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The Soul of a Celebration!

The Soul of a Celebration!

A family trip to the zoo, aninmal-themed balloon arch, personalized wildlife monogram, custom animal-inspired cookies, cake and decor - sounds like a child's birthday party, right?

It might - but, y'all, I 'ran' with a theme (nature, wildlife) that is the heart and soul of my, now, 95 year-old mother: her love, devotion and commitment to animals!

There's a 'secret sauce' to birthday celebrations, and maybe you already know it - but Maggie Blue is is sharing that recipe here, if you don't. You won't even be forced to scroll through the entire blog to find out what it is (but, you'll want to read more, I'd like to think). 

The 'secret sauce' to a successful birthday celebration is: at any age - make it about the celebrant, not yourself. 

  • listen carefully
  • pay attention
  • be sensitive

While many grande dames reaching the distinguished age of 95 might prefer to be fêted with a high tea at the Ritz, evening cocktail party with caviar and lobster, or a large surprise party attended by family and friends from far and wide, who can blame them? Those ladies would be richly deserving of all this grandeur. Make no mistake, my mother would be extraordinarily appreciative of those extravagant gestures (she loves high-tea and fancy outings), but her heart rests in a much simpler place.

Our mother, time and again over the decades, has stated that the only thing she cares about is "her family." While my mother is the perfect lady, one who still maintains a Victorian etiquette book in her personal library (which belonged to her mother), she has 'all the feels' for her "group" - as she refers to us - and anything that is close to her heart. 

Her contagious love, and committment to, the welfare of animals will not be ignored. Throughout the years she has consitently donated to local and national charities - injured donkeys, wildlife conservation, sea turtles, horse sanctuaries, pet rescue groups, animal shelters, ocean conservancies, and so on.

When I asked her if she wanted to go to the Jacksonville Zoo to 'feed a giraffe' - something she has wanted to do for a few years now, her face lit up with an enthusiasm hard to explain. I knew, then, that this would be the birthday celebration most personal and memorable for her.

Since we had family coming into town for her special weekend, I began my work by confirming 'giraffe feedings' at the Zoo. It's never enough to 'just' check online. As a professional event planner throughout my public relations career, I've learned you can leave nothing to chance. Websites are often not updated as frequently as they should be, and the last hitch in the giddy-up for her birthday would have been to promise my 95-old-mother something that wouldn't happen. Believe me, she would handle that like a champ, but I would not, especially with out-of-town family in tow.

I called the Zoo to confirm the feedings and even inquired about best times, wheelchair accessibility, and so forth and the receptionist was very helpful. I then purchased advance tickets online just to make sure there would be no issues of ticket availability.

When I learned that there were no available facilities at the Zoo (private party rooms) during March (drat! ), I opted to simply hold the celebration at our home on her actualy birthday, the following day. The Zoo did offer me unreserved outdoor space, and the opportunity to bring a cake, but I realized I could do more with the party environment if I could control it with a particular space - so, home it, was!

The inspiration for the party-theme, other than the future giraffe-feeding, was a monogram that was designed for Mom months earlier (which benefitted a sanctuary in South Africa). I wanted to have something reflective of her move to Florida that she could use on personal stationery. This crest is part of Arabella June's Wildlife Heraldry Collection the proceeds of which support Wild is Life, multifaceted conservation organization in Zimbabwe, consisting of a sanctuary for injured wildlife and a landscape preservation reserve for the re-wilding of orphaned elephants and other wildlife.

This crest served as an essential part of the party's design elements. Expanding on the monogram, I went to one of my favorite Etsy stores, When I Was Your Age, and chose some party cups (and ordered extra for her to use at home). The pink and green cheetah designs were the perfect compliment to our wildlife-palm beach-pink-and-green theme inspired by the crest! I was on a bit of a deadline and the Etsy shop owner was so accomodating to make certain that I received my cups in time!

On her birthday, Mom and family members were greeted with a theme cocktail - a soft pink rosé champagne cocktail with elderflower, rose and lemon, rimmed in a rose petal sugar I acquired while on Main Street in Annapolis at The Spice & Tea Echange (you can also order online or find at one of their locations). Fresh lemonade and other libations were served on the patio, along with a festive tray of veggies, hummus, fruit, a cheese and pineapple jalepeno dip, fig and olive crackers, and more.

Who doesn't deserve a balloon arch? I thought about ordering one from a local balloon pro, then decided with extra hands on deck over the weekend, we would try our hand at pulling off our first balloon-build ourselves. I found a fabulous safari-inspired set from Wayfair - and LUCKY YOU - it's on sale now (and I thought it was a great deal at the original price!). You get 102 pieces for $25!

We used my husband's compressor but balloon pumps are available online (not helium) like this one on Amazon. It's only $19.99 on sale. A Google search (balloon pump) will reveal several options, including - Party City and Walmart.

