Halloween 2017

img_0081Halloween 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.

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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.

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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.

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A Lazerquest Party

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This year we held Little Man’s party before the school holidays. We have discovered that when you have a birthday in the holidays it’s quite difficult to get all your pals together on the day itself, so we tend to plan his birthday celebrations for the weekend before the end of term and celebrate as a family on his special day.

This birthday was an easy one to organise, a morning at Lazerquest followed by lunch at McDonalds. Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas which are the most fun for all. We took both our cars and had our two children and four guests in our party.  I made the party invitations, with the Lazerquest logo and using the Typorama app and laminated to finish them off nicely.

Lazerquest hold a 2 hour children’s session on a Sunday morning, teaching the children how to play and then playing lots of different games. it’s very much aimed at younger children so was perfect for our little group, no teenagers playing roughly and lots of helpers on hand. We booked in advance to guarantee our places but it was a quiet morning when we went. The session is very well organised with a game, a short break to look at scores, have a drink which is provided and then back to a new game. We played four games in total and in the second break we had the birthday cake. Lazerquest are really amenable to parties and were fine with us bringing in a cake.

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As Little Man loves his cricket I had made a cricket pitch cake complete with him as the little cricketer. The grass was simply dyed desiccated coconut on a green buttercream base and the wickets were made from candy sticks ‘glued’ with icing. I got the figure on the internet with the colours matching those of his cricket club.

After a successful morning at Lazerquest we walked to McDonalds for lunch. The boys all loved their food which were simply Happy Meals of their own choices.

The games had tired the boys so it was a quiet journey home in the car. I did get to hear all the gossip about school so it was highly amusing!

As a thank you I made cards from two of my favourite photos of the day, dressed up in Lazerquest gear and then dabbing in McDonald’s. It’s a simple thing to do but a lovely momento. It’s also a really reasonable idea, costing the price of a photo print.

I was really pleased with the Lazerquest party, simple but fun. Now all I have to do is think of an original idea for next year.

A water party

My apologies if you’re reading this post about a hot, sunny day if its a cold and miserable Thursday afternoon and its been raining for days.  This is the random post which I write on the day after the birthday party but then post on an unrelated date so birth dates cannot be deduced.  These are some of the problems adoptive parents have online, its not just names and photos but key information such as dates of birth which need to remain secret.  This party was for my daughter’s birthday, we celebrated her birthday with a family treat at the weekend and then we held a tea party for 6 of her friends after school.

I love the planning and preparation of a party but as the years have progressed the themes have become more difficult to think of as we have done each one, Hello Kitty, Princesses, Ballet, Butterflies, Mermaids just to name a few.  It was really difficult to think of an original plan this year, we’re reading Harry Potter but we were hoping to have a water party and it was difficult to link the two.  After much thought, I realised that every night after we’ve read our story together, Little Miss always takes a Beano annual or comic to bed and with a few pranks and water pistols I could entwine the two ideas.  I did wonder how the guests would enjoy the theme, it wasn’t a very pink party but they loved it and their party bags of tricks, a whoppee cushion, magic putty, water balloons, stretchy toys etc..  went down brilliantly.

For the invitations I produced a Minnie the Minx design and then laminated them.

img_6285 I was using primary colours as I didn’t want a red and black theme which features prominently in some of the party ware available.  I only used red and black stripy napkins and bunting and used the bright colours elsewhere.  The birthday cakes ( yep plural because they were a bit smaller than I anticipated) were iced white and then I decorated them with personalised cake toppers.

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I continued the Beano theme with a timetable of events to let everyone know what was happening.

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We started with cocktails on our return from school, I did two jugs one tropical and one summer berry, the girls loved the ice, fruit and decorations.  The nibbles were crisps, breadstick, crudites and dips, simple and tasty.  As it was a boiling hot day the girls were really keen to cool down in the pool and I let them just splash around for half an hour, I had a basket full of  water pistols, so they could all have a water fight.  After all cooling down we started some water games from ideas I had from Pinterest.  The first was the bucket game, the teams had to pass a cup of water over their heads down the line and place the water in a pail, the catch was there was a hole in each cup and they had to do it as quickly as possible, a fun game.  Next we played water balloon bullseye, I drew three circles within each other and put a score in each circle,  the girls had two balloons each and threw them to get their score.  The final game was a surprise hit, I placed marbles in a bowl of water and the girls needed to remove them from the bowl using their toes, feet fishing, the focus and concentration was intense and it was highly competitive against the clock.   After the games the girls played in the pool again whilst I prepared tea.

I wanted to enjoy the party so kept the food very simple, an assortment of pizzas and a salad bar which they could help themselves to.  We were able to sit on the grass and enjoy the food.  The make your own ice cream sundae was great, my ingredients included mini meringues, marshmallows, berries, strawberry sauce and there were lots of second helpings.  As well as the birthday cake I also added our family tradition of top hats, they are marshmallows, topped with melted chocolate and a smartie and have been a feature of every party menu since I was a little girl, its not a party without a top hat!

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After the food, we relaxed with a party playlist and the girls danced in and around the pool, impressing me with their singing and dancing, it was lovely to see and showed the rites of passage that we’ve all gone through.  The party then came to an end as parents arrived for 6pm.

I think this has been one of my favourite parties to organise and host, the Beano theme was fun and it was a brightly decorated party.  The water games were perfect on such a hot and sunny day and the mix of structured games and play worked well, the time flew by.

Easter 2017 at the Sparkles house

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Easter decorations chez Sparkles

Easter is always a special time of the year for me. I was raised in a catholic family and Easter was a time of celebration, second only to Christmas.  It was a time of church services but family get-togethers too and we would often celebrate Easter with aunts and uncles and cousins, all dressed up in new outfits and new sandals, whilst the house would be decorated with Pussy Willow Easter trees and fresh flowers.  Sadly Mr S doesn’t appear to have celebrated Easter like we did and I think is quite bemused by the effort and excitement I hold for Easter.  However I want the children to share the special nature of the festival and ensure we keep some of my childhood traditions.

This year we were away the week before Easter arriving home on Good Friday afternoon.  It meant that I wasn’t able to go and buy hot cross buns in our local baker on Good Friday morning like I normally do. These are the most perfect hot cross buns.  However, as we walked into breakfast at our hotel, the warm, spicy smell of hot cross buns wafted to our table in a much appreciated gesture from Butlins and we got to enjoy our traditional Good Friday breakfast.  As I knew I wouldn’t have time to prepare for Easter when we returned home, I had managed to do most of my prep in advance.  I decorated the house the week before, minus my fresh flowers and had bought all the necessary accessories for my Easter egg hunt.  My collection of Easter decorations grows every year, we have some lovely shops in our town and I find it difficult to resist a few new decorations annually.  I have a window display in the kitchen as this is my favourite room and where we spend a lot of time as a family and then a few more decorations in the living room.  This year we had two Easter trees, one in each room and bunting in the garden.  I am still looking for an Easter wreath which I think would be a welcome addition to our decorations.

One of the highlights of Easter is the Easter egg hunt which takes place on Sunday afternoon after an Easter roast dinner.  It is not only a hunt for chocolate but Easter themed props too, including a stone with a cross on to remember the religious aspect of the festival.  I hand draw a help sheet so everyone knows what they are looking for.  I don’t like the idea of Easter simply being about chocolate so now the children are older, the first 6 eggs are activities, this year these activities included an egg and spoon race, spelling out your name with orange Kinder egg shells marked with a letter (and a mini egg inside) an egg full of Lego to make a model, a make your own rabbit decoration set (v cheap in last year’s Easter sale) guess the number of eggs contest, find the chicks for the nest etc.. These activities help extend the egg hunt too so its not a mad 5 minutes in the garden and then a chocolate fest! I really enjoyed our hunt this year, for the first time in a few years we actually got to do it outside in the garden in warm sunshine, an advantage of a late Easter.

I do like a theme, so our Easter lunch was a traditional Easter roast, the children had chicken whilst for Mr S and I who are both veggies, I made a goats cheese and Mediterranean vegetable pastry.  I used a cookie cutter for the pastry so the pastries were egg shape and the bottom did have the imprint of a decorated egg. My daughter noticed and appreciated the effort, Mr S was bemused again!   Dessert was a simple cheesecake, decorated with a variety of assorted chocolate eggs.  I was realistic this year that given our holiday away I wasn’t going to be able to bake a Simnel cake, so again had purchased one in advance for Easter tea.

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We are lucky that our children do not receive lots of chocolate for Easter, I’m not into the Easter bunny so we bought them a simple Thorntons egg as we knew there was plenty of chocolate in the egg hunt and their grandparents sent a small money gift.  Our neighbours made a lovely present, filling a box with straw and a chicken made from natural materials with a few chocolates, they keep chickens so it was a really appropriate and fun gift.  I bought Mr S his cricket Playfair annual and got a few bonus wife points.

Easter this year was a very relaxed weekend, we did all we wanted to enjoy the Easter celebration but also simple things like family walks and good food.  It was just the 4 of us this year and a nice way to end our family holiday.

 

 

 

Christmas Memories 2016

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Today, I have tidied away our decorations, filled in my Christmas planning book and reflected on Christmas 2016.  It was fantastic and made very special by our holiday to Lanzarote where we could just focus on our little family and have fun together, with no other pressures.  The more Christmases I experience the more I look for the true values and sentiments of the season.  I do think I held steady to my beliefs this year, I bought from local shops, only buying what was needed and took great care in my present buying.  My favourite present given was to my Mum and daughter, I sent some of Little Miss’ favourite old dresses to a lady who creates a keepsake from them, they both love their rabbits and the story of them.  Our family received one of the most thoughtful and fun presents this year, a family advent calendar, my friend chose 24 presents and labelled them with our names and the date so we could take turns in opening them.  My presents included a coffee at a favourite cafe, lovely samples of expensive toiletries etc..  It was an incredibly thoughtful and a delight to open every day.

Below are my highlights of the season, interestingly most of these were community events with very little cost (except the holiday)

1. Carol concerts and the Nativity.   We attended two carols by candlelight services, one for beavers and the second for school.  They were beautiful and a delightful mix of traditional and contemporary music choices.  Both made me focus on the spiritual side of Christmas and the peace which accompanies such reflections.  The nativity was incredibly sweet, Little Man wore a tea towel on his head as part of his inn keeper costume.  It was as every nativity should be, it was with sadness that I realised that was probably my last as it’s only Key Stage 1 who do the nativity at the children’s school.

2. The Christmas tree festival.  In our town this festival just gets bigger and better. It’s the opportunity to see 45 decorated trees, do Christmas crafts, listen to live performances, dress up in nativity costumes.  It’s truly magical and a real treat.

3. The Christmas Market.  The market is one of the highlights of the year.  The main Street is closed and beach huts brought in to become alpine sheds.  There is live music all day performing different styles of music, from sing along carols to glam rock Christmas hits.  This year there was a crafty and artisan theme to the stalls and I bought a few decorations.  There are also lots of charity stalls for local causes ad it is just an occasion to meet friends and enjoy hot chestnuts and a warming drink.  We had a fish and chip lunch after our visit, which was a perfect end to the trip.

4. Advent calendars.  I was totally won over by the Lego advent calendars this year, the children loved them and as they were not allowed to open them until they were dressed the morning routines became so much easier in December.  I justified the cost by simply deducting the price from my Christmas budget.  Little Man has already asked Tommy the elf who arrived with the calendars if he can have another next year.

5. Tommy the elf.  Our little elf is just pure magic and my favourite new family tradition.  Tommy rocks x

6. The kindness of neighbours. In my Christmas Day post I explained how our neighbours set up our Christmas for us and filed our fridge with all the necessities.  Their help meant that the children may just believe for a few more years.

So this has been Christmas 2016, I am already looking forward to 2017 and have noted a few ideas to follow up. I believe it’s never too early to start planning!

 

Tommy’s final visits 


Tommy flew out to Lanzarote with us, he even had his own suitcase and tshirts for the holiday.  It was the most challenging week of hiding Tommy as whilst our family room was large, it was open plan and I had to wait until everyone was asleep to hide him.  In these photos you can see him riding a balloon animal the children had made in their club, sitting on the pool ring, sampling the free toiletries, colouring in, sitting on the Stack’ems etc..  He continued to write a daily letter too.  Again it was sad to say goodbye to Tommy, he really is one of my favourite traditions.