Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter, Me and Mine

I love chocolate as much as the next girl, but that's not why I love Easter. Cute little bunnies and hunting for eggs don't really do that much for me, though I'm not opposed to either. Hot Cross Buns...? Mmmmm, even better than the chocolate in my book, but that's still not what makes this time of year special for me.

Easter is the most significant date on the Christian calendar. It's more of a big deal than Christmas, more meaningful, more essential to my faith.
Without Easter, really, Christianity wouldn't exist. I certainly wouldn't be sitting here on a Saturday typing this, feeling compelled to write something that expresses the depth of my feeling about the true meaning behind this holiday.

I was flicking through the TV Guide searching for something - anything - that the programmers might have done as a nod of respect to Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday. I found Enchanted, The Wizard of Oz, Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and Hop. At least Hop is in keeping with the chocolatey aspects of Easter, but it truly bothered me that there was not one single programme relating to the true meaning: Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

Easter gives us all a holiday. Couldn't the powers-that-be have at least buried the Passion of the Christ  (or Jesus of Nazareth) after midnight somewhere? Just a nod to the guy who bled and died so we could have a long weekend?

[Nan and Grandad joined us for our Easter Dinner; we were kind and didn't make anyone dress up this year]

It really can be hard sometimes in such a secular world to keep the traditions and meaning alive not just for yourself and your own faith, but to pass them on to your children.
When everything is all about eggs and bunnies, and Jesus doesn't get a mention anywhere, you have to be pretty deliberate or the meaning will start to erode right in your own back yard.

My early schooling was at Catholic School, so the meaning of Easter was front and centre for weeks leading up to it. There was Ash Wednesday and giving things up for Lent; there were masses and Easter cards (with crosses, not bunnies). I was just a little girl but I counted down sleeps imagining what Jesus was going through "this time one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-seventy-eight years ago".
It was so real to me; his sacrifice and his suffering made a huge impression.
(Hats off to the Catholics for being so awesome at keeping beautiful traditions - something I think us "Happy Clappies" can learn a lot from).

On Easter Thursday night I was right there with Peter as he stood around the fire in the courtyard, wanting to stay true to Jesus but scared what might happen if he admitted to following him. I knew I would have denied him too; I understand the pain he felt when Jesus looked at him when the cock crowed.
Good Friday night I felt hollow and empty as I imagined what Mary Magdalene felt when she saw Jesus laid in the tomb; I imagined her tears on Sunday morning when she thought someone had stolen his body and her unbelievable joy when the man she thought was the gardener turned out to be Jesus, resurrected, who cared enough about her to wipe her tears away.

Now as an adult I have more understanding of what Jesus went through, both physically, emotionally, spiritually. It moves me deeply that He went through all that for us; that He loved us enough to stay hanging on that Cross (when he could have called the angels to get him down), in the hope that we would choose Him, and be reconciled to God through Him.

Faith can't be put upon anyone. I can't make my children into Christians, I can't force them to choose Christ. I can only hope that they find a faith of their own, that Jesus becomes real to them, that his love and sacrifice makes an impression on them as it did for me.

What I can do is share what it means to me. I can tell them the stories and pass on the insights. The rest is between them and God.

So each Easter, amidst plenty of eye-rolling we plan an Easter dinner. There is not a bunny or a chocolate egg in sight (though those do show up Sunday). We have candles, we eat spiced lamb, pita bread, hummus and olives. We drink red wine (or grape juice).

By the time we sit down to our Easter feast there is no more eye rolling. They are into it after all. We tell the story around the table. they ask questions and share what they know. We take a moment, pause, and focus on Jesus.

We do this in remembrance of Him. His body, broken for us; His blood, shed for us.
The curtain in the Temple that tore from top to bottom when He died, to symbolise that the way was now open between God and humanity.

It's worth celebrating, worth remembering and worth paying tribute to.

Happy Easter everyone ... I hope you can take a moment to think about the reason for the season while you munch your chocolate eggs.


We started doing Easter dinners back in 2009 when the kids were really little.
The first year Mr G and I dressed up as "Peter" and "Mary" and time travelled from 30AD to tell the story of what happened. Other years we've had friends over, dressed up in sheets and towels, eaten delicious food.
Here is our collection of Easter Dinners through the years...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Baby No More

He's just turned six and he won't let us call him "bubba" any more.