My husband inflated the balloons Saturday evening post-Zoo visit, while my brother tied them. The kit came with zero instructions, but my sister-in-law figured out how to use the pieces included (there is a long plastic strip included whereby you plug the tied end of the balloon into the strip, you can use the sticky dots to help keep the balloons attached to one another where needed).

In addition, we employed the use of the 3M hooks already on the mantel to help secure them and - well, old-fashioned duct tape was strategically used in places along the wall. While we were all pretty excited about our first successful balloon arch, my shout out goes to the pros who do this all the time, and flawlessly - this effort took awhile, so if you decide to go the DIY route, be sure to build-in plenty of time for it!

Our theme continued with a foursoume of precious party hat-clad parrots with tutus I found through the delightful designer and artist Amanda "Mandy" Barkley (see my White House Christmas tour blogs for more on Mandy and her mad craft and flower skills). While I was able to snag these adorable parrots from Mandy, there are currently none listed in her shop, so I have sourced additional Etsy shops for fun zoo/animal cake toppers that might be helpful if you're looking for something right now: SugarHippoDesign, HalfPintFauna and ThePrettyPandaShop (based in England, ships worldwide!).

The color scheme, composed primarily of pink and green (and animal prints) was dictated, in part, by her moving to Florida last November- we wanted a somewhat tropical feel of classic, preppy fun! The April Cornell vintage tablecloths in shades of pink topped the dessert table and the outdoor appetizer table. 

My husband smoked salmon, London broil and ribs, I made truffled French fries and roasted asparagus, and our dessert bar brought tears to Mom's eyes (which was so sweet)!

We ordered custom cookies from Beachy Bakes who you can also find on Facebook and Instagram - and they were delectable pieces of art. They were so beautiful, we didn't want to eat them, but we finally dove in and they were melt in your mouth DELICIOUS!


Mom requested a Chantilly cake - a delicious, light Southern favorite, topped with fresh fruit and filled with the lightest of cream and fresh strawberries.

Carrying through with the monogram theme, I sourced a wafer cake in Jacksonville in the shape of an "L" from Zu Sweet, who you can connect with via Facebook. She was so accomodating of my special request, inspired by a bakery in Miami, and it was a hit!


  1. Focus on the hobbies, likes and passions of the celebrant for inspiration, no matter the age.
  2. In lieu of a party, would they enjoy a tickets to a jazz featival? Symphony? Or showcase sporting event?
  3. Does the celebrant LOVE formality? Or are they casual? Do they enjoy dinner out at a nice restaurant, a Margarita bar or would they love some friends over for a low-key BBQ and beer? 
  4. Age matters mostly when considering environment, accessibility, and endurance. A toddler or five year old is going to have less patience at a long, drawn out event than an adult might. Are there risk factors? How walkable is the area - are you heading to a beach or a cabin?
  5. Consider the celebrant's state of mind at the time of the celebration. Are they going to respond well to a surprise if they are not feeling well, or going through a challenging time? Conversely, would a surprise party or gathering of close friends, be an uplifting event?

The hardest part about planning for others is that we often project on them what we would most enjoy if it were our birthday. The saying "Go big or go home" may not apply to everyone. 

My mother, Lois, is an inspiration to me. Not "just" because she is my mother, and has been a very good one, she is also my friend. She is the most creative person (next to my friend who is a costume designer in New Orleans), I've ever known. Moreover, as I mentioned in the About section of Magnolia Blue, my mother makes everything a celebration. Getting an ice cream cone, a trip to Target, making a craft, or taking a drive. Her natural ebullience is something to be in awe of - and I wish I had more of it.

Happy birthday to Mom, and best wishe to all of you who have, are and will be celebrating birthdays and other celebrations soon!




Happy birthday and Happy Mother's Day, Mom-Lois! We are so blessed to have you as our Mama, friend, confidante, cheerleader, guardian and centerpiece of our family. God bless you. 


Comments on this post (2)

  • May 13, 2022

    So many great points and ideas!! The Tea and Spice Exchange is one of my favorite shops. My daughter and I make a celebration just going there. I also love your decorating style and how you personalize it to the celebrant.
    Now I can put together a shindig for a celebration and make the occasion fit the personality and passions of the honored and the guest. But I absolutely cringe when some does the same for me. I just sit and wait for it to be over! I keep thinking when have you ever known me to do this or that. But I graciously smile and endure. Since COVID has changed all of lives and plans, I was able to express myself, my birthday plans and desires. So no surprises so far but none of my family and friends are outdoorsy either. But should it happen again, I will graciously smile, participate and wait for it to be over, greet all warmly and send thank you cards after because no matter party-style, they thought enough of me to want to celebrate a milestone with me. Thank you for reminding to think of others when it’s my turn to plan the celebration ❤️

    — Gwendolyn Martin

  • May 11, 2022

    Your mom is a treasure. I’m so glad you were able to give her a special celebration. (I think you have inherited her love of life from her)

    — Jane Wittman

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