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Jun 26, 2017 11:20pm

Julia Usher baking in her home kitchen
Blog Recipes and Tips From Julia Usher

Mother Deserves Best

The topic of mothers has been on my mind lately, and not just because Mothers’ Day is right around the corner. After a year of non-stop work on my next book Ultimate Cookies, I finally submitted the manuscript a couple of weeks ago. While many people supported the book along the way, the real driving force behind it was my mom.  You see, if she hadn’t made cookie decorating such a festivity in our house, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be as crazy about the craft as I am today!

Each Christmas my sibs and I donned her frilly June Cleaver-esque aprons and tried our darnedest to outdo one another with the cleverest cookie design. Even when disfigured cutouts or errant icing blobs foiled our plans, we earned Mom’s unswerving praise.

So this got me thinking . . .

Too often I’ve praised my mom in private – with a hello phone call, a simple gift or note on Mothers’ Day, a small family gathering. This year I decided it was high time to share my appreciation more publicly. And so I debut this insider’s view of a party that I planned for her and her mother on the occasion of their 70th and 90th birthdays in 2006.

The party was very much a collaborative effort: graphic designer Diann Cage made the save-the-dates and invitations, I crafted the favors, my sister Betsy made corsages for the ladies and floral headpieces for the little girls, and even my mom rolled up her sleeves by arranging flowers that, as you’ll see, were planted just about everywhere. To keep the various contributors on point, I found it especially important to set a theme. Both ladies prefer more dirt under their nails than polish on top, so a garden motif and a country barn at the local farmers’ market set the perfect stage. From that simple starting point, here are the tools I used to cultivate the theme:

1 | A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words.

And don’t ever forget this! There’s no better way to personalize a party than by embedding photographs. One of my all-time favorite family photos is the one taken on the day of my mom’s graduation from nursing school circa 1953 (top photo). There’s just something about the look of pride on both women’s faces . . . It didn’t take long for this photo to become the icon of the event, appearing in everything from the “welcome” sign to the save-the-date (second photo from top), and in stylized form at the footer of the menu and on place cards.

2 | Save-the-Date Seed Packets.

The party theme “seed” was sown early in the planning process with save-the-dates, fashioned to look like seed packets and filled with real Forget Me Not seeds.

3 | Not Your Garden-Variety Invitation.

That’s for sure. The invitation (third and fourth photos from top) was a play on the Farmers’ Almanac, complete with its classic clutter of graphics, photos of the ladies “growing” gracefully through the seasons, and a zone map showing the various places from which friends and family traveled for the event.

4 | Dressed for the Occasion.

To round out the theme, nearly every detail from the invitation on forward had a hint of pastoral pleasure. Suggested attire was floral prints, as fashionably displayed by my sisters’ cute-as-a-button daughters Laila and Audrey (fifth photo from top). The menu, backed in rustic burlap, (sixth photo) featured the best of local farmers’ fare. Tabletops (seventh photo) were draped in burlap and topped with casual collections of wheat grass, moss, rocks, and field flowers loosely arranged in mom’s many treasured vases. Place cards (third photo from bottom) were tiny clay pots with garden stakes bearing guests’ images. (Yes, more embedded personality!) And barn décor (second photo from bottom) was an extension of elements used elsewhere: namely more flowers scattered amongst even more photos of the honored guests.

5 | Rosemary, That’s for Remembrance.

Lastly, small papier mâché pots filled with rosemary starters (bottom photo) were given as favors to help guests hang onto their memories of the event. Old family photos, pages ripped from seed catalogs, and garden twine were decoupaged onto the pots for added character.

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