Tag Archives: celebrations

Celebrating Murder Mystery Style

While our family really enjoy celebrating and instilling family traditions, we are not the best at our own birthday parties. Kids parties we kick ass at (did you see the weather change for the most gorgeous bike park party as if it was controlled by my very own hand?), but when it comes to the hub and I, our birthdays seem to pass us by without much intention…

But this year – oh this year.

An old friend of mine, Lisa, has recently revived her passion for Murder Mystery Dinners (more-so helping others create them), and while I’d heard of them I didn’t know much about them. Hidden somewhere in the ice cream tubs of memories from our early 20’s (shoved to the back of the study) there are pics of my hubby at a Murder Mystery Dinner with our Durban crew (obviously before I arrived on the scene). This year, Theran’s birthday was conveniently timed with the release of Lisa’s Murder Mystery DIY ebook. I immediately downloaded the ebook and said to the hub – “Let’s do THIS for your birthday!”. Fuuuuuun (and finally I get to participate in one this time). Sold!

We settled on a few close friends (following the suggested best number of guests the ebook had mentioned), saved the date and immediately anticipation began building. Stoked!

3 weeks, winter school holidays, work deadlines, a weekend away, and a Good Food Club complete, it was suddenly the Monday before the dinner. Knowing it was screaming its urgency on my mental to-do list, in a flat panic I messaged Lisa. Something along the lines of “ummmmm hi there, so finally got down to the Murder Mystery Dinner and, well ummm, I’m a little confused, and I think I need to know more than I do and fumble fumble fumble, waffle waffle waffle, HELP!”. A few voice notes back and forth (Lisa must have heard the panic in my voice) she offered to come over to chat to both Theran and I about how to host a stellar Murder Mystery. With the kids in bed and chocolate croissants in the oven, Lisa arrived, armed with EVERY-THING we needed (enthusiasm to match) for our very first Murder Mystery Dinner.

Premise explained, printables provided, characters developed – we were SET UP (let’s not joke around, if you’re hosting one of these things, you gotta be on the ball). We received from her – her flagship Print-and-Play game (avail from her for R299), menu suggestions, name cards, tips and tricks, props – everything we needed, not only to make it look gorgeous, but also professional and something you can’t help but buy into.

Hold up! What exactly is a Murder Mystery dinner you may be asking? 

Well… in the simplest terms a murder mystery dinner is a themed dinner party that involves dressing up, acting and detecting which guest is the killer by the close of the game. Someone (not present at the party… duh!) has been killed, and someone attending the party did it (ahhh, gasp, shock, horror!). No one but the host knows who the murderer is, and secrets are revealed throughout the night with clues as to who it is. Props give away clues, guesses are made, crazy confessions come to light, and the murderer is finally revealed!


I’ll be honest, some friends were nervous. So was I – my character was French and I’m the worst accents person ever. Ever. But that’s all part of the fun – wangling my way through an evening where while being born in France, my nomadic parents travelled when I was young and my accent was misplaced by our numerous international adventures and and and (all made up – you get the idea).

And we had a BALL. What a fun, bizarre, hysterical, and unforgettable evening. My mom helped with the food so that it was less pressure for us to do that, and set up, and be in character (we have 3 small kids remember, nothing happens ‘easily’).

I was totally blown away by how incredibly well some friends embraced their characters and chirps were flowing (as was the wine and homemade Whisky cream liqueur)… It can be trying for some to get into character, and the best way to do that is for the evening itself to be well organised, create a legit environment and have your guests know this is for REAL. (Once the murderer is revealed, you can then break character).


If you’re at ALL interested in hosting a Murder Mystery Dinner, OR trying one out at a corporate function (oh my hat sooooo much fun!), I really would recommend you contact Lisa Aspeling.

I’d encourage you to firstly, download the ebook, take a peek at the website, join her closed group on Facebook – The Murder Mystery Guide Dinner Club – or you can contact her directly:

Possible ways of getting started: 

  • Download the ebook and follow the tips to developing your own story.
  • Purchase Lisa’s Print-and-Play game (R299).
  • Contact Lisa about a Weekend Workshop where she will help you put your own custom-made murder mystery together, as well as the opportunity to experience one yourself (R1500, includes private dining restaurant dinner for murder mystery (cash bar) Places are limited.)

Contact Lisa Aspeling: 072 372 8620 or email lisa@murdermysteryguide.com.

Lisa has over 10 years’ experience playing murder mystery dinner games she’s written herself, games she’s co-written and dinners where she’s been just an ordinary guest.

