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Teacher Christmas Gifts: Personalised Pencil Boxes And Baubles

Teacher Christmas Gifts: Personalised Pencil Boxes And Baubles

This year’s Christmas gifts for Darwin’s teachers and nursery staff have been sanded, lacquered and finished with all the fine details needed. This year we have made each of the six keyworker staff a personalised pencil box and a matching tree decoration of wood. The […]

UNLESS

UNLESS

My little boy has a lot of favourite books, but the book that he keeps coming back to as a favourite and which has worked its way into being part of our household and part of our lives is The Lorax. Last year, for World […]

In Defence Of Cake

In Defence Of Cake

Every year for Darwin’s birthday I have asked him what birthday cake he would like. He needed a bit of guidance the first couple of years, so I gave him a few of his favourite CeeBeebies characters to choose from. This year his imagination and language were such that I knew I could give him complete carte blanche.

Darwin chose a rainbow. Like mother, like son, I guess. He loves anything with a rainbow design on it, and so the idea of a rainbow cake was wonderful to me. But, he said, he was really like it to be chocolate inside. So, between the two of us we decided on a chocolate fudge cake with rainbow icing.

The cake was not easy to make, but despite the fact that I struggled with it and that it was far from perfect, I really enjoyed decorating his cake. I do every year.

But every year I seem to get a number of people tell me that I make too much effort for a 1, 2, 3… now 4 year old. He doesn’t care what’s on his cake! He won’t even remember it. Just buy him one. Haven’t I got anything better to do with my time?

Honestly, I don’t see it that way. Every year previously I have been up really late at night, working on that cake. This year I actually managed to ice the cake whilst my husband and child went swimming. I make time, sometimes at the expense of an early night or another activity, but every year I feel pressured to defend that choice.

So why would people mock or even try to shame me for doing it? Maybe they do not realise why it is important to me.

When I was young my grandmother, Nan, made me a birthday cake. She was a fabulous baker, and she was brilliant at beautiful classic piped icing. Nan only had one hand, so instead of a piping bag she used something akin to a huge syringe, which she could guide with one hand. Every year I had a birthday cake made just for me.

What special memories I have of choosing what colours of icing I would have. What kind of cake I might like: The sponge, the filling, the pattern.

But that is not the only reason I will make my child a cake for his birthday every year.

My husband’s mother passed away when he was only a few years old. His memories of his mum are scant snapshots of immature remembrance, but one of his strongest and fondest memories of his time with her was consulting a book of children’s cake designs so that he might choose a cake for her to make for his birthday.

You know, we’ve had one hell of a year. I started off catching a common virus that, with my weakened immune system spread to my heart and stopped it working properly. I have had nine months of pain and fear that I would not even get to see my boy turn four. But I did. And I got to play out our little family tradition again.

And I know what many will be thinking. Gosh, she’s a bit defensive about making a cake, isn’t she? Yup. I defend parenting choices. I defend those tired parents who put on Moana for the fortieth time so that they can get just a bit of peace and tidy the house… or not to tidy, but to read a book, or do a crossword, exercise, nap. I also defend those parents who try to make their childrens’ days a multicoloured confection. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and whatever works best for families is great. And I defend those same choices for people who aren’t parenting. For those in relationships, for single people. You set your own priorities and what you make time for.

Ignore the people who mock the idea that you are making all of this extra work for yourself, and make the damn cake, Mimi. It makes you happy. It makes your son happy. Look at it. The pictures make you happy all over again.

I hope that family made birthday cakes will be part of Darwin’s memories for as long as he wants them, and I will work hard to be there to wipe his sticky hands and kiss his sticky smile.

The Skystone Tank Top

The Skystone Tank Top

Looking out of my window here at Castle Codd, it is plainly obvious in the breezy golden light that Autumn is here. The crunch through the first few crisp leaves has been a feature of our walks to nursery on this first week back. These […]

Trying Something New – Stamp Carving

Trying Something New – Stamp Carving

There’s an account I follow on Instagram, ViktoriaAstrom, where I have seen the most wonderful little illustrations turned into large carved stamps and used to print wonderful and whimsical pieces of art. I always fancied a go at making one, but like many crafts it […]

St Mary’s Lighthouse Embroidery

St Mary’s Lighthouse Embroidery

Though I wrote about my Self Portrait embroidery first, because it was such an important piece of work for me, I actually made another embroidery piece before that one. This embroidery piece was made to mark my fifth wedding anniversary in July.

When I first met my husband I was in a very confused and emotionally turbulent place. I was not looking for anybody and had in mind a time of just being alone and finding myself and growing friendships. I had very few people in my life, but of the few people that I was in contact with, all were very precious to me.

Russell and I had known each other online for years, so as we met as friends and things grew from that friendship, we never really had a first date. Despite there not being a definable first date, I have in mind that the first romantically significant thing that we did together was to take a walk along the beach from Whitley Bay, where Russell lived, to St Mary’s Lighthouse.

The walk was my idea. Russell was not (is not) one for walking for walking’s sake, but still he waded through the sinking, dry sand with me in ridiculous heat. Russell was wearing a heavy jacket. I was wearing a purple pure wool jumper that a friend had given me from a charity donation. The heat grew more and more oppressive as we walked and we were relieved to find an ice cream stand at the lighthouse. We had only just started enjoying our ice cream prizes as the rain started. Heavy from the start, it soon turned into a full blown storm with thunder that sounded like someone was ripping the fabric of the sky and lightning that zipped between the heavens and earth like a cracking whip.

