fairy party!

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When both Lois and her best friend independently asked us mums for a fairy party to celebrate their 3rd birthdays, a joint bash seemed obvious. Born just eight days apart, I wasn’t sure how two fairy parties on consecutive weekends would go down…and, perhaps slightly too enthusiastically, urged my good friend Jen to consider a joint party. Initially, she was all “But you’re MENTAL when it comes to planning parties…you’ll drive me CRAZY…we won’t sleep for a week…it’ll all end in tears, if we’re lucky – if we’re not, it’ll end in a huge fisticuffs, probably in the middle of Pass the Parcel, wrestling on the floor, squirting glitter icing at each other and tearing each other’s fairy wings to shreds…”

OK, so she didn’t quite say it like that – Jen is a diplomat. In a very tactful and polite way, she basically said the above. I reassured her that I was turning over a new leaf when it came to parties – and that she was to be my Party Insanity indicator. She agreed.

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Party planning was mainly very fun (if you take out the bit where the girls were all like “But we just want a bouncy castle…” when we were in the throws of making pretty fairy skirts and incredible crocheted Peter Pan hats). Making the cake together could have resulted in the end of our friendship – but, fortunately, we got through that stressful Friday afternoon, the cake was still standing by morning, and even ended up looking enticing. Anyway, onto the party:

We had a mixture of girls and boys coming, between 2 and 6, so we didn’t want it to be too…well, pink. The aim was more garden fairy, going for the fantasy/mythological angle over the rather illogical (when you think about it) fairy/princess hybrid which seems to saturate the toy and clothing market for young girls. Besides, a mutual friend had organised a wonderful princess party for her daughter just a couple of months previously – so we weren’t about to try and compete.

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On arriving, each girl was offered a fairy skirt (alright, so these did include the colour pink – nothing wrong with a smattering of girliness). We made these following this amazing YouTube tutorial.

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Wondering what we could offer the boys (although they probably would have been happy in fairy skirts too), the amazingly talented Jen whipped up these beautiful crocheted Peter Pan-style hats. No, I wasn’t kidding when I dropped that into the third paragraph. They really did happen. And they were brilliant.

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Up till now, my kids’ parties have always been held at home, where there are toys to keep everyone happy between the games and such like. So, as this party was held in our church hall, with no such luxury, we needed a variety of open-ended activities to entertain the troops while there was nothing structured going on. We found these wings from Baker Ross, and set up a table for wing decorating, using bingo dabbers, glitter foam and sparkly gem stickers.

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Then there was a wand-making table:

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A fairy cake decorating table, with plenty of sparkles and sprinkles:

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And a fairy-themed play dough table. Two glittery play doughs, one lavender-scented and one basil-scented. Sparkly beads, cup cake cases, conkers and a selection of rolling pins and plastic knives gave the kids a variety of options:

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Here’s Lois, unable to resist having a smell of the basil play dough (or is she wiping her nose with it?!):

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Putting the finishing touches to her creation:

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We were fortunate to have a safe outdoor space with a few toys – and fine weather – as an extra form of entertainment.

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Three-year-olds (in our experience) don’t have too much stamina when it comes to party games, so we kept these short and simple: Pass the Parcel (of course!):

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Musical lilypads (musical bumps, but on…er, lilypads):

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And a fairy wand hunt:

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It was fun making these little wands from small colourful craft sticks and star stickers, and finding all 50 of them kept all the children going for ages:

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We kept the food straightforward and simple. Previous parties’ experience has shown that a) kids never eat as much as you’re expecting them to at a party, and b) sandwiches just aren’t a popular option. (Why go for something you eat for lunch every other day of the year?) So we went easy on the sandwiches – but cut them out as flowers and hearts just because.

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For dessert, there was fairy jelly – i.e. normal jelly, with sweets at the bottom, served in disposable Martini glasses (don’t they look fab?) and sprinkled liberally with edible glitter, stars and pearls. My friend Laura had a chuckle at the many ensuing sentences you’d never expect to hear at a 3-year-old’s birthday party: “It’s impossible to get these sweets out of the stems of the Martini glasses”, “Oops, the base has come off your Martini glass”, and so on.

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For no particular reason, I wish to point out here that the marvellous Tinkerbell plates came from Poundland. I love that place. Here’s Tinkerbell, with a bouffon a-la-sausage-roll:

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And the cups were also Poundland – customised with cheapo flowers from Tesco. (Scroll to the top for the pic.)

