Having a Ball
In her latest book, Julia Reed vividly describes celebrations ranging from "stilettos on the grass" Gatsby-ish parties to formal Easter dinners for five-year-olds to intimate birthday gatherings. One thread that unites these events and gives them a certain grace is the hands-on approach of the hostess. Homemade touches abound and nothing has a corporate party planner feel.
One year Julia's friend, screenwriter Robert Harling, gave her twelve birthday gifts numbered in a certain order to be opened over the course of more than a week (sort of a grand "twelve days of Julia" gesture). I love this idea because it feels lavish yet more attainable than throwing a gala. Still, what Harling did could get rather pricey too.
Something I've experimented with in the past is sending friends a box of ribbon covered matchboxes with special notes tucked inside. (Idea totally stolen from Darcy Miller of Martha Stewart.) Months before Carson's wedding, I mailed her closest friends and her husband-to-be empty matchboxes and asked everyone to return them with a meaningful -- or funny -- note or memento inserted. They did. (And I never peeked.)
I assembled all the tiny boxes in one larger box and shipped it to Carson's parents' house in Kentucky so that in the days leading up to her big wedding she had a little surprise to open each morning during breakfast. Her husband's box was positioned to be opened on the last day.
Depending on your budget, you can make the main box for this project part of the gift too. Recently I bought a vintage tea tin that would be a perfect container to use, but you could buy a serious antique or simply use an old fashioned white cardboard gift box.
[The flower balls above, courtesy Southern Accents, are clearly intended for a wedding but I think it would be great to see them floating in a pool at a summer party. Technically they could be made at home, however an enormous quantity of blooms are usually required.]