Category: birthdays

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 2)

If anyone reading this has been on the Bar or Bat Mitzvah circuit in Toronto, you can probably tell someone who doesn’t know any better what to expect at a typical evening reception for a 13-year-old kid:

  • Gender stereotypical themes like Tiffany boxes and fashion labels for the girls, pro sports teams and rock n’ roll for the boys
  • Obnoxiously loud pop music, flashing lights and a couple of sweaty dancers charged with enticing reluctant self-conscious pre-teens on to the dance floor by baiting them with made-in-China giveaways
  • Barely teenaged girls in barely there dresses, high heels and Kardashian-style smokey eye make up
  • A sit down dinner for the adults who attempt to exchange pleasantries but can’t hear each other over the thumping bass music
  • A buffet of fast food favourites for the scores of kids that generally include burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and french fries
  • A photo booth with tacky feather boas, sparkling cardboard top hats and wacky glass frames for accessories that dole out pictures not meant for any photo album
  • A kids’ candy buffet overflowing with gummies, gum balls, sour keys and every other sugar-laden treat imaginable the adults secretly covet

We decided to forego the serial (and predictable) evening reception for something a little different. I call it a 13-year-old boy’s birthday bash extraordinaire.

Mere hours after the brunch reception that followed the Bar Mitzvah service, we changed out of our fancy duds for jeans and cozy sweaters and headed down to the William P Wilder Arena at Upper Canada College.

We rented one of the ice rinks for an hour and a half for the kids (and any adults who wanted to) to skate and play some shinny. We hired a former hockey trainer of the boys’ to do some fun games and activities on the ice–we did have giveaways for the kids, but they didn’t know it. We slipped the trainer some gift cards to give to kids who participated in the activities.

On the ice……

We also rented out the lounge that overlooks the ice rink–this is where non-skaters and the few adults invited could hang out and watch the skating.

My son likes music but isn’t into dance parties, so he made a playlist on Spotify to play over the sound system inside the rink. I had my playlist going over the speakers in the lounge.

I hired Jacqui, who owns TWSS Balloons, to do a big balloon display over the entrance to the lounge as well as a couple of balloon bouquets inside the room–nothing crazy, but definitely festive.

Balloon display by TWSS balloons

I also brought some board games from home for those who didn’t want to skate and were looking for something to do. I was glad I brought them because it kept some of the younger kids entertained while the adults could enjoy a drink and conversation.

My son’s favourite colour is red, so I purposely decorated the tables with inexpensive red table cloths with a small stack of hockey pucks and a votive candle for a centrepiece. This was a kids’ party after all, so any effort on decor was for my benefit–not the kids’.

Red table cloths and coordinated balloons

I got lots of praise for the dinner menu, but credit really goes to my son, who asked for his favourites; burger sliders, chicken wings, caesar salad and penne in a pomodoro sauce. The food was catered by my neighbourhood friend, Suresh, who owns Avondale Foodworks. He’s catered for us before and he consistently produces delicious and flavourful meals that are always crowd pleasers.

Before dessert was served, the kids all gathered at one end of the lounge and were treated to a show by Magic Dan. He was great with the kids, held their attention, encouraged lots of participation and kept everyone, young and old, entertained. My youngest was particularly freaked out when Magic Dan made him float in the air!

Magic Dan performs to a rapt audience

Dessert was probably the most fun. I asked Suresh to order donuts and chocolate milk from Tim Hortons because what kid doesn’t like donuts and chocolate milk? And yes, there was another cake! I actually wanted to order a cake from a bakery because I really didn’t think I’d have the time or the energy to do another cake, but I made a deal with my husband that if I baked the cake (and prepared the icing), he would decorate it. So I baked four marble cakes, recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart. Then I left it to my husband to ice it. You an see the results below–a cake that looks like a giant hockey rink.

Hockey rink cake, anyone?

I did end up doing a candy table for the kids, but I had my rules: no bowls of open candy that grubby, germy paws could dig their hands into. I ordered retro candy and gum from a wholesaler and set it all up in galvanized metal trays and buckets. Kids would take a loot bag and fill it with their candy loot.

