Just a plain 2nd birthday cake

I know, it’s a bad pun, but it had to be said, particularly as Andrew has made that mistake between plain and plane in the past leading to some funny situations. When I was trying to decide what kind of cake to make Joel for his 2nd birthday, I had a few options: different kinds of transport – car, bus, train, plane – these are the things he loves to spot when we’re out and about. He’s been into planes since he learned to sign the word quite a while ago, and this is one of the only signs that he really took to, unlike Andrew who got more into signing at a similar age. And I’d already made a train cake (Thomas) for Andrew’s 2nd birthday, so I decided that a plane was a new challenge.

I looked on Pinterest for a few ideas, though the ones that came up were mainly round /square cakes with planes on top made out of icing. As my icing skills aren’t perfect, I prefer to make the cake shaped and then ice it rather than make things out of icing. The one actual plane cake that I found was made from bits cut out of a big rectangular tray-bake tin, which I don’t have, so I made it up myself as I went along, using my loaf tins and big round tins. The cake was a simple sponge – I used 10 eggs in the end, so 20 oz SR flour, 20 oz sugar, 20 oz margarine, but I didn’t use all of it in the end and froze some un-iced sponge.

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The body of the plane is two loaf-shaped cakes stacked one on top of the other, with jam in the middle, and then shaved at each end to create the shape of the nose and back of the plane. The main part of the tail is also cut out of another loaf cake, and I made sure I used the crustier bits to give it more strength to stand up on it’s end. The wings and tail fins were cut from a big round cake. The jets were pieces of sponge cut from a round cake using a biscuit cutter. All the extra bits were stuck onto the body using jam.

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Once the main shape was complete, I rolled out the coloured icing and covered the parts in different colours. It’s loosely based on Jimbo (of Jet Set fame), but I didn’t quite get the right colours from memory when I was shopping! The jets have liquorice detail on the sides (Andrew said my jets were ‘brilliant’!), and the windows are also liquorice all sorts, stuck on with red piped icing. The eyes are giant Milkybar buttons with black icing pupils and the mouth is also black icing.

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The final detail that I came up with was mini marshmallows for clouds. Most people understood this, though my father in law did ask if the plan had landed in snow!

The birthday boy was very pleased with his cake, as were the guests at his party, though he was a little unsure of what to do with the candles, even though he likes blowing on his food when it’s hot these days. Oh well, maybe by next year he’ll be able to blow them out on his own.

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Birthday cakes – ‘3’s and a crowd

I still can’t quite believe that Andrew and Tom share a birthday. I know it’s a 1 in 365 possibility, but still, that seems quite small to me. This year is particularly cool because they are 3 and 30 on the same day. To celebrate, we had a family weekend with all four of the boys grandparents, two aunts and a cousin – so quite a crowd to eat the cakes that I baked. Since Andrew’s first birthday, I’ve instated the tradition of baking him, and then Joel too on his birthday, a celebration cake – do you remember the ‘o n e’ cakes, the Thomas the Tank Engine cake and the racing car cake? Most years I’ve baked Tom a cake for his birthday too, though usually just a plain cake with no fancy decoration or modelling involved.

This year I wanted to make a special cake for both birthday boys, and include a number 3 on both cakes. I should say now that this wouldn’t have been physically possible if we weren’t living at Granny and Grandad’s house and therefore have extra pairs of hands to entertain children, go shopping for ingredients and clear up afterwards.

Along the same train of thought that I had for Andrew’s ‘o n e’ cakes, I decided on a big 3-0 for Tom – after all, it is his big 3-0 birthday. And actually it’s quite easy to make a 3 and a 0 from round cakes baked in conventional tins. The 0 was just a round cake with a hole cut out of the centre, and the 3 was cut from two smaller round cakes – I drew a diagram on paper first of how the two almost semi-circle bits would fit together, so I could better visualise what I had in my head, and made myself a template to do the cutting.

30 cake

It had to be chocolate cake for Tom as this is one of his favourites. I chose a chocolate fudge cake recipe from the BBC website, which turned out to be very brownie-like in consistency. Chocolate tastes good (sorry, stating the obvious there!) but it’s a bit boring in colour, so I wanted to decorate the cake in bright colours. That’s where several packets of Smarties came into play. Granny managed to find some big boxes for only £1 each at a local newsagent, and I spent an evening sorting them into each colour (I was going to get Andrew involved in sorting out colours because he likes that kind of task, but then I wondered whether I’d end up with enough at the end?!…one for the plate, one for me, one for the plate, one for me…) It was surprising how many I needed to cover the cake in a rainbow design, because there were more of certain colours in each box, so I had to go and buy some more to have enough of each colour of the rainbow. Stuck on with some cholcoate buttercream, they gave the cakes an eye-catching finish. The final detail was a set of candles in rainbow colours that spelled out ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’.


It was more difficult to decide what to make for Andrew – he has lots of ‘favourite’ characters and vehicles, and they seem to change from one week to the next, with a few being long term such as Brum. Since living with Granny and Grandad, Andrew has become rather obsessed with Thunderbirds (or Wonderbirds as he prefers to call it). Grandad is a massive fan, and is keen to encourage Andrew in his enthusiasm for the models and puppets. So when I was thinking out loud about Andrew’s birthday cake planning one evening when he was in bed, we all knew straight away when it was suggested that a Thunderbird cake – of course Thunderbird 3 – was perfect!

