One of my favourite things to do in anticipation of birthdays and special events is to plan the cake. I love baking, the flavour and filling are just as important as the decoration and I am always looking on Pinterest for inspiration and tips. Baking in the kitchen listening to my music is one of my happy times and my cakes are baked with lots of love. Mr S thinks it would be easier and cheaper to buy a shop bought version but that’s just not me, baking a cake for my family brings me real joy and satisfaction.
It’s been birthday season in the Sparkles household so here are our birthday cakes for this year. Little Miss had a glitter ball cake. It was an orange and almond sponge with a white chocolate and orange filling, covered in a turquoise icing decorated with purple and silver stars. A simple but very effective design and delicious flavour.
For Little Man, I made a football cake with a football figure, no 9 Harry Kane who was his world cup hero. His cake was a lemon and lime marble sponge topped with a green icing and white icing for football pitch markings. He loved it although I would have preferred something less plain as to me it did look like it was missing a little something.
Whilst birthday season is now over, I’m already planning a Halloween cake with a spicy orange flavour and then a special design for Christmas. I think this has to be the year when I finally make a Christmas cake!
With Easter falling so early, I felt that I had not quite had the build up and excitement to the season this year. Easter is one of my favourite times of the year, I find it a very spiritual time and to me the religious celebration is at the heart of our Easter. Easter is a time of homemaking, a spring clean, followed by decorating the house and a time to enjoy new recipes and menus. It has less of the pressure of Christmas and the lighter days and glimpses of spring make it a more inspiring holiday.
I have only bought a few new Easter decorations this year as I’ve not really had the time to shop for Easter as I normally do. I did discover HomeSense and am so pleased with the wreath, bunny plate and basket I purchased there, I also got a new Happy Easter garland in Waitrose. The wreath and garland are hung in my kitchen feature window and of all my Easter decorations this window is my favourite.
This year we have followed our family traditions, the Easter bonnet parade at school (recycled bonnets from last year, Easter simply arrived too early for inspiring craft times!) hot cross buns bought on Good Friday from our local baker and our Easter egg hunt with a hand drawn clue sheet by me. I’m a rubbish artist but I love doing this, I look back on every year’s sheet and am proud of the care and effort I made with each one. We’ve also tried new things this year. This morning, we rolled eggs at the Downs. I had experimented with the nail varnish marbled eggs flooding Pinterest boards, but they were a disaster and Little Miss and I still have the stains on our hands. We ended up decorating our eggs with Sharpies and they looked just fine. The fun of the activity was in the egg rolling, it was simple good fun and the children loved it, definitely one to do again nest year. I sent my mum a short video and she was reminded of her childhood Easters too. The other new activity was an Easter piñata. We do have the most amazing neighbours so this morning we discovered a bunny piñata hanging in our garden, a present from them. When we told Little Man there was a rabbit in the garden he wouldn’t believe us, thinking it was an April fools. Our neighbours came over this afternoon to see the piñata being bashed, it was so funny and again one to enjoy again.
I wanted to create a fresh, spring menu our Easter lunch. I will often make a nut roast, or pastry main course for special menus however Mr S asked for a simple Quorn roast. Initially I was a bit hesitant as it seemed a bit like cheating but it meant that I spent more time focusing on the flavours of the vegetables and a special pudding. The honey and nutmeg glazed baby carrots were stunning whilst fresh, perfectly cooked asparagus is always tasty and a star of any meal.
Little Miss and I set ourselves the little challenge of making a meringue dessert from scratch. Little Miss really enjoys cooking with me and we do like to try more demanding recipes; we got the meringue recipe from the Good Food website and it was a 5 star recipe rating from us. I am really proud how much of the recipe Little Miss was able to do independently, she is a great little sous chef and its lovely to be in the kitchen working together.
With Easter starting our holidays, we now have a fortnight to enjoy some spring sunshine and inspired activities. We’re off to see Peter Rabbit at the cinema this week and some local attractions have Easter themed trails for us to enjoy too. I’ve checked the calendar for next year and its a much later Easter in 2019, so we will have the time to prepare and be inspired by Easter.
I’ve been writing my blog for over 4 years now and I’m finding it difficult this year to create a new Christmas post, my decorations are similar to previous years, as are the events we’ve been too and I’ve written in detail about these in the past. I have been doing a weekly update on Tommy’s hiding places and the #littleloves posts have been highlighting some of our favourite things we’ve done this Christmas. A few days ago, I read Kimberley’s Christmas Tag at
so have chosen to use this as a model for a Christmas post this year whilst I try to work out a few new ideas for Christmas 2018. Thanks to Kimberley for sharing ..
What’s your favourite Christmas Movie?
Whilst there are so many great Christmas films, my favourite is the Muppet Christmas Carol. Its brilliant, true to the original book, funny and has some great songs in it too.
Have you ever had a white Christmas?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a white Christmas. On the children’s first Christmas in 2010 we had heavy snow the week before Christmas but it melted after a few days to leave a bright, dry Christmas day. I can’t remember any childhood white Christmases.
Where do you usually spend your holiday?
I think its a little contentious with extended family, but we have often gone away for Christmas. As a teacher I always have a two week break and as Mr S is self employed, Christmas is also a good time for him to have time off too. We’re not skiers so the breaks have tended to be to hot, sunny places and we’ve had Christmases in Australia, the Caribbean and we’ve had UK breaks too. Even with the children we’ve had Christmas holidays, one year we did Christmas at Butlins which was lots of fun and last year we were in Lanzarote. Santa arriving on a camel was memorable! If we’re not on holiday then we always have Christmas at our house.
What’s your favourite Christmas song?
I love Christmas songs and its difficult to pick just one favourite, I have done a post here on my favourite Christmas songs
but to be honest all Christmas songs make me happy as long as they are played from December 1st, I’m a bit bah humbug until that date! This year, I have really liked Stevie Wonder’s That’s What Christmas Means to Me, its been played a few times in the Sparkles household. I also really like Christmas carols and some classical pieces at this time of year.
Do you open any presents on Christmas eve?
No and I wouldn’t even be tempted. I love the excitement of Christmas morning.
Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Yes because when I was in junior school we had to learn by heart Twas the Night Before Christmas in which they are all named and I can still recite it from memory, a useful party piece at this time of you, so thank you Mrs Williams!
What holiday traditions are you looking forward to this Christmas?
As our family, we have developed our own little traditions over the past seven Christmases. Tommy our elf on the shelf, is probably my favourite tradition as the children love him so much. He hides every evening but he isn’t a mischievous elf and writes a letter every day to tell the children of all the positive things he saw them doing the day before. I love hiding him and am so grateful for all the magic he has created. Other family traditions are going to the town’s Christmas market and then having a fish and chip lunch, doing a tour of Christmas lights, making gingerbread decorations, visiting the Christmas tree festival and the children wearing new pyjamas on Christmas eve.
Is your Christmas tree real or fake?
This year its fake, we bought it last year for when we were going to be away as we still wanted to decorate the house. Its a really nice tree and I was happy to use it again this year. In the past, we have had real trees so I’m sure we’ll have a discussion next year on whether to have a real or fake tree.
What’s your favourite holiday food/sweet/treat?
Chestnuts, Christmas cake, cheese with fruits. Normally I have a really sweet tooth but I like the savoury dishes at Christmas.
Be honest, do you prefer the giving or receiving of gifts?
Definitely giving. I try to give very thoughtful gifts and am always on the look out for original and personal gifts. This year I bought my first in May as I saw something I just knew would be perfect for my cousin. I have a little Christmas notebook where I jot down ideas, purchases etc.. throughout the year.
What’s the best Christmas present you ever received?
Tickets to go to my first ever concert Aha at the Albert Hall, a lilac bike Candy, a clarinet, a music stereo, an engagement ring.
What’s your dream place to visit for the holiday season?
I would LOVE to go to New York in the run up to Christmas for the shopping, sights and shows.
Are you a pro present wrapper or do you fail miserably?
I am very coordinated with paper, bows and labels and try to present my gifts as neatly as I can. I do find some shapes very tricky to wrap and may use tissue and gift bags.
Most memorable Christmas memory?
The children’s first Christmas with us in 2010. It took us 7 years to have the family we had dreamed of and in those 7 years, Christmas was very, very difficult and a period simply to get through. From 2010, it has become the most magical time of the year and we cherish every single moment.
What made you realise the truth about Santa?
I think it was probably from children at school. However my mum had this rule that if we didn’t believe we wouldn’t get presents so in our family we all still believe!
What makes the holidays special for you?
I genuinely enjoy the preparation and anticipation of Christmas, the concerts, special events etc… Christmas is about being in the moment, taking time to be with those you love and thinking of those who can’t be with you. Its relaxed times, good food, lovely music and sparkly lights.
We love our little elf Tommy who is spending his 5th Christmas with us. Tommy is not a mischievous elf but one who is there to look for all the kind, friendly things the children do. Whilst he hides every night, he also writes a letter every evening telling the children all the nice things he’s seen then doing during the day. Tommy genuinely brings so much warmth and joy to our house that he is one of my favourite family traditions.
Here is week 1 of Tommy’s adventures in 2017.
1. Tommy arrived with a little gift, it’s a Christmas mug in which the four of us feature as elves. I’ve always fancied long, blonde hair but having seen myself as an elf with this look, I’ve concluded it’s not for me.
2. Today was our first festive event so Tommy brought new Christmas jumpers for us all to wear, he was hiding in the ironing basket with the new clothes.
3. Time to put up the tree today!
4. With a few lights still to put up, Tommy found himself a little tangled up.
5. Tommy was discovered reading Little Man’s reading book.
6. We have a festive mantle piece with the letters of Noel displayed. Tommy was found crawling through the o.
7. This is my favourite pose of the week, an ‘elfie’ The hat came from an Innocent bottle as part of their charity drive.
8. As one of our window displays has some winter clothing bunting, this was perfect for Tommy to hide on the clothes line.
Halloween was unusual this year as it did not fall in our half term and the children were back at school. Fortunately the day before was an Inset day for us and with Brownie and Beaver themed activities on Monday night too, Monday felt more like Halloween than the day itself!
I decorated our kitchen with my Halloween decorations and finally got to use the Halloween wreath which I had got in a sale in John Lewis last January, I loved it and it was well worth the wait to display it. The little tree has now been used as a centre piece for Easter, Halloween and Christmas, it’s a really useful decoration, thus making it great value! I still love the little felt decorations which were hanging from it, the witch’s hat and stocking, ghost and bat. I would love to add more to my collection but haven’t seen anything similar this year. One thing missing is some nice fabric Halloween bunting, I have seen some paper versions but would prefer a cotton design.
We had a little family pumpkin carve off, the girls used a template whilst the boys went free style so as we had both taken different approaches both were declared winners. The small plants next to the pumpkins were a present from our neighbours to the children for Halloween, the scarecrows are a nice fun feature and the plants themselves have tiny orange and grey balls, looking like baby pumpkins.
On Monday, the children and I did some Halloween baking, of course with a Halloween soundtrack. We used the pumpkin from the carving in some recipes, we made pumpkin and orange cakes and cheese and pumpkin cheese biscuits. Both were adaptations of simple recipes. The biscuits were cut into bat and skull shapes and decorated with raisins. Whilst we had some on Monday, they were also used in a Halloween themed school packed lunch on Tuesday, in which I cut the sandwiches into bat shapes and decorated a little satsuma as a pumpkin, it’s the little things which make life sparkle.
The children both had Halloween themed activities on Monday night. The Beavers went to a local castle where they all dressed up and did a haunted walk, whilst the Brownies celebrated a Day of the Dead party. I was quietly pleased (and relieved) with our effort at face painting, Little Miss only had 40 minutes to have tea and get ready after ballet (Monday is manic in our household) but we managed a simple Day of the Dead make up design, a white base, black eyes and lips, squiggles and a few brightly coloured flowers and hearts drawn on the face.
After all the fun of Monday, Tuesday with the return to school was a lot quieter and it is also a difficult day as Little Man is genuinely scared of Halloween night. I had to contact his teacher to ask her not to read any spooky stories at school, especially about witches, his real fear and its for the same reason that we avoid trick and treating too. I was surprised how well Little Man had coped at the Beavers walk, for which we had a contingency plan. However, Tuesday night was different, even with the slightest strange noise, he was afraid and when there were trick and treaters at the door, he cried and screamed. Mr S set up Little Man’s bedroom with all that was required to keep him safe, a glass of water to ward off witches, his toys lined up to guard him, the radio up loud and all the lights on bright. Fortunately it did work and he had a good night’s sleep.
Halloween could be difficult in our household, so we focus on the decorations, baking and pumpkin carving, all these help create happy and warm family times and memories. The magic of family times is making the celebration work for you.