Friday, 5 December 2014

Kindness Elves 2014: Day 4



Our cheeky Kindness Elves were found hiding amongst the ice cream sundae glasses yesterday morning, with a well done token and some coins for the children. The didn't however have a task for the children to do, which threw Erin a little once she's realised!! But I had a plan!

Their task for Day 4 was Loving Friends - and was to create a picture for a friend to make them smile. I hadn't had time to set anything up and we don't have the opportunity to do anything on a normal school morning so I set to getting it ready at lunchtime. I invited one of Erin's school friends to come and join us too.

They came home to find the Elves had set up a tray of things for them to use and they had a great time with their friend and getting messy!

What struck me afterwards was that they appreciated doing it with their friend and enjoyed having her over, which to me was far more rewarding for them that creating a picture to give away! So we compromised and let them keep the pictures - they turned out so well!

Today's task is a little more subdued, as you will soon see, and Daddy might even get to do this one with them!


Day 5 coming soon!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Homemade Magic Reindeer Food




On Christmas Eve we have a lovely plate that we put out for Santa, and this year we have a little cup to make the set (we'll post about our Christmas Eve traditions another time). But last year something caught my eye - homemade reindeer food! Something that is simple, easy and cheap to make, but adds a little more excitement!




The method and ingredients I use are edible (all two ingredients!) but I know some people add glitter etc to their. My only concern with adding glitter or sequins is that the local wildlife may eat it!! Now I'm sure it won't do any damage, but mine ensures that its unlikely to cause a problem!!

You will need:
  • Porridge Oats (about 3-4 heaped dessert spoons per bag
  • Sugar Shimmer Dust / Sugar Sprinkles or Edible Glitter
  • A food bag, either cellophane, or clear sandwich bag OR a little pot - whatever you fancy!
  • A Magic Reindeer Food label (free printable here)

Method:
  1. Put about 3 heaped dessert spoons full of porridge in your bag or container.
  2. Add enough sugar sprinkle, edible glitter or whatever your chosen "sparkle" is until you've got as much sparkle as you would like.
  3. Shake or mix it around.
  4. Seal bag or pot and add label!
  5. Ridiculously simple!
I've not had a chance to make mine yet, but will upload a picture once I have! Simple, cheap yet great way of creating anticipation (if any more is needed!?) for Christmas!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Kindness Elves 2014: Day 3




Day 3 - Today we were Loving our Family. and writing nice things about the children's grandparents. With Erin going to nursery at lunchtime and the other two having their naps, our activity was done when we got home from the school run. It worked really well doing it then, and we'll have to do that the next couple of days too.


We sat and wrote 10 things we loved about Nana and Grandad (pretend you're not reading this mum!!) - I wrote down what they said and then they coloured the cards. We put them in a nice plastic jar ready to give to Nana and Grandad to make them smile. Erin did really well thinking of things, as Lara didn't really grasp what I was asking!

We delivered our flapjacks we made yesterday to our neighbours this morning, and the Elves had left the children a well done token and coins.

I think it's time to do a messier activity tomorrow! Click here to see Day 4!

Kindness Elves 2014: Day 2




Yesterday, Day 2 of our Kindness Elves adventure, was a little trickier! Not because the task itself was difficult, but because it was combined with 3 under 4's who were each having regular meltdowns!lol!

Our task was about Loving Others - to make some cake for our neighbours. We have yet to deliver it as it was raining all day yesterday!! I wanted to show a difference between being kind to our friends who live very close by, and people that we don't really know. The plan is to leave them wrapped on the doorstep of our neighbours house with a little note inside saying "From Erin, Lara, Caleb, and the Kindness Elves @ *our address".

We are really blessed to have lovely neighbours, and the estate we live on is fairly new so we have been able to meet a number of people on our road as they've moved in.


We made some flapjack together, and the children enjoyed a chocolate coin the Elves had left along with a green well done token for their charity donations the day before. I think Erin found it funny that they were set up ready to go!

