Mini Pamper Session

Mini Minx’s eczema flared up really badly yesterday – possibly in reaction to a brilliant day out at the swimming pool, possibly because it’s just one of those things. Anyway, she certainly didn’t react well to me approaching her with the big bottle of gloopy moisturiser and corticosteroid ointment!

As I slathered and winced at her squeals, she railed about how it was so unfair that she only got huge bottles of moisturiser while her friends were allowed to wear make-up at weekends and go to beauty salons with their mothers. I took a lot of this with a bucket-load of salt (her friends are only 6 and 7 years old), but it did give me an idea for a cunning plan to disguise my intensive Sort Out The Eczema Fast regime: give her a home spa morning.

Maxi and Midi were packed off to a nearby bouldering wall with their Dad to have some fun while Mini and I prepared my bedroom for her ‘Girly Morning’: Mini fetched her CD player and chose some of her favourite music from Maxi’s music collection (shhhhh, don’t tell Maxi!), while I set up a comfy massage area. I put a pillow on the end of the bed and covered that with a plastic bin liner (really important!), then 2 towels. I used another, soft towel as a cover, and had yet another on hand as a turban for Mini’s hair.

Even though I was prepared for a lot of mess, I tell you, it was apocalyptic. Mini is a delicate, gentle wee soul and I’m not heavy-handed with gunge but it still got absolutely everywhere. So if you’re going to do this with your child too, accept right now that you’re going to have to do an entire full machine washload of towels on ‘hot’ immediately afterwards. Do have a bin within reach and lots of paper towels / flannels / wipes to catch and dispose of all the goop.

The smile was a happy coincidence

First I got Mini to mix up her own hair mask. She has very coarse, dry, brittle hair so Professor Google advised whisking up the following:

  • 1 egg yolk;
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil;
  • 1 tablespoon of honey.

She undressed, then I dampened her hair. I plastered the mask all over her hair then tried to massage it into her scalp. She didn’t like that, possibly because the mix was cold and possibly because the honey made it a bit sticky. Next time I’ll just use greasy coconut oil on its own! Or maybe plain old vegetable oil. The amount listed was just right to cover her head. I then wrapped her hair with the turban, laid her back on the bed, covered her up and instructed her to chill out while I made up her face mask.

Mini complains that her face often gets ‘crispy’ bits on it: little patches of eczema. So based on the fact that she spent most of her babyhood smeared in banana with no ill effects, I mushed up a ripe banana with a tablespoon of honey then gently smeared it all over her skin. It was far, far too much and most went to waste – she only needed maybe an inch or 2 of banana. Next time she can eat the rest! I added the slices of cucumber because even at the age of 7 Mini’s bought into the perception, heightened by media pictures, that you can’t have a proper face mask without cucumber slices on your eyes. So on they went.

As she lay back and relaxed for 5 minutes, humming along to her favourite tunes, I slathered her entire body in handfuls of Epaderm cream. I’m glad her face and hair masks smelled so sweet – they covered up the sour, utilitarian smell of the moisturiser! Mini sighed with pleasure as I massaged her little fingers and hands. The look of that blissed-out little face made the whole shebang absolutely worth every second.

I didn’t want to leave the face mask on her sensitive skin for longer than 5 minutes, so wiped it off gently with a hot flannel. I then shampooed and conditioned her hair over the bath as normal. She snuggled in her favourite dressing gown while I tidied up, gasping in horror at the mess on the towels. The banana splashed *everywhere*, the egg yolk stained the turban, and the coconut oil soaked through 3 towel layers to the plastic bin liner – see? I said it was important! Mini helped tidy up by eating the cucumber slices. WeeeeeelI, why not? They’d only touched food-stuffs and her eyelids! Maybe she’d listened when I’d skeptically said that the masks would probably do her more good being eaten than plastered over the outside.

I blow-dried her hair, then helped her choose and paint on some finger- and toe-nail varnish, which is a special treat only allowed in the long school holidays.

Even an old cynic like me can see that the masks had an effect on Mini’s skin and hair, though. I think they’ll have to become a monthly Thing.

Mini’s Harry Potter Themed Birthday – Party Food

This is the last of 3 posts describing how we threw a really easy, quick and cheap Harry Potter-themed party for Mini Minx’s 7th birthday. I’ve already told you about how we prepared for the party and what activities and games we did during the party. This post describes my favourite bit – the food!

Again, to give it a bit of context: this amount of food was for 10 little girls aged around 6 years old. It was just right – there were some leftovers, but not much.

Birthday Tea – Usual Party Food. We made up the usual plates of food (and I’ll detail them below in case this is the first birthday party you’ve thrown and you’re not sure about amounts!) Another ‘usual’ that we did was a Rainbow Plate.

I’m sorry this photo is so lame – the only other photo of it has 20 hungry little hands over it and identifiable faces

Rainbow Plates have been a staple at Family Trout birthdays and all parties since the very first one. I initially made one up because I thought it would look pretty and would appeal to kids who actually like fruit and veg. It’s now appeared at around 20 birthdays since, and is always the first plate of food to be finished entirely. I think that’s enough anecdata to make the case that it’s as essential to the Birthday Party Table as the Birthday Cake itself.

All that was left. I think the girls enjoyed it!

They’re really easy to make: just layer different coloured fruit and veg in their rainbow colours. Our birthdays are all in early Spring, so we don’t have that many brightly-coloured fruit and vegetables to choose from. Nevertheless, Mini’s plate this year contained strawberries and tomatoes, carrot sticks, cocktail sticks of pineapple and cheese chunks (we couldn’t find any yellow peppers or other yellow items at all!), green grapes, cucumber slices, blueberries, black grapes and raspberries.

Yes, that much fruit and veg doesn’t come cheap, but I promise you that it’ll all be eaten.

