minion themed 6th birthday party

I’ll be honest and tell you that this wasn’t my son’s first choice for birthday party theme. He’s known for picking quirky themes, and this year he decided he wanted a Home Alone party. Of course. Like I’m going to take on responsibility for all his little eager-eyed friends for a couple of hours and then subject them to a series of booby traps including giving them ice on which to fall over, shattered tree ornaments on which to shred their feet, and hot irons with which to permanently scar their faces.

Or, alternatively, I could come up with a series of risk-assessment-friendly traps like throwing a bucket of pom poms over their heads as they walked through the door, and everyone would think it was the lamest party ever. (Oh, and one mum would complain because her son was allergic to pom poms. Or surprises. Or buckets. Or some such bull.)

No, it was indeed right to steer Mister away from this theme – and he jumped at my suggestion of Minions. Well, I wasn’t going to make this harder than it needed to be – Minion-themed paraphernalia is all over the shops, and Minion-based party ideas are all over t’Internet, so it was never going to be difficult.

The invitations were simple – some yellow card, downloaded Minion printables and a bit of glue. Hey presto:

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Decorations were easy: yellow and blue balloons, and yellow and blue bunting made in the quick and cheap way I did for Missy’s party:

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We chose to hold the party in our church hall, because even three boisterous boys jumping around our lounge is one too many, and the Autumn birthday timing doesn’t guarantee being able to use the garden. So I set up a few activities which the kids could get involved with as everyone was arriving. Face painting and tattoos:

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a Minion photo-booth:

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Minion skittles:

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a make-a-Minion craft table:

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and a penalty shoot-out, because you can always have one of those when you’re 6, Minion-themed or not:

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I have to say that one sterling decision for this year’s party was finding a team of kind friends who wanted nothing more for their Saturday morning than to rock up to a church hall and entertain 20 or so small children. I’m indebted to my friends Izzy (go read her blog here!), Sam, Mike, Bethan, Leanne and Naomi, who did an incredible job of cooking the food, running games, painting faces, and generally encouraging the kids in the right direction.

We played “What’s the time, Mr Gru?”, which everyone was incredibly good at – good thing I’d bought shed-loads of pound-shop prizes because pretty much everyone came in 1st place. Note to self: make this game harder next year. (Hopping?)

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Here’s my grumpy husband as Gru. He makes a good Gru, don’t you think?

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We did a bean-bag toss:

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and pin-the-eye-on-the-Minion:

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We also did a scavenger hunt, putting the kids into teams where they had to find a list of 8 easy-to-read items from around the church hall and outside area:

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The kids played Traybash outside – a fantastic game where you try and knock over your opponent’s tray using a newspaper club, whilst they’re meanwhile trying to knock yours. Here’s the hubbie and a friend demonstrating how violent it can get:

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And here’s Mister having a go:

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Lunch was chips, hot dogs, burgers and corn-on-the-cob (Mister’s favourite) with a chocolate fountain for pudding. They ate fruit and they didn’t even know it. Ha.

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Of course there was a Minion cake – fortunately no biscuit towers for me this time round:

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I struggle with party bags and always have done. I don’t want to spend a fortune, but neither do I want to fill them with plastic rubbish – much as the kids like it. So this time I stuck to sweets, which will rot their teeth but maybe won’t do as much harm to the environment, which will be around a heck of a lot longer (we hope).

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Then everyone got to pick a lucky dip prize as they left – as well as the obligatory slab of cake, any prizes won from the games, and Minion craft.

And now I never want to see another Minion again.

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frozen themed 4th birthday party

I am no Pinterest-able Super Mum, but I do like a good party – and, ever since I started to blog about my kids’ birthday parties, distant friends and families have started to ask what I did for the latest party. So here goes…

Traditionally, my kids have been spot-on at picking interesting, slightly quirky party themes. Not so this year. Frozen and Minions. (There you go, a sneak preview into the next blog post.) Well, at least it wasn’t hard to get party supplies – and the pound shops are all over anything current, so that helped.

To start with, I involved Missy in making the invitations – she absolutely loves any creative activity, so she and her brother helped to decorate large sheets of paper with blue and silver paint and glitter, and then I cut snowflake shapes from them. She helped assemble the finished cards which I think, although rustic, are rather nice!

