The Final Countdown to Starting Primary School

starting school

You may be wondering where Bake of the Week is – fear not, it is coming later tonight. For now though, I am all about school – such a major part of our lives for the past 9 years and about to get even bigger.

Like thousands of other families up and down the country, we have waited impatiently for the Primary School places to be announced for our little ones. On the dot of midnight last night, I logged onto the LEA website, telling myself the results wouldn’t be up yet.

But they were!

We have been in a dilemma about Tara’s school – Which one to choose? We are lucky that primary schools around us are officially excellent. You may remember though, last summer we managed to move Violet’s primary school so she started Y4 in a different school.

It has made a massive difference – she is like a different child. SO happy, plenty of friends and flying with her learning.

We knew deep down we also wanted Tara to go to the same school – She will know over 10 of the children in that Reception class when she starts from various groups we attend and the group of friends that have kept me sane over the past 12 months. But we are out of the catchment area …

The age old problem of living just that little bit too far from school. Do we gamble and apply for Violet’s school that we might not get in or for the nearer school and cope with 2 different schools?

We took a chance … AND SHE GOT IN!!

tara, harry & maisy

We are so pleased. I could happily tell her this morning that she would be going to school with her friends (to be honest, we had never really got through to her that there was a chance she might not). All day long, I’ve heard from happy people who have also got their place so we are set to go!

In the meantime, I’ve just tucked my official pre-schooler up in bed where she looks even younger and smaller than usual. I’m going to find it impossible to send my last baby to school but am going to make every moment of our summer together before she goes!

Do you have a little one due to start in September? I hope you got the school you hoped for. Lets celebrate the countdown to school and hold each other up on that tricky morning in September when we bravely wave them off.

garden picnic pre school

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7 years of blog posts – Happy Anniversary Casa Costello!

blog anniversary

Casa Costello is 7 this week! Yay and Happy Blogiversary to me :-) Its been 7 years of really good fun – I started off as a Celebration Cake blog telling the behind the scenes tales of cakes customers had ordered, for example, why someone chose a Most Unusual First Holy Communion Cake and have covered all sorts of topics since.

My first love will always be baking posts though, which is why I am so pleased that Bake of the Week is doing so well.

Over the past 7 years, Casa Costello has seen 615 posts, 192 Cakes (I haven’t eaten them ALL!), several caravan trips, 1 new baby.

Newborn Baby Tara

In that time, I have met so many lovely bloggers, some of whom I am thrilled to now count as friends. I have attended blogging conference, blogging events, nights away and even a holiday to Centre Parcs – This adventure is hard work but still so exciting. My girls have experience events and opportunities that previous jobs just didn’t give them. (This sort of makes up for them not being able to eat their tea without me taking a photo of it first!)

So what about the cakes – Here’s just a few of my favourites …

The Chocolate Wedding Cake – This smelled amazing!

Three tier chocolate wedding cake with cascading roses

The Gruffalo Christening Cake

gruffalo cake

And the final wedding cake was just a bit special.

wedding cake pink

At the risk of sounding like an Oscar winner, I do need to thank everyone for reading the Peppa Pig Cake Topper Tutorial – My most popular blog post EVER!

peppa pig cake topper

So what next? Well, I’m still as disorganised as ever – My mantra during the past 7 years has been that it will get easier once the children start school – Well, Baby T starts in September (weeps). I will have more time to devote to the blog, and cooking and baking. I hope that Bake of the Week & Foodie Friday will continue to grow – I look forward to finding yet more blogs I love to read.

To celebrate 7 happy years of blogging, I will be hosting some giveaways during the next few weeks – I have some brilliant prizes so watch this space!

Thank you so much for reading, following and commenting – I still cannot believe so many of you do!

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Minion Birthday Cake & Party – Bake of the Week

minions birthday cake despicable me

Well, its a bit of a different Bake of the Week from me this week. I hadn’t realised how long it had been since I did a properly decorated cake until Tara said ‘Wow Mummy, did you do that ALL by yourself?!’ Bless her! We had our crazy happy week last week, when Tara & Dermot celebrated their birthdays on the same day.