I do think that we are on the very limits of being able to take part - Erin understands enough of what we're doing but they are mostly just enjoying the activity that's planned. They activities do allow for a purposeful conversation about kindness regularly so it can't be a bad thing! I'm not going to lie, there were trying moments when out of frustration I threatened the Elves to go back to the North Pole if they didn't see the children being kind to each other!lol! It wasn't the intention but it did have the desired effect - I won't be saying it again though, it defeats the object of what we are doing: trying to foster kindness and thinking of others.

Today's task is a little simpler and focusses on Loving Our Family!

If you want to get more updates on what we are doing, come over and find us on our Facebook Page. Be sure to Like us to continue getting updates!

Click here for Day 3!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Kindness Elves 2014: Day 1




Today marked the first day of our visit from the Kindness Elves, and so far so good! (Although I hadn't appreciated how much of a watertight story I'd need to have rehearsed!)

The children woke up a little later than normal, although Erin was up first (as is usual in our household!) and had already found the elves hiding in the Christmas tree along with the letter from Santa.


We went down to breakfast and I read them the letter from Santa (find it here on Kindness Elves Part 2) which explained who the elves were, why they were here and what to expect. The best bit of today was when Erin came into the kitchen exclaiming "The elves got in the tree by MAGIC! Santa put them there with MAGIC!" - the glint of excitement in her eyes made it almost exhilarating to watch! The girls then went to have a look (Lara hadn't done so so far) and I read out the first day's card describing what the elves would like us to do to help other people. They had a go with their little sleeping bags too!

I explained that we would go to one of the local charity shops, but that we needed to find some things that we could donate (and what that meant). Erin was all for it, and we got a bag together and made our way into town. One thing I hadn't accounted for was how much stuff we would bring back from the charity shop (!!!!) but I told them that the money we gave the lady for the "new" things would also go to help people in need. Erin seemed quite pleased with this.


The aim was to put the elves to bed in their little sleeping bags under the tree, mostly so I could find them in the evening to set up for the next day - this was fine for their daytime sleep (the elves'!) but bedtime was a little trickier. Erin was adamant that her elf would sleep in bed with her, and the compromise was on her bedside table - although I did say that the Christmas tree would remind them of their home in the North Pole so he may sneak back into the lounge whilst she was asleep!!!

On the whole, it's been a great day so far, and I'm looking forward to Day 2 tomorrow. We definitely couldn't have managed more in terms of the level of understanding. The activities we've got will be about right for under 4's but I'm hoping it will become clearer the more we do!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's activity!

Click here for Day 2!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree...!

There is always huge debate this time of year as to when everyone can and can't put up their Christmas trees - I don't mind how early or late people do it, for me I'd have it up all year round!

Mr Strong knows that there is nothing better at cheering me up than a little Christmas spirit - I adore this time of year! I like our tree to be up by 1st December, and then if I'm honest, by the end of Boxing Day, or perhaps the day after, I like to take everything down! For me, the lead up to Christmas is magical, spending time with family on Christmas Day and Boxing Day is the best, but usually after that I like to get ready for the freshness that comes with the New Year. That's not to say I get bored of Christmas - I genuinely love it all, but once we've celebrated Christmas Day, it feels wrong to have it up for much longer!

Our new tree is lovely, and as my birthday is in December too, it doesn't feel like my birthday until the tree is up. This year I turn 30 (Eeekkk!) and the tree was bought in the sales last year as my 30th birthday present - it's so worth it! Erin in particular is very switched on to Christmas this year, turning 4 just a few days before Christmas. Having got the tree up, with the lights on she just kept repeating "Wow, I LOVE it! I love the tree! Santa is going to LOVE it!" over and over, running around in a little frenzy. Even Caleb said "Wow" - I think this is technically his first word!lol!

Only 1 more day to go until our Kindness Elves arrive - I think I'm prepared!!! Stay tuned, December's focus will mainly be what we get up to with our Elves!


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Printable Nativity Scene - Christmas Craft



It's my last week this Sunday leading the youngest group in kids work at church and I get the best teaching week - The Christmas Story!

It's so important not to let the story lose it's magic - yes I said it in the same sentence - nativity and magic!

