what i’m into – october 2017

I’d like to say that I began October in a darkened room, wearing an eye mask, feeling my way to reach wineglass to mouth, sipping something strong and recuperating from the whirlwind of children’s birthday parties in September.

Actually, I was too tired to move, so I stayed on the sofa and the wine stayed in the fridge. #glamorous

Books

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I finally finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin! Trumpets and fanfares and party poppers and silly string please! It was SO good that I reckon I should read a novel which takes me three months every year. Whilst it’s nice to be able to tick a book or two off my reading list every month, there’s also something about not being able to skim the sentences of a novel, breathing in every nuance and turn of phrase, which is life-giving and soul-enriching. If you haven’t read CCM, I highly recommend it!

Food

You know by now that I’ll bake anything as long as it’s a Martha Collison recipe. So this month I tried her brownie ice cream sandwiches. They took a while, whisking up the ice cream and waiting for it to set, in addition to baking and cooling two layers of brownie, but the result was a hefty tray-load of goodness, which could be sliced up, eaten there and then, with the rest frozen to be a stand-by pudding or teatime treat on another day. It really did make a huge amount, and more than accounted for the time taken in making it in the first place.

For the benefit of any locals reading this, we tried Zill’s restaurant for the first time, and enjoyed the variety of tapas dishes to start with, the mixed grill main course and baklava for dessert. Hubby thought it was ‘fine’ (he’s hard to please), but I love pretty much anything that involves a pick-and-mix way of eating. I also returned to Ambiente and the good old York Tandoori, hang-out of students and locals alike, this month, with different groups of friends. (Oh my gosh, you read that right, THREE meals out this month. What can I say? Lots of birthdays. Not my kids’ though, thankfully.)

You’d have thought that October might see the back of birthday cakes but, no, Desert Dad has plonked his celebrations right in the middle of the month so, before I could recover from September’s onslaught of fondant, I was back in the kitchen crafting something which was better in my head than in reality.

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Still, I think you can tell what it’s meant to be. I have to fess up here and tell you that I tried Martha’s chocolate cake recipe and, for the first time thus far working my way through Twist, I was disappointed. It was chewy and un-cake-like in its texture. I happen to have a pretty stonking chocolate cake recipe which uses hot chocolate powder to replace some of the flour, so reckon I’ll be sticking with that in future.

My one achievement of this cake, though, was that – like all good chocolate boxes – there was a second layer of chocs underneath the layer you can see ūüôā Happy days.

Music

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The kiddoes have got hold of their Dad’s old mix CD and make me play Dolly Parton and Belinda Carlisle on loop for hours and hours – although I’ve now convinced them of the amazingness of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U, so that brings a welcome change.

We still have cello most days from Missy.

And Mister has started rehearsing for Young Voices, which he’s now old enough to take part in. I’m delighted the selection includes a Stevie Wonder medley, as well as¬†A Whiter Shade of Pale, surely one of the most bizarre songs to have ever been a mainstream hit, as well as a good deal of songs with uplifting and affirming lyrics like “I’m powerful! I can do anything I want! Watch out, world – here I come! WA-HEY!” or “Music brings us together! It will be the repairing of the nations! It will succeed where politics has failed! Let’s sing and have peace, people!”

Still, I’m in floods whenever he opens his mouth to sing.

Stage and screen

Quite a bit this month… The three younger kiddoes and I went to see The Ugly Duckling¬†with some friends. It was beautiful and engaging, and Missy (6) loved it, although Monkey and Meerkat (3) got a little restless.

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Then I headed out with a friend to see¬†Son of a Preacher Man, an incredibly feel-good, toe-tapping musical, although various sections of acting, dancing and singing seemed a little stunted at times, probably due in part to the fact that pretty much all the characters are required to do all three equally well, which just isn’t the case in most musicals, where some characters do more singing, others do more dancing. However, the incredible versatility of the on-stage musicians, who also appeared to have amazing voices and act pretty well, more than made up for anything the main characters were lacking, and I spent the next few days screeching out Dusty songs at the top of my voice, with a piano if one was accessible.

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Towards the end of the month I got to see the poet¬†Hollie McNish with a friend. Quite brilliantly wonderful – my head was nodding in agreement throughout, at the same time spinning with how eloquently she phrases the things inside my head. Well recommended if she’s coming near you, especially if you’re a 30-something Mama ūüėČ

And The Apprentice has started, and I’m hooked as always. Some friends ask, “How can you possibly watch that? They’re so mean to each other.”