GO FOR IT! It really is such a fun experience and something so different to your usual sit down dinner! You won’t regret it.

Reflections on Christmas, by a Doula (me), and not a Theologian (the hub).

I love Christmas. There is so much to love about it – the food, the festivities, the giving, the joy. Only this year did I calculate exactly how many family traditions (or events) we shmoosh into this beautiful period of celebration. There are many.

Between my husband and my family, I could count over 10. From baking our own mince pies, to acting the nativity scene (dressed up and with specific roles!), to Uncle Paul’s Christmas Party and Carols at Kirstenbosch. This season is full – and wonderful.

And so full of WONDER. For so many years we celebrated Jesus’s birth – in the manger, with angels and shepherds and that all important star – all so neat and tidy and lovely sitting in the church pew thinking ‘let’s hurry home now and open presents’ (a firm childhood memory of mine)…

Only after having my own kids (and falling in love with birth) have I begun to imagine that birth differently. I love to imagine how hard it must’ve been for Mary and Joseph to (physically) escape to Bethlehem. (If you’ve had those STABBING pains UP your vajay-jay as if you’re about to give birth there and then can you imagine what that must have been like for Mary). I wonder how often she thought she might not make it – with the bobbing up and down on a donkey and Jesus most likely decending into position, pushing on her bladder. I imagine her fear and desperation not finding a place to stay, and then the mix of relief and discomfort finding a stable, a place to finally sit down, and then ‘prepare for the birth’. I wonder how long her birth was, how long did she push for (birth-nerd talk), and how the baby was delivered? At what point did her waters break? Was he breach? Was he posterior? How did Joseph handle it all? Did he freak out? Had either of them seen birth before – they were young… What did they do with the umbilical cord? Was there a moment of divine intervention from heaven above, or was it all really… human. This is BIRTH. Real, raw, scary, beautiful, empowering BIRTH. Yet the birth of a King.

Was there a split second of Peace on Earth? I doubt Mary was wearing white cloths neatly wrapped around her body (for one, there was no Aerial or Omo back in that day). If you’ve seen birth, nothing remains white. The cloth Jesus was wrapped in must have been covered with amniotic fluid, vernix and blood. This was the very messy, very real, very on-the-run birth of Christ. The Christ, the Saviour of the World. I wonder how long Mary and Joseph stared at Jesus wondering if he really was their Saviour.

And so as I reflect this Christmas, I think what I’m realising is that things often don’t look ‘right’. Surely Jesus should’ve had more to wear than swaddling cloths and a more comfy bed than a used animal trough? This picture is nothing like immaculately wrapped up gifts under the tree and the perfectly roasted gammon presented on a Pinterest worthy dining room table. There is nothing wrong with those things – I too love to celebrate WELL – but it seems the picture of Jesus’ birth and the deeper truth sometimes don’t seem to match up in ways we might imagine. This messy birth, and our Saviour on earth. This confusion leads us to Trust; to have Faith – two things it seems we need to possess in larger and larger quantities nowadays, in a world spinning off its axis and one in which we control far less than what we like to believe. Life is hard, and life can be scary; there are unknowns, and mess seems to be everywhere. In our humanness, we cannot understand it – well, I sure can’t.

Luke 2:12: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”

Wherever you find yourself currently… It’s coming. He is Hope. Be it in your heart, or here again in his Creation, we await his coming. We sit in the labour pains of the mysteries to come.

It’s almost time. Keep pushing, keep breathing. Behold, He is coming soon.

Image Credit: Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/newline.wireimage.com, https://brandonacox.com/advent-always-hope/.

My Heart on Silk

Something that has struck me recently, is how significant each person’s individual story can be. Story. It is powerful.

Chatting with my midwife a couple days ago, we were talking about how resilient we are, and how fragile we are at the very same time. And it’s so true. Our outlooks, attitudes, emotions and reactions often come down to a sequence of tiny little things, over years, weaved together to form our lives. And these things matter, often even defining us.

Having just celebrated my third baby (and possibly the surge of endorphins and surge of emotion that automatically comes with it) has made me think about this even more so. Our third child (I literally cannot believe I have three) was born 5 days ago, and oh wow, I could have a million more. These tiny little lives. They take your breath away. They consume our hearts in ways we could never imagine. I am absolutely smitten, and overcome by wonder and joy.

Recently I came across this gorgeous company, which shares this same sentiment and heart. And since I love all things local (they really are situated around the corner from me) and lekker, I wanted to share them with you – introducing Symbols on Silk.

