Mister turned 50 last month. He’s quite a few years older than I am, which seemed very sophisticated when we met when I was a baby of 19 and he was 25. As you know the fiftieth birthday is fraught with emotion (mostly depressed and negative) and expectations. There was a lot of pressure on me to make sure his birthday was special.
Mister had the extremely bad luck of being born in December. The poor December babies always get shortchanged and this year was no exception. I was hoping to throw a party but finding a free evening in December when the friends would all be able to come was absolutely impossible. Christmas, with its accompanying parties, concerts and recitals made a get-together impossible.
So I was stuck with the oh-so-important gift to buy. It’s THE big birthday! How about a car? ( he already got a new car this year so . . . no.) A trip somewhere amazing? Again, timing wasn’t so great, plus money is tight for us right now. I spent months trying to find just the right thing that would help him feel loved and important but not break the bank or take two weeks out of our schedules.
And then I hit upon this: 50 birthday letters. Mister’s love language (you’ve read this book, right? If not, you had better order it ASAP if you want to have better relationships with EVERYONE in your life. Really, buy it now.) is Words of Praise. He loves, loves, loves when people praise or compliment him. So I know getting fifty letters from people who mean something to him would just make his day.
A friend of ours did something similar for her husband’s birthday a while back and she presented the letters to him in an album. That seems . . . not very festive. So I decided to print up each letter and hang it from a helium balloon.
I contacted everyone I could think of that Mister has spoken highly about over the last two decades that I’ve known him. I contacted everyone from his childhood friends to his college roommates to his Mission President to people he was in school with last year. I wanted a real variety of friends and family. I was really surprised by the people who wrote the sweetest letters. And surprised by the people who didn’t (relatives whom you see often might need a little coaxing to write something special.)
It ended up looking amazingly cool and Mister was blown away. He spent the rest of the evening reading each letter again and again. There were a few tears and lots and lots of laughter. Some friends sent old photos, too. He said it was hands down the best present he’s ever gotten (and I actually bought him a convertible a few years ago. This was better!). I ended up spending less than $60 (the only real expenses are balloons and paper). It was a gift that he’ll remember and cherish forever!
Here are some things I learned doing this:
Write to at least 50% more people than you think you need to. I invited about 75-80 people to write letters to Mister. Some people will have bad emails, or will forget, or be flaky. Better to have too many letters than too few!
The easiest way to get a hold of people is through Facebook. Hopefully your birthday person has connected with lots of old friends through social media. It’s so easy to send everyone an Instant Message informing them of your plan.
Start writing people about a month ahead of time. Explain to everyone that the reason you’re writing to them is because they matter to your special person. Let them know that it doesn’t have to be a novel. A paragraph or two is fine. Most people will write more, some won’t. Sending emails is easiest for most people but I had a few snail mails. Make sure you provide both your email and your snail mail address!
Give people a deadline! A week before the birthday is good because nearly everyone will turn in their letters at the last minute. I even had a few send emails on the birthday morning. Make sure you remind everyone a few days before the deadline. Don’t feel like you’re being a nag; although these people love your special someone, it’s not high on their list of priorities. Be a squeaky wheel!
When my husband was in the shower (the only time when he doesn’t have his phone in his pocket) I searched through his email contacts for the people he wasn’t friends with on Facebook. I cut and pasted all the addresses into an email that I sent to myself and then wrote letters to his contacts later in the day. Make sure he doesn’t have it set to CC himself on every email! I almost got busted because Mister’s phone automatically does this. If the birthday person doesn’t live with you, you’re going to have to be extra stealthy at breaking into their email contacts or going through their address book.
Order your balloons ahead of time. It’s no small feat to get several dozen balloons blown up! And for Pete’s Sake, let someone else do this. Don’t cheap out and get a helium tank and do this yourself. It takes much longer than you think! Make sure you get hi-float in each balloon (it’s usually just a few extra cents). The letters are heavy and will drag the balloons down within a few hours. Hi-float allows then to stay fuller for longer. You need this!
Fifty Ballons will indeed fit into a minivan.
Arrange to pick up the balloons about 2-3 hours before your birthday person will show up. Don’t try to do this the night before; the balloons will simply deflate. Trust me. I tried to do something similar for Valentine’s Day and tied snack-sized candy bars to a bunch of helium balloons so the first thing my family saw when they woke up would be candy bars floating around the room (theoretically). Unfortunately the balloons lost too much helium overnight and they were all floating about knee-high when we woke up the next day. Lame.
Print up all your letters a day or two before. This is the part that takes forever. I made all my letters long and thin so the sides wouldn’t be super floppy. Making each page into two columns with a letter (or two if they’re short) on each side was just perfect.
Type the name of each sender at the top of each letter. (From Joe Blow, for example) so that they don’t have to skip to the bottom to read who it’s from. Just makes it a little easier for the birthday person.
I printed the letters onto really nice cardstock so that mister could keep them and they wouldn’t get wrinkled easily. But the cardstock actually weighed the balloons down significantly. If I did this again, I’d just use regular printer paper.
After your letters are printed up, punch a hole in the top of each one. This is where they’ll be tied to each balloon.
Hang the letters at about eye-level. I wasn’t too picky about the length of of each balloon ribbon. I ended up having to cut each string and then sweep them up afterwards. All in all it took me about an hour and a half from the time I walked in the house with the fifty balloons until all the pre-printed letters were hanging up.
After all the balloons had deflated, Mister cut the strings but left a small bit tied to each card, to remind him of the balloons. I gave him a big 3″ binder ring and he just hung each letter from it, since they had a hole punched anyway.
This was a pretty easy gift as far as epic presents go, and was definitely a lot of bang for the buck.