How to pull off the surprise of a lifetime (aka, Ryan's 30th Birthday Party!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I'm not entirely sure who will read this. I'm mostly writing this for Ryan so he knows how crazy this all was and so that we remember it, but here goes::

So. waaayyyyy back in early October, about 6 months ago, I had this crazy idea for a surprise birthday party for Ryan's big 30th milestone. I can admit to being certifiably crazy since I was actually in the midst of planning Claire and Norah's double birthday/baptism weekend when I started researching ideas for Ryan's party. I wrote nearly every local craft brewery in town and got the scoop on whether or not they offered events, the costs, what was included, etc. I made a list and tucked it in my back pocket somewhere. I also wrote all our family and friends so I could get a rough idea of the number of people I could expect to make the trip.


Once the October celebrations were over, we quickly moved on to a quick road trip to Minnesota for Thanksgiving, and then it was Christmas craziness and then it was January. Ryan was gone for a week to Europe, so it was the perfect time to solidify the venue and date.

Thankfully, I was fortunate to work with some pretty awesome people across the board. The first was the event guy at Lakewood Brewing Company. Naturally, they needed a deposit to hold the party date, and naturally, the birthday boy oversees all of our finances. I convinced Craig at Lakewood to have good faith in me and hang on to my check until party day. Otherwise, the cat would have been out of the bag a long, long time ago.

Because they had a flat fee and then charged per person over a group of 25, I needed a general number of guests pretty far in advance to know how much I'd need to budget for. Enter my next Sherlock Holmes skills of tracking down one of Ryan's most talked about co-workers so that I could get a very general idea of the number of coworkers Ryan worked closely with and would want invited to his party. Between my emails to his coworker Kevin and my facebook messages to Lalit, another co-worker, I swear I was chatting with these guys more than Ryan was.

Next up was invitations. Knowing how much other handmade stuff I had high hopes of creating, I actually opted out of creating a paper-cut invite (similar to the ones you've seen at the kids' parties). I just ordered up a digital file on etsy and printed it with my regular lab I get all my cards/announcements from. Of course, I had cute (I mean manly, beer related) ideas after all was said and done, but it worked. I had the lady pull the colors from Lakewood's main logo and there was born my overall design theme. Red/yellow/black, and then I pulled the whole rustic wood look from Lakewood's beer bottle labels.



I LOVE a perfectly executed (obsessively, maybe) theme, so I was super excited to find wood patterned paper that was a near perfect match to their background. The birthday banner was the first thing I started constructing sometime in late February or early March. I can't quite remember the long ago details. What I do know is that once the calendar flipped to March 1st, I started flipping out since I had SO MUCH to do, a business to keep running and children to take care of all while maintaining my secrecy. I mean, what was I suppose to tell Ryan I did all day when the house was a mess and I STILL had to go upstairs to work at night? Every weekday naptime in March was dedicated to some sort of crafty project. 

As a lot of you know, we use a cash budget on a weekly basis for all the everyday needs (gas, groceries, Target runs, etc). Knowing my financially alert husband would quickly catch on to money disappearing without clear explanation from me, I started aggressively selling everything that needed to go, and everything that had been sitting around for some time because "yeah, I'll totally sell that!" (6 months later, lol). So, out went nearly every piece of "too small for Henry clothing". All the girl clothes, the swing, the infant bouncy seat, the bjorn, Claire's extra Minne party stuff, my breast pump, etc. You name it, if we were done using it, it was gone. I also got lucky and picked up a few second shooting gigs and somehow managed to stash that money away too. I affectionately began referring to my stash as my secret drug money to anyone who knew about it. It sat perfectly tucked away (along with EVERY single other thing I was making) in the midst of my newborn prop drawers. It was literally the only place in the house I could guarantee Ryan wouldn't go. 

As March quickly passed by, I sent out emails/fb messages to all our far away family and friends and Ryan's old coworkers as I had planned this elaborate birthday wish video from everyone who wouldn't be able to make the trip down to the Lone Star State. Of course, in the midst of this along with daily messages/texts from other people coming to the party, I had to turn off all notifications on my phone so that it basically wasn't beeping non stop. There were seriously so.many.details to think about to keep this all under wraps. 

The main party favors were a wooden bottle cap opener (again, obsessively over excited about perfectly matching themes, so I was jumping up and down when I found these guys), along with corkboard coasters that I later glued bottlecaps on. Both had to be purchased by Ryan's mom since they were online, and one had to be shipped somewhere else since it was going to come UPS and UPS always shows up after Ryan's home. I can tell you that from like March 15th through April 12th, I was probably the most stressed I've ever been trying to keep up with all this. 

As you scroll through the pictures, I made everything. I made the signs in Photoshop and printed them with my lap. I made the coasters. The paper signs. The labels on the favors. Spray painted some crates. Cut the cupcake wrappers. Glued the tiny minuscule beer foam onto the tiny beer mug that served as my cupcake toppers (which would turn out to be one of the FUNNIEST stories throughout this whole thing). 

