Tag Archives: Holiday Parties

How to Throw a (Fairly Kick Ass) Army Retirement Party

When planning to celebrate the end of my husband’s 24 year career in the United States Army I had a tough time figuring out just how the hell to do that. Please understand, I was a terrible Army wife. It’s the first thing I tell anyone when they ask me about Scott’s former career. I never learned the acronyms, the protocols, the politics or the hierarchy. I didn’t go to church, vote Republican, or carry a Coach purse. I avoided Pampered Chef parties, mommy & me play groups, and failed to roll deep with the MWR crowd. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing any of those things, I’m just a weirdo. A misfit. And a terrible Army wife. Yet, I love my sweetheart (and my country, I swear) and, by God, I was going to throw him an awesome Army-ish party….somehow.

I didn’t extensively scour the internet looking for military retirement party ideas, but what little Google and Pinterest searches I performed didn’t turn up much in the way of inspiration. Lots of red, white and blue decor, several patriotic appetizers that would also do nicely at a 4th of July bash, and a few clever cakes, but nothing that showcased what the norm might be for “So Long, Army” festivities. Fortunately, with the help of my creative mother, we winged it.

Concepts/highlights below: may they prove helpful to some other terrible military spouse out there.

MENU: Chow Hall Reminiscence

We rented a local hall that provided a chef, servers and bar on site – the one-stop-shop convenience of that was, I felt, well worth the added expense! When planning the menu my husband decided to forgo delicatessens and asked if the chef could whip up a dish he remembered fondly from his basic training days: Yakisoba. The chef obliged and it was…..Americana grub, for certain; meaty, salty, carby, tough guy chow.
There were lots of leftovers.

In keeping with the dining style we’d planned to create a mess hall banner (see photo/link) we found on Pinterest, but sadly ran out of time.

DÉCOR: Red, White & Cheap

Directing the majority of our budget toward venue, food, servers and booze, I allotted only a comparative fraction for decor. The party was in April but, by a stroke of luck, a local dollar store had set out all their Independence Day merchandise early – and I bought it all! The venue manager had told us we could decorate as we pleased, “We had a wedding down here once and the couple hired some gay guy….made this place look like Narnia!”

We didn’t achieve Narnia status, but I tacked up red, white and blue plastic table cloths as wall panels and bedazzled enough items to be as patriotic as all get out. Borrowing from my mister’s skull collection (not real, and not weird…well, maybe a little weird…but purely in the fun, still creepy, but mostly harmless way) and topped them with various military hats. Center piece, meet conversation piece!
Centerpieces
My mother built cupcake trees out of Styrofoam discs and wooden candle holders (another Pinterest grab) and our daughters painted them. Pretty cute and blessedly cheap!
cupcake tree

PHOTO BOOTH: Because Everybody’s Doing It

Using cardstock to print mustaches, mouths, masks, etc, we hot glued these to dowels as photo booth props. We added military hats of all sorts and, as backdrop, hung an American flag that a family member had flown for Scott while he’d served in Iraq.


And photo fun was had by all (the non-stick-in-the-muds).

SLIDE SHOW: Blasts from a Plentiful Past

The only retirement party staple I was familiar with was that of the projector, the screen, and the photo slideshow down memory lane. But what content to display, and how much, was another expedition into uncharted affairs. Eventually I chose to keep the majority of images related to his career, but I wanted to present an overall snapshot of his life as well. A few adorable shots of his boyhood here, a couple awkward teenager candids there, and I tried to add pictures of him posed alongside the many faces that were a part of his journey; to include ex-girlfriends and ex-wives. That last bit can be a touchy subject for some, but I felt those women were relevant chapters of Scott’s story. Besides, my husband has so many female friends, no one knew which girl photographed was just a pal and which one had seen him naked.
And, thankfully, no one asked.

Non-Pro Tip: I recommend a ten second delay, or more, between slides. We went with five and it proved a touch too zippy.

VIDEO GREETINGS: Be There, in More than Just Spirit

When your job requires you to travel all over the world you tend to end up with friends in nearly every corner of it, and those friends often live so far off they can’t always readily attend your retirement party. Except that they CAN! Sort of.

The ultimate triumph of that congratulatory night was surprising my dearest darling with a video of his most beloved peeps wishing him well.

The idea didn’t come to me until the party was less than two weeks out, so I scrambled like mad to gather 15-30 second videos from friends, family and colleagues all across the globe. The morning of the event I was still receiving, and frantically splicing together, last-minute video clips, but Microsoft Movie Maker made quick-editing a breeze and, after dinner, film rolled flawlessly for husband and guests. Husband was awed, guests were entertained.
HOORAY!
Or….Hooah?

-Terrible Former Army Wife, Signing Off.

