Modern Party Planning

by Rachel Perlow

I had a big project over the last six months: planning my parents’ 50th anniversary party. There was a modest budget, mostly provided by my brothers — we contributed about 1/6 of the funds — but I did all the work in exchange. I also want to mention that this was NOT a surprise party. I highly recommend not doing a surprise party for a 50th anniversary. You don’t know who you might accidentally not invite, where to seat everyone, and then the guests of honor don’t get to anticipate the event, or know that they need to look especially nice that day. And, really, even though my parents married young and are in pretty good health, does anyone celebrating a 50th anniversary need a big “Surprise!” shouted at them?!

Mom & Dad cut the cake

Jason thought you all might like to see the results of my efforts and I thought I’d outline some of the technology I used to pull much of it off. In addition, our favorite caterer went above and beyond. Jason said I should write about how I planned the menu, my response? “I left it up to Christine!” But I’ll save the food porn for the end. Tease!

The favor of a click is requested to join the party!

First off, you have to pick a date and a location. The final contenders in my location hunt was Arthur’s Landing restaurant in Weehawken, NJ, which has a commanding view of the New York skyline, and the Fortnightly Women’s Club of Summit’s home, Twin Maples. The main differences between the two locations were restaurant vs. private mansion, view vs. trees, size, bar, and catering. We finally decided on Twin Maples for several reasons. As you will see in the pictures below, it is just beautiful. We thought our group might be a little crowded in Arthur’s Landing’s upstairs party room, and I wanted to finally use Picnic Caterers. The party was held on May 18th — if you’re not throwing a graduation party, I highly recommend fudging the dates of your family events and adjust accordingly: many of my mom’s friends were unable to attend due to children/grandchildren’s graduations.

Twin Maples

The first place to save a bit of money is by printing your own invitations. I chose my paper from Paper Direct. Think about what you need in advance, order more blank invitations than you will need, and other types of matching paper, like place card tents and matching “Thank You” cards for the guest of honor to use. You can find uses for the extras, like table card numbers, buffet food labels, helpful signs “Please download your digital pics before leaving” (more on that later), etc.

One of the features I wanted to take advantage of at our chosen location, was that they had a large flat screen TV mounted on the wall of the main party room. I thought I would scan some photos and have a slideshow play during the party. I’ve been to other anniversary or birthday parties where there’s a time to play a 5-10 minute video or slideshow — well my slideshow ended up being over an hour long! So, I decided to have it play continuously on a loop during the party. The decision to make the slideshow yielded many more helpful tips for you all, I’ll go over them one at a time.

Here you can see the slideshow playing above a table of cousins

First, I added an insert to the invitation asking everyone to send me pictures that they might have of our family, and just their family as well, especially meant for life long friends and relatives. I also scanned hundreds of photos from my mom’s albums. I had a basic scanner as part of an all-in-one printer, but a friend lent us his HP ScanJet 4670. This has a movable flat glass plate, which was really great, as I could just place it on top of the pages in photo albums rather than taking them apart. This was especially helpful for albums where the pages were professionally done, like our Bar Mitzvah ones. Now, I did all my scanning manually, but recently, my mother’s friend asked me about doing this just to archive her family photos. It’s one thing to scan a few hundred photos in a labor of love, it’s another to do it for someone else, there’s no way to pay what my time is worth to do that. However, there are several services out there that will take your photos — in boxes, envelopes, albums, what have you — scan them and digitally archive them both online and provide you with a CD/DVD/portable hard drive. Here’s the service I recommended she try: Scan Digital. If you have another service you’ve used, please let us know.

Once I had all these old family photos scanned in, I started to look for what I could do with them besides make a slideshow. You know how Jason just loves Flickr, so I explored their “Do more with your photos!” area. HP offers some interesting online tools, which inspired me to create a book for Mom & Dad, “Fifty Years Together.” I played with HP’s book maker, but found it a little limiting. A much more polished product was available from Blurb and their downloadable program, BookSmart. The finished book was our gift to Mom & Dad. You can check out the preview of the book on Blurb’s site, or look at screenshots of the pages of the book by clicking here.

The book was displayed on the place card table, and later moved to the piano top next to the cake

I figured the slideshow would just be played via Jason’s laptop and be static shots one after another. But Jason found this great program that was easy to use, had custom and automatic options for pan and zoom, imported music and adjusted slide length to match the music length, etc, etc. DVD Slideshow Maker by AnvSoft is really intuitive and I highly recommend it. You can output to DVD so your slideshow is playable on any TV, or create online versions to post on YouTube. Another benefit of the slideshow is that when the live piano player took a break, he would turn the sound up on the slideshow and the music from the 50s & 60s I put on the slideshow would provide the music.

