Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pancake Breakfast Helps to Feed More

"The Brunswick Street Mission's Vision is to inspire hope, dignity, and a better quality of life."
                                             -Brunswick Street Mission website

{Armbrae Academy Senior students}

I always find it interesting how ideas and actions come together.  Its the random conversation about an idea or an observation that often leads to a much bigger impact.  And that is where this little story begins...

Since our children started at Armbrae Academy, in 2006, we have actively participated in the community driven life at the school.  Its a wonderful, nurturing environment, one that supports our values as parents.  Its pretty easy to say "yes" when asked to get involved, or run an event, or support a fundraising effort.  So when a teacher approached me about a plan she had to give back, I of course said...."Yes!"  Charlotte stopped me on the stairs one afternoon to tell me she had heard about the Forty 4 Change project and thought I might be interested in helping her.  It was interesting timing, because the day before I had received an email from my father, telling me about a talk he had been to recently about the homeless.  It had me thinking about ways to get involved with shelters or soup kitchens, or just the homeless on the streets.  So when Charlotte (who is the Senior School teacher that runs the community service opportunities for students) told me that she wanted to hold a school wide Breakfast to raise money for The Brunswick Street Mission, I slowly smiled, feeling that spark of connection.

The Brunswick Street Mission is an organization "that continues to inspire a better quality of life through a ministry of care to those experiencing poverty."  In one year the Mission can serve as many as 20,000 meals to those in need, providing not only the necessary food for survival but a place for people to come and begin working towards better overall wellness.

{pancakes and sausage}

Charlotte had the enthusiastic Senior students to do the cooking and she had a plan, she just needed a little advice and help getting some equipment together; pancake griddles, a coffee urn, chafing dishes, etc.  These were minor asks in my mind but I was glad to pitch in and secure the items, and agreed to show up early that morning to help get things going.  Charlotte advertised the breakfast to the school (asking for a suggested donation of $5) and the day before the breakfast she had received over 80 confirmed replies of YES.

Pancake batter, sausage sizzling on the griddles, fruit being chopped, fresh juice being prepared, tables being set, coffee percolating....are you there?  Can you feel the excitement of a breakfast of champions taking shape?  Parents and students began arriving for their hot breakfast promptly at 7:45 a.m. and the griddles remained hot until 9:00 a.m.  The wait time might have been a little long at times, but no one seemed to mind, knowing they were there for a cause...a really wonderful cause.

{happy customers}

Half way through the breakfast Charlotte introduced Margot, a representative from The Brunswick Street Mission, who shared a little about their vision.  She shared stories about the peoples' lives they have touched, some of the struggles these every day people face, and why it helps to have the support of communities like Armbrae.  I had a chance to chat with Margot after the breakfast and we agreed to meet to discuss more opportunities for fundraising, defining some key areas where they might need help.  I will share more about that ( and how you can help) at a later date.

{charlotte serves up breakfast}

I felt privileged that Charlotte asked me to be a part of this giving back project, and was thrilled when she reported the next day that they had raised $572.50!  We served over 100 people breakfast that morning...and brought awareness to an organization that serves so many people in need.

If you would like more information click here

thank you to charlotte and the senior students for letting me be a part of your generous act of kindness.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Full Circle Moment

I love it when a full circle moment happens...when some one's actions inspire another person, which in turn inspires another, and so on and so on until the inspiration makes a complete circle of giving.  

My niece, Bronwyn, recently celebrated her 11th birthday.   It seems I am on a birthday kick lately.  For her birthday party Bronwyn decided on a theme of Alien/Space characters.  The guests had to come dressed as their favorite characters from their favorite movies.  When the girls arrived they received one of the adorable green alien bags which contained mixed flavored popcorn as well as a purple bag they could fill with yummy treats from Bronwyn's candy bar!  The birthday party wasn't only great for treats and pizza, it was also a way for Bronwyn to give back.  She asked all her guests to bring a donation to the Calgary Humane Society in lieu of gifts.  She put in $30 of her own money and together they were able to donate $150!  

You might be thinking that the inspiration for Bronwyn's giving came from my Forty 4 Change project, but actually Bronwyn has been the one to inspire me.  She certainly isn't new to the concept of giving back.  A few years ago, "Beebs" (as I call her) and my nephew Finn decided to shave their heads for cancer, wanting to support a friend of Bronwyn's.  The story got out and they ended up raising $5,600!  I still get goosebumps thinking about it and although it was difficult to see the first picture of them together, practically bald, I was so moved by their act of incredible kindness.  Years before that Beebs and my sister, Stacey, grew their hair and then cut all of it off to donate to an organization to make wigs for cancer victims, raising $2,300!  