I studied Grandad’s DVDs and books that feature the rocket, and made sure that I had all the bits to model and decorate the feat of engineering that was to become the Thunderbird 3 cake. All of it was edible, except for some red straws and cocktail sticks for the three shafts that run down the side of the rocket to the engines at the bottom, and some wooden skewers that held the main structure upright inside and that slid out once we’d cut into the top. The cake was a simple 6,6,6,3 sponge – 6 ounces of self-raising flour, butter and sugar, plus 3 eggs – made in Granny’s new Kitchenaid mixer. I baked it in a deep square tin and it rose to about 3/4 full.

Once the sponge was fully cooled, I cut out cylinders using a long metal cutter (actually it’s the equipment they use in fancy restaurants and on Masterchef when shaping rice or mashed potato (for example) into neat piles on the plate). I then stacked these on top of each other, sticking them together with buttercream, and then sliding 3 wooden skewers down through the layers to hold it all together. I added the straws for stability, attaching them to the sponge at the sides using cocktail sticks, and anchoring them at the bottom into a big lump of white royal icing shaped into a small cylinder for the engines. To achieve the pointed top of the rocket, I crumbled some cake and mixed it with some buttercream, then shaped the mixture (just like you make cake pops) into the right conical form.

tb cake

Then came the trickiest part – covering with red royal icing. In hindsight I should have covered the main body of the rocket whilst it was lying down rather than already stood up and fixed into place, but hey, this is the first (and probably last) time that I’ve ever made a Thunderbird 3 cake. I covered it in sections after glazing the sponge with warmed apricot jam to make the icing stick.

The finishing touches made it all come together after the stress of getting it covered in red to my satisfaction. The black stripes on the long side shafts were a liquorice Catherine wheel unraveled and twisted around the straws. Other bits of black were the same liquorice, including the small number 3s on each of the three engines at the bottom. White features were added using white butter icing piped through a rectangular nozzle, or a writing nozzle for the ‘THUNDERBIRD’ down the centre. The silver fins all the way around the centre were white royal icing sprayed with silver shimmer spray for cakes – I cut these triangles out and sprayed them earlier in the week, then left them open to the air to dry out a bit so that they didn’t flop when stuck onto the side of the upright rocket.

Finally I added three white candles, and waited to see the face on one very excited little birthday boy – it was amazing! I enjoy making these kind of cakes, even though parts of the process can be challenging, because it’s all worth it when the boys show their appreciation. The rest of the crowd were pleased with the cakes too, and I was assured that they tasted just as good as they looked (no style over substance, to quote a Great British Bake Off phrase).


I have no idea what will be on the cards for next year’s birthday cake, but he has a whole year to change his favourite characters, and Joel’s special day will come before then too. In the meanwhile, I’ll sit down with a cuppa tea and a slice of cake – we still have enough to feed another small crowd….any takers?

The year that raced past!

It most definitely does not seem like a year has passed since Joel was born! I think it’s gone quicker than Andrew’s first year went, and I think that’s because I’m so busy running around after 2 very active boys that I don’t have much chance to stop, step back and reflect. Last week, halfway through which was his birthday, was a particularly crazy week with lots going on – some the usual, some special things. It’s only in the last few days that I’ve had chance to sit down and write about the year and the birthday celebrations.

He came into the world in a very speedy manner, even faster than Andrew had for a first baby. Apart from some jaundice in the early weeks that took some patience to shift and so to wake him up, he hasn’t had a bad start in life at all. We noticed within a few weeks that he is very chilled out in personality, and has always been happy to get on with his own thing and not complain when not the centre of my attention.

I wonder how much of this is just that he is a second child, but even so, he is clearly much less dramatic about things than his older brother. I also wonder how much it helped that I have worn Joel in a sling every day for substantial amounts of time, whereas I only wore Andrew occasionally in a couple of not very comfortable carriers that we had back then. Even at a year old, I can guarantee that he’ll calm down and fall asleep in our gorgeous toddler sling, as well as be happy to travel about in it when awake.

Joel is 1

Both my boys have been very active, and Joel started to move early – by 7 months he was crawling and only a few weeks later he was cruising. He took his first unaided steps at just over 11 months, though he is so fast at crawling that he still chooses to crawl a lot of the time now at 12 months, because it’s so much more efficient than his walking at the moment. This is different from Andrew, who was never much good at crawling and as soon as he could walk at the end of 11 months, he had more incentive to than Joel does. But it won’t be long before I have 2 walking (actually running!) boys to contend with. The wannabe toddler is finally a fully fledged toddler!

His ‘talking’ is starting to sound very speech-like. We are convinced that his first word is ‘Andrew’, because he keeps saying something like ‘a-da’ (with the correct stress pattern) in the right context. Nevermind ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’, let’s get our priorities right here! Of course it’s probably because he hears this word said a lot when we repeatedly call him (to do something / not do something), for which there was no equivalent when Andrew was this age. His favourite syllable to babble is ‘da’, so ‘dadadadadada’ with a lovely intonation and rhythm is what we hear him say most often.

joel and andrew

We’re using some baby sign language with him, just like we did with Andrew. We’re concentrating on some key words like Mummy, Daddy, milk, food, drink, nappy, as well as singing songs whilst signing, such as Old MacDonald with all the animals. He hasn’t started signing back yet, but I remember it being quite a while before Andrew did too, as they all pick it up and decide to use it themselves at different rates. In general he’s far more interested in moving than communicating anyway.

