garden. After our tea party, we were happy to escape inside to the warmth of the Moffatt-Ladd House where we were taken on an interesting guided tour of one of the oldest mansions in Portsmouth.

This party was such a wonderful and exciting event to create and plan. Everyone directly and indirectly were so excited to be involved. The girls commented on this being one of the best birthday parties they had ever been to, and I know Lauryn will never forget it. A big thank you goes out to Erin for all her help and creativity as well as Jill for making such wonderful and yummy cakes. Thank you Raluca for making everyone look even more beautiful through the lens of your camera. Thanks to Bri for flying out and visiting for the short weekend - Lauryn's face was priceless when she saw you. Thanks to Greg and RP for playing music fit for even Mr. Darcy. Thanks to Roxie for an enchanted (and slightly spooky) tea party. And thanks to Stephanie and all those at Moffatt-Ladd who so generously allowed us to come and pretend for a day. Lauryn and I will be forever grateful for everyone who made this a birthday weekend to remember.

One cannot have too large a party.
~ Jane Austen