We just had our 11th annual CiderFest party!*
When I tell strangers about this party, they usually ask if we serve or make “hard” cider. No, this is a family event! In this instance, cider is what you make when you press apples in a press, sans the alcohol (if you let it sit a few days, you will have hard cider, though!).
CiderFest, for us, started in 2007. We had returned from Thailand and my husband had retired after 20 years in the Air Force. Our two oldest, having gotten used to having lots of parties during Rich’s service in the attaché world, I suppose, wanted to have a birthday party. They both have September birthdays.
So, we thought. And thought. And came up with an idea. What if we have a joint party that has an educational bent to it (i.e. the guests learn something)? And no gifts…friends coming to spend time with our kids is gift enough. Right?
And who do you NOT invite? Having a large family, we knew the pain of rejection and people not wanting to come over when invited, for fear of having to reciprocate, and have LOTS of children in their homes. So, we invited whole families, just a few.
What did they learn? They brought apples and learned how to make apple cider.
Why did we choose THIS skill to teach them, you ask? Because…when Rich was a teenager, he worked for a man who had a woodworking business. Somehow the idea of making a wooden cider press came up, and Rich decided he would make one for his family. Rich’s uncle, himself a woodworker, and someone my husband truly admired, got wind of it, and told young Rich, worried that it might be too much for him, “You can’t do that!”
Did that stop him? No! Quite the opposite…he bought the kit, acquired the wood, and proceeded to build it! Having someone tell Rich that he CAN’T do something has the OPPOSITE effect on him. He thinks in his head, “Oh yeah?” Maybe it was THIS idea that he wanted to convey to his kids. DON’T LET NEGATIVITY GET YOU DOWN OR STOP YOU! Listen carefully to the criticism, make any necessary adjustments, but DON’T GIVE UP!
Well, after 11 years of hosting this party, using the press Rich made at age fourteen (a few years ago our daughter Heather made a second one for a 4H project), we haven’t given up! In fact, this year was our biggest attendance yet, almost 200 people.
Each year, we add something to the event, and usually end up inviting more new people. Over the years we’ve added buttons that we give away that either our daughter Kaity or our sister-in-law Sandi design, a Battleship game (where teams throw water balloons at a cardboard/wooden battleship floating in our lake), canoe/kayak races, tug-of-war, sack races, face painting, and an obstacle course!
This year, the new addition was a themed party. Normally, we have CiderFest the weekend after Labor Day. In the past, this has proven difficult for me, as usually I attend Parents Weekend at USAFA on Labor Day Weekend. We visit our daughter Nikki, who is now a senior (firstie) there. It is also our biggest sale of the year for our woodworking business, so coming back to jump right into CiderFest prep has always been stressful for me. The last couple years, we’ve been having it two weekends after Labor Day, and this has made me much more relaxed.
This year, we could not do it that way. Heather graduated from Basic Military Training (BMT) that weekend. So, we shifted it to the weekend after that, September 22.
We announced this date to some of our friends, and one of them immediately let us know via social media that this day is Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, of Lord of the Rings fame (LoR) birthdays.
Really? Okay…well… we like Lord of the Rings. So, we thought, it might be fun to celebrate their birthdays. And so began the prep work (while also planning Parents Weekend and BMT graduation).
We came up with LoR door prizes. Rich even bought one of those contraptions that spins tickets or balls around. We announced a LoR costume contest. We changed some of our CiderFest signs to LoR signs. We also started the party a little earlier…11 am, rather than 1 pm (so we could have elevensies, of course!). And food…more food, since hobbits have many meals. Just a few little changes. We called our event “An Unexpected Party.”
We even had “unexpected guests,” as our oldest son Josh and his wife Emily and kids from Louisiana showed up on our doorstep the night before. Rich about fell over, and then shouted, “Hallelujah! More help!” I was just happy to see them and have some cuddle time with the grandbabies.
Will we do a themed CiderFest again? Unknown. Will we host CiderFest again? The question of the year. We ask the kids every year, should we do this again? The kids whose birthdays started it all don’t always come, since they are older and live away from home (but they often come back!). Every year fewer and fewer kids live at home. We had mixed feelings this year. We want to do it, but it’s a lot of work. Is it worth it? Some say yes, some no.
But when one of our friends said his favorite part of CiderFest was getting to work with his grandfather on fixing the hand-cranked 5-gallon ice cream maker that was acting up, we think that’s worth it. And this young man is in his twenties!
Or when a new guest says that three of his favorite moments were when three people fell into the not so warm lake water from the rope swing, we think that’s worth it. When we get hand-drawn thank-yous from kids telling us how much they love CiderFest, that’s worth it.
We tell our kids why we do this crazy party that takes a lot of work to pull off…we want to get outside ourselves and bless others. The last of our children are getting ready to fly the coop (or flee the farm!). As they prepare to leave, we want them to learn and know that life is not all about them. Serving others blesses you!
Lots of life lessons learned from this birthday bash-turned huge event of the year for lots of families…
1. Never give up, no matter what people say
2. Do something bigger than yourself
3. Serve others (thank you Rich, Jarod, Kaity, Chris, Mimi and Sandi for all the prep work you did; you are amazing! And Abdel and your friends…you worked behind the scenes, and we weren’t even there! Great bonfire!)
4. Make mistakes, but learn from them (every year after the party we have a big “hotwash” meeting, where we talk about what we liked and what we need to change or do better)
5. After hard work comes fun
6. Get people to help; it blesses them (we love all the people who pitch in and help! Grosses, Thackers, Gulicks, Baxters, Swensons, Betty, Stocksdales, Katzes, Philip Tinge and the Philzharmoniks…I’m sure there were some I missed…thank you all. It was also fun to hear of and watch our son Chris getting young people involved to help, as well as watch him in action…thanks!)
I’m sure there are many more lessons. I think we’ll be doing this again. Are you free next September? Wanna help?
*R & R Woodcrafts and Graphics is the sponsor for this event.