Boise couple creates a sweet annual tradition for their beloved family and friends

When the front door opens on this annual Alice in Wonderland tea party in Northwest Boise, there is only one rule, and it is not aimed at the youngest guests. It is designed to rein in the grown-ups.

“The rule is, when you hit that door, parents aren’t supposed to tell their children they can’t have whatever sugar they want,” said Debbie Lombard-Bloom, creator of the six-year-old event. “The parents pretty much follow that rule now.”

They don’t have much choice.

Six years ago, Lombard-Bloom and her husband, Gerry Bloom, began inviting friends small and large to celebrate the 152-year-old tale at their Collister neighborhood home. Since then, everything about the May fete has become more elaborate, from the invitations to the vast buffet.

On this Saturday — dentists be damned — pink and purple macaroons snuggled up beside Alice-themed sugar cookies with swirls of royal icing. There were full-sized chocolate cupcakes and ones so small they could have sipped from the “Drink Me” bottle that turned Lewis Carroll’s Victorian-era heroine into a miniature-scale model of herself.

A dense pound cake was slathered in blueberry-mascarpone frosting. An almond bundt cake shared the spotlight with a tower of candy that costumed kids were urged to take home for later cavity-making.

And then there were the tea sandwiches, most created with tall chaperones in mind: curried shrimp spread; spicy deviled ham; chicken and pistachio salad on baguette rounds. And PBJ triangles on white bread had the crusts neatly trimmed by the Blooms’ eldest son, Trevor, who helps with the party setup every year.

Lombard-Bloom bakes the sweets. Bloom is the savory chef.

The only thing missing on this drizzly day was tea.

“We made it in the beginning,” Bloom said, “but nobody would drink the tea, so we stopped doing it.”

Isabella Valley, 12, was especially fond of the macaroons, which were, in a way, created in her honor.

Isabella’s mother, Deng Valley, and Lombard-Bloom worked together at a Boise Lowe’s store. Six years ago, Valley brought in a picture of an extravagant tea party. She wondered whether they could create something similar for her little girl.

There was only one problem. Valley’s Kuna house and yard were too small. But Lombard-Bloom was more than game to turn her own home into an imaginary world for Isabella’s benefit.

“It was pretty magical for all the adults to watch the little girls go into this other world,” Lombard-Bloom said of Tea Party No. 1. “They were not even paying attention to the grown-ups watching them. ... They moved furniture around. They set up little tea parties everywhere in the backyard, and afterward you’d find candy wrappers for months on end. But it was so much fun.”

That first year, about 20 guests took part. More than three times that number enjoyed Tea Party 2017.

And later this summer, the Blooms’ Alice presentations also will help out a local arts organization and good cause. Opera Idaho auctioned off two of the parties at its February gala, meaning that the Blooms helped raise $3,000 for the arts group. That first party is scheduled for July.

Every year at the traditional party, Isabella dresses up as Alice. There are Tweedledums and Tweedledees, White Rabbits and Mad Hatters, Red Queens and Cheshire Cats. This year, Isabella’s father was the March Hare, complete with camera.

The party, Randy Valley said, “grows by leaps and bounds in terms of the number of kids who come, and the yard. ... One year, the patio was all framed with flowing fabric. Things shift and change every year. One of the things in coming each year is taking a walk through and seeing what’s different.”

The latest addition to the Blooms’ fanciful garden came straight out of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” — a row of giant, concrete, moss-covered mushrooms. Remember the lines from the famous book? “In a minute or two the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth and yawned once or twice, and shook itself. Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away into the grass, merely remarking as it went, ‘One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.’ ”

The Blooms’ mushrooms — like their garden as a whole — are nearly as magical as Carroll’s shape-shifting fungus. The couple’s eclectic yet elegant yard was featured on last year’s Idaho Botanical Garden Private Gardens Tour.

As sugar-enhanced children scurried by, Bloom pointed out the garden’s highlights. There is a black-and-white patio in the shape of a chessboard (think “Through the Looking-Glass”) with outsized iron chess pieces handcrafted by their youngest son, Aaron. Bloom’s workshop is permanently emblazoned, “I found myself in Wonderland.”

Even the trees have stories. Each one is connected to a different project that Bloom’s company, B&B Steel Erectors Inc., helped create.

“Ironworker tradition is when we finish a building, a significant project, we do what’s called topping out,” Bloom said. “A lot of these trees are my topping-out trees off of local buildings. ... When we set the last piece of structural steel, we usually set a tree and the American flag and our banner.”

The Deodar cedar came from the maternity center at Saint Al’s, he said. The white columnar pine from a medical office building at St. Luke’s in Twin Falls. And the soaring Austrian spruce topped off St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute in Downtown Boise.

It would be hard to find a setting more suited for a Wonderland party than the Blooms’ much renovated former ranch house. The downstairs bathroom is a swirl of hand-set glass beadwork. Red mosaic tile snakes along the kitchen wall. Exposed wood beams are adorned with silver leaf. The media room is purple.

The home has been in Bloom’s family since 1957, except for a brief interlude in the 1980s. Through the years, it has gone through every decorating trend possible — pastels and whitewashed floors, trompe l’oeil and faux finished floors, Gaudí-inspired Art Nouveau.

The couple wanted their cherished home to accommodate large groups of family and friends for holiday gatherings, parties and more. So in recent years they have torn out walls, added a second story, enclosed the former carport and exposed the house’s inner workings. They nicknamed it “1950s Ranch Meets New York Loft,” complete with the “Bathroom of a Million Different Tiles.”

Because Lombard-Bloom is a Walt Disney fan, enamored of his ability to create other, magical worlds, she painted a Disney quotation on an upstairs wall: “Think beyond your lifetime if you want to accomplish something truly great.”

The tea party “may not change the world,” she says, “but it will hopefully be a magical moment in the memories of the little people that grow up coming to the party long after we are gone.”

Freelance writer Maria L. La Ganga recently moved to the Treasure Valley from the San Francisco area. La Ganga, who was a longtime reporter and editor for the Los Angeles Times, most recently was a U.S. correspondent and senior reporter for The Guardian of London.

Home remodeling project team

Design: Debbie Lombard-Bloom

Plans: Damon Beard with Larson Architects

Structural engineering: Steve Cornwell with SEC

Steel fabrication: Mountain Steel Fabrication

Steel erection: B&B Steel Erectors

Concrete: Gem State Flatwork & Robb Floth Foundations

Plumbing: Home Plumbing

HVAC: Dave Cole - A+ Energy Management

Electrical: John Campbell

Cabinetry: JayCo

Doors and custom woodwork: Labyrinth

Metal roofing and siding: Architectural Metalworks

Driveway materials: ML Masonry

Eclectic furnishings: Impact Imports & 208 Auctions

Bathroom tilework: Paul Doan