His hair is really starting to grow now, and it looks like he’s going to be quite fair, just like Daddy was as a toddler. It also has a bit of a curl to it at the back and on the top, and some days, depending on how it has dried after the bath and how he’s slept on it, the curls can be really quite robust. It won’t be too long before I’ll need to snip it, but for now it looks very cute.

Joel 11 months

The one thing that everyone seems to notice and comment on about Joel, from the moment he could do it at around 6 weeks, is his smile. It doesn’t take much to elicit a smile from him, and although like any baby/toddler he has tired or sad moments when tears abound, he’s more often than not got a smile on his face – a big wide smile, again just like Daddy. Everyone says that he is a mini Daddy, and I think the smile and face in general contribute to this impression.

To celebrate this first year of his life, we had a meal out with close family at the weekend. We picked a very family friendly pub with great home cooked food in Cambridge city centre (The Cambridge Brewhouse if you’re local and interested). After we’d eaten, we headed home and later had a cup of tea and slice of birthday cake. I love baking and decoration birthday cakes, as you may have noticed from Andrew’s first and second birthdays.


For Joel’s first birthday cake I chose a racing car with a number 1 on the bonnet. I had been given a car mould a while ago and had been waiting for a special occasion to use it. The cake itself was a simple vanilla sponge cake, and I used ready coloured royal icing to roll out and decorate it, having first spread jam all over the car to make the icing stick well. It seemed to go down well with everyone including the birthday boy. I found the very centre of the cake a little dense because it’s a big volume of mixture to cook through, so when I use the mould again I will try putting more raising agent in and a little less mixture, to try and get a lighter cake in the very centre.

As we race into the 2nd year of Joel’s life, I’m glad that I could take this time to reflect on how he is a very healthy and happy little boy with a lovely personality and a gorgeous smile. We are very blessed, and thank God for him.

To us a child is born

It was the start of December last year that I started this blog – so it’s Happy 1st Birthday to Mixed Bag of All Sorts! I remember distinctly that one of my first posts was about Advent, and what this time of year means to me and to us as a young family as we start new traditions. Well, what a difference a year has made to us as a family – there are now four of us instead of three, and this is the first Christmas that Andrew really has much idea of what’s going on. He was 11 months old last Christmas, so although older than Joel is for his first Christmas, he didn’t really get the concepts of presents, parties and why we were spending time with family and friends.

Guarding the Advent calendar from early morning predators - you never know who might want to get at your mini socks!

Last year I wrote about the Peanuts (Snoopy and co.) Advent calendar that tells the story of the first Christmas line by line each day as you open a door, all in rhyming verse. It has survived many Christmas-times from my childhood to the present. My parents gave it to us last year so that we could carry on the family tradition of opening it with Andrew, not that he had much clue what it was then, but this year he’s definitely more interested in listening to stories. Next year Joel will also be more in to this kind of thing.

It's a bit fiddly to get at the contents of these socks, but I'm determined to do it without help, and that's part of the fun of it!

In addition to this calendar, my parents have bought the boys another Advent calendar this year. It’s one that you can fill with your own treats again and again each year. It came with little chocolates for this year, but in future we could put various things in like little toys or pieces of paper telling a story a bit like the Peanuts calendar. The design is quite simple but lovely and effective – a string of 24 mini stockings that you hang up between two hooks on the wall. Ours is hung at Andrew height across our living room window so that he can help us discover what’s in each day’s stocking. When he first saw it he was very interested in it and kept saying ‘socks, socks’! This morning he took out the first chocolates – two mini chocolate Father Christmas figures, and he proceeded to say ‘Father Christmas’ after me with not bad accuracy. We think he understands that it’s only one sock per day, now that we’ve explained to him after Tom caught him fiddling with another stocking after we’d emptied number 1!

Wow! There's shiny stuff in these socks - cool!

In the build up to Christmas, which we are marking as a family with our calendars, I am personally thinking about the first ever Christmas, when Jesus was born into this world. During Advent each year I’m often reminded of a couple of verses from the Bible, from the book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 6-7. Isaiah was a Prophet who told of Jesus’ birth many years before it actually happened – Jesus is the child referred to by Isaiah in these verses:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

Although I have read and heard this passage many times, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that it really took on a new meaning for me. This Advent, a child has recently been born to us, a son has been given to us; last Advent, the memory of our first child having been born to us was still fresh in my mind, 11 months after the event; and the Advent before that we were anticipating the birth of our first chid in about a month’s time. The experience of our own children being born to us brought it home to me that Jesus was a real person who was born to a real mum and a real dad, just like us. As I sit here feeding Joel, I think of Mary feeding Jesus, and changing his nappies (no Pampers or Huggies around in those days!) – or maybe Joseph helped out with that? I think of Joseph finding a place for them to stay just before the birth and supporting Mary through it, and how that’s similar to Tom’s role of getting me to hospital and being with me for the birth of both our children.

The difference between this family in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and our family is that Jesus, as well as being fully human, was also fully God, just as it says in the Isaiah verses above. And not only is He Mighty God, but also Wonderful Counsellor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the person I turn to for help in the most difficult of life’s situations, who is always there for me and always will be, giving me His peace which goes beyond all human understanding.

Baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby, he grew up; as a man He went on to do what He was born into this world to do – to die on a cross in order to make up for all the wrong things that we do which separate us from God, and if we believe that He did this for us, we can have everlasting life beyond our lives in this world. The ‘us’ referred to in Isaiah’s verse doesn’t just mean Mary and Joseph in a literal sense; it means anyone, at any time and in any place on Earth – Jesus was given as a present to everyone, it’s just up to each and every one of us whether we accept the present.

In all the busyness of Advent – the shopping, the parties, the chocolate eating – why not take some time to think about why this time of year involves all these things. Advent is the anticipation of celebrating Jesus coming into our world many years ago. Have you accepted the present that He came to be? If you’d like to find out more, there’s a great course called Alpha that runs across the country – you can find one near you here.

Now there are only 24 days left to celebrating Jesus’ birthday this year. Can’t wait!

Ha ha, I have chocolate.... not sure I should share it with Mummy, Daddy and Joel....!

Pregnancy diary: week 26 – birthday (mine, not bump’s)

This week has seen us on the approach to 30, in more ways than one: I’m 26 weeks pregnant, so I’m sure 30 weeks will be here before I know it given how fast this trimester has gone; and I celebrated my 29th birthday, so only 1 year left to go before I turn 30. I say ‘celebrated’, but this consisted of a very quiet celebration just the 3 (or 4 if you like) of us. In previous years I’ve always organised some sort of get together with friends and family, like a tea party or pudding party or bar evening. But this year I feel like my birthday has crept up on me without me realising where time was flying to, and I’m sure the main reason is being pregnant and not having much energy to think of things other than getting through each day and week as it comes and not planning very far ahead at all. We did have a small celebration on Saturday with my parents. Maybe next year I will have more energy and organisational ability to plan a party for my 30th…. we’ll see!

Wearing one of two dresses that I own which fit over bump! This week has been too hot to wear jeans and t-shirts/blouses like I have been since bump started growing.

This year was also the first time in my life that I worked on my birthday! Having a summer birthday meant that as a child I was always on school holidays, and quite often we were away on our family summer holiday. As an undergraduate and Masters student I also managed to escape working in a summer job on my birthday itself. Then during my PhD (when I could have taken the day off anyway) my birthday happened to fall at the weekend for the two summers. The first year I had a ‘proper’ job was 2 years ago, when I was pregnant with Andrew, but we’d booked a holiday for the week of my birthday, so I escaped yet again! Last year I was on maternity leave, and that brings us to this year. I toyed with the idea of booking a day’s annual leave, but then I thought that it might actually be interesting to experience working on my birthday for once, being as I’m not going to be working for the next few years once baby arrives and I’m a stay at home mum. I have to say that it really wasn’t a bad day at all! I had a productive morning working, and then met Tom for lunch in town where we both work. Then my work friends and I went out for cake/ice-cream treats later in the afternoon, and they presented me with some lovely gifts (chocolates, non-alcoholic wine, flowers, notecards) and a pretty card. The hardest part of the day was roasting in the office! We are on the top floor of 4, and there is very little air circulation. Being pregnant doesn’t help as I’m already warmer than usual. It was great to cool down with a nice relaxing swim after work, and then my boys and I had a quiet tea together at home. We’ve decided to go out for a family meal on Sunday, because I’d rather sit in a restaurant with the smell of food at lunchtime than in the evening when I still feel nauseous.

Although I’m approaching 30, this doesn’t seem to bother me (yet!) I guess I don’t think of my age in numbers, but rather how old (or young) I feel. When Tom and I discussed our thoughts on having children, both before and after we got married, I said that it would be amazing if we could have two by the time we were 30. Given that Tom is 6 months younger than me, it’s my age that was the limiting factor. I didn’t take it for granted that we would be able to have children as quickly as we did once we decided the time was right to start a family, but I’m very happy that in the end I’ll have reached my (what once seemed like a) dream of being a four-person family by my 30th birthday.

Since I’ve had Andrew (I was 27 when he was born), and we’ve met new parents and their children at groups, I get the feeling that I’m on the young side for being a first time mum amongst the mums that I’ve met. Of course this is a big generalisation, and there are of course mums younger than me in Cambridge, but on the whole it seems like there are quite a lot of mums older than me. As my own mum was 24 when she had me (her first child), this has got me interested in how the average age of first time mums has changed over just one generation. So I trawled through loads of birth stats on the government’s Office of National Statistics website. The latest published data I could find was for 2008 (so 3 years before Andrew was born), and the earliest published data in the same format that I could find was for 1988 (so 5 years after I was born), but this is close enough for my interest here. Below is a graph showing what I found (I love graphs, I’m such a scientist!)….

The blue line shows the average (mean) age in years of mums when they gave birth (whether that was their first, second, fifth, fifteenth etc. child). We see that it rose steadily from about 27 in 1988 to 29.5 in 2008. Then if we look at the red line – this shows the average age of mums when they gave birth to their first child – it rose steadily from about 25 in 1988 to about 27.5 in 2008. The green line shows the average age of married mums when they gave birth to their first child. Interestingly, this line starts below the blue one at about 26.5 in 1988 and then crosses the blue line to end up at just over 30 in 2008. Then, just out of interest, I plotted (in orange) the average age of dads when their baby was born (all births, so whether it was their first, second, fifth, fifteenth etc. child) – I could only find more recent data on this, from 1998 onwards. We see that generally dads have been older than mums when their children were born, over 30 years old on average since 1998.

