Let’s Have a HOUSE Party: My Birthday Party on Google Hangouts

This blog caught the attention of the Washington Post and I was featured in a video article about my virtual birthday party, a part of their Voices from the Pandemic series!

My 26th birthday landed right in the middle of March 2020, a month that seems to have lasted for an entire 82 years due to the coronavirus raging its ugly head in the U.S. It’s been a hard, exhausting, panic-inducing month. While I had to cancel all of my birthday celebrations (a lipstick-making party with my girlfriends in Dallas and a couple’s trip to downtown Little Rock with Summer and Travis), I couldn’t cancel my birthday, as much as I had joked about doing so. So, we made lemonade out of lemons and I threw a virtual birthday party. (I still hold that Aries szn is postponed until further notice—we’ll just have more things to celebrate once this is all over!)

Guest List

This part was great, because I got to invite all the local friends I had been planning on celebrating with… and then some! I also invited all of my friends who live far away. It was extra special to get to celebrate virtually with people I don’t usually get to celebrate my birthday with, like my friend Rebecca who lives in Edinburgh. She and her boyfriend Peter decorated their flat in honor of my birthday, made a cake for the occasion, and stayed up wayyyy late on UK time to not only come to my party but close it down. Getting to celebrate with them in real time was one of my favorite parts of this birthday.

Invitations

First, I sent an email with details and a little E-vite image I spun up on Canva. Then, I received 0 responses (despite BCC’ing everyone, which generally makes people respond more since there is no risk to reply all), and Summer suggested I make a facebook event to get it on people’s notification feed and actually track RSVPs.

I created a Google calendar event for myself with a hangouts link attached, and simply copied and pasted that link in the event in a few different spots. The only person who had trouble joining it was my mom, who was quite inebriated at that point in her evening and wouldn’t join on her laptop. She popped in and out of the call all night (my hunch is that she kept accidentally closing the hangouts app on her phone).

My mom’s forehead, one of the few times she joined the party only to promptly disappear.

Decorations

This one was all Summer and Joe scheming—I had no idea Joe had even ordered decorations. I came out of my room while working from home Friday morning (the day before my birthday) to see Joe had hung up some of the decor in our living room. He needed my help with the “happy birthday” sign, so we put that and some of the other pieces in the kit up together. The decor is still hanging in our living room, and it makes me happy having it there. (I also reserve the right to keep it up until it is no longer my birthday season.)

Esther modeling the birthday decorations on the couch.

In my box of celebration goodies I had little mylar balloons for the year 2019. I blew up the 2 and the 9, flipped the 9 upside down it’s a 6 now, and then had the perfect photo prop for my 26th. Those balloons are still on my couch, too.

The Birthday Outfit

It’s my party and I can wear sequins to sit in my living room if I want to.

Go big AND stay home. I decided to get dressed up in the sequin dress I wore to my bachelorette party, and I have 0 regrets. Okay, maybe the 1 regret I have was trying to get away with wearing the wrap dress sans bra and almost flashing all of my friends early on into the night. I quickly righted the situation with a sticky bra I ordered ages ago but had never worn. Those things are a bitch to take off, but luckily I was drunk enough by the end of the night to not mind the pain. Summer got dressed up with me, too, in the mermaid sequin romper I got her for Christmas in 2017.

The Food

This was another surprise Summer and Joe had up their sleeve. The morning of my birthday was about time for Joe and I to go grocery shopping again, but I wanted to put it off another day or two to see if I could find an online pick-up option in the meantime (spoiler: there were absolutely none, and I still can’t find any). Joe told me we had to go to the store, because he had something he needed to get. “You don’t get to ask questions, it’s your birthday.” He threw the phrase I tell him around Christmas and his birthday right back at me.

We get to the grocery store, order my birthday Starbucks drink (where I found the mermaid tumblers that Summer and I have been searching everywhere for, a birthday miracle) and then tackled my shopping list like a Girl on Fire—Alicia Keys would be proud. I wanted to minimize our time in the store as much as possible. Meanwhile, Joe got stuck in the deli section staring at his phone and then the selection, back and forth. I figured he was partaking in some of the extreme couponing he loves to pretend like he knows how to do when we get to take a leisurely trip to the store. Instead of telling him we had no time for his antics, I just figured that I would finish my list as fast as possible so we could go.

This photo is so on brand for me. I’m sporting the mermaid tumblers in my back pocket.

I finish my shopping and end up meeting Joe in the cheese aisle, where he’s getting some block cheese in addition to the fancy artisan salami and prosciutto that I figured we were only buying because it was on major sale. “Do you like pepperjack?” He asked.

“No,” I said, “but you should get it if it makes you happy.”

He follows with “I want to get what you like.” So we got a cheese I liked. I figured we were just making a cheese compromise because it was my birthday. Whatever.

