three is the loveliest age

Each year, as my children get older, I shall probably change my mind about this – but, for now, I think three is the loveliest age to be. Today Joel turned three. He had just the right level of awareness – enough to enjoy his presents, his party, his friends and family; enough to keep him bubbly all day – but not so much that it turned into the giddy hysteria I imagine he’ll suffer from in a couple of years’ time. (You know the type: it’ll start around 5am when he’ll bound into our room, demand to open presents now, and perform a trampoline display on our bed…)

Today was perfect.

He enjoyed all his presents. He actually did. Ours was a joint present for him and Lois, a labour of love which I’d intended to finish a week or two back. It finally made it into the lounge on Saturday morning:

Something about my kids inspires me to get creative. I’m not very good at making things – kind of like a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ but without the ‘all trades’ bit – more like a ‘jack of two or three trades’. But it’s fun to have a go, and it’s fun to see the look on my kids’ faces as they see, for the first time, a handmade toy, card or cake. Here’s the card I made for ball-mad Joel:

And the cake:

Notice the dip in the middle – classic sunken sponge. Classy. See previous paragraph.

Joel had a ball party – what else? The second toy he ever played with was a colourful, noisy soft ball, which he still has. As a small baby in the bouncer, he loved to kick this ball around with his knees. Once he could walk, he developed a penchant for football – no idea why, as his parents can’t stand the sport. More recently, he has discovered a plethora of other ball sports: tennis, cricket, basketball, croquet, skittles, table tennis, badminton, golf. I set up a few of these round the house for the dozen little people who came to celebrate with us today.

We ate ball-shaped food – mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, dough balls, sausage balls, chicken pops, Maltesers. We played ‘Pass the Ball’ – a variation on Pass the Parcel – and Musical Balls. Predictable but fun!

I made some not-so-disastrous cake pops for the party bags. They were intended to look like tennis balls and basketball balls (basketballs? I never know). The tennis balls worked – ish. The basketballballballballs fell off the sticks as soon as I tried to pipe the lines round them, so I gave up. Here are the tennis balls:

Notice the real ball in the background. Not a bad colour match, eh?

The day ended with church – our congregation meets at 5pm. Originally, this was a tricky time of day to get used to, but now I like the fact that Sundays end with celebration, particularly today. I take nothing for granted – many children don’t reach their third birthday. Tonight I praise God for giving us Joel, and for sustaining him thus far. Happy Birthday, little man!

A post-party golf swing. With obligatory post-party carpet stain.
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days like these

Yesterday I had one of those Days. There were no tantrums, no trips to A&E, no breakages of major appliances. It was just one of those Days.

I felt severely lacking in creative ideas. Joel spent the morning at pre-school, while Lois napped, so I had both kids awake and needing to be entertained from 12.30-7.00pm. Al was at work till late, so it was just me. We usually swim on Thursday afternoons, but the kids have had dodgy tummies so we cancelled. The weather was awful – no chance of a cycle ride or park trip. A bit of rain doesn’t frighten me or Joel, but with Lois not yet fully walking, it’s just a bit too tricky. If I hold her, I haven’t got hands free for Joel. If I carry her in the sling, she gets frustrated that she’s not able to move.

Before motherhood, I dreamt of a family utopia where afternoons would be filled with creative activity upon creative activity – baking, painting, glueing… Again, while Joel is keen for these things, Lois is at the ‘wrong’ age. Too old to sit in one place and watch, too young to participate. Likewise, Joel enjoys playing games and doing jigsaws, but we usually save these for Lois’ nap time, as small cardboard pieces and a one-year-old just don’t mix.

So the afternoon dragged. It wasn’t boring, it didn’t make me want to pack it all in, apply for teaching jobs and research childcare options. It just felt I was letting my kids down by not being able to come up with any interesting pursuit.

Now, before you feel sorry for me and write affirming messages of “Don’t give up!” “You can do this mothering thing!” and so on – please don’t worry. I don’t think I’m a terrible mother. I’m telling you this for two reasons. Firstly, I hope it connects with other mums who have days like this – to reassure and encourage you that we can’t all be exciting and creative all of the time.