So where do I stand in relation to the ‘average’ then? Well Andrew was my first, in 2011, when I was 27, and I was married, so I’ll look at the green line. I see that I was well below average (given that it is likely to have risen beyond 30 years since 2008, given the general trend). Even when I look at all first births, including those to mums who weren’t married (red line), I was still below average. So my anecdotal evidence of feeling pretty young as a mum around here could have some truth. I’d be even more interested to see these kind of stats just for our area, because I suspect this kind of thing might differ by area, depending on the demographics of the mums living there. It seems also that my mum was below the average age to have me at age 24 in 1983 when she was already married (imagine the green line extending downwards to 1983 at the same angle as where it starts). Interestingly, both Tom and my Dad were even further below the average age of dads when their first child was born – Tom was 27 (exactly – Andrew and he share the same birthday!) and my Dad was 25. I guess there are many reasons why people are having children later these days than in the 1980s, one of which could be that women are choosing to start in their career first and then have children. For the moment I am happy that being a mum is my career, and I will pursue other career interests in a few years time, most likely when our children are at school. For us, 27 was a great age to have a baby, but I know that every family situation is different and that there is no ‘right’ age to have a baby – what’s right for one family isn’t the same as what’s right for another.

I hope this little excursion into statistics and graphs has been interesting for you as well as for me. As I said, I love looking at numbers like this – one of the best parts of analysing results from the research project I’m working on (and others I’ve done in the past) is making attractive graphs that show the information more clearly to me than a table of numbers. If graphs aren’t your thing, I hope you’ll come back for more pregnancy news next week – I promise not to put any graphs in! 🙂

Personalised birthday cards: Grandad’s birdies

After the success of Granny’s Garden, I decided to have a go at making some birds to go on a card for my dad’s birthday. Over the past few years he’s got into bird-watching, particularly in my parents’ back garden, and has rigged up all sorts of camera technology to get quite fascinating pictures and videos of birds as they come and eat/drink/nest in the garden. If you’re interested, he has a website displaying all his finds, called Garden Twitter. He’s be really chuffed if more people went and had a look.

Anyway, that’s not really the main point of this post. I know nothing about birds, and would find it hard to tell you any names of those that land in the garden other than the obese pigeons that you can’t fail to notice. So I had to do some research in order to make the birds on the card as realistic as possible (OK, maybe realistic is the wrong word, because they’re cartoon-like, but I mean they have the right colours in the right places on their bodies!) That’s where the RSPB website came in handy, with its very useful colour sketches of birds that I know Dad has seen in the garden – perfect 🙂

Here’s a step by step guide to how I made ‘Grandad’s Birdies’…. (p.s. in case you were wondering, this post was written a while ago but I couldn’t publish it til after his birthday – I’m still busy with other things at the moment, so little blogging action 🙁 )

1. I started with a piece of thick brown A4 card
2. I folded it into three - the 2 side sections (which will become the front of the card) were deliberately unequal in size
3. I made a bluetit, by cutting a body, wing feathers, tail feathers, face and top of head feathers out of different textured papers
4. Here's the finished bluetit
5. I made a robin - just like I made the bluetit, using the same shapes but in different colours of paper
6. Here's a greenfinch - made in the same way again
7. Here's a goldfinch - made in the same way again
8. I then stuck the bluetit onto the wider front section, and then cut round him with a craft knife until reaching his tail, and then carried on cutting a straight line from him to the top and the botton of the card (making this front section less wide than it was, but still wide enough to meet the other front section when closed, as shown in the picture)
9. Now for the inside of the card... I cut out a tree from some coloured papers, and a piece of blue paper to be the 'sky' as well as a flowery piece to be the 'garden'
10. Then the other 3 birds found their home in or on the tree - all this sticking was done using double-sided tape by the way
11. I then drew round bluetit with silver pen, and on the flap underneath where he sits, I then cut out the centre of the bird-shaped silver outline that was now drawn onto it.
12. The idea of this hole was that it allows us to peak through at the garden of birds just before we open the whole card up. I also stuck a Happy Birthday sticker on the left and flap (the other side to the peep hole)
13. I added some flowery paper onto the front of the card, the same height as it was inside, so it's in keeping and continuity with the garden inside
14. The final touch was some writing on the front - Where are Grandad's birdies? Beau (the name of his Bluetit on his website) knows!.... then you open the card and find them in the garden, you see 😉

Personalised birthday cards: Granny’s Garden

It’s that time of year again: my parents’ birthdays are here (one in February and one in March). They have lots of things and I never know what to buy them. So this year I decided to make them personalised cards for a present, because I know they will appreciate something that was hand made. (I also popped some cinema vouchers inside for Mum – I can’t say yet what will be in Dad’s as his birthday hasn’t come yet.) Here’s how I made the card called ‘Granny’s Garden’….

