Category: Decor

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 can 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.

New Theme, New Year (almost)

I decided to give this little pet project of mine a bit of a facelift with a new look. It’s cute, dontcha think? Very girly, which isn’t really me, but it’s easy on the eyes.

I don’t actually have much to tell you about right now so I thought I’d show off the planter at the front of my house. I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to use the same birch logs, some branches and the white berries in the arrangement for the last three or four years. I wish I could do the same with the evergreen boughs, but they just don’t last. Yes, very frugal of me.

New this year are the little battery operated LEDs, which I love, but seem to be rather unreliable. But you must agree, they really do complete the look, don’t they?

Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights
Winter evergreen planter arrangement with LED lights

Happy Holidays to you all during this unseasonably warm winter evening!

The Annual Hanukkah Party

Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of a go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).

I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.

 

Wine and Cheese Party

It was my Dad’s 70th birthday this past week and to mark this amazing milestone my siblings and I planned a late afternoon wine and cheese party for him. 

The offerings were meant to reflect my father in the foods that we chose. We did this by visiting The Cheese Boutique. It was my first time there and I can’t believe that in all the years I’ve lived in this city I have never been there! Better late than never. This place was like a wet dream for foodies. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a wall of mustards, followed by a wall of balsamic vinegars and a wall of oils. It was like walking through a maze  of rooms, each dedicated to foodstuff. Jams. Teas and Coffees. Pastas and grains. A cold meat “locker.” Fruit and Veg. A cheese fridge–the ceilings were hanging with cheese and legs of prosciutto. And then the maze opens up to a room with a large cheese counter, the perimeter of which is surrounded by yet more culinary delights. The wall of chocolate. Pastry and breads. Oh! My! Heaven!

The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Refrigerator
The Cheese Refrigerator

We got to sample some amazing cheeses and some charcuterie. These would be the centerpieces of our party. I started out by putting slabs of wood on the table that my brother-in-law had made. I decorated around these slabs with succulents and branches with berries and a few tea light candles to add some light. It was very Autumn-ish. Then came the food: cheese, meat, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, clementines, smoked fish, foie gras, fig jam, olives, gherkins, goat cheese, fresh figs, grapes. It was a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness. And it all got gobbled up! If you are looking for some inspiration, here are a few shots of the table.

 

Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Cheese and crackers
Cheese and crackers
Charcuterie
Charcuterie
The Whole Spread
The Whole Spread

 

 

 

Everything in its place

I have dreams of a palatial mudroom where I can consolidate the dog shower, laundry room, coat closet, boot and shoe racks, washer and dryer, drying rack….you get the point. I am fortunate that I already have many of these things in my lovely home, but a girl likes to dream. And the fact that I dream about storage space isn’t really that uncommon.I knew that I needed to come up with a small space solution for my kids’ coats, boots and bags when they began to drop these things the minute they walked in the front door and it felt as though I had to climb cialis through a tangled mess to get to the kitchen. It also didn’t look very neat and tidy, which are my middle names.

So once again I enlisted my handy and good looking husband’s help to transform an unused corner of the landing between the main floor and the basement into a mini mudroom for the kids’ jackets, backpacks, boots and other miscellaneous items that needed a home.

Voila–the side door mini mudroom

In terms of the aesthetic I wanted to achieve a modern rustic look that was simple, durable and overall functional. I gave my husband creative licence after we settled on the general idea. I really didn’t have the mental capacity to figure it all out–I just wanted to clutter to be organized. I got to pick the paint colour and Dave picked the lumber and the hardware.

Very cool antique-look cast iron hardware

I picked a durable high-gloss greenish-blue from Martha Stewart at Home Depot. I think it was called “Blue Fern.”

Dave got 2 x 6 lumber and made me a sawtooth bench along with a board covered in cast iron hooks for backpacks and he made a shelf with really cool antique-looking brackets and  curled hooks for hats and coats. He found the hardware at The Door Store in the design district. It’s such a fun store I’m glad I didn’t go otherwise he never would have got me out of the store.

