Young Nova Scotia software developer to debut prom fashion line

v1-2On February 13 at 7 pm at Sweet Brier Boutique, 1421 Hammonds Plains Road, a 100-year-old home will serve as the launch pad for a new and exciting line line of junior and senior prom dresses called Sweet du Luxe by young designer Ashley Burton Hickey of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. Tickets are $5 and are available at the Boutique, by calling 902-446-2853 or emailing

Ashley grew up in Margaree Cape Breton, a small village where ‘there wasn’t much to do.’ She learned a multitude of handicrafts but her real love was designing gowns. Due to circumstances at the time, Ashley didn’t attend her senior prom. She often wondered what it would have been like.

Fast track to today and Ashley is in the midst of planning what she describes as her life’s biggest milestone thus far — her wedding. She admits it has caused her to think back on her experience growing up in Cape Breton.. ‘When I reflect on the many important milestones in a young woman’s life, I can’t help but think of prom.  Due to circumstances at the time I didn’t make it to my senior prom, but I often wondered what it would have been like.’ It is that experience that has inspired her to create Sweet du Luxe.’Every girl deserves a prom dress as unique as her inner woman,’ she says.

Ashley is a front end software developer for an international NGO based in Europe and lives in Parrsboro. She designs clothing that celebrates an individual’s personality. ‘Fashion is art,’ she says.

Our Grant a Prom Wish Contest invites contestants to nominate a friend to win a prom dress of their dreams. Two lucky winners (1 junior and 1 senior prom) from Nova Scotia (some conditions apply) will win a dress from the Sweet du Luxe collection, jewelry and clutch donated by Sweet Brier Boutique and corsage donated by TL Yorke Floral Design. In 300 words or less please describe why you want that special person to win the prom ensemble of their dreams. Email your submissions to before February 10, 2016. Winners will be announced at the event on February 13.

Join us for an evening of fun, fashion, prizes and a candy buffet! Watch your friends from Madeline Symonds Middle School and others in your community model for the show!

Orders for Sweet du Luxe dresses can be placed at the show. Orders for corsages and boutonnieres (to be on display) made at the show will be eligible for a discount.

See you soon!





When you work in a store that is set in a home built in the late 1800s, you hear all sorts of stories about its history and the people who lived there. It’s magical and fun as they remember their families and traditions and even where the Christmas tree once stood.

On this one evening I heard the sleigh bell ring — it hangs on the front door of the shop — and a woman entered alone. She stopped and stared at the Christmas tree in the front room. I said hello and invited her in to look around. ‘Any questions just let me know,’ I smiled. She continued to quietly take in the store’s many antique displays … china cabinets, a makeup table, old dressers. “My grandmother used to have all of these in her home. I loved them,” she said. “Where are they now?” I asked.”It’s a long story,” she says.

The woman chooses some items and approaches the cash register. As I wrap her items I ask if she has any special plans for the holidays. “I don’t really celebrate Christmas anymore,” she says. I stop. And for the first time I see her eyes. They are haunted. Sad.  “I haven’t seen my kids for a year and a half. There was a divorce. I lost everything.”

There were no words. She talked some more about her family and how she would spend the holidays. I gave her a hug and she left as quietly as she came in.

I have thought about her every day since.

It’s a busy time of year with only a few days left ’til the magic of Christmas Eve and Day descend upon us. In all the hustle and bustle I invite you to pause for just a bit and listen. It may be the greatest gift you can give.



Home for Christmas


There is this house on Hammonds Plains Road in the burbs of Halifax, Nova Scotia, owned by Cathy and Dan Oulton, that has caught my eye for the 15 plus years we have lived in Hammonds Plains. It’s old. Really old. It’s the kind of house that makes you think it has many stories to tell.


Now the house at 1421 Hammonds Plains Road, has another story to tell. On November 1, Sweet Brier Boutique II moved in.  Her friends and family helped. Jim and Donna, Dana and Stephen, Cheryl and John, Danny, Matthew, Sarah and Lindsay helped carry, paint, hang, decorate and unpack. Ashley, Colleen, Crystal and Lisa got her organized. Then the second shift arrived with Charlotte, Mary Kate, Debbie and Matt.