We were SO fortunate to have Symbols on Silk join in the celebration of our newest family member by generously gifting me with a set of Bling Babies, representing each of my children. Ahhhh melt! How lucky am I? And like I said earlier, these tiny little (loud, crazy, sometimes drive-me-up-the-wall) blessings are my everything.

Symbols on Silk was founded in 2010 by passionate wife, mother (and now gushing grandmother) Linda Schneider, and which comprises of beautifully simple sterling silver designs, strung on a silk thread and packaged with a meaningful, and inspirational message. Each piece has been individually designed with heart in mind – the message chosen MEANINGFUL for its’ wearer. There are over 100 designs in the range (including both necklaces and bracelets) with the option of acquiring each charm in Silver, Gold or Rose Gold dipped. The range is locally manufactured in Cape Town, South Africa, and thanks to Linda’s two incredible jewellery ‘craftswomen’, each design is made with care. Each tells a story. 


And now, I have the privilege of being able to wear my little ones ‘close to my heart’… just as the message says. 

Day in and day out, throughout all of life’s experiences, from the blissful sublime to the downright difficult, we learn from it all. From the struggles, the joys, the waiting, the hopes and the celebrations. Symbols on Silk allows us to share these journeys and these experiences, without words.

But it doesn’t stop there. Symbols on Silk cares and speaks to the stories of not only their clients, but their communities as well. I love that as a company, a percentage of the proceeds from all Symbols on Silk sales is used to supply food parcels to the Yiza Ekhaya Soup Kitchen in Khayelitsha, and R10.00 from the sale of each Snowflake necklace or bracelet is donated to the Rebekah Ryan trust. These small acts change stories.

Take a peek at their range online here, and find what speaks to you.

Follow Symbols on Silk by joining their Facebook page, or shop online here.


Picture Credit: Brene Brown, Love Made Visible (birth picture), Symbols on Silk Website

Oh, to be loved

My little bub, Ryler Cael, turned 2 today.

“And so on April 29th 2014, just before 7am, after a beautifully real and intense labour (another significant space between), and water birth, Ryler Cael became Ryler Cael – We are : We become in the space between. We are, because YOU are.

And so to our dear Ryler – may you become an inspirer, a community builder, an intentionally relational being, an arm-lifter of the weak.

And as his daddy said to him on the day he was born, ‘the love is in the space between us; you’ll always be safe there’.” (read full post about his name here).

And besides the ‘oh my goodness, I had the most incredible birth’ feelings (which were COMPLETELY overwhelming last year – wow!), or the ‘how can you be 2, you should still be 8 weeks old’ feelings, or the adoration we feel when he tries to copy our words (which is simply the cutest thing everrrr) or the excitement we see in his pure delight while screaming ‘boooooons’ (balloons) or ‘birrrrdayyyy’ (birthday), or ‘hoooooorayyy’ at the end of his own birthday sing-a-long or answering ‘me me me’ to the question of ‘whose birthday is it today???’… this year I’ve been struck by the raw and real response he gives to simply being loved.

We live in community (on the same property) with my parents, and so in true keeping-with-Stephenson (my maiden name) style, we like to DO birthdays. Spoils, excitement, boooons, getting up early and singing, presents and cake. This is 100% unnecessary (in trying to continue a minimalist approach), but it is fun, and I really enjoy doing it – so that won’t change quickly. Our little now-toddler doesn’t need all this stuff, I know, but we love giving it to him. And I certainly kept it simple with gifts this year – which was a nice, guilt-free change.

But the love, oh the LOVE. The way his eyes light up when he sees mommy or daddy coming to get him from his crib in the morning and the big cuddles and morning exchanges that then ensue. The delight he feels in the love from his ‘sham’ (gran) and ‘papa’ (grampa) as they join in adoringly. We know we’re blessed. There is just so much love.

pooh love 2

Yesterday my almost-4yr-old spent his whole morning baking a cake for Ryler with my mom. Literally, the whole morning. And he decorated it too. And he nibbled off a few gummy bears and stole a couple m&m’s, and it was a little less than perfect but it WAS perfect because he had a ball and he was SO proud of his efforts. All for his younger brothers birthday… (sure, the sharing – or not – of Ryler’s presents this morning was not as adorable a task), but the LOVE.

This morning Ryler soaked.it.all.up. The balloons, the singing, the cake (oh the cake), the presents, the toys, the books and jelly beans. His face expressed it and his body exuded it. He knew he was loved. And actually, it didn’t matter, the ‘stuff’. Had it just been us, beaming with pride as we squeezed our little man full of birthday-ness, he would have known it full well, and just as well.