I started with a piece of A4 chocolate brown stiff card in a landscape orientation
I folded it into 3 in a zig-zag kind of way: the height of the folded card is the shorter side of A4, and each third is about 10cm wide. I cut off a piece from the top of the middle section and the front section using wavy pinking scissors to create a wavy edge, cutting from one side to the other in a diagonal direction.
I cut a piece of green paper with a geometric pattern about 5mm less wide on both sides than the front section of the brown card. I cut the top with wavy pinking scissors to create a wavy edge at the same angle as the card. I then made a plant bed (see next picture).
To make a plant bed just like Granny has (but hers aren't pink!), I cut a small rectangle of brown card for the soil, two longer strips of pink stripy paper, two shorter thinner strips and finally 4 very short and thin bits for the corner posts. It was all stuck together using double-sided tape, and likewise stuck onto the brown card. I added some small bits of thick green wool to be the vegetables, stuck on with PVA glue at the base only so they flap around at the top.
I then attached two cocktail sticks to the inside of the card, which would later be used to hold the bunting up. They were stuck on with PVA glue and then a small rectangle of brown card on top to cover up the stick where it was attached on the card.
This was the trickiest and fiddliest bit. I made some bunting using lilac craft wire and little triangles cut out of various patterned papers. I folded each triangle over the top of the wire by about 3mm, and stuck it down back on itself using double-sided tape. I used contrasting patterns and colours for each successive triangle as I went along. Finally I wrote 'Granny's Garden' on the finished bunting using a black gel pen.
I attached the bunting to the back of the card at the top using double sided tape and then sticking a small piece of brown card over the top using more DS-tape to hide the wire where it was stuck down. At the other end I tied the wire around the cocktail stick and put a small blob of PVA glue to stop it springing up again. The bottom piece of bunting was attached at both ends to a cocktail stick in the same way.
I then stuck a piece of coloured paper with a flowery pattern on the middle section of the card, about 5mm less wide on both sides than the card itself so there was a brown border. I also cut the top using waving pinking scissors to create a wavy edge. I stuck a button on with PVA glue on the centre of the big blue and green flower on the top right (see below)
I then cut out a wheelbarrow shape, a fork and a trowel in different coloured papers that contrasted with the green background. They were stuck on using DS-tape, and then I drew around the wheelbarrow with a black gel pen. A black button for its wheel, stuck on with PVA glue, completed the wheelbarrow.
Inside a Happy Birthday sticker completed the card, and it was then ready to write for Granny.
There we are: Granny's Garden

I love making things and this project reminded why I like doing it for other people – I like to see them receive something personalised and made with love. I find it very relaxing and it’s the kind of thing I do when Daddy and Andrew go out together on a Saturday morning. There will be more of this kind of craft coming up on the blog when I get the chance.

What a difference a year makes!

Yes I know the title is obvious when we’re talking about a baby, but when Andrew turned 1 year old last weekend, it made me think back over the year, and how much he (and we!) has developed. I can remember the first week of his life almost like it was yesterday, and there are many other memories from the 12 months that particularly stick in my mind, for example the milestones he reached like smiling, crawling and walking. As I hadn’t braved it into the world of blogging when he was born, I didn’t share our birth story on this blog. So I thought I’d do a ‘then and now’ post – first look back at his actual ‘birth day’, and then contrast it with the same day a year later, his first birthday.

Birth day

A couple of hours after birth

A birth story might not be every reader’s cup of tea, so I’ll try not to waffle on or get too gory, but if you’re not in the (what might be quite a small) crowd of birth story fans, please feel free to skip this section.

On the morning of Tom’s birthday, we woke up as usual at 7am, and Tom went off to work. I had been on maternity leave for two weeks already, and was 4 days over my due date, getting bored of being pregnant, and wishing ‘Baby C’ would put in an appearance. But I’d had no signs of labour. The midwife came (as planned) at 12 noon to give me and baby a check-up as we were overdue, which involved having a membrane sweep (as I promised no gory details, you can read about this on someone else’s website here). She told me I was already a few centimetres dilated, so baby should be on the way soon.

At about 2pm I had what I think was my first contraction (I say ‘I think’ because it wasn’t as massive and painful as I had been expecting, bracing myself for the worst pain ever). It was short and I didn’t feel anything again for about half an hour. From then until about 7.30pm, I had irregularly timed contractions that were quite painful, but not so bad that I couldn’t bake Tom a birthday cake to take my mind off them. I emailed Tom to say that I was having irregular contractions but that there was no need to rush home. He turned up at home earlier than usual, because he couldn’t concentrate knowing what I had told him, and it was his birthday anyway. But we were losing hope of baby and Daddy sharing birthdays, thinking that this could be a long haul (my first baby, not having had any signs of labour until now etc.)

At about 6.30pm we decided to get a take-away curry, rather than go to the restaurant itself just down the road. Curry had become our staple diet that week, trying (along with pineapple and raspberry leaf tea) the old wives’ tales for natural labour induction. We sat down to eat at 7pm; half an hour later we were about to settle in front of a DVD, with me perched on a hard dining chair, arms over the back of it. Just as I sat down, I felt and heard a big splash beneath me and lots of kicking from Baby C – my waters had gushed all over the chair and floor! In antenatal classes, we’d been told to phone the hospital as soon as my waters broke. So Tom did, and they told us to come in for an assessment, even though we might get sent home again if all was OK.

My contractions were still irregular, but as we got in the car, they suddenly got much stronger, more like what I had braced myself for, and more close together. We arrived at the Midwife Led Birth Unit (MLBU) in the Rosie Maternity Hospital and were promptly shown to a room. I was so pleased because I’d heard that it quickly gets full, though I knew we might not be staying. The midwife assessed me by asking when my contractions were and taking various swabs; the outcome was that I wasn’t properly in labour yet, and because we lived so near the hospital, I could go home and be in a more familiar environment. I wasn’t too keen on moving very far, because just as the midwife was filling in the paperwork, my contractions suddenly got even more intense and more close together.