There was no question that the theme of Tara’s party was going to be Minions – She’s mad on them. Her nursery bag has to be Minion, her favourite t-shirt is her Minion one (That has to be washed and ironed in lightning quick speed).

minion birthday cake

 

It was rather strange to get back into my sugarcraft drawers and I was a bit apprehensive that I might have forgotten how to do cake decorating. I think the results were ok? In fact, I really enjoyed an afternoon of creating Creme Egg Minions So much so, we started talking about maybe taking orders for some cakes after Tara starts school in September and saying YES to a possible wedding cake in November!

kevin minion creme egg cake topper

giant minion

 

The party itself was a real traditional one in our church hall which is a lovely, light, clean and spacious place. We were gifted some Minion party supplies courtesy of Party Bags & Supplies and added to the rest ourselves. That giant Minion balloon has been everywhere that Tara has this weekend – It even went strapped in the car to Manchester for synchro practice!

minions party supplies

minion party bags

Ready made party bags from Party Bags & Supplies

homemade minion party bags

Homemade Party Bags made by Millie

Tara 4th birthday party

I love a 4th birthday party, its great to see children dressed in their party gear – Girls wearing their party dresses and the boys with their little body warmers on. Too cute!

Tara was wearing a gorgeous yellow dress and navy card from Next – It wasn’t intentional that she matched the Minion colour scheme but rather fitting! Even Violet was colour co-ordinated, also wearing a yellow top and cardigan from Next.

For the entertainment, Tara chose Fran from Jo Jingles, Warrington. We attend Fran’s class every Monday and Tara just loves it. It has really brought her out of her shell and she talks about Jo Jingles all the time. Fran has amazing control of a large group – All the parents were marvelling at how she gets them to join in and keeps them contained!

jo jingles warrington 4th birthday party

jo jingles birthday party

older siblings at birthday party

Older sister, Violet with her mates, cousin & a HUGE handmade Minion!

So many amazing creations entered for our previous Bake of the Week – One flavour combination really stood out for me as a must to try …Apricot Cheesecake with Amaretto Caramel. This sounds just too incredible and right up my street from a newcomer to the Bake of the Week family, Giraffes can Bake

apricot cheesecake amaretto caramel

chocolate bakes

1. Pretty Triple Chocolate Hidden Heart Cake from Mummy Mishaps
2. Perfect pastry from Winnie with her Chocolate Halva Tart
3. Goodness me, these Red Velvet Brownies with Oreo Cream Cheese look tasty – Domestic Gothess
4. This Chocolate Chip Layer Cake is certainly the ultimate as its name suggests from Giraffes Can Bake
5. Classic combination of strawberries & White Chocolate from Baking Queen 74
6. A warm welcome to Mrs B’s Kitchen with her stunning Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies
7. Introducing us to Milano Cookies with her Chocolate Cake is Dream Baker
8. I can’t get enough of cheesecake brownies – one of the best inventions ever! Jibber Jabber Uk
9. A very pretty Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake & another warm welcome to Chardonnay & Samphire
10. Looking simply heavenly …Mars Bars Stuffed Salted Caramel Blondies from Baking in Pyjamas
11. The crazy for Salted Caramel is still as popular as ever with these brownies from Baking in Pyjamas

small bites morsels

12. If you are trying to be healthy with your baking, try these Blueberry & Orange Muffin Bars from Tales from the Kitchen Shed
13. Super pretty Marshmallow Flower Cupcakes from Searching for Spice
14. If you are still feeling romantic, try these Pink Velvet Lofthouse soft cookies from Baking Chocolatess
15. Super cute Heart Oreo Sandwich Cookies again from Baking Chocolatess
16. I really fancy trying these Pineapple Cookies from Dream Baker – They are dairy free too!
17. We have got in the habit of buying Peanut Cookies for after training, I’m going to try making these from Dream Baker
18. These Lemon Velvet Squares from Baking in Pyjamas would be perfect to fit in with the yellow theme at Tara’s party