13 storyteller

Midi wearing Professor Fishface’s story-scarf (!) and regaling the younger kids with stories while we ate

So, what do I mean by ‘usual’ party food?

  • 15 cocktail sausages
  • 15 sausage rolls
  • plate of cream cheese sandwiches (made with 8 rounds of white and brown bread)
  • ham sandwiches (made with 8 rounds of white and brown bread)
  • plate of 10 satsumas
  • bowl of 4 packets of Pombear crisps
  • bowl of 4 packets of Space Invaders
  • plate of Party Ring biscuits
  • bowl each of jelly and cream

We also had a jug of water with slices of fruit bashed into it, fruit juice, and ‘special fizzy pop’…

8 drinksBirthday Tea – Special Party Food. Some of the labels that I printed off for activities were huge. I decided to stick them over the labels of the fizzy pop I had for the party. They went down a wee treat! You’ll get the labels via the links in my previous post. Here’s a Word version of 3 that are big enough to stick on 750ml bottles of pop: drink labels

Lots of online Harry Potter-themed parties have plates of Golden Snitches because they are soooo easy. They also kept my 3 over-excited daughters occupied for 20 minutes making them! I printed the wing shapes that were a free printable from this blog post on a sheet 7 golden snitchesof A4, then got 2 minxes to carefully cut them out whilst the 3rd minx stuck them on to the Ferrero Rocher sweets with a blob of PVA glue (removing and replacing the sticker dots was just too much of a faff when your party starts in half an hour) and stacked them on a plate.

3 candles

Mini’s Cake

Birthday Cake. I’ve done the birthday cake as a separate post because I wanted to go into a lot of detail of how to do it. But I baked and constructed it entirely that morning, so don’t feel that it’s a huge deal. Though if I ever made it again, I’d do it the night before…! Sometimes cutting things fine is just a tad too stressful…

The Aftermath.  So, first question: what was that cake like? Actually, even though I say so myself, it was delicious! 1 inside cake  By the time the sun set that day, we’d given away or eaten the entire cake. It was such a hit that I suspect it will feature in a fair few more of my 3 book-worms’ future birthday parties.

00 pink gin

Professor Fishface out of robes and enjoying a very well-earned gin with the equally hard-working and eternally patient Prof Baldy (photographer and gin-mixer)

0 sunset

Beautiful sunset that night to top everything off

 

 

Mini’s Harry Potter Themed Birthday – the Cake

Yes, OK, strictly speaking this is the 4th of 3 posts (!) detailing a quick, easy and really fun party that we threw for Mini Minx’s 7th birthday party. Well… 3 and a half: this is the birthday cake part of the post about the party food.

I made the entire cake on the morning of the party. What with also supervising the prepping for the activities and helping with decorations, etc., I was very lucky that it all turned out ok, especially as I started making the cake without a real idea of how it would turn out. I really, really recommend that you do the cake the night before! I’ve written this tutorial in case you’d like to do the same kind of cake and would prefer knowing at the start what the finished item will look like! I hope it helps.

So, you really need to read how I put together her original birthday cake: the Hermione G ranger-themed cake because all the techniques and steps I used are described there.

  1. Follow Step 1 of the linked Hermione Granger-themed Cake post to make a big cake board. It needs to be big enough to hold a 23cm square cake and a loaf cake beside it, plus plenty of space all around.

  2. Instead of making 2 loaf cakes at Step 2, I made a big 6-egg square Madeira Cake and a plain chocolate loaf cake. I wanted cakes that had a bit of substance to them because I felt that basic sponge cakes would be too lightweight.

    Big Madeira Cake:
    Ingredients
    225g butter
    225g caster sugar
    6 eggs, beaten
    300g plain flour
    15ml / 1 Tablespoon baking powder
    grated rind of a lemonMethod:
    a. Grease and line a 23cm square tin. Set the oven to 180degC / 350degF / gas 4.
    b. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s really pale and fluffy. This takes longer than you think! About 5 mins in a mixer. Gradually add the eggs, still beating.
    c. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then fold into the creamed mix. Stir in the grated lemon rind. Spoon into the tin.
    d. Bake for about 1hr 10 or until cooked through and firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.Plain Chocolate Loaf Cake:
    Ingredients
    175g plain flour
    50g cocoa
    10ml / 2 tsp baking powder
    2.5ml / ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    150g sugar (any sugar; I used light brown caster sugar because it needed using up)
    2 eggs
    75g butter, melted
    250ml milk

    Method
    a. Grease and flour a 23 x 13 x 7.5cm loaf tin. Set oven to 180degC/350degF/gas 4.
    b. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarb together. Stir in the sugar.
    c. Beat the eggs into the melted butter and milk. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir lightly.
    d. Spoon / pour into the tin and bake for about 45 – 55 mins till cooked through. Cool on a wire rack.


  3. Make up a double batch of buttercream using 2 blocks of unsalted butter (500g), 4 cups of icing sugar, and my all-time favourite method of making Whipped Buttercream Icing.

  4. Turn the cold Madeira Cake into a single, closed book:
    a. Anchor the cake to the right-hand half of the cake board with a smear of whipped buttercream icing. Then slice it in half and spread a thick layer of apricot jam in the middle.
    b. Cover 3 sides of the cake with more whipped buttercream icing and use rolled-out white fondant icing and brushed cocoa to make ‘pages’ as per Steps 8-10 of the Hermione Cake tutorial.
    c. Cover the remaining side and top of the cake with whipped buttercream icing and place rolled-out coloured fondant icing over it to form a top cover and spine. I used a mix of red and white fondant icing because I was running out… Roll out a long sausage of more coloured fondant icing and place along the bottom edge of the white ‘pages’ to look like the bottom cover of the book showing, as per Step 11.