The second reason is this. One of the things I did while Joel was at pre-school and Lois napped was read my Bible and pray. I’m shocking at spiritual discipline, so it had been a while, and I was pretty hopeful that God would realign my priorities, give me peace and generally sort things out. But the day was still a bit of a wash-out. My point is that we shouldn’t spend time with God in order to gain something instantly. We need to come to Him regularly and trust that He is working in our lives, however gradually. I can’t say that yesterday I experienced much of the peace, motivation or creativity I know God has in abundance for me. But it doesn’t matter. Firstly, God owes me nothing anyway. Secondly, I believe He wants to bless us with all these things and more – but it happens over time.

I would love it if there was some immediate connection every time I read the Bible. But, actually, I’m pleased there’s not. Because, conversely, that could suggest that God was not willing to connect with me in those times when I’m not reading His word. And that would mean that my relationship with God was actually one of legalism, and not one of grace.

I think when I have another one of those days, I’ll try and remember God’s continuing grace and His never-letting-go arms around me and my family.

traditions for celebrations


I love birthdays! Any excuse for a party is fine by me. But birthdays and other occasions are more than just party moments. For me, they’re opportunities to celebrate life, whether remembering the blessings of the past year, or looking forward to the future. The material ‘trimmings’ of any of these events, as far as I’m concerned, should always reflect the spiritual, the emotional, the abstract – those feelings we can’t put into words.

As a mum, I have the very lovely privilege of being able to influence how my family celebrates occasions. I want my children to grow up with a sense of celebration and fun, knowing how blessed they are and who to thank. I love how different families have their own unique traditions, and we’re starting to create some of our own which will mark out how our family celebrates key moments.  So here are our traditions, in the context of Lois’ first birthday.

There is always cake, of course, a pretty standard tradition:

(Red velvet cake, for those of you who are interested in such things. Recipe here.) I like to bake cakes for my kids’ birthdays. Last year, when Joel’s second birthday was approaching and I was expecting Lois imminently, I made his cake in advance and froze it. A friend reminded me that supermarkets sold cakes – the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind! I think I mainly like to do it myself because I’m not yet very good at cakes, and I think that if I practise while my kids are too young to remember then by the time they care, I’ll be damn good.

There are always parties. Lois’ one was an afternoon tea last weekend – the sun shone, good friends came, and the scones were excellent, even if I do say so myself.

Then, on the day, there is measuring. It’s always fun to watch how much our kids have grown in the last year. (Note: Al and I don’t partake in this tradition anymore. Our height charts from year to year would look pretty dull.)

Birthdays wouldn’t be birthdays at Casa Rycroft without cake for breakfast:

And on this particular birthday, shortly after this picture was taken, we headed off to start a brand-new toddler group in the city centre. This doesn’t happen every birthday. That would be insane.

A homemade card is an important tradition. My Dad started this: each year, growing up, I would get a special hand-crafted card from him and Mum, something specially constructed to reflect who I was that year, often containing a funny poem, a clever word-play, or some amusing drawings. Sadly, some of these have been lost through the years, but I’ve kept the remainder, and they’re a great record of the different interests I had as I was growing up. I’m now doing the same for my own kids, and this was Lois’ card, reflecting her determination to climb/escape from/crawl into anything she chooses:

Those are our traditions – what are yours?

thank goodness for february 29th

Tomorrow, Lois is one. ONE? Already? How did that happen? When did I suddenly have two kids, the youngest of whom is a WHOLE YEAR OLD?

Today I’ve found myself massively grateful that this is a leap year. If it wasn’t for February 29th 2012, my little girl would have turned one today. As it is, I was treated to one extra day of her being my baby – delaying, by twenty-four precious hours, the agony of her ageing.

Of course I don’t wish her to stay a baby forever – I look forward to seeing her grow and develop and learn new things and find new interests. I look forward to books and homework and school traumas and boyfriends and shopping and friend fall-outs and baking and music. I look forward to her being interested in none of the above because she’s a real, God-knit human being, and not simply a product of my imagination. However Lois turns out, I’m looking forward to it.

But it’s agony because the last year has rushed past, and its moments won’t return. It’s pointless beating oneself up about missed opportunities, of course, but I hope that I’ve enjoyed and appreciated Lois’ first twelve months as much as I could have done.

Day 1: Lois looking particularly angry

To start with, Lois’ birth was one of the most relaxing moments of my life. It might have been the birthing pool, the Entonox or the deserted maternity ward at York Hospital, but I suspect what actually did it for me was a few hours away from my lovely-but-demanding toddler. Childcare always makes the world look a brighter place. The pool was nice too, of course: between contractions, I could have imagined I was in a hot tub in some luxury villa. Of course it also hurt a fair bit – Al will contest this post if I don’t mention the pain – but I’ll gloss over that for now. The human race might not survive if women who’d been through labour were honest about it.

Then, of course, there was the first smile. I still remember breathing a huge sigh of relief when that happened: “Oh, thank God, she LIKES me!” The few weeks prior to the smile suggested that our little girl was particularly angry about something – being born? Being a girl? Or was it us? Were we a disappointment to her? The parents she hoped she’d never have? But then came the smile. Phew.

There have been the landmark moments – learning to sit, crawl, climb out of her car seat – but also the moments which would be insignificant to anyone but me – the contented sucking, the sleepy head, the chuckling face, the arms stretching for a cuddle.

Tomorrow, Lois is one. She will not care, or fuss, or remember in years to come. But I care, and I will fuss, so that I will remember for years to come what my beautiful daughter was like on September 11th, 2012.

nostalgia bunting

For the second time in a row, I begin a blog post with an apology for absence. I’m sorry. Forget desert mum – this is a desert blog. A wide expanse of nothingness for weeks on end.

And now, of course, I’m going to try and defend myself. I’ve been away. Uh-huh. What do you expect – sympathy? And September’s a busy month, mainly because it contains both kids’ birthdays. Hmmm…you’re going to have to redeem yourself. And hence the smooth transition to the point of this blog post which is: nostalgia bunting.

Oh yes. I’ve googled it, and am pretty sure that no one else has nabbed the term yet, so here it is, a new bit of crafting terminology coined by moi. Nostalgia bunting. Boom.

To roll back a few months, I had the idea of creating birthday bunting for my children – something we could use year after year, something a bit timeless. I then thought of making it double-sided so we could use it throughout the year in their bedrooms. One side would say ‘happy birthday’ and the other side would be un-lettered. Simultaneously, I was wondering what to do with some of Lois’ old clothes which I’d deemed too stained to pass on to anyone else. Answer? Why, nostalgia bunting of course! I would make birthday/bedroom bunting out of Lois’ old clothes.

The result is here:

I’m mainly pleased. I think the colours and patterns work nicely together, and it’s a good length. I’m pleased I managed to make it double-sided, although sewing the pieces together took a while as sewing machines don’t seem to like the type of fabric most kids’ clothes are made from.

Mainly I’m pleased because I finished a craft project :S

My only disappointment, and it was one I thought would happen, is that the letters don’t stand out enough. I think at some point in the future I’ll stitch round them in red embroidery thread, which will hopefully work better than the single-strand thread I used.

Want to make nostalgia bunting? Course you do! C’mon, make it THE crafting fad of 2012 and get my name up there with Kirstie Allsopp’s! Come ON!

Get some old clothes or other fabrics which mean something to you. Make sure you’re not still wearing them. Make a triangular template out of card. Use it to cut double the number of bunting flags you need. Arrange the flags, in their pairs, in an order which looks good.

If using lettering, cut out, free hand, and stitch to one of each ‘pair’ of bunting flags. I recommend using something thicker than single-strand thread. Put each pair of flags right-sides-together and sew together down the two sloping sides. Turn inside out – you should have a double-sided flag. Iron flat.

Get your bunting ribbon or whatever you’re using, fold in half lengthways and iron. Open it up and insert the top, ‘open’ edge of the first bunting flag. Sew together. Repeat for the remaining flags.