bake of the week

19. Tempting me away from my classic lemon & sugar with her Nutella Spelt Pancakes is Baking Queen 74
20. Adding Cranberry to the classic combo of Maple & Pecan in her cake is Jen’s Food – A warm welcome to you too!
21. Tasty looking Chinese Chicken Pie (but also make sure you check out those super cute Tunnocks Teacakes Sheep!) from Foodie Quine – Welcome!
22. I can’t resist a good Orange Sponge Cake & this from Snap Happy Bakes looks very tempting – a warm welcome to you too!
23. Loving these Lentil Stuffed Peppers from Herbs, Spices & Tradition
24. For the vegans amongst us, we have Valentines Vegan French Toast from the Free From Farmhouse
25. A comforting, gluten free Prune & Raisin Loaf from Lancashire Food
26. Much underused Grapefruit is added to this Honey & Almond Cake from Chocolate Log Blog and a Happy Bloggiversary to you!
27. Apple & Almond perfect pairing with My Little Italian Kitchen’s Pie – Alida seems to love almonds almost as much as I do!
28. How beautiful is this Heart Swiss Roll from Winnie’s Blog? The decoration is so clear.

Huge thank you as ever to everyone who entered their bakes – I really appreciate it and love finding all your blogs. The linky is open for this week’s #Bakeoftheweek – Feel free to tweet me @CasaCostello to let me know you have added your link and I will retweet.

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We're going on an adventure

What we learnt from a visit to Alton Towers

costello children alton towers

We are just back from spending a couple of days at Alton Towers – We stayed overnight in the Alton Towers Hotel and had a day each in the Splash Landings Waterpark, then today at the theme park. We’ve been to the hotel quite a few times before but haven’t visited the theme park as a family since Millie was about 2.

I’ve seldom seen the girls as excited as they were about this trip – Violet was physically squeaking when we entered the water park and declared that her ‘dreams have come true’! Millie reckons her favourite part was the theme park and Tara just loved all of it.

So what did me & Dermot get out of it? Well, we learnt a few things too:

Alton Towers have rooms that cater for 5!!…
This is a biggie – I’m not talking a travel cot shoved in a corner of the room but a proper double bed, bunks and a single – And it was like we are completely normal for having 3 children! I love holiday resorts that cater properly for ‘larger’ families. Can you recommend any others?

alton towers sonic spinball

My children are super brave …
I watched Millie storm along the single riders queue for the Sonic Spinball ride today and chat happily to a lady in her cart (Who incidentally, was telling her that her boobs were going to escape at any moment but we’ll try to forget that). That ride looked truly horrific but she loved it.
We all went on the Runaway Mine Train which had me screaming like a baby but Tara (Aged 3 for 1 more day) thought it was brilliant.

On the other hand, we found out that Tara is properly scared of anyone dressed in an oversized fancy dress costumes – I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Mike the Knight for Tara screaming and doing a runner.

handstands

My children also have to do cartwheels and handstands EVERYWHERE …
Most families were watching the evening entertainment at the Pirate Ship. Mine were enjoying it too … just while they were stood on their hands.

alton towers postman pat ride

Husbands are not designed for the Postman Pat ride …
He enjoyed it really ;-)

No matter what shoes you wear, your feet still hurt …
I’ve tried it all, trainers, flats, boots – All feet ache at the end of the day trekking around the park – You will never be as pleased to see a bus to take you back to the hotel (The monorail does not open until the start of the season)

alton towers lifts

Lifts can be fun …
Anyone who has ever been in either the Alton Towers Hotel or the Splash Landings Hotel will know that the lifts are part of the enjoyment. Flashing lights, funny music – We’ve all been caught dancing when the doors open.

mr bloom alton towers

I think I like Mr Bloom more than my children …
We didn’t hang around too long for the show but I thought he was rather lovely and natural with the kids. There was a game to pick up loads of leaves, great to see a celeb not frightened to actually get stuck in with the crowd.