And so this morning, his unashamed and unreserved delight made me think deeper into what it means, and what a huge, huge blessing it is to BE loved. Feeling loved, and knowing one is loved is important (life changing really), but being loved. And we ARE loved. At the risk of getting all spiritual for those who do not follow the same faith we do… know, that you ARE loved.

he first loved us

And oh, if it is This Love that allows me to continue loving, then bring it on. Let us love: deep, wide, high, low, in joy, in sorrow, in confidence, in doubt.

Let us just LOVE.

Happy Birthday Ryler Cael. You are loved.


When life calls for cupcakes, you make cupcakes. And my friend in Vancouver, Claire, always made the best ones. She uses the cupcake recipe from Magnolia Bakery in New York and so when we visited NYC over Christmas in 2012, we made sure we stopped by (the original store).

My hubby also bought me the recipe book when we were there and ohhh wooooow! The recipes are amazing – and EASY! Ever since, Magnolia Bakery’s classic – their vanilla cupcakes – have become a bit of a thing for me. I think they’ve been baked for almost all of my kids’ birthday parties, friends’ baby showers, my friend Beth’s gender-reveal (piped with pink icing!) and work celebrations. Cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes – and they’re always a hit!

Since the recipe is available online and we’re not letting some huge secret out the bag – I thought I’d share it with you. Apparently, 10 November is Vanilla Cupcake Day, so make up for lost time and get baking!

TIPS: (from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook).

– Always use large eggs at room temperature.
– Beat the cupcake batter for a 3 full minutes. Time it if you must. Don’t be in a hurry.
– Use vanilla EXTRACT. Not the cheap fake chemical stuff. Being vanilla cupcakes and vanilla buttercream – the genuine flavour is pretty important.

Here we go – this is all you need! Cupcakes and Buttercream Recipes.

Vanilla Vanilla in a Box Cupcakes

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes


1 ½ cups self-rising flour
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F degrees.
  2. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth.
  5. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.
  8. With each addition, beat until the ingredient are incorporated but do not over-beat.
  9. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended.
  10. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full.
  11. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
  12. Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Magnolia Bakery cupcakes

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 box (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar)
2 – 3 TBLS milk
1 teaspoons vanilla extract


Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the vanilla. Gradually add sugar one cup at a time. Scrape down sides of bowl often. When the mixture starts to thicken and appears dry add 2 TBLS of milk. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy about 2-4 minutes. Add more milk as needed if you want a thinner consistency. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly.

Store the icing at room temperature. Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Magnolia Bkery Cookbook

If you live in the States you can have these beauties delivered to your door? Isn’t that nuts? Also, while we were in NY for Christmas, my film-maker hubby made a couple short videos (1min long each). I’ve included ‘FOOD’ below as the last few seconds shows me biting into a Magnolia Bakery cupcake. (Give us some grace – a LOT of the food we ate in NYC was greasy and delicious, and very un-paleo. We weren’t as clean eaters then as we are now. That NYC pizza also changed our lives.)

Another absolute must-try at Magnolia is their banana pudding (we’re noshing on that in the video too). It is unreal… but you’ll have to buy the recipe book for that one…


The sky is blue and, well, grey

I’m currently reading Shauna Niequist’s ‘Bread and Wine’ and in it she talks about a New Years party that she planned, fairly idyllically, which turned out to be a bit of a mess and nothing like she imagined, but the real rawness of the experience trumped any previously wished-for perfection.

Today, was that day. A beautiful mess. And I think we need to hear these stories to be encouraged.

It all started yesterday when I dropped my toddler at school and learned about the pajama party that was to be held at school, the.following.day. ‘Dressing gowns and all’ she mentioned. Dressing gown? Clay doesn’t own a dressing gown. Bad parent. So, an urgent call to my mom on the side of the road rectified that – she was all over it. A gown, she would find. I could relax.

The dressing gown was located and purchased; crisis averted. We wrapped it up, and added it to the inappropriately large pile of presents for Clay’s 3rd birthday, the next day. Cupcakes were baked & iced, gummy snake sweets packed, balloons blown and streamers strewn. Supermom here, is all over it. Oh, and did I mention my husband is in Florida?

Birthday Day arrives (bearing in mind I’m leaving out the night before and HAVING TO sleep RIGHT NEXT TO the packed up gummy snake sweets, and frantically washing Clay’s winter PJs at 9:30pm because they had, should we say, a public bathroom stench and of course it was PJ party day that next day) aaaaand… we’re up, at 5:30am. Birthday Day.