My oldest daughter was inspired by her cousins and embarked on her own fundraising effort in 2008, creating the Change for Life event (which raised over $5,000 for the IWK Foundation).  And there have been many more giving back efforts over the past several years.....driving that circle forward.  

Today, it occurred to me that I could complete this circle of giving and make a donation in Bronwyn's honor to her birthday organization, the Calgary Humane Society.  I plan to keep these circles of giving in motion...

thank you beebs, YOU inspire me

Saturday, February 19, 2011

{Party} A First Birthday to Help the Animals!

{Partridge Photography}

When my good friend, Veronica, asked me to help her style her son's 1st birthday party, I jumped at the chance!  I do love to plan the treats for a party, especially for a child.  Since she wanted an animal themed party, it was an easy decision to support an organization that protects our world's wildlife.  On my sister Michelle's suggestion, we researched the World Wildlife Fund.  Partridge Photography captured every little detail of the party!

We let everyone know that the family was supporting WWF and encouraged them to do the same.

Veronica's three older children loved adopting "Maxee" and truly believe they own a tiger!  The WWF has been protecting nature and wildlife for over 45 years.  As a conservation organization they work to protect natural areas and wild populations of plants and animals.  There are over 100 species to adopt and 83 cents of every donated dollar goes toward conservation.  There are lots of other ways to support WWF, feel free to check it out here:

{dessert table details}

A birthday party isn't complete without a table full of treats and snacks.  Everything was styled in the animal theme.  I worked with my friend Jennifer to design the cupcake toppers, banner, cake topper and labels.  The fun stripes and designs were inspired by the collections of The TomKat Studio. {so many to chose from!} I had so much fun making the animal and sprinkles cake pops!  You can never have too many cake pops! {recipe by Bakerella}  The animal oreos, marshmallow pops and lion head marshmallows were a fun project my children could help with.  The adorable animal custom cookies were made by talented baker Tracey Lowe.  Tracey can turn anything into a cookie piece of art!  I love the polka dot balloons from Polka Dot Market (thank you Sally for getting them here in the nick of time)!  The animal themed cake matched everything perfectly and was made by Nadine of Femme Fondants.  SO many details go into planning a party, couldn't do it without the help of creative gals everywhere!

{maxim, 1 year old!}
Maxim may not have been aware that all the excitement was about him, celebrating his BIG FIRST BIRTHDAY!  But all of us that were there relished in the chance to shower him with love and birthday wishes, along with his tiger "maxee!"  I even made his special birthday hat to stick with the animal theme!

{proud mom and dad with maxim}
Getting to do what I love to do and bringing awareness to a cause or an organization at the same time is double rewarding for me.  Since I started this project almost 7 weeks ago I have already experienced some pretty moving things, and I know that the journey will gt better and better.  It really takes so little to reach out to someone, or something, or somewhere....we think it will take alot from us, our time, or money, but its much simpler than that.  Each of us has such huge potential to give....we only have to stop and see things a bit differently.
Thank you Veronica for trusting me with Maxim's dessert table!  Its always amazing planning an event with you.

Watch for for the posting from our very special Valentine's Day act of kindness!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

{Party Details} All the Treats You Can Eat!

{Partridge Photography}

I promised I would share all the birthday party details, so here they are!  To celebrate a milestone surrounded by close friends and family was very special.  The party started to be referred to as the "Ba-Wedding" (ba is pronounced like the sound the "b" makes) took on this little nickname because of all the wedding-like details!  I do like to take things a bit over the top so it was fitting that we began with a theme...

black, white, and bling

and a little ditty
"forget over the hill, we're going over the top!"

and the rest took care of itself...well not exactly.

{a little black, white and bling chocolate bars}

I absolutely love planning parties, specifically the treats for a party, so when it came time to throw all my ideas in the hat and pick the best ones for this gathering I realized I didn't really need to choose at all...I could do everything I wanted...and I do mean everything!