Disclosure: We were not asked to write about our time at Alton Towers – I just wanted to share a couple of brilliant days that we thoroughly enjoyed. We will definitely be back to visit again – I may even brave one of the water slides!

Money Apps – Saving with L&G

piggy bank
Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A bit of a different post from me today – I can’t say I’m exactly known for my organisation with money. My first ever wage packet saw me buying a fantastic selection of shoes and bags. Thankfully, I have grown up somewhat since then. I’m in the very lucky position that Dermot handles most of the money (not in a 1950’s housewife way, where I’m not allowed to know what’s going on) Just in the way that he is very interested and likes to know what is coming in and going out.

Internet banking was a bit of a revelation to us in the past few years – I even pottered on the Halifax banking from time to time. L & G asked me if I would have a nosy around some money apps and feed back on any that I found useful. So that is what I’ve been doing for the past month. Legal & General (L & G) are trying to promote the use of which ever apps suit the individual best to help us save during 2015.

I will admit that I put off the initial search, if you are not ‘into’ money, its hard to make a start. Once I started looking around for apps though, I became fascinated.

One thing I was certain of though, is that whatever apps I looked at needed to be free – I could almost hear Martin Lewis clapping!

spending tracker app

I’m not sure that I have the time or organisation to completely go over to a financial app for all of our household expenses but for a large project like a holiday or extension, I’m enjoying the Spending Tracker app. Rated 4.5 stars by over 300 users, I felt safe inputting our figures.

Being such a novice though, I had visions of having to put all our bank details in … you don’t! For the more visual user, there are pretty pie charts to measure what you have spent your income on. Scary to see what exactly our money is spent on … In case you were wondering, our is swimming pools!

january spending tracker 2015

I’m part of a couple of committees through Synchro and our WI – We have been really lucky to have accountants filling the role of treasurer. I’d say that if a professional financial whizz didn’t take these roles, then an app like

The other app that I’m forming a slight addiction to is My Supermarket – At first I liked the novelty of seeing how much certain items were in whichever supermarket I was using. The comparison between all the major supermarkets prices is addictive though – There’s so much can be learnt about what items are consistently cheaper in certain shops. I like this app so much that I have transferred it to my phone for easy access.

I do think there is a slight danger though that when you look through the offers, you might be tempted just to buy because they are cheaper than normal – A good old fashioned marketing technique but an easy trap to fall into.

my supermarket app

Disclosure: I was asked by L & G to try out apps of my choice regarding money management. I was compensated for my time but given free editorial reign. More information on how L & G think we can benefit from using finance apps can be found here

Behind the scenes at the GB Swimstars Synchronised Swimming Photoshoot

gb swimstars photoshoot

A couple of weeks ago, Millie got the chance to take part in a photoshoot by Simon from GB Swimstars. Simon specialises in photographing water sports activities so synchronised swimming is just up his street. I thought I’d share a couple of the pictures that we got from the session plus a couple of behind the scenes shots that Dermot managed to get taken.

There were wind machines, backdrops, waterproof lights and Dermot throwing 150 buckets of water over all of the swimmers! He couldn’t move his back for days.

synchronised swimming photo shoot

The girls had really good fun – they were encouraged to come up with some ideas for positions and shots beforehand. We were a bit sad that the diving pit at the Aquatics centre was stuck at a height that meant the girls couldn’t be photographed actually in the water, but they still managed to get some brilliant shots and have tons of fun!

gbswimstars photo shoot

At one point, Dermot got a little over excited throwing water over a little one and knocked her over! Its ok .. she laughed!

More examples of Simon’s work can be found over on his website – I wasn’t paid for this review, Millie had such a good time and we are so pleased with the pictures that I wanted to share them.

synchronised swimming photoshoot

I’m joining this post in with Michelle from Mummy From The Heart’s #GivethanksThursday blog hop – Because, quite frankly< I'm am amazed and ever so grateful that I've got a daughter that gorgeous and that talented! Why not hope over to some of the other posts in the linky and see what lovely news people are feeling happy about.

