A children’s Harry Potter birthday party

My son just turned nine (wut) and had requested a Harry Potter party. Our house is very small with no discernable yard — and it’s winter here — so we decided on a “movie” pyjama party, based on my misguided theory that kids in their PJs would be less likely to run around shouting.

Needless to say, very little movie-watching took place. But fun was had regardless. I thought since it was a book-related party I’d share my experience here, in case it is of benefit to others.

(Note: Check the run time of the movie before you start. I forgot quite how long Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone actually runs — we didn’t quite make it through the movie before the other parents came to collect their kids. It wasn’t a big deal, though, given how little time was spent in front of the TV.)

The Food

Our budget didn’t stretch to actual Harry Potter brand food, especially since I’d have had to order it in from the UK, so I made do. We bought lolly snakes, chocolate frogs and other snacks, but then I gave them a Harry Potter theme by labelling each bowl with Honeydukes-inspired labels. (This also meant I could flag the contents of each for those kids with dietary requirements.)

For example, the snakes became “Basilisk Bites” and our Jelly Belly jellybeans were “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans”. My son and I got around the fact they weren’t every flavour by faking it, which the other adults got in on. “Oh, gross, I just got a soap-flavoured one!”

The “Cake”

My son doesn’t like icing (I know, right?) so we decided to do homemade muffins in house-coloured cupcake wrappers instead. I googled “butterscotch muffins”, thinking I’d claim they were butterbeer, and ended up using this recipe from taste.com.au. I found it was a little dry, so added a little extra buttermilk, and because we didn’t use the caramel sauce due to my fear of sticky pre-teens, I added a splash of maple syrup as well. I’m not a baker, generally, so I was pleased at how nicely they turned out.

The one Potter-ish food thing I did order was the cupcake toppers, which were super-easy to apply. I did have to add a very thin layer of icing sugar (with a splash of boiling water to make a paste), just to get the toppers to stick, but I got away with it. ūüėČ

Wizarding Accessories

Wands

Far and away the most time-consuming (but satisfying) part of the party prep was making the wands. My talented friend Craig and I spent hours on these, though the materials themselves were quite cheap: a packet of wooden chopsticks, a glue gun and a packet of beads. Craig already owned the paint, which would’ve been a huge extra expense if I’d had to get it myself.

Each kid got to chose a wand — there were six children and twelve wands, so I get the spares! — and I’d done up a card for each one with a core and wood based on this page, so they all had unique “powers”. The kids spent the vast majority of the party dividing into tribes and flinging curses at each other. It was a little Lord of the Flies, not gonna lie, but they had fun.

Photos, detail work and amazing talent by Craig. Dribbly “organic” wands by me.

Wizard Hats

I painted the party hats black and then used my glue gun to stick stars all over them. Quick and easy!

Party hat graciously modelled by Professor McGonagall

The Games

Sorting Hat

All the kids who came knew their Hogwarts houses in advance (because we’re those sorts of people), but I’d downloaded and printed a couple of origami “sorting hats” from this site, which got quite a bit of use.

Pass the Parseltongue

This was regular pass the parcel, but with toy snakes, lizards and frogs in each layer.

Stick the Sock on the Dobby

I drew Dobby onto a sheet of A3 cardboard and then made socks for the kids to stick on him with sticky tac. I had prizes for those that got their sock into his hand and for the funniest placement (which ended up being an earring).

Musical Statues

As well as pausing the music, I used my wand to cast the charm “immobulus” (the freezing charm). It was a bit of a juggle managing both, so I had to get the other parents to judge who was out each round.

Other Games

I had organised a few other party games that we didn’t get to because the kids wanted to get back to flinging curses.

  • A “Celebrity Head” style game — I had a plain black party hat and some stickers that I was going to write Potter character names on so each child could have a turn at guessing who they were.
  • Memorise the spell — Starting with a “base spell” word, each kid has to repeat what has been said previously and then add a new word to the spell, going around in a circle, so that you end up with a string of gibberish.
  • Transfiguration class — I found a packet of animal noses and was going to get each child to cast a spell on themselves to “transform” and draw a nose from a bag.

The Prizes

Again, I didn’t have a huge budget for prizes, so I went for theme rather than brand. As well as the parseltongue lizards etc, I found a cheap pack of dragons at the local two dollar shop. I stuck some googley eyes on pompoms and called them pygmy puffs. I bought a grey Ikea rat to be Scabbers, and a little while owl to be Hedwig.

