Word of the Week: Bedtime

New bunkbeds!

Anyone who read my Flat Pack! post on Wednesday will know it’s been all about the new bunk beds this week! Although it felt like a big move – and frankly, a huge transition particularly for EJ who has now gone straight from his cot to a full size single bottom bunk at the tender age of two, I’m glad that we’ve done it. Having said that it hasn’t all been plain sailing. On night one EJ climbed in and went out like a light no problem, but night two he wasn’t quite so docile and cried when I tried to tuck him in and leave. I climbed in with him, sang a lullaby, let him have his milk, tried to leave again but he was having none of it. JJ tried to take over for me bless him, but EJ just wanted his mummy! Eventually I told him I was going to go and have my shower and come straight back and, to my amazement, he agreed! Needless to say he was sparko by the time I returned and we went through the same thing last night too so I’m hoping a routine of sorts is forming and he’ll be comfortable with his new bedtime views very soon ( especially as I’m on my own with them for the next few nights while the hubster works).

It was the hubster’s birthday this week but unfortunately we didn’t have much of a chance to celebrate. In the past we have used this week to take a little holiday (this time last year we had a lovely week in Cornwall) but now JJ is at big school we can’t do that any more sadly. I will have to make a better effort next year – particularly because it will be a bit of a milestone for him!

I’ve certainly been falling into bed each night exhausted myself and feeling as though things I normally stay on top of have slid a bit – not least the cleaning this week as my cleaning day was cancelled out by flat pack hell! I am also still trying to find some kind of blogging flow to my week but right now I am writing posts at random times like 5am in the morning – and just can’t seem to get a routine to it, so it seems that most of my posting is happening in the latter part of the week. I find it such a solitary activity that I prefer to do it when I’m on my own. Unfortunately the hubster’s shift pattern is all over the place and often changes at the last minute so I rarely know where I stand.

Other than that, it’s all good and we are enjoying the absolutely glorious autumn colours ( and finally getting to wear some new layered outfits and boots!) but not so much all these squally rain showers!

How was your week?

 

The Reading Residence

The big fifth pirate party!

Pirate party spread

So it’s finally happened  – the event that I dreamt up and began planning months ago is over – and my little boy is suddenly a big five-year-old schoolboy!

This is the fourth party I’ve thrown since having children (JJ had a second birthday party and EJ has had a 1st and a second) and with each experience I am learning how to be better and make it more impressive and at the same time stress-free. I spoke about the idea of a ‘kids party life hack‘ when I was preparing for EJ’s big circus party back in July, but even then I hadn’t got it quite right, giving myself the most massive headache of preparing 23 clown cake pops (and me, a complete cake pop virgin!). This time round I opted for marshmallow pops – just as impressive to look at but soooo much easier to make (assuming you have the right tools for the job)! Here’s a shot of my little army:

Pirate pops

I also bought a fair bit of party ware and the Pirate theme is awesome because there are so many different places that carry pirate party wares and you can shop around. I got some of mine from the online party site Party Pieces, some more cheaply from Amazon and even some from the 99p shop!

The one thing JJ had specified as a non-negotiable was a bouncy castle with a slide. I managed to source one with a pirate theme!

I also chose to bake a cake from scratch this time round and found an easy chocolate cake recipe (it really is very easy – I’ve made three of them!) but opted for some ready made chocolate fudge icing to cut down on the faff of one more little job. I really dislike fondant icing; although it looks absolutely amazing when people sculpt and design it into amazing pieces of artwork, I’m all about the fact that it’s a cake for goodness sake and should look and taste like a yummy cake in my opinion! I decorated it by creating a homemade pirate bunting topper (the skull and crossbones got a bit washed out by the glue unfortunately) an X marks the spot in Smarties and a pack of five pirate themed candles which was perfect as it was his fifth birthday! It had been my intention to buy a cake stand of some sort but in the end I covered a small tin in red paper and created some more pirate bunting to go round it, then sat the cake on top. It would have been nicer if the platter it sat on hadn’t just been the plastic tupperware lid of the cake box but that’s where my imagination ran out I’m afraid!

