parties

Anticipation

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When you are nearly four, anticipation is palpable. Tangible.

It dominates your mealtimes. What will my cake look like? Will all my friends sing Happy Birthday? Can we have hot chocolate?

And your friendships. I am nearly four. Am I older than my other friends? Will my hair be longer than all my friends' hair now? Will my feet be bigger than all my friends'?

Cleaning the house before your party, you don't even mind hiding your toys to make room for the party games. You can put them away now, Mummy, I don't mind. You help your mother decorate the house with the posters and banners and streamers and balloons you chose from Big W; mix up polymer snow-powder; smooth out tiny, handmade, paper snowflakes in your little almost-four hands.

Anticipation permeates your dreams. Quick! I have to get ready for my party! you yell, still fathoms-deep in sleep. (I will come to your party, your brother drowsily replies, before sinking back into his own dreams.)

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I didn't want to host yet another party in my house, but Scout begged me to do it. She didn't want to celebrate her birthday anywhere else. It was a lot of work, as parties always are. But in the weeks and days beforehand, as the day grew near and nearer still, I came to understand the joy of anticipation through her eyes. Even the most mundane of tasks: tidying, vacuuming, grocery shopping; became acts of thrilling expectation, and gave her joy before the real joy of the party.

I guess we never stop learning from our children.

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Dad turns 70: the party ideas edition

Here are some of the little party ideas we've been working on during the past several months, to create fun surprises for my Dad and his guests at his 70th birthday party.

Save-the-date cards 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ΔΔ I had some simple postcards printed up. On the front was a picture of Dad when he was about two, and a cryptic note at the bottom saying "Guess who's turning 70? Save the date 22 August 2015."

The clue was on the back. There, I wrote their addresses (of course), but those who looked carefully would also have noticed that the 70c stamp was actually a picture of my Dad today. Order personalised stamps from Australia Post here.

Invitations 

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ΔΔ I shared some of the mail-art I painted for the invitations that you see here in an earlier post. This is what was inside the boxes I sent.

When Dad's invitees opened their mail, they found a plain, white box. Inside the box was an old View Master. As they held it to their eyes, it took them through a little seven-slide "This is your Life" for my Dad. So, for example, the first slide was a black-and-white photo of my Dad when he was only a few months old, sitting in a bucket on the verandah. I wrote "It was 1945. Baby Paul took a bath in a bucket." Then on the next slide, my pre-teen Dad learned to ride a bike. I showed him meeting my Mum, being a father, building our house, those kinds of things. The final slide gave all the details of the party.

I used Image 3D to create and order my View Masters and slides. I found them very quick and great quality, despite the somewhat dodgy looking website. We ordered one set first, just as a test, before placing the order for 55. They get significantly cheaper per unit the more you order.

Secret book 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ΔΔ Via a series of elaborate lies, I spent months collecting information and resources from Dad and the people close to him so that I could create a secret book for him about his life.

I collected old photos, mementos and newspaper clippings; recollections from Dad about his life and the lessons he had learned during the past 70 years; stories from Mum about their courtship and how Dad proposed (I can't believe I had never heard this story before!); and stories and memories from Dad's sister, my brother, and some of Dad's closest relatives and friends, so the book would be a warm and surprising read, both for Dad and for future generations.

The book is roughly chronological in order, starting with Dad's childhood upbringing, then meeting and marrying Mum, work, being a parent, building his own house, travelling, and becoming a grandfather.

I created this book using Artifact Uprising, since I'd used them before and loved the service and quality. This book was a 100-page hardcover book with linen cover and a dust-jacket, and I also ordered a box made out of reclaimed wood to store the book, with a photo of Dad printed on the top.

Stories and anecdotes 

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ΔΔ Along with the secret book, I made a second book using Artifact Uprising that was the same size as the other, but in soft cover. I chose a cute photo of my Dad as a toddler to put on the front (how amazing is that technicolour yellow knitted jumpsuit! and those curls!), and then on the first page wrote some words inviting people to jot down their thoughts and memories of my Dad on the blank pages that followed.

We passed this around during the party so that people could fill the pages with messages for Dad. They shared some fantastic stories and moving tributes.

