The “13 Doesn’t Succ…” Succulent Party


It rained all week and then suddenly on Saturday, the day of Bug’s thirteenth birthday party, the sun came out, the rain dried up and it was a brilliant lovely summer day. Pretty much perfect for an outdoor succulent-themed birthday lunch!

(Of course we had a back up plan. We would have went ahead and had a birthday lunch inside and crowded everyone into our dining room. I would have pan-fried the hamburgers three at a time and it would have been a smokey mess but we could have pulled it off. I’m just so glad we didn’t have to.)


From the outside everything looked perfect. It was sunny and warm day in January. The napkins I found stuffed in my party box were the perfect color of orange to match Bug’s neon orange shirt that she picked out last minute. The adorable little succulent plants fit perfectly into their little terra cotta pots. The cupcakes were the most cute! The hamburgers were delicious and the avocados were even the perfect amount of ripeness to make a big bowl of tasty guacamole. The puppies were happy guests in the side yard petitioned by a puppy gate. Everyone was happy.


I, however, was not as happy. A shame, I know. It’s just that I’m think I am ready to retire from party-throwing. I know. Nobody believes me. And maybe I’m just all talk. Come May when it’s time to throw Joon’s “baking challenge” birthday party, I’ll probably be rearing to go again. But right now I just feel like I’m done. I’ve spent way too much money on these parties over the years and it’s starting to get to the point where the wonderful creative aspect of party-throwing is not outweighing the financial and operational stress of making them actually happen.

It’s finally come to that. Maybe 2018 was a rough year for me and I’m finally growing up.

I love parties. I just don’t love who I become during party prep count-down time AND I don’t love how much money I spend. Unfortunately I’ve set the bar pretty high and the kids have come to expect this kind of festivities but I think it’s time to train them out of it because this can’t sustain itself. At least not for a while while I recuperate from losing my laptop and camera in Italy.

But you are not here to discuss my mental health and my party planning retirement. You are here to look at the details.


Details! The green bar, the green lemonade, the sunny day, the succulents everywhere… It was all lovely


Bug and I fell in love with the idea of succulent cupcakes. They are all over Pinterest these days. I didn’t really put a lot of effort into researching the how-to steps to make them though because Joon has become the baker in the house and I figured between the two of them, (Joon is the baker, Bug is the decorator) they would probably pull it off. I bought the Russian tips and let it all sit on the counter for a week until the day of the party.

Well, as luck would have it, the girls let me down. Not terribly but they kind of expected me to pull it off for them like I usually do and they were off in the bathroom somewhere doing their hair. So maybe you could say I let them down. Chalk it up to a miscommunication.

So there I was a the eleventh hour trying to figure out how Russian icing tips work. The kit I bought was super complicated with widgety plastic parts that for some reason with the last minute stress of it all turned into a rubic’s cube mystery operated by Greasy Fingers Mc-frustrated. Nothing worked and the cute little succulents of icing turned into smooshy blobs instead of leaf-like peaks. The color was perfect (because Bug, the color expert added the food coloring) but the shape was just a mess.  Of course it was 101 degrees in the kitchen because that is how our house works when the sun is out (pretty windows have an ugly side effect) and that probably contributed to my stress.

I grunted and screamed and pretty much turned into a Tyrannosaurus rex for twenty minutes. Poor Payam hovered nearby but there was really nothing anyone could do to calm me down or fix the situation.  I muttered through it and in the end the cupcakes turned out pretty cute. And since no one was comparing them to the Pinterest pin I had in my head, nobody realized they were a collassel failure.

Typical Brenda. Freak out and nobody knows.


Payam cooked the hamburgers. Joon had perfect hair…


And the party went off without anyone knowing that I was officially throwing in the towel. Last party I vowed.


A funny thing about Bug and Joon. Bug loves to draw (of course! She’s just like me) and many of Bug’s friends like to draw too. Joon does not like to draw and many of Bug’s friends don’t like to draw either. So the party kind of split into two groups: the drawers and the game players.


Joon LOVES any kind of game. The more active the better. I never realized how much I hated games until I met someone who really loves them. There are just so many games I am bad at!  Pretty much anything to do with math or being on the spot gives me anxiety. So that rules out all games except Pictionary. I love Pictionary because I love to draw. Sadly nobody else really loves Pictionary as much as I do.

When the party started out Joon was kind of moping around because it was a day for Bug and all of Bug’s friends were there. Joon didn’t get a chance to invite any of her friends, an oversight on my part. She was sad and bored.


But then when Bug went off to a corner with her drawing buddies some of her non-drawing buddies got bored and wandered inside to find Joon who was standing by to save the day with TWISTER! and CARD GAMES! All the gamers were so happy and so was Joon. And that’s how that worked out.

It’s funny though because Payam came to me and said, Why are there two groups? Why are Bug and her two lone buddies off being anti-social to which I turned to him and said, Let them be. That was me. I always hated parties because I hated games and I just wanted to be off in a corner drawing. So we let them be.



And that was that! Thirteen didn’t suck so much. But being the party planner did so maybe this is my last party. At least until May. And then THAT will be my last party.

And that’s how you celebrate turning 80.


Months ago Payam and his brother asked me if I’d help them plan their mother’s 80th birthday party. They know I love to throw a party but they might not have known how much I love to throw a party. If they had, they might have put on the breaks. In fact, in emails going back and forth between me and Payam’s brother, Ramin, he did just that. But of course I ignored his gentle warnings and went over the top anyway. Because that is what I do! But guess what, everybody loved it and Payam’s mom was so happy!


We visit Payam’s mom, Pedram, pretty much every Sunday. We have tea, we chat, we practice Farsi and sometimes I snuck in questions about what she might like for a party, because I need a theme when I plan a party. Maybe someday I’ll write a book about how to throw a good party. I kind of have some rough guidelines in my head that I fall back on.

I have to have these things:

  1. a theme and a color scheme
  2. good lighting
  3. flowers and/or decorations
  4. a music playlist
  5. good food and a signature drink if possible
  6. a general schedule of events with flexibility built in
  7. a surprise
  8. a take away (party favor or photo moment)

Not too complicated, right? Haha! It’s not complicated to me but I’m sure people who don’t throw crazy parties are probably rolling their eyes back in their head and scrolling to the next page. What can I say? I’m just not a solo cup kind of girl.

To me it’s a work of art that I throw myself into and plan and plot for weeks on end. It’s so much fun and every detail makes me deliriously happy. Unfortunately, not everyone around me feels the same but I can’t help it because my brain is like a high speed train on a track that I can’t really do much about. It has to run it’s course or I get really really sad.

We decided on a purple theme with vintage photos for sparking happy memories. “Sentimentality in Lavender” is what I’d call it if I had to title it. She didn’t really say what shade of purple she liked so I threw them all in together and since the party was at the beginning of fall and at night, I decided to go toward the richer darker tones with splashes of lavender.


On the day before the party I stopped by a farmer’s market and bought every purple flower I could find. I also bought bunches and bunches of eucalyptus for greens because they hold up flowers nicely and fill out arrangements.  For fun and a nod to Persian culture I sprung for some pomegranates because they love pomegranates.  They also remind me of fall so there’s that. My mom (who was with me and who is often my partner in crime when it comes to these sorts of parties) wasn’t too sure about mixing reds and purples but I think it worked out really well and made the bouquets seem even richer. I love skewering fruit and sticking them in a bouquet!


Joon made the cake. She was really super cute about it. She’s on a huge baking kick lately (thank you, Netflix) and loves to bake any time we will let her. She was so excited to bake her grandma the perfect cake. She even invited her grandma over one day (without telling us) and had her grandma sit in her room looking at cake recipes on her laptop. It was so funny. Payam was on a really important conference call (you know the kind where you have to sit at your computer with a button down shirt on even though you are wearing shorts beneath) and all of a sudden his mom and her care-taker come walking through our house to Joon’s room. Of course this was all fine but I thought it was pretty brilliant of Joon to be so proactive.