I had felt that things had fallen a little flat at EJ’s party to begin with because of the fact that I hadn’t really planned any organised games, so this time I chose to package up a pass the parcel. I had planned for there being up to 22 children involved, all needing at least one turn at the ripping (and subsequent Haribo mini prize). In the event there were probably about 16, what with the toddler drop outs and a few no-shows and I’d also completely forgotten to bring any music so attempted to run the game using music on my iPhone (not nearly as loud as I’d hoped!!). It all got a bit tedious as I’d suspected it might, and I was constantly distracted by this and that no one could say that it was the most organised game ever invented! Still, at least now I know for future reference that it’s not worth the bother when there’s that many children!

Other than that and an attempt to get some parachute games going, I basically left them to it. When there’s a massive bouncy castle outside a big hall, balloons bouncing around and a constant flow of tea coming out to all the mums and dads, you don’t really need structure – everyone seemed to be having a lovely time!

After the faff at EJ’s party with the food I opted for simple individual lunch boxes for the party tea this time, filling each one with either a ham or cheese sandwich, a bag of grapes, a bag with a few cocktail sausages, a packet of Hula Hoops and an individual jelly pot. Then they were offered a very lovely looking cupcake thanks to Mr Sainsbury (which I’d jazzed up with some pirate flags!).

The lovely thing about this party was that so many of JJ’s friends could make it and even his cousins travelled up from 60 miles away to join in and this was the first time that they’d all been together for a party so we made the most of the opportunity for a little portrait opp!

Pirate party cousins portrait

Another slight fiasco of the ‘herding cats’ variety (two two-year-olds – what can I say?!) but at least we got them all together if not smiling and facing the camera!

Despite my mum advising me not to give myself a headache with too much planning and prep and asked whether everyone goes to this much trouble, I actually enjoyed putting it all together and enjoyed the experience of throwing this amazing party for my little boy. I hope it will be a lasting memory for him.

By strange coincidence one of JJ’s friends (who’s just a couple of days older than him) was having his own party the day after this and not only that but another pirate party! It was an eye-opening experience to see how my friend interpreted essentially the same brief. She is super creative and she’d built a massive pirate ship out of cardboard:

0138e8cb1f2f55ed57bf27c974b07be1def809047c

I was suitably gob- smacked! The party was the anti-thesis of mine – run like clockwork, like a military operation with games from musical squares (which was really good fun for the kids!) to the ubiquitous pass the parcel (with real music!) and a big ‘dig for pirate treasure’ in the sandpit.

Lovely ideas but I felt it wasn’t my style to be so structured and that’s not just an excuse, I really think that the structure and organisation side of it would be the biggest headache for me and I just wanted to make sure that our guests were fed and watered and given the tools to entertain themselves essentially!

I think if I were to throw another children’s party in the future I would consider hiring an entertainer (although this is an expensive option) as the children do enjoy the games but at the same time it frees you up to socialise with the parents and relax a bit. Having said that maybe future parties will be ones where the parents don’t hang around!! :-/ now there’s a scary thought!!

When all is said and done, this is what makes it all worthwhile:

Pirate party birthday boy

One happy little Birthday Boy!

 

Word of the week: Arrrrrgghhhh!

(Said in a Pirate stylee!). Or the word of the week could equally be ‘big’ or ‘school’ or transition as Wednesday was JJ’s first day of Reception class at his new infant school and he loved it!

First day at school!

This has also been a week of ramped up preparations for his *fifth birthday* party which is all happening tomorrow! He asked for a pirate party but his strongest and most insistent desire was that there be a bouncy castle with a slide! I’ve managed to source one with a pirate theme so that should make one little ‘big’ boy very happy!

In the meantime I have:

  • Baked a test chocolate cake (I’m not a very seasoned baker so I wanted to give it a go and it turned out to be the first cake I haven’t incinerated from the bottom third down!). It was then devoured by my work colleagues…Test cake
  • Here’s the topper I made for it:

Pirate cake bunting

 

  • And I tried my hand at some Pirate marshmallow pops (soooooooo much easier than cake pops!!) (but still not easy to do perfectly!)

Pirate marshmallow pops

I have also created a few jazzed up decorative touches to some other bits and bobs – there will be pirate gold, eye patches and ‘pirate punch’ for all!

I’ve put a lot of effort in but I appreciate that it all looks a bit home-made! Oh well, as long as my little boy enjoys himself that’s all that matters.

What word best sums up your week?