After Henry went back to school from spring break, the girls and I traveled down to Lakewood so that I could scope it out and take pictures that I would include in my directions to my party setter-uppers. I.was.so.excited. I loved everything about it. Totally in line with my rustic theme. Craig even had brand new 6 pack holders I could take (I used those to hold snacks on the table), let me know that all I'd need was a phone or ipad to hook up some music to their big speakers. They had tables, chairs, everything. It was all coming together. 

After all of my stuff was complete, I spent an entire morning doing mock set ups of my tables so that I could take pictures and again, include in my likely way too detailed directions to Ryan's family who would be hiding out a a hotel from Fri-Saturday and doing the set up for me since I wouldn't be able to leave Ryan on his birthday without him thinking something was up. 

Everything was then sorted into totes and taken over to my friend Ashley's house for safe keeping (and because I was literally running out of room especially with having to purchase pop and snacks and water yet). 

Once I finished everything and had it sorted and ready for removal from the house, I thought I was in the clear. I did it. I managed to completely create and coordinate one of "my parties" without Ryan so much as finding a scrap of paper by my computer. However, the last two weeks or so would prove to be the biggest test as Ryan picked up on some odd stuff. 

1. About two Fridays before his party (maybe 3), he brings home Lakewood's Hop Trapp. We tried the Temptress at Christmas time, but he has otherwise never brought this beer home. Never. When he put that on the table, I didn't know if I wanted to cry or laugh. Or both. I nonchalantly stated "Oh, this name sounds familiar, have you had this before?" Nope. he never had. Ok. PURE coincidence. 

After we sat down to dinner he goes "Hey, this is down in Garland! We should get a group of people together and go down there!". At that moment, I thought he knew. I totally thought he knew and he was messing with me. He had his "I want to say something but I won't say anything smirk" on his face. My first thought was someone at work had slipped. I had covered all of my tracks as absolute best I could. So it was work, or he snooped on something. Because really, there are a ton of breweries down here. The fact that he had never mentioned tour one around here before and THEN suggests the very one we were having a surprise party for him at?!?! Either way, it was the most difficult thing in the world to not utter a smile and say "Yep, we should. Sounds fun."

2. My cupcake toppers needed toothpicks. Oddly enough, we were out of toothpicks (they are one of those things you seriously only need to buy every few years.) But, nope, this just so happened to be when we were out. So I had to buy some. and I mistakenly bought flat ones. When he saw them, he not only complained about them (and it's now a running joke that I don't know how to buy toothpicks), but he actually drilled me on why I bought them, and how I POSSIBLY could have remembered to pick them up unless I needed them for something. Toothpicks. After doing my best to cover everything, the damn toothpicks almost ruined me! 

3. His parents made him these awesome wooden 6 pack holders for Christmas. I wanted to swipe one for my dessert table to hold the forks and napkins. I did think better of it, wondering if he'd notice, but, since I wanted everything compartmentalized into it's respective totes, I said to hell with it and jacked it from the pool table room. Of course he noticed. Of course.

**edited to add**

How could I possibly forgot the fake turned real BBQ!?! Little did I know that my coverup would end up costing me more money as I basically had to say "whatever, sure! sounds good!".

Ryan decides we will be simple and do hamburgers and hot dogs. After I tell him to invite another guy from work (whom I emailed later and let in on "yes, it's fake, just say yes"), he decides he wants to be a little more fancy and do pulled pork. Well, for endless opportunities, it was only fitting that we purchase a smoker. He texted me Thursday or Friday asking my opinion on dropping some money on a smoker. After briefly trying to talk him out of it, I knew I couldn't press anymore. We were getting a smoker. Followed closely on Saturday morning with 30 lbs of pork. Thank goodness we WERE having 10+ ppl at our house on Sunday. Otherwise, yeah.

And of course, what's a BBQ without beer? After he asked if I bought it, I couldn't lie and have him come home looking for it, so a giant Costco size party pack of Rahr was brought home. Go big or go home. I just shook my head knowing that Ashley/Scott and Liz/Matt were gifting Ryan PLENTY of beer. I swear we will have enough beer for a good portion of this year.

Of course, about 30 minutes before we were to be heading out the door, Ryan was not dressed and fussing with said pork. He needed plastic wrap. Only I left our giant costco size at Ashley's house when I was wrapping cupcakes. Oops. No, Ryan, I just don't know how the plastic wrap got up and walked away. Seriously, it was down to the wire on stupid stuff almost ruining me. 

I can't remember if there were more. As of 3 weeks before the party, Ryan thought we were doing date night on Saturday and a BBQ with friends on Sunday. After all these things started happening, I thought I'd pry one more time to see if he'd let on about knowing something about "date night" with his give-away smirk. On the Monday of party week I laid in bed and asked him what he thought we were doing for date night and if he'd snooped on anything. The answer was no, but it caused him to be convinced I was planning "something", to which I just deflected to our fake Sunday "BBQ". 

