Posts Tagged ‘Children’

Party time

October 24, 2013
Alice and 1st birthday cake

Alice’s 1st birthday. I know it doesn’t look as though she likes cake, but she does. A lot.

So our little girl, our little girl is 10 – years – old.

How did this happen? How did we get here so soon? I can hardly believe it. Her childhood, which at one time seemed like a new permanent state of being, is slipping by as she grows up. In the distance I can already see an end to this hands-on parenting, though I’ve no doubt it will be replaced by another, more subtle but equally important (and difficult) variety.

It seems like a lifetime ago that we were changing nappies and experimenting with strange vegetable purees. So long ago that when I meet new babies I scarcely know what to do with them, though maybe I’m less scared than I used to be. Clearly I am not from the ‘mother earth’ mould, rather I occupy a parenting world in outer space that involves aliens and strange planets, small steps and giant leaps.

Talking of which Alice recently expressed a desire to start walking to school on her own.

“Okay” said I

…sadly and nervously.

But next morning, after sleeping on the idea she had revised her plan. She suggested that we should both go, but on opposite sides of the street.

A fine idea.

“Which side do you want to walk on?” I asked her.

“Ummm, I don’t know, which side do you want to walk on?”

“I don’t know sweetheart, you choose”…

Silence, as we walked to the end of our street.

And at the top of the road when the decision needed to be made, her hand slipped into mine.

“I know Mummy. Let’s walk together”.

Yes let’s.

But already her big sister Elsa, aged 12 and 3/4s (she’s not too old for the months to count) is armed with mobile phone and bus pass to take her to and from secondary school every day. And so the land of looking after two independent Misses draws ever nearer. But while they might be ready to take on the World, I’m not. Really I’m not.

So at this important birthday for Alice I am reminded to enjoy these final young years before they disappear forever.

pink birthday rubber duck

I think it’s important to mark time by celebrating. We humans have done it since… well for the longest time and I think it matters; to mark our development and our journeys through life, in style.

Very soon after Alice was born I calculated that there’d be very limited opportunities to celebrate these special birthdays and Christmases with excessive frivolity and sparkle. Here’s what I worked out…

celebration formulaI hope you can all see that the amount of time we spend celebrating these very special occasions with our children is tiny and therefore not to be wasted. 0.6% for heavens sake! Plus of course a year is a very long time when you’ve only got four or five of them under your belt, so each birthday has increased significance for a young child. If I was worth my mathmatical salt I’d be able to create a formula with ‘n’s and ‘x’s to include this ‘increased significance’ factor, but I’m not so I can’t.

party dishes

For me, this all means parties – proper parties with homespun themes, decs from the loft (plus a few new ones), some great games and delicious food. Over the years we’ve been under the sea with dolphins and fish and then over it, on a pirate adventure. We’ve stopped off at the seaside, complete with sand and beach huts in the kitchen, walked through a magic sweet garden and explored a wild jungle.

It’s been brilliant fun, but it’s hard work and I don’t suggest everyone should do it, or feel like they should. In fact my one hesitation when putting on these big parties has been that I might make other parents feel they’ve got to match up. I hope they don’t – I just want their kids to dive in and enjoy it all while they’re here.

Parties can be a very expensive business too, but I avoid commercial themes and we try to make stuff, recycle and reuse, borrow and lend. Our children have made great things at school that we’ve been able to use – I saved about 50 metres of skull and crossbone bunting from the school bin and rescued 20 sets of fairy wings the kids had made. I also love researching online, compiling and creating ideas and then pulling it all together, down to the littlest details.

Of course this world of party madness isn’t for everyone; but whatever your particular approach, try and find a way to make these occasions special and memorable.

sweet party decorations

The majority of our themed parties have been for Elsa, because actually Alice isn’t one for big parties.  But while Alice’s celebrations are a lot more, well… small, she still likes (and expects) all the trimmings and plenty of cake.

So this year we began as ever, with decs galore. Of course having started on decoration heaven all those years ago, we have a high standard to live up to so it’s become the norm for Danny and I to be up ’til 3am the night before a birthday party. As the years wear on this increasingly takes its toll, so consider upfront what you’re letting yourself in for! It’s so worth it though and I hope we’re creating really great and enduring memories for our girls and their friends, come to that.

birthday banners

Alongside the decs and atmosphere, the party games really matter, but I don’t find them nearly so easy. There’s a pressure to keep everyone entertained and happy that I find quite hard at times. However, over the years we’ve tested lots of party games, so here are some of our favourites – some classics and one or two that are not for the faint-hearted:

1. The chocolate game: essentially the children have to try and eat pieces from a large chocolate bar using a knife and fork while wearing a selection of hastily added clothes. Assemble a pile of clothes such as a wig, hat, gloves, scarf, sunglasses and ear muffs. There must be some oversized gloves and ideally everthing should be bright and/or ridiculous. The children sit in a circle and take turns to throw a dice until someone throws a six. That child must don ALL the special clothes provided and then start trying to eat the chocolate using only the cutlery. Meanwhile the rest of the children continue to throw the dice. When another six is thrown the next child dons the clothes and so on…

2. Lucky (face) dip: Three washing up bowls containing a number of sweets and each filled with a sticky, gritty or other suitable substance. E.g, Bowl 1 is full of squirty cream, bowl 2 contains feathers and bowl 3 is full of sugar. In turn the children dip their head into each bowl in an effort to retrieve the hidden sweets. By the end they are effectively tarred and feathered! Towels and wet wipes essential.

Girl with face smeared in cream

3. Musical statues with poses: a classic with a twist. While the music is playing tell the children that when it stops they must strike a pose in the style of… It could be an animal, an emotion, a job, a famous person etc. The poses can be tailored to fit any theme. The poses are usually great fun and mean interim prizes can be awarded, otherwise I think musical statues can be disappointing for the first few out.

4. Pass the Parcel: no party would be complete without it. As often as not one of us has to dash off in the middle of the party to wrap it ‘cos it got forgotten amid the chaos. We’ve often done it with dares/actions between the layers which works really well. Oh, along the way I’ve seen parents rig Pass the Parcel in the birthday child’s favour. Please don’t.

5. Edible nappies: one of the best, undoubtedly. Kids who’ve come to our parties talk about it to this day. Open up about six disposable nappies and (in the microwave) melt a different chocolate bar into each one. The children have to identify the chocolate bars by whatever means: sniffing, proding or even tasting the oh-too-realistic chocolate poo. This game results in equal measures of hilarity and disgust. I often bring the opened poo-ey nappies out on a silver tray. You can give each child pencil and paper (or divide them into teams) and have them write down their answers, or just make it a revolting free for all!

nappy game collage

6. Cheese ball relay race: two teams, a straw per person, two bowls of cheese balls and empty bowls at the other end of the room. Suck the cheese balls onto the ends of the straws and transport them one by one to the other bowl, in a relay race. Shrieking and cheating usually ensues. Great with extra long straws if you can find them. Other relay races work well too. We played ‘sandy pants’ at our seaside party; kids donned swimming trunks over their clothes into which they scooped handfuls of sand to carry from one bucket to another. At Halloween we’ve transported handfuls of goo between cauldrons…

The final element of course is the birthday tea. Over the years we’ve done all sorts, from make your own pizzas to a pirates feast and an ice cream parlour, but this year Alice asked for a classic old-fashioned birthday tea; tiny triangular sandwiches; white bread (crusts off, natch) lightly buttered and filled with thinly sliced cucumber, marmite (Nigella’s tip: smush the marmite and butter together before spreading), egg and cress and cream cheese. Also crisps, twiglets, jelly and ice cream and cake, LOTS of cake.

Alice loves cake. Which is fortunate since I quite like making it.

First, in Alice’s honour I massacred a sophisticated coconut and marscarpone cake by Dan Lepard. He baked it beautifully for his very own wedding and I wrecked his lovely creation by baking it in brightly-coloured layers. The garish sponges were tinted to match the 10 owl birthday candles on top and then hidden beneath a delicous cream marscarpone icing.

owl cake

Colourful? Yes. A surprise for Alice? Yes. A big hit? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Recommended? Yes. Sophisticated? No. Sorry Mr Lepard.

striped birthday cake cu

And was this the most kitsch offering on the birthday tea table?

Nope. That accolade would go either to the jelly or the cupcakes.

I found a giant jelly baby mould online and in order to make it chewy like the real thing added lots of jelly babies to the packet of proper jelly. Actually I ordered some special chewy Japanese konnyaku jelly but it didn’t arrive in time so this was my solution.  We loved this and I think Mr Giant Jelly Baby may become a new tradition in our house – wibble wobble, wibble wobble… Sorry ’bout the pic, it doesn’t do him justice.

giant jelly baby jelly

And so, finally, on to the cupcakes. Bubblegum cupcakes. I woke up in the night dreaming of these. Next day I discovered they’ve been done before (of course), but unperturbed I made them anyway. Classic vanilla cupcakes piped with bubblegum buttercream and flavoured with a few drops from a little bottle of magic bubblegum flavouring. Oh how I love the interweb.

bubblegum cupcakes

They were glorious; more bubble-gummy than bubblegum itself, and surprisingly delicious, considering I don’t like bubblegum. Mind you one is definitely enough. Two would certainly necessitate a lie down.

And lie down we did at the end of the weekend – happy and tired. Alice proclaimed it one of her best birthdays yet – hooray!

And then, the very next morning

I kid you not.

Alice came downstairs

Aged 10 years and 1 day

And she said to me,

“I’m going to walk to school on my own today”.

“Oh. Okay…”

Alice walks IMG_5695

Gulp.

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Happy Easter

April 1, 2013

Row of Easter chicks

 

Like loads of families we’re relishing four days off in a row. Four days to relax a bit and eat a lot, in this house anyway…

We decided to make some Easter biscuits. Fishing around in my shoebox of biscuit cutters I discovered I’ve accumulated seven bunny cutters. Seven! I think I’ve probably bought a new one each year, each year thinking to myself “It’d be nice to make some Easter biscuits”; but failing to do so because of, well I don’t know what, but something, always something.

Row of bunny biscuit cutters

Each cutter is a best laid plan gone by the wayside

So anyway THIS year it’s going to happen and inspired by a biscuit book we were given at Christmas (thanks Oli and Vics!) I started off with the idea of making perfect-o gorgeous-o creations that would be worthy of sale in Selfridges or Harrods.

Of course right when I first opened the pages of that book I should’ve known that we would end up doing something totally different.

The joy of cooking with children is that if its going to truly be a family activity then you have to let go – the pursuit of perfection, finessed techniques, presentation; all these disappear in favour of making sure that the finished article is edible, that everyone involved still has all their fingers and that you have managed to keep your cool throughout the process. You also need to let go of any usual concept of time. It all takes an inordinate amount of time.

But it’s so worth it. The act of making the biscuits in itself a joy – the kids delight in the qualities of the ingredients and the concentrated effort when weighing, measuring, spooning, stirring and rolling means that this is so much more than a biscuit-making session. It is a maths lesson, a science class and a masterclass in texture, design, taste and touch. No wonder it takes so long!

Making biscuits collage 1

‘Wow, the syrup’s like liquid gold!’, ‘Do you like how I’m cutting the butter’, ‘I need my goggles to zest lemons’, ‘Uurrghh! I stuck my fingers in the egg!’…

I should mention that as well as inspiration, the aforementioned book; The Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits provided a few gems of culinary usefulness. For example: roll the dough between two sheets of baking parchment rather than use flour, which will dry out the mixture and secondly: use two lengths of dowel (or wooden spoons, they suggest) to roll the mixture to an even thickness before cutting.

rolling and cutting collage

Et voila! And it’s only 3 o’clock.

We ALL got involved with the icing. But you see that little sentence, yes that one there that I just wrote. Seven innocent little words. Well it hides about 3 hours work! To get all the icing ingredients weighed and mixed. To find and choose the colours, to divide all the icing into little bowls and tint carefully – not too much now! Try not to spill it. Oh. You have. All down the cupboard door. And yourself. And me. Sigh. Find enough squeezy bottles and piping bags to contain all variations; dark, light, pouring and piping. We even had to make some piping bags.

So after all that, some three hours later, we iced. We iced for all it was worth. And we had fun. And the results? Well the results speak for themselves. We will not be selling them in Harrods, they are too good for that. We each put a little piece of ourselves into these fellas (creativity I mean, not fingernails) and we’re very proud. What d’you reckon?

collage iced biscuits

A bright spot on a rainy day

March 7, 2013

So Spring lasted a day! Back to grey rain today. Sigh.

But wait what’s this?

Alice WBD

Alice World Book Day

Amid the rain it’s Alice dressed as Cindy Lou from the Dr Seuss story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Today is World Book Day. It’s one of the highlights of our school year, especially as we’re a bit fond of dressing up in our house. Alice piled on the frothy skirts and we got up extra early in order to plait her hair with wire and pile it onto her head with a bird in the middle. Of course.

Alice-WBD-head-cu

World Book Day is a fantastic annual event that brings books to life through the children that read them. Perfect. I only wish they did something at secondary schools. Surely as children get older that’s the time to keep them engaged with reading; when they’re in danger of swerving off into a world of make-up, video games, girl/boyfriends and TV? Or is that just in my house?

You know what, I’ve just checked and there’s a section for teenagers on WBD’s website. Ah ha! Mental note to self: check facts first…


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