Sunday, 22 February 2015

Books, wine and red noses

I love books.  Not just reading, but books.  I surprised myself by disliking my Kindle very much when I got one -  I loved my iPhone and iPad, I'm not technology-averse, but I hadn't realised how much the physicality of a book mattered to me. A Kindle is handy for travelling (which I rarely do) and it would save on shelf space (a constant issue).  But if I really want to read something, I need an actual book.

The downside of this book fetish is that we never have enough space to keep all the books we have.  With 3 reading-mad kids the problem is only getting worse, so some years ago I hit on the perfect way to pass on books - a book swap party.

This is how it works:

I invite everyone I know on an open house basis. We all pile books we aren't likely to read again on the tables, have a good rummage for new things to read,  drink a lot of wine while chatting to people about the books, and put £1 in the charity pot for each book we take home.

Genius, don't you think?  Everyone gets rid of books they don't need and can choose new ones, we have a good time and whichever charity I've picked gets some money.  A good deal for everyone.

This year I chose to raise money for Comic Relief.  Red Nose Day is a month away but there's no reason not to start early.  Also, I'd been looking forward to the craft book Comic Relief was issuing this year, so I guess they were on my mind.

Miss B was enthusiastic 

She did a lovely job on the signs and negotiated a later bedtime so she could chat to people and look for books.

I'd baked some cheese straws, although as it was nearly St Valentine's day I made them in heart shapes.  I love cheese pastries. I use a Nigella Lawson recipe from the kids' section in How To Eat, but with mature cheddar and smoked paprika. The trouble is, no matter how many I make they never quite last long enough.
2 of 6 trays I baked
When the people came I had a brilliant time.  We chatted, I poured drinks and offered snacks, greeted newcomers and prevented my over-enthusiastic kids from absconding with the crisps. I relied on the shared experience of the books to get people talking. I love the book chatter I hear from the swapping tables - the "I loved that one," "Ooo, my mum read this and liked it," even the "Just hated it." The shared experience and enjoyment, or the strong difference of opinion... it's just ace.  Books are such parcels of happiness.

My Very Excellent Mate Emma brought along a copy of her latest book for children, Wild Thing Goes Camping which she kindly let me raffle off on her behalf, and dedicated the book to the winning child.  Another tenner for Comic Relief and a very lucky girl - thanks Emma!

The last of my friends left about 11:30, leaving behind a kitchen full of used wine glasses and a full charity jar.  There were some bottles of wine too, so Mark and I "bought" them from the book swap and popped money in the jar.

I was too wide awake at that point, so I settled in with The Great British Sewing Bee to unwind.  I can't resist the Bake Off, Sewing Bee and Allotment Challenge.  I love enthusiasts having a go. Fearlessly attempting, even.

The next morning, having raised over £90 for Comic Relief with the books we swapped, there were still heaps left.  I could have had another event with the leftovers! by evening they were all delivered to the charity shop and we'd moved the furniture back to its normal position.

That's it until next year.  I wonder how many more book swaps I can host before ebooks kill it off.  A fair few more, I hope.

J xx

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Birthday Hijinks

December may be given over to Christmas (despite being the birthday months of my friends, father-in-law and the fabulous Miss B) but the party doesn't stop with New Year.  With more birthdays than you can shake a stick at, January is a busy month too.

Miss B has more birthdays than the Queen. She had her ACTUAL birthday in December, celebrated with just us, a party tea in early January with her best friend Olivia and our ace WildThing Family mates who came to visit, and her party with school friends in mid January, which was divided into a party for 7 and a sleepover for 3. More of that in a moment.

Zach became a teenager this past month. We went out for dinner as a family on the night itself. With mates he didn't want a big celebration, just some close friends to sleep over after gaming through the night. He wanted a black forest cake like the one mentioned in Portal and Portal 2, but everyone knows that cake is a lie.  It said so right on top of it.
(piped with not-properly-melted chocolate on not-quite-set icing as he came down the stairs, so it was pretty messy)

Two nieces, my brother and my mum all have January birthdays as well. I'd taken over gifts for Neil and the girls with the Christmas stuff, but was uselessly behind with Mum's present.  I was making her a padded iPad cover, nice and snug to protect it when she travels, but I messed up the measurements and made it 2mm too tight. So I had to start again, and thus post it a bit late.  Not exactly ideal, but at least the finished present was nice.

I was really pleased with Bonnie's party this year.  I wanted to keep it fairly low-cost while still being loads of fun and something a little different.  Knowing how much she  loves to dress up and preen, we decided on a "photo shoot."

I ordered some photo props on sticks made from card - glasses, moustaches, bow ties - through eBay for about £4.  We moved the big mirror into the kitchen, propped it on the table as a dressing area, and heaped costume jewellery, hair clips, scarves, hats, shawls and anything else we could think or up for the kids to play with.

Using a double duvet cover hung from a shelving unit as a backdrop and old bedside lamps to improve the lighting, we had our "studio."

 A couple of old frames with the pictures and glass removed and we were set for the party guests.  Of course, we needed a couple of practise models to make sure the lights and backdrop would work ok.    What can I say, I've a face for radio.

The girls had a fantastic time.  I took the pictures with my iPhone, nothing fancy, and kept a tick sheet next to me to ensure I got several photos of each child.  I didn't want to discover as I went to print them out I had 25 of Emily and none of Aaliyah (which nearly happened. Aaliyah is much the quietest of them all).  In fact, the person I got fewest pictures of in the end was Miss B herself.  She was so busy chatting, dancing and helping her friends create 'looks' she nearly forgot to be photographed.
One girl so heavily disguised even her mum didn't immediately recognise her!
I took loads of pictures in which the kids gurned, posed, went all Vogue and gangsta, and nearly fell down laughing.  It was great fun.

Then I put out the food for them to dig into before settling them down to watch Maleficent on DVD in one room while I edited and printed off the photos in the other.  Each girl got her photos as a party bag, along with cake and sweets. I bought 3-packs of those little perspex blocks that hold a crocodile clip for displaying a photo, so each party-goer got her own best shot displayed.  I emailed the others to their mums.

All in all, with the cake, sandwiches, brownies, mini-cupcakes, crisps, hummus, veg sticks, grapes, blackcurrant squash, party bag bits and photo paper, I think the cost of the party came to under £40.  My Very Excellent Mate Kirsty loaned us the DVD and most of the dressing up things were items we had already - especially hats.  We do love hats. One of the most fun and affordable parties I've done in ages. 

Before I took the photo studio down, Luke did a quick Zombie Apocalypse 3-D pose. Try not have nightmares OK? If you feed him pizza he probably won't kill you.