Famous RSVPs 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ΔΔ Back in January we wrote letters to a series of international dignitaries, inviting them to come to my Dad's party. Somewhat surprisingly, none of them could make it! I collected all the RSVP notes and put them in a folder to give to my Dad and display at the party.

So when people came to take a look at the folder on the table, they saw a letter from the Queen of England wishing my Dad a very happy birthday, a letter from the President of France expressing his deep regret that he couldn't join us for lunch in Katoomba, the International Olympic Committee President wishing his schedule could have allowed him to make it, and many more. The Mayor of the town in Brittany where my father's family lived for many generations wished him well, and sent me colour photocopies of a page in a Baptism Register from the 1780s, showing the birth of my father's ancestor Jean Louis.

Hand-lettered name-cards 

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ΔΔ Never underestimate how long it will take to measure, cut, fold, pencil, erase and fill-in 75 place-cards, and don't leave this task until after dinner on the night before the party. That's just a tip from me to you.

 

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Dad turns 70: the mail-art edition

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We have been on the road to celebrate my father's 70th birthday, in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, north-west of Sydney.

Mr B and I organised a party for my Dad and 74 of his nearest and dearest and, despite a Fawlty Towers-esque performance from the venue we had selected, it was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed themselves so much that three hours after our estimated "finish time," they were still kicking on. My brother and I were the party-poopers who eventually wound things up, and I want to say it was only because we were thinking of the needs of our children, who were drooping with weariness and plummeting blood sugars, but it was most likely also because we were both designated drivers and ready for a drop or two of leftover champagne once safely home.

I sent out little boxed surprises to all Dad's guests in lieu of invitations, and incorporated their addresses into painted pictures to make things a bit fun for them. In total, I think I sent about 55 painted boxes.

 

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We created some other fun little surprises, both in the invitations and for the party itself, which I'll share with you in another post.

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Celebrate

Party How is it possibly even Monday again? I mean I know it's a cliche to talk about the weekend going by so fast but I HONESTLY think I blinked and missed it.

Approximately two hours ago (in my head) it was midday on Friday and one of my best friends in the world, Cara, was due to arrive any minute on a visit from Sydney. Then she DID arrive and I couldn't even go to the tram stop let alone the airport to meet her, because a) I didn't have a car and b) Harry was sleeping upstairs in his cot. Poor Cara made it to our place in between showers and hailstorms and... we think that was SLEET. What? How cold was it in Melbourne this weekend!?! I kept seeing friends' feeds on Facebook of frolics in the snow basically just outside town and it was all so beautiful.

Cara and a bunch of our other friends joined us at the Epworth Gala Ball on Saturday night, which was organised by Mr B and his team. Just us and more than 1300 other people, raising money for medical research. (Cara was adorable because she's from Sydney and the cold weather was killing her so she wore thermals under her dress. She is a stunner so she could get away with it, but I still thought it was pretty funny). And permit me a little boast but I am so incredibly proud of Mr B and the people who work with and for him because that night they raised $5.6 million to go to medical research. That is INSANE. There were two people on our table who pledged a million and 1.2 million each to this cause. When the first woman announced her gift - a lovely lady in her 80s - you could literally feel 1300 people hold their breath. We were all thinking, "Did she actually say what I think she said?" and then the whole room erupted in applause.

The ball had a "Rio Carnival" theme and later we were all up and dancing to cheesy Latin music, including the 80-something-year-old lady. I want to be like her when I'm old. Not just rich and generous (although that would be nice), but also fun and cheeky and celebratory and go-get-em fun-loving. She has lost her husband, and battled cancer more than once. She and her late husband made their money by sheer hard work. They weren't tycoons or heirs, they were hard-working, careful-saving, and smart. And now she gives and gives and gives again to charity, because she genuinely cares. Then she laughs and cracks a slightly-blue joke, and tears it up on the dance floor.

Another highlight of the evening was when, during the Latin-style dancing, they announced a conga line. I said to Mr B "Let's sneak away," because there is NOTHING WORSE than a conga line. And he agreed. So I started to walk back to our table and he had his hand on my waist and the next minute we looked behind us and there were six or more people all holding onto us and it turned out WE HAD STARTED THE CONGA LINE. Which was horrifying and hilarious in the same moment.

We stayed in a hotel that night and Mr B didn't get in until almost 4am and I didn't sleep much before that because babies and hotel rooms don't always go well together, and we all four of us ended up in the bed together. Thank goodness for luxurious, king-sized hotel beds! When we woke the next morning, bleary and tired but on massive highs from the night's success, it was so beautiful. Everybody smiled at each other all at once. Madeleine threw herself across my body to kiss Harry, and Harry exploded into giggles. Then we ordered a big breakfast and ate it in our room overlooking the city.

I strapped Harry to me in the Ergo and walked out into Melbourne's coldest morning in 16 years. Cara texted me. "It is 1 degree!" and I said "Isn't it great?" and she simply responded "ONE DEGREE." I guess she was glad of those thermals. Harry and I were each others' hot water bottles so he quickly fell asleep and we were fine as we walked from Crown Casino to Gertrude Street where we met Cara, and Madeleine and Mr B caught up with us. By this time the day had warmed up to one of those perfect sunny winter's days that are like peering at the world through the finest layer of ice and nothing is more clean.

Madeleine was a trooper despite the night of broken sleep and no nap, and only had one meltdown all day. So we all rocked up to yum cha before heading home, where Madeleine and I picked and washed lemons to make preserves while Mr B and Harry had a nanna-nap together.

And the next minute the kids were both asleep in bed and Mr B and I were watching something cheesy on the TV and the weekend was over just like that and I SWEAR everything I've just written only happened a couple of hours ago, and the weekend is about to begin.

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Party printable: ice-cream + circus elephant

NaomiBulger-ice-cream-elephant-invitationWhen I was planning the invitations for my friend Pip's ice-cream baby-shower last weekend, I asked her for some ideas as to what she would like me to use as a theme. One of the thoughts she had was something to do with elephants. Trying to mix elephants with ice-cream wasn't what I'd call a natural visual pairing, but I am nothing if not ambitious. In the end, I decided to paint a cute circus elephant balancing on a big, round scoop of ice-cream. A couple of people have asked me if they could use this picture, which is super flattering as I don't imagine there is a LOT of demand for blue-and-purple circus elephants balancing on top of blue ice-cream. But yes of course I'm happy for the picture to be used!

If this is you, you can download the invitation here, or download just the picture here. I hope your party is super fun!

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The easiest party you will ever throw

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One word (or is it two?): ice-cream. On a big table, stack up a few tubs of the most delicious ice-cream you can find. Mine was my very own bespoke flavour from Harry's Ice Cream Co, just around the corner in Brunswick: cinnamon doughnut and maple syrup (I know!!). More about that later.

Fill vintage tea-cups with a whole lot of toppings. Anything you like. I used hundreds and thousands, crushed Oreos and crushed Flakes, broken waffle cones, marshmallows, maple syrup, caramel sauce and chocolate sauce. Plonk some cute disposable ice-cream cups and spoons on the table. Invite your friends over, switch on the music, pop a bottle of champagne, and you're at a party!

Did you know that July is the International Ice Cream Month? This started in the US circa 1984, apparently at the behest of President Ronald Reagan, who called on all citizens to observe ice cream events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities." Fast forward 30 years and Harry's Ice Cream Co contacted me a little while ago to see if I'd like a few tubs of my very own flavour, to help celebrate a tradition of eating frozen confectionaries during the coldest month of the year. Darn tootin' I did!

In the name of responsible research I turned to Facebook, asking my friends to help me come up with winter-friendly flavours. A "vegemite toast" joke from my brother-in-law led to thoughts of honey crumpets, then French toast or cinnamon toast which, in discussions with Harry's Ice Cream Co, eventually became cinnamon doughnut. And maple syrup swirl for good (really good) measure. Folks, there were actual chunks of doughnut in this ice-cream. It was SO tasty. Harry's delivered the ice-cream a few weeks ago but in a supreme act of self-control, I held onto it until the Saturday just gone, to use it in a baby shower for my friend Pip.

Like me, Pip has a little girl, and baby number two is a boy. Pip wasn't planning a baby shower, "because I feel a bit silly doing it for the second one, you know?" And I did know, because that's how I felt too. But I regretted it. Harry is worth celebrating every bit as much as Madeleine, and I really felt that in the chaos of life surrounding my own second pregnancy, I didn't get to mark his progress or his arrival with the kind of weight I'd have liked to have given it. I wrote a bit about that here and here. So we decided to at least do something for Pip. She wanted to keep it low-key, so we just invited a few of her friends over to my place to indulge in ice-cream and brainstorm boy's names (what are your favourites?), and generally celebrate that beautiful bump.

So, back to the world's most easy party. To make it just a bit more fancy for Pip and her friends, I added a few little extras. A stack of cinnamon doughnuts, a hot fruit salad to serve with cream, and some simple bowls of snacks like dried apricots and pistachio nuts. The decorations were kept very simple too. Pip wanted "something to do with elephants" so I painted up a circus elephant balancing on an ice-cream cone to use in the invitations I sent out to her friends, then replicated it in little details around the table. My only other decorative task was a big balloon wall to provide a back-drop to the party (positioned higher than I'd have liked it to to put the balloons out of reach of Madeleine).

Pip's friends were lovely, the whole party was incredibly easy, and the clean-up took less than half an hour. Have you ever tried an ice-cream party? I'm absolutely a convert. Last week I linked to this ice-cream crawl which I think is a great idea. I've also bookmarked this giant banana split as a fantastic idea for a kids' summer party. And these ridiculously decadent candy-vanilla milkshakes look much too good to pass up. What are your best ice-cream party ideas?

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Thank you so much Harry's Ice Cream Co for giving us this amazing taste experience. They also sent me a gift voucher to cover the cost of some of the toppings. I'm sorry to say my cinnamon doughnut and maple syrup ice-cream was a one-time-only affair, but three of the flavours (pavlova, sticky date pudding and lamington) are available at Woolworths stores across Australia if you'd like to try them. I can attest to the fact that they are GOOD. So good that "I don't like ice-cream" Mr B had two helpings of the sticky-date pudding ice-cream for dessert the other night, and I had a bowl of the pavlova ice-cream (pieces of meringue included!) after dinner on Saturday, despite having spent the better part of the afternoon already consuming ice-cream!

ps. Please to be noticing my very own logo on those tubs of my 'bespoke' flavour in the photo near the top. So special!

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Favourite things - loving lately

title-loving-latelyHappy Friday, friends. Oh and an extra big welcome if you're visiting for the first time from Pip Lincolne's blog Meet Me at Mikes. How awesome is Pip! Sending big love and thanks her way for sending YOU my way. I'm a Melbourne-dwelling mother of two, a journalist, an author, and a big fan of snail mail. If you want to say hi, be sure to leave a link to your own blog if you have one so I can come visit you in turn... You know what's really great about the weather being so cold you can see your breath in the air in front of you? Heaters and knee-rugs and ugg-boots and the kettle on the boil, that's what! So from the warmth and comfort of my couch, hands periodically cradled around a hot cup of tea, I bring you five things I'm loving lately.

1. For my home: hanging plants

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Lately I find I'm really hankering for plants inside my home. I long for the sense of calm they create, and the suggestion of health, clean air, and generally being a little more grounded (even when you live in an inner-city terrace house). Right now we only have one plant in the house, a beautiful terrarium that a friend gave me at Easter. And it's dying. How do you kill terrarium plants? I thought they were almost indestructible. Maybe I over-watered it, I have been known to kill plants with kindness...

Anyway, I think this mid century hanging planter seen on Justina Blakeney (via Chantelle Grady) is gorgeous in its simplicity and clean lines. Plus I love the interest and variety that hanging plants generate in a home. AND hanging planters keep soil and potentially-toxic leaves out of reach of curious little hands.

2. For my rainy afternoon: home-made crumpets

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This icy, wet and blustery weather calls for hot crumpets, dripping in butter and honey, wouldn't you agree? And tea, of course. On particularly cold days, Madeleine and Harry and I love to treat ourselves to crumpets for morning or afternoon tea. It feels all very proper and British, don't you know? One of these days, I'd really like to try making crumpets from scratch. If for no other reason than that I like the idea of eating crumpets any darn time I like, rather than only when I've remembered to buy them from the supermarket (which is not very often). I think I'll give this recipe a try some time soon.

3. For giggles: NYC survival guide

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These illustrations on how to survive life in New York have been doing the rounds of the Internet for a little while, and every time they cross my radar they make me laugh. During my time living in NYC I quickly learned that New Yorkers were short on time and space, so respecting those two things in others was paramount.

In New York, it doesn't matter how unusual or seemingly absurd your dream is: there are people who will know people, and they will want to help you. But I had to learn to make the most of every opportunity, because while New Yorkers might be generous with their knowledge and connections, they don't have time to hold your hand and cajole and convince you to go ahead. The rest is up to you.

That's the serious side. On the lighter side, you can buy the very cute and funny NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette book by Nathan W. Pyle on Amazon, or take a look at some animated GIFs of the same illustrations (click on each image to see the animation).

4. For my children: a balloon wall

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I bookmarked this fantastic balloon wall idea in the lead-up to Madeleine's second birthday earlier this month. She LOVES balloons (pronounced "baboons") and in the month leading up to her birthday party we discussed balloons at least every day. In the end I didn't create the balloon wall because I just had too much else to do for her TWO parties, and by the day of her actual birthday I think she had reached the point of celebration fatigue. Still, I am dying to do this. Maybe on another birthday. Or maybe one day, just for kicks. I can imagine the two children coming downstairs of a morning and finding a balloon wall to tear down. That could be a lot of fun, don't you think?

5. For my ride: handwoven bike baskets

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Do you ride a bike? I miss mine! It was a 1970s yellow Speedwell with back-pedal brakes and no gears, and it was precisely my speed. During the few months that we lived in Adelaide it really came into its own, because Adelaide was so flat and linked by so much green. I loved exploring the city on my little bike! I gave the bike away while I was pregnant because it wasn't the type that could be converted to safely transport little ones, and it was (and will be) a long time before I'll be riding solo again.

But the day I step across two wheels again, I definitely want one of these handwoven Asungtaba bike baskets on the front. They are made for House of Talents, an organisation connecting talented artisans in developing countries to consumers worldwide. (Also available from Anthropologie)

That's it for Friday folks. I hope your weekend is shiny and happy!

 

ps. Some posts you might have missed if you're new here...

* Melbourne: have you been to Kinfolk Cafe? * Snail mail: here are 19 fab pen pals, and here is some decorated mail I'm sending * Mothering: I won the lottery * Making: these woodland picnic party invitations are quick, easy and leave a great impression * Nesting: the story of the snow globe * Art: Aussie artist Emma Lipscombe reveals where she looks for inspiration * More favourite things

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Easy "woodland picnic" party invitations

woodland-picnic-invitation-1 woodland-picnic-invitation-2 woodland-picnic-invitation-3 I always think it's nice at a party, even a little one, to give your guests one "wow factor" to make them feel special. It doesn't need to be difficult or expensive, just something that looks a bit extravagant, so they think "Wow, I'm excited to be here." It might be a rainbow curtain of coloured streamers at the front door, or a confetti-strewn hallway (if you can stand the clean-up later), or simply a fancy table-setting.

Same goes for the invitations. They set the scene and build anticipation for the party. And because I'm all about the snail mail, I LOVE to make interesting, unexpected invitations and send them by post. These days it's so nice to receive ANYTHING other than bills in the mailbox at all, let alone a little present, inviting you along to a shin-dig.

Madeleine loves a good picnic so we are hosting a "Winter Woodland Picnic" party for her second birthday. Recently I saw these woodland party invitations by Michaela Egger on Oh Happy Day and I thought they'd be perfect for this theme. Michaela gives you a full tutorial for making the invitations, even down to templates to make the boxes yourself. If you have the time, they look pretty easy and then you're talking about almost no cost to make something really pretty!

As it was, I bought my boxes for $3 each from a local cafe, because I couldn't find the type I wanted in craft stores, and was too lazy/time-poor to make them myself. Other than that, the florist moss was $5 and I had ridiculous amounts left over, and I covered the envelopes in old stamps we already had around the house to cover postage, so all in all it was a pretty cheap exercise. From start to finish, these invitations took about three hours to make (I made 14).

These are the steps:

1. Decorate the outside of the boxes, any way you like. I chose to paint little toadstools on mine (Madeleine helped me pick images from the Internet to copy), but you could do anything: make a collage, create a potato-stamp, cover it with confetti... go to town!

2. Print out your invitations, roll them into a scroll, and tie them with string.

3. Fill the boxes. In this case, I filled mine with florist moss to create a woodland/grassy theme, following the Oh Happy Day tutorial. I also sacrificed an old tea-towel and cut up tiny squares to look like picnic rugs. Maybe you could add little doll-house picnic items, or some tiny forest animals...

4. Pop your invitation into the box, stick it in an envelope, and post it to your friends. Done!

Madeleine posted the invitations herself. Later the same afternoon, we saw the post van driving past us ("Red car!" Madeleine alerted me). I explained that her party invitations were in that very car, and the driver was taking them to all her friends. The wonder in her eyes. Oh, to be almost two again!

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ps. It seems almost unbelievable to me that we are gearing up for Madeleine's second birthday already. You name the cliche, I'm feeling it. The years are short but the days are long. It feels like just yesterday that she was born, and yet I can barely remember or imagine life without her in it. She is my own little baby. She is growing into such a big girl so fast. And so on.

I once read that cliches only become cliches because they are the best way of expressing something. So there. I am embracing my inner cliches AND my inner conflict. Every day I am so proud of the way she is growing. She is so clever (says her mother), and I can't wait to see what she will do next. Yet, I want her to stay little forever. I'm not ready to lose that baby-sweetness!

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First birthdays

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA madeleine presents2 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst birthdays are for waking up to a room full of balloons. They are for giggles, smiles, and squeals of glee. They are for daffodils, and boxes covered in homemade, polka-dot wrapping paper, made by Mama late last night using potatoes and paint. First birthdays are stay-in-your-PJs-until-lunch, they are wear-a-silly-hat-if-you-want-to, they are tear-the-paper-off-your-presents as if there were no greater joy in the world.

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In the afternoon some friends came over and there was more laughter, more exciting new presents, a song, a loving kiss for a new doll, a first taste of chocolate cake, a chance to stay up late.

Her joy was so infectious, she made her first birthday the most special day possible, for all of us.

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Last minute high tea

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou know those times? When your husband and your 14 year old step-daughter gleefully announce, "We have decided to host a High Tea party for our friends next weekend." And you think, "Oh great. That means I will be hosting a High Tea party for their friends next weekend," and then you think, "When did I get so old and bitter?" So you just tell them that is a brilliant idea, and stop yourself from thinking about recipes and decorations and logistics and instead you let them have their moment. That delicious moment when you plan and look forward to something fun.

And as the week goes on, you restrict yourself to the occasional question. "Have you decided what you will cook yet?" And, "Did you remember that Raya is gluten-free and lactose intolerant?" And when they answer, "We'd better get on to that soon," you hold your tongue and don't point out how long it generally takes to plan and cook for and set up these kinds of things.

Now it is Saturday night and the High Tea is on Sunday and as far as you're aware, nothing has yet been done. "What are your plans for tomorrow?" you innocently ask.

There is sudden panic in your home. In resignation, your husband rings their friends with the intention of cancelling but, before he can do so, said friends say "We're really looking forward to the High Tea!" so there goes that idea.

For a couple of minutes, your heart sinks and your martyr complex rises. You imagine yourself coming up with an entire menu of gluten-free, dairy-free High Tea treats and trying to concoct them that night and early the next morning. You think how tired you'll be, especially in between caring for a little baby and cleaning the house. You remember the last time you baked with gluten-free flour and how truly inedible the result was.

Then you suck it up and say, "BEGONE, Martyr Naomi." The next morning, you run up to the local bakery and buy a selection of assorted macarons, friands and mini meringues, then pick up some lovely berries, grapes and cherries from the organic fruit store. Back home, you and Mr B clean the house from top to bottom while Madeleine and Emily sleep in.

You pull out all the pretty china and set a simple table in the courtyard under the olive tree, decorating the table by putting some flowers that Emily picks from the front garden in an old marmalade jar. You put on a pot of tea. Mr B juices a dozen lemons for you to make fresh, sparkling lemonade.

Turns out, you don't have to make everything yourself, from scratch, for everyone to have a good time. Who knew?

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