Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A Very Important Trip to New York

In 'very exciting, never thought it would happen, can't believe it actually is' news: Devo and I are going to New York! 

*happy dance*

Devo has a certain VERY IMPORTANT BIRTHDAY coming up soon and for years and years we promised that when said, VERY IMPORTANT BIRTHDAY came, we would go on a massive family trip to the US in honour of the arrival of his golden years.

Even though all of his favourite things (excluding me and his daughters, obviously) are American in origin he has never been 'Stateside', so we wanted to go and soak it all up by seeing as much of the huge, giant place as possible.

Then, I went and spent all of our savings on taking a prolonged period of parental leave and the road-trip dream was well and truly shattered.

But a VERY IMPORTANT BIRTHDAY is still a VERY IMPORTANT BIRTHDAY and though the budget was more or less non-existent, I still wanted to give him a tiny piece of the gift I had always promised.

The two-month mega-trip has been 'trimmed' down to a 5 day city-break - but what of it? WE'RE GOING TO NEW YORK!

Lately, a good portion of my days is spent daydreaming about what we'll do when we get there. What we might eat. What we'll see. What we'll buy, etc. But the more I think about it the more I remember that we're not actually very 'touristy' tourists. 

Neither of us really cares to see Times Square or The Statue of Liberty or press all of the buttons in the lift in the Empire State Building. Schlepping out to some gigantic Outlet Mall does not appeal either. And visiting ground zero seems like a bit of a depressing thing to do on such a short little dream-break.

Both of us would like to get a feel for the real city. A taste of what it would be like to actually live there (you know, if you didn't have to get a job or anything...) To that end, we've opted to use airbnb and stay in some guy called Dan's apartment for the few days we're there. He seems nice... I hope he's nice...

Devo has a list of places he'd like to visit that he's heard of from reading interviews with musicians, listening to podcasts, watching comedy shows... and pretending to not watch Sex and the City with me...

I have a few ideas of my own. Mostly from reading blogs and books where the city features... and ok, maybe from Sex and the City too...

But I want to make sure we have the BEST five days possible. So I'm asking for your help.

Give me some tips, please! Have you been to NYC? What did you LOVE? What did you hate? What was the best thing you ate? What off-the-beaten track stuff did you get the inside scoop on? What should we watch out for? What is unmissable? What is 'only ok, don't waste your time'? What did you wish you'd done differently? 

If you haven't been before - what's on your wish list?

Please just tell me all of the things.

Yay, New York!


P.S. If you want a €22.00 discount on your next airbnb booking please feel free to use my personal referral code: sdevlin10. This is not a sponsored post, by the way, I just thought I'd share the code I got after I booked!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

How I Plan Children's Birthday Parties or 11 Ways to Prove I'm Crazy

About this time of year, every year, I turn my thoughts to Lile and Sábha becoming a year older. They will be turning 5 (!!) in early April and are already very keen to discuss their party plans. They LOVE a good party and, because they are twins and I only have to throw one a year, I tend to almost kill myself in my efforts to make it extra-special for them.

It helps that I really enjoy planning parties. And thinking up fun details. And eating cake. So I usually get as excited as they do about their birthday. Even though part of me is also crying about my little girls growing up so fast!

Below is a list of the things I do when I'm planning my girls' special day. I am probably crazy, as they would probably be equally happy with a cake, a few balloons and a gang of little friends to run amok with - but it makes me happy so, until I develop some better sense, this is what I'll do.

1. Set a Budget

I'm mostly putting this at the top of the list as a reminder to myself. I have an awful tendency to get carried away with my plans and ending up spending way more than necessary. Setting a budget will help keep things in line and when you're dithering over buying that tenth 50-pack of paper napkins 'just-in-case' it'll bring you to your senses. I hope. A budget can also encourage more creativity - if one aspect of the day is costing a lot (such as the venue, or food) there are always other places to cut back (such as on decor and goody-bags) by being a little bit inventive.

2.Decide on a Venue

The venue of a party will dictate so much - from the budget and how many guests can attend to the style of party and how long it will go on for! I have, to date, opted to keep my girls' parties to family only and hosted them at our (tiny) home. This year I am considering hiring a larger space and inviting some little friends too. There are so many options available; from soft play centres, to pool-parties and church halls to leisure centres. The choice will depend, perhaps, on your child's interests or, more realistically, how much you care that you might be scrubbing cake off your walls for a week after the party... or how much you worry about having to gently hint to the hangers-on that it might be time to go home...

