what i’m into (the birthday edit) – september 2017

With my four hooligans all deciding to have a birthday in September – three of them thoughtfully choosing to do this on consecutive days – I confess that this month’s edition of ‘what i’m into’ has been hijacked by cake, balloons and working out which party game suits which age group. Please don’t be surprised if I haven’t got up to much else this month!

Books

I’m still on Captain Corelli – enjoying it very much – but probably won’t finish till October!

Food

At the start of the month, with a busy few weeks looming, I didn’t have the energy to be creative with meals, so I did what any sensible person would have done, and bought enough chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and ready-made pies to last us through September.

Actually – nope. This is what I should have done. But cooking relaxes me, gives me a chance to breathe and to think, so I didn’t want to give it up altogether. I did the foodie version of stocking the freezer with frozen meals, which was to scour the Good Food website for easy family midweek meals, enjoying the fruits of the GF team’s labours rather than having to be creative myself. Some of the recipes were real winners, like this Three Veg Macaroni Cheese. Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese, eh? This one packs in some hidden veg that kids won’t notice (or at least ours didn’t).

And actually, I took a leaf out of my busy cousin’s book. She’s a few years down the line with her brood, so I rate her wisdom, and she’s married to a church leader, like me, so she understands the crazy pace of vicarage life. They unashamedly eat from the freezer once a week – so we’ve adopted this habit too, and it is so freeing, particularly on evenings where our extra-curricular schedule looks like it needs outsourcing to a logistics team.

And of course I can’t leave this section without mentioning the cakes, of which there were quite a few this month. A cartwheel one for my gymnastics-mad daughter:

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Two Stick Men cakes for my boys who adore the story (particularly the BBC’s magical dramatisation):

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And a football pinata cake for my footballing son:

IMG_3323[1]Friends, we have reached the stage of football parties, and I’m not quite sure when it will end. I can see us quite happily celebrating Mister’s birthdays in this fashion for a good few years yet.

Music

Image result for jojo siwaOh gosh, it was all stuff like Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa, ‘DJed’ via YouTube by my eldest for his younger siblings’ parties. But I did get Coldplay’s Parachutes out for the first time in years, and spent a happy evening remembering how good they used to be, and what a perfect album this is – as well as not a small amount of time realising how old it is, and therefore how old that makes me.

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Stage and screen

Twin Peaks finished and actually reached some kind of conclusion! Not perhaps exactly as I’d have liked, but as good as you’re going to get from David Lynch – and that made it perfect, really. We then watched a fair amount of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So, so funny – perhaps not for the faint-hearted – but clever and original.

I also got to enjoy all of Missy’s birthday DVDs – Sing (for the second time), Trolls (very surprised by how much I liked this one!) and Moana (in bits). I say I got to enjoy these films – I enjoyed them in the way one enjoys films with small kids, where you see excerpts in between toilet trips, making dinner, answering the phone, fetching snacks, applying plasters, and the like. Eventually, after about 35 viewings, you’ve filled in all the gaps and seen the whole film, piecing the order together in your head to make some kind of logical plot progression. It’s one of those parent hacks no one ever tells you you’ll need – but you master it, and feel quite damn proud of yourself when you do.

Articles

This was an interesting one on a couple learning to date again after having kids. And I appreciated this guy’s perspective on why him doing housework is not to ‘help his wife out’.

Stand-out for me this month, though, was Why Tired Mothers stay up so Late – one I can very easily resonate with!

In other news…

Did I mention we had four birthdays and three parties?? Did I????

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  • 8 year old Mister had his football party, and his guests ranged from those who eat/breathe/sleep football like he does, to those who don’t play at all. To make it accessible to everyone, we had some football-themed crafts and a few standard party games as well, and kept the football-playing sections quick-moving, with skills as well as matches. Big thanks to our wonderful friends Sam and Tom for running the football side of things!IMG_3343[1]
  • 6 year old Missy wanted to make lip balm. I took this simple recipe and got the kids working in pairs to mix and melt the ingredients, adding essential oils and cosmetic colourings near the end to see it magically transform into lip balm that was beautiful to smell and look at!
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    Stick Man play dough!
  • Monkey and Meerkat, who turned 3, had a Stick Man party. Fairly low key, given their age, but it was fun to find ‘stick food’, attempt a couple of simple party games, and play around with stick man themed play dough.
  • I also began a little job, one morning a week, as a teaching partner to our fab Suzuki Early Years teacher. I assist with her two Tuesday morning classes, where the kids range in age from 2 months to nearly 3 years. I can’t tell you what an absolute joy it is to witness such young kids responding to music with such sensitivity and awareness – and I really will blog about it soon, I promise!