He has been on the sidelines at soccer games since he was in-vitro and his first outing on a soccer field the other week, he showed us just how much he's absorbed all these years watching his brother. His skills were surprising, his goals were amazing. He got Player of the Day, first up, and glowed with pride.

He's tall. He's strong. He's fast.

Yesterday he came second in the school cross country - which made his birthday extra special, especially after what happened last year. He's been  waiting a whole year to prove to himself he could do it, and he DID.

Scrag has been blogged about almost all his life; he's used to having every moment recorded for posterity.

Sometimes when I look at him, this tall strong boy, I think my heart will burst. Truly.

 He's just a super awesome kid.

I'm proud to have this lad, this lovely boy as my son.

Yesterday I said to him, If six years ago somebody had offered me a choice between a million bucks and a baby called Scrag, do you know what I would choose?

He said, The million bucks of course.
I said, No way. Even if they offered me a Billion I'd still pick YOU. That's just money. But you're a TREASURE.

And it's true, he is.
So happy birthday darling Scrag.
You're growing up so fast. You're a baby no more.

And I am proud of the person that you are becoming.
All my love forever

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Not-so-Plain Party (kids birthday party on a budget)

The measure of a good birthday party is not whether it's picture perfect and looks like it could be featured in Donna Hay's Party Edition.
It's how wide the smiles of the kids are. It's how happy the birthday boy is and how hard he hugs you when he says, "Thankyou mama for an awesome party."

That's success right there; that's what you do it for. Not for pretty pinnable pictures or accolades from fellow bloggers - you do it for the shining eyes and happy laughter of your child and his pals as they have FUN.

By which standard I would say that Scrag's Just Plain Party was a resounding success.

Our "just plain party-on-a-budget" was created to the birthday boy's exacting specifications. Every game played, every item of food on the party table, every guest on the list, were all according to his wishes.

The birthday boy counts down the sleeps, crossing off each day on his calendar. Until finally the day dawns clear and sunny, despite the weatherman's predictions of rain.

[my sketchy "Scrag" figure from the invitation was printed out large and used as decoration ]

When guests arrive there are Dressups to change into, in our carport boutique. (We culled our costume collection and donated double-ups and outgrown items to our happy young guests).

Our resident Face Painters are also on hand to decorate the faces of party guests...

Who needs professionals when you have clever big sisters like Fab and Yaz around?

Game time begins with energy-burning Sack Races...

We use old pillowcases for the sacks and have several rounds, followed by  a "plate" and a "cup" final. The paparazzi are there to interview the winners...

It is hilarious (as well as easy to organise and fun to do).

Next up, Musical Mats. Fun and super easy.

We play the music and make them dance. Each round we take away a mat; the music stops and the dancers race to find a place to stand. We keep going until we have a winner. Or two.

[toadstool mats re-used from our fairy party; super easy to make]

It's thirsty work, all that jumping in sacks and dancing on toadstools. Just as well we have refreshing old-fashioned (homemade) lemonade on hand...

We catch our breath by sitting down for a game of Pass the Parcel - with a twist...

Between each layer is the ubiquitous lollipop, for sure, but every so often there's a note instead, daring them to take up a challenge in order to get their sweet treat...

[Stuff marshmallows in your mouth and say "fluffy bunnies"; hop on one foot for ten seconds
while patting your head; sing the national anthem - a few simple dares liven up this classic party game ]

The random dares keep things moving; it livens things up and keeps them all on their toes.
While they've been passing the parcel, I've been hiding treasure hunt tickets around the garden (for after we eat) and bringing out the food.

And now finally it's time for the colourful birthday feast...

We have all the party food favourites on offer: pikelets with sprinkles, red cocktail sausages, chips, popcorn, mini donuts and fruit skewers, as requested by the birthday boy.

We also have rainbow jellies and cupcakes...

(which I am rather proud of, I must say)
Finished eating? Had enough sugar? It must be Treasure Hunt time...

Hunt around the garden, in trees, under tables, inside letterboxes. You're looking for yellow tickets...

Look around the garden - there's some on the driveway too... Hey! Why is everyone rushing off to the driveway? Two canny lassies stay back and scoop the pool, finding loads of tickets while everyone else scours the driveway. Kids are so funny. But don't worry - everyone finds a ticket and gets a prize. Eventually.

We're almost out of time. Oops almost forgot  to do the birthday cake. We can't have that!

"Happy birthday dear Scrag, happy birthday to you...." we sing (tunelessly).

The party guests leave wearing their upcycled dressup outfits, sporting facepaint, lugging more upcycled prizes and a goody bag filled with sweets (just in case that gleam in their eye is from having so much fun not so much sugar).

The birthday boy is happy. He hugs me and tells me he loves me.
We pulled it off. A themeless classic kids birthday party, filled with colour and fun for ten guests costing under $100 for everything.
It's possible. I just proved it.

And didn't we all have such a loverly time?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Partying Big on a Little Budget (Plain Party Challenge)

Just a few days now until Scrag's 6th birthday "Just Plain Party" and do I look worried? Do you see me rushing around like a headless chook, spending weeks making and creating?
Hardly at all.

Why? Because it's a Just Plain Party, created to Scrag's very specific instructions and it's wonderfully simple, while at the same time colourful, festive and fun. And cheap. Stylish-but-cheap. Simple but beautiful. Easy but fun.

I have set myself the challenge of creating all my parties this year for under $100 each for everything including food sweets drinks decorating, the lot. So far, just a few days out I am sticking ruthlessly to my budget and I can see the finish line.

With a combination of re-using, upcycling, dollar-store shopping and a bit of ingenuity and creativity the party is promising to be a load of colourful fun. I even have a rain plan.

Here's how I'm putting on a great party for ten kids for under a hundred bucks...

Re-using, Re-cycling:

  • DRESS-UPS: I have gone through our mountainous pile of dressups and pulled out a bunch which we are happy to part with. When the guests arrive they will be able to choose a costume to wear and they will be able to keep it. This helps me clear space in our cupboards and sends each guest home with a cool new dress up outfit = win. (Cost=zip)
  • FACE-PAINTING: We are pulling out our collection of face-paints and upon arrival the guests will also have their faces painted by Miss Fab and her clever pal, Yaz (who rocked Scrag's Carnival Party with her awesome paintjobs). I love getting the big kids involved in running the party. The girls will also take photos of the guests dressed up which I will email to their mums afterwards. (Cost = zip)
  • LEMONADE STAND: Where would I be without my trusty Lemonade Stand? I built it last year (myself!) for the carnival party - it cost nothing because it was made out of ripped-up decking timber. You could easily build something very similar using pallets found free at the dump. (Cost = zip)
  • DECORATIONS FROM PREVIOUS PARTIES: I have a few bits of bunting and a ribbon chandelier that we will be re-using - the more bunting the better, I say. My clever friend Deb has also whipped me up a strand of gorgeous vintage sheet bunting for (in exchange for a book) which is a dream come true. (Cost = a book).
  • PRIZES: Scrag has requested Pass-the-Parcel and a treasure hunt. For the prizes we are making use of unused Happy Meal toys (cars, packs of game cards) as well as outgrown DVDs, leftover choccies from the goodie bags and a few other repurposed bits and pieces. More on the games later on. Cost=zip.
  • GAME PROPS: Scrag also wants to play musical "chairs" and have a sack race. I'm pulling out my felt toadstools (made for Miss Fab's fairy party six years ago) to use as the "chairs"; I'm using old pillowcases for the sack races. I did splash out on a $2 medal for a prize for that one. (Cost $2)


I have tried hard to juggle cuteness, colour and party-cool with Scrag's requests and the restricted budget. By shopping at the dollar store  and making use of every colourful dish and plate in my possession the eclectic style will scream "fun". Everything is paper (straws, cups, plates) so it is recyclable (good for the planet); I found the same style you usually see in boutique party stores but at a fraction of the price. (Most of it I found at "Look Sharp", a new dollar store which has a massive party range, really cheap; when I went in they also had 30% off everything - bonus!)

I am particularly proud of  my recycled painted tin cans in their wooden holder (found at Typo a while back for a bargain; I use it all the time). The cans have their labels peeled off, are washed and painted using left over testpots. The holder will display straws, spoons and napkins.


Of course a party of mine would not be complete without some printables. These ones are based on Scrag's hand-drawn party invitations, and are perfect for a non themed party for either a girl or boy. I printed them out black and white and then hand-coloured them with colour pencil (being so very budget conscious). If I were braver I might have let Scrag help me colour them. But I wasn't.
First we have "Thank you for coming" labels...

Next is the "fizzy pop" soda bottle labels, which turn .85c Homebrand lemonade into a work of art....

I plan to drop a couple of dots of colour into each bottle just before the party, for a bit of excitement without too many nasty chemicals....

These labels print out black and white on an A4 page; you can then colour them in yourself or get the kids to do it (if you're brave). Click to view them larger. Right-click to save to your computer. Print them out then colour them in, trim and use. Enjoy!

Game Ingenuity and Rain Plans
So all this was of course planned to be gorgeously outdoors under the trees, with bunting flapping gently in the breeze. The weather forecast has put a bit of a dampener on that and after a brief moment of panic (and disappointment) I've made a Rain Plan.

Some the of the games can easily be played indoors: Pass the Parcel, Musical Mats and even the Treasure Hunt. But Mr G is convinced that we can still do Scrag's favourite Hide'n'seek outside along with a few other energy-burning faves if we tell the parents to send their kids with gumboots and jackets.

We shall see. But in the meantime, at least I'm prepared and not freaking out (the weather is so unpredictable at this time of the year; hope for the best but plan for the worst).

[I used leftover Christmas wrapping paper for the layers and a collection of treats and repurposed gifts for the big prize]

Pass the Parcel can be a bit "meh" for those of us watching on, so I've added a couple of surprises in some of the layers along with the inevitable lollipop between each layer, just to shake things up a little. The kids who unwrap three random layers will find a note saying: "To get a lollipop you must...." Sing the National Anthem. Hop on one foot for ten seconds while patting your head. Stuff these six marshmallows in your mouth and say "fluffy bunnies" three times. Hehe.

Meanwhile my upcycled treasure hunt is a wonder of cleverness and ease (if I do say so myself). On the left you see twenty (mostly upcycled) prizes tied up with curling ribbon and tagged with a numbered ticket.
The tickets are left over from the carnival party last year and have a matching ticket which will be hidden either around the garden or the house, depending on the weather. I have added colour coded ribbon - pink for girls' prizes, blue for boys', green for gender neutral; no boys will end up with Barbie Mariposa, and the girls should avoid ending up with a bag of toy cars.

It can easily and quickly be set up either indoors or outdoors depending on how the weather turns out. Feeling so clever right now.

And there you have it. Three more sleeps until my first ever Just Plain Party. I think it's coming together nicely.

  • KEEP the things you make for one party to be reused at other parties. Keep the crafty leftovers from one party to the next. I collect all my leftover bits and bobs in file boxes - ribbons, string, tickets, feathers, fabric, you name it. You just never know when that stuff can be used again. Toadstool mats from the fairy party will come in handy again, as will the lemonade stand, the ribbon chandelier, the bunting. The tin cans you carefully collected and peeled labels off for Boy vs Wild, will be reused and/or repainted. Save yourself time and work by keeping what you've already made.
  • COLLECT/INVEST in things that can be used again and again. Like a face paint collection you add to bit by bit. Like our glass drinks dispenser, the mini glass drink bottles, whitewashed crates, mini blackboards, cake and cupcake stand... over time these generic items have accumulated until now we have enough cool stuff to whip up a stylish party at a moment's notice. They have all been used again and again.
  • PLAN AHEAD so you can shop on sale: If you know what the plan for your next party is well ahead of time, you can grab the bargains when you spot them. Adding a bag of sweets or cake decorating bits (when you see them on sale) to your groceries over time also helps absorb and spread the cost.
  • BE CLEVER. Instead of spending 10% of your budget on a bunch of helium balloons, buy a pack of long balloon sticks from for $2. Or make faux helium balloons like I did here. Don't buy branded soft drinks - get Home Brand and then add your own printed labels (use my freebies; I have loads of styles). Use what you have, borrow what you don't; enlist friends and even your kids to help run the party instead of parting with cash for entertainers and face painters.
  • REMEMBER that the most important thing is that the kids have fun - not that your party is fit for Donna Hay. Take the pressure off and simply enjoy celebrating your kid.

Party on, my friends!

More Party Inspiration: