PIQUA — Snagging an invitation to a little girls’ garden tea party is pretty difficult nowadays unless you are a close friend or colleague of Mary Frances Rodriguez of Piqua whose popular get-togethers over the past five years have resulted in a “standby list.”
Inclement weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of 16 younger guests who recently assembled on the wrap-around porch of Rodriguez’s English Tudor home — better known as The Rundle House — at 400 N. Downing St.
With balloon sculptures flanking the front porch, girls and their mothers were treated to an afternoon of fantasy, fun-themed foods and fairy wings thanks to the creativity of Rodriguez, who serves as marketing manager at Buckeye Insurance Group.
“This year, the girls were encouraged to wear dresses that included any or all of their favorite colors,” explained Rodriguez, who chose the theme “Rainbow Garden Fairies.” The festive table was covered with a white cotton tablecloth decorated with multicolored watercolor-like strokes. Centerpieces were 16 small glass vases filled with a mixture of colors of Peruvian lilies and tiny glittered butterflies.
As each guest sat down for “tea,” she was treated to fruit skewers with pineapple, grapes and star-shaped watermelon, peanut butterfly sandwiches (cut into butterfly shapes), confetti cupcakes, rainbow gelatin cups, cheese cut into flower shapes , chocolate-dipped strawberries with sprinkles and Twizzler sticks in rainbow colors.
“All of the girls — and any baby sisters who were in attendance but not seated at the tea table — received colorful fairy wings, which initially hung on the back of their chairs, and a magic fairy wand. As part of the excitement, each girl was also able to make her own multicolored tutu out of white and colored tulle and participate in face painting, rainbow colored nail painting, pink glittered hair spray and also make their own fairy garden.”
The reason for the latter activity, explained Rodriguez, “is to attract a fairy so all the Moms were prepared to place a fairy in the garden while the girls were asleep the evening after the party. What a surprise to awake and find the fairy garden worked.”
Assisting the hostess with the myriad activities were her Zumba buddies, Maryanne Siefring, Karen Magoteaux and Deb Achor along with Bill Holtvogt, who shot over 1,000 photographs, enabling the mothers “to have some amazing photographs of their pretty girls.”
An added attraction to this year’s garden party, notes Rodriguez, were balloon sculptures created by Balloon Geeks and Artistic Creations of Fort Laramie (www.balloon geeks.com). Sculptures included a tree made of balloons approximately seven feet tall flanked on each side by a life-sized garden fairy, one swinging from the tree and the other standing next to the tree with a pink tulle wand. Afterward, explains Rodriguez, the balloon fairy creations were donated to the Upper Valley Medical Center Maternity/Children’s Services unit in Troy “to continue to bring happiness to everyone who saw them.”
“People tend to ask if I do parties for hire and about how their child can get invited to the party and my answer is that I invite daughters and granddaughters of my close friends or colleagues,” she responded. “I always keep a ‘stand-by’ list of girls that I would like to invite but that aren’t old enough or because my 16 seats are already filled. As they get to be 8 or 9 years of age and outgrow sitting at the table with the “little girls,” I generally ask them if they would like to become helpers at the next party. This helps them to stay involved but on a more grownup level and, yes, they usually still get their nails and face painted.”
While the young guests mingle outdoors, Rodriguez traditionally sends all the “big girls” indoors to enjoy refreshments. “This allows the photographer to get good pictures of the girls without all the Moms hovering over them with their own cameras. I think the Moms love to go inside where it’s usually cooler and enjoy a sip of wine or tea along with tea party treats knowing their little fairies are having the time of their lives. Especially after getting the girls all dressed and blinged-up for the party.”
Rodriguez, who was inspired to host garden parties after reading an article about a Victorian tea party years ago, notes “I always thought it would be such an amazing experience for a little girl. I always thought some day I would be hosting a tea party for my own little girls.”
Since she and her husband, Scott, were unable to have children of their own, she emphatically responded, “That didn’t mean I couldn’t host a tea party … so for one day each year, I have 16 beautiful little girls.”
The talented Piqua resident is in the process of writing a book about her tea parties, which have included themes such as “Garden Tea Party,” “Think Pink Tea Party,” “Mellow Yellow Tea Party” and “Lady Bug Tea Party.” Each year guests are encouraged to wear dresses which complement the theme and are treated to an array of theme-inspired treats, craft activities and take-home gifts.
“I have been working on a book that I hope to sell,” she explained. “It’s in the early stages of development but will include lots of beautiful and inspirational pictures of my own tea parties along with party themes, decoration ideas, recipes and more.” The book is “something that would help someone host a party of their own and provide a guide of how to make it happen.”
And will she divulge what plans she has for her 2016 garden party? She excitedly replies “But, of course, I have a theme. I get so excited about the parties that before one is over, I’m already thinking about the next. In 2016 the theme will be ‘Tea Under the Sea!’ I found an amazing piece of fabric backed vinyl that is turquoise and reminds me of a mermaid. That will definitely work to cover the table. To that, I see greens and blues and all things ocean. My sister even found two new cookie cutters for me, an octopus and shell. And I’m pretty sure we’ll have octopus-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and clam shell cookies with an edible pearl.”
Whether it’s tea for two or her “sweet 16,” Mary Frances Rodriguez’s garden soirees have proven to be the most coveted invitation in town.
Sharon Semanie is a journalist and longtime Piqua resident. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.