The Mother of Adventure

Colour Me Happy!

Brooke, Sonia & Lily

Brooke (left) of Crayon Occasion, Sonia and seven-year-old Lily at her birthday party.

I’ve always seen my girls’ birthday parties as a creative opportunity – a chance to celebrate their unique, emerging personalities.

Kids go through different stages and phases, and in an effort to embrace that I aim to build a party theme that reflects one of their passions or interest areas. My daughter, Lily, absolutely loves to draw, so we decided to plan a drawing party for her seventh birthday.

I recently met a very talented and enthusiastic fine artist named Brooke Alexander, who has launched a small business in Ottawa called Crayon Occasion. Brooke offers painting lessons for children ages six to 12, teaching kids to create their own masterpieces based on art styles like realism or impressionism. She provides all supplies – canvases, paint, brushes, etc. – for the duration of the six-week session, and participants (and their parents) are always in awe of what they produce under her direction.

In addition to ongoing classes, I learned that Brooke offers drawing lessons customized for birthday parties. What could be more perfect for Lily??

Hiring Crayon Occasion turned out to be a great decision, as Brooke was a huge help with the party planning. Leading up to Lily’s big day, Brooke contacted me to ask what we preferred in the way of a theme for the drawing exercise. Since Lily was in the throes of a dragon obsession, we decided to give her party a “mythical creatures” theme.

Building on that idea, Brooke drew an original unicorn-and-dragon image, which she sent to me via email for approval. She was open to input and made several modifications – insisting that both Lily and I be 100 per cent happy with the final image. She truly went out of her way to please!

White board

Brooke leads Lily and her party guests in a step-by-step drawing tutorial.

On the day of the party, I had two large tables set up for the kids to work on their drawings. Since the two groups were sitting in adjoining rooms, Brooke could move between the tables to provide each child with one-on-one assistance if they needed it. After showing them her beautiful, completed image, Brooke gave the kids paper, pencils and step-by-step instructions on how to replicate it.

Little artists at work

Lily and her birthday guests bring their masterpieces to life with pencil crayons.

Since Brooke has such a way with kids, everyone was very engaged in their drawings and eager to follow the teacher’s instructions. Once their images were completed, Brooke helped the kids bring it alive by adding colour. At the end of the party, each child went home with a frame-worthy drawing of their very own! I had also arranged for Brooke to provide an additional black-and-white image – another original that she had created – to take home for more colouring; that made a great addition to the loot bags I had prepared.

Book reading

Party host Brooke reads her published children’s book, “Little Mia’s Big Heart”, to an attentive audience.


After cake and opening gifts, Brooke gathered the kids for a reading of Little Mia’s Big Heart, a beautiful book that she wrote and illustrated herself. It was the perfect way to wind the kids down and wrap up one of the best kids’ parties that I’ve pulled off!



The icing on the cake

I have learned to make my life easier by ordering ready-to-go loot bags online at

I have learned to make my life easier by ordering ready-to-go loot bags online at Open a Party (

I think planning kids’ birthday parties is a ton of fun. I love helping my two little daughters to come up with an original theme and venue, thinking up activities and planning for loot bags. While I don’t lack for enthusiasm, I do occasionally get tripped up in the execution of my (admittedly) sometimes-overly-elaborate plans.

Take yesterday morning, for example. I woke up early to decorate the cake I’d baked for Lily’s dinosaur-themed birthday party, feeling like I had all the time in the world. When I came down to the kitchen, however, I got a painful reminder of the yummy, late-night Mexican dinner I’d enjoyed with my husband – in the form of taco remains all over the counter and dishes piled in the sink. (In the moment, leaving the dishes for the next morning always seems like the ‘right’ thing to do, doesn’t it??)

Nothing like starting a very busy day by cleaning up from last night’s mess…good times. But I would not be easily discouraged; I scrubbed all the pots and pans and started the dishwasher. Then I pulled out my mixer and started whipping up some buttercream icing – in two colours – for my two-level dinosaur cake, which was looking like a work of art in my optimistic mind’s eye. After a week of perusing dozens of cake-decorating ideas online, visiting the Bulk Barn for supplies and raiding the kids’ miniature dinosaur collection, I was armed with the makings of a great cake.

Approximately two hours later, the kitchen was a total disaster yet again – this time with cake and icing-related dishes – and I had finally completed putting the coloured icing on both cakes. Things were going well, but I had forgotten how excruciatingly slow I am at decorating cakes. It’s something I do about twice a year – for each of my daughters’ birthdays – which is not quite often enough to gain speed and skill. Let’s just thank the good Lord that I’d made the two cakes (and frozen them) in advance, otherwise I would have been royally screwed.

After the icing was on, I started to get creative; I added a small, plastic volcano, some miniature dinos and some foliage to the surface of the cake. I had bought some tiny chocolates – in the shape of little rocks – from Bulk Barn, which were perfect for my prehistoric landscape. When my husband Ian walked in, I was starting to use an icing gel to make little footprints behind the dinosaur and to write, ‘Happy Birthday Lily!’ along the lower edge of the cake. The footprints looked OK, but the lettering looked like my Grade 1 kid had written it herself – letters in different sizes with the words slowly sagging down.