We get home and he is being weird about bringing in the groceries. “Leave the non-cold stuff in the car, I’ll come and get it in a few hours.” (No, he won’t.) I said I’d make The Second Trip (which he hates doing) so just leave the bags we couldn’t carry. “No, I have to get the cheese right now!” He rifles through the remaining bags to find all the cheese. I think nothing of it besides, he’s being typically stubborn.

We get inside and he goes, “The jig is up, isn’t it?”

I said “no, I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do! The jig is up!”

“Still no,” I said, “I’m so confused.”

“It is! I’m making a charcuterie board for your party tonight.” Oh, that’s why he was being the biggest weirdo in the deli section and about the cheese. It all made sense.

So, we had a charcuterie board for the party. We used the fancy cheese board given to us by my Marriott Ambassador for the wedding (back when I had crazy high status). And when we got drunk enough to need some drunk food, Joe and I cooked some chicken nuggets in the oven.

Some of my friends brought their own dinner to the party and ate while we played games. Everyone has so many options for snacks, and the best part is that everyone gets to eat exactly what they want!

The Wine

This one was easy—I bought 3 bottles of rosé the last time we were at Central Market, and I bought 2 bottles of red earlier that morning at the grocery store. We went through all of them that night. Joe put a black tie over his signature Hawaiian shirt and refilled my wine glass all night like a sommelier (another one of Summer’s ideas to make my birthday feel extra special.)

If you are tired of grocery store wines, or want to support a local business, checkout the wineries in your area to see if they are offering delivery or curbside pickup! We are a member of Veritas Wine Room‘s wine club, and we were able to do curbside pickup of our March order the other day. Another one of our Dallas favorites is Checkered Past Winery, which also serves food, and could provide the perfect little party spread for you + the people you live with.

Birthday Cake

I did the smart thing and actually pre-measured out all of my ingredients beforehand, which truly makes your baking easier.

Over in Edinburgh, Rebecca was making a cake from scratch in honor of my birthday, and I decided to do the same thing! I texted her to ask what recipe she was using, and while I waited for her reply I looked up a recipe to make sure I at least had all the necessary ingredients on hand. A few minutes later she sent me… the exact same recipe I had looked up! Some might call it the first search response on Google, but I call it destiny (especially since results on UK Google are not in the same order, because metric system).

The recipe we picked only made 1 layer of round cake, so we decided we would each half our cake and stack it to make two layers so together the cakes make 1 whole cake. Her cake was adorable and perfect. Mine started out strong but quickly turned into a disaster. When removing it from the pan, it stuck to the bottom a bit and then I thought I needed to make more icing to remedy sticking the cake pieces back together.

I was using the fresh strawberries I got on sale to make strawberry icing, so I added too much strawberry puree, and then I added too much powdered sugar, which meant I needed more butter, but I had none softened, so I tried to microwave half a stick. Bad. Idea. Never use cold butter to try to make frosting, friends. The icing I ended up with was WAY too runny and had little speckles of butter everywhere that refused to be blended no matter how hard I tried. It was almost party time so I poured icing with wild abandon. It created the funniest little moat all around my cake. I added the strawberries and the candles that were like Rebecca’s and called it good.

Party Games

On a video call with many people, you need some sort of activity to prevent chaos and maintain some semblance of order. My only plan was to play Jackbox games, which is so fun to play in person and works pretty well remotely. They published a helpful article that explains how to play while social distancing, and are giving away the game Drawful 2 for free for the next couple of weeks, as well as running some sales on their party packs (5 games in one). However, the game does a lot of talking and prevents you from being able to see anyone else’s camera because the person running the game needs to share their screen for it to make sense. We wanted to be able to see each other’s faces and interact more, so we stopped playing Jackbox after a round or two in favor of finding another game to play.

But first, everyone sang me happy birthday! I blew out the candles on my own cake, and then “I” (read: Peter) blew out the candles on Rebecca’s.

We went with Picolo, a drinking game that generates prompts for players to follow. We played it for almost 3 hours, and I think everyone had so much fun. They have a free online version, or a paid version on iOS. People don’t have to be drinking alcohol to have fun, either—it’s fun even if you’re drinking water or soda.

In Conclusion

Was having a birthday party on Google Hangouts my first choice? No. But you know what? I would definitely think about having another one even if we weren’t social distancing. We had so much fun, and it was so special getting to spend my birthday with friends from near and far. If your birthday, baby shower, or bridal shower falls during this time, I would highly recommend just changing your party plans instead of cancelling them entirely! I know it is so hard to have to reimagine a big event—especially one you won’t get back, and it’s okay to grieve the loss of that experience. But please don’t fall into the trap of thinking your family is healthy and it won’t happen to you, or that just a little party won’t hurt anybody. This isn’t the Great Gatsby, folks, this is our life and the more we commit to distancing, the more quickly we can get back to each other.

Spread long-distance love, not germs,

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