How to Host a Birthday Party and Actually Enjoy Yourself

photo credit: Le Coin de Mel

My beautiful, sassy, unique, darling firstborn turned seven today. She was promised a birthday party this year, and started planning it in February. Seriously, the second her brother and sister’s birthdays had been and gone Polly set about making the invitations.

We originally thought we had a booking at a large venue, so were free and easy with numbers, and at the peak of collating RSVP’s we had around seventy guests coming, ranging from six months up to seventy years old.

A few weeks ago we discovered that there had been a mix up with the venue, so we decided to have the party at home. I’ll be honest, I did have a little wobble when we first found out, but then I figured that it would all come together in the end. Plus chances are we’d have a few drop outs, which would make the numbers a bit friendlier.

I’m very pleased to report that it did all work out wonderfully well in the end, and everyone, including myself, had an absolute ball on Saturday afternoon. Just in case you’re planning on throwing a party yourself, and need a few pointers, I thought it might be useful to share our experience and some tips. Hope they come in handy, and best of luck!

The guest list

Just as a recipe is only as good as the ingredients you use, a party will only ever be as good as the guests you invite. My least favourite parties are the soul-destroying-soft-play-hell ones that people usually have when inviting classmates you hardly know. The food is usually disgusting, the kids run around like loonies, and it always, always ends in tears. Our parties are the polar opposite, because we only invite great friends, and you can’t go wrong in any area of life when you’re surrounded by good friends. Over half the people who came on Saturday live in our development, and all know each other really well. The others are the folks we consider to be family – after all friends are the family we choose. It’s always wonderful to get your nearest and dearest under the same roof. 

The food

Regular readers will know that we’ve had a roller coaster ride of it with allergies in our house, and for many years Polly had to take a packed lunch with her to birthday parties. Knowing how awful it is for a child to have to do this, I didn’t want any of the kids to feel excluded on Saturday. We had egg, nuts and wheat allergies to cater for, as well as sugar free families and vegans, so I kept the food super simple. For savoury nibbles I did tons of salted kettle chips (three ingredients) and huge platters of veggie crudities and home made hummus.

Instead of a birthday cake that half the kids couldn’t eat, we had home made chocolate fondue (coconut oil, cocoa and maple syrup) and a table filled with fruit. We gave the kids bamboo skewers, and they made their own kebabs to dip in the choc sauce. They were all thrilled with it, and it kept them busy for about half an hour, which was an added bonus! I did extra nibbles for the adults, as well as beers, and I made a fab gin punch which went down a storm. Rather than make a big deal about the food, we just had it all out from the start and everyone helped themselves when they were hungry.    

 

Polly’s 7th birthday #party yesterday afternoon was a resounding success! As we had various #allergies to cater for, rather than make a cake half the kids couldn’t eat, I did a huge fruit platter, made a #chocolate fondue, then gave them bamboo skewers to make their own #fruit kebabs to dip in the choc sauce. They had an absolute blast, and went home with big smiles on their faces #howtowinatakidsparty Just in case you were wondering, here’s the #recipe. Enough for 35 kids, and a few adults Whisk together 300ml #coconut oil and 100g pure #cocoa powder, then gradually add 100-200ml maple syrup little by little, and sweeten to taste #refinedsugarfree #paleo #dairyfree #glutenfree #healthy Chop into bite sized pieces… 1kg #grapes 1kg #strawberries 400g #blueberries 8 #bananas 8 #mangoes 6 #kiwis 4 #apples 4 #pears 2 #pineapples

photo posted by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on

The entertainment

We toyed with the idea of hiring an entertainer, but decided against it to try and keep the costs down, and I’m really glad we did, because we honestly didn’t need one! We had a few outside games set up in the garden, which the kids played with as and when they wanted to. We also set up a craft table, and bought a job lot of wooden keyrings, mini cardboard photo frames, fabric pens and stickers, and the kids decorated their own. These doubled up as party bag fillers too, which personally I much preferred over the usual plastic crap that goes inside them. We did a pass the parcel, which was great, but were rather taken aback by how serious the kids took it, so very political. Some of the older kids did face painting for the younger ones, and between everything going on, there was no boredom, or tears.  