The next thing I knew, the midwife was going through my ‘birth-plan’ (more like guidance notes than a plan really) and asking her assistant to fill up the birth pool. I was on all fours on the bed, answering questions and asking for things like a drink and help in taking some layers of clothing off, in between the contractions. Just as I was about to ask for the gas and air to be set up, the pool was ready, so I got in for pain relief instead. Not long had I been in the pool when I felt the urge to push – this was a completely instinctual feeling, and my head was saying ‘this can’t be right, it’s too early in labour to push’, but my body was just doing it. The midwife was lovely and said if I wanted to push I should push, and that I knew what I was doing far more than any examination she could do of me would tell us. I liked her faith in me, but still thought it was crazy to be pushing already.

After a few more contractions, I started to believe it more, and thought I might as well go with it rather than resist. I carried on like this for a while, until the midwife made a bet with me (well, no money was involved) – if I got out, baby would be delivered more quickly than if I stayed in. She could see that I was ‘relaxing’ a little too much in the soothing water (it was hardly what I’d call relaxing, but I saw her point), and I wasn’t pushing as effectively as if I were ‘on land’. So I got out, and no more than 10 minutes later, out came our little baby; we soon confirmed my gut feeling that it was a boy, as he was lifted up and placed directly onto my tummy. Timings are all a bit of a blur to me as, needless to say, I wasn’t clock watching, but the one thing I know is that he arrived at the very memorable time of 22.22.

A few minor procedures later (cord cutting, stitching and cleaning me up etc.), and we were enjoying those amazing first minutes as a new three person family. We decided that the names we had chosen before birth were still a good choice now that we’d met him, and so we named him Andrew James. Whilst we were sitting tummy to tummy, he did the very instinctual thing of climbing up and lunging towards one of my nipples, then latched on and started what turned into a very good first breastfeed (you can read more about this here).

After a while I started to feel sick, and placed him in Tom’s arms to give them some bonding time, before I was actually sick. Unfortunately this was a reaction to the injection I’d had that helps deliver the placenta more quickly and less bloodily (stopping gory talk now), which is quite common, apparently, though I’d not heard of this in all the antenatal literature I’d read. I had a shower, which helped me feel a bit better, whilst my boys bonded some more. We then dressed Andrew up warm in some tiny cute clothes that the midwife picked out of our bag for him, and headed across to the post-natal bay for the night.

Tom made sure we were settled and then headed off home until the next morning. Andrew was fast asleep, so I laid him in the ‘fish tank’ which was right next to my bed, and lay down myself at the edge of the bed, close enough to put my arm in and hold his little hands and stroke his little head. I couldn’t sleep a wink, I just lay there watching him and holding him. All he was doing was sleeping, but somehow it seemed absolutely amazing. For me that night was a (long) moment in which I couldn’t stop thanking God for His incredible generosity in giving us this new little life, a perfectly formed miniature us with mini limbs and mini organs all working together to sustain life.

Birthday boys together (0 and 27 years)
Back home at 1 day old


A year later, our day started much earlier; gone are the days of lie-ins – the 7am start of the year before seems like an absolute luxury! After trying in vain to settle Andrew back to sleep with various things like feeding, rocking and head stroking, I decided he must be so excited about his birthday that getting up and playing was our only option. I did the early shift until breakfast, and Daddy took over after that, allowing me an extra hour in bed to regain some energy for my cake-icing extravaganza. Andrew was also persuaded (with not much effort) to have a much needed nap, otherwise I was fearing a lunchtime meltdown.

After our naps, my boys went out to a Dads’ event at a local Children’s Centre, and left me mixing up copious amounts of butter and icing sugar, to ice the cakes that I’d baked the day before (if you haven’t spotted my creations yet, see here). Icing aside, the fact that my littler boy and I could go for a few hours without each other is very different from the year before, when we spent all of the time he was outside of me cuddling and feeding. Although I miss him when we’re apart, I find that I really appreciate some me-time, especially if I know he’s having fun and bonding with Daddy.

Whilst I was in the middle of cake creating, my parents arrived, just in time to help with the washing up and other bits of cleaning. Not much has changed there in a year! When Tom and I had left for the hospital, the kitchen was messy with washing up, which all disappeared and didn’t reappear for a few days after the birth, thanks to our parents. That still seems to be one of their main occupations when they visit.

Back to the birthday celebrations, we headed off to a local pub for lunch. I love the fact that Andrew is such a good eater that we don’t have to worry about taking baby food out with us for meals, because he’ll happily munch away on a small(-ish) portion of an adult meal (it’s amazing just how much he can pack away into his little tummy!) He only has 2 teeth, but that doesn’t deter him. This time he tucked into a bowl of scrummy pasta with tomato sauce and cheese – much bigger than his first ever meal of breastmilk the year before, but on a similar scale of scrumminess, judging by his enthusiasm on both occasions. Sitting still has never been his strong point, and the interesting sights of the pub were soon beckoning him down from his highchair. He walked from table to chair to table and even brushed near the bar. Gone are the days of holding him like a newborn babe in arms, except when he wants to feed, then it’s acceptable to snuggle up to mummy. But that hardly ever happens anywhere other than home, and even then he’ll often wriggle and get into all sorts of funny positions when still latched on.