BECAUSE IT’S TELEVISION.

It’s funny and it’s gripping and it’s shouting-at-the-screen brilliant- well worth the licence fee on its own. Also, it’s not real – not really real, anyway. Everyone’s playing up to the cameras, and the editing is very clever. Those who are genuinely mean tend to get found out, and the tables turn pretty quickly. My money is on Sarah Lynn – although she seems a little¬†too obviously good, so perhaps I’ve missed something?

Articles

Quite a few this month. The most interesting and true of them all, perhaps because it articulates things which are hard to articulate, is this article, on how – despite growing equality in parenting – it is still mothers who are the ‘keepers’ of so much information. Along a similar vein is this fantastically thought-provoking cartoon, translated from its original French here. If you only read two things this month, please read these!

Then this article in The Guardian is an interesting insight into the culture of the ‘involuntarily childless’;¬†this piece¬†(also from The Guardian) highlights a very interesting case of a headteacher who bravely adopted MUSIC as his approach to rescue his school from Special Measures; and this blog post on why adults need bedtimes was really thought-provoking too. (Needless to say, I don’t have a bedtime, or not a very sensible one!)

What little girls need from their fathers is outlined in this pretty challenging article, and I’m always fascinated by stories of parents who quit high-powered jobs to spend more time with their children, so here’s one of those.

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New for this month: an actual paragraph dedicated to this very blog…BECAUSE I WAS ACTUALLY QUITE PROLIFIC THIS MONTH (for me) AND I’D LIKE YOU ALL TO BE EXTREMELY PROUD AND AMAZED. I¬†finally got to share why I think the Suzuki method has been so beneficial in these first couple of years of being an adoptive parent – and I had to respond to the #metoo campaign with some thoughts on how¬†the heck we are supposed to raise our own daughters and sons in this culture.

In other news…

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* As part of my commitment to not ignoring my son for the rest of his life, I accompanied him (and his little chums) to my first ever football match. I know nothing about football, but York City are like in the¬†Eighth Division.¬†We didn’t win – but we saw a few goals scored from both teams (the illustrious Tamworth on the opposing side), and it was a good first experience – made, at times, more comprehensible (and at other times more hilarious) by the commentary of the four little men sitting next to me. Gosh, they know a thing or two about red cards.

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* I sold all our (cloth) nappies and paraphernalia on eBay. That was a good feeling.

* I did some major toy clear-outs, to make room for all the new birthday Stuff, and that felt good, especially where I could give to known individuals or community groups. I still have the older kids’ bedroom to tackle, though, and am dreading it…

* I helped at our school’s first ever Film Night and it was great fun, especially dishing out the movie snacks!

* We had a few days away seeing my brothers’ families and some distant friends. Felt good to catch up, although travelling with the twinnoes is stressful.

* We visited a new-ish farm near us, and found an animal even smaller than our teeniest-tinest boy, so couldn’t resist this photo of our Meerkat bottle-feeding a micro-pig:

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* We’re trying to buy an ironing board cover that doesn’t look like it came out of a 1980s batchelor pad. If any of you have experience in this field, do share.

And that’s it. Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s blog. How was your October? And can you believe we’re already into November? Feels like the year’s just begun, right?

what i’m into (the birthday edit) – september 2017

With my four hooligans all deciding to have a birthday in September – three of them thoughtfully choosing to do this on consecutive days – I confess that this month’s edition of ‘what i’m into’ has been hijacked by cake, balloons and working out which party game suits which age group. Please don’t be surprised if I haven’t got up to much else this month!

Books

I’m still on Captain Corelli – enjoying it very much – but probably won’t finish till October!

Food

At the start of the month, with a busy few weeks looming, I didn’t have the energy to be creative with meals, so I did what any sensible person would have done, and bought enough chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and ready-made pies to last us through September.

Actually – nope. This is what I should have done. But cooking relaxes me, gives me a chance to breathe and to think, so I didn’t want to give it up altogether. I did the foodie version of stocking the freezer with frozen meals, which was to scour the Good Food website for easy family midweek meals, enjoying the fruits of the GF team’s labours rather than having to be creative myself. Some of the recipes were real winners, like this Three Veg Macaroni Cheese. Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese, eh? This one packs in some hidden veg that kids won’t notice (or at least ours didn’t).