    See the spine detail and the bound pages fanning away from the spine cover of the pink book? I bet you can do a far better job than that! I was really stressing about the time at that stage.

    d. Decorate the spine with fake gold lines and details (yellow fondant icing) if you like or just leave blank, as you’ll barely see it. I also pressed in the cake a little between the pages and spine to make it look like bound pages curving away from the spine, and ‘shaded’ it with yet more cocoa.


  5. Make the chocolate cake ‘book’:

    See how the 3 layers of the chocolate loaf are placed? I was inspired by how the chocolate loaf top puffed up and out as it baked – it looks like the shape of partly-fanned out pages for the chocolate ‘book’.  (Well, it did to me).

    a. Split the plain chocolate loaf into 3 slices. Sandwich the bottom 2 layers with more apricot jam and whipped buttercream icing and put them beside the Madeira cake.
    b. Place the top layer on the Madeira Cake to look a bit like the open pages of the chocolate book – see photo for positioning. When you’re happy with the look, use a smear of buttercream to anchor the sandwiched layers beside the madeira ‘book’ and use a good thick layer of whipped buttercream to hold the top chocolate layer in place.
    c. Now follow Steps 7-11 of the original tutorial to make the chocolate loaf look like an open book. I used green and white fondant icing and a load more cocoa and whipped buttercream (now do you see why I made so much in the first place..?)


  6. Decorate both cakes! I used white chocolate writing icing and a pen with edible ‘ink’ that I bought 8 years ago from a fancy cake decorating shop. It’s still going strong, and is why all the detailed writing on my cakes is in a strange purple tone… I’d spotted a candelabra candle holder in a shop weeks ago that I knew Mini would love, so added some other bits and bobs to the board to make the candle candelabra look a bit more at home: a Golden Snitch that the minxes had made, and a fondant icing wand. Yes, they were all anchored there with the very last dregs of the whipped buttercream icing…

    ‘Hermione’ blows out her candles, watched by 2 of the other Hermiones


  7. Eat! It was a good cake for slicing up and putting in party bags, and the mix of plain and chocolate sponge looked great. It was completely gone within 24 hours (we Greedy Trouts had 2 slices each), so I’d say it was the perfect size for a party of 10 kids.

 

Mini’s Harry Potter Themed Birthday – Party Activities

This is the 2nd of 3 posts detailing a really easy, quick and cheap Harry Potter-themed party that we did for Mini’s 7th birthday. I’ve already told you about how we prepared for the party (and yeah, most of that was in the hour or 2 before the party started because I was so busy making the cake at the last minute…!). In this post I’ll tell you about the party activities and games. To give you a better idea of whether they’d suit you too, they kept 10 little girls aged about 6 years old entertained solidly for 2 hours, including half an hour of eating (edibles are in a separate post).

14d sorting

Yes, yes, even a non-HP fan like me knows that the light pink on the right should be red for Gryffindor, but I’d already used all the red icing up before I hit on the idea

Sorting Hat.  Mini really wanted to sort her guests into Hogwarts Houses. We’d thought about making a sorting hat, but realised it would take far too much time and mucking around with papier-mache. We questioned whether there was even a point to sorting the kids into Houses at all – eg were we going to do team games or award House Points? No. So to my adult mind there was no point. Mini really wanted it to happen, so we did. Still, I’d suggest you think about awarding House Points throughout the party so that there’s a reason to the guests being put into Houses if that’s what you want to do.

Anyway, I adapted a great idea I’d read on a few blogs and made it even simpler. You only need:

  • a packet of plain fairy cakes
  • some small coloured fondant icing circles (cut out from the leftover icings used on the birthday cake)
  • some whipped buttercream icing (also leftover from the cake)

14c sortingSimply put a coloured disk of icing on top of a fairy cake, squirt a blob of whipped buttercream icing over the top to conceal the coloured icing, then put the finished cake on a plate. I sprinkled some white chocolate stars over the top because those little decorations seem to be breeding in my baking ingredients cupboard – I can’t seem to use them up!

The idea is that each witch sits on a step (the same one as the Prisoner of Azkaban mugshot), puts the Sorting Hat on (Professor Baldy’s hat), chooses a cake and then takes a bite. The Hat magically reveals which House the witch belongs to by changing the colour of the icing inside to fit.

The girls thought this was a lot of fun and they were all very patient, waiting in line to try it. Some weren’t mad on the icing, though, and it was useful to have a bucket handy to grab discarded cake…

Pin the Glasses on the Harry Potter. The plan was then to play something quick in the hallway with Professor Baldy supervising while Professor FishFace sorted out the props for the next activity on the kitchen table. So we went for something super-easy that little kids always seem to like: pin something on something! In this case, Pin the Glasses on the Harry Potter.

Maxi had lots of fun the night before painting a brilliant representation of Harry Potter and making 10 pairs of different coloured glasses. The kids were happy being blindfolded by Mini’s new Gryffindor scarf and taking turns to stick their glasses on the picture. There was a lot of innocent sniggering at some glasses looking like hair bows on Harry, and they’d have been happy playing this for lots longer than the 15 minutes it took. The winner got a little packet of chocolate buttons.

If you fancy doing this and don’t want to freehand a picture of Harry Potter without glasses, then Google for and print an image of a young Daniel Radcliffe 😉 Another option would be to pin the scar on the Harry Potter – then you just need little lightning bolt shapes. Or even get the children to mark a zigzag on the picture in different coloured crayons / pens whilst blindfold – easy!

10 Potions Master

Professor Baldy channeling his inner Snape

Potions Class. The activity that me and The Boss spent longest prepping for was Potions Class. And I swear that only took 20 mins of Googling, printing, sticking, emptying cupboards and thinking. To save you the thinking and Googling, read on!