A bit of a fashion hound, Sweet Brier arrived with clothing from Canada, the US and Italy along with jewelry and scarves to fill more than a few closets.

She believes in the power of entrepreneurship to realize your destiny.

So she invited more than 20 artists and artisans into her new home. 95% are women and she loves that. There are soaps, knitted creations, mittens made of treasured sweaters, handcrafted cheese boards, jewelry, dog shampoo and treats, maple syrup, old fashioned sweets, handcrafted cards, journals and candles. There are authors and artists. You’ll get to meet them. Their stories are inspiring.

A believer in community, Sweet Brier Boutique II opened her home to friends, family and neighbours on December 5. It was a wonderful day filled with laughter, tears and stories. A family arrived who once lived in the house and were moved to tears to see it decorated for Christmas once again. ‘You have no idea what it means to be able to come home for Christmas.’


Well maybe we do. Sweet Brier Boutique is blessed to have two homes now. Just in time for Christmas. Come visit and bring a story or two. She’d love that:)



Footnote: Since we posted this blog we had a lovely message from the family who grew up in this home … two sisters, Jill Haverstock and Holly. Here is what they wrote:

My sister and I have been “going home for Christmas” in our imaginations for several years now. To be able to open that same old front door and step into our childhood home which you have so lovingly created into a boutique was simply amazing. I loved every minute of it. Imagine, I even tried on one of your beautiful made in Italy sweaters in my sister’s old bedroom. Heather, I love your vision and your handbags, art, jewelry, soaps and so much more especially since you wrapped them up with the joy and love of Christmas, new and old. From our family to yours, Merry Christmas…from sisters Jill and Holly (ps, I did buy the italian sweater plus a gorgeous handmade wreath – love!)



Flatter Your Figure with Emily and Fin

I’ve had the same body type since I was about 14; average bust, smaller than average waist and larger than average hips, thighs and derriere. I would say I’m somewhere in between an hourglass and a pear shaped figure. Let me also say before I continue that over the years I have grown to love my body, and nothing written below is meant to be insulting towards my figure, it’s just realistic.

My biggest issue is not with my body itself, but with the fact that I have always loved clothing styles that are made for someone with a “boyish” or “petite” figure. I know the general rule for buying women’s dresses with my proportions–go with a fit and flare. The tight waist accentuates my smallest curve while the full skirt hides and minimized my fuller “bottom area.” So almost every dress I own is that style, and that’s perfectly fine–except sometimes I long for something different: a pencil dress. I’ve always admired the classy and classic silhouette. I cannot even count the number of pencil dresses I have tried on in the past 20 years, but I can tell you the results were always the same. If it fit my bottom half, the waist of the dress was baggy around my torso creating a saggy, floppy looking top half. If it fit my waist and bust, it’s a guarantee that it would be straining and pulling inappropriately around the bottom, which would undoubtedly end up in a split seam or some other wardrobe malfunction.

When I began working at Sweet Brier Boutique in Parrsboro, I immediately admired Manager Ashley Ellis, who is very petite and athletic, in a blue polka dotted Emily and Fin pencil dress. I gushed compliments on how perfectly it fit her tiny frame. When it came time to take my employee photo, she asked if I’d like to try it on. I laughed at her foolishness, told her I’d never get my thighs into a dress that looked like it was tailored for her, and grabbed a black and white fit and flare from the rack. The fit and flare looked great, as I knew it would and I shelved any thought about trying to squeeze myself into that exquisite pencil dress I’d admired so much. I looked longingly at it whenever I passed the Emily and Fin rack, and when there was only one dress in my size left, one evening after my last customer left and the door was locked, I took it back to the dressing room–just to see. I fully expected to leave feeling disappointed and dejected. Have you ever read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? It’s a teen novel about four friends with completely different body types who wear the same pair of jeans and magically all look fantastic in them.

Well, when I looked in the mirror I was certain that whoever made those jeans must have made this dress as well, because the same dress that looked so amazing on my petite coworker also made me feel like a knockout.

Once the shock and delight wore off, I took a closer look at the dress and realized it wasn’t some sort of sorcery that was making this dress so divine, it was good old fashioned quality craftsmanship.

Both the lining and the dress were made from a high quality cotton and each stitch and seam was sewn with care and attention to detail. The modern, timeless style did not pull or strain–it held my curves in a strong and stable fit that was nothing but flattering from all angles. The pockets were an added bonus! Not that I will be giving up my fit and flares–they suit my body type and will always be a fashion staple for me. But after 20 years of looking for the cloth equivalent to the love of my life, I finally found it in the blue polka dot Robyn Dress, thanks to Emily and Fin.



The Mirror


The Mirror

IMG_8017I am always watching for items to display at the Sweet Brier Boutique or to creatively up-cycle. I admit it is one of my vices! On this day I am picking up a vintage mirror from a gentleman in Parrsboro who has chosen to ‘simplify’ his life and sell many of the items he and his wife Sally acquired over the years.

But as can happen in a small community this was to be much more than a ‘pick up.’

Ron Levy greets me with an invitation to sit in his living room and catch up. He points to some of the beautiful treasures he is selling. His father built the wooden plant stands — solid wood from Lunenburg where he grew up. His wife Sally was a quilter and her quilt racks are over there. She collected those angels too … until her death three years ago.

I have known Ron much of my life. He worked with my father. He is a well-known real estate agent in the community. And I know his children. But what I didn’t know is what brought him to Parrsboro 47 years ago.Ron tells me a story I had never heard before.

He and Sally were living in Ontario. They wanted to move east and had the opportunity to go to other locations including Prince Edward Island. But it was the promise of tidal power that brought them to Parrsboro. ‘There was so much hope and opportunity,’ he says. My jaw drops. Forty-seven years ago?

I ask him what needs to happen to make tidal power more than a hope and a dream. He is firm. “It needs a dedicated team working on it. We need to be proactive. It can be done,” he says.

He reminisces about the days when he and my dad helped bring the hospital to Parrsboro and started Parrsboro Industrial Commission with help from others of course. Volunteering. Community. Action.

“My father would always say: ‘When you make your living in a community, then you need to give back to that community.’ And that’s why I’ve been involved in our town for so many years.”

It’s this spirit of giving back that has Ron volunteering as Captain of a Relay for Life Team called Ground Breakers 2 – Growing the Seeds of Hope. For this year’s project, close to 1,000 books (yes they’re Ron’s) will be for sale in his garage at 96 Jenks Avenue in Parrsboro this Saturday, August 1, between 9 am and 12:30 pm. ALL sales to to the Cancer Society.

image1After a little tour of his home, Ron shows me the mirror I had come to collect. “Open it,” he says. Inside I discover it’s a lovely jewelry case too … simply perfect for the Sweet Brier Boutique!

As I drive away, I ponder the stories and I think about a little town on the Bay of Fundy still filled with hope and possibility … ready for action.

Thank you Ron.

Fresh faced makeup without the mask

I think most women have something that makes them feel self conscious when they look in the mirror. For me, it’s always been my dark under eye circles. I have tried everything to minimize their appearance, from more sleep to cucumber slices over my eyes, but the only thing that seems to work is make up. And not just any make up, it has to be high quality otherwise it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a gun shot wound–still very noticeable.

So imagine my delight when Sweet Brier Boutique started carrying da lish Cosmetics. I’d heard of da lish before. A Canadian company, da lish used natural products full of antioxidants such as shea butter and sunflower seed oil, so your skin benefits from long term use of the products. In fact, their products are 75-85% natural–afar cry from some brands which use only 10% natural ingredients.

But one of the lines on the da lish website is, “Foundations that help perfect and even out your complexion without the makeup mask.” I was pretty sure, in order to make any progress in hiding my circles, that I actually needed a mask. But to my delight, when I tried it out, I found out that I didn’t! The da lish line minimized the circles and provided a clean, natural look for the day.

What’s your biggest beauty worry? Leave me a comment and I will try my best to help you find a solution!


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