And actually, I took a leaf out of my busy cousin’s book. She’s a few years down the line with her brood, so I rate her wisdom, and she’s married to a church leader, like me, so she understands the crazy pace of vicarage life. They unashamedly eat from the freezer once a week – so we’ve adopted this habit too, and it is¬†so freeing, particularly on evenings where our extra-curricular schedule looks like it needs outsourcing to a logistics team.

And of course I can’t leave this section without mentioning the cakes, of which there were quite a few this month. A cartwheel one for my gymnastics-mad daughter:

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Two Stick Men cakes for my boys who¬†adore the story (particularly the BBC’s magical dramatisation):

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And a football pinata cake for my footballing son:

IMG_3323[1]Friends, we have reached the stage of football parties, and I’m not quite sure when it will end. I can see us quite happily celebrating Mister’s birthdays in this fashion for a good few years yet.

Music

Image result for jojo siwaOh gosh, it was all stuff like Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa, ‘DJed’ via YouTube by my eldest for his younger siblings’ parties. But I did get Coldplay’s Parachutes out for the first time in years, and spent a happy evening remembering how good they used to be, and what a perfect album this is – as well as not a small amount of time realising how old it is, and therefore how old that makes me.

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Stage and screen

Twin Peaks finished and actually reached some kind of conclusion! Not perhaps exactly as I’d have liked, but as good as you’re going to get from David Lynch – and that made it perfect, really. We then watched a fair amount of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So, so funny – perhaps not for the faint-hearted – but clever and original.

I also got to enjoy all of Missy’s birthday DVDs – Sing (for the second time), Trolls (very surprised by how much I liked this one!) and Moana (in bits). I say I got to enjoy these films – I enjoyed them in the way one enjoys films with small kids, where you see excerpts in between toilet trips, making dinner, answering the phone, fetching snacks, applying plasters, and the like. Eventually, after about 35 viewings, you’ve filled in all the gaps and seen the whole film, piecing the order together in your head to make some kind of logical plot progression. It’s one of those parent hacks no one ever tells you you’ll need – but you master it, and feel quite damn proud of yourself when you do.

Articles

This was an interesting one on a couple learning to date again after having kids. And I appreciated this guy’s perspective on why him doing housework is not to ‘help his wife out’.

Stand-out for me this month, though, was Why Tired Mothers stay up so Late – one I can very easily resonate with!

In other news…

Did I mention we had four birthdays and three parties?? Did I????

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  • 8 year old Mister had his football party, and his guests ranged from those who eat/breathe/sleep football like he does, to those who don’t play at all. To make it accessible to everyone, we had some football-themed crafts and a few standard party games as well, and kept the football-playing sections quick-moving, with skills as well as matches. Big thanks to our wonderful friends Sam and Tom for running the football side of things!IMG_3343[1]
  • 6 year old Missy wanted to make lip balm. I took this simple recipe and got the kids working in pairs to mix and melt the ingredients, adding essential oils and cosmetic colourings near the end to see it magically transform into lip balm that was beautiful to smell and look at!
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    Stick Man play dough!
  • Monkey and Meerkat, who turned 3, had a Stick Man party. Fairly low key, given their age, but it was fun to find ‘stick food’, attempt a couple of simple party games, and play around with stick man themed play dough.
  • I also began a little job, one morning a week, as a teaching partner to our fab Suzuki Early Years teacher. I assist with her two Tuesday morning classes, where the kids range in age from 2 months to nearly 3 years. I can’t tell you what an¬†absolute joy it is to witness such young kids responding to music with such sensitivity and awareness – and I really will blog about it soon, I promise!

As always, I’m linking up (just! within hours of the deadline!) with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series. Why not check them out? And let me know what you’ve been up to this September!

the un-birthday: celebrating the birthday of the child you haven’t met

I wrote the following nearly two years ago, on the occasion of our twins’ first birthday.

Image result for 1st birthday candleToday, our twins turn one. I haven’t yet met them, but I love them already. We need to celebrate – and yet how does one celebrate the birthday of someone they’ve never met? Someone who is already so firmly locked inside one’s heart, but so achingly distant? Perhaps our celebrations looked a little odd from the outside. But I think that those who, each year, mark the birthday of a child they never met, a child born asleep or taken too soon – maybe they can understand our need to celebrate.

We did some of the usual traditions. There were balloons, cake and candles, and homemade cards. Missy didn’t struggle to create a card for each of her new little brothers. But, lacking¬†the no-nonsense self-confidence of a 4-year-old, I stared at my¬†blank card last night and I was stuck. Making a homemade card for each of my children’s birthdays is a tradition so firmly imprinted into the DNA of our family that I couldn’t do anything else – yet how do you make a card for someone you’ve never met? I settled on a generic caterpillar design, suitable for a first birthday. Twins, please forgive me – I don’t yet know your characters, your traits, your gifts and your passions. Next year will be different.