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Happy New Year From The Costellos

new year's day walk

Just wanted to pop in to wish you all a very Happy New Year from Casa Costello. We have started the year at a raring pace already – the girls have been in the pool for training and have a 5.30am start in the morning!

We did manage to fulfil one of our yearly rituals though with our infamous New Year’s Day walk – I think we had about 34 people joining in this year, on our 10th anniversary of doing the walk. We walk around 5 miles with a pub stop at a country inn about 3/4 of the way round. (We pretend that we just need the loo but really we are desperate for Guinness and Hot Chocolates by that point!)

new year's day walk

This year was one of the soggiest we have ever had – Didn’t dampen our spirits but made for huge puddles in the pub and some of our gang sneaked off into cars (Wimps!) We even had steaming socks drying on the fire guard – Classy! The photos were only taken on my phone so are really blurry – Far too wet for the proper camera.

It was our turn to host the after walk party, which is all good fun! Strictly cupboard food to use up what we have in our cupboards and several glasses of Prosecco – The New Year’s Walk is the reason I could never do ‘Dry January’!

steaming socks

I’m happy to report that we all seem to be on the mend from our lurgy – Looking forward to getting back in the kitchen with tons of recipes I want to share.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for their support, time and comments over the past year – I’ve loved getting to know my internet family and look forward to more fun during 2015.

I do have a couple of New Year’s resolutions – They are hardly life changing but something to work towards – Have you made any? Do you have any New Year’s rituals like our walk?

Smile more – Lets spread the infectious smile and warm up those wintery days!

Reading Challenge – I’m plodding on (albeit rather slowly) with my challenge to read 500 books by the time I’m 50 – I’m really going to have to pick up the pace this year though, so set myself a challenge of 50 books during 2015.

Be on Time – I set myself this one every year! This year I mean it! I’m going to be on time with birthday cards & presents too – People who know me well will be howling laughing at this one!

Business – My youngest starts school in September *weeps* I’m really going to have to admit that I’m a grown up now and continue to grow my business – I love writing and cooking, watch out for more from me!

And of course there’s the endless ironing pile … I will be done by next Christmas. Honestly!

Happy New Year!

The Snowman & Snowdog Grotto – Trafford Centre

snowman snowdog trafford centre

There’s something very magical about going to see Santa with your children. This is my 12th Christmas as a Mum and each year, we try to visit a different grotto. I’m not sure Santa recognises us at each event – I suspect that it might not ALWAYS be the ‘real’ Father Christmas ;-)

We were lucky enough to be invited to The Snowman and Snowdog Grotto in Barton Square, Trafford Centre last Sunday so off we trooped. I need to apologise at this point for the less than brilliant photos – We forgot the big camera, something to do with us having to set out at 7am to go to synchro training first.

santa's grotto trafford centre

You arrive at The Snowman Grotto to be met by one of the Elves (at least I think they were elves). Our slot was 12pm but there were a lot of other families milling about trying to book in (You book in at the main Trafford Centre Customer Service desk). The Elves were so patient and friendly – it would have driven me potty having to explain that they were fully booked until 4.30pm to so many people. An A frame board explaining which slot was next and how to register would have saved them so much hassle.

trafford centre elves

About 10 minutes before your time, you go in and queue inside – Another Elf welcomes you and gets the children all excited about Christmas – At this point you are given a gift of some Reindeer food for Christmas Eve (Anyone else got more reindeer food than real food in their house at the moment?).

Inside the grotto is a living room where an actor creates the atmosphere, telling the story of the Snowman and Snowdog with the aid of a massive video screen. Children sit on the floor and adults on benches. The younger kids were enthralled and its not too long (about 10-15 mins) for anyone who feels a little bit old (Your 12 year old for example!)

santa trafford centre

I thought this was going to be it but then the magic continues with a visit to Santa – At this point my children decide to ask for a real life monkey and 2 hamsters – Has anyone else heard that Santa isn’t doing livestock this year?! Santa was lovely and his room is great – complete with yet another friendly Elf!