Cast iron hook

I also needed a boot tray and I wasn’t about to buy an ugly plastic one (heaven forbid!) and I became fixated on this very stylish metal boot tray from Crate and Barrel. The only problem was they were online only and cost about as much to ship to Canada as the boot tray itself. So I had it shipped to my in-laws on one of their southern vacations. It was a bit of circus (and a costly one at that) getting it back here but there it sits perfectly under the bench holding boots and shoes.

This project really did end up being the perfect marriage of function and form. I love the way my paint job came out and the scale of the pieces doesn’t overwhelm the space and make it difficult to move from the main floor to the basement and vice versa. 

And of course it hides the every day stuff from the main entrance of the house. Now I’ve just got to get my kids to remember to hang everything up there instead of dropping it at the front door! 

A Room For Living

I used to hate my living room. It’s the first room you see when you walk in the front door and for some reason I didn’t consider it inviting nor did I think it had a cohesive look or a focal point. No matter what I tried nothing seemed to work. So I went back to the drawing board. Without a fireplace in the room or something for the eye to land on I had to create a focal point on the one long wall the room had. The couch acted as the anchor and to create some symmetry I flanked it with two matching sideboards we inherited from my husband’s grandmother. These are substantial pieces of furniture and lend the kind of weight the room needed. Since the couch is relatively modern I updated the sideboards by getting them sprayed a warm chocolately-brown and for fun I replaced the hardware with pale blue milk glass pulls. Sticking with the symmetry theme we put two matching cream lamps on the sideboards. The cream really pops against the grey-brown wall colour, which matches the couch perfectly!

Now back to that focal point; I decided to create a gallery of art work above the couch and that would be the focal point. Some of the pieces came from family while others are inexpensive prints. I think using all black frames gives the gallery a cohesive look without looking too contrived. We added to the gallery as we acquired the pieces and the only thing that ties all of them together are the frames.

A Room for Living

My favourite thing in the room is probably the carpet–a wool Sumak rug that I can only describe as a perfect marriage between traditional and contemporary. There are a multitude of colours in it–peach, aqua, taupe, burnt orange, forest green, cream….I picked fabric for the throw pillows based on the carpet and I had so much fun doing it!

My husband’s biggest coupe was finding the Huber bucket chair and ottoman (made in Canada!) on Kijiji–from two different sellers no less. The original fabric was *hallucious* so I had to hunt down a durable fabric that honoured the era of the chair without being too hokey. I must admit the cream and green fabric wasn’t my first choice, but my husband liked it and since he found the chair I figured he could choose the fabric. I’ve got to hand it to him, it looks great and works really well with the rest of the furniture in the room. 

Huber bucket chair

We spend more time in this room now than we ever did before and I’m really pleased with the results. It’s eclectic, cozy and full of  family mementos. Now I love my living room.

acheter cialis sans ordonnance

Front Hall Fun

I have been trying to come up with a practical solution to my front hall entrance since the day we moved into our newly renovated home just over six years ago. I’ve tried a number of seemingly practical solutions to storage, seating and organization, but in our 4-foot wide entrance, it all ended up looking cluttered and, well, not pretty. So I had to find something practical and pretty that would satisfy our need to store keys, hats, shoes, gloves and other miscellany. I didn’t want to spend a fortune but I didn’t want to cheap out either and end up with yet another unsatisfactory solution.

So I started with the Norden occasional table from Ikea and had it sprayed in Cloud White. I found the brown woven strap baskets that hold all of our hats, gloves, sunscreen and other necessary but unsightly objets at HomeSense. The mirror hanging over the table is also from Ikea and works perfectly, given that sense of light and sparkle that the hallway really needed. My absolute favourite piece is the stool. I had it custom made by my upholsterer. Not only is it practical for putting on and taking off boots and shoes, but the fabric is so much fun! I found it on Etsy, but if you’re looking for it, it’s an Alexander Henry print and it’s called “What a Hoot!” and it certainly is a hoot. The other touches include oil rubbed bronze and porcelain hooks that I found at Restoration Hardware and the chocolate ticking runner is from Dash & Albert.