But the real purpose of sharing all this detail is to be able to say thank you!  I promise not to bore you but a few need mentioning...
FRED. is an amazing venue for a party of any size and when I approached Fred and Joel (the dynamic duo of Fred Salon and Whet Cafe) they were game for a birthday/New Year's Eve celebration.  I can still remember my planning dinner with Fred at local restaurant Ristorante A Mano (a favorite of mine!), where the two of us poured over details for the "Ba-Wedding", specifically choosing a bustling atmosphere to mask our 2 loud, excited voices.  From cupcakes to whoopie pies, thank you to Fred and Joel for helping execute a flawless evening.

Every piece of paper for the party was specifically designed and fact I think I tortured my designer, the very talented Jennifer with Halcraft Printing.  She tirelessly worked with me to get every detail exactly right!  In fact, I think I became friends with half the staff at Halcraft, I spent so much time there.  Their enthusiasm for the tiny details and ideas kept it all incredibly fun!!

{red velvet upside down cake pops}

Since treats were a major theme here, many had to be created by my trusted baker friend, Tracey Lowe.  Cookies on a stick, red velvet cake pops, you name it!  Simply delicious!  Watch for many more creations by Tracey.

All the amazing photos from the night were captured by Jennifer Partridge of Partridge Photography.  Her name was given to me by a close friend and I am still amazed looking back at her photos!  After the party Jen and I sat down to talk about Forty 4 Change.  She was keen to get involved and offered to help document as many events/acts as possible through the year!  Watch for many more great photos from her.

Although this feels a little like a "thank you" speech, creating something this special for a cause I am passionate about was not done single-handedly, so thank you's are a precious part of anything we do in life worth doing.  So of course....thank you to my husband, my 3 sweet children, best friends, and family for helping me pull it all together...and for not calling me crazy...too many times!

just a few more mentions!

Cake - Tier It Up (every girl needs a 5 tier cake on her birthday...right?)
Cupcakes and whoopie pies - FRED. (Whet Cafe)
Oreo pops, petit fours, handcrafted chocolates & damask oreos - Sweeties by Kim

Check back for the next party post...a first birthday to help the animals!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kate McRae - A Story to Share

I want to share a story with you...I need to share this story, it has become very close to my heart and for some reason I feel emotionally vested in a story, about a little girl named Kate.
{I worn you in might cry}
 I first read about beautiful Kate McRae in January 2010.  She had just celebrated her sixth birthday, in a hospital in Phoenix Children's Hospital.  I only happened to come across her story while reading my favorite party stylist's blog, The TomKat Studio.   Kim, of the TomKat Studio, had designed special birthday decorations and visited Kate and her family to decorate her hospital room and deliver the many gifts that readers had sent for Kate.  
{read about her visit here}

I was so moved by her act of generosity and I wanted to know more about beautiful Kate.  This sweet, sparkly blue eyed little girl has already gone through what no one should ever have to experience.  She was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in June 2009.  Since first reading about her I have felt such a tugging in my heart, thinking about my own beautiful children, and feeling so thankful that they are healthy and happy and able to do all the things they desire.
A year ago I started following Holly's blog (Kate's mother), and I have cried buckets upon buckets of tears...late at night when I am alone, reading her thoughts and her feelings and the progress of Kate's medical condition.  Holly's strength is astounding and when you read her words you feel all of her emotions and the roller-coaster ride of their journey.  I can only imagine....

{oh so posh photography}
There have been times when I have had to stop reading Holly's postings, it has been so painful to think about Kate and her family.  And yet, it has given me perspective at times when I needed it the most.  At times I feel like I know this little girl (her favorite treats are powdered donuts), Holly has shared so much with the world.  
In early October 2010 Kate's scan came back cancer free.  For the millions of followers to her story around the world it was an obvious relief beyond words.  The McRae family have an intensely strong faith and Holly writes often about her gratefulness for prayers for Kate.

Early last month Kim {The TomKat Studio} posted her plans to create a 7th birthday party for Kate!  She knows that Kate's story has touched so many of our lives and asked for our help to make Kate's day an amazing celebration.  It was the first moment I have felt there was something I could DO to show this sweet smiling cutie how she has touched my heart.
I quickly put together a custom wrapped package I fashioned "a Halifax rainy day birthday package", and shipped it to Kim in Arizona.  It felt so good to put my creativity to work for a child whose smile can brighten my day, with just one picture.  Kim hoped to catch a photo of Kate with her gift from me but it was a little hectic!  
A week ago Kim posted the beautiful photos and details of Kate's Sweet 7th Birthday Party.  It was a perfect party created for a much deserving 7 year old.  I wanted to be able to finish this story with the birthday happy ending, the blowing out of the birthday candles, and making a wish for Kate's cancer to stay away.  Sadly, only days after her special birthday celebration Kate's scans delivered devastating results.  This past Tuesday her scan confirmed that her cancer is very much present.