 

The Reading Residence

Word of the Week: After (and Before…)

If I was writing this post on Monday I might have been tempted to use the word ‘anti-climax’. After a few weeks of frenetic planning and organisation for EJ’s circus themed birthday party (don’t ask me why, he’s unlikely to remember any of it!), and then the party itself on Sunday, it feels like every moment of my spare time has been taken up with thoughts of timings and food choices and entertainment options. Come Monday I was left feeling a little deflated (along with about 20 shrivelled balloons!). Monday afternoon I was alone with both boys with nothing planned and the weather was a bit iffy. I felt a bit bored and fidgety. I allowed JJ to help his brother open up all the presents he’d received at his party which were a great success but left me feeling slightly worried about the knock-on toy clutter effect. I had already neglected any proper cleaning and tidying for at least a week, prioritising party stuff, and something needed to be done.

Come Tuesday I had the opportunity I needed to get to grips with the situation. With no appointments or get-togethers arranged and the children both out at our childminder’s I had the perfect opportunity to do some sorting.

It’s been a long time since I really looked through the toy boxes to sort the wheat from the chaff and as a consequence new things were building up on the floor and other surfaces as there was no room to store them. I set to work sorting it all into three piles: chuckers, keepers and charity/ebay, getting rid of a huge amount of stuff and a big bag of rubbish. Now we have room to store most of the toys that normally just lie around the house and more, because I bought these cute storage boxes from Argos to create some additional space.

animal toy storage boxes
Now I just need to block out a day to deal with the gathering pile of bags filled with toys and clothes that, whilst out of our living space, are still in our house.

 

Looking forward, I have begun to obsess over JJ’s upcoming pirate party (well it’s only a short five weeks away!). I have booked a hall and a bouncy castle and already know that I’ll use lunch boxes instead of doing a full spread. I know what I want to go in the boxes, what will go in the party bags, how I’m going to decorate the food table (with extras like a jar of gold coins and a cake stand full of pirate cupcakes) and what games will be best (I think I’m going to have to make time to sort a pass the parcel this time – it seems like the done thing!). I really enjoyed making the clown cake pops for EJ’s party but to be honest it is quite a lot of faff, so I’ve decided that JJ’s party will have marshmallow pops instead – that means there’ll be no cake baking, cooling, moulding and freezing involved! I’ve also discovered some handy baker’s tools to make the decoration so much easier so I’m looking forward to that!

Tomorrow we are off to Devon for a week with my family which I’m also really looking forward to! We will be staying in Torquay and hopefully have some nice days out and a few trips to the beach! It will probably be a blog-free week for me this time round as I haven’t had the chance to line up any scheduled posts and I won’t have the laptop with me. I’m going to be more chilled about it though – I think it will be great to get away from everything – even the constant stream of writing and responding, which, whilst lovely, is not a recipe for relaxing and switching off and everyone needs to power down and switch off for a bit every once in a while.

This time next week it will be my own birthday! Unfortunately no one has any great celebrations planned for me and as usual I haven’t got round to planning anything for myself. Sometimes you just lose yourself in this parenting thing don’t you?

Have a great weekend WOTWers!

 

Cake pop tutorial (what not to do!)

Clown cake pops pre smudging

Anyone who has been reading my blog lately will know that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in party preparations – possibly to the detriment of all other rational thought, and a big element of my ‘home-made’ circus theme was to be my clown cake pops. I’d never made these before, or even tasted one in real life. In fact the closest I’d ever come to a real one was probably behind the glass counter at Starbucks.

Looking at Pinterest had given me the idea though – they are clearly something a bit different and unique for a beautifully crafted party theme – a bit of a show stopper if you will.

I watched a tutorial on You Tube and realised that you don’t actually need an electric Lakeland pop cake maker or even moulds to create them. However, in the process of of actually making a large batch (23) – despite having had a mini ‘test run’ earlier in the week – I came to the realisation that there is no substitute for trial and error (definitely error!).

So this is my tutorial, and these are my mistakes, so you don’t make them too! The actual process of making cake pops is quite easy.

  1. Bake a cake. I baked a two layer Betty Crocker Devil’s Food Cake (other box cake mixes are available 😉 ) – too easy – just add oil, eggs and water, stick in oven and wait for burning smell to alert you that they’re done.
  2. Wait for cake to cool down
  3. Crumble cake into a large bowl. Cake should already be fairly moist, so only add a small amount of ‘frosting’ – (I used Betty Crocker vanilla buttercream-style). I used 1 dessertspoon full.
  4. Mix together crumbs and frosting using your hands. It should come together into one big dough ball.
  5. Make the mixture into ball shapes. You should be able to judge the size – I began making them too big but a quick attempt at inserting the stick proved to me that it was far too top-heavy!
  6. I’m not sure if this makes a huge difference because I never tried to do it any other way, but melt some of your chocolate (I used white chocolate and melted it in the microwave) and dip your sticks (I used 6″ sticks because I think anything shorter is not workable) before inserting into cake balls.
  7. At this point I made my big mistake. The best thing to do is now put your cake pops into the freezer (or chill in the fridge until you want to decorate and then put in the freezer) for 20 mins to half an hour. Given the fact that I was doing this in a heatwave in late July I should have guessed, but when I dunked my first batch into melted white chocolate they were almost impossible to decorate. I was adding mini-smarties for clown’s nose and hair and they were slipping off, and the chocolate just would not dry and harden so that I could draw on the eyes, mouth and eyebrows. It took some time in the fridge for this to work! If you freeze first, the chocolate begins to set straight away, to the point where you actually have to work quite quickly if you’re sticking anything on!
  8. At this point my ambition got the better of me. I had set myself the task of adding clown hats made from the bottoms of ice cream cornets (if anyone’s got any suggestion for how to use 23 ice cream cornets with no bottoms, now’s the time!) and then painting on a little face using gel food colouring (the squeezy tube type). Unfortunately in making such a big batch several of the hats broke off, but worse, the gel food dye – particularly the black one which I used for the eyes – would not set, no matter what I did – fridge, freezer, hours of chilling – and in the end, the vast majority were smudged to the point of looking like something from one of those scary clown nightmares. Sigh.

un-iced cake pops

Cake pop operation

Smudgy cake pops

Lesson learnt. Now I know my limitations I will definitely make cake pops again – just no gel food dye next time! They would have been so much easier just sprinkled with hundreds and thousands or rolled in popping candy, etc.

Having said that, a lot of very kind party guests said they were impressive and everyone seemed to enjoy eating them (particularly the birthday boy who is quite partial to chocolate cake for breakfast 😉 ).

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

The Big (Top) Party!

After flinging together a 2nd birthday party for JJ three years ago, with nothing but a hired hall, bouncy castle and some Disney cars themed plates, cups and decorations, I decided this year to attempt to pull off something a little bit more special for EJ’s 2nd. I wanted a theme – something that could be tweaked and customised – and settled on the circus theme because I think it is fun and colourful.

In hindsight, I think I got a little bit too caught up in this, and the idea of making it perfect – picture perfect too. In the event there was so much going on, and so many elements to bring together that I pretty much forgot, or just didn’t have time to get my camera out, and I really didn’t have time to line up every little element to make it into the perfect photo-shoot.

Silly little things were forgotten, like string for the balloons – so my dad ended up using an entire cannister of helium blowing up about 20 little balloons all of which then sat on the ceiling for the following three hours!

I had booked the hall for an hour in advance of the party thinking that would be enough time to set everything up with just my mum and dad to help (the hubster stayed home with EJ while he napped). By the time the party guests began arriving we were still running around like headless chickens (well I was!) with hardly any food out, still not quite sure how we were going to present it all and the cake and banana muffins still to be iced! (I’d made the icing in advance but didn’t feel confident about transporting ready iced cakes (melty buttercream frosting) for fear of a disastrous mess! In the event my mum did the icing for me and it wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned (I’d also forgotten the Smarties!) but still looked and tasted good.

Birthday cake with bunting

I think my worst fear at that point was that my little ‘fun’ elements – the home-made lion ball toss game:

Lion ball toss

and EJ’s new circus tent:

circus tent

were completely swallowed up in the big hall and without music, planned games, pass the parcel or any real focus like a bouncy castle or entertainer, it felt a little empty and lacking to begin with. Even my ten year old step daughter came and asked ‘is this it?’ – which wasn’t great! Fortunately the cavalry came in late – a few more guests and my sister, brother in law and lovely nieces. The kids began to warm up and run around, and I remembered that I’d bought a party parachute!

The nieces came into their own, rallying the kids around (bear in mind that despite this being EJ’s 2nd Birthday, the majority of the children were older – only two other two year olds and everyone else either three, four or five). They knew lots of parachute games – I wouldn’t have had a clue! – and the kids loved it (particularly the one where you get ‘wound up’ in the middle before everyone pulls back to ‘pop’ you out!

parachute games!

There was a little funny game of pin the nose on the clown too, the first little girl getting it almost exactly right before admitting that she could see despite the blindfold!

Then it was tea time and I seemed to have got it right with variety and amounts of food (I think!). I took the controversial step of not bothering with sandwiches  – does anyone ever eat sandwiches at a party? – and opted instead for cold pizza (I’d cooked four in advance), a variety of crisps, sausage rolls, cheese and onion rolls, cocktail sausages, cherry tomatoes, grapes, strawberries and some home made completely ‘free from’ banana oat muffins (ironically no one at the party suffered from any allergies or intolerances but they still got, at least partially, eaten!).

By the end of the day I felt relieved and happy that I was sending people away with a smile on their faces (and a stuffed party bag with the clown pop of their nightmares!*)

I’ve learned some hard lessons though. Firstly, this isn’t about me, this is about the kids. Secondly, I’m no photographer and I can’t see how you could possibly act as official photographer and host a party too – maybe it would be different if your party was at home and you had all the time in the world to set things up, then take the pictures before your children even got a look in! And my party planning leaves a lot to be desired.

With JJ’s birthday a mere five weeks away, I now have the task of improving upon what I’ve learned – there will still be some home made bits, but everything will centre around the much-requested ‘bouncy castle with a slide’! There will still be cake pops (albeit far less ambitiously decorated), and there may just be individual lunch boxes for all instead of the full spread. The cake pop decoration and laying out of food were by far the most time consuming and stressful elements.

How about you? Do you have any lessons learnt from planning your kid’s party or any tips to share (heaven knows I could use some!)…

*see this post for a full explanation!

 

Word of the week…Birthday!

This week has seen the introduction of one of these:

New trampoline

As I might have mentioned before, there is something highly entertaining about a toddler on a trampoline! This is essentially a joint present for the boys who’s birthdays effectively bookend the summer holidays in late July and early September. I was slightly concerned that it might be a bit of an eyesore but actually, our garden is big enough to accommodate it without making it feel like the main feature and the green highlights on it blend nicely in with the leafy surroundings. I predict many happy summer days of bouncing in the foreseeable future!

I have become slightly obsessed with the preparation for EJ’s circus-themed birthday party this coming Sunday – I learnt my lesson from the mistakes I made with JJ, who’s first big party was all a bit of a last minute mad dash (we were baking a box cake an hour before the party started!!). I have tried to think of everything and assume nothing this year and I’ve even hand made a party game and some fun accessories, but I wanted to up the ante even more by turning my hand to something a little bit unique and special – some homemade clown cake pops!

On Tuesday I decided that it would be a very good idea to knock up a small ‘test batch’. I’ve never done anything like this before but it’s amazing how much inspiration is out there (on Pinterest) and how much guidance ‘You Tube’ etc.

Clown cake pops

I know these babies are not perfect (the one on the left looks very much like my father in law – minus the clown accessories!) but I’m still pretty impressed with my efforts and it was really very enjoyable to do. Now I’m starting to get a bit scared about the real thing – this was just a small batch of five but I’ve tasked myself with creating twenty for the actual party and there are a few stages of chilling and freezing involved! Not sure we have the space :-/

Yesterday was EJ’s actual birthday – I am now the proud owner of a two-year old! He was with our child minder during the day but in the afternoon we gave him his presents and a little Smarties cake to mark the occasion. I haven’t yet considered actual birthdays the cause for a day off work simply because I don’t think the children really get it yet at this age (JJ’s third and fourth birthdays fell on a Friday and a Saturday when I wasn’t working). I guess once school starts JJ will have to get used to having birthdays there for a few years (I never had to experience that as I’m an August baby!).

This time next week we are off Devon with my family which is exciting, and then the following Friday is my birthday. I had planned to arrange something fun way ahead of time this year and even invited friends to go and see the comedian Lee Mack with me on the day, right after New Year’s, before discovering that all the tickets were sold out by the second week of January! 😦 Now I have reverted to having nothing planned for myself at all (except a five hour drive back from Devon!). Sigh. Ah well, I have big plans for 2016!!

Happy Weekend WOTWers!

 

The Reading Residence