And then the cake. Hooray, it stayed upright! Jen pointed out that we didn’t want two entirely separate cakes, as that might force our guests to choose which one of us they liked most. And, seeing as we couldn’t think of an idea for a second fairy cake anyway, we just made a massive cake board and baked two toadstool cakes. I’d give you a tutorial, but it really was quite a shambles. Anyway, they survived, were iced (just), and actually ended up pretty decent, don’t you think?

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Who wants a perfect cake anyway?

[Incidentally, I rather fancy the idea of Slummy Mummy YouTube tutorials...perhaps I could film myself making a mess of Lois' hair, demonstrating a rubbish art activity, or ballsing up a fairy toadstool cake.]

You may have guessed that I didn’t stick to a £30 budget like I did last year. (Read about Lois’ £30 dollies’ tea party, and Joel’s £30 robot party if you’re interested.) It’s a good reminder that spending more doesn’t necessarily mean less work. However, you probably realise that I go mental over kids’ parties, so I actually (dare I say it?) enjoy the preparation. And sharing our girls’ birthday party meant that Jen and I could go that little bit more extravagant, and still keep it to a reasonable cost.

Disclaimer: this party was brought to you by the letters I (for Insomnia) and M (for Madness), and (of course) the number 3. My bedroom is thick with dust, the drive is overgrown with weeds, and various friends’ texts and messages were ignored during the making of this party. So we shall hear no comments along the Supermum lines, please – unless they’re directed at Jen, of course, who did this all whilst Very Pregnant and also Trying-To-Sort-Out-A-New-Phone (possibly the most time-consuming challenge known to man). Credit where credit’s due.

lois is not so tiny anymore…

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My eccentric little Lois is 3.

It’s interesting how you don’t need verbal language to be able to express complete and utter madness – we had a strong suspicion that Lois was pretty crazy before she started to talk – which, if you felt you were left hanging after last year’s birthday post, was the first week in December. (Just like that. Typical Lois – waited till she wanted to, then came out with pretty much whole sentences.) And when she did, her role as the most eccentric member of our little family was confirmed.

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I write these birthday posts partly as a family memento – something for Al and I to look back on when our kids are grown and we want to remember how they were at different ages. As I look back on last year, I realise, in some ways, that not much has changed for Lois. She is still obsessed with dolls, still loves to be physical (especially in a wrestle with her big brother), still enjoys games (Guess Who being a current favourite) and still loves to draw, paint and make. She is still feisty and determined, cheeky and strong-willed. If it’s a princess party she’s going to, she’ll add her own indie touch.

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Diplomatic friends would call her spirited.

But, of course, there are changes. Besides the increased chattiness, Lois can now perform a pretty good forward roll – something she couldn’t do when she was two. She can wee in a toilet. She can write a wobbly ‘Lois’ on a large sheet of paper. She loves to cook.

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She frequently writes, and tells, her own jokes. They’re particularly cute and funny because she insists on ending them with a ‘ha!’, just to remind us how funny they are. Here’s an example:

“Why does an eye go in a banana?”

“I don’t know. Why does an eye go in a banana?”

“Because it’s an ear – ha!”

Oh, and this was the year Lois learnt to do jigsaws. Believe me when I say she can do jigsawsFor two months, around Christmastime, she did virtually nothing else – and now she does them like a machine.

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Lois has her own mind – and follows her own path. I pray this will work in her favour as she grows. But she is also immensely kind and thoughtful. She brings tissues for Joel when he’s upset. When he fell off his scooter and scraped his knee recently, she wanted to pray for healing: “Lord God,” (for all her prayers begin this way) “Joel’s knee get better. Amen”. When a new girl started at preschool, and started to cry when her mummy left, Lois went to get a brown doll (the little girl was of Indian origin) and brought it to her, to cheer her up.

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When Lois was in utero, we prayed for her – and the words ‘peacemaker’ and ‘servant’ came up. I found myself praying that she wouldn’t be a doormat – something often, wrongly, associated with servanthood. I wanted her to grow into a woman who would serve others out of a strong confidence and security in her identity in Christ, not out of fear or low self-esteem. Lois is only 3, and her character has years to develop – but I’ve certainly never seen her be a doormat. I think God might be answering this prayer. :)

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So, yesterday, we celebrated. We remembered how Lois came into the world, thanked God for her last three years, and celebrated who she is, this eccentric little person who brings so much joy to her family and friends. There were balloons and presents and cards and nostalgia bunting and her scrapbook and old photos and videos and cake for breakfast. Mummy and Lois enjoyed a sunny day in town – more cake at York Cocoa House, a wander round the Castle Museum (questions, questions, questions!) and a play at the fabulous new Waterstone’s bookshop. We were blessed indeed.