3. Decide on a Theme

This isn't a 'must-do' for everyone but I'm a big nerd and I LOVE planning themed parties. I worked for several years as an event manager, organising seasonal events for families, so working to a theme has become second nature to me. I find it helps me keep focused. When I step into a party store and am paralysed by the sheer volume of choices before me, it really helps to be able to rule out everything that doesn't have... say... cats on it, for example. Putting a theme together doesn't have to be difficult, time consuming or expensive.  If I happened to be planning a 'Frozen' party this year (which I'm not - unless the girls change their mind again) I would probably focus on the invites, the cake and an activity to carry the theme and use plain blue and white tableware and decorations to compliment it.

4. Gather Inspiration 

Once you have decided on your theme you can begin the fun bit (well, it's fun for me anyway!) Dig out your cookbooks, browse online and make Pinterest your friend. Starting a Pinterest board to collect ideas is a great way to keep all of your ideas in one place, but it's very easy to get carried away and subsequently, a bit overwhelmed. If that happens you know it's time to...

5. Simplify

Choose the most realistic, do-able things from the list. Really. You're not actually going to carve that ice-sculpture of Elsa's castle yourself - no matter how easy the Pinterest tutorial made it look. Decide on one or two things for each of the elements of the party: Food, Decor, Activity that you think you can pull-off and leave it at that.

6. Think About Food

When I was a child, children's parties meant sweets, rice crispy cakes, a slice of birthday cake and some jelly and ice cream if we were lucky. I like to keep the food choices at children's parties simple. I do mostly sweet with a little savoury for good measure. One trick I learned during my days as an event manager, catering for lots of children within tight budgets, was to make treat bags/boxes for each individual child containing a drink and some treats. This means that each child gets exactly the same thing and can eat at their own pace, even bringing some things home for later if they are too busy having fun to eat!  

These boxes also mean a lot less waste is created and I don't have the guilt of throwing out one hundred tiny, lovingly prepared, but ultimately uneaten ham sandwiches. They can even double up as a favour with some extra bits lobbed in on their way out the door.

Another way to do it is to just decide on a limited amount of treats - maybe ones that fit with your chosen theme. If I use the example of a 'Frozen' theme again - I would make vanilla cupcakes with white icing and blue sprinkles and use white chocolate for the rice-crispie cakes. I'd also keep an eye out for sweets and candies that have blue or white wrappers. Vanilla ice-cream with blue sprinkles would make a quick and easy finish.

7. Consider Decorations

Again, the venue will dictate the kinds of decorations you need - if any. I usually keep decorations to the bare minimum. Some bunting. LOTS of balloons. And a cake-topper of some description. I always intend to make cute labels for drinks and to stick on cute jars I don't even own etc. I attempted it last year, but it didn't really turn out like I had planned so I may not bother this year!

8. Plan Activities

The venue might, once again, dictate what your activity will be. You might hire an entertainer or a bouncy castle or face-painter. I haven't yet hired anything or anyone for my girls' parties, so I have always just provided simple craft activities instead. Last year they were finally old enough to enjoy party games such as Pass-the-Parcel and Musical Statues which they really loved and my talented sister provided the face-painting. One 'key' activity and a few traditional party games is all that's really needed and a bit of running amok 'free-play time' is always important too.

9. Make a List and Start Shopping

Once you have decided on your food, your decor and your activity it is time to start shopping! I like to plan quite far ahead because it means I can pick up bits and bobs over the course of a few weeks rather than taking a big hit to my wallet all at once. It also means that I have time to hand-make anything that needs hand-making well in advance. Well, in theory, at least.

10. Check the Budget

Do it. Check it. You DO NOT NEED the extra napkins. Maybe just buy a roll of kitchen towels instead.

11. Get ready to party!

In the days running up to the party get anything that needs to be made, made. This includes any food that can be frozen until the day before. Make sure to pack the goodie-bags in good time as they are always more time-consuming then you think they'll be. I don't think, however, that I've never hosted a party that didn't involve some last minute panic - but if the decorations are ready to be thrown up, the activity is ready to go and there's a birthday cake (no matter what it looks like) - you've got yourself a party. Have fun!

Hmmm, I seem to have inadvertently planned a Frozen themed party whilst writing this - even though that is miraculously NOT what Lile and Sábha have requested... maybe it will be me changing their minds this time!

To see the details of some of the parties I've put together before - click HERE.


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