You can have your picture taken with Santa and then go to choose your print if you like it.

santa's living room

After the Grotto experience, the fun can continue with a ride on the traditional carousel and plenty of other little stalls – Kangaroo Burger anyone?

To finish the afternoon, we tucked into a huge Cadwalladers’ Ice-Cream Sundae and a huge Mocha! The experience was so much better than we thought it was going to be – Our girls were really pleased with their gifts from Santa (who incidentally agreed with me that perhaps a real life monkey might not be possible this year but a cuddly one might be better still!)

carousel trafford centre

Questions!

giant question mark

Its day of questions … Can you help with any of these from The Costello house?

From Violet: How does the internet work?

I thought I’d start with a harmless but difficult one – She means as a whole, not how does our house get it?

From Tara: How can I get a tail to come from out my bum?

Erm….?

From Me: Why did the man at David Lloyd earlier today, think it was ok to shave his chest poolside then jump in the pool to rinse down?

Eew!

From Me Again: Why did the lifeguard sit there watching him??

Clueless.

From Derm: How after a massive swim, an afternoon of playing and an evening of traipsing about everywhere, can Tara STILL not go to sleep at 10.30PM?

I fear this is one of the mysteries of life and that if we solved it, we would earn millions.

From Me: Why did we think to put ONE trainer up in the loft in the Hand-me-down box?

Anybody want a used Size 11 Child’s Lacoste Trainer?? A Left One

From Derm: Do we put the charity clothes in the Air Ambulance or the Cancer Research bag?

How does one choose??

It may be messy but its ours – The Costello Shelfie

shelfie blog competition

We’ve all heard of selfies, but have you heard of the ‘Shelfie’? Its exactly what you think it is, a picture of a shelf.

I’d love to be showing you a neat and today, freshly dusted, everything precisely where it should be shelf but I’m not. Actually what you are seeing is everything current about our family. This is the first thing that you see when you step into the living room.

Our shelf is constantly changing – somethings remain on it always but most items get moved and changed regularly.

So let’s look a bit more closely at what is on our shelf …

It was Violet’s 8th birthday on Tuesday so this is where most of the cards go. You can always tell what recent occasions we have celebrated by this shelf. Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day …the cards all appear on here. And if I’m honest, most of them stay there until the next occasion!

birthday card shelf

The Money Tree… As christened by my friend, Sue. Any money we get for birthdays goes on here until it is spent. (It moves quicker than the birthday cards do!) Gift vouchers, thank you cards, party invitations – Its all on here. And I love it!

card tree

Who says money doesn’t grow on trees?

A new addition is our chocolate bouquet – How fabulous is this? I’m determined to make my own one eventually but I couldn’t leave this in the shop when I saw it. Perfect colour for a little girl called Violet on her birthday!

chocolate bouquet gifts

Like any self-respecting shelf, there are the photos. I love the black and white ones of my girls – I know they need updating but I can’t get rid of this one.

home photos

One of my most precious possessions is on this shelf too … The picture of my Dad receiving his MBE from The Queen. There are so many happy memories in this picture. A really special occasion for a really special man.

mbe picture

So there we have it. A glimpse into the world of the Costellos. That’s not all there is on that shelf … there’s a rogue nail varnish, some nail clippers (obviously someone has been improving their personal hygiene recently!), a healthy sprinkling of dust, a clock (that we set 5 minutes fast in a desperate attempt to get to places on time – it doesn’t work) and a spoon (no idea!).

You may be wondering why I’m blethering on about shelves – I’m taking part in the Victoria Plumb Shelfie Competition in conjunction with the Tots100. This comp is all about celebrating style in the Great British Home – I could win money or help with a new bathroom (which considering we still have a grey bathroom suite which makes estate agents gasp, is no bad thing).

Victoria Plumb would like you to take part in the Great British Home Quiz to see which celebrity your shelf is most like – You could also be in with a chance of winning £250. I took the quiz and found out we are Mr & Mrs Glamorous and I’m most like Joey Essex?! I have no words.