The party bags 

We bought paper goodie bags from Amazon, and in addition to the keyrings and photo frames, each guest got a book (that we picked up from the library in one of their sales for 20p each), a hand written thank you note from Polly, and a bag of Bear sweets. The total cost of the party bags worked out to be less than £3 per child, and everyone loved them. This just goes to show that you don’t have to compromise or spend a fortune to please the children. I’ve heard of parents spending £20 per head on party bags, and I’m sorry but I think that’s just pure madness.  

birthday party excitment

photo credit: Le Coin de Mel

The verdict and top tips  

– a party will only be stressful if you over complicate it, so keep the order of events as simple as possible.  

– ensure you have plenty of help on hand just in case you need it, I do this by bribing the parents with booze and nibbles. 

– our house is a modest three bed, and has a garden the size of a postage stamp, but even with fifty odd people in it, it never seemed too cramped (thankfully the rain held off!)

– buy arts and crafts in bulk to save £££

– if you have healthy food on offer, it will get eaten. 

– seeing smiles on the faces of your guests will tell you that you’re winning.

– if you’re having fun, others will follow 🙂 

I’d like to say a huge HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Miss. Polly, and a big thanks to all who came and made Saturday so special. Extra thanks to my lovely friend Mel for taking some gorgeous photos!   

todayAnyone who reads this blog will know that it’s not easy to walk in my shoes, and never has been. Those who aren’t familiar with my back story might want to read this.

All is not lost, and never is

Yes there is plenty to be thankful for, always, but it can be tough to focus on the bigger picture when the smaller one keeps throwing curve balls your way.

Optimism and positivity are infectious, but when the chips are down and the cycle of negativity grips you tight, it can feel impossible to break it.

When the days are long, nights are relentless, there is no offer of help or sign of things becoming less grinding on the horizon, and the little things in life that should go over your head get to you much more than you should allow them to, it can feel hopeless.

It isn’t hopeless though, and never is. We always have a choice. We can give in to the despair and choose to see the doom and gloom like I’ve been doing lately. Or we can man / woman up and kick the shit out of our life plans.    

So today I am choosing to be thankful for the small mercies

Three beautiful children, who bring a lot of joy amid the sleep deprived chaos.

A wonderful husband, who works his socks off for us and adores us all to bits.

The most amazing friends on the planet, who are a tonic for my soul.

Today, I will leave the room, count to ten, and re-enter it a calmer mummy.

Today I will go back over the book I took the trouble of writing, and take my own advice.

Today, I will try my best to smile in the face of adversity.  

Today, I won’t just be going through the motions.

Today I choose life!

real life has no filter

 

2016-04-16 14.45.50It’s not often that I get to say that my entire weekend was awesome, but that’s exactly how it panned out this week. I passed Hubby the parenting baton on Friday afternoon and headed into the city for a top secret blog thing, which I’m ridiculously excited about. I also got to meet a bunch of ladies I only knew previously by their Twitter handles – it’s always lovely to put faces to names.

After that I met great friends for a catch up over Japanese food and sake at the Southbank, which Mel has written about (thanks hon). Usually this would have been the extent of my entire month’s social life, but the very best was yet to come.

On Saturday afternoon my family went to the Disney on Ice Silver Anniversary Show at the SSE Arena at Wembley

The magic of Disney really can’t be under estimated in my opinion. I was a late 70’s baby and grew up on Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It was pure escapism from my own turbulent childhood, and those films brought me so much happiness in my formative years. I don’t think I was ever a fairies and princesses type of girl, but my kids most definitely, and unashamedly, are. Even 2yo Freddy, bless his little heart. You can imagine the squeals of delight upon getting the email one dreary February morning, asking if I’d like to review the show. Needless to say that the countdown commenced that very day.

“X more sleeps mama, I’m so excited and am going to dress up as Snow White!”

awesome seats at Disney on IceWe had brilliant seats, just eight rows from the stage, and were surrounded by familiar looking faces. 

A spectacular show

Disney on Ice sure know how to put on an awe inspiring show. From the second the skaters come onto the stage it’s a feast for the eyes and ears. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy narrate, and there were six parts in total. As well as a visually mind blowing intro, they recreated scenes and sung familiar songs from The Lion King, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid and much to the audience’s pleasure Frozen.

The skaters were mesmerising throughout, and you know you’re on to a winner when three children aged 2, 4 and 6 manage to be still and quiet for two whole hours! All in all it was flawless, I can’t think of a single bad thing to say. The only grumble of the five of us combined (from Miss. P) was that Snow White wasn’t there.     

a spectacular show - Disney on IceA few tips

The earlier the better: Getting to the venue well ahead of when the doors were opening was a great idea. As well as our show at the arena, there was rugby on at the stadium, which meant that the area was packed to the rafters and moving slowly. It took us almost half an hour just to walk from the tube to the arena, and roughly the same again to get to our seats once we were inside. These things always take so much longer than we think they will.

Preplan your meal (if you are having one): We promised we’d treat the kids to dinner after the show, and headed to the fab retail park behind the arena. Although we were walking as fast as we possibly could we still got to our preferred restaurant too late, and were told it would be a 20-30 minute wait for a table. Fortunately our second choice had space for us and brought our meal out super fast. If I was doing this again I would definitely phone ahead and pre-book a table.

Take the stress out of your journey home: We live on the London borders of the south west, and don’t drive, so had a two hour journey ahead of us each way. As with anything exciting, getting there is usually the easy part, because you’re being driven by momentum and anticipation. Getting home is where the meltdowns and fallouts occur, so we loaded the tablet up with a suitable film to keep the kids entertained and fighting to a minimum.

Stop the press, they slept: Our exhausted little crew arrived home at almost 9pm, absolutely spent after a great day. Hubby and I got the kids to sleep as quickly as we could and went straight to bed ourselves. The cherry on the cake was that all three children stayed in their beds and didn’t start waking up until gone 6am. The magic of Disney really is alive!

From the mouths of babes

 

 

The show will be touring until the 15th May, so there is still time to book your tickets!

**Disclaimer: we were given press tickets to see the show for free. All words and photos are our own. For my full disclosure policy please click here**

Celebrating the Little Wins in Life #LittleWinsMy lovely friend (thanks Sal!) gave me a one line a day five year diary for Xmas, and I’ve been enjoying choosing one positive thing that has happened throughout the course of each day. She also has three small children, including twins, and ponders as much as I do how we’ll remember these years if we don’t write them down 😉 

Although my life can be pretty grinding, it’s good to reflect on the little wins, because no matter how tough a day is, there’s always something to be celebrated. Which is why I’m going to capture them here – not only does it force me to remember that there’s lots to be grateful for, I also think it’ll be nice to look back on these posts and assure myself that we had lots of fun, amid the hard times.

Little Wins for January

After a very gentle introduction to home ed at the end of last year, we have settled into a nice routine. Hubby and I sat down with P and created a timetable together, to ensure it contains all the things that she wants to learn (obvs this isn’t a small win but a massive one). I’ve written a three month update, which you might be interested in.

Now that I’m being super strict with sweet snacks, I’ve seen an overall improvement in the behaviour of all the children. The best thing about not giving them treats for days on end, is that they are super thrilled with whatever I give them when we do have them. They were becoming a bit disdainful of my chocolate mousse and cookies, but are back to loving them. 

Between F not having snacks between meals, and limiting his whole goat milk intake, his appetite has picked up overall, and we’ve seen improvements in the right direction with his sleep. Shock horror, he some times even sleeps all night. After six and a half years of parenting, I think I might have finally found the winning formula – orchestrating it is the tricky part!

P is becoming a proper bad ass with her times tables, and loves getting our little wooden tile game out to play. It’s wonderful watching her be so enthusiastic about learning. Ditto the Spanish memory game that we play, which is a double win because I’m learning too.

I’m getting so much out of being back on my exercise bike, and am proud that I’ve managed a half hour workout every other day this year so far. These 30 minute chunks are excellent writing opportunities, and I’ve been jotting down bits for my novel, or doing a bit of blogging. Gotta love multi tasking.

I’ve written almost two more chapters of Kate’s Story (working title). It only amounts to a few thousand words, but it feels great to be writing something for it. If I can manage to get to the laptop whilst having a flash of inspiration, then I’m all set, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen very often.

Speaking of books, I’m doing a reading for Become the Best You next weekend. To say I am absolutely petrified would be an understatement!

I’ve managed to catch up with lots of lovely friends this month, and had a brilliant time going out for my friends 40th a couple of weeks ago. I am determined to have a bit more of a social life this year.

It was great to finally put a face to the blog when I met Ting from My Travel Monkey for a coffee. She is of course as fab as her site, and her little boy is just adorable.

We realised during the Xmas holidays that hubby’s passport was due to expire in early March, and rather than leave it until the last minute I was super organised and we already have his new one. Ditto agreeing new lease terms for our house. Go me!

My in-laws have been booked for grand children duty next month, so that hubby and I can take C out on her own and spoil her rotten with a day of love bombing for her birthday.

They will return less than two weeks later for a sleepover, so we can get away for our second ever child free 24 hours to celebrate our anniversary.

2016-01-25 11.17.17-1We’ve dug up all the weeds in the garden, and turned the earth in preparation for sowing seeds. I’ve always approached gardening with a ‘can’t do’ attitude and realise now that it was all in my head. Anyone can do it, and I am excited beyond words about attempting to grow food this year. If all goes well we shall have tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, cavolo nero, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Watch this space!

What are your little wins? Tweet me @mummytries using the hashtag #LittleWins and I’ll gladly RT your post 🙂

Why Laughter Really is the Very Best MedicineI went out on Saturday. Not to soft play, or lunch with the children, or a date with my husband. I went out on my own, for the 40th birthday of a very dear friend. If that wasn’t enough, another one of my bestest besties was also going.

She has three children as well, and the two of us haven’t had an unbroken conversation since my eldest was a newborn and we used to meet while her older two were at school. We both made the decision to stay over at the birthday gal’s place, which meant I could guarantee not being woken up throughout the night, or have children clambering all over me at 6am! 

A well deserved day off

I set off at 1:30pm, literally shutting the door to chaos erupting behind me. It was understandable really, this was only the second time since being a mum that I’ve ever gone out with the intention of not coming home. I consoled myself that Hubby would get it all under control, and when I checked in with him a few hours later on text that was indeed the case. 

I sat on the train heading into Waterloo, full of excitement, feeling so light. I’m no martyr, but don’t do much for me, and my day out was very needed. We’re almost three months into our home education journey, and although it has without a doubt been the right decision, it’s still hard not having any time off from the kids. Also, with bedtime in our house taking two hours on average, even an ‘easy day’ can leave me pretty exhausted. Knowing that I didn’t have to do it all for one night was pretty ace.

So much fun

drinking sambuca shots with the girls!

oh dear!

We headed to The Grange in Bermondsey. A gorgeous little pub, who aim to be in their own words, ‘your second front room’. They certainly achieve this, offering fabulous food, decently priced drinks and good music. My friend had a great turn out too, and I was so pleased for her; being a January birthday she has suffered many a disappointing ‘special’ day in the past, and it was lovely to see so many of her mates come out to help her celebrate.

While she mingled and worked the room, my other friend and I took the opportunity to do six years worth of catching up. We paced ourselves drinking wise, and stuck to singles which was a sensible move. Until the very end of course, when we thought sambuca shots were a wonderful idea. Not to mention continuing the party, avec champers, at our friends flat until 4:30am.

Cunning plans for more of the same

We had such a great time, and it was worth every second of my hangover on Sunday. While I was busy dancing and singing out of tune to Meghan Trainor, or putting the world to rights with two of my favourite people on the planet, I realised that laughter really is the best medicine. There might have even been talk of a weekend in Ibiza in the summer, which would be all kinds of amazing. Now I just need to convince the Hubby that it’s a brilliant plan, and I’ll be a happy bunny. Watch this space!

Have you been laughing lately? I do hope so 😉