The magical qualities of Christmas shouldn't be only for non-religious festivities, the true meaning of Christmas is the most magical of all. The journey, the circumstances in which Mary finds herself about to give birth, the arrival of the three wise men who have been following the star in eager anticipation of the birth of the King. The angel, an actual angel! Imagine being one of those shepherds - doing your normal shift with the sheep... and a angel appears, would you consider that maybe you were dreaming, or someone had slipped something in your drink earlier?! You would be stunned!!!

If it was today, and all these things happen, just imagine the hype that would be around. There would be camera crews on stand by, people would be talking about it, there would be a load of collectable mugs, T Shirts, "Keep Calm, Mary's had the baby" merchandise everywhere. I think it's so easy to take for granted the miracle element of it all, for it to become another children's story we roll out every year.

I found this brilliant free printable at Design Dazzle of the nativity scene (you just seen to sign up to their mailing list to get the PDF access, takes about 2 minutes!). Get some straw, an old shoe box, and make yourself a nativity scene - one the kids can actually play with, tell the story from Luke 2 and enjoy an interactive story time.

I am challenged this year, not only because the children are now older and can grasp some understanding of it, but that the magic of Christmas should not only be that Santa is coming on Christmas Eve. It's Jesus' birthday, that's an exciting time too!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christmas Chutney (Homemade Gifts)



I have grown up enjoying the chutney that my Nana used to make regularly, and it used to be the only one I liked. Every now and then we'd get a new jar, and it was delicious! Homemade jams and chutneys have always sounded like such a good idea but I've never attempted it myself. One of my best friends recently treated me to a night out at a cooking demonstration where they made a REALLY tasty chutney and made it look very simple - so I thought I'd finally have a go.

I spent a while researching how to seal jars at home, and have chosen the method below which suited me for what I wanted. It isn't the only way of doing it, but as the chutney's are for gifts I wanted to make sure they would be sealed safely!


Makes: 12 x 7oz Jars of Chutney (I used normal jam jars with screw top lids, bought new)

Ingredients:
  • 1 Kg Fresh Figs - washed, trimmed and cut into 12 pieces per fig
  • 1kg Plums - washed, stoned and halved
  • 200g Raisins
  • 500ml Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Red Onions, finely chopped (If they are large onions, use only 2)
  • 4 Tsp Salt
  • 2 Tsp Chinese Five Spice
  • 2 Tsp Paprika
  • 700g Dark Muscavado Sugar
  • 12 x 7oz Jars (or similar depending on quantity you want in each jar)
  • Large pan, doesn't have to be a preserving pan.
  • Kraft Tags or Similar
  • Wax disks to fit inside the top of your jar (I didn't use but see below - I used a water bath)
  • Large Roasting Tray
Note: Fresh figs are out of season by October so they are a little pricey now. I would suggest (and I will do the same) making your chutney in the summer when they are cheaper. Next year I will try and adapt the recipe for dried figs as they are significantly cheaper. Best made in advance, as chutney develops in flavour over time.

I've been told it will keep for a year at least if sealed properly and airtight. I have recommended on our gift tags that they are used within a year, and once opened refrigerated and consumed within 2 weeks. I have kept a jar for testing to make sure they are ok before giving as gifts (purely because this is my first time and I want to be sure!).

Note about sterilizing and sealing the jars: I researched the best way that I felt I could do at home, and have included this in the method so you don't need to think about timings of doing two things at once. If you have done this before at home and have any tips or a different way of doing it that works for you that is fine, and I'd love to hear them! I found this blog post the most useful after hours of searching and finding lots of different methods!