What's on the menu? I'll have some scrummy pasta please!

A brisk walk back from the pub was followed by a present-opening-athon at home. Not that he had any idea of what was going on, and was more interested in playing with the wrapping paper, gift bags and packaging, with the occasional glance at the goodies within them. Daddy enjoyed sharing the limelight with his (relatively small compared to Andrew’s) pile of presents too. It occurred to me that here our toddler was, making up his own mind about what he wanted to do. Even though we had decided to open presents, because that’s just one of the things you do on birthdays, he wasn’t going to sit still and do it orderly, and why should he, it was his birthday after all. This independence was such a change from the utterly dependent on us newborn who arrived the year before.

As the signs of the dreaded ‘overtiredness’ started to make an appearance, we skillfully (after a year of getting to know the signs) averted a meltdown moment by whisking him out in the buggy for a nap. Like sitting, napping has never been one of his strong points, though I do remember just how much he slept just after he was born. They say babies get worn out from labour just as much as mums – how they know that I don’t know, did they ask the babies?! His sleepiness didn’t last long.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without the consumption of the aforementioned cake, but not before we sang Happy Birthday To You (once for Andrew and once for Tom). This year we actually got to eat the cake on the birthday, whereas the cake I’d baked last year for Tom, as a distraction from contractions technique, didn’t get eaten until the day after. Andrew joined in too this year.

Bathtime and bedtime (mine that is 😉 ) drew closer, and family made a move homewardbound. The action this year was definitely centred more around the middle of the day, not like the quiet daytime and sudden action-packed evening featuring the birth. The little fella was zonked and (without precedent) went straight to sleep when his head touched the mattress after a short feed. I wasn’t too far off a state of zonkedness myself, so Tom and I decided that staying up til 22.22pm to mark the official year of Andrew living un-umbillically-attached to me was probably not wise. Again I ended the day by thanking God for the blessing that Andrew is in our lives, and that he (and we) survived the year and is thriving. Then my head hit the pillow – at least I got more sleep that night this year than last.

Birthday boys together (1 year and 28 years)

One special first birthday cake

Apart from the fact that Andrew is one year old (where did that last year go?!), I can’t believe that I’ve actually made my first ever birthday cake for a child of my own. This is a special moment for me, because I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. My mum used to bake amazing birthday cakes for me and my brother – my all time favourite has to be the swimming pool in the shape of an 8 for my 8th birthday swimming party. So I’ve wanted to carry on the tradition with my own children for quite a long time. And now I finally got to do it 🙂

I came up with this idea one day quite out of the blue. I think I was just out walking with Andrew in the buggy and it came to me. It’s basically 3 classic sponge cakes (20cm round) cut into the letters ‘o’, ‘n’ and ‘e’, and then decorated with buttercream icing in different colours and sweets. Here’s a break down of the process, based on Delia Smith’s classic Victoria sponge recipe, and cupcake icing from Cook with kids by Rob Kirby.



Ingredients for the sponge
  • 220g self raising flour
  • 220g sugar
  • 220g margerine
  • 4 eggs
  • few drops of vanilla essence
  • 3 20cm round cake tins, greased and lined at the bottom with greaseproof paper

    Three 20cm round cake tins greased and lined with greaseproof paper


  • 260g icing sugar
  • 165g unsalted butter
  • red, blue and green natural food colouring



  1. Blend the margerine and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

    Margerine and sugar blended together
  2. Beat the eggs, and then add to the mixture little by little, beating thoroughly as you go.

    Beaten eggs added to the margerine and sugar mixture
  3. Add the vanilla essence.
  4. Work in the flour until you have a smooth pasty mixture.

    Flour added to the mixture, to make a smooth pasty mixture
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 cake tins.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top.

    Three sponges just out of the oven


  1. Whip the icing and butter together until you get a pale, fluffy ‘cream’.
  2. Split the cream into 3 roughly equal portions.

    Icing evenly split into three bowls
  3. Add a few drops of each food colouring into each portion, until you get a strong colour.

    Three bowls of icing coloured with different food colourings


  1. Once the cakes are cool, remove from the tin.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut a hole in the middle of one cake to make an ‘o’, then a hole in the edge at the centre bottom of one to make an ‘n’, then two holes, one just higher than the middle and one at the right side on the edge, to make an ‘e’.

    'o n e' cut out of the round sponges
  3. Spread the icing to completely cover the cake, including down the sides where you cut bits out.
  4. Add sweets to decorate.

    Finished cake - 'o n e'
'o' - milk choc buttons in the shape of a star with some pinky/red writing icing (not very visible here) around the edge of the star
'n' - jelly beans and white writing icing make some bunches of baloons
'e' - white choc buttons with hundreds and thousands on them (I LOVE these!) and some orange writing icing to contrast with the blue buttercream

The cakes went down well at our teatime party with family. The red food colouring tasted slightly of pepper (as in red pepper) to me, probably because it was paprika extract (no artificial E-numbers on sale these days!) But the men didn’t seem to mind it, and ate it anyway! I stuck to a piece of the blue ‘e’, as the white choc buttons are my favourite. Andrew also had a small piece of the ‘e’, after we sang Happy Birthday to him, and he really enjoyed it, munching away on it happily. My first go at kids birthday cake baking seemed to go successfully, so I’m happy 🙂

I’m going to try and fit in another birthday related post soon, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this part of Andrew’s first birthday.