29 August 2014

Unbelievable Sugar-Free BlueBerry Muffins (for brunch)

So today I took my own advice, inviting a friend for brunch (and madly doing a cleaning spree in honour of her arrival).

Some of you are blessed to know my friend Sammy; we go back a long way - pre-blogs, pre-kids - so even though we live a fair distance apart and our paths no longer cross naturally, we are making a conscious effort to stay connected and book in regular hang-out time.

[Sammy and "Grace" - my Friday morning brunch date]
It's important to do that, when you have a friendship that spans the years, heartbreaks, triumphs and shared history. It would be easy to let a valuable friendship drift into obscurity, but Sammy and I have determined to MAKE TIME and space for each other, which is so so awesome.

At our last coffee date I promised to make her brunch (she'd seen how I made brunch for Deb, and was keen to have her turn; it might become "my thing").

[The juice is a new flavour from Just juice: Kiwifruit and strawberry = YUMMO]

Day before yesterday I get a text, "Oh and I better let you know that I'm gluten free and sugar free! Haha!"
Oops, so no waffles then. Omelettes are go, but what about something desserty? To nibble on while sipping coffee?

Google Search to the rescue. After a few false starts, I landed on a blog, "Gluten Free with LB", and found a nice simple recipe that seemed to fit the bill.

With just a few substitutions I was able to whip up a batch of THE MOST DELICIOUS honey-and-blueberry muffins. Sooooooo good, healthy AND delicious, I just had to share the recipe with you all, so you can make them for your guests (the ones you invite over to motivate yourself to get tidying, remember?)

The muffins were a hit, as was the (oops slightly burnt) omelette and we thoroughly enjoyed our catchup (even venturing into politics, as you do). Next time I'm going to Sammy's house.

Blueberry Honey Muffins (SUGAR & GLUTEN FREE)
Original Recipe found here

3/4 Cup of gluten free all-purpose flour
1/3 Cup of Rolled Oats*
1 Egg
1/4 Cup Yoghurt
1/3 Cup melted Honey
30grams(2 Tablespoons) melted Butter
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup frozen berries

1 tablespoon melted honey
1/4 cup oats*
Pinch of salt

  • Preheat your oven to 180oC.
  • Combine all the ingredients until just combined; add the blueberries last.
  • Spoon mixture into lined muffin tins and sprinkle over crumble topping.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and set.
  • Makes six largish muffins (perfect to serve for morning tea with a friend or two)
*OATS: Most Oats are not truly gluten-free as traces remain from the processing/harvesting methods, therefore if you are coeliac and cannot tolerate traces of gluten, you should substitute dessicated coconut for the rolled oats and use chopped walnuts (or similar) in the crumble topping.

So.... who's next for brunch???!
26 August 2014

A Lazy Mother's Guide to Defeating Drudgery

Why Hello there. It's me again, The Lazy Mother.
You might remember me from such inspiring articles as "Confessions of a Lazy Mother" and "The Science of Mess".
I am the reluctant housewife's reply to Martha Stewart; the clutterbound mama's sign that she is not alone with her laundry mountain.

I'm the one whose dust bunny armies regularly threaten anarchy and who will do anything - anything! - to avoid emptying the dishwasher. Unlike some other Domestic Goddesses, I do not delight in filling the tins with homebaked goodies and coming up with something for dinner every night is not the best part of my day. And the mornings, well. Don't get me started.

I feel I may be able to offer you fellow domestic strugglers a bit of hope and some Helpful Homely Hints, because if you come to my house (after giving me at least 30 minutes notice) I can promise that you'll find me dwelling in a pleasant, welcoming home, in spite of myself.

I'm here to let you in on my best houseworky secrets: the Lazy Mother's tricks for surviving domesticity and avoiding having your family star in an episode of New Zealand's Worst Hoarders.

Let's be honest, who here gets excited about cleaning pee puddles off the toilet floor for the 16th time in a week? Who amongst us signed up to spend our lives making lunchboxes and picking up Lego? When we aspired to motherhood, did we get excited about being "housewives" at the same time? Ugh. No way.
Not this Mama, anyhoo.

I love being a mother and I wouldn't swap it for the world, but when it comes to the repetitive samey drudge of household chores and food-prep, what I wouldn't give to hand it all over to a Housekeeper.
But since I'm not a millionaire executive/filmstar/model and I don't have the funds to hire some Help (and the chores won't do themselves) here are my three best tips for Defeating Drudgery and maintaining your sanity...

This is my first and best tip: GET THE KIDS TO DO IT.
Training my offspring to pitch in and share the load is a complete win-win.
It benefits me in the short term by reducing the headless-chicken routine somewhat; it helps my kids in the long term by helping them gain life skills and a sense of confidence that they can do things for themselves.

There are loads of things you can get your kids to do to help out:
  • Make their own lunchboxes*
  • Make their own (and their siblings') breakfast
  • Vacuum the house
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Make their bed
  • Make you a cup of tea
  • Mow the lawns
  • Take a trip to the corner store to get milk
  • Bake stuff
Of course all these handy helpful skills must be taught, which initially requires an investment of EXTRA time and energy. It is of course quicker to do it all yourself than stand by and watch them slowly struggle and produce results that may not be quite up to par. But don't give up! Once your kids get the hang of these new skills you're imparting, all of a sudden you find yourself with more time, less to do and less stress - as well as nice helpful kids (who will make decent flatmates) to boot.

We don’t just throw our kids in the deep end and leave them to fend for themselves with all this - growing independence starts out small, with baby steps. You don’t simply shove them out the door/into the kitchen and hope for the best. Even though helping my kids gain the skills necessary for independence requires more work, initially, than simply doing everything for them, it is well worth the effort.

Now that my kids can whip up a batch of pancakes/muffins/cookies, plug in the vacuum cleaner, get their own cereal, I get to enjoy more time being lazy, less time being defeated by drudgery. You've wondered where I find all the time to read? Ha, now you know! A little trick I like to call, "Getting the kids to do stuff for themselves".

*Once the kids began making their own lunchboxes, the morning school rush became so much smoother. There was less shouting, less chaos. They know what has to go in it; we have a basket of school-only snacks and they must have at least one piece of fruit or veggie plus a bread roll. Even our six-year-old does it.

This one is how I trick myself into doing housework: KEEP YOURSELF INTERESTED by changing things up. It works for me, I tell you.
Rearrange the furniture, swap around some pictures, pick a bunch of flowers, paint a wall, some cupboards, a shelf, a wooden chest: CHANGE SOMETHING.

I trick myself into keeping things clean and tidy by making my house pretty. After all, if I've spent all that time and energy painting the cupboards, do you think I want my freshly-painted, pretty kitchen ruined by that pile of dirty dishes? Now that I've painted my laundry cupboard do I want the overflowing laundry basket to spoil the look?
No, I do not.

DIY is how I stay interested in keeping my house clean.
I've always been this way, even as a kid.
It used to drive my mum bonkers, me constantly rearranging my bedroom (now my daughter does the same thing, and it drives me crazy too - ha!).

The Lazy Mother in me is easily defeated by the repetitive boredom of drudgery, doing the same tasks over and over, which is why if I can make a new cushion cover, frame a piece of my kids' art or change SOMETHING - I stay interested. Because it's not the same.

Are you hearing me?

This one is a good one for forcing me to look at my house through another person's eyes: PLAY HOSTESS - and rush madly to clean up before the guests arrive!

It's amazing how we can go for months, even years, without noticing stuff about our homes that would be apparent to the first visitor that walked in the door. There's a term for it: Shop Blindness.

The way to defeat Shop Blindness is to invite people over. All of a sudden you'll notice that the windowsills need wiping and the loo needs scrubbing. Hopefully you can do something about that before your guests arrive!

After years of practise, I'm now a complete pro at the last-minute whip-round tidy-up. I can invite you home for lunch/brunch/coffee because I know that it will only take me twenty minutes to clear away the worst of the clutter, sweep up the crumbs, wipe the benches and open the windows to let out the smell of burnt toast.
Inviting you over gives me the incentive I need to get off the couch and clean.
I don't want you stepping in a puddle of pee when you go to the loo, or gagging at the toothpaste spattered sink when you wash your hands. That would be really embarrassing.

Imminent House Guests  take the cleaning motivation to a whole new level. Your mother-in-law is coming to stay for Christmas. Your hubby's aunty and uncle from England are coming to visit your country for the first time ever. Now you notice the worn-out fabric on your 13 year-old-sofa and the mildew that needs cleaned off the bedroom windowsills and curtains, the dings in your walls and the way your towel stack threatens to fall on you when you open the linen closet. So you start getting the house in order, decluttering and re-organising (and saving all your part-time wages for a new lounge suite) as you see your home through your House Guest's eyes.

It's amazing what the threat of imminent company will achieve in record time!
The best approach is NOT to wait until your home is spit-spot before inviting a friend over - if you wait before making the invitation, chances are you will NEVER do it. You have to take a leap, pick up the phone and invite someone over. Then with the time and day looming like a deadline, you will be motivated (by fear!) to whip yourself into a frenzy of domestic activity*. It works I tell you!

You might think this is duplicitous of me - putting on a good impression - but actually, it's how I motivate myself to do housework. When the house needs a spring clean, put on the kettle, lay out the welcome mat and go into a tidy-frenzy.

*You don't have to do the WHOLE house. Focus on the main areas - kitchen, loo, lounge. Shut the doors on the other rooms, and invite a nice easy-going friend not a Martha Stewart wannabe. Baby Steps.

So there you have it. Probably not what you were expecting, no tips for doing this or cleaning that - just some broad stroke tips on how I defeat drudgery. I hope it was useful.
Got any tips for me?


22 August 2014

Making my Day (one of those "loving" posts)

I spotted these words on my son's bedroom chalkboard wall this morning: Think of Others.
At first I wondered if his dad had written it there to inspire him... but no. It was in his own 11-year-old handwriting.
He must written it there to remind himself - I can think of no other reason for it.

My heart did a little flip-flop, I have to tell you, at this little sign of a wonderful person emerging from the chrysallis of childhood.

Sometimes your kids surprise you in wonderful ways. This made my day.

Also making my day was the sound of silence resounding in my house at 7.40am this morning. This lot were all up and ready, breakfasted and dressed, with lunchboxes made the night before... leaving for school under their own steam. Scootering, walking to the bus, leaving me in my PJ's contemplating a Day Off.
Oh there are some truly wonderful aspects to your kids growing up!
Hearing them say, "Mum it's your day off so we'll scooter to school so you don't have to take us."
And when the big one begs for a ride because he's lugging three boxes of cupcakes for his class's bake off, hearing your daughter say, "No Josh, it's mum's day off. You should just take them in a bag and walk."
So he does, without a fuss.

Making my night last night were these two Baking Buddies. Dash comes running into the lounge after dinner in a fluster: "Mum! I forgot! It's the BakeOff competition tomorrow and I have to bake something for my whole class! Can you help me?"
Me, I'm really not in the mood to start baking at 7.15pm.
So I suggest he asks his sister - a dab hand at cupcakes - to help him bake something.
Bless that girl, she's a wonder, coming to her big brother's rescue and helping him whip up a batch of mini-cupcakes - and then cleaning up the kitchen as well!
I got to chill on the couch and enjoy the sounds of cooperation and teamwork coming from my kitchen.

It wasn't too long ago that those two were at each other's throats, as he found her completely annoying and she (feeling rejected) would constantly annoy him in retaliation. It drove me crazy.
But lately? He's been really beginning to appreciate his sister.

Take for instance the other day. We were watching XFactor and it was "judges homes" where the boys were going gaga over J-Lo. One of them says to the camera, "I mean, she's amazing. So beautiful. the most beautiful woman in the world...!"

Quick as a flash Dash blurts out, "Well you've never seen my sister!"


Something else which Made my WEEK was an email I received from Katherine, the reader who won my Book Giveaway.

She wrote:
I also wanted to share with you what my best ever use of your blog has been to date. Three of my sisters have children, so as a gift for each family last Christmas I gave them each a family fun night, based around some of your family night and birthday party ideas. They were totally stoked with the gift of time together and shared experiences. For example, one sister has 4 kids (2 boys, 2 girls, aged 5-9 years) and I gave them the Cowboy Cookout with Truth or Dare, complete with nerf guns for playing cowboys and indians, ginger beer with your printable labels, marshmallows for their brazier, and an instruction sheet for cowboy food and the Truth or Dare game. My 9 year old nephew's face was all lit up as he recounted their evening to me - the highlight for him was drawing a face on his tummy and making it talk to each family member! And my brother-in-law appreciated the questions that gave him the chance to get to know his children even better. 

The flow on effect from that gift was that my other sister started creating her own fun nights based on her kids current interests. She's done Angry birds, Lego, and a couple of others I can't remember...
You have such great ideas - keep them coming!

Is that the BEST or what?! I was totally blown away that Katherine had been able to use my humble ideas in such an amazing way.

She also wrote:
[My sister] had 3 girls under 5 years and so for their family I gave them the Fairy Pass the Parcel Poem from your fairy party. I wrapped up the parcel with the clues for where to find each treasure in between the layers, gave my sister the gifts and told her where to hide each item. I suggested they dress up, had dainty fairy food for tea, did the pass the parcel and did some fairy dancing. It was a total hit and the next morning my nieces got dressed up in their fairy gear and wanted to do it all over again. Even my brother-in-law, totally outnumbered, got into it and raved to me what a fab time they had all had.

I think this is a BRILLIANT idea for a family gift. This totally made my week.

If you've never seen them before, here's the blog posts Katherine was talking about:

One final thing that made my day this week: I found my Christmas Book on Book Depository!
You know what that means, right? FREE WORLDWIDE SHIPPING!!!

I had no idea you could get my book on Book Depository; I've been frustrated by the hideous shipping costs to this part of the world on Amazon, and I'm not even sure why I decided to search for my book title while I was on Book Depository the other day.
Blow me down when my book came up! I think I squealed, then raced to post it on Facebook.
And now I'm telling all of you - you can now get my book delivered FREE anywhere in the world!
(So happy).


That'll do for now; there's a whole bunch of things that've made my day this week.
Anything made YOUR day lately?
20 August 2014

A Mum's Guide to Planning Kids' Parties

I'm not a professional kids' party planner, just a mum who loves to  throw her kids a party on their birthday. Round here, we're into making memories and a little bit of magic, not impressing the locals with big budget professional parties. We like at-home parties that don't just look pretty but are fun to be at. We're fans of the deceptively-simple, we like to re-use, upcycle and get creative. We involve our kids in the planning and preparation, we get a kick out of being clever and focus on having fun. 
All our parties parties have been home-made, on a budget and absolutely enjoyed by all (kids and adults alike). 

It's my joy to share our ideas with other amateur party-loving mums, who might benefit from my party planning process (and learn from my mistakes). 

Here's this mum's guide to planning kids parties...

A good theme has lots of things going for it. It should be something the birthday child likes and is into of course (unless they are turning one and too young to know or care).
Get the birthday child involved in the planning of their party. Get them to sit with you while you search for ides online; ask them what THEY want (for food, for games) and get them to help with the preparation wherever possible.

A theme that lends itself easily to dressing up is always great. I prefer themes with motifs that can match the theme (and food) easily, and try to avoid buying expensive licensed products. A good theme gives you plenty of scope for creativity and saving $$$ by allowing you to get inventive and think outside the box.

For instance at a Teddy Bears Picnic you can have bees, honey, flowers, gingham, baskets, teddy bears, Winnie the Pooh and Bear Hunts. 
At a sea-themed party you can have sharks, dolphins, fish, pirates, water fights, mermaids, SpongeBob and Nemo.
A Peter Pan Party is perfect when the guests are both boys and girls, with loads of scope for dressups, decorating and games: Pirates, Lost boys, Indians, Fairies, Mermaids... and a giant croc!

I try to think of the theme at least a couple of months before the party - which is usually easy because the kids start planning their next party as soon as the last one is over!

Once I have the theme sorted, I start collecting ideas on a Pinterest board. This helps me build up a picture of the kind of feel I want to create, and lets me collect all the potential ideas in one place. 
I probably won't use 90% of them but it helps clarify the "vision" for the party.
(Beware the pitfalls of Pinterest though! It can be a bit like falling down a rabbit hole - there are loads of parties by professionals on there, which can be a little overwhelming and feel unattainable. I prefer to collect ideas from other mums i.e. amateurs like me!)

As I collect ideas, I let the theme rattle around my brain and inspiration starts to come. I also keep an eye out when I'm shopping in case I spot things that will add to the theme. I begin collecting them over time, rather than do a mad dash at the end. This is great in two ways:
  • It spreads the cost out
  • Sometimes the great stuff you see is sold out or no longer on special closer to the party date.
About three months before my son's Deep Sea Party I spotted some great $2 fish squirter water guns, that gave me the idea for a water fight and would be great as the take-home prize. Luckily I bought them when I saw them, because within a week they were sold out and I've never seen them since.

It seems obvious, but the guest list is where things can get tricky. If you're having the party at home, you need to have a plan for wet weather. After all, if you have twenty 6-year-old boys at home for a Sports Party and it rains... what then?? It might be worth having the party at in indoor venue, to save a last-minute bad-weather panic. (You will usually need to book well in advance to get the venue you want)

The weather/venue combination will have an impact on how many guests you can accommodate. A small house and an at-home party will obviously require a smallish guest list (unless you live somewhere where it never rains).

WINTER BIRTHDAYS If your child's birthday is in winter (as my daughter's is) you can be clever and plan your indoor party using more than one room in the house. 

For our Fairy Party we set up the bedroom as a make-up/dressing room, had the dining room set for a magical tea party, and used the lounge for the games. The treasure hunt was designed for indoors. We kept guest numbers low - eight girls in total. 

Another great party for winter with small numbers is a Baking Party. When Miss Fab turned eight we had a party for four girls who decorated cupcakes and cookies, made mini pizzas and then enjoyed gobbling up their creations. This was perfect for a winter-time birthday with a few special creative friends.

[When weather is a factor - or you have a big guest list - you might want to hire a venue]
Think about the timing. Consider the age of the guests, how long you want the party to go for and what time of day works best for kids this age.
Parties for littlies often need to work around sleep times, whereas parties for older kids might need to work around team sports.

For example my youngest son's first birthday Teddy Bears Picnic lasted for two hours, from 11am to 1pm. This time of day best suits littlies around his age (between sleeps) and will cover the lunchtime period when they usually eat anyway.

The older kids' parties I tend to do in the afternoon, with an afternoon tea rather than a full on meal. I usually keep to a 2-hour time frame and structure the activities based on that.

[Having an activity at a venue - like laser tag - and food back home gives you the best of both worlds]

As I've said, I'm a huge fan of at-home parties; you just can't create the same atmosphere at a hired venue, but sometimes the birthday child really really wants to go ice skating or to play laser strike.
The obvious answer is an at-home/venue combination.

Go out for the activity and then come home for the food.
It can work really well.


Have a written plan. Create a word document where you list everything you need to do, get, buy and make. Have another list for the menu, one for the decorations, one for the games. 

I usually break up the time something like this:
  • GUESTS ARRIVE: allow 20 minutes for guests to straggle in. Have an activity planned that kids can join in with as they arrive, e.g. face painting, hair and makeup, free play on pre-set activities.
  • GAMES: (10-15 minutes) Something to set the tone and energy level; for example a dancing game or limbo competition
  • FOOD: (30 minutes) Allow time to eat, Blow out the Birthday candles, and sing happy birthday
  • MORE GAMES (the remaining time):
Each party is different of course, and tailored to the age of the guests and the theme. For the Sports Party, we played lots of team games and ate the food last, as it's no good playing sports on a full stomach.

Sleepovers are a whole new ball-game now that our kids are older. Sleepovers usually mean less kids, more time & simpler longer-lasting activities, e.g. for Dash's Dinosaur Adventure Sleepover, the boys played football in the garden, hid dinosaurs and then hunted for them after dark; played Buzz PS2 Dino Den and then watched a movie. Dinner was simple pizza and icecream sundaes. It was a great time with Dash's friends and surprisingly relaxed. The key is limiting the numbers - we've had sleepovers with more guests and the noise and mayhem levels increase exponentially!


For the games I like to find ways to re-work old classics, like musical chairs, statues and treasure hunts.
The classics can easily be adapted to each theme, just by changing a few details, e.g. musical chairs/statues.

At the Fairy Party Musical Chairs became Musical Toadstools, and there was a little prize for each fairy who managed to escape the magical fairy ring. (Young children often get upset if they get "out" so it helps if you can put a positive spin on things. Download Fairy Party Games here).
At the Peter Pan Party, the children danced around the "fire" in the Injun village and "Hook" sent anyone who moved to walk the plank.

You can jazz up an old favourite like Pass the Parcel as well, slipping clues or instructions between the layers.
At the Fairy Party, I combined Pass the Parcel with a Treasure Hunt, putting a rhyming clue between each layer of paper which led to treats hidden around the room.
At Scrag's  6th birthday Classic (themeless) Birthday Party I put dares between certain layers that kids had to do in order to get a lollipop, e.g. "sing the national anthem", "stuff marshmallows in your mouth and say, I'm a fluffy bunny".

[The classics are hard to beat: A Treasure hunt, Hide n seek, sack races & obstacle courses are always fun]

Then there's the treasure hunt - which can be done so many ways, and adapted to so many themes. Hunt for words, clues, prizes, sweets, teddy bears... the sky's the limit!

Think of all those classic backyard games... and adapt them to suit: capture the flag, hide n seek, duck-duck-goose, spin the bottle, the list goes on...

Or you could make a pinata. Boys particularly love to smash stuff.

[Getting creative is not just for the girls - boys like a cookie decorating competition too!]
An alternative to structured games is getting creative. It can be as simple as decorating cookies (have a competition with a prize to spice it up like at our Star Wars Party), decorate scarves, chef hats, or fancy sunglasses (Fancy Nancy Party), make slingshots (and then hold a target shooting comp like at our Boy vs Wild Adventure Party) or simply hang out and do Looms (like at our Girly Sleepover Party. Adapt an activity to your theme - and send the guests home with their creations.

Dancing is always a great activity at birthdays and there are any number of dancing games you can adapt and have fun with. For Miss Fab's 5th Birthday party, we hired a community hall and invited her friends' whole families to attend, dressed as Kings Queens, Knights, and princesses. We called it a Royal Ball and had all kinds of dancing games. Rather than hire an expensive DJ, I downloaded some free mixing software, and made up my own mix dance CD for the Ball. 

Toddlers don't need many (if any) structured activities. They need lots of things set up for them to free-range play on. 

For Scrag's 1st birthday Teddy Bears Picnic, where there were lots of very young ones, we had lots of free-play activities set up (slide, rockers & ride-ons, swings, playhouse, ball pit etc) and then at the end we went on a Bear Hunt to find Teddies, the Party Bags and a friendly (big brother) Pooh Bear.

At Scrag's second birthday Wacky Wheels Party, the guests were still very young so there were no structured games. Instead we marked out a race track on our driveway and instructed guests to bring their ride-ons. There were other activities set up as well including a hired rollercoaster and petrol pump. It was perfect for two-year-olds.

  • Activities may take longer or shorter than you have planned so it pays to be flexible; figure out in advance what you will scrap if you find you are running out of time, or what else you can do if things finish earlier than expected
  • Some games can "go to custard", so it pays to have a back-up plan just in case. For example, at our Jungle Party we were playing a fun game of "Monkey Chase" which we had to pull the plug on after a young "tiger" fell apart when a very realistic "hyena" chased him down, and sent him running to his mum. His distraught sobbing meant the end to that game, so luckily we had a a few others up our sleeve.

A great atmosphere is the difference between a good party and a great party. A large part of the atmosphere is the decorating but there are some other things that go into creating a wonderful fun atmosphere as well...

In my experience kids often need adults to lead the way. I usually enlist the help of some fun adults I know to dress the part and lead the fun. Luckily my hubby Mr G is great at this: he has been Baloo the Bear, Tim from Hi-5, Captain Hook, and The Ref.
He has lots of energy and is great at getting the kids giggling, as well as keeping things moving. I have also been known to round up other fun-loving parents and even babysitters to be fairies, coaches and the gang from Hi-5.

I usually ask a few mums or older siblings to do the Face Painting; we have collected a box of facepaints and glitter over time and these get pulled out and added to with each party. Big brothers and sisters can be a great help running games on the day too.

If budgets are tight (as they seem to be these days) you can have a great party without having to hand over hundreds to special entertainers or face-painters. Just get a few handy friends to pitch in.

Sometimes kids can be shy at parties; they may not know anyone else there apart from the birthday child. It helps to have adults creating a fun and energetic atmosphere. When there are team games we pre-pick the teams; there's nothing worse than being the last kid standing at a party, unpicked. This also helps ensure that teams are well balanced, with members of mixed abilities.

Music plays a huge part in setting the party's tone and atmosphere. I always make a special mix CD for each party, with a combination of music we already own and some new songs from iTunes that suit the theme. It's very easy to create your own mix CD using iTunes or Windows Media player: all you need is a computer that has a CD burner. By tailoring the songs to the theme, you help create the kind of "feel" you want - from ethereal and magical (fairy), to high energy (sports).

Or just make a playlist and hook up your iPod to speakers, if you're clever like that.

Decorating is the hugest part of setting the atmosphere. When your guests arrive they know they're in for some fun because you've taken the time to set the scene. The little details all add up to create some magic. This is the fun part and where you can just let your imagination go to town.

I always try to keep the decorating simple but effective. I use things I already have and borrow or make things I don't. You don't need to spend lots of money, you just need to be a bit clever.  I've been known to upcycle things from the dump, rescue crates from the side of the road and hoard tin cans and jars for months.Christmas lights and lengths of fabric, come in handy so keep your leftovers from one party to the next - you never know when you might need it again.

Cover the windows with blue cellophane for a Sea-themed party and hang dolphins and sea creatures from the ceiling
A green tulle canopy strung with flowers, butterflies and ivy sets the scene for an enchanted fairy party.

For the Wild West Campout Party I made wanted posters for each guest (cost = .60c each); they worked great for the decor and then guests got to take them home as well.

For our Toy Story Party we turned our dining room into pizza planet by hanging balls (planets) from the ceiling, covering the windows in red cellophane and borrowing lots of lava lamps.

Using printables to theme your party is such a simple way to make the ordinary special. I have designed a whole load of printables on a range of themes for you to take and use at your parties. Simple ideas like peeling the labels off homebrand fizzy drink or water and replacing them with on-theme labels. It's the little things that make the difference.

Here's a few of my printables for ya:

Think outside the box rather than using expensive licensed products - go with a secondary motif for decorating. 
Innovative presentation really adds excitement; e.g. food displayed in toy trucks and trailers for Wacky Wheels Party looked amazing and cost nothing.

 Keep the food simple and easy to prepare. You don't want to spend your whole time in the kitchen at your child's birthday party. Food that can be prepared ahead of time is best. It's also good to be aware of guests who may have food allergies (which are very common these days). Best to check with the parents and offer some alternatives for that child to eat.
Click here for some of my party food ideas... (including allergy friendly recipes)
Then of course there's the Birthday Cake. There are so many ideas out there! Sometimes the simplest ones can look the most effective. If you're stuck for ideas, try doing a google image search on your party's theme, or look in Pinterest. If in doubt, just use lots of buttercream icing and lollies (yum yum)!

Here are some of my deceptively easy Birthday Cakes
Erupting Volcano Cake
Castle Cake
Rocket Cake
Toadstool Cake
Treasure Map Cake
Rapunzel's Tower Cake
Sleepover Party Birthday Cake
Army Party Camouflage Birthday Cake & Cupcakes
Wild West Campfire Cupcakes and Birthday cake

[plus 60 amazing cakes sent in by Readers]

 I am not a great fan of goody bags but I do like to send the guests home with something, even if it's a cutely presented bag of sweets. I can't stand wasting money on plastic junk, I would rather get each child an inexpensive take-home gift that's useful and/or a little bag of sweeties.
For the Sports Party, I hunted for deals on Sippy Bottles and eventually found some cool Nike ones for $3 each. I named each bottle and the kids used them during the sports games and took the bottles home.

At the Fairy Party, the girls got an empty little flax bag with their own fairy label at the start of the party. They collected their prizes in it throughout the party. Plus I made a flower wreath for each little fairy guest to wear and take home with them.
At the Army Combat party I made hand-stamped dog tags and a printed "ARMY" t shirt (found for $2) for each guest to take home. No plastic crap round here! (Army Party Prep: Stencils & Printables)

The best time to hand out invitations is about 3-4 weeks ahead. Sometimes it can help to email guests with a "save the date" alert, to avoid disappointment. Also it seems that most kids say "yes" to party invitations, unlike adults. In the early days, my hubby advised me to invite 15 kids if I wanted to end up with 10 guests, to allow for the "No's". (Ha! I ended up with 15!)

I've found that usually only one or two kids will not be able to make it, often at the last minute due to illness. There could also be a few "ring ins" (siblings) turn up and it's good to have a couple of spare bags of sweets on hand, just in case.

I design my own invitations in Photoshop, which gives me the look and feel I want for the party. (Click here for my free printable invitation designs, or get them personalised on my Etsy shop).

In the week leading up to the party, make a to-do list with tasks broken down into each day. Spread the jobs out through the week and involve older children in party prep, e.g. stuffing goody bags and baking cupcakes. Do whatever you can ahead of time, so you can enjoy the party as well.

Tick things off once they're done, then relax until the next day. And have a rain plan figured out!

The point of the party is to celebrate the birthday child and give him/her a great day with their friends. There will always be mishaps and things that don't work out how you wanted them to - like the weather. Don't focus on what goes wrong. If you're running out of time, drop some non-essential things off your to-do list.

The kids won't actually notice many of the details. They will soak up the atmosphere. The details all go into creating atmosphere - but the sight of you stressed-out and grouchy will undo all your good work. So take a deep breath, relax and simply enjoy your child's Big Day.

  • Click Here for my printable Party Planning Worksheet
  • Click Here for my FREE Kids Party Invitation Website
  • Click Here for more Party Menus, Tutorials & Recipes 

Our Kids Birthday Parties

Classic Kids Birthday Party on a Budget