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For decoration, we stuck to the Frozen colours of silver, ice blue and violet, and put up balloons in these colours, as well as simple cardboard bunting. This was so cheap and quick to make, and the beauty is that I can re-use in future years, switching colours to fit different themes.

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And let’s not forget the nostalgia bunting, still going strong. The only creative thing I ever did with Missy’s old baby vests and sleep suits.
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I always plan a couple of free-choice activities for the first half hour or so, to keep the kids entertained and happy whilst waiting for everyone to arrive. I’ve found that parties in the home don’t require so many extra activities, because of the toys which naturally provide a distraction – but parties at outside venues require a bit more thought. This party was at home, so we set up a snowflake-biscuit decorating activity in the kitchen, and a crown-making activity in the dining room, leaving the lounge free for those who just wanted to play. I got the snowflake cutters from Lakeland – not cheap at nearly £10, but oh-so-useful for all future Christmases! I ordered silver, blue and white sprinkles online, as well as the gold crowns and sparkly gem stickers.

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Then it was time for games. Pin-the-nose-on-Olaf was a no-brainer, but I’ve found in the past that kids can get bored queuing up for their turn, so we ran a Snowball Toss simultaneously, to shorten the queues. It kind of worked, in as much as small children can wait more than 3 seconds for anything.

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We then played Musical Frozen Statues (obviously) and Pass the Parcel. Argh. I swore never to do PTP again after this party. It takes ages to prepare in the first place, goes on too long when the kids are actually playing it, everyone gets bored after they’ve unwrapped their layer, everyone knows that everyone’s getting a turn, and it’s just so gah. (Am I mis-remembering my childhood when I swear that our PTPs had no more than five layers, absolute zilch between the layers apart from possibly some totally embarrassing forfeits that you never wanted to get in a million years, and if the music didn’t stop when you were holding the parcel then tough luck?)

We then did a Frozen treasure hunt – finding these ready-made clues via Pinterest was an incredible stroke of luck. I left out the harder clues, just used a smaller number of easier ones, and they led us into different rooms around our downstairs, ending up in a pile of Frozen lunchboxes in the kitchen (lunchboxes sourced from eBay).

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This was my, quote, “great idea” – to save preparation time, solve the problem of not being able to all fit round the table, and generally make food distribution easier and quicker. Not sure it was entirely successful – mainly because the fine tastes of under 5s are just about as numerous as the number of under 5s themselves, and doing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ box only really suits children like my son and his friend, who are yet to know a discerning palate (praise God), and whose one criteria for what they put in their mouths is whether it’s edible. Everyone else just ate the Hula Hoops and Party Rings.

Then the cake. Ah, the cake. Missy doesn’t eat cake, just the icing. So this year I attempted a gingerbread tower of Frozen-ness. It kind of worked.

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For about 24hrs. Then it caved in on itself, and had to be propped up with a plastic food storage box.

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Fortunately, my kids are not yet bothered about stuff like whether a biscuit tower holds together, and I’ve given my happy husband another dinner-party anecdote at my expense, so it ended well for 3/4 of us.

I’m glad I had a couple of extra games up my sleeve, as the party under-ran, and we had a spare 10 minutes to fill after lunch. We did sleeping lions (little tip: this is a great game to pull out when you’re starting to tire of the fifteen under 5s in your home – and it requires absolutely no preparations or props – genius) and something else which must have been exhilarating because I now have absolutely no recollection of what it was.

And that, my friends, is how we party.

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why i threw away your artwork (letter to my kids)

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To my adult children,

As you read this to yourselves, I want you to do so in the context of our relationship. You must know that I love you dearly. You are, and always have been, our greatest achievement, source of immense pride and joy, and our lives are immeasurably richer for having had you in them.

That said, as children, your artwork was regularly binned – by the bag load. This is not because I didn’t love you or because I wanted to discourage your artistic attempts – in fact, I feel partly responsible for the creative people you were (and possibly still are – I don’t know, because I’m writing this in the past – your past – and you haven’t grown up yet, so who knows). I provided you with materials, and a space, and tried to nurture a love of Trying Things Out. But I threw away so much of what you produced, daily and without shame.

Let me try to explain the factors which led to this course of action:

1) The quantity. I’m sorry, but you seemed to bring back an average of four pictures a day from school. Apparently the teachers also taught you some reading and writing, because you’re now literate (again, not entirely sure as you haven’t grown up yet), but how they fitted this in, I don’t know. Because you drew so much. How big did you think our house was? I mean, I know you were small so it probably felt bigger to you, but seriously – how much wall space?