If you have WinZip, then there are some fantastic free potion bottle label printables all over the place, such as this, but I don’t have that application. In a mad panic, I printed out a load of blank food labels and just hand-wrote information all over it. I really didn’t need to – little kids aren’t all that interested in Olde Worlde handwriting on old labels; they’re all about the whizz-bang of bubbles and colours and smells!

The Boss lead the kids in a class. We gathered them around the kitchen table where I’d already laid out a jam-jar and teaspoon each as lab apparatus. The Boss had a lot of ingredients already decanted by his wonderful lab-tech assistant (me), so it was quick and easy:

  • a bottle of clear vinegar (any old kind);
  • a jug of the water that I’d previously cooked a red cabbage in*;
  • a jar of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda);
  • various baking glitters and sprinkles and the like.

11a potions ingredients*I cut our last, manky, old red cabbage from the garden, chopped it up, poured boiling water over it and boiled heck out of it for 10  minutes. I strained the liquid and chucked the cabbage.

Professor Baldy got the kids to carefully pour some of the cabbage-water into their jam-jars and smell it. Then he handed round the bicarbonate of soda (“Shredded Essence of Boy”) and they all oohed and aahed as the water turned distinctly blue! He gave them a bit of spiel about the Truth Potion (vinegar) deciding whether the potion was actually a boy or girl potion: they added it in different proportions and some turned pink again, some stayed bluey-purple. Some of the kids’ potions fizzed and bubbled with the bicarb, too. They all loved the colours and strong smells and the whole hocus-pocus of it.

11b potions ingredientsI collected the jam-jars, rinsed them out, and handed them back so that Professor Baldy could ‘test’ them on their potion-making skills: they were to make a potion of their choice. I got a tub full of 10 random potion labels I’d been able to find via Google and print and cut out. The kids chose one each, stuck their label to their jar with Pritt stick, then inspired by their chosen label, they were unleashed on the contents of my baking cupboard: a decanted carton of pineapple juice, lots of baking glitter sugars that I’d re-labelled things like ‘Wart Dust’, ‘Dried Bogeys’, etc., as well as flour, sugar, the vinegar, cabbage-water and bicarb.

The girls seemed to like these 30 minutes most of all. And I tell you, we adults chortled lots at these lovely, well-brought up girls asking each other politely to kindly pass the bogeys…

Pass the Parcel. You can’t have a birthday party without a game of Pass The Parcel. It’s virtually The Law. So we did! Each layer of wrapping contained individual jelly beans from a packet of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, and the prizes in the middle were whole packets of the beans. (Tip: if you want to do this, they can be expensive. You can always pick up packets on the very cheap on eBay).

If you don’t know, these jelly beans come in a range of nice, standard flavours, and also nasty, unusual flavours, like earwax, vomit, soap, grass, etc. Mini had shared a packet the morning before with her sisters (see photos below), so we knew to keep a little plate of fudge handy beside a glass of water to help get rid of the taste of any beans that were too horrendous. And 2 wee girls definitely needed it!:

Make Your Own Wand. In the end, there wasn’t time to do another ‘class’ that we’d planned: Make Your Own Wand. If you want to do it yourself, it’s really easy. Just get lots of brown paper / offcuts of wallpaper / any sturdy paper; scissors; glue and water; paintbrushes; brown and black paints; fake gems; rice; pasta shapes. Just roll up a strip of paper into a quill shape. Paint it with a mix of brown or black paint, PVA glue and water. Then stick shapes or gems to it, and paint again if wished. Let it dry, and there you go!

Next post: the Birthday Tea and Cake

Mini’s Harry Potter Themed Birthday – Party Prep

As I was telling you earlier, Mini is bonkers about Harry Potter and for her 7th birthday asked for Hogwarts robes, a wand, HP-themed birthday cake, HP-themed party, etc. The whole family got very excited about the latter, so I agreed that she could have a smallish, Harry Potter themed birthday party. We ended up having such a hoot (even me, the non-Harry Potter reader or fan) and it was actually so easy that I decided to write a series of 3 posts so that you can do your own Harry Potter theme party, should you ever feel so inclined.

Mini’s invite (personal info altered). Download your own version at the link ‘PartyInvite’  —->

Invitations. Mini invited all the kids from her year at school (all 7 of them). Initially she wanted an exact replica of the Hogwarts Acceptance Letter, but I felt that it sounded too weird for anyone who didn’t know anything about Harry Potter. There are lots of free printables all over the Internet, and we based ours on my favourite site. Feel free to download my Word document (below) and change around the information as you see fit. I put 2 invites onto the Word file and printed both out on A4 paper so that I could squeeze 2 invites to a page.

PartyInvite

 

 

Platform 9 3/4. 16a platform 9 and a bit16b platform 9 and a bitSo what was the point of the golden ticket that the invitation told the guests to bring? I asked The Boss and Mini about that (they’d concocted the invitations) and they both scratched their heads and said, “Dunno”. Helpful. Well, it irritates me to do someone pointlessly, so I thought the guests might feel the same way. What purpose would bringing their ticket to the party serve? I was still pondering that on the morning of the party while I was furiously tidying up*. I found a big square of red fabric I’d been meaning to either cut up and use or recycle. A wee lightbulb went off in my head. I grabbed the Resident Artist and asked her how much white paint she had. Barely a dribble. Hmmmm… It could still be enough! I described how to suggest a brick wall using just a couple of shapes, gave her a piece of foam mattress that was already en-route to the bin, a plate, her paint and the bit of fabric, and she produced this almost-brick wall in about 60 seconds! She wrote a Platform 9 and 3/4 sign on an old bit of box (the rest of the box turned into cake boards to hold up the cakes and a mugshot board) and we pinned up the board and fabric at our front door.

*Tidying Up = shove all your junk and rubbish into a few laundry crates and ram them against a wall in your bedroom out of side.