So, Thursday arrives and out of no where Ryan declares that "Hey, maybe I should work from home tomorrow for my birthday!". Umm, the hell you won't! I have a giant cake and 48 cupcakes to make. I mean, that was what ran through my head as I quickly said "No, no, I've got some birthday stuff to do for Sunday. Work from home on Monday, mmmk?"

This was numero uno reason why I made my parents stay away until mid Friday morning. I KNEW that if they showed up Thursday night, Ryan wouldn't go to work Friday. Of course, they get lost Thursday night and can't call me because I played like I didn't know they were coming. Did I mention that the 40th birthday will NOT be a surprise yet?!?!

So Friday the day before party arrives and I suffer no caketasrophes and get everything made and created without any disasters. Everything's again transferred to Ashley's house for safe keeping from prying eyes. At this point, I was ready. We just had to pull a believable story of why my parents showed up, and then it'd be party day. 

I orchestrated a happy hour with Scott so that Ryan wouldn't surprise me by coming home early. Once we knew Ryan was finally on his way, Henry, Claire and my parents hid in our bedroom closet (as Ryan's first stop once home is usually to change). He walked in the door and since it was uber quiet and the kids didn't run up to him like they usually do, I said "Oh, they are playing hide and seek or something. They've been in our bedroom for awhile, better go check on them". All 4 then popped out of the closet and scared the crap out of Ryan. 

They came up with some bogus story of surprising the both of us to get back at us for the Thanksgiving surprise. Ryan never asked me if I did indeed know they were coming. I finally, finally relaxed and started to believe he DIDN'T know anything at this point. Of course, I didn't sleep that night. Probably at all. I cancelled our original "babysitters" via text in front of Ryan since my parents had showed up, and everything was falling into place.

Party day arrived. We went about our day with breakfast in bed, presents in the morning, and blew the candles out of my not-so awesome "dummy cake". Apparently, I had used up all my cake boss skills on my barrel cake and left none for my sorry excuse for a bottle cap cake. Even Henry said "Umm, is THAT the kind of cake daddy wanted?" (said with a sound of clear worry and uncertainty).
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my handsome 30 year old :) :) :)

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I tried convincing him that I MEANT to make the indent in the middle. You know, like what happens to a real bottle cap when opening? LOL.
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Ready for "date night"!
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I needed to get out of the house with Ryan by 3:45 to allow my parents ample time to get 3 semi-cranky, non-napped children party dressed and out of the house in time to be chauffeured over by our neighbors Brent and Megan. Thank god for that. My parents never would have made it otherwise. Sorry mom and dad, but we know that's true. Someone they managed to get out of the house on time, Ashley, Scott, Liz, Matt, Liz, Adam, and Ryan's mom and dad  were all already there setting up and everything was going smoothly. Ryan and I stopped at one of our new fav places, mash'd for some moonshine drinks to kill the time.

Liz had a list of guests and was to text me something random about food (we frequently share recipe ideas) once all the guests were there. Everyone was there on time and I got that text about "eggplant" (lol) once we were about 15 minutes away. 

I finally told him we were going to Lakewood for their public tasting (and re-told the funny story of how he almost blew it bringing it home the other week) once we were 5 minutes away. We laughed and he seemed excited to be going. 

We pulled up, and the pictures can tell the rest. :)

Ryan had an awesome time. I had an awesome time. 2/3 of our kids were a little cranky, but there were enough relatives to keep him occupied. Somehow we pulled this off and I hope Ryan remembers it for a really long time!

A big big thank you to my friend Rachel Hicks (www.rachelmeaganphotography.com) for capturing my insane attention to detail and for all the candids that I am so glad to have. It was AWESOME getting to enjoy myself and not have a camera around my neck for a change. And one more big thanks to everyone else that helped! Ashley and Scott for letting me overtake their house with party craziness and an insane amount of chocolate and helping set up with Liz, Matt, Adam, Liz and Tom and Susan. My parents for getting the kids ready and out, Brent and Megan for getting my parents and kids TO the party, Meagann and Lalit for being in on my babysitting and BBQ scheme, Kevin for helping with the projector for the video, and anyone else that had a hand in something (SO SORRY IF I FORGOT ANYONE OR THING!) This was an amazing weekend and I couldn't have done it without you all. 

I love you Ryan! 

If you haven't watched this yet, you really ought to. Cute kids and a singing wife for one of my most epic videos yet (for those that don't know, I do.not.sing in front of anyone but my kids. It was the icing on the cake of all these surprises for Ryan!). 

Here's it is! 



And here are the gorgeous images captured by Rachel! (And a few more deets added by me today!)


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1 comment:

KellyH said...

Small world! Craig was one of my good friends in college. We had all the same design classes at Texas Tech. He's a great guy.
Looks like a fun birthday. Amazing job on the cake!

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