2) The poor choice of colours. Yellow on white does not work. It won’t be seen from a distance. And that is important, for some reason. Also – you didn’t understand that eyesight deteriorates, not improves, with age. So, no, I didn’t keep anything I couldn’t detect without a UV lamp.

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3) The repetitive nature of your output. Obviously, what with you being all (fictitiously) grown up and everything, I’m over this – but there was a time when I wanted to inflict some serious damage on whoever it is who markets all those identikit superheroes. You never seemed to get bored of drawing them, over and over again, identified in your pictures with capes and sometimes-decipherable labels. But I was so bored I was screaming inwardly. “TRY MIXING IT UP!” I was yelling in my head. “TRY PAINTS OR PASTELS OR COLLAGE OR SOME KIND OF FUN TECHNIQUE THAT MAKES ME LOOK LIKE THE YUMMIEST MUMMY FOR HAVING SUCH NATURALLY CREATIVE KIDS. BUT, DEAR GOD, NOT ANOTHER FELT-TIP SUPERHERO.” Man, am I glad I don’t feel that way now.

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4) The poor choice of medium. Chalk will rub off. Things that were not meant to be stuck to paper will fall off. And I wasn’t prepared to adorn our home with A4 sheets decorated with PVA splodges where the yogurt pot and pine cone had been. Just wasn’t.

I hope you’ll forgive me, and understand why I chose to act in the way I did. I don’t think you’ve suffered any major trauma as a result, and I’d like to think you’re all well-adjusted adults – perhaps that you benefited simply from the act of being creative, even if it wasn’t always displayed. But if you’re reading this with your therapist – what can I say?

Sorry. And I love you.

Mum xx

PS Some tips for when you have your own kids:

a) have a space where their artwork can be displayed. A big space, but defined – so that it can’t overflow. Despite what I said above, you had your own defined display spaces in the dining room, kitchen and bedroom. (They just weren’t enough for the HUGE amount of things you drew.)

b) keep a folder in the hall for all pictures produced in the week. At the weekend, decide with your kids which ones are keepers and which ones are not.

c) work on a one-in, one-out basis – kids want to display a picture? They have to take another one down.

d) cut round anything small-ish and stick it onto a card for the next birthday party they get invited to

e) palm off some pictures next time you see grandparents, aunts/uncles, godparents, cousins, neighbours, random strangers…they see your kids’ pictures as a novelty, something sweet and innocent, rather than a noose around your neck.

f) don’t use the words ‘bin’ or ‘throw away’. Instead talk of ‘recycling’, and make it an Adventure – “hey, I know, why don’t we put this one in the RECYCLING?!” you could say, excitedly. You never know, they might just buy it.

fairy party!

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When both Missy and her best friend independently asked us mums for a fairy party to celebrate their 3rd birthdays, a joint bash seemed obvious. Born just eight days apart, I wasn’t sure how two fairy parties on consecutive weekends would go down…and, perhaps slightly too enthusiastically, urged my good friend Jen to consider a joint party. Initially, she was all “But you’re MENTAL when it comes to planning parties…you’ll drive me CRAZY…we won’t sleep for a week…it’ll all end in tears, if we’re lucky – if we’re not, it’ll end in a huge fisticuffs, probably in the middle of Pass the Parcel, wrestling on the floor, squirting glitter icing at each other and tearing each other’s fairy wings to shreds…”

OK, so she didn’t quite say it like that – Jen is a diplomat. In a very tactful and polite way, she basically said the above. I reassured her that I was turning over a new leaf when it came to parties – and that she was to be my Party Insanity indicator. She agreed.

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Party planning was mainly very fun (if you take out the bit where the girls were all like “But we just want a bouncy castle…” when we were in the throws of making pretty fairy skirts and incredible crocheted Peter Pan hats). Making the cake together could have resulted in the end of our friendship – but, fortunately, we got through that stressful Friday afternoon, the cake was still standing by morning, and even ended up looking enticing. Anyway, onto the party:

We had a mixture of girls and boys coming, between 2 and 6, so we didn’t want it to be too…well, pink. The aim was more garden fairy, going for the fantasy/mythological angle over the rather illogical (when you think about it) fairy/princess hybrid which seems to saturate the toy and clothing market for young girls. Besides, a mutual friend had organised a wonderful princess party for her daughter just a couple of months previously – so we weren’t about to try and compete.

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On arriving, each girl was offered a fairy skirt (alright, so these did include the colour pink – nothing wrong with a smattering of girliness). We made these following this amazing YouTube tutorial.

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Wondering what we could offer the boys (although they probably would have been happy in fairy skirts too), the amazingly talented Jen whipped up these beautiful crocheted Peter Pan-style hats. No, I wasn’t kidding when I dropped that into the third paragraph. They really did happen. And they were brilliant.

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Up till now, my kids’ parties have always been held at home, where there are toys to keep everyone happy between the games and such like. So, as this party was held in our church hall, with no such luxury, we needed a variety of open-ended activities to entertain the troops while there was nothing structured going on. We found these wings from Baker Ross, and set up a table for wing decorating, using bingo dabbers, glitter foam and sparkly gem stickers.

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Then there was a wand-making table:

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A fairy cake decorating table, with plenty of sparkles and sprinkles:

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And a fairy-themed play dough table. Two glittery play doughs, one lavender-scented and one basil-scented. Sparkly beads, cup cake cases, conkers and a selection of rolling pins and plastic knives gave the kids a variety of options:

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Here’s Missy, unable to resist having a smell of the basil play dough (or is she wiping her nose with it?!):

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Putting the finishing touches to her creation:

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We were fortunate to have a safe outdoor space with a few toys – and fine weather – as an extra form of entertainment.

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Three-year-olds (in our experience) don’t have too much stamina when it comes to party games, so we kept these short and simple: Pass the Parcel (of course!):

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Musical lilypads (musical bumps, but on…er, lilypads):

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And a fairy wand hunt:

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It was fun making these little wands from small colourful craft sticks and star stickers, and finding all 50 of them kept all the children going for ages:

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We kept the food straightforward and simple. Previous parties’ experience has shown that a) kids never eat as much as you’re expecting them to at a party, and b) sandwiches just aren’t a popular option. (Why go for something you eat for lunch every other day of the year?) So we went easy on the sandwiches – but cut them out as flowers and hearts just because.

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For dessert, there was fairy jelly – i.e. normal jelly, with sweets at the bottom, served in disposable Martini glasses (don’t they look fab?) and sprinkled liberally with edible glitter, stars and pearls. My friend Laura had a chuckle at the many ensuing sentences you’d never expect to hear at a 3-year-old’s birthday party: “It’s impossible to get these sweets out of the stems of the Martini glasses”, “Oops, the base has come off your Martini glass”, and so on.

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For no particular reason, I wish to point out here that the marvellous Tinkerbell plates came from Poundland. I love that place. Here’s Tinkerbell, with a bouffon a-la-sausage-roll:

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And the cups were also Poundland – customised with cheapo flowers from Tesco. (Scroll to the top for the pic.)

And then the cake. Hooray, it stayed upright! Jen pointed out that we didn’t want two entirely separate cakes, as that might force our guests to choose which one of us they liked most. And, seeing as we couldn’t think of an idea for a second fairy cake anyway, we just made a massive cake board and baked two toadstool cakes. I’d give you a tutorial, but it really was quite a shambles. Anyway, they survived, were iced (just), and actually ended up pretty decent, don’t you think?

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Who wants a perfect cake anyway?

[Incidentally, I rather fancy the idea of Slummy Mummy YouTube tutorials…perhaps I could film myself making a mess of Missy’s hair, demonstrating a rubbish art activity, or ballsing up a fairy toadstool cake.]

You may have guessed that I didn’t stick to a £30 budget like I did last year. (Read about Missy’s £30 dollies’ tea party, and Mister’s £30 robot party if you’re interested.) It’s a good reminder that spending more doesn’t necessarily mean less work. However, you probably realise that I go mental over kids’ parties, so I actually (dare I say it?) enjoy the preparation. And sharing our girls’ birthday party meant that Jen and I could go that little bit more extravagant, and still keep it to a reasonable cost.

Disclaimer: this party was brought to you by the letters I (for Insomnia) and M (for Madness), and (of course) the number 3. My bedroom is thick with dust, the drive is overgrown with weeds, and various friends’ texts and messages were ignored during the making of this party. So we shall hear no comments along the Supermum lines, please – unless they’re directed at Jen, of course, who did this all whilst Very Pregnant and also Trying-To-Sort-Out-A-New-Phone (possibly the most time-consuming challenge known to man). Credit where credit’s due.

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frivolity and depth

Hello.

It’s been a while, friends, and for that I apologise. Before you accuse me of idleness (because you know you’re about to do just that), let me fill you in on how time has been spent.

We are doing awesome things with our garden. I’m allowed to boast, because for the last five years our garden has borne an uncanny resemblance to a piece of community wasteland. I swear it’s only the assortment of random, second-hand kids’ play equipment, strewn across what passes for a lawn, that has kept the re-developers away. If you don’t believe me, then this:

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So now, in that space, we have a playhouse and play garden which is all kinds of cool:

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(I’m not entirely sure that this wasn’t built purely for selfish reasons – but then again, much of parenting is just about reliving childhood, so why feel guilt? And, in case you were asking [which you probably weren’t], the playhouse was preloved, the stones for the path were from a stash we already had in our garage, the tree stumps were free, and the table was upcycled from a piece of scrap MDF and a broken kiddies’ bass drum. Enough said. Oh, and I bought the fence new. Sorry.)

Then our friend got trigger-happy with a chainsaw, and now our overbearing rosehip is no more:

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I realise the second picture looks even worse than the first – not your archetypal before/after pics – I can confirm that the bits of tree have now been carted away, but it’s currently pushing midnight and if I take a pic then all you’ll get is black, and you don’t want that now do you?

We’ve discovered the wonder that is Boj. Pure joy, from the catchy Jason Donovan theme tune (just what is the third line?) right through to the bizarre food combinations and eco undertones. As part of Mister’s ongoing musical education, I will soon be showing him on repeat as many Jason videos as YouTube can throw at us.

I visited a church-run community cafe in a local suburb, and thought about how we might make that idea work in our community.

Missy potty-trained:

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She will now no longer be able to take photos of me changing her nappy:

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Although New Year was approximately five minutes ago, it is now June – which can only mean one thing: elderflower! The sweet scent lines our every path at the moment – and we’re looking forward to making cordial pretty soon. If you’ve never made it, you must! Right now! Here’s the recipe which works for us. It’s so delicious, you’ll never return to the bought stuff ever again. This year might even be the year where we branch out and make sorbet too. Go crazy.

We helped out at our local community garden for the first time, one warm, sunny Saturday morning. The kids picked litter, watered plants, played in mud, and amused themselves jumping off a large soil pile for ages. We learnt about the amazing potential of free fruit and veg for the community.

I’ve started to volunteer for The Besom. Entering people’s homes, enjoying their accidental hospitality, has made me ask questions about need, and the cycle of poverty, and shifting cultures, and benefits, and how so many families can’t support their own kids through an education which might raise their aspirations because they’re worrying about how to give them dinner that night. And there can be no greater worry for a parent than whether you’re going to be able to feed your kids.

I thought about blogging, and whether to stop. I concluded that I would keep going, but work more on my writing style. I never started this blog because I believed I was a writer, but now I’ve become one – and, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. I feel responsible for making my blog fun and interesting to read, and sometimes, let’s face it, it’s been dross. Sorry. Will amend. Let me know if you notice any difference.

I made salad soup. Honestly. I had salad that was going to turn bad before being eaten, and I hate to throw food away. Turns out it’s one of the nicest soups in the world and I can’t believe I didn’t Google this earlier.

Craft production has gone a bit insane. I made oven gloves for my mum:

2014-04-20 21.53.33followed by a heck of a lot of (blank) greetings cards for her birthday (one per year of her life, i.e. a lot), my first ever three-tiered cake for a friend’s 21st:

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cushion covers for our lounge:

2014-06-05 22.33.02 and a present-that-shall-not-be-named-for-she-has-yet-to-receive-it for my friend. I still haven’t finished the quilt, updated Missy’s scrapbook or baked a cake for our housemate’s birthday on Saturday. I am trying to learn that it’s OK to buy things rather than spend insane hours of the night sewing, sticking or icing. Pray for me.

Al and I got chatting to CAP about how we might partner with them in our community. I realised the urgency of saving lives, marriages, families and kids’ futures being wrecked by debt – and we both felt a strong urge to set up a Debt Centre as.soon.as.

This call to the poor, if that’s what it is, has been simmering away for two or three years, bubbling up gradually until setting point, 2014, the year when Besom, CAP, community gardens and cafes all enter the mix. God knows the outcome. Dare I pray for revival amongst the poor in my lifetime?

The frivolous and the deep. That’s how life goes. But who’s to tell which is which?

***

What frivolous and/or deep things have you been up to recently?

easter in the desert household

I’ve just been checking last year’s Easter blog, to make sure I don’t repeat myself or, worse, contradict . (But then again, that’s human nature, isn’t it? Embrace the contradictions!) The kiddoes and I have been having fun preparing for, and chatting about, Easter – so I thought I’d share some more ideas.

Firstly, Lent is a long time – especially for small children. So we’ve gone gently. We started with our Lent prayer tree, and this was pretty much all we did for the first few weeks. It’s been going well – the kids love pulling out a new photo each morning, and thinking about how we can pray for that particular friend. And our tree has come into bloom!

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I didn’t get our Easter play figures out until last week, figuring three weeks was more than enough time to be playing out the Easter story. Every day, the figures are in different formations and groupings, and I have no idea what is going on. For example, what is Jesus whispering to the Roman soldier here?

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And I love it that Jesus’ female friends are stopping to admire the photo of baby Missy – but am slightly confused as to why.

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But, then again, we’re talking about the household where you can be walking along the landing and spy a doll doing a handstand:

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Isn’t this the great thing about play, as opposed to just reading the facts? You can stop and wonder, and imagine what’s being said, or thought, or felt. You can ask ‘what if…?’ and you don’t have to get things right. It’s tempting to move our Easter figures back to their ‘right’ positions each night, but actually I’m letting the kids (primarily Mister) control this one.

That said, of course it is absolutely great to find brilliant Christian books for kids, and over the years we’ve built up a little collection of Easter things which I’d love to tell you about – apologies that the recommendations are probably no good to you this year – I was intending to publish this blog post last week 😦 Sticker books are really popular with my kids, and are a great way of interacting with the story, as you can hunt for the right sticker while you tell the story – a great way of engaging little ones who can’t always sit still for a whole story! We like this one and this one and this one.

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This book is great, and a total bargain. (In fact, have you noticed how everything I’m recommending is a bargain? Yet what a priceless gift for our children, to teach them what happened at Easter! Much better than plastic tat and chocolate bunnies!) A few years ago, we bulk-bought this book and gave one to every family who came to a preschool Easter outreach event. We chose it for its careful wording and bright pictures – and I still use our copy with my kids now. This book was the one which moved Mister so much last Easter, the one which had a profound effect on him. Of course I’m recommending it here!

And guess what? The kids’ wonderful Aunty Carol sent them a surprise Easter gift last week. Two brilliant books – but Dave the donkey is the Easter story taken from the donkey’s perspective, and is already a hit with all of us! A really clever, and moving, way to tell the story.

For the first time, we’ve been watching The Miracle Maker. I’m late to the party on this, so I expect you’ve all already got it – but I just wanted to mention it in case you haven’t, because it is totally as amazing as everyone says it is. And, again, great to have a different sort of resource to use with our kids! (As a rough age guide, 4-year-old Mister loves it – 2-year-old Missy isn’t bothered. Not sure whether Mister would have been ready for it last year, but I think some kids would. So 3/4 upwards-ish?)

In addition to our prayer tree, Easter books and play figures, we have (of course!) been singing “Easter bells” – and Mister’s now trying to come up with his own verses! We’ve also just got out the resurrection eggs, with two weeks to go, using these to tell the story in a more interactive and memorable way. (Doubtless there are many different versions available – mine is a little different from the link I’ve given.) As we look at the different objects, and turn them over in our hands, it’s much more likely that we’ll remember the different aspects of the Easter story than if we just hear what happened. And, for the record, I don’t shy away from the gory aspects of the story (within reason). Mister, at 4, is very much into blood and guts – and because he doesn’t really understand the nature of violence and abuse yet, it actually works OK to tell him that the soldiers put nails through Jesus’ hands, or that Peter cut off the High Priest’s ear. Clearly you need to gauge this, depending on how sensitive your child is, and I would spare the really shocking details such as the whipping or the suffocating – but I don’t think we need shy away from the fact that Jesus suffered.

Last week we had friends round (from our Mums’ cell group), and did some fun Eastery things altogether. We made these yummy snacks:

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What a great idea! Obviously not mine…but you can find it here 🙂

We also made Easter gardens. I have great memories of making these as an older child, but with good preparation, and a bit of support, it seems that toddlers can do a pretty good job after all!

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This week, as our prayer tree ended on Sunday, the kids have an Easter basket to open each morning. In it, are some materials for making something that day which will help us remember the Easter story. On Monday, we made Easter cards – yesterday we made chocolate Easter egg nests (OK, so this is pushing the theme a little, but you try finding 6 Christian Easter crafts for preschoolers). Today we will be making empty bread tombs with Easter dips, and tomorrow hot cross buns (both from Bake through the Bible).

How do you and your family celebrate Easter?

robot party on a budget

A few weeks ago, I challenged myself to spend no more than £30 on my daughter’s 2nd birthday party. (You can read how I did it here.) We recently held a robot-themed party for Mister’s 4th birthday and, again, I wanted to see if I could do it for less than £30.

(A small aside: what a cool theme for a party! I take no credit – it was all Mister’s idea, and I’m so glad he chose it! It gave me plenty to work with.)

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The main factor working against my low budget was the number of people attending. Missy had 11 people to her party – Mister had 20. This wasn’t entirely deliberate: I invited 14, expecting there’d be the usual couple of declines (there weren’t), and forgetting about siblings. Last year, Mister’s friends’ siblings were mainly babies – this year they’re fully-grown toddlers, keen to be involved in every aspect of the party. In other words, they now ‘count’.

So we arrive at 20. And I am pretty sure I can’t run a party for £1.50 a head. I’m going to have to pull out all the stops if I want it to be under £50, let alone £30. Let’s take the party step by step:

Decoration (£2)

Mister now has birthday nostalgia bunting, just like Missy’s, made from his old clothes – so this provides free decoration year after year.

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I found a stash of balloons in a cupboard, including (bizarrely) some ‘4th birthday’ ones. I took some robot pictures Mister and I had made, and made them into door signs.

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The food had silly names with a robot/electronic theme, like “Chicken plug-its” and “Hard drive egg sandwiches”, and the labels were handmade.

I made junk robots to plonk on tables:

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as well as a larger one to welcome guests at the door:

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These cost me nothing. I could have decorated them more elaborately, I guess, but I liked them rustic!

The tablecloth was reused from Missy’s party, and the plates were a mishmash of ones we owned, as well as some paper plates I bought (£2). No one seemed to mind the random selection! Napkins and cups were those we already owned. As I mentioned in the post about Missy’s party, themed tableware can really rack up the cost of a party – but does it make any difference to the kids’ enjoyment? Probably not.

Activities (£12.19)

We kept Missy’s party pretty simple, but 4 year olds (or, more specifically, twenty 1-6 year olds) probably need a little more stimulus in order to avoid a Lord of the Flies type outcome by the end. Likewise, they need the option not to take part, as this age group tends to have strong opinions about what they do and do not want to do, and of course the point of a party is to ENJOY yourself, not feel pressurized! The first option was to make a robot waffle, something which actually everyone opted to do. A success! The waffles cost £1.99 and the sweets were free, left over from decorating Mister’s robot cake. This is allowed, right? The cake is out of budget, after all. The frosting was left over from Missy’s cake pops a few weeks ago. (Keeps for 30 days. Offspring’s birthdays 19 days apart. Will remember this for future years.)

The second activity, which some kids loved and some didn’t touch, was to make a robot mask. This was time-consuming, as I had to design the masks and cut the foam. But cost-wise, I only had to buy elastic (£2) as I used coloured foam sheets which we already had in our craft cupboard. The results were pretty good!

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At this point, I got out some robot tattoos, and most kids were keen (nay, desperate) to have one on their arm. Even one Dad joined in the fun. I got 24 for £3.95 on eBay, and although this was over 10% of my intended budget, I think it was money well spent for the novelty!

We then trooped outside to decorate some larger robot costumes I’d made earlier in the week.

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These were entirely free – boxes from a Freecycler, features made from recycled bits and bobs, paint from Mister and Missy’s supply. Lots of the kids enjoyed being able to paint the robots – and those who weren’t keen seemed happy to play in the garden. Once the robots looked nice and colourful, the kids got to try them on!

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I took lots of photos, including something resembling a group photo (for Pete’s sake – it’s hard enough getting one small child to stand still for a photo, never mind 20). When we eventually headed inside for games, I left the mob to Al while I printed out the photos and put one in each party bag – a free party bag filler!

The games were Pass the Parcel (two parcels, each with a prize from the Pound shop, plus sweets in the other layers which cost £1.25) and Musical robots (again, prize from the pound shop, and leftover sweets for everyone else). This was the bit where perhaps we needn’t have had any structured activities – by this stage, the kids were having fun just messing around, and although they took part in the games, they weren’t really necessary. But in my world, a party isn’t a party without Pass the Parcel – the question is: if we’d missed it out, would the kids have noticed?!

Food (£15.99)

With 20 mouths to feed, I knew I was going to have to be really canny with the food to keep it under budget. I stuck to several principles, learned from experience:

1) we already have a lot of food in our house. (I worked cheese, egg/mayonnaise, crisps and chicken nuggets into the menu, all things we already had.)

2) kids (or anyone, for that matter) never eat as much as you think they’re going to, especially at a party. (I kept the quantities moderate, knowing I could always make more sandwiches if we needed. We didn’t.)

3) I shopped without the kids, so was able to take my time and pick up reduced-price foods about to go out of date (obviously OK until the party date).

Then – because I am probably insane – I cut melon in the shape of robots:

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This was the cake: a shoddy mess when up close, but from a distance looked pretty good.

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And, anyway, surely we only ever make our kids’ birthday cakes for that jaw-dropping “Ah!” when they first see what you’ve created for them. Anything else – including the cake holding together till the end of the party – is surely a bonus. I’m pleased to say mine did – just. (And in case you’ve forgotten: the cake is out of budget so THERE.)

Party bags (£3.35)

These had to be majorly economical. To me, spending £1 on each bag would have been challenge enough – but that would have cost me two-thirds of my overall budget! So I had to be clever. Firstly, I didn’t do party bags for siblings. I don’t think they minded – they got cake, plus any waffle and/or mask they’d made. So I ended up with 14 bags to put together.

I’d wanted to make lollies and sherbet for a while, since spotting the recipe in a new cookbook, and remembering how great they were when I was a kid. Would they be a cheap-but-nice item for the bags? Cheap, because I made them from blackberries (from our garden) and sugar (which we already had). The sherbet was sugar, citric acid (left over from elderflower cordial) then I only had to buy lemon flavouring and yellow food colouring (£2.57 total).

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Of course, they might taste disgusting – I didn’t have any left over to try (or to make Mister try), so if you’re reading this and your child has heaved after eating one, then oops and sorry. I had to spend 78p on two extra lollies, as I didn’t do my sums right. Grrr. (It’s been many years since A-Level Maths and, to be fair, the syllabus didn’t include calculating party bag quantities, it was more useful stuff like surds.)

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Next, I put in the robot masks (or kit to make one) and waffles, utilising the well-worn trick of getting kids to make their own party bag contents, as well as the photo/s from earlier in the party. Finally, I found a few bits and bobs stashed away (bubbles, curly straws, stickers, hats) so each child got one of those, not forgetting a slab of birthday cake.

And the bags themselves? Upcycled from old Disney and cbeebies magazines.

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I could have bought all the party bags for £2, but this is a considerable chunk of a £30 budget for something which can be made for free.

Total cost: £33.53

And before you complain that I went over budget…

…since I was a teensy bit under for Missy’s party (by £3.77), I allowed myself to add this to the budget for Mister’s (he did have more guests, after all), meaning that still, overall, I’ve spent under £60 for the two parties.

Grand total cost of both parties: £59.76

Epic win.

Disclaimer: if you’ve got to the end of this post feeling slightly drained and exhausted and like you’ve been reading the diary of a Supermum, let me assure you I am SO FAR from this accolade, it’s untrue. I don’t even clean windowsills. This party took months of dreaming about, weeks of making, and one week of very late nights in order to put together. It is the reason this blog hasn’t been updated for ages. There are bags under my eyes and overflowing laundry baskets in every room. It takes a certain amount of insanity to put this much effort into what is essentially just TWO HOURS, and I am very much teetering on the edge of Doodah Land. It is not pretty, not healthy and definitely not something to envy, so to any jealousy lurking, I say: begone with you!

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