At the end of the candy table, kids picked up their parting gift: a red and white trucker-style baseball cap with a custom design embroidered on the front.

Nifty trucker baseball caps

All in all, it was a great party with lots of variety for the kids and the adults. The vibe was just right. There were still plenty of details to remember and lots of elements that maybe others would have happily left to a party planner, but I really enjoyed researching all the options and coming up with a party concept that I knew would be emblematic of my son.

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 1)

This post has been a long time coming…13 years to be exact! Although I didn’t know it thirteen years ago.

My oldest had his Bar Mitzvah just over a month ago and I feel like I’ve just recovered from the big event.

He did an amazing job reading from the Torah, giving his speech to our guests, and maintaining his confidence and composure the entire day. He really shone like a star that day and was deserving of all the accolades and attention.

My job was to set the scene for our guests after the pomp and circumstance and for that I spent many months planning, plotting, “pinning” and preparing. There were so many details and so many checklists, but here, I will give you a brief glimpse into the celebration that followed the ceremony.

Our brunch began by welcoming our guests to “the cottage.”

Welcome to the Cottage
This was the seating chart for the luncheon

I hired a graphic designer, gave her the guest list in a spread sheet with the table assignments along with some suggested fonts and icons and the dimensions for the foam core board. She was amazing to work with and had the poster delivered right to my front door. We simply mounted the board on an easel right inside the entrance to the reception room.

As people wandered in and found their tables, there was a slide show playing to music projected on to a drop cloth that I had hung on the wall, with patio lights framing it.  The “screen” was flanked by red plastic Muskoka chairs that were draped with wool camp blankets and throw pillows with wildlife imagery such as owls, deer and moose.

All the photos in the slide show were of the family at various family cottages in both summer and winter. Putting together that slide show was a labour of love. I also printed all the photos on to 4″ x 4″ paper, which were used as part of the centrepieces.

Each photo from the slide show was part of the centrepieces

My mother, my husband and I did an assembly line, punching holes into each photo and tying jute twine through the holes. These photos were then hung on the young birch branches in the centrepieces.

Speaking of the centrepieces–these were probably the cheapest DIY centrepieces ever and yet the most personal. I got little red socker plant pots at Ikea–there was a lot of red in the decor because that is my son’s favourite colour–filled them with pea gravel and off cuts of birch branches from my girlfriend’s cottage in North Bay, and the young birch branches were from my mom’s cottage on Georgian Bay.

We stood the pots on round wood “coins” that my husband cut with his chainsaw from fallen trees in the ravine in our neighbourhood. I just had to schlep them all to the car!

And the final touch were the rocks around the bottom of the pot, which were collected by me and my son from the harbour near my mom’s cottage.

So I think all told, we spent about $5 on each centrepiece and the biggest expense was the printing of the photographs.

The additional expense came with the guest keepsakes that I put on each table. These were maple syrup candles in tins. They certainly didn’t come cheap, but I thought it was important to give guests a small memento from the day as a thank you from us.

Each guest received a maple syrup candle as a memento

The brunch was delicious, catered by L-Eat. Niki and Tony did a fabulous job and the presentation of the food was simple and elegant. We made sure everything that was served were things we would typically eat for brunch: french toast with maple syrup, quiche, bagels with all the fixings, yogurt with granola and berries, and as a special treat we arranged to have smoked trout from Kolapore Springs trout farm up near my parents’ cottage.

But the best part of brunch was the dessert table! This is where I truly got to showcase my baking skills, with the help of my mom, sister and mother-in-law. First, I decorated the table with objects that represented my son and the cottage–Scrabble pieces that said “Help Yourself”, antlers, a red model sports car, an old cribbage board, a vintage waterski, red oil lanterns, and a photo of my husband holding our son as a newborn.

All the baked good were displayed on red tin trays, big glass cookie jars with red lids, even the waterski was used to display the homemade butter tarts.