Perfect! Now we had a reason to collect the Golden Tickets. I thought up a bit of a spiel about how only ticket-holders could pass through the brick wall. That gave the kids a reason to hand over the tickets they’d kept, and also helped parents escape quickly, too (they didn’t have special tickets of course). I held on to the first ticket handed over so that any child who’d forgotten theirs ‘magically’ had a ticket appear in their pocket, as would happen to any True Witch 😉 I’m really glad I thought of that – it put a smile back on the face of one wee girl who’d forgotten her ticket and was fretting about it, the wee soul!

The Teaching Staff. Perhaps The Boss and I should have sorted out our costumes in advance, but as it was, we suddenly thought about it 15 minutes before the first guest arrived. Eek! So he dashed to his wardrobe and found a black teeshirt and trousers; I only had a green teeshirt and swishy green skirt (no black – it’s sooooo ageing for us wrinkly old birds, dotcha know?!). The Boss grabbed Mini’s old dress-up witch hat and I spotted my only posh chiffon scarf. I’d noticed 2 lengths of black fabric in my fabric stash earlier, so I liberated them and we quickly put them around our shoulders. And ta da, there we were: Professors FishFace and Baldy, ready to teach a new intake of witches! 18 moaning myrtle

Decor. Have a Google for decoration ideas for your party – some are incredible! But we just didn’t bother – too little time and money. We did do a quick print-out of an image of Moaning Myrtle and blue-tacked that to the inside of the toilet seat as a bit of fun and maybe a surprise.

Mugshots. We made a mugshots board to have a bit of fun with. Midi cut out a square from that well-used cardboard box (cake boards, mugshot frame, platform sign…), printed some of the free Prisoner of Azkaban printables around the internet, and stuck them to the top and bottom of the square with a bit of Pritt stick. She made the prisoner number similarly: just print and stick to another bit of card.

As each child came to the party, we welcomed them through the brick wall, then got them to perch on a step, hold up the prisoner number board, pull a funny face and have their mugshot taken. As they turned out so well, I printed each mugshot and included it with that child’s Thank You card from Mini after the party.

In hindsight, and assuming you like all your activities to kind of fit together (!), this could have been some kind of matriculation set up, eg give the witch her Witch’s Number, put the school’s name as a title at the top, and a school motto at the bottom. This would have worked better as an activity and as a memento in the Thank You cards.

Anyway! It was a lot of fun. Here are the Family Trout mugshots:

The pedant in me is driven mad by the lack of capitals in the signs, but I didn’t have the time or energy to sort it out myself. I also can’t find the different original sources of each of my Prisoner of Azkaban photo booth printables (there are so many! Google them), so below I’ve added my own. I’d be delighted to add a link to the original source instead, so let me know if you spot it and I’ll amend.

Azkaban Printables

Next post: Harry Potter-themed party activities!

Hermione Birthday Cake Tutorial

little girls dressed up as Hermione Granger

There are worse book characters to idolise than Hermione Granger

The youngest children in all families are inevitably influenced by their older siblings, and Mini is no different. She learned to read better so that she could read her sisters’ favourite Harry Potter books. She’s such a huge fan that I am now the only one in the house who’s never read them, nor am mad-keen on everything Harry Potter.

So for her 7th birthday, Mini asked for a Harry Potter-themed birthday party (more in another post) and a birthday cake for her actual birthday that had “something to do with Hermione Granger”. Hmmmm, no challenge for this non-HP fan, then (!)

I decided to do a fairly simple book cake, and call it Hermione Granger’s Diary. I took photos of the process so that I’d remember it for her more complex birthday party cake later that week. And as a bonus, I can use them as a tutorial to show you how easy it was. Remember, I’m not a great cook or a talented cake decorator – if you take your time and follow my top tips, you’ll produce something far, far better. Please share your own hints and tips too!

Hermione cake Harry Potter

Hermione’s Diary Cake

  1. OK, start the day before by baking the cakes and preparing a cake board. Don’t bother buying a board. Just get some stiff cardboard (I cut a bit off a packaging box, but have been known to use a couple of empty cereal boxes) and cover it entirely in tin foil. This makes it look good, gives you something big enough to work on, makes the cake portable, and it’s also easy to wipe crumbs and smears off the side.

  2. Make 2 loaf-cakes and let them cool completely. Maxi suggested I make them both chocolate and orange marble cakes and so I used double the recipe at the link. I didn’t ice them with the drizzled chocolate and I didn’t use food colouring.

  3. Make up a batch of plain buttercream. I used a block of unsalted butter (250g), 2 cups of icing sugar, and my all-time favourite method of making Whipped Buttercream Icing.

  4. Using a sharp knife, cut the top off the loaves on a bit of a slant. This shapes the cakes so that they’ll look a bit like an open book when you press them together. If you were neater than me, you would cut the tops off entirely so that there are no curved edges. If you’re worried about the cakes becoming too thin, you could raise them up by slicing each loaf in 2 and filling with jam and/or cream at this point.

  5. In the interests of thrift, crumble the bits of cake you sliced off and mush them together with a spoon or 2 of buttercream. Effectively you’re making a batch of cake pops, but you’ll use it like mortar to hold the 2 loaf-cakes together.

  6. Put a smear of buttercream on your cake board and place a loaf cake on top (this will hold it down). Squish the cake-pops mortar along the side of the cake, then smear more buttercream on the board and stick the second loaf-cake to the first. Really squish the cakes together.

  7. Now cover both cakes in the rest of the buttercream. Don’t worry about getting crumbs in the icing: it really doesn’t matter because it’ll all be covered in fondant icing.