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Moments and Mementos

Throwing the first of what will likely become an annual holiday party in our home, we invited our guests to bring wrapped, inexpensive mystery presents to be won in a dice game. A “Dirty Dice” holiday game (not that kind of dirty) that my family has played every Christmas for the last twenty years. We just call it “The Dice Game” but when I searched it for its official rules, “Dirty Dice” it was. So named for the last, frantic fifteen minutes of cut-throat present stealing. It really helps draw out the inner greedy, materialistic bastard in us all – otherwise known as “The Christmas Spirit.”

TreeThe game was a smash, hence plans for future events, but a couple of unexpectedly cool things happened besides good times, gift hoarding, and my husband dressing as Santa, passing out presents to the little ones. See, some of our friends identify themselves as introverts. And I can relate to the socially awkward. I grew up in a tree talking to a cat. I believe the movie “Nell” was loosely based on my childhood. But I watched the socially uncozy unite during our gathering. There was a fellow, a new friend’s husband, who was, to the watchful eye, clearly uncomfortable in the crowd of strangers. Another of our self-proclaimed wallflower friends took the goodwill initiative and led the newcomer on a tour of my husband’s action figure packed man cave; more commonly referred to as the “Joe Room”, but also known in some circles as “Geek Mecca.” When the newcomer and his wife bid us goodnight he said, “I just want to tell you, I normally hate parties. My wife had to drag me here. But I had such a good time! You guys are awesome!”

Best compliment of 2013. God it feels good making others feel good.

Highlight dos arrived when a few friends recognized some of my holiday décor for the vintage childhood memorabilia it really is. I had no idea the Christmas Countdown Mouse Calendar had once been so popular. And I don’t know how it went down in other 80s and 90s homes, but in mine, my mother told me the elves came each night to leave candy in the pocket of the newest December day. My most vivid memory of this calendar was the year she underwent back surgery. Being that I was 10 years old, and no longer bought the elf story…but still liked candy very much, my mom pre-packed all days she’d be away in the hospital – a little over a week. I remember looking at that calendar, and the numbered pockets full of chocolates, feeling sad that she would be gone so long, feeling worried and scared for her health, and feeling loved because she’d taken the time to fill my calendar. I felt a mixture of trepidation and reverence. And then I ate ALL the candy at once.

I may have left a few days worth, for sentimentality’s sake. I can’t recall. That was so last century.

IMG_0079But the conversation of youthful yuletide totems led to the pieces of personal history that hung from my tree. Moreover, the ingenious tradition my mother began in 1979, when she bought me my first ornament featuring Pooh Bear and Piglet. Every year afterward she took me to the Hallmark store and had me choose a keepsake. She told me they’d be the ornaments I moved away from home with, someday, and the very first tree of my own would sparkle with the memories my childhood. And that’s exactly what happened.

IMG_0089Every year, when I unbox the squirrels on the telephone, I’m reminded that when I was 13 years old I could not be pried from the phone. And when I hang the Heathcliff ornament on my tree, the one I picked out when I was 7 (my mom labeled all the boxes with the year I chose them, because she’s awesome like that), I wonder if anyone even remembers who Heathcliff was.IMG_0073 There are adorable years, like racoon-riding-a-skateboard year, because I was into raccoons and cute skateboarders. And there are solemn years, like the year my mentor lost her young life in a head-on collision with a semi-trailer, and I chose an angel to represent her.IMG_0075

IMG_0096As I pointed out these artifacts, sharing their stories, a few people said, “Wow. I’m stealing your mom’s idea.” And they should. And you should, too. It’s a beautiful thing to give your children; little memories of long ago Christmases to adorn their someday trees, all their later on lives.

IMG_0109Naturally, I carry on this tradition with my own daughters. Though we’re not bound to the sacredness of the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament. In fact, this year’s additions were hand painted and shipped to us by my talented auntie Holly (I share the link to her Etsy shop and Facebook page every chance I get, she’s amazing). My eldest received a Hunger Games inspired ornament, a Sally one was made for my “Nightmare Before Christmas” obsessed youngest, and a surprise “Breaking Bad” piece came for me. Yay! Because what says “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” better than a little Heisenberg?IMG_0106

Now, I’m not sure my girls appreciate the ornament ritual just yet. I mean, they love choosing their annual baubles, but they’re already critical of choices they made just a year or two previous. My eldest rolls her eyes at her 4 year old “Barbie Princess” pick, while my youngest is so over her 2 year old “Go, Diego, Go!” selection. And that’s fine. It still goes up on our tree, just as I hope they will one day be displayed as lovingly upon the girls “someday” ones.

And we’ll wonder if anyone remembers who the hell Diego was.
IMG_0027

Perils, Parties and Propositions

Hi. My name is Niki and I am an inconsistent blogger.
(Hello, Niki.)
But I suppose there are worse things to be.