We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – to¬†each twin, individually, marking the start of an upbringing which will firmly recognise each of them as separate, unique entities. But it was our birth kids who blew out the candles, it was they who were in the photos.¬†Next year will be different.

There were no presents. The twins are coming into a home already bulging with entertainment and activity and, besides, there will be moving-in presents and Christmas presents. Their birthday presents were the cots, drawers, shelves, clothes and nappies I’m rapidly sourcing from eBay and Gumtree.¬†Next year will be different.

There was no measuring on the height chart. We have a permanent record of how tall each of our birth children were on their first birthday Рbut, for the twins, we will have to be content to measure them two months late. Next year will be different.

There was no party Рnot at our house anyway Рbecause how can you party without the guests of honour being there? Instead, they celebrated at their foster home, and their brilliant foster mum deserved every minute of this joyful day with them. She has been the one to feed them, nurture them, love them through their first year. Next year will be different.

For me, there were no nostalgic reminisces, no casting my mind back to the¬†first twinges, the contractions,¬†the labour, the birth, the early minutes and hours. I have no idea what I was doing one year ago today.¬†Next year this won’t be any different. Nor will it be next year, or the year after, or the year after that. I will never have this date indelibly etched into my memory because, at the time, I had no awareness of the significance of it, no idea that our family had just changed forever.

But I think of her. And I wonder how many hours she laboured, and how she felt, and what she was thinking, and if she had anyone by her side. And I like to remember my joy when each of my birth children screamed their way into this world, and imagine her feeling this about her birth children, giddy in love with them like I was with mine.

They are our twins. But they are hers as well. Today we celebrate the three of them.

minion themed 6th birthday party

I’ll be honest and tell you that this wasn’t my son’s first choice for birthday party theme. He’s known for picking quirky themes, and this year he decided he wanted a Home Alone party. Of course. Like I’m going to take on responsibility for all his little eager-eyed friends for a couple of hours¬†and then subject them to a series of booby traps including giving them ice on which to fall over, shattered tree ornaments on which to shred their feet, and hot irons with which to permanently scar their faces.

Or, alternatively, I could come up with a series of risk-assessment-friendly traps like throwing a bucket of pom poms over their heads as they walked through the door, and everyone would think it was the lamest party ever. (Oh, and one mum would complain because her son was allergic to pom poms. Or surprises. Or buckets. Or some such bull.)

No, it was indeed right to steer Mister away from this theme – and he jumped at my suggestion of Minions. Well, I wasn’t going to make this harder than it needed to be – Minion-themed paraphernalia is all over the shops, and Minion-based party ideas are all over t’Internet, so it was never going to be difficult.

The invitations were simple – some yellow card, downloaded Minion printables and a bit of glue. Hey presto:

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Decorations were easy: yellow and blue balloons, and yellow and blue bunting made in the quick and cheap way I did for Missy’s party:

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We chose to hold the party in our church hall, because even three boisterous boys jumping around our lounge is one too many, and the Autumn birthday¬†timing doesn’t guarantee being able to use the garden. So I set up a few activities which the kids¬†could get involved with as everyone¬†was arriving. Face painting and tattoos:

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a Minion photo-booth:

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Minion skittles:

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a make-a-Minion craft table:

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and a penalty shoot-out, because you can always have one of those when you’re 6, Minion-themed or not:

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I have to say that one sterling decision for this year’s party was finding a team of kind friends who wanted nothing more for their Saturday morning than to rock up to a church hall and entertain 20 or so small children. I’m indebted to my friends Izzy (go read her blog here!), Sam, Mike, Bethan, Leanne and Naomi, who did an incredible job of cooking the food, running games, painting faces, and generally encouraging the kids¬†in the right direction.

We played “What’s the time, Mr Gru?”, which everyone was incredibly good at – good thing I’d bought shed-loads of pound-shop prizes because pretty much everyone came in 1st place. Note to self: make this game harder next year. (Hopping?)

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Here’s my grumpy husband as Gru. He makes a good Gru, don’t you think?