Welcome to our front hall

I know I spent a little more than I probably should have for an area of the house that takes a lot of abuse since it is essentially our Grand Central Station, but I love looking at it every time I walk by and I think first impressions are important. When a person walks through our front door that front hall sets the tone for the rest of the house. It’s fun, it’s relaxed and it’s our family’s way of saying “welcome to our home.”

Crafty Dreams

I’ve been reading this book called Craft Inc. Turn Your Creative Hobby Into a Business and it’s got me daydreaming about a life where my days are whiled away in a beautifully decorated craft room. In that beautiful room I’d be inspired to make precious heirloom baby quilts and hug pillows. I’d make a name for myself in the crafting world and people would seek out my wares. Some rich, famous and beautiful celebrity mama would be photographed on the pages of a mag with their celebrity offspring clutching one of my handmade blankies and then I could start charging top dollar for custom made blankies and hire a partner to adopt my techinques and share in the spoils….Alas, I am not independently wealthy and therefore unable to make this dream a reality (yet). But reading this book and looking at inspiring craft rooms, like that of Alicia Paulson , Jenny B’s All Sorts, FroggyMonkey or HappyZombie among others, is almost enough to make me get off my behind and create a special space for myself in my home. Well, one of these days my threats might actually convert from idle to real and I’ll follow through. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the eye candy.

A mosaic of inspiring craft rooms
A mosaic of inspiring craft rooms
Alicia Paulson's Sewing Studio
Alicia Paulson's Sewing Studio

Room To Grow

When my oldest son was just two years old, I began planning his move into a “big boy bed.” I wanted him out of his crib before his little brother arrived. Although I wasn’t pregnant with my second child yet, I knew the day would come soon enough and I’d have little to no energy to undertake the project. My husband and I also decided to move our son into a different bedroom. His baby room had a west-facing window, which threw an incredible amount of heat during the summertime and I did not want the little guy suffering through another sweaty summer. The new bedroom has two large north-facing windows looking out to the street and the tree on our front lawn. The walls are painted something akin to a Wedgwood blue from Benjamin Moore’s historical collection (I can’t remember the exact name), with Cloud White for trim. I wanted the furniture and décor to engage a toddler, but also provide enough “staying power” 

so that as he matures, he won’t tire of the colour scheme or accents. In other words, a room for him to grow up. I chose to compliment the blue wall with chocolate brown and deep red accents. I don’t know what planet I was living on when I decided I would sew the curtains for the bedroom, but it spawned the entire design scheme for the room. Furthermore, I had never sewn roman blinds. After endless hours of toil (and much cursing), I produced two serviceable blinds made of chocolate brown corduroy with a red grosgrain ribbon trim. I had my upholsterer make a headboard with the remaining material (it cost me $300) and my neighbour found a coordinating bed skirt for $7!!! Other than the bed, which we bought new, the furniture were both pieces that my husband had as a child, which he reinvented by removing the brass hardware and details. With a fresh coat of paint and new hardware, the nighttable and dresser got a second lease on life. The artwork over the dresser is a homage to my father-in-law. As a boy he collected penants with his brother, which he displayed at the family cottage. When the cottage was sold, we took the penants and I created homemade artwork from some of them, including those of my father-in-law’s high school, fraternity and camp. I imagine my son will tire of the décor one day and ask to paint it black or scrawl graffiti across the walls, but in the meantime I hope the images and colours and even the history of the pieces in his room spark his imagination and bring him comfort when he lays down to sleep each night and awakens each morning.

 

View from the doorway
View from the doorway

 

 

 

The Infamous Roman Blinds
The Infamous Roman Blinds

 

Old penants in frames above dresser
Old penants in frames above dresser

 

 

 

A big bed for a little boy
A big bed for a little boy