I had more prizes than we actually needed, so I divided up what was left into the party bags at the end. (Except for Scabbers. He lives with me now.)

Conclusion

All in all, everyone had fun — including me, as the whole thing appealed to my inner Ravenclaw. My boy has already told me he wants a Doctor Who party next year, which I think will be trickier.

For now, I’ll be over here, collapsed in a pile of wizarding robes and left-over lollies.

Advertisements

My name is Cassandra, and I’m a Pokemon GO addict…

Vaporeon Pokemon GoI was on holidays when Pokemon GO¬†came out. But I still had my smart phone, so I saw the flood of posts on social media. At first I was¬†bemused by the idea, because I never really got into Pokemon¬†as I was growing up. But my son is seven and a mad Pokemon fan;¬†he got about 15 Pokemon plushies for his birthday (including the Vaporeon pictured above). He’s seen a lot of the TV show — like, a lot¬†— and has some of the old games, though he hasn’t played them much due to the amount of fast reading required.

Anyway, I didn’t think much of the idea of Pokemon. How is going out and capturing wild animals and then using them in battles for sport a good idea? (Where is the RSPCA in this universe? Not to mention all the ten year old kids leaving home to go on adventures to catch said wild animals! And do the Pokeballs have toilets? So many questions!) Still, Pikachu was cute, and my boy enjoyed it and absorbed the various names and evolutions like a sponge.

On the other hand, once I learned¬†more about Pokemon GO, I was fascinated. I found the idea of augmented reality games, something I hadn’t really encountered before, strangely compelling.¬†So when my son came home after our holiday (via Sydney, where he stayed with his dad for a few days), I wasn’t exactly upset that he had a Pokemon GO account and was already level 14.

Of course, he doesn’t have a phone, so I have to play it with him. Right?

Seriously, this game is so much fun — and, more than that, I love how easy it is to get my couch potato of a child out of the house. On Friday I got a tip-off from someone at work of a good place to catch Pikachu. Normally my boy would prefer to sit at home and watch Pokemon on TV, especially after school, but instead we scooted down to the local lake and spent an hour stomping around, playing at the park and making friends with people’s dogs.

There is a spectrum of people who play Pokemon GO, as there is in any other endeavour, but for the most part I’ve found them to be friendly and open. Sure, we’ve come across the¬†occasional pack of swearing teenage boys (something I wouldn’t have an issue with if my boy weren’t listening), and after we captured a gym the look on one young man’s face as he stormed up gave me pause. Boy, was he pissed!

But there have been a lot of people¬†like me, taking their kids out for a stroll and catching Eevees. We’ve seen a lady taking her parrot out for some air, randomly met¬†some kids my boy knew from school, and commiserated with strangers when their Squirtle¬†ran away. We’ve also been out to a lot of local tourist attractions, hunting for Pokemon. (If you’re visiting Canberra,¬†get a friend to drive you around all the Poke-stops in the arboretum. Wow!)

I’m not a Pokemon expert yet, by any stretch of the imagination,¬†but luckily I have¬†a small consultant to hand. I’ve¬†finally figured out how to throw a decent curveball, and¬†we’ve evolved a Raichu. I’m still not 100% sure about the “wild animals battling” thing, but it bothers me less in game form, where they are impersonal elemental forces, rather than in the TV show, where they can emote, and snuggle their owners. (I am suspicious of what the professor needs all those spare Pokemon for. Is he¬†feeding them into a¬†compactor to make candy? Building a Pokemon army?! Again, so many questions!)

Do you play Pokemon GO? Have you found it a positive experience overall?

Pokemon


Cass Goes Walkabout

Cass at Uluru

You may have noticed that — prior to the review of Cinnamon Girl that I posted on the weekend — I vanished off the radar for a week or so there. Or maybe you didn’t, given my posts on this blog can be sporadic at times. Either way, the absence¬†was because my son and I went north (where the warmer weather is in Australia) for the winter.

Okay, for nine days.

Good friends of ours moved to central Australia at the start of the year, so we went to stay with them¬†and do local touristy things¬†— the biggest of which was a two-night stay at Yulara, the resort near Uluru.

You’ll probably guess¬†from the above photo that it wasn’t as warm as I might have hoped. The weather was interesting, I don’t know, maybe it’s typical for a desert, but it seemed to change from day to day without much sense to it. One day it’d be cold — coats and scarves weather — and the next it’d be shorts and T-shirts weather. We got fewer of the latter kind of day than I might have liked, and two of them were the day we arrived and the day we left again. Typical!

That being said, the lowest maximum temperature we got while on holidays was still higher than the highest maximum in Canberra during the same period, so I shouldn’t complain. And¬†it was wonderful to catch up with our friends. They have two girls,¬†the younger of whom is close to my boy, so he had a lot of fun having¬†a playmate in his pocket. Of course, I also got an insight into what it might have been like if I’d had two kids. So. Much. Bickering. Gah!

And Uluru was … well, it was everything I could have imagined, and several things I hadn’t. There’s something about seeing a cultural icon, a popular landmark, in the flesh for the first time.¬†You’re so used to it being on postcards or the TV that, when you see it with your own eyes, it’s¬†both unfamiliar and so familiar that you feel like it’s the landscape equivalent of an old friend. I’m positive at least part of my awe of the place was that feeling.

Another significant part was the overwhelming sense of the Aboriginal history. Cave art, sacred spaces where photography was discouraged, rock formations that looked like snakes or spear holes and so became them in dreamtime stories. I could easily imagine young hunters stalking across the dunes, spears in hand as they hunted for prey.

The rest of my awe was at Uluru itself. Not only is it one of the world’s biggest rocks, it stands out in the middle of¬†a¬†sandy plain — the terrain makes it even more striking. There were a few things that really struck me about it. Because central Australia has had a fair amount of rain recently (relatively speaking),¬†there was a lot more greenery than I’d imagined, the rust red sand dunes covered in clumps of grass and low shrubs.¬†We also visited a couple of waterholes at the base of the rock during our day there — they weren’t lakes by any stretch of the imagination, but there was more water than I’d imagined in a desert. One of them was swarming with tadpoles, and the other had water trickling down¬†into it from the top of the rock, probably the remnants of overnight dew, despite it being mid-afternoon.

Finally, despite Uluru from a distance looking exactly as I’d dreamed it would,¬†when I got up closer I was surprised at how many crevices, caves and protrusions there were. Later I discovered that, from the air, it looks sort of like a fat, wrinkly, reversed¬†comma.¬†(Someone make a font for that!)

Now, as much as I’m sure you’re loving hearing me ramble about my holiday, there is a point to all this. Research is great. I’m a huge fan of Google street view¬†and Wikipedia. Huge. But, where you can swing it,¬†there¬†is no substitute for actually going to the place you’re writing about. I’m not writing a book set in central Australia — not yet. But visiting there sure made me want to try.


An Unexpected Turn of Events

I know, I know, I’ve been AWOL. The last week was always going to be bad in terms of blogging etc,¬†because¬†my son turned seven on Monday¬†… but it¬†took an unexpected turn last Thursday when the school called to say they¬†thought he had broken his arm.

It turned out he had. In three places — both wrist bones and his humerus, just above the elbow. He needed surgery to have the bones set (and the elbow pinned), and we spent the night in hospital.

It … was not our best day ever.

To make matters worse, his party this year was booked in at a gymnastics centre, so we had to cancel. The plan is to reschedule for once he’s out of the cast and gets¬†the green light from his doctor to¬†run around like a lunatic again, but that will be after our impending holiday to Alice Springs, some time early next term.

You’d think unexpectedly having a week off work would have meant free time, but I’ve been fulfilling the role of Mumma Nurse for the last week. I haven’t had much time to read, or write, or go over the excellent edits I got back from Lauren on my fantasy manuscript. In fact, the only thing I have kept up to date on is posting to Instagram, and that’s because I had¬†already taken a bunch of book pictures and had them saved on my phone, ready to go.

Yes, I do photo shoots for books now. (That happened fast.)

Still, the boy is in less pain now than he was, and tomorrow we have the first of several follow-up X-rays booked to see how he’s healing. So hopefully¬†life will return¬†to something resembling normality some time soon.

How have you been, internet? Read (or taken photos of) any good books lately?

Bookstagrammin'.

 


Recharging the batteries…

As I mentioned¬†a week or so ago, at the end of January my boy and I went to the coast for five nights with a friend and her son. The lead-up was a bit traumatic as,¬†two¬†days before, my boy managed to slam his finger in the car door, so we had to get it x-rayed to see if it was broken. Thankfully, it wasn’t,¬†just very badly bruised (and I’m sure he’ll lose the nail). Then the day before¬†there was a massive hail storm and my friend’s skylight smashed, so she had to organise the SES to come and patch it up.

It was as though the universe was conspiring. But we overcame!

It was great to have a break,¬†jump waves at/nearly get drowned at the beach, and¬†generally make happy gold-memory-orb-style¬†memories. A highlight for me was successfully flying a kite for the first time in years — on the beach, with the waves threatening to soak¬†my shoes. The boy declared he would remember it forever. Winning!

Another highlight was the crazy thunderstorm that hit the night before we came home. The lightening was constant¬†but erratic, like a misfiring strobe light,¬†and the thunder just rolled on and on. And on. We got over 100mm of rain¬†overnight, and not a lot of sleep. I’m amazed we didn’t wash into the¬†Pacific!

I did a lot of reading. I gobbled Storm in a Teacup by Emmie Mears (review to follow, but spoiler: I loved it), and also finished doing an alpha read on a new release by K. A. Last (spoiler: I loved that too!).

I didn’t do much writing. I was setting out to do no writing at all, but I slipped and fell* and accidentally scribbled a couple hundred words down while the boys were playing an elaborate game involving¬†Transformers and a sunscreen bottle. Eh. Nobody’s perfect.

Putting no pressure on myself was worth it, too. I’d been feeling quite drained going into the holiday, but¬†on the drive home my brain kept yammering¬†story ideas at¬†me. Not fully formed plots, but hints. Whispers. Most of them were inspired by the names of roads or rivers. Shoemakers Creek. Wild Dog Creek. Mount Darragh (which is apparently near Myrtle Mountain — what a great¬†name!). Others were by sights, such as the businessman walking along the single lane highway with a briefcase in hand and his tie flapping in the wind, farmland all around us. Others were by things we were told: apparently there was an earthquake the night before we passed through Bombala. For tectonically stable Australia, that’s rather noteworthy news.

People always ask writers — not just me but properly famous writers — where¬†we get our ideas. Some days, the real question should be how do we get them to shut up?

Still, I feel blessed, and thankful I live in such a gorgeous country, with such awesome names. ūüôā Now I can get stuck into finalising the publication of Melpomene’s Daughter and writing the sequel to Lucid Dreaming.

* I didn’t literally slip and fall, for those familiar with the fashion in which I ruined my first and only overseas holiday.

BoyOnBeach


An update ramble (aka proof that Cassandra shouldn’t blog tired)…

So, err,¬†January has sort of gotten away from¬†me. I had all these ideas¬†for blog posts — primarily to, you know, write them — but clearly that hasn’t gone well. So of course, since I got maybe five hours sleep last night, now seems like the perfect time to write an update. Mostly so you know I haven’t been eaten by rampaging drop bears or whatever.

Me, writing this blog post

Me, writing this blog post

One of the posts I was planning was going to be a “my goals for 2016” post. It can more-or-less be summed up in this short list:

  • Self-publish Melpomene’s Daughter (Isla’s Inheritance #3)
  • Write the sequel to Lucid Dreaming
  • Be awesome

Melpomene’s Daughter¬†is going well. I have the paperback proof from KILA Designs and have maybe 50 pages left to read. My goal is to get it done by the end of this weekend, so that I can get it back to Kim before my son and I scarper down to the coast for a week of probably getting rained on at the beach. (It’s going to be awesome.) That way, when I get back, the book¬†should be all go for a February re-release.

Melpomene's Daughter paperback title page

Such a lovely title page. I could pat it.

I started drafting the sequel to Lucid Dreaming over Christmas. I’ve got three chapters down and, well, lots to go.¬†I’ve also got my next project lined up — one I’m super-excited about — so, aside from wanting to finish off Melaina’s story for its own sake, I’m also keen to finish it so I can move on to fresh pastures. I’m so fickle. ūüėČ

Lucid Dreaming has been getting some great reviews on Goodreads and other review sites/blogs. If you’ve¬†reviewed it (or any of my books), then know that I love you from the bottom of my heart.

Over at Aussie Owned and Read, I blogged about how audiobooks are the best thing since, well, books.

I haven’t been reading as fast as usual — unless you count my own books, which I have read many, many times. In fact, I’ve been on the same two books (one audio, one ebook)¬†all year. Which is not to say that they aren’t awesome, because they are. I just haven’t had as much time lately — and my usual time to read audiobooks, on my commute, hasn’t been viable because my son has been with me more often than not.¬†If it does rain at the coast as much as I anticipate, at least I can catch up on some stories.

Currently reading 0116

On a personal note, this month has been pretty rough for me and the boy. Close friends of mine have moved away for an awesome work opportunity; their kids are good¬†friends of my son’s, so he has been just as sad as me about the whole thing. The difference is that, when you’re six, you process these things differently. It’s been hard, but this week has shown signs of improvement. (And the coast trip is a distraction that couldn’t be happening at a better time. Awesome parenting high five, me!)

I’ve also spent a bit of time being sucked into a casual, mobile game called Fallout Shelter. It’s based on the Fallout games, but is more of a resource-management game than a shooter. I like it … though I’m less wild about some of the¬†decisions the game designers have made. Maybe one day I’ll have a rush of blood to the head and review the game, but IT IS NOT THIS DAY.

I’m not that tired.

LOTR dachshund

So, that’s where I’m at. How about you? Has 2016 been treating you nicely so far?


I think I’ve become a sports person (sort of)

Now there’s¬†a blog post title¬†I never thought I’d write. But hear me out.

A week and a half ago¬†I got a sporting injury. I know it’s a sporting injury, because the very nice young physiotherapist I went to see called it that.¬†And it certainly sounds like a sporting injury; see, I got a calf strain, which is something I usually associate with rugged footballers who have no necks, and whose¬†thighs are as wide around as my car.

How did I achieve this thing? Me, whose usual idea of a strenuous physical activity is lifting a hardcover novel? (Hey, those suckers are heavy.)

I was doing a warm-up at karate.

I¬†never¬†thought I’d be a karate person. But, after it was recommended to a friend’s son to help him work on his coordination, she and I decided to enrol¬†our two boys.¬†A colleague recommended his old school, GKR, because it is friendly and low contact.

By the end of the¬†second Saturday morning watching my boy get all this perfectly good exercise while I sat on an uncomfortable chair, I decided to sign up as well. It took a huge act of will; the¬†class I go to is quite large, and has a mix of adults and kids. I am incredibly unfit, and hate embarrassing myself in front of strangers. Or, well, anyone. But the sensei is¬†kind, encouraging and funny (sadly, he’s also married ūüėČ ), and I figured, what have I got to lose? Other than more weight than I need and a lifetime of awkwardness, I mean?

Hells yes.

Here are some reasons why karate is working for me

In-built babysitting

My son is six. If I joined a gym, I’d need to organise babysitting for him (or spend money¬†on¬†a cr√®che), all of which is expensive and requires more organisation than I have brain cells spare for. We have a gym near¬†work, but finding the time to actually go at lunch when we’re so busy has proven¬†difficult. Also, I hate having to shower at work afterwards. Communal showers: ugh.

Whereas at karate, the boy and I¬†are in the same dojo.¬†We can exercise in the same class, each at our own pace. And afterwards I¬†can drive us home to our bathroom. It’s the best of all worlds!

Exercise

Because I hear it’s good for you?

I do feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in my gi, but after a few months I can see changes in my musculature, and I have more endurance than I used to. After I tore my calf muscle I actually cried at the idea of having to take a break. Also because I was sore. But still, how pathetic/awesome is that? I’ve never felt that way about exercise¬†before.

Get rid of the hat, add glasses, and this is basically me.

Get rid of the hat, add glasses, and this is basically me.

Meeting new people

Although I have lots of¬†close friends that I’ve met on-line,¬†my circle of real-life friends is small. Close, but small.¬†I’m an introvert, and doing karate has forced me to chat to strangers. Some of them I could see myself becoming friends with. Others I can oggle at a distance. It’s great.

Research

Fight scenes, my friend. Fight scenes. I now know how to throw a punch or …er, kick … a kick.¬†I’m not very good at the latter, because I’m still working on my balance, but I spend a lot of time watching talented black-belts demonstrate, and I know what it’s meant to look like. That means I can describe it. It’s fantastic! Last weekend I missed a women’s self-defence workshop they were running because I couldn’t walk very well, but next time they offer it I’ll definitely go along to that as well. My characters will benefit, for sure!

Do you do a martial art? Have you tried acquiring a new physical skill later in life?¬†Leave a comment, so I don’t feel so alone!