  8. Roll out some white fondant or ready-roll icing to form the pages along the sides of the cake. I used a 500g block in grand total, but you might need more or less: it depends how thinly you roll the icing. You could be extremely neat and cut them into beautiful rectangles, or you can be slap-dash like me and just wodge them on. I used the excess fondant icing to start to disguise the misshapen bits of loaf-cake, but as I said in (4) above, you could avoid that by slicing the tops neatly and more severely.

  9. Use a blunt edge (spatula, back of a long knife, etc.) along each side to make lots of page marks. The layer of buttercream under the fondant icing will help.

  10. Dip a clean paint brush in some cocoa and use it to brush the edges of the pages to make them look old and dirty. I’m not sure that Hermione’s diary would actually be so grubby, to be fair, but I wanted to try out the technique.

  11. Roll out more white icing and place over the top of the cake. Shape it with your hands so that it looks like an open page. Brush more cocoa along the edges and on the ‘pages’. Roll some coloured fondant icing (or colour the last of the white fondant icing with some food colouring) into long thin sausage shapes and place them around the edges to look like the book’s cover, peeping out from under the pages. Flatten the sausages with a flat edge on top and at the side. If you have any black icing, add a little arch in the middle of the front and back to look a bit like the empty space where the edges of the pages curve away from the book binding. (Or just brush lots of cocoa in that corner to achieve the same / a better effect).

  12. Decorate! I used a pen that writes on icing to write something, and made a bit of a bouquet of roses with a tiny bit of green fondant icing I had leftover from The Boss’s birthday cake last month and some shop-bought icing flowers. I shook some little white chocolate stars over the top to use them up (they’ve been lurking in my cupboard for too many years… I swear they’re breeding…).

  13. Add some candles and go!

I Have a Cunning Plan

28 Feb 2017

Start of Week 8 running accountability post.

So in my last accountability post I was telling you about how Mrs P talked me into signing up for a 10k race with bells, whistles and jingles on: the Banchory Beast. Described as “a 10k obstacle race in Aberdeenshire over rough muddy terrain, dirt tracks and forest. It has over 20 mega obstacles on route”. It’s graded as ‘fairly tough’. We are beginner joggers. It’s in 6 months. How? Why?

Well, Mrs P does like a challenge, and I’ve got the breaking strain of a warmed-up Kitkat on a sunny day in the desert, so am easily persuaded. So we joined a team of much-fitter friends and paid up. Nothing like parting with hard cash to focus your mind on getting out the door for a run 3 times a week, eh?

And yes, we started from not being able to jog longer than between 2 lamp-posts, and in 6 months time we’re going to be running one hell of a long, tough obstacle race. What’s the plan, Stan? Well, we’re going to continue with the twice-weekly JogScotland runs for 3 more weeks until the 10 week course is up. Then we’ll swap one of those runs for a local parkrun course that we heard has a beast of a hill in it. And once a week run with the Intermediates in our JogScotland group. We’ll continue our once a week solo runs and work on things like distance and speed through interval training and other things that Professor Google and JogScotland recommend. Or we think up. And training for obstacles? Well, we’ll get the running sorted first, I think, but general MuTu for continuing to strengthening our core muscles in the meantime. More on that in the next accountability post. I shall come up with a cunning plan.

To keep us fully-focused on our 6 months of training, Mrs P found a shorter, entry-level mud fun run to do very soon: the Rebel Dubbit Dash It’s got mud, obstacles, tough terrain, and is only (‘only’!) 5km. However, as sharp-eyed Mrs P spotted, your entry-fee also gets you a bottle of free beer at the finish line. I tell you, you were shang-haiing people to form a team with us! So we’re going to be doing that in April.

At the moment, my goal is to become fit enough not to die on the Beast or Dash course.

Let’s check that objective: is it specific? Measurable? Achievable? Realistic and relevant? Timely? All ticks. Great! And the sub-goal is to get fit enough to actually enjoy them. What’s not to love about slithering around in mud with your pals?!

So: how is training getting on? How much progress have we made this fortnight towards our goals?

Well, I had a wee setback and had to miss a run (and cancel some teaching I was really looking forward to!) when I thought I was coming down with another cold. I normally get one cold a year, so to have 2 within the space of 3 weeks is just not on. When the cold kind of lingered, but didn’t become anything more than mild, I analysed a bit harder. It coincided with me choking on some cake (I know, I know, I’m sure you can’t believe that of me. Ahem). And actually, 3 weeks previously I’d choked on some of my dinner then had 5 or 6 days of sore chest, coughing, congestion, runny nose too. Oh… To cut a long story short, I’ve now added to my training plan: “Stop snorting your cake”. Winner.

And the times? Well, as of last night, I can now run for 6km – 50 mins – without stopping (and that included 6 sprint intervals). The best times are creeping away from total snail pace:

1km – 6 mins 56
1 mile – 11 mins 17
5km – 39 mins 46

Even better, I’m beginning to unlearn some of the unhelpful stuff I’ve believed up till now:

‘You’re a quitter’ – 7 unbroken weeks and 50 mins solid running say that’s not true.
‘You can’t run’ – see the above.
‘You’re so slow’ – partially true for a short while longer. But I can sprint at 16kph and my average pace is increasing every single week.
‘You can’t do it’ – I am.

