The budget birthday party (or: how my home transformed into a tacky-tastic Octonaut tribute)

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Somebody get me one of those t-shirts, the ones that say: “I had a fourth birthday party IN MY OWN HOME  and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” Or simply: “SURVIVOR” emblazoned over my chest. Because… we did it. And, whisper it, it wasn’t at all difficult. Or scary. Or ruinous.

Sure we were a bit tired after. And the house was a bit of a mess. But it took a couple of hours to clear everything away and after that, there was no sign of it. Nothing to suggest that, a short while ago, twenty four-year-olds had rampaged round the house, inhaling cake, mauling a giant cardboard robot and dancing in a hail of ripped up wrapping paper.

If anything it was a bit cleaner than before, since we’d been forced to have one of our extremely rare ‘proper spring cleans’, leaving me to think that maybe we should commit to having kids parties in the house at regular intervals simply from a health and hygiene perspective.

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Here’s how it went down…

The night before, we kicked Johnny out to have a sleep over at his friend’s house. Then, two friends arrived on a promise of wine and food in exchange for help creating an Octonaut-themed paradise out of a few balloons, some old paper plates and tissue paper.

By midnight, and several bottles later, we had pushed the furniture to the edges, carried a lot of the clutter upstairs and created the following:

-       An extremely wonky chocolate cake, covered in blue icing, with a ‘coral reef’ covering of smarties and several plastic Octonauts dug out of the toy box and propped up on top. The wonkiness, we passed off as waves. It worked brilliantly, but only because four year olds don’t know that there aren’t waves at the bottom of the sea.

-       A ‘pin the patch on Kwazi’ game, composed of: a laminated print out of Kwazi’s face stuck to an art easel, several laminated eye patches with blue tac stuck to the back of them, and Tom’s handkerchief to tie round small heads and render them temporarily blind while an eyepatch was put in their hand and they tried to stick it in the right place on Kwazi’s face. This was a real winner. Less so for the hungover parents being spun around rather over-zealously by their offspring…

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-       Octonaut ‘treasure’ (laminated printouts of various octonaut symbols), hidden round the garden as a treasure hunt for the kids (and then rehidden and rehidden as they handed them in… Got to make them run off that sugar…), found online for free, here, here, and here

-       An Octonaut birthday banner, found online as a free download, here

-       Octonaut posters and table decorations, found online as a free download, here

-       A kelp forest for the kids to walk through (read, ‘scrunched up, long strands of blue and green tissue paper tied to a piece of string across the sitting room)

-       Jelly fish hanging from the ceiling (read, ‘more blue and green tissue paper hanging from paper plates’)

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-       Twenty gingerbread men and twenty little tubes of icing with which the kids could decorate them (bought from Iceland on the extremely cheap)

-       Jam sandwiches, hoola hoops, carrot sticks, cheese sandwiches, sweets (and tea for the adults) Because, really, why get them anything smarter when all they really want is sugar and the opportunity to run it off (see treasure hunt, above)

-       A pass the parcel with some stickers from the pound shop

-       Party bags (paper bags, yet another free downloadable octonaut symbol printed out onto white stickers and slapped on the front… inside: some Octonaut colouring sheets and puzzles – free to print out from here)

And, the piece de resistance, my afor-mentioned friend, Ellie, inside this cardboard robot, made by a friend of mine as a Halloween costume and borrowed for the occasion. We played ‘Simon says’ but using ‘Robot says’ instead. The kids loved it. There was a rugby scrum over who could hug the robot/maul the robot/push the robot over. I think we may have put Ellie off the idea of ever having babies.

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In all it cost us £60, a lot of energy and a bit of a hangover (the side effect of bribing friends with wine the night before). We gained: 20 happy kids, one over-the-moon birthday boy and, unexpectedly, a slightly cleaner home full of totally wonderful happy memories. A win, I think.

 

new year’s resolutions

STOP PRESS. I’ve been doing my tax return. I knew you’d all want to know because, really, if there’s anything more exciting than your own tax return, it’s someone else’s.

Anyway, in the midst of this scintillating exercise, and half way through a year’s worth of bank statements, I suddenly had a horrible realisation: a good third of my transactions, across the year, were either connected to Tesco or petrol.

What kind of a global citizen am I?! I thought I was a good traveller. I thought I took the bus as much as I could, and only used the car sparingly, but clearly I am deluded. I am as much of a petrol head as the next gas guzzler. I can’t afford all this petrol and it’s not good for the planet. But how else to transport two small children? I’ll take the bus when I can, obviously. But for those trips that require two or three changes on the bus, when you’re dragging two, tired and tantruming kids along with you? Not fun. I’d take the bike, but with two children? I don’t trust myself to balance two bike seats on my crappy old machine, and while I’d LOVE one of these, I can’t afford one. The idea of pulling them behind me in a trailer makes me shudder, especially on our traffic-laden roads… Thoughts?

The same goes for shopping. I do most of my vegetable shopping at the local market, and we get our meat delivered monthly from a brilliant farm (this one, as it goes, check it out… it doesn’t look cheap on the face of it, but having a single monthly delivery means we actually limit the amount of meat we eat and ensures its really good quality) But clearly, my assumptions that I was a relatively ethical shopper are just as much of a fantasy.

All those quick nips into the supermarket for pick up a last minute this, or a last minute that… they all add up. Not to a fortune, but to a significant amount. An amount I could really use trimming down on, spent in a place I’d rather not support. I’m no food zealot, but if I can shop elsewhere, support smaller businesses and do my bit for standing up to the Tescopolisation of the British high street, I’d really quite like to.

So what to do? I’ve been digging out and borrowing some thrifty cookbooks, like this one, and this, and I’m also embarking on a new year’s resolution to get a good store cupboard together: all the essential basics so that I have them to hand and don’t end up nipping to the Tesco Metro at short notice to pick things up. Dried goods, like lentils, rice, essential spices, olive oil…. Some friends of mine even have their own ‘buying group’ organised – a group of local friends who put in bulk orders collectively from this ethical supplier, making it cheaper for them all and better for the planet too…

Any ideas for me? What would be in your store cupboard of essentials?

The kids are going to wreck my house. HELP.

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Green fingerprints on my lovely yellow wall…

Oh God. Have I made a terrible mistake? It’s only a week, now, till 15, unruly, overexcited, sugar fueled, adrenaline pumped four year olds descend on my house for J’s birthday party. WHY DID I HAVE TO DO A DIY PARTY AT HOME?! WHY DIDN’T I JUST HIRE A VENUE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?!!!! WHY????!!!!!!!

Anyway, while I go away and breathe into a paper bag, it seems like a good time to share this guest post on how to prevent kids from wrecking your home. Notice, they don’t list ‘invite a tribe of them in and feed them cake’ among their suggestions…

Preventing expensive (child-induced) home damage repairs

No matter how much you limit the unnecessary expenses of bringing up a child, avoiding trendy trainers and costly days out, accidents happen. Repairs to the home, from re-painting scribbled walls to replacing a smashed window, are an inevitable drain on funds.

A recent study in the Daily Mail revealed the average amount of money a child costs their parents over £2,000 in domestic repairs by the age of 10. The shocking statistics regarding the most common causes of damage and the reality of the financial burden destructive activity can become really give parents plenty to think about.

Almost 30% of the parents questioned claim to put money aside in case a surprise accident or destructive behaviour resulted in a sudden payout – demonstrating just how prevalent this issue is.

Here are some tips for avoiding expensive damage:

Get covered

If you have a young family and can relate to these new figures, it’s worth looking into More Than home insurance accidental damage cover to protect you against those accidents that can really add up. Accidental damage cover will help cover the cost of any repairs or replacements you need around the home and can be added as part of your home insurance policy.

Keep them occupied

The threat of clumsy breakages, spillages and general destruction is so severe that 22% of parents feel the need to never leave their child alone in a room. Making sure the kids are entertained is the simplest way to ensure you don’t have to resort to such extreme measures and allow yourself to relax when your back is turned.

Set them up with some (washable) pens and paper to get creative, teach them how to make paper planes or dig out the board games.  You’ll be amazed at the simple toys and games which can keep kids entertained.

Put breakables out of reach

It may seem obvious, but with 25% of parents saying they simply can’t buy anything breakable in anticipation of finding them broken within months of purchase, taking extra measures to protect anything fragile is worth the effort.

Vases in cupboards, scissors in drawers and sofas covered in spill-proof blankets could end up saving you a significant sum. Valuable electricals like tablets and phones are common calamities, and so easily left around the house by us adults – just in grabbing distance of small hands.