And tomorrow, we party…watch out for the next blog post!

memoirs of a preschool mum (or: letter to a new mum)

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Tomorrow, the boy in my belly in this photo starts school. I’m not anxious for him – he’ll be fine. It’s me who has to adapt.

You see – my baby boy, who was born approximately 5 minutes ago, is starting school. He’s got a uniform and everything. He’ll be learning important, grown-up things – and relating to people for several hours each day without any intervention from me. He’ll even have to wipe his own bum.

What do you do with a 3-day-old? Why, take him to a wedding of course! Friends, I am not lying when I tell you I knew ZILCH about babies

What do you do with a 3-day-old? Why, take him to a wedding of course! Friends, I am not lying when I tell you that I knew ZILCH about babies.

I don’t feel old enough to be a mum, let alone a mum of a school-age child. Several of my friends have become mums recently, or are shortly to become mums. They are just starting out on the journey. But despite the fact that I don’t feel very far along the road myself, I need to man up and realise that the preschool days (for Joel, at least) are over. So, to mark this transition, here are a few thoughts on the last few years.

Joel's dedication. We didn't only spend our preschool years in churches, I promise you.

Joel’s dedication. We didn’t only spend our preschool years in churches, I promise you.

I had no idea what I was doing with baby Joel. Not much of a clue when it came to baby Lois either, to be honest. But they’re still alive. Let that be an encouragement to you as you read this at some stupid hour of the morning, nursing your child whilst keeping your brain alert with a small smartphone screen and some little ramblings from a friend.

I watch you with your babes, you new mum friends, and you are utterly fantastic. You rock them with confidence. You know all their different cries, and where to pat when they have wind. You’re in tune with their rhythm. I had no.frigging.idea. God’s grace, folks. That is all.

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Joel’s first birthday. Still loves a slide!

Then there are the Baby Groups. You need and fear these in equal measure. You need mum friends who understand and nod sympathetically and empathise and share tips and encouragements – you need to find your tribe with whom you will navigate these important early years as you raise your kids together. But you also fear becoming someone you are not. You fear only ever having conversations about nappy rash and weaning, not knowing what’s happening in the Real World, memorising breastfeeding stats, learning which Tweenie is which. You fear that you will not fit in. And I understand. I’ve been there. I arrived in a new city, had a baby, and had no choice but to frequent these groups in order to find my tribe. I found it – and breathed a huge sigh of relief. These were not ‘mumsy’ mums, with nothing to speak about but the length of time it took them to conceive – but real people, like me, flung into motherhood in a variety of situations, none of us prepared, none of us experts. Some of these early friends have become very close – and I now count it as a privilege to have a group of people around me who I can chat to about anything. You stick at it, new-mum-friend, and the tribe will come. Not quickly or immediately, but you persist and it will come.

I loved babyhood so much I did it again. Note the sarcasm.

I loved babyhood so much I did it again. Note the sarcasm.

Moving from a very structured job, with every hour marked by a bell, into the most unstructured job ever, I was determined to fill our week with activities: regular events with a start-time to aim towards – milestones, if you like, in our week. Friend, hear this: these groups rarely create community. We enjoyed baby yoga, baby signing, Tumbletots, music classes and more. Did we make long-lasting friendships in these groups? No, we did not. We turned up, did the thing, then left. Did we fork out a small mortgage? Pretty much. Do I regret it? No – I was aware of not over-filling our week, and these groups do give amazing opportunities to babies and toddlers. But we made our friendships at the children’s centre, at church toddler groups, at the spaces which were designed for us to simply sit and chat and play. Understand the difference, and you’ll be a happier mum.

I’m massively grateful for being able to have stayed at home with Joel. We’re not all in this position – but, whatever your situation, don’t fret. My friends have done a variety of different things – some at home full-time, others working part-time, others working near full-time, others taking a bit of time off then returning to work after two or three years. Don’t regret the time you can’t spend with your child – but do make the most of all the time you can.

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Another church shot. We really are obsessed with the place.

I never expected to feel guilty as a stay-at-home mum – but yes, guilt seems to just come as part of the parenthood package. Whatever you choose, whatever you do, there will always be some guilt attached. For me, it comes every time I fail to give the kids my full attention, any time I play half-heartedly (or not at all), any time I whack the telly on, any time I read some super-duper, arty-crafty parenting blog. The voices come thick and fast: “But you’re a stay-at-home mum! You have no excuse! You don’t have a job to fit in! You’re not juggling enough! You’re lazy!” These voices aren’t helpful. They’re from a greater force who wants to tear down every last bit of confidence we have in raising our kids. Friends, recognise that you will feel guilty at some point (maybe at lots of points) – but remember that Jesus takes it all. It is not God’s plan for you to live in guilt, because it’s not God’s plan that you shoulder the weight of parental responsibility yourself.

New-mum-friend, take heart. This is not your show. You’re in it, for sure, shaping and influencing your little person to become a great player themselves – but leave the directing to the One who knows your baby more than you ever could. Who has known them since the beginning of time. Who loves them even more than you do. When I drop my baby off at his Reception class tomorrow morning, I’ll be doing just that.

With my boy this summer. He's not a baby. Sniff.

With my boy this summer. He’s not a baby. Sniff.

pray4schoolstart: week 6

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Folks, we’re there! Well, nearly. Besides frantically labelling everything your child has ever touched, and stocking up on tissues for whichever day it is in the next fortnight that you turn into a blubbering wreck as you stare, in disbelief, at this little baby who can’t be any more than three months old but appears to be starting school, why not pray along with me?

We’ve prayed these last few weeks for our children starting school this term, gradually drawing out our focus to include their peers, teachers, school leaders and communities. Now, in the final week before school really does start, let’s draw our prayers back to our children, focussing on their first few weeks of settling in, and drawing in aspects of the last few weeks of prayer.

I’ll be praying:

* for Joel’s first day, and first few days – that he would settle into his new environment, find his way around, make friends and develop good relationships with his teachers

* for all his peers – that there would be no anxiety, just excitement – that the class would gel together, forming good friendships with each other and with their teacher

* for me, as I meet other parents, that I would form good friendships too

* for the whole school community as children transition from one year to the next and staff transition to new roles/classes

That’s it. Praying that your child settles really really well, and makes an excellent schoolstart. Don’t stop praying!

the one plus one: a review

IMG_4950[1]It arrived in the post, and my heart sank when I felt its weight, when I opened the padded envelope and discovered 500+ pages. Accepting a book review assignment seemed a nice idea at the time, but for this incredibly slow reader who has, once again, over-committed herself to various other projects this summer, it seemed unmanageable within the allotted time frame.

Fortunately, we were about to go on holiday – and, never one to turn down a challenge, I worked it out at four chapters a day. Easy. If I just put my head down and did it, I’d get there. Well, what do you know? I’d devoured the whole thing in five days.

And really that should be all you need to know to make you rush off and buy your copy straight away. But I think you probably deserve a little more, so here goes…

The One plus One is an incredibly absorbing novel. It’s about a man and a woman, whose poles-apart lives are thrown together in a series of bizarre coincidences. It’s about the road trip to end all road trips. It’s about a little girl who whizzes through Maths equations like she’s an undergrad. It’s about a teenage boy struggling to find his identity. It’s about single parenthood, adoptive parenthood, and parenthood in general. Overall, though, the story is one of unwavering hope. The many struggles, obstacles, setbacks and lows which pervade the story serve only to reinforce the highs when they happen – and, ultimately, the book leaves you joyful in its tale of good overcoming evil.

This book is about contrast. There are the obvious ones (she works two jobs and lives on a council estate, he has a well-paid job in the city) but these sit neatly alongside more subtle ones. For example, the place where she lives, works and feels at home is the place where he has his second home, spending only small fractions of the year there. Moyes carefully describes the same town as both friendly/familiar and cold/shabby, depending on whose perspective you’re reading (each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective). On this point, if I were to make any criticism of the book, it would be that these perspectives could be slightly more contrasted – but, as they’re all written in the third person, I imagine that subtlety was the aim, and I appreciated the lack of crassness in switching voices.