The Friday before last we tried a run in a local park. It was fun in that the warm-up was a very effective and interesting trot along tree-rooted tracks that I found quite exhilarating, but I wasn’t mad on running the same dark circuit twice. And I think we annoyed the 20,000 dog walkers, as the footslaps, lights, heavy breathing and hi-vis upset some of the dogs. So last Friday we did our usual 6km local run and arrived at the road bridge that’s been closed for weeks at our halfway point. We normally nip between the barriers because we’re not as heavy as cars (!) Only this week, there was no bridge. It was gone. Empty. In its place were a few diggers, workmen in hi-vis jackets and some enormous room-sized grey lego blocks. We asked whether we could still cross. The man smiled and laughed and waved at the sandbag dam across the rushing stream. We thanked him and nipped across, starting our mud obstacle race training a few weeks early. My trainers are not as grippy in the  mud as I thought…

Talking of hi-vis, the other big development for me this fortnight is stopping feeling quite so self-conscious about running. Yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could suddenly look like I’m a runner first, before running? As in: having lithe toned legs, fewer chins, cheeks that don’t switch to ‘beacon’ for the rest of the day after the first km? It took a bit for me to properly accept that runners don’t look like runners; they look like people. If you move along the planet’s surface with both feet off the ground at once, you’re a runner (or a crazy, mixed-up jumper, but that’s another story for another time). It takes me a long time to see very obvious things, sometimes.

...Speedbird 294 Heavy, you are clear to land on Runway Grumpy 18...

…Speedbird 294 Heavy, you are clear to land on Runway Grumpy 18…

In that spirit of just getting on with it, I’ve added to my night-running lights. I’ve been using the minxes’ shoelace lights that flash with every movement, a headtorch around my wrist, and 2 flashing red clip-on lights on a hi-vis vest. My MIL sent me a wonderful surprise: a proper, real, runner’s hi-vis jacket! To that, I also treated myself to a pair of trainers heel lights and a pair of armband lights (£10 for all 4). I tell you, there are aircraft leaving the Aberdeen Approach paths and setting up their landing patterns on me! But the way I see it, if I fall over into a ditch with only my feet sticking out, I’ll still be seen. My fellow runners sing “O Christmas Tree” as they pass me, but I don’t mind. I don’t care that I’m danger of having ‘All the Gear and No Idea’ because that’s slowly coming together.

So that drivers coming up behind me don't mistake my butt for a new roundabout

So that drivers coming up behind me don’t mistake my butt for a new roundabout

And finally, talking of my MIL, she and FIL were visiting recently. She’s known me a very long time and so the running was a bit of a surprise to her, too. Rather than just raise an eyebrow and let me get on with it, as the rest of my family discreetly are, she eyeballed me and told me how much she admired me and was proud of me. What a lovely, sweet thing to say! I was and am really touched. There’s just something about getting praise from your mother / mother in law that top trumps all other possible praise. I’ve tucked that away in my Motivational Memory Banks for long-term keeping.

Oh aye, and finally-finally, with us running over 5km 3 times a week without stopping by Week 7, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve done better and faster than the (brilliant) Couch to 5k plan that I originally thought was beyond me. Big thumbs up! Let’s see what the next fortnight has in store.

End of Month 1

13 Feb 2017

Here we are at the start of Week 6 of running. Blimey! Way back, I thought I was agreeing to a maximum of 10 weeks of hellish jogging to accompany my determined friend, Mrs Persuasive. Instead, we’re now both as keen as mustard and have been keeping up our 3 running sessions a week: we run twice a week at night with other absolute beginners in a JogScotland group; the other weekly session is in the morning either alone or with my partner in crime. I prefer those early runs: although they’re hilly, they’re out in the countryside and away from town. Fresh air, birdsong, empty roads, a precise 6km circuit and views of snowy mountains – just heavenly! Mrs P is a bit faster than me, we’ve got similar stamina levels, and obviously I love being able to chat with her or comfortably stay quiet as we run around. The quiet countryside has another advantage – no-one else can hear you f and blind your way round that first 15 minute warm-up (it coincides with a loooong hill). Some people power up hills with pumping arms; others drop their hands and take tiny steps; me and Mrs P turn the air blue. Hey, it works for us…

One of the things that’s been motivating me out the door each time is seeing clear, obvious improvements every single run. To be fair, when you start at the rock bottom of Extreme Sport Biffdom, you’re always going to see an improvement at first! First it was accomplishing moving for any sustained length of time. Then it was seeing ourselves get faster and jog for longer. Finally being able to complete 6km at a jog/walk faster than I can fast-walk it was a big milestone for me! As was running in the rain and a few degrees below 0degC for the first time. On our last run together, we blasted through all of our fastest times for everything with each km run. Tonight, I’m determined to run the entire way up a particular nemesis hill without stopping again, to show it wasn’t a fluke last week.

So how are those stats looking? (Oh come on, you know by now I’m a total stats geek!)

Over 5 weeks and 72km total run, my time for moving over 5km is now 40 mins 31 seconds. My fastest time over a km is now 7m 25; fastest over a mile has been 12m 12.

Not wonderful times I know, but I’m very proud of this progress, and I’m looking forward to the next month. I still can’t believe that I actually feel this way!

menuThe warm-ups are still difficult for me. If I’m in public and can’t swear, then I generally motivate myself over those still-horrible first 15 – 20 minutes by thinking and chatting about what’s for my dinner later. So of course I persuaded Mrs P that we’d reward ourselves for completing a whole month of running with a great big huge Chinese Takeaway. I brought big bowls, napkins and forks with us that night, and we ordered before we ran. I tell you, we absolutely raced that last km back to the start! Then we sat giggling in the car like a pair of schoolgirls playing truant, troughing half our takeaways greedily (kung po chicken and egg-fried rice. Huge chunks of fresh vegetables and enough chilli to make my mouth feel as alive as the rest of me. But the less said about the crispy seaweed the better – I spat it out. Sugary!) Well, we’d figured they’d be freezing by the time we’d driven home. Honest…

This leads me to something that puzzled us briefly this past month. My friend is also doing MuTu to help her strengthen her core, so we frequently compare notes on how our bodies are getting stronger (or not: those sore legs from my idiotic session hurt for 5 days). My friend mentioned she’d put on 2lb. We agreed that it was unlikely to be muscle gain this early on. I guessed that it could be down to all the additional water that she was drinking. I’d also read some articles describing how new exercisers can put on a little weight for the first week or so as their muscles hold on to fluid to help themselves repair. It’s only a little and it soon goes as your muscles get stronger. That all sounded sensible to us. I stood on the scales to see whether I’d similarly gained a couple of pounds.