Try keeping a secured and lidded box somewhere up high to store your gadgets in so that little fingers can’t reach.

A comprehensive (ish) list of 15 foods we all eat

1) Baked potatoes. But sweet ones, not white ones. Unless one particular member of the family is feeling unusually benevolent/tired/distracted (for which read: ‘the TV is on’)

2) Mashed potato. But the white kind, not the sweet kind (even though it is EXACTLY the same in colour, shape, form, consistency, texture, taste and smell as the inside of baked sweet potatoes – see above). Also, prepare for every 30 seconds to be punctuated with the question, “But is there LOTS of butter in it?” and to suffer the consequences if you dare to deviate from the response, “YES.”

3) Risotto. As long as you call it rice not risotto and you serve one family member’s peas on the side, not mixed in.

4) Roasted butternut squash. As long as you call them ‘chips’.

5) Sausages and chicken. But not the ones with bits in/on/near them.

6) Fish pie. See above and wipe thoughts of sneaking small quantities of spinach past the palace taste tester.

7) Beetroot. Relished in juice form, or chocolate cake form. LOATHED in anything remotely resembling its natural form.

8) Porridge. With or without honey, as long as the question “but is there LOTS of honey?” is answered in the affirmative.

10) Greek/natural yoghurt. Doesn’t need to be fruity, or sugary, as long as you follow the rule above.

11) Carrots, peas, avocados. As long as you have previously offered spinach and then backed down into accepting either of these three instead.

12) Omelettes. But not scrambled eggs. And always accompanied by body weight in grated cheese.

13) Pasta and red sauce. On good days, you can grate other vegetables into this, but if you fail to whizz them into total and utter obliteration, on your own head be it.

14) Pancakes. Sweet and savoury. The latter can have cauliflower mixed into the batter but OHMYGODWHATEVERYOUDO remember the rule above.

15) Chocolate and cheese. In all forms. We are extremely flexible and relaxed when it comes to chocolate and cheese.

Any other ideas for foods to simultaneously satisfy adults, a four year old and a one year old?!

Carbon monoxide awareness week (and other catchy blog post titles…)

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(The Cupboard of Domestic Disgrace, aka: where we hide our boiler and shame)

Given the Scrooge-like nature of this blog, you would not believe the number of emails I get from companies who “just wanted to say, hiya! Hope the weather isn’t getting u down! Wondered if you’d be interested in our new line of toys/range of designer handbags/trendy kids clothes/handy microwave meals/educational books/revamped hotel rooms…”

Honestly, their number is only equalled by the amount of time I spend secretly wishing I’d started the kind of blog that would allow me to freeload all this stuff shamelessly, and then feeling dirty about wishing it. So when I got an email from Boiler Juice, the UK’s leading online supplier of heating oil, my finger was hovering over the delete button. And then I saw what it was about. And I remembered what happened to us this time last year. And I stopped. So here it is, a rare interruption from normal services, for a subject that’s, well, how do I put it, not the sexiest. Nor the most glamorous. Nor the most fun. But nonetheless…

It’s Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week. I know, I know. I’m celebrating quietly at home too. But the thing is, while my ‘cynicism override’ button may be so overused it’s practically glued down to the keyboard, if you haven’t checked your boiler in a while, you really, probably should. When we moved house, three years ago, there was so much to do to the house, so much money to be spent, that we just boxed in the old boiler, painted the doors an optimistic blue and forgot about it.

Every so often the hot water would fail and we’d open the cupboard, give it a thump, shudder and then shut it away again. And then, finally, the hot water stopped altogether and since our addiction to scalding hot baths is the only thing more powerful than our denial, we got someone in to look at the boiler. Not only was it so old that we couldn’t buy replacement parts for it anymore, but it had been leaking carbon monoxide. You can’t see it, or smell it, or taste it, so we’d had no idea. It was only a small amount, the guy said, but even low exposure can cause lasting damage and at high levels they call it ‘the silent killer’. Which made it pretty unambiguous, even to a total DIY dunce like me, that it wasn’t the sort of guest I wanted to invite into my children’s home.

So, yes. Check your boiler, please. Normal, cynical services will resume forthwith.

 

Carbon Monoxide Awareness