Method:
  1. Place all the fruits into the large pan.
  2. Add the vinegar, salt and spices.
  3. Bring to the boil making sure you stir continuously to prevent it burning.
  4. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 10 minutes (without lid), or until the fruits have softened.
  5. Sterilising the jars and lids: Whilst waiting, wash your jars and lids. Place the lids in a saucepan so they are upside down and covered with at least 1 inch of water. Place your wet clean jars in your roasting tray and fill the tray with enough water to cover about 1cm of the tray.
  6. Once the chutney fruits have softened, add the sugar and keep stirring until it is all dissolved.
  7. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil.
  8. Cook the chutney until it is thick, so that when you run a spoon through it there remains a channel. This took just over 1 hour although the original recipe said it was much less. 
  9. Sterilising the jars and lids: Whilst you are waiting for your chutney to thicken, put your tray of jars into a cold oven. Turn the oven on to 120°C (Fan) and leave in the oven for 30 mins (I left mine in for the whole hour of the chutney thickening and they were fine!). For the lids, bring the pan to the boil and leave on a gentle boil for 30 mins. I also sterilized a metal spoon  and some metal tongues in the lid pan so that I could use them for grabbing the lids and putting the chutney into the jars.
  10. Once the chutney is at the desired thickness, and whilst hot, pour into hot sterilised jars and screw on the lid, making sure you don't touch the inside of the jar or lid. Make sure you screw your lid on "hand tight" - i.e. tight enough to do it up but not with all your strength!
  11. Allow to cool for at least 12 hours and don't touch the lids or press the tops!
  12. The hot chutney should create a vacuum in your jar as it cools. Once they are cool you can test the jar by pressing the top of the lid, if it moves, your seal has failed. If it doesn't move then it's safe to be stored away until opened.
Troubleshooting - has my jar sealed!?

I made the mistake of not screwing the lids on tight enough, so when I tightened them I wasn't sure the seal was still intact as a couple you could press down on. As they were for gifts I decided to use the water bath method to make extra sure they would be sealed. I knew they would be ok as the vinegar and sugar content is high enough for it to be preserved but I didn't want to take any risks. I put them in cold water in a large pan and covered with 2 inches of water, brought to the boil and gently boiled for 15 mins. I then left them in the pan to cool overnight and tested the seals the next day. They were fine (and I had peace of mind!) so are now in the garage ready to be gift wrapped.

Wax disks: I was told afterwards that they would probably have been ok if I had put a wax disk on the top of the chutney inside the lid making sure there were no air bubble. I'll be doing this next time although the water bath method was simple enough.

Storing: Having searched around it seems that a chutney's flavour develops over time, and they are best made 4-6 weeks in advance. They will keep for at least a year with enough sugar and vinegar content, as long as they are in a cool place (although a lot of online advance says they will keep for many years!), Once opened they need to be refrigerated and will keep for up to 4 weeks.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Vanilla & Mixed Spice Christmas Biscuits



Along with the theme of homemade gifts, here is a biscuit recipe that I have made for Christmas presents this year. I am planning on wrapping these in cellophane bags like the clay decorations (I made sure I bought food grade bags) but I'll be doing that much closer to Christmas.

We made these a few years ago and I put them in Kilner Jars with some nice ribbon and tags, we also kept them as vanilla biscuits but iced them. This is a really versatile recipe, and I have adapted it today to give them a Christmas flavour. They are more a shortbread than a cookie biscuit, but they freeze well so I make them in advance and get out in December - no rushing around in December for us! I love being able to enjoy December - my Christmas cards are always posted out on the 1st, the Christmas shopping is pretty much finished and I can just enjoy it!


Makes: Approx 35-45 biscuits (about 2.5 inch square depending on the thickness)

Note: If you are just making these for yourselves rather than as gifts then you'll only want half the recipe! You also need to make and chill the dough before you can bake them.

Suitable for freezing

Ingredients:
  • 500g Unsalted Butter (room temperature and cubed)
  • 360g Caster Sugar
  • 700g Plain Flour
  • 4 Tbsp Milk
  • 4 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 4 Tsp Ground Mixed Spice