As always, I’m linking up (just! within hours of the deadline!) with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series. Why not check them out? And let me know what you’ve been up to this September!

the un-birthday: celebrating the birthday of the child you haven’t met

I wrote the following nearly two years ago, on the occasion of our twins’ first birthday.

Image result for 1st birthday candleToday, our twins turn one. I haven’t yet met them, but I love them already. We need to celebrate – and yet how does one celebrate the birthday of someone they’ve never met? Someone who is already so firmly locked inside one’s heart, but so achingly distant? Perhaps our celebrations looked a little odd from the outside. But I think that those who, each year, mark the birthday of a child they never met, a child born asleep or taken too soon – maybe they can understand our need to celebrate.

We did some of the usual traditions. There were balloons, cake and candles, and homemade cards. Missy didn’t struggle to create a card for each of her new little brothers. But, lacking the no-nonsense self-confidence of a 4-year-old, I stared at my blank card last night and I was stuck. Making a homemade card for each of my children’s birthdays is a tradition so firmly imprinted into the DNA of our family that I couldn’t do anything else – yet how do you make a card for someone you’ve never met? I settled on a generic caterpillar design, suitable for a first birthday. Twins, please forgive me – I don’t yet know your characters, your traits, your gifts and your passions. Next year will be different.

We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – to each twin, individually, marking the start of an upbringing which will firmly recognise each of them as separate, unique entities. But it was our birth kids who blew out the candles, it was they who were in the photos. Next year will be different.

There were no presents. The twins are coming into a home already bulging with entertainment and activity and, besides, there will be moving-in presents and Christmas presents. Their birthday presents were the cots, drawers, shelves, clothes and nappies I’m rapidly sourcing from eBay and Gumtree. Next year will be different.

There was no measuring on the height chart. We have a permanent record of how tall each of our birth children were on their first birthday – but, for the twins, we will have to be content to measure them two months late. Next year will be different.

There was no party – not at our house anyway – because how can you party without the guests of honour being there? Instead, they celebrated at their foster home, and their brilliant foster mum deserved every minute of this joyful day with them. She has been the one to feed them, nurture them, love them through their first year. Next year will be different.

For me, there were no nostalgic reminisces, no casting my mind back to the first twinges, the contractions, the labour, the birth, the early minutes and hours. I have no idea what I was doing one year ago today. Next year this won’t be any different. Nor will it be next year, or the year after, or the year after that. I will never have this date indelibly etched into my memory because, at the time, I had no awareness of the significance of it, no idea that our family had just changed forever.

But I think of her. And I wonder how many hours she laboured, and how she felt, and what she was thinking, and if she had anyone by her side. And I like to remember my joy when each of my birth children screamed their way into this world, and imagine her feeling this about her birth children, giddy in love with them like I was with mine.

They are our twins. But they are hers as well. Today we celebrate the three of them.

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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free clothes, being on telly and school discos – all what i’ve been up to recently

OK, this blog doesn’t tend to feature ‘newsy’ posts. I prefer to write about issues, thoughts and ideas I’ve been having, rather than over-personalise it, or turn it into some boring online diary. But I’m aware that posts have been a little irregular of late, and the fact is that some quite unusual and exciting things have been happening in Real Life, so here’s a little summary for you if you fancy. If you don’t fancy, feel free to close the window right now (and thanks for the extra blog stats).

Free clothes!

I won a prize draw after submitting my review of Skipton’s retiresavvy web portal! The lovely Mumsnet and Skipton Financial Services picked my name out of a hat to win a £250 shopping voucher which, after much deliberating, I chose to spend at a clothes shop which shall remain nameless and which, in all honesty, was probably the wrong choice but, hey, for the next couple of months I will look extremely fashionable.

TV appearance!

There was a thing on Twitter about chocolate addicts being needed for some BBC documentary and – well, you would, wouldn’t you? Turns out my chocolate addiction is pretty epic, and I’m now going to feature fairly heavily in the programme. Look out for Trust me, I’m a doctor, BBC2, late July, if you want to pre-empt the next day’s tabloid headlines: “BENEFITS MUM USES YOUR TAXES TO FUND OBSESSIVE CHOCOLATE ADDICTION”. They paid me in chocolate, though, so all good.

School disco!

Not only Mister’s first ever school disco, but my first ever organising of one. Seemed to go OK. Most of the essential ingredients were there (sugar-heavy tuck shop, enthusiastic DJ, dance competitions) but it turns out that Time Warp is no longer welcome at your average school disco.

And it seems that today’s kids don’t go anywhere without getting their nails done, so we set up a nail bar and tattoo parlour. (Temporary tattoos of course – what do you take me for?) Actually ‘bar’ and ‘parlour’ are stretching it a bit. A few teachers and parents sitting behind a school desk trying to make chit-chat with the kids probably sums it up more accurately.

Blogs!

Two friends of mine independently started writing blogs within 24 hours of each other. And they are both bloody amazing, if you don’t mind me saying. If it was a blog-eat-blog kinda world, I’d be out of business straightaway but, as it happens, they’re very happy to share cyberspace with me. Please go and read them, I promise you won’t regret it. Kate has an incredible family of 7, through birth and adoption, and shares her adoption story with humour and honesty. Jo is an amazing single mum, widowed, sufferer of MS – and has a lot to teach me about strength, resilience, perseverance, and trusting God through the difficult times. Go say hello on their blogs!

Adoption!

Oh yeah – and we went into a room filled with a whole load of scary grown-ups who weren’t actually that scary and they asked us questions and we talked and talked and then they went and said we could adopt a child. 🙂

35th ‘breakfast-themed’ birthday party

Hubby turned 35 the other day. Seeing how this is halfway to 70 (of which he bizarrely keeps reminding me) and therefore very important, we decided to engage in a bit of celebrating. I let him choose the theme, and he chose a nice, streamlined theme of ‘breakfast’.

After being pounced on by our children at whatever o’clock in the morning, we headed down the stairs for an exciting treat awaiting us in the dining room. (Last night’s dishes, to clear away before festivities could begin.) We enjoyed a small amount of party food – I think Missy had rice crispies, and I went for toast. We sat on real dining chairs. There were some cards and presents, which hubby quickly got stuck into opening. Presents from the kids were going to be a day late because, you know, I hadn’t had that much warning about hubby’s birthday popping up on the exact same day as it does each year.

There were no games, because I felt that, to stay true to theme of ‘breakfast’, and seeing as we don’t usually play games at breakfast, there should be no games.

There was no music, because – again – we don’t usually have music at breakfast, so why break the theme?

We did a little open-ended craft activity. I gave each party-goer a drink, and let them get creative. Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a success – only Missy really engaged with this, and made a lovely milky pattern all over the tablecloth and floor.

We did, however, have decorations. A couple of limp balloons left over from Joel’s birthday, a nearly-dead orchid on the sideboard, and some mess on the floor.

I could have made a card, but ran out of time. Ditto cake.

There were no photos, as we wanted to savour the special moments being created by this wonderful family time together. Why live life through a lens, right?

***

Can you guess that, by October, I’m partied out?? Apologies Desert Dad, I’ll make it up to you at Christmas.

***

(With thanks to the wonderful Marilyn and Derek, who prompted this post.)

 

peter rabbit 5th birthday party

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Each year, my kids get to choose their party theme. So far, this has resulted in much more interesting and quirky ideas than I could have thought of. Usually I hit Google with the themes they’ve chosen, and a variety of supermum blogs come up trumps and give me the ideas I need.

But this year, Mr Internet was not my friend. Type in ‘Peter Rabbit party’, and you get baby showers, christening parties, and 1st birthdays. You even get Prince George’s 1st birthday celebration, which is a delight to read about, but not very helpful in this instance.

A baby’s birthday is all about the cuteness – the decor, the food and the cake. A boy’s 5th birthday party is all about activity: lots of running around and games and getting messy.

So, my challenge: create a Peter Rabbit-themed party perfect for a 5 year old boy and his friends. It’s such a wonderful theme, with lots of endearing characters as well as dark moments – surely it should lend itself well to a morning’s worth of fun activities?

(Advance apology: I’m very sorry for the poor quality of these photos. I’ve been having camera issues. I may enjoy organising parties, but I sure as heck can’t do anything else – like get a camera fixed – at the same time. Hopefully you’ll get enough of an idea.)

We kept the decorations simple: white, blue and gold/brown balloons, to represent Peter Rabbit’s colours, and some garden tools at the entrance. I dressed as Mrs Rabbit:

Al as Mr McGregor:

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and our fantastically thespy friend Sam as the Naughty Fox:

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Like Missy’s party, we held this one in our church hall, not our home – so there had to be some open-ended activities that the children could get stuck into when the games weren’t happening, in the absence of any of our toys. It was good to have a variety of options, as small children are quite often very determined about what they Will and Won’t do. So there was a craft table, where the kids could make rabbit ears or fox masks:

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(These masks came from the fantastic Baker Ross. Sadly they no longer do these, but there’s still a fantastic range of themed masks on their website here.)

We made a digging trough, full of carrots, radishes and onions to find:

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There was an area in which to build as tall a tower as possible out of flower pots:

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And, because it’s always more fun to make something you can eat than something you can’t, there was a biscuit decorating table:

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The biscuits were gingerbread rabbits, baked by me and Missy a couple of days previously. Because there is always a huge amount to do in the evenings, after the kids go to bed, I love it when I can not only tick off a job during the day, but turn it into a fun daytime activity to do with one or both kids 🙂

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I also set up a little ‘chill-out burrow’ with Peter Rabbit themed toys and books – this was mainly for the younger siblings of Mister’s friends, but it’s always good to have an option for kids who are just getting a little overwhelmed by ‘activity’.

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Of course you think through all these ideas in advance, but it’s impossible to tell what will actually work until the day itself. Given this, I was really pleased that all the activities seemed to go down well – particularly the biscuit decorating and vegetable digging. There was also plenty of putting fox masks on and running round the room roaring at each other! (Whoever knew that foxes roared?!) It was so lovely to see Mister reunite with lots of friends he hadn’t seen since the summer, all considerably more grown-up after a few weeks at school.

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Games-wise, we had five: Pass the Parcel (obviously!), Mr McGregor’s Footsteps (like Grandmother’s Footsteps!), a wheelbarrow relay in teams:

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Pin the tail on Peter Rabbit (using cotton wool tails, of course!):

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and a vegetable hunt in teams. I printed out three each of ten different vegetables onto card, cut them up and hid them round the room.

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The kids had to find them in teams – with the added challenge of not being allowed to collect more than one of each type of veg. This ensured that it wasn’t simply the fastest/strongest child who got to do all the hunting and finding!

Once the games were done, we brought out the cake, for the sake of some friends who had to leave early. It was my first attempt at sugarpaste, and I was fairly pleased – PR looks a little fat, but he’s recognisable, right?!

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The Peter Rabbit sugarpaste success made me want to sugarpaste all the veg, but I decided they’d look more enticing made out of sweets, so that’s what I did. (We are very blessed with sweet shops here.) They may look less accurate, but they were a heck of a lot more yum to eat 🙂

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Then lunch. Very standard party food – but served in plant pots, of course. If my favourite restaurants can serve food in plant pots, why can’t I?

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I cut the sandwiches into rabbit shapes – because if you’d invested 79p in a rabbit cutter for gingerbread rabbits, you’d want to get the most out of it too, right?

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The table was laid simply – pale blue gingham tablecloth and napkins from Asda, blue cups from Poundland, and Peter Rabbit plates from an online supplier.

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As the children left, sugar-happy and Peter Rabbitted-out, they each got to pull a ‘carrot’ from a tub of soil.

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These were cone-shaped gift bags, lined with tissue paper to look like carrots, and containing a few little treats:

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Mister loved the party, and had a great time seeing friends and playing silly games with them. His chosen theme didn’t disappoint…although he’s already started thinking of the theme for next year!

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