{vicki lynn photography}

 I read an old posting of Holly's recently:

If you have never watched your child suffer through a life threatening illness it may be difficult to understand the day to day battles that wage war in the mind of a parent. If you find yourself there, not quite understanding, I am grateful you have never had to face that reality. One day we feel encouraged, convinced beyond belief that our Kate will be healed here on earth. That we will see her grow up, that we will proudly stand by and savor as she accomplishes normal childhood milestones that many zoom right past. I imagine the tearful moments filled with such emotion as Aaron would walk our grown Kate down the isle, realizing what a blessing it was to get there. Realizing how many prayers went forth to get us to that day and the graciousness of our God who chose to spare her from this horrific disease.

And then there are the other days, those moments we continually battle against. The days when you wake up with the thick coat of worry and grief wrapped around your heart and seemingly your throat, as it often feels hard to even breathe. Somehow the possibility of facing life without our daughter creeps in and our resolve seems to crumble like sand. Our spirits feel restless and the inability to concentrate on anything feels overwhelming.The world continues on around us, but it is unnoticed by me. For that day, for those moments I am unaware of most anything but her. All I want to do is hold her and talk and watch every little thing she does. I want to store up memories, and yet I know memories are nothing compared to watching your child do those things, pass those milestones. Memories are a reminder of the past, we want hope for the future. 

I hope we can all look at our own families and really see them and celebrate them.  I shared this story because it has penetrated my heart so deeply, so beyond explanation, and it forces me to feel the things I am afraid to feel, all the things that I am scared of....and as I have written this I have cried another bucket of tears.  I am reminded that although I performed one small act of kindness...that act gave back to me immeasurable awareness of all the things that really mean something.  
If you would like to continue to follow Kate's progress please visit
Pray for Kate

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Birthday Celebration to Begin a Charitable Legacy

{a brilliant night to begin a journey}

Although I have said that it was the occasion of my 40th birthday that really started this project...I think it is something that has been brewing inside me for a while.  I think we are all, at some point in our lives, looking for the meaning, the purpose, the "what am I here to do?"  We might think about it from time to time but then its gone, a fleeting thought.  

{all photos captured by Partridge Photography}

Initially I thought about how I wanted to celebrate the birthday.  I didn't have an issue with turning 40, but I do like to take things over the top a bit! :)  I could feel the planning of a party coming on!  Then I started to think about how I could touch the lives of women around the world also born in the year 1970.  There were lots of thoughts and ideas constantly swirling around in my head...then in September 2010 we were invited as a family to an IWK Health Centre Foundation Open House (the IWK is the health centre/hospital in Halifax serving women, children and families throughout the Maritimes).  They showed a video talking about the Women's Health Centre, its benefits, etc.  Blythe, my 9 year old daughter, leaned over to me during that video and said "Why don't you do something with that for your birthday...then its local?"  

An idea was born!  There were lots of conversations right away with contacts at the Foundation.  I have to thank Lesley for her help in leading me through the initial steps.  Sometimes its the conversations in the hallways that make the biggest impact.  Since we started fundraising for the IWK about 3 years ago, we have worked with our trusted representative, Shiv.   Shiv knew that I wanted an experience...a journey...something that would get me involved beyond signing the cheque.   We came up with the idea of an Endowment Fund, something that would continue to give back year after year.  And knowing that I was planning a 40th celebration to take things "over the top", it was only fitting that guests be asked to make a donation to the O'Connor Family Endowment Fund, in lieu of gifts.  We matched every donation made to the Fund and I am so happy to tell you that currently the Fund totals $17, 324!  The generosity of our close friends and family was helped begin a charitable legacy.

December 31st, 2010....a 40th birthday celebration, New Year's Eve!
What more could you ask for!  

FRED....the location for a brilliant night 
Champagne...a drink to toast the night away say a thousand words

It was over a cappuccino at my all time favorite coffee shop, the Smiling Goat, that Shiv helped me bring all my swirling thoughts to a light bulb moment!  It was actually Shiv that threw out the words "40 charitable acts!"  We had no idea where this would go!!

More details about the party coming soon!  So many helped make it a night to remember, they deserve a special thank you!!