today, i am grateful

(I wrote this post yesterday, but dropped my phone in the toilet and it wouldn’t transfer any photos to the computer. I didn’t want to leave them out, so waited till today – but trying to rewrite the post saying ‘yesterday’ just didn’t work. So I hope you’ll allow my a little artistic license, and read this post as if it were yesterday!)

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Today, my sweet girl turned two.

Cake for breakfast, a family birthday tradition!
Cake for breakfast, a family birthday tradition!

Often, when it comes to our children’s birthdays and other landmarks, we either look back nostalgically, and mourn that life is passing too quickly, or we look far, far ahead, feeling that somehow life will be easier or our kids more rewarding once they can do thisunderstand that. In other words, we show our disappointment in what we have today.

Enjoying the swing!
Enjoying the swing!

But as I was pushing Missy on the swings this morning, I remembered photos of Mister on the same swing on his second birthday, and just how different it was. When Mister turned two, we had a 3-week-old newborn in tow. I believe the day was boiling hot – an unusual week-long heatwave at the end of September 2011 – and we spent it in the park, enjoying a family lunch at Ambience, and then relaxing in our garden, Mister enjoying his new cricket set and us devouring my first, semi-disastrous attempt at cake pops. But, to be honest, most of this I know only because we have photos from the day – I was far too sleep-deprived to really know what was going on!

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Mister on the same swing on his second birthday!

So today I have experienced immense gratitude that we are where we are. Gratitude that we’re well and truly out of the baby phase, gratitude that I got a full night’s sleep last night, gratitude that I’m only dealing with one child in nappies, gratitude that my children now happily go to other people, gratitude that both are weaned, gratitude that I could afford more time on the cake pops, etc, etc…

If you can't wear a party dress to the park on your second birthday, then when can you do it?
If you can’t wear a party dress to the park on your second birthday, then when can you do it?

Today I’ve simply been enjoying Missy being 2. I’ve felt immense gratitude that certain things are a lot easier now than they were two years ago, wilfully ignoring the fact that other things are a lot harder. I’ve felt immense gratitude that I’m still enjoying her at home for a good while longer, despite the fact that her future – going to school, spending more time out of the home –  will bring more time and opportunities for me.

Today, I am grateful. I am grateful for today.

Pushing the buggy beats anything at the park.
Pushing the buggy beats anything else at the park.

Missy is determined, feisty, cheeky, funny and strong-willed. She wants to do everything her big brother does: climbing, jumping and wrestling. She loves to draw, stick and model with play dough. She adores babies – both real ones, and dolls, who she plays with non-stop. She plays a mean game of Old Macdonald Lotto, switching boards when she fears she may be losing. She gets away with it because she is just so damned cute. She is starting to understand who Jesus is, communicated via signs and play.

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Communicating without language is one of Missy’s great skills. She is confident to socialise with peers and adults, and can get herself involved in games and other activities remarkably skilfully for one who cannot yet say many identifiable words.

This third year will be an interesting ride. Should I be concerned about her sparse language? It’s pretty common for kids not to communicate much before the age of 3 or 4. But if there is a problem – surely early intervention is crucial? We are at the very, very early stages of gaining some outside assistance with Missy’s language. It will be play-based, in a group of other 2-3 year olds. Low-key. But hopefully helpful to Missy. And to us, as we watch her development and decide on future intervention.

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Our culture often writes of parenthood as a right. Friends, let us never, ever forget that children are a blessing, an enormous responsibility, and a huge privilege. All around me, friends are experiencing struggles in conceiving, miscarriages, and the early deaths of their children. I pray for a third year with Missy – but I could never demand it.

Today, I will be grateful for today.

birthday party on a budget (part one)

It’s all Kate’s fault.

Kate, mum extraordinaire, just happened to drop into conversation one day that she sets each of her oldest three kids a £30 budget for their birthday parties.

£30??!!

She makes them a cake outside this budget, but everything else (food, entertainment, decorations) has to fall under £30. As a result, they’ve come up with some incredibly creative ideas for how to celebrate their birthdays, including combining budgets for a joint party, and taking advantage of a cheap deal at the local pool.

Well, being one to like a challenge, I wondered whether I could set myself a £30 budget for each of my kids’ birthday parties. It seems insane to spend so much on just a couple of hours’ fun, and yet I happen to think birthdays are really important, worthy of a decent celebration. (Of course, this doesn’t have to be a party – but our family really loves parties!)

So – the challenge: can I produce an economical yet classy birthday party for nearly-two-year-old Missy? I’m sitting here post-party so I’ll spoil it for you: yes I can. Here’s how:

We had a dollies’ tea party. There was no other choice really: Missy adores dolls and plays with little else.

2013-09-07 07.36.03Eight little people (1 and 2 year olds) attended, plus four of their older siblings (3 and 4 year olds). So – what would we need? Small children don’t need a lot of planned ‘events’ at a birthday party – but I thought a couple of short, simple activities would go down well, give the afternoon some structure (reducing the time for arguments over toys!) and provide an ice-breaker for the parents, all of whom are my friends, but didn’t necessarily know each other.