There was nothing that could be done. We’d walked about an hour to get there and wouldn’t be walking back much faster. There was no shelter, so there was nothing we could do but to let ourselves get caught in the rain at the lighthouse.

My jumper got heavy. It was still hot and the rain fell warm. As we walked back my jumper, wet through, began to shrink. The arms grew shorter and the wool grew thicker and less flexible. Over the walk home it shrank around me until it was quite restrictive, but I had nothing underneath to allow me to remove it. In many respects it was an awful first ‘date’, but it was fun, and it was silly, and it felt like so much life to be next to the sea as it raged. We walked smartly under a sky heavy with electricity that it could no longer contain, but despite nature showing her fiercer side I began to feel like I was… cared for. I was scared, but I also felt a safety I had not felt in a very long while, perhaps since childhood.

This embroidery marks all of those feelings for me, and so many of them are still appropriate in my life still today.

Details, Details

The actual making of this piece was very straightforward. I have never really done much embroidery (the craft snack piece and sewing machine cover being the last two pieces that I’ve embroidered), but it’s something I feel I can make a semi-decent attempt at when I want to.

The design started off as a quick sketch I made on the anniversary of our meeting, which I put on my Instagram account.

I made a few changes to the initial sketch (left) when I had the idea to turn the sketch into a piece of embroidery.

Mostly, it was to change the position of the lightning bolt so it could strike the lighthouse, lighting up the sky. This (of course) did not happen, but I really liked it as a visual metaphor for the moment it represented. I also changed the direction of the rain, though I can’t remember why and indeed changed it back to the initial direction when I came to stitch the design, as I preferred the direction being opposed to the diagonal line of the lightning bolt, for visual interest.

The piece is in a large 30cm (12″) hoop. I stitched mostly in stem stitch and back stitch on a piece of pale grey linen using a couple of different shades of grey embroidery floss for the outlines and a bright yellow for the lighthouse light and lightning bolt.

I decided to add a little hint of the light cast by the lighthouse by using a piece of tulle netting in yellow, to compliment the satin stitched bolt of lightning.

The pieces of tulle are attached to the background linen with the tiniest of anchoring stitches. They really are tiny. I can’t even see them when I look very closely, so it looks as though the tulle is just laid on before the rain was embroidered, though in reality it is securely attached all the way around.

The rain was made in lines of long straight stitch, with each stitch and the spacing between being of random length. I used a variegated grey thread for the raindrops, which, along with the changes in the depth of colour of the thread, gives a hint of varying distance for the rainfall. I had some of the raindrops fall in front of the foreground figures but most is shielded, to give a sense of distance.

The finished piece is not very detailed nor technically complex, but I think it is mostly true to my initial sketch (with a few details amended) and it suits my style, as little as I have one. Russell had said of the initial sketch that it would be nice to get it printed and framed. My sketch was not of a high enough resolution to print, but this now sits in a special place on our family wall, with all of our other memories and space for making more.


Coddswallop

Our First Two Years Together

Our First Two Years Together

It’s been two years since our family grew by one. I think we were always a family, Russell and I. From, perhaps, the day that I felt like I trusted in his goodness to let go of that little bit of certainty and security of the path I was on, soon to have my own little place to live, and took the leap that I could trust in this human to be good and to care and love enough that I could uproot once more and move in with him to a pokey little cold flat in Whitley Bay. Boy it was cold. And it was so tiny! But perhaps it was my favourite of all the places that I have lived due to it being where our story began and the first place in which I had felt safe in a very, very long time.

But my favourite chapters of the story so far all burst into colour two years ago when a tiny human popped into our world, a mixture of Russell and I. This whopping great blackcurrant stained baby shot into the world at a faster rate than I could really handle it. But after all the worry and panic there lay this 9lb bruise with a wrinkle for a nose and Russell and I cradled pure love in our arms. It had not been so very long previously that I did not think that I could trust anyone to truly love in my lifetime, and now I had these two pillars of love, one huge and protecting and one (not so very) tiny, heartbeat fluttering fast upon my chest, and I knew that I would never feel the same again. And our family was strong.

I truly love being a parent, but as so many people will tell you, parenthood is tough. Gosh, yes we have our off days. Tired, grumpy days, days of illness and the mystery maladies of baby and toddlerhood, sometimes that write themselves apparent three days after the screams and sobs with a scarlet rash and sometimes which manifest on no physical symptoms that you will ever detect and are put down to some mystical condition which may or may not have existed. And you are always, always doing it wrong. So says that lady in the supermarket, or the health visitor who you’ve known for four minutes of your life, or that relation who’d do that differently, or the neighbour who is old enough to remember when babies did not cry because in those days 10 month old babies did as they were instructed, and probably earned their keep down the mines at the same time.

If my little boy knows or feels anything I would hope it is just how perfectly I love him and that I love learning from him more than from any of those people. I hope that Russell and I can teach him, above all else, how to be kind, how to be thoughtful and how to have empathy for all the people whose lives touch on his. I do not expect that as he grows and natually makes mistakes for him to always be good, or that he will always make the right choice, but I do so hope that we will always have time to put three chairs around the table and to talk about how we feel and how others might feel, and the effect of our actions on others. And from him I am learning how to best see the world anew. How the most basic and fundamental feelings that I have can be best nurtured and put to use. I am tougher in my resolve to surround myself with good and kind people and to not let damaging influences into our lives without guard, and to that end I have a strong determination to stand up for my family and to know when to say ‘no more’.

I hope that our third year together will be one of greater learning and growth. I hope it will be full of rainbows and colour, but when there are grey days that we can make things better with love and understanding. I hope that that there will be laughter, kindness, and, importantly, dinosaurs.

 

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