I am the mother of the groom. My son and his fiance live in AZ but are from NJ. They are getting married in NJ on June 4, 2011. They have been doing long distance wedding planning with the help of her mom and me. My son and his fiance made one trip to NJ in Dec to meet with vendors. They are coming back one more time in April to tie up loose ends. Everything is pretty much set. The maid of honor is not in this country and won't be arriving until closer to the wedding. My daughter is the other attendant and lives in Utah and won't be here until the wedding. We want to have a small shower in the bride's mother's home but won't know the exact date until we know when my son and his fiance have made their travel plans. We might only have 2 or 3 weeks notice that they are coming to NJ. Can we notify people that we are planning a shower and give them a time frame and then tell them the exact date when we know? I don't know how to handle this.
I'll say this - it might be hard to surprise them if they are tying up loose ends (if you are planning on a surprise). It might be better to tell them you want to do this and plan it with their plans in mind as I'm sure they'll have a lot of appointments.
That said, if you don't do it as a surprise, you'll have more of a heads up with their travel plans.
If you do decide a surprise - all good.
I would let people know by word of mouth (I'm assuming they are mostly family & close friends who know the situation) that there will be a shower, that it will be short notice and give them a time frame. Let them know that if they are able to come - that's wonderful but know you might have less of a turnout.
With the short time frame, I'd start on invitations or set up invitations on the computer that you can plop the date and time into easily and start addressing them now if you are going to send out invites via snail mail.
If you are computer comfy, you may want to consider eVites because of the short turnaround time - but I'm thinking you may be more comfy with mailed invites.
With the happy couple on such a tight time schedule, I really think a surprise anything is a bad idea. You don't want to plan the party, get the guests all there, then find out one or both has run off for some other errand and cannot be found anywhere. Another bad scenario: they get hijacked by some other friend who, unknown to you, has some other surprise party.
Under the circs, I think it best to get them in on the planning. That way they can tell you their travel plans when they know them.
Since you are planning a "small" shower, I see nothing wrong with just contacting each guest personally, explaining the situation, and then giving them a date window. Naturally, you won't pin them down to accept/decline until you know the exact date.
In other words, tell the guests exactly how much you know and tell them you will email or otherwise contact them when you do know the specifics.
Within a small family-only circle or one including very close friends, that should work.