Entertainment (£3.70)

After a bit of free play time, I invited the kids to decorate bibs for their dollies/teddies. This activity cost nothing: I cut out the bib templates from card we already had, and the children used felt tips and stickers to decorate them. I had a couple of train templates at the ready for anyone who wanted an alternative – these were left over from a previous party.

2013-09-07 15.29.31I was amazed at how much care the girls – and boys – took over these, and how involved they got. I was expecting it to last a couple of minutes – but it must have been nearer 15. Not bad for something free!

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Later we played Pass the Parcel – even tiny ones can enjoy this. In fact, I think the game is improved when its participants haven’t realised that by holding onto the parcel for longer they can improve their chances of the music stopping with them. (Actually, they can’t: the grown-up in charge of the music is watching and making sure everyone gets a turn, but don’t tell the kids!)

I used newspaper and old wrapping paper for the parcel (free), spent £1.50 on the prize (a foam craft kit from Morrison’s) and £2.20 on raisins to go between the layers. After I’d bought the prizes I realised I could have done this cheaper: the pound shop has lots of nice ideas for prizes – books, stationery sets, kites, hair accessories – and I’m sure I could have found wrapped sweets for less than the raisins. Tips for future parties! Anyway, the kids all participated and the raisins kept them going till tea-time!

Decoration (£3.75)

You can spend a fortune on party tableware and the like, so I was determined not to fall into this trap. Specialist designs (e.g. dollies) are usually only available online, so then you’re factoring in a delivery cost as well. Instead, I used the well-worn budgeting principles of make do and re-use. Rooting around in my party supplies I found more than enough balloons, and I also got out Missy’s nostalgia bunting from last year. Those of you who’ve been hanging around this blog for a while might remember this semi-successful craft project. This year, with help from my Mum, all the letters got re-outlined with thicker embroidery thread – I think the result is good! (And obviously this was free, as I’m re-using it. Originally it cost me – oh, perhaps the cost of the bunting ribbon?!)

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On the table, I went for a powder-blue tablecloth, which I would be able to clean and re-use for Mister’s party in a few weeks’ time, and pink plates (there had to be some girlyness in there somewhere!) with a few red ones for the boys who might have otherwise complained. Cups, bowls, etc were going to be our everyday non-breakable ones – except that I found some pink cups in the pound shop, and also discovered some pink napkins my Mum had bought us.

Food (£18.78)

This will always be the main expense. I kept costs down by using what we already had and planning (and sticking to) a menu, rather than hopping round the supermarket, buying whatever looked party-ish. We had the usual fare – sandwiches, cocktail sausages, veg sticks/hoummus, crisps, party rings, pink wafers, rocky road – with a couple of Missy-orientated additions (olives, which she adores, and marshmallows, which are possibly the only sweet thing she’ll usually eat). And, of course, no tea-party is a proper tea-party without scones. So I made these fresh, a couple of hours before the party, using ingredients we had in the house, and served them with jam. And then, of course, there was the cake, free from budget restrictions.

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Having decided upon our menu, the next trick was to make it look special. So I got out our cakestands and pretty serving dishes:

2013-09-07 15.59.24I put some small foods in teacups to stick with the ‘afternoon tea’ theme:

2013-09-07 15.59.54I cut the sandwiches into little fingers (cutting the crusts off, of course!), and made the scones bite-size. We lined all the dollies and teddies up on the sideboard with their own plates and cups.

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Party bags (£0)

OK, so you’re caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. Either you spend a bomb and fill them with decent things – or you do them on the cheap and fill them with plastic tat. (Or you don’t do them at all. But we don’t live in that world. Anyway, I think it’s a nice tradition to give something to your guests who’ve made an effort to come to your party, something we only seem to do at kids’ parties and weddings.) Now, don’t get me wrong, my kids are big fans of plastic tat. We put it all in our travel bag and they delight in playing with it whenever they have access to it. But I probably don’t want to be buying it – for environmental and financial reasons, and (if I’m honest) issues of snobbishness. So, what to do?

I wanted Missy’s friends to leave our party with something they might actually have a small chance of playing with over and over, something related to the party theme, something which preferably didn’t cost any money…so I made eight little dolls’ quilts, using scraps of old fabric and wadding left over from a previous craft project.

2013-09-05 14.17.19 I use the term ‘quilt’ loosely, for they were essentially bits of old things sewn together. I am not a seamstress. But my friends are a forgiving bunch, and I figured they wouldn’t mind a little shoddiness in the name of ethical, personal party favours.

2013-09-07 14.34.27Hopefully the quilts will get played with: Missy has already used hers as a blanket, changing mat, and comforter…isn’t it amazing how resourceful children can be with simple playthings?!

Total cost of party: £26.23.

Win!

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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.

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.