There were homemade salted chocolate chunk cookies, s’mores bites, butter tarts, honey cake, shortbreads, poppy seed cookies, ginger cookies and also chelsea buns from the Thornbury bakery (the only thing I didn’t bake!).

The Dessert Table

 

It wouldn’t be a celebration without a cake, right? Of course I baked a cake! It’s the giant, incredibly chocolatey cake recipe from Deb Perlman’s Smitten Kitchen. It’s the same cake I baked for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, except this time I made marshmallows, charred them and put them on the cake. I also made banana chocolate chip cake “logs” and I made flames from melted red and orange lollipops. A candy maker I am not!

Campfire cake

I can’t say the cake turned out as nicely as I would have liked from a visual perspective, but it tasted damn good.

Credit for all the photos goes to Julius Ding of Julius and James Photography. This was their FIRST Bar Mitzvah photo shoot, and they really did capture the essence of the celebration, rather than the staged photos of the family and Bar Mitzvah boy that we all too often see. This was a celebration in real life and I’m so glad Julius was there to capture the moment.

There is so much more to tell you about the day because it didn’t end with the brunch! But I think I’ll save those details for another post. I’m starting to get tired just thinking about it again. Phew!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to learn more about what I did and how I did or where I got my ideas from.

This is 41

Last year my birthday fell on a Monday. It was the first day of a new job and I felt I couldn’t ask for the day off and really celebrate it the way I wanted to. I didn’t feel like telling my new colleagues, who were complete strangers to me. But I do remember buying myself a below average slice of red velvet cake at the coffee shop in the lobby of my building on my lunch break to mark the occasion.

I couldn’t even celebrate that night with my family because we were busy taking the kids to hockey games. It shouldn’t have bothered me because I was planning on celebrating that milestone birthday when the weather improved. Nevertheless the day was a bit of a disappointment and I vowed then that I would not let another birthday pass without marking the day in a special way.

Today began with breakfast in bed from my wonderful husband. Check out the apple swan he carved up! What he didn’t know was that I already had plans for breakfast with my Mom so the kids tucked into the cinnamon toast and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast in Bed
Breakfast in Bed

We headed over to Scratch Kitchen for breaky. I had this amazing dish called Soft Scrambled, which was full of sweet caramelized onions, pulled pork and other stuff I can’t remember on top of homemade rustic bread. Yum!

Soft Scrambled from Scratch Kitchen
Soft Scrambled from Scratch Kitchen

After breakfast we headed over to Costco (yeah, I know, not exactly the most exciting birthday destination) to do some shopping for food and other essentials. $325 later we bounced and hit the mall for a bit of retail therapy. The post-holiday sales were great, but most stuff was picked over so the choices were limited. I ended up getting a cute unstructured blazer from Maison Scotch for 70% off! Score!

Things picked up in the afternoon with a visit from my massage therapist who pummelled my leg muscles into submission. I thought I was going to barf it hurt so much. I have since learned there is a term for this sensation–it’s called an “autonomic response.” Apparently this is a good thing and means I am more in tune with my body. Not sure I need to feel everything to the point of being nauseated.

I whipped up a chocolate cake really quickly. I know what you’re thinking: “You mean you baked your own birthday cake? How depressing.” Not at all! I love to bake and it was cake in a box with homemade icing. Super easy. Super quick. Always a crowd pleaser. And pretty!

Chocolate Birthday Cake
Chocolate Birthday Cake

Dinner with the fam came next. It was perfect: Chinese buffet so the kids didn’t have to wait and order off a menu and they could pick what they wanted.

The night ended with a soak in the bath tub and the Downton Abbey Christmas Special.

It really was a great day. And that’s the point–it was great for me. I still think celebrating any birthday, milestone or not, is about more than the day itself. It’s about looking back and reflecting on how I grew and changed as a person over the last twelve months and what I managed to accomplish. It’s also an opportunity to look ahead to the next twelve months and set some goals. I’ve signed up for a half marathon. I want to take courses on photography and Photoshop and I’m chomping at the bit for another design project.

If this is what they call middle age, it feels pretty good to me.

This is 41
This is 41