I’ve had stories to tell, and happenings to disclose, and opinions to share, and ideas to bounce off the universe, but 2013 has been something of a challenge in nearly all areas of my personal life – and the time or energy for sharing has been minimal. And since there’s a ton on my plate at present, yet I’d really like to get back into the writing swing, pardon me while I babble about my week.

I’m throwing three parties in the next nine days. Two of them for children. Correction, one of them for children, one for preteens – an entirely different species. I’m doing this because I’m a crazy person. Oh, and I’m drawing invitations and 6 ft. banners by hand, and painting, and possibly building a Space Needle out of foam board, because (it’s so much fun, and I’m rockin’ it) I need professional help with my crazy.

tumblr_mus2w2wvjE1qafr64o1_500Party one is a farewell affair for my best guy pal in town (I already lost a best gal pal last month to Chicago – this year can seriously suck it). He’s moving to Seattle to pursue love and happiness with his boyfriend. Since Seatown is my hometown, I volunteered to host a party in his honor and I’ve been having a blast with the decorations. I’ve suspended umbrellas from my ceiling and shaped shiny blue, fringed wire garland to hang from them like streams of rain. I practiced drawing an orca whale, Mt. Rainer, the Space Needle and spent four hours incorporating them into a sketch for my giant banner. And, though my aging, aching, withering right hand currently detests me, I’m tossing around the idea of launching construction on a 2 ft. tall Space Needle centerpiece. Foam board or perhaps paper mache; not sure. I’ve never worked with either, because I don’t usually do shit like this.

Sketch of Banner. Unfinished.  Hand on Strike.

Sketch of Banner. Unfinished.
Hand on Strike.

Why the sudden burst of creativity? There are lots of answers to that, the simplest being: my little one is in preschool and (in a forever furloughed/sequestered/government-shuttin’-down military/border patrol dependent town) I have not been able to find a decent job. This leaves me with free time, for the first time in five years. And you know what that means, don’t you? Aww yeah. It’s bout to get crafty up in this bitch!

Party two and three are Halloween-related. My eldest had asked for a costume party, I’d agreed, and then the little one said, “Will I have to stay in my room for her party?” *GASP* Heart cracked in two! See, my girls are seven years apart, and more and more the activities one will partake in is neither age appropriate nor age appealing to the other. A spooky, creepy, scary (possible haunted house in my garage) event designed for 11 year olds would not necessarily go over well with 4 year olds, or their parents. Or Child Protective Services. So I told my littlest one, “No, baby. You’re going to have your own party!”

YAAAAAAAY! Everybody wins! And gets a party! And mommy didn’t need to sleep or eat, anyway.

I also have some sewing to do this week. I don’t own a sewing machine – and, in fact, never learned to operate one – so it takes a while. I know it’s a simple skill to pick up, I just haven’t gotten around to it…in 36 years. My mom tried to teach me when I was a girl, but much like her attempt to teach me to cook, and craft, and fold a fitted sheet properly, her efforts met with my surly teenage obstinance. “OMG! I’m NOT going to be housewife! Ever. Ugh.” Just kidding. We didn’t say “OMG” back then. We said “Oh my God.” It was a dark, barbaric, internet-less time.images

By refusing to learn “women’s work” (I really must have thought Future Niki was going to have servants) everything is hard now. Thanks, Younger Impractical Feminist Niki.

Funny side bit about the sewing project, though; the other night I was asked out on a date in a fabric store. I had to walk through the mall to get to this store, and I remember briefly making and breaking eye contact with a fellow (standing? walking? don’t recall) just outside the entrance. He followed me into the store and called to me with a “Hey!” I turned as he approached me, holding out tickets in his hand, and he said, “Uh, do you want to go on a date? I have these movie tickets and…..” he trails off, looking at me…hopefully.

He couldn’t have been a day over 25, clean-cut, average looks, on the short side, not my type (but considering no one I’ve dated looks like anyone else I’ve ever dated, I’m not sure I have a type – rather, my type is funny and smart), and, naturally, it wouldn’t have mattered if he was my type, being that I’m a happily married lady who has no interest in any gross cougary business. So I said, “Oh! If I weren’t married, I would. I’m sorry. Good luck!”

Which was a lie. I wouldn’t. Not if I were single, and not even if I were single and his age, because my sense of stranger danger is (possibly overactive) very acute. “Hey! Uh…do you want to go on a date? I have these movie tickets…and…oh yeah? You do! Great! My name’s Ted, but all my friends call me Bundy. Real quick, do you mind if we stop by my nondescript, windowless van first? I left my wallet in there.”

He was probably just a lonely kid working on a new dating tactic, or maybe the pre-bought-tickets/scout-the-mall-for-chicks thing had worked for him in the past. Or maybe he indeed lures 30-something women toward a grisly death in his van of terror. Beats me. But I do wish I’d found out which movie he’d preselected. Was it “Machete Kills”? Or maybe “Cloudy with a Chance of Freakballs”? Alas, we shall never know.