As people arrived, many were photographed watching the slideshow

Remember that line above about asking people to download their digital images before leaving the party? Well, in the photo request insert of the invitation, I also told guests to feel free to bring their cameras and take lots of photos of the event. We didn’t hire a professional photographer, but between asking a competent friend to come along to take photos of family groupings and table pictures and having several photobug friends and family at the party, we got over 600 images to sort through after the party. During the last hour or so of the party, he set up Jason’s laptop and created a “Photo Downloading Station” in the lobby. That way you don’t have to wait for those people who took images to send them to you. Just be sure to copy the photos from their cameras without erasing the chip. Many of them had photos of grandkids and vacations on their cameras already — don’t want to lose those!

BTW, if a competent friend isn’t to be had, hire a high school or college student if a professional photographer is out of your budget. :)

My final photo projects after the party include printing out photos for some family & friends and creating another book on Blurb of just the party photos. You can see a preview of the book here. Once again, I used Blurb to make a professionally bound book. They came out with a new option after I ordered the “Fifty Years Together” book, instead of a dust jacket, you can now ImageWrap the cover. I can’t wait to see how that comes out. There are lots of services to make your printouts, but fortunately, we have an Epson Stylus Photo 2200. This printer has been discontinued, after all it is a few years old, but I wanted to comment on Epson’s superior customer service. Even though we are not the original owners (it was a gift from the same friend who gave us the scanner, after he upgraded his printer), and it is a discontinued product, I was able to call in to customer service, talk to a real person, in America, and get real useful help. Only downside was a non-800 number, but the help was worth the toll call to me. Anyway, we figured out I had the wrong type of ink to print on high quality glossy photo paper. Glitches sorted, I have printed out an array of prints suitable for framing.

I even used eBay. You don’t need a link for that do you? The caterer’s suggestion for an interesting and affordable centerpiece was small pots of herb seedlings, on a platter, with clusters of grapes. The grapes are edible and the herb pots become souveniers for the guests to take home. I bought a few cheap silver platters on eBay, bought the tin herb pots at Ikea (small terra cotta pots are also available at Michael’s crafts). These were a big hit and no dead flowers.

OK, what most have you have slogged through the technoogical info to get to, the food!

I’ve been wanting to do a party with Christine Nunn’s Picnic Caterers for a few years now. Jason wrote her up for the New York Times back in 2006 and we’ve profiled Picnic’s food many times here on OTB, here’s a post all about BLTs. When it came to planning the menu, I told Chris “brunch” and let her run with it. Here’s the final menu. My only input? I requested the macaroni & cheese, she makes a mean mac & cheese.

Interactive Crepe station with three fillings: seafood, spinach and mushroom duxelles

Hot Buffet:
French toast with caramelized bananas walnuts and a maple crème sauce
Shirred eggs over ham and roasted asparagus
Pork Sausage
Macaroni and Cheese
Roasted turkey with an assortment of chutneys and cranberry nut bread

Cold Buffet:
Green salad with pecans and dried cranberries
Grilled Vegetable Platter
Herbed New Potato salad
Trio of chicken salads (classic, curry, with grapes & pecans)
Vegetable Primavera Salad
Poached Salmon with cucumber scales and dill sauce

Breads and pastries from Balthazar Bakery
Fruit Salad
Assorted cookies

And, finally, a cake by Patisserie St. Michel. Yet another place Jason wrote about for the New York Times and pictorialized on OTB. Andre’s cake was beyond words. So beautiful and delicious, there were very little left over for Mom to take home!

Interactive Crepe Station

The Seafood crepe filling featured large divers scallops

front to rear: Poached Salmon with cucumber scales, Grilled Vegetables, Chutney and Applesauce for Roasted Turkey with Balthazar’s Cranberry Pecan Bread, Pasta Primavera Salad, New Potato Salad, Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken Salad Trio

Another view of the buffet, from left: Chicken Salad, New Potato Salad, Macaroni and Cheese (covered dish), Pasta Primavera Salad, Roasted Turkey with assorted chutneys, Grilled Vegetables, Poached Salmon

The chicken salad trio was the surprise big hit of the menu

Dessert buffet of cookies, rugelach, brownies, lemon cheesecake bars and chocolate dipped strawberries

The cake was chocolate sponge with vanilla syrup, apricot coulee gelee, mango mousse, buttercream frosting and marzipan fondant

Patisserie Sainte Michel
1389 Queen Anne Rd
Teaneck, NJ 07666
(201) 837-8140

Picnic Catering
(201) 321-3213

Thanks for coming to the party!

Want to see even more pictures? Click here.

4 Responses to Modern Party Planning

  1. kristin says:

    Congrats to your mom and dad Rachel! 50 years is a wonderful milestone! Your mom and dad look so young. We can all hope to look that great and be married for that long.

  2. Margaret says:

    Those are really nice photos, I love them. And grats !

  3. Theresa says:

    Congratulations to your parents! Thank you for sharing the event and the tips!

  4. Christine says:

    Geez, wish I were there!

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