An expert storyteller, Moyes weaves twists and turns to the plot, rounding each character with an expansive insight into their life and history. She articulates things so clearly and brilliantly that one cannot fail to identify them as snatches from one’s own life. We’ve all met people like the ones in the book – we all know of the places she describes. The book is steeped in reality, and yet has enough ‘would-never-happen-in-real-life’-type fantasy to transport you to another place. I loved this book, and I loved the people in it – I didn’t want it to end. (Fortunately, there was another Jojo Moyes novel at the house we were staying in, so I moved speedily on to that one, to ease the pain…)

With my very slow reading speed (I have an irritating need to speak the words out in my head as I read them), and parenthood limiting the disposable time in which to read, I have taken to attacking only those books which I expect to be life changing and thought-provoking. Looking back over the last year, I’ve read a book which totally changed my attitude to money, another which made me understand better the pitfalls of American evangelicalism, and another which was a fairly heavy theology of adoption. What I’ve been missing, I think, is that novels too can change your life. Novels can make you think, make you re-assess, make you see where you’ve been in error. The One plus One is certainly one of these sorts of novels, cathartic in its ability to re-align your thoughts about a whole number of issues – and I’m so glad someone made me read it.

This book was reviewed for Mumsnet, who kindly sent me a complimentary copy. All views, however, are my own. Want to read what the other Mumsnet reviewers thought of it? Click here.

pray4schoolstart: 5

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Well hello there, fellow desertparents – and, if you’re reading this, a hearty CONGRATULATIONS for making it to week 5 of the summer holidays without ending up in Rehab. Hoorah, we are nearly back to schedule, structure, and a slightly easier life!

And, if you’ve been following this blog over the summer, you’ll know that I’ve been sharing what I’ve been praying for my son as he starts school – not just him, but his peers, teachers and school leaders. As we enter the final fortnight, I thought it’d be good to widen our focus even more to include the wider community surrounding our children’s schools.

This week I’ll be praying for all the families represented by the children at my son’s school.

* that they will be able to provide emotionally and financially for their children

* that they will be supportive of their child’s education, supportive of the teachers and supportive of the wider mission of the school

* that all children would flourish, and that this would have a knock-on effect within their families, particularly those who might be going through hard times

* for strong, happy marriages/partnership, and great parent-child relationships too

I’ll also be praying for the wider community:

* that strong links would be made/sustained with the local church

* that there would be a great relationship with local businesses, charities, and anything else which enriches children’s experience of life, and enriches adults’ view of the world

* that immediate neighbours to the school would only ever have a positive impression of it

That’s it! Watch out for a book review coming within the next couple of days…then I’ll see you again next Monday for the final installment of pray4schoolstart!

pray4school start: week 4

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Hello again! Hope you’re having a wonderful summer, whatever you’re doing and whatever the weather. (As you read this, I’m enjoying a week away…but thanks to the marvel of modern technology (i.e. scheduled blogging), this post gets published without me. One day, this blog will even write itself.)

I hope you’re also enjoying some time to pray for your kids (or those you know) starting school this term. I’m not the best pray-er, but I’ve found myself challenged by my own blogs, and have really appreciated grabbing those tiny moments in between fetching a drink for a thirsty child and playing yet another game of Go Fish to pray for all the aspects surrounding my son’s schooling.

If you recall, we started with our kids themselves, moving on to their peers, then their teachers…and this week, we pray for those who lead our children’s schools. Friends: massive decisions affecting your child and their peers will be made by Heads, their leadership teams and governing bodies on a regular basis. Let’s pray for great wisdom for them, so that our children flourish and become the people God designed them to be!

* Pray for the Head, deputy/assistant heads, and governors at your child’s school – by name if you know names

* Pray for guidance and wisdom in decision making

* Pray for discernment, and an ability to judge situations accurately

* Pray for unity, agreement and good relationships within leadership teams

* Pray for the wise appointment of new staff – the most important decision that school leaders need to make, in my opinion…

* Pray that Christian school leaders would make a positive impact on their schools, and that many would be challenged by their witness

* You could also pray specifically for any friends you may have who are school leaders or governors, even if they’re at different schools to the child you’re praying for

* Joel’s son has a new Head (been there a term), so I will especially be praying for her as she settles in, that she would quickly get the feel of the school and take it in a positive direction – if you know of any new appointments at your child’s school, you could join me in praying for a smooth transition

* Let’s also remember our Scottish friends, who start back this week. I’ll particularly be praying for Joel’s second cousin, 6 weeks his senior and starting out on this big journey at the same time. Pray for smooth settling in, good relationships with teachers and peers, and a general blossoming of all the abilities God has gifted them with!

That’s all folks! See you when I return…