The day started (early) with kids fighting over toys, bedding and trying to Skype their dad who was in a time zone 6 hours behind us. About 317 crackly frustrating calls later, dad was able to join in the birthday festivities on audio. Birthday songs were sung and presents were ripped open and barely looked at before the next one was pounced upon. Coffee spilled, carefully selected clothes given as presents ‘not needed’ apparently – announced by the birthday king himself – and the base plate of Lego (upon which one builds duplo) had a picture of a Lego house which was nowhere to be seen (obviously, because it’s just a picture illustrating the use of the base plate, not advertising a house that COMES with a base plate) – but try explain that to a toddler. On his birthday. When birthday hyperactivity is on overload, and no one is of sound mind. It was nothing short of a small World War. No one wanted to be changed (into clothes or now clean, barely dry, winter PJs). No one wanted anything but beautifully decorated cupcakes for breakfast, and, with a few fights and strong short phrases spoken (either threatening or bribing, I can’t remember), off to school we went.

Leaving 20min early, and driving at roughly 15km per hour to school with 16 delicately decorated cupcakes balancing precariously on the front seat of the car, I barely made it on time.

I joined in for the Birthday Ring at his school, armed with my iPhone to capture every precious, perfect, proud-mom moment. I arrived to see a dirty, crown-less Birthday Boy because why would you wear a crown with a huge 3 on it when it’s your 3rd birthday? Our little treasure had chosen a blue rabbit toothbrush from the school gift box as his present. Well done my son, that’s very practical, your father would be proud.

Since my folks had an prior engagement on the birthday evening (and hubby was away), I thought I’d invite my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and Clay’s 2 cousins for a post-school cuppa and play at a coffee shop around the corner. What construed between school and the coffee shop involved almost being attacked by a dog (jumping into our car off the street), driving back to draw money, fill up with petrol, have my bank card decline… AAAAAND now I’m running late. And then, because, well, why not… I happened to drive past the coin operated machine thing outside our local grocery store. Bad move Debbie, bad move. Worse than your son not having a gown mid-winter. I hate those coin operated things. Clay screamed for me to stop the car as if someone was dislocating his limbs, slowly, one at a time. I considered calling off the coffee date altogether and suggest we abandon the beautiful playground location I had chosen, and replace it with the plastic, dirty, paint chipped tractor outside Checkers. That would be nice.

Just as we pulled into the parking lot, I turned around to see… Clay fast asleep. By this time the blog post was writing itself. There were desperate phone calls made, the waking of sleeping children (as if I had missed that parenting class), tears, mess, spills, babychinos not big enough, very, very stinky diapers (I chose not to care); there was chaos, cold coffee, wet socks, and babies eating raw pizza dough intended for children to play with, and then cook. Just what I’d imagined this 3rd birthday to look like.

As we drove home, Clay looked out the car widow and said ‘mom, the sky is blue, and, well… grey’. That was just it. That was our day.

I’m just like Shauna. I like things neat and tidy (and in a box with a bow; raffia if we’re going rustic, ribbon if we’re going fancy). And today despite my desperate, genuinely pure and noble intentions toward a small human I adore with every cell of my entire self, was not neat, certainly not tidy, and in a box torn apart as quickly as birthday present paper is ripped to reveal its contents (albeit, not clothes apparently – gowns included). Daddy was far away, the red icing (which had to be RED RED and not just RED) tasted, to me, more like food colouring than icing, Clay guzzled his gummy snake with manners cavemen would’ve shunned, the stench of the day was of Clay’s unsavoury nappy (that I could not gather enough energy to change), and the conversation over coffee was disjointed, bitsy and desperate for adult connection.

But that’s just it. That’s us. That’s the real life underneath the Pinterest life. And it’s okay. The mess. The ideal is so seldom a reality, if ever. Be it in marriage, or vocation, in parenthood or trying to celebrate a 3 year old – so much of it is beautifully blue, wonderful, crisp, warm, clear, bright. And then there’s the grey. The hard, tiring and messy. Just as real, and just as okay.

And then out of nowhere (literally) my boy says ‘hey thanks mom for a wonderful day’ and then we headed home, quite weary. And as the lights switched off at 4pm (thanks to load shedding) we snuggled on the ground playing Lego on the new base plate that didn’t come with a house.

And it’s all okay, better than ok. It was beautifully blue, with a bit of grey.