Ohhhh yes. And some! I’d gained 6lb.

Now, I rarely gain or lose more than a lb. Even over Christmas or summer. It just stays static. So a gain of nearly half a stone over 2 weeks is very significant. The cause? When I come home after a run at around 8pm and I haven’t eaten since midday, you need to lock up the fridge and hide slow-moving animals or I’ll hoover it all up. I’m so, so hungry! Yeah, I must have been eating 4000 calories to replace the 400 I’d burned off on my gentle little jogs. My appetite and exertion are not exactly balanced…

Meh. Uber eejit.

I stopped eating extra, made sure I ate lunch much later, and luckily the extra chub has sorted itself out. I didn’t cut down or (rinse your mouth out after saying it) diet. So as of today, weight-wise I’m back to where I started (11st 2. And whilst I’m recording stats, my waist is an unhealthy 33” but I’m not panicking because surely running will do something about that).

More importantly than weight gain or loss, though, I’m feeling a bit stronger in my legs (regaining muscle and stamina are my main goals), and my general mood has definitely improved. I’m less likely to spiral into a hard to shift gloom. Can’t say my temper’s calmed down any, though, as The Boss can attribute (from inside his fallout shelter). The minxes have stopped giggling at me in my running clothes and take it as read that on Monday and Wednesday nights, Mummy goes out to have fun running. They actually paid attention when I explained why warm-ups take so long and feel so horrible, and why I want them to persevere on their Daily Mile at school.

And actually, that’s the thing that my mind has really been chewing over this past week especially – what effect my running is having on the minxes. I thought going out 2 nights a week to run would be a bit of a general ‘good influence’ on the girls, and dismissed it as not being anything important. Now, though, as well as them quizzing me on how I could possibly be enjoying it so much, they’re offering up observations. Maxi said that I still shout as much, but the lead-up to the shouting is much longer. She asked whether running was making me more patient, or was it from me sleeping better? All 3 girls know I was the worst runner in my school (if not entire district) and are genuinely intrigued as to why I’m doing it, what I’m actually enjoying and how I’m managing to improve. They sat open-mouthed like baby birds when I described how I feel like I’m hurtling through space when I sprint, now (I know! Me! Sprint! Hahahahaha! It’s just when we did a little introduction to fartlek training and I discovered that I could run an awful lot faster than I thought I could. It was only over maybe 20m, so don’t get all excited…).

There’s that Nike advert and hashtag, #thisgirlcan. I’d always huffed and thought, aye, not me! despite telling my 3 girls that of course they and all girls certainly could do anything they wanted. Well, between us, Mrs P and I are showing 5 impressionable little girls that even us old birds can! It’s never to late to give it a try and just do it (to use another hackneyed advertising phrase. Sorry).

So: lots of introspective analysis going on in my little bubble this month, but it’s all good.

Lastly, to keep us going and on track, Mrs P talked me into signing up for a 10k mud obstacle race in the autumn. I’m easily led. I’m also so frightened by the prospect that Endomondo has recorded my running pace pick up every time either of us spoke the words ‘Banchory’, ‘beast’ or ‘September’.

I’m scared but also have a cunning plan. I’ll tell you about our plan to actually achieve this race without killing ourselves in the process in my next accountability post.

Still in One Piece

3 Feb 2017

That’s the end of Week 4 of me and my partner in crime, Mrs Persuasive, learning to run with our local JogScotland group. I’ve now completed 9 runs (and a replacement MuTu Intensive session at home today because 2/3 minxes are off school ill and I can’t go out).

New things this fortnight: me and Mrs P went for our first run by ourselves last week because we want to up our sessions to 3 times a week. We happened to stumble on a wee circuit along single track country roads that is hilly and exactly 6km long. Perfect!

I’ve not been finding it hard to motivate myself to go running at all. Partly it’s because me and Mrs P car-share to get to the JogScotland group in a nearby town, so we’d need a cast-iron excuse to dodge going; partly it’s because I do love how good I feel at the end of each run. I’m sleeping better, too. Though that should be a no-brainer – the minxes need to be sufficiently active during the day to not transform into wide-awake devils that night, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it works for insomniac adults, too.

The other thing that’s motivating me enormously is seeing steady, obvious progress each run. It’s not just subjective improvement: once I figured out how to work Endomondo on my brick of a phone, I can see my speed and the length of time between walk-portions increase with each running session. I’m still only around the pace I can fast-walk, though: my latest personal best is upping my 5km jog/walk time to 46 minutes (4 mins faster than I walk it, and 10 minutes faster than a fortnight ago).

Early days, early days…

A huge epiphany for me this fortnight is what warming-up does. I don’t mean the general ‘prepare your body for exercise’ – we all know that. It was when the group leader explained why warm-ups feel difficult (it’s all about the acceleration involved from moving your heart rate from resting to working. It’s a really big increase. After that, any increases in effort as you run for the next half hour or so are much smaller, so are less uncomfortable). This makes logical sense to me. But I suddenly understood why I find the first 15-20 mins of each session really unpleasant, but after 30 minutes I feel like I could keep going all night. If only I’d sussed this before, I’d have persevered past those first 20 minutes of previous exercise sessions over the decades…

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. I never thought I’d still be doing this jogging lark after 4 weeks, still be enjoying it, and still be in one piece. Though stupidly I overdid this morning’s MuTu session and am starting to hurt a bit – I made a rookie error of jumping into one of the tougher Intensives with ridiculously heavy weights. I was also a bit slack in maintaining good form. Eejit! I know better than that. So right now I hurt, but it’s not from running…