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We did a bean-bag toss:

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and pin-the-eye-on-the-Minion:

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We also did a scavenger hunt, putting the kids into teams where they had to find a list of 8 easy-to-read items from around the church hall and outside area:

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The kids played Traybash outside – a fantastic game where you try and knock over your opponent’s tray using a newspaper club, whilst they’re meanwhile trying to knock yours. Here’s the hubbie and a friend demonstrating how violent it can get:

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And here’s Mister having a go:

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Lunch was chips, hot dogs, burgers and corn-on-the-cob (Mister’s favourite) with a chocolate fountain for pudding. They ate fruit and they didn’t even know it. Ha.

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Of course there was a Minion cake – fortunately no biscuit towers for me this time round:

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I struggle with party bags and always have done. I don’t want to spend a fortune, but neither do I want to fill them with plastic rubbish – much as the kids like it. So this time I stuck to sweets, which will rot their teeth but maybe won’t do as much harm to the environment, which will be around a heck of a lot longer (we hope).

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Then everyone got to pick a lucky dip prize as they left – as well as the obligatory slab of cake, any prizes won from the games, and Minion craft.

And now I never want to see another Minion again.

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he turned 6: learning to mourn the past but love the future

Last week, my boy turned 6.

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I’m looking back at the last year and, as well as a huge growth spurt evidenced by the birthday-measuring tradition we completed on Birthday Morning, there are so many ways that he has grown and flourished in this last year, his first at school.

In fact, the simple reality that I spent his birthday child-free, celebrating his birthday with a keyboard and a computer screen, drafting this blog post, while he was celebrating it at school with his friends and teachers, eating Minion cakes and getting sung to by¬†other people, shows how much he is growing up. The independence frightens me and delights me. He doesn’t need me constantly – there is so much he can do – nay,¬†prefers to do – by himself, whether that’s choosing what to wear, making a card for someone else, or walking into his classroom of a morning. (The exception to this is Birthday Morning, when un-cool Mummy is bringing cakes, and therefore becomes an acceptable companion into class.)

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But of course there are still so many situations in which he needs our guidance, mentoring, advice and suggestions. His dad and I are still the greatest influences on his life Рfor how long, I wonder? He needs us to help him learn to read, add up, and understand the world. He needs us to help him cross the road, to fill in forms, take him to the doctor, make his meals. He needs us to introduce him to different creative expressions: new music, art or literature. He needs us to validate his emotions, give him language to understand them, and help him navigate the tricky ups and downs of life.

And this is the definition of parenting, right? You work hard to bring life into the world – and then, once that life has arrived, your job is to gradually encourage their independence, their moving away from you. In other words, you’re making yourself redundant. Of course, you’re never¬†fully redundant – even grown-ups need the love, support, childcare and financial bail-outs that their parents give – but sometimes, looking at my son, I feel the quickness of the years, and the phases which have passed, and I need to remember to¬†parent¬†in the moment.

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This year, Mister has developed his interest in gymnastics (and can now do some pretty clever things on the bars), learnt to write whole stories, continued with his Lego addiction, rediscovered the fun of Playmobil, and (of course) continued his love of football, now attending a Football Club at school. He’s learnt to sing more-or-less in tune, and sung a solo in his school nativity last Christmas. Just as soon as I’d written this post, about how I throw away my kids’ numerous art creations, and a friend had commented “Just be thankful they’re not in 3D yet”, Mister started to bring home 3D creations. I mean – literally the day after that post was published, we started to amass a collection of shoeboxes with a variety of recyclable items stuck to them.

This year, I need to pay tribute to the teachers who have helped shape Mister’s life these past 12 months – for their unfailing enthusiasm, energy, and professionalism – always striving to give Mister (and his classmates) the best, most personalised education experience, within a communal¬†setting. No easy task. Up until now, it was me and my husband whose influence affected¬†Mister’s existence most strongly – now his life is entwined with all sorts of influential strands¬†from his teachers,¬†and we’re so grateful for all they invest in him.

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Character-wise, while Mister has always been fairly¬†placid, increasingly¬†we’re seeing a steely inner determination. Sometimes this manifests in competitiveness (read: he’s a bad loser), sometimes in carrying out his own ideas, asking for little or no help from anyone else. I’m so proud of him when he makes the right choices at school, free from the Parental Stares which would otherwise communicate which path he should take.

We¬†can’t live our children’s lives for them – we can simply teach them what¬†we know, trusting that God will make up the difference, and then sit back and watch the people they become. This year, although I might mourn the hours we now spend apart from each other, I can’t help but watch and love¬†my boy, delighted in the person he is and is becoming.

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