Method:
  1. In a large bowl add the butter, flour and sugar, and rub until it is a breadcrumb consistency.
  2. Add the spice and mix well.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and the milk, mixing well again.
  4. Bring together into a ball and knead with your hands a little until it form a soft dough.
  5. Wrap in clingfilm or a covered bowl and chill for 30 mins in the fridge. (The first batch I forgot and left them in the fridge for an hour, but they were fine!)
  6. Remove from fridge and unwrap, kneading a few times to make the dough smooth.
  7. Roll out on a lightly floured surface until the dough is about 1cm thick (if like me you want more biscuits then you can do them a little thinner than this, but obviously reduce the baking time later on).
  8. Preheat your oven to 180°C (Fan Oven) or Gas Mark 4.
  9. Cut out your biscuits with your chosen cutter (These are lovely for snowflakes - our original vanilla version were iced snowflakes!) and place onto a tray lined with greaseproof or baking paper. Make sure they are a couple of cm's apart, they don't spread much though.
  10. Optional: If you want to emboss a message in them, do it now.
  11. Chill for 5-20 mins in the fridge (crucial as they will spread if you don't chill the butter in the biscuits - trust me, my first batch were terrible! My second batch I had to bake in two sittings so my first were chilled for 5 mins, and the second remained in the fridge until the first had finished baking).
  12.  Bake for 15-20 mins depending on the thickness - towards the end a minute can make the difference between crunchy and burnt so keep an eye on them!
  13. Leave to cool for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.
  14. Enjoy!
Tips:

These should keep in an airtight container for about 2 weeks but ours have never lasted that long (they've been eaten!).

They are also suitable for freezing and I have left them in the freezer for about a month before and they've been fine. Make sure you put them in a freezable and airtight container, lining with clingfilm or greaseproof paper, and covering with either of those again between layers. My containers usually have about 4 or 5 layers of biscuits in! They will defrost overnight at room temperature and can then be finished if icing or packaged ready to be given away.

You can also leave out the mixed spice and just have plain vanilla biscuits which a really nice!

Once I've wrapped and labelled ours I'll update this recipe with a picture of the final gift for you to see!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Kindness Elves Part 2: What activities to do?!



So, a few posts ago I talked about the idea of Kindness Elves and we are now approaching the time when they will be coming to stay in our house! In fact, it's only about a week away!!

The children will receive a letter from Santa on the 1st December, which is when the elves will be hidden somewhere having arrived for their stay. They'll then be found every day in December with a little activity card, and a praise token giving them a "well done" for the previous days activity (obviously they won't get one on 1st December). They'll also get a chocolate coin each every day - I may change my mind on that, we'll see how it goes!

Here are Cedar and Spruce, our Kindness Elves with a set of cards.


In December we'll be posted updates on what we're doing every day. Our activities are basic, having 3 children under 4 years old I'm not expecting Caleb (Age 1) to be getting involved but Lara (Age 2.5) and Erin (almost 4) will be. This year our focus is being kind in the simplest form - mostly making our friends and family happy. That's something they can grasp, and our activities reflect that. As they get older things will become more complex and involved. We touch on being thankful, and being kind to others, and the focus for us from a Christian point of view is that God likes us to be kind to others. Christmas time should be full of joy, of giving (not receiving, although it is nice!) and full of thinking of others - mix it with some fun and activities and I think we're on to a winner!

If you'd like to have a go and aren't sure what to do with your elves, here are some printable resources which I've designed for us. You are more than welcome to use them! (They are intended for personal use only.)

1st December Letter
Activity Cards
Praise Tokens
Christmas Eve Letter

I'm looking forward to trying this out this year! I hope you'll have fun reading about what we get up to!!

Homemade No-Bake Clay Decorations (Child Friendly Craft)




Homemade decorations can have mixed reviews, sometimes they are a lovely idea but let's face it, running through our minds are "what an earth am I going to DO with this!?" Other times, if done with a little thought and a few finishing touches, they can be really wonderful.

Christmas is expensive for most people, and as the years pass by the budgets increase. This year, having just sorted ourselves out financially after a number of years working hard to become debt free, I decided it was time to re visit homemade gifts.

This year, there will be homemade chutney, biscuits (stay tuned for those) and clay decorations to go with a small gift in an attempt to be sensible this year. But mostly - I LOVE making things for people! I love crafting, making, baking, cooking, and I really love homemade things. Not only do I reap the enjoyment of making them, but this year, so have the children, and it's been a really fun thing to do on rainy Sunