Privilege Blog

A Small But Abundant Garden Party, In Green, Pink And Aqua – With A Bit Of Gold


The party for my stepmother was beautiful. A little gem of a fête.


Spring green tablecloths, white chairs, turquoise and mint Chinese lanterns in the bright, bright sun. Gold-rimmed chargers. Low-power wires courtesy our telephone company, I have suggested they bury them, many a time, for some reason no ones’s jumped at the chance.

Below, a well-stocked bar with a bartender to come. I moved the fuchsia into the corner of doom. The blossoms put their heads down and best feet forward as good sports must.


Catering. For 17 people. So wonderfully abundant, thanks to my father. I made Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Olive Oil Cake. Baking is not my strong suit.


It is perhaps surprising, and perhaps not that nobody wore traditional “garden party.” Some came in ornamented black, some in tunics, some in white jeans and silver beads. My middle sister interpreted “floral” all darkly lush but urban. Full-on Northern California.


Shirt is Alice+Olivia, pants from Theory, shoes navy perforated suede from Georgio Armani. This look, blouson plus quasi-fatigues plus elegant flats, bears investigation. My sister also wore antique gold chandelier earrings, but they’re gone with her face into anonymity. We respect privacy as requested.

I wore the ol’ navy MaxMara maxidress, Max-Mara-via-Halsbrook-at-The-Carneros-Inn

Stuart Weitzman block heels,


and gold hoops (a little bit like these, i.e. hammered.) Also a low ponytail with one of these elastics, and red toenails. But was having far too much fun to get a photo taken. In fact, the whole evening passed well-nigh unrecorded, so quickly and deeply did we fall into communing and eating and drinking. Nothing raucous; gin and tonics, Sancerre, and California Cabernets from the 1990s. Culturally appropriate.


In the end we put both tables in the shade. The sun was unusually direct for Northern California. The hydrangea wilted a little, my solo daisies, a lot. Somehow all to the good. This is a very intimate look into my family.

The birthday heroine and the jazz guitarist who serenaded us all.

The Birthday Heroine

My stepmother is one of those people who do things for you over years and years, always refusing help or recognition. Then one day, you ambush. As in, ‘Aha! We have you in our clutches and we will thank you come hell or high water!” I couldn’t help but think about privilege – not a constant sop to life’s little leaks, nor candy in pockets for children, but unburied all at once to give, a-shining. The evening was lit up by love and history.

I felt gratitude all through my throat.


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38 Responses

  1. What a lovely party! Thank you for inviting us to take a look. Love the menu!

  2. Your love for your step mother and vice versa is so emotional.
    And,yes,what a beautiful garden party,thank you to share it with us. Love the menu,the set,beautiful glass plates,atmosphere….!

  3. What a lovely beautiful lady she is!! She looks great! What a good idea, wish I had the forethought to do this before it got to be too late…….I think this is one of the nicest posts I have ever seen……..

  4. Such a beautiful party! “love and history”… as usual you write so well.
    The colour scheme was stunning, I think a catered event at home is so lovely. The menu looks perfect too.
    That MaxMara dress is such a good one, love that on you. XO

  5. Love everything about this – so beautiful in execution and thought. And I agree, your middle sister’s outfit does deserve some investigation – it’s great!

  6. Step-parents who love us and are loved by us are such a wonderful gift. Don’t know what life would have been like without mine. Looks like it was a lovely day, Lisa.

    1. I love Nigella’s recipes, but have never tried an olive oil cake. How was it? (I will also admit I see cake primarily as a delivery vehicle for frosting. Especially for birthdays!)

    2. @Anon, The consumers thereof were very kind in their comments. I think I left out one spoon of cocoa, all of them are needed, but it was quite good. I’m not a frosting fan, but I could imagine this cake with a crisp chocolate icing and it’d be quite nice.

    3. @Anon,

      Baked this cake once, deemed it meh. T’was salvaged by enrobement in bittersweet ganache.
      With such a lovely party setting and a good sancerre, who needs dessert ;) Very best wishes to the birthday girl!

  7. What a lovely party! We just did a (semi) surprise 90th birthday for my aunt. I originally expected a very small gathering, but put the word out to extended family and the acceptances kept coming. The restaurant got a bit frustrated when I kept increasing the head count. It was challenge to arrange long distance, but wonderful to have the family together to celebrate.

    1. @Flo, Aw thanks. And that dress is great – I’d have to have the pockets taken off due to #broadshoulders. I used the almond meal, gave the cake texture, more of a British cake than an American one, if that makes sense.

  8. Such pretty table settings. Catering is definitely the way to go, if you can. So much easier on the hostess. The worst part of entertaining for a group was the stress of cooking, worrying about getting everything out at the same time, making sure there was enough for everyone to eat. My house is small and my kitchen even smaller. Somehow, it didn’t matter. I was young. I made do.

    I think I last wore “traditional garden party” to *one* of my bridal showers in 1980. (Talk about privilege.)

    Sometimes when I’m watching an old movie, I feel nostalgic for when people dressed up for church, parties, and so on. Sit down dinners. Tea parties. Getting out the “good” china. Polishing silver.

    We’re more into potluck buffets and paper plates these days. Casual, more casual, and even more casual…

    Getting to give back to your parents is the best (and sometimes the worst) part of being a grownup.

    1. @Wendelah, Two bridal showers! I guess traditional garden party has pretty much given up the ghost in California. While I don’t mind the general trend to casual (I wrote this morning’s post before I read your comment!), I do love to pull out all the stops often enough that we don’t forget how.

  9. The color scheme is so lovely and fresh. I like the menu and agree that catering is the way to go for a gathering where you want to enjoy yourself as well. I am glad that the casual is the way to go now and we are, for the most part, not so formal anymore. However, on occasion, I enjoy getting out all the crystal, silver, linen and fine china and having a tea party. Your MIL looks beautiful in the photo and so stylish. An inspiration for the rest of us. Well done, Lisa!

  10. What a treat to see your patio so alive with party doings – esp. after I was so mean about its greyness in an earlier post. Mea culpa.

    And how wonderful to celebrate and enjoy your stepmother, and to gather the clan in all their (non-garden-party) glory, and to find ways to be yourselves, together.

    Special congrats to birthday girl Gitta, and special love to the faceless middle sister, whose chicness belies her deep social conscience and activity in support of our fellow and sister Americans who are very far from “privilege.”

    Love always –

  11. LOVELY……….I love the tables the green and white and those PLATES!I too have a STEP MOTHER I MUST RING!She has been through HEART surgery this year then 3 months after colon cancer…………….
    Life can be BRUTAL………….but at 83 she is plugging along!She is down by you in the Peninsula!!

  12. Your words tickle my brain in spots that don’t get touched and your first class creativity and civility inspire!

  13. Hello Lisa, Sorry to be so late to comment–I am on my summer Ohio schedule now. What a beautiful tribute to an outstanding person whom we have gotten to know through your blog.

    This post about your family was especially timely. I recently went on a little book-buying spree to supply myself for the long months in Taiwan, this time including Momentary Bliss and a few of W.B. Carnochan’s literary criticism works. I am especially looking forward to reading these books.

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