Joon and Pedram decided on a “Persian Love cake”. It’s basically an almond flour cake with rosewater flavoring and a lemon glaze. It was delicious!  So good. But even better was her decorating. It was so pretty! She did such an amazing job.


She glazed it with drippy layers of soft pink glaze and then decorated it with pistachios, roses and raspberries. Swoon!


I mean look at this cake! Have you ever seen something more beautiful?!! This has spawned a whole new idea for Joon’s birthday in May. Maybe we could rent an industrial kitchen (if it isn’t too astronomically expensive) and have some sort of baking competition … It is just too much fun not to take advantage of. I love that she has found something she enjoys so much.


After the cake was decorated and the flower arrangements were made, we drove to Payam’s mom’s house to start setting up. Payam’s mom has the most beautiful backyard. I’ve wanted to throw a party there since the first day I saw it. It’s perfectly set up for entertaining. And since it was so hot all summer it just seemed like the perfect time to throw a party outside in the evening when the air gets cool and it is so pleasant out. I love a good outdoor party under the stars.


Since Payam’s mom has a big pool in the backyard I thought it would be really fun to decorate the pool with giant balloons and even better, giant balloons that light up as the sun goes down! The pool is so pretty in the twilight, kind of like a pond at the edge of a meadow. I opted to keep the pool lights off so the focus would be on the balloons and these cool little plastic floating balls I bought off amazon.

Adding mood lighting can be as simple as throwing some battery-operated fairy lights inside a balloon and then letting it float across the pool. I used the golden hour app to figure out what the prettiest time of the evening would be when I designed the invitation and sure enough it turned out perfect! Gotta love technology.

Lighting, check!


Next up we created a slide show from old photo albums and put them in a play list that Payam could play off his laptop and project onto a big board. You might recognize the pink wall…It’s been downsized a bit. Payam built a stand for it and I added some new lavender and pink crepe paper flowers. and-thats-how-you-celebrate-80-5

And then we practiced posing in front of it because, tah-dah! it has two purposes: a photo booth prop AND a board for projecting slide-shows onto. (entertainment and photo op take-away, check!)


Then we set the tables (We rented tables and chairs and a couple of heaters). The birthday girl showed up in the prettiest purple dress ever! I love it when people join me in my theme ideas and get in the festive mood. Her dress was so perfect AND she painted her nails lavender (!). I just love her.


The girls were very helpful with the balloons, making sure they stayed floating around the pool instead of only hanging out by the filter.


They also helped by lighting all the votives and bickering over who’s turn it was to use the lighter.


Then everyone relaxed in the eye of the storm while we waited for the guests to arrive.


I love a party that I am actually done setting up for before the guests arrive. I think this might be the first one.


The sun went down and it just got prettier and prettier!


Everyone was in their places…


The music was queued and finally it was time to mingle. The food showed up an hour later (catered Persian food because, YES) and we celebrated the birthday girl with lots of eating, laughing and even singing! (music, food, check!)


Dinner went off without a hitch and then Joon brought out her cake with a sparkling “80” candle. Unfortunately, I was somewhere running around and didn’t get any photos of it actually sparkling but it was pretty impressive.


Then Joon and her Grandma cut the cake together and everyone lived happily ever after!


Just kidding. The night was far from over.  Everybody sat around and talked and laughed and got sentimental. We watched the slideshow and told stories.  At one point one guest even launched into a serenade in Farsi that made all the first generation Persian Americans get a little teary-eyed and homesick for their homeland.  (surprise, check!) It was really an amazing night. So much fun. This is how I want to celebrate turning 80 someday. It really is something to celebrate and be proud of.


I’d love to say we partied until the sun came out but it was more like until the kids started falling asleep on the couch.

Pretty much perfect.