My final dino cake creation.

My final dino cake creation.

Between the questionable cake décor and the kids asking for breakfast, I was starting to get frustrated and tense when Ian announced he was going to the gym. Bad timing, in my opinion, and I told him as much. He shot me a look and said, “Remember, this is a party – not the SAT exams.”

Steamed as I was at the comment, it did ring true. Subconsciously, I think I’ve long been ruined for cake decorating by my good friend Cathy – an accomplished, professional baker who makes incredible creations through her own business, Catherine’s Cakery. Clearly, I don’t have her training, experience or natural-born gift for making exceptional creations.

The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter. Stressful though it can sometimes be, I love making my own cakes because it’s a sort of gift for my kids. Baking enables me to get carried away in whatever toy or theme they’re absorbed with – in this case, dinosaurs – and literally feed their sweet, childhood innocence back to them.

The birthday girl with her cake.

The birthday girl with her cake.

In the end, I scraped off the awkward, goopy lettering and opted to keep the design simple. Ian got home in time and redeemed himself by brining dinner for the slow cooker and a big bottle of post-party wine for the fridge.

By the time the party actually kicked off at the Museum of Nature, I had a whole new attitude. It helps that I totally love that museum and, thanks to raising two dinosaur lovers, I pretty much know the place like the back of my hand.

After watching a 3D dinosaur movie and touring three of the four levels of the museum, the kids piled into the party area for cake time. Looking back at the picture of Lily’s face when I presented her with the cake, I can see she looks pretty darn thrilled. And to me, that’s all that matters in the end.


The Princess Parade

BelleOnce upon a time, there was a sweet little girl named Lily who adored ‘Belle,’ the character from the classic Disney film, Beauty & the Beast. This little girl was lucky enough to have a mommy, Melissa, who loved her SO much that she threw her not one, not two, but THREE birthday parties when she turned five – just so she could include her many friends and family members.

By the time the third party rolled around, Melissa was getting a bit tired. Rightly so…have YOU ever thrown three parties (for five-year-olds!) in a single weekend? No, me neither; it’s the stuff of an Extreme Supermom.

Before party #3, Melissa was thinking, “No problem…I’ve got this one in the bag.” You see, being the very thoughtful and generous mother that she is, Melissa had planned ahead and booked a special visit from Belle via Fantasy Fables. The plan was for Belle to entertain the kids for 80 minutes – talking to them, doing their nails and taking pictures with each guest. This would give Melissa a well-deserved break as she passed the party baton along to the princess.

So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, Lily’s tiny guests arrived – all 14 of them (did I mention that they are five-year-olds??). The kids piled into the backyard – hanging from the play structure and talking excitedly – eagerly awaiting their Disney heroine’s arrival.

But Belle’s arrival time came…and went. An extra half-hour passed, and still no Belle. After close to an hour had gone by, Melissa decided to call Fantasy Fables to see what the deal was. The reply was, “Belle has been rear-ended. She is very shaken and will not be able to attend the party.”

While she was sympathetic to Belle’s unfortunate fender-bender, Melissa was also a bit baffled. “What about my daughter’s party?” she wondered. The company offered that an alternate princess could be sent in Belle’s place – but told Melissa that she would not arrive for at least another hour. This would mean that the guest of honour would arrive approximately 10 minutes from the scheduled end time of the party – when 14 sets of parents were arriving to reclaim their children. No dice.

So what’s a mom to do? More than a dozen little girls to entertain – and a total bail by Belle (from here on in referred to as ‘BBB’).

Princess paradeWell, this particular Supermom was not about to be phased by the BBB – she rolled up her sleeves and gave each and every one of those little girls a party to remember. Melissa pulled out make-up and nail polish, and gave ‘makeovers’ to the little girls. Then – get this – she dug out exactly 14 princess party dresses to outfit all of her little guests (seriously…who has that many little dresses??!? Amazing!).

But the pièce de résistance was the Princess Parade. With little Lily in the lead, those beautiful little girls waltzed right around the neighbourhood in their sparkly gowns, offering the cutest of princess waves to anyone that they happened to meet along the way. Without a doubt, Supermom saved the day.

Melissa and LilySeveral days and many frustrating phone calls later, Fantasy Fables finally redeemed themselves; they sent Belle to have a private visit with Lily. At long last, the birthday girl got her wish – she had the chance to hang out with her fairy-tale heroine. For a five-year-old girl, it was a dream come true; Lily will surely remember seeing Belle for years to come.

But what will last longer – and ring truer – is the warmth and love she received around her special day, despite the party not going off as planned. Because all of the pretty Disney princesses in the world can’t compete with a mother’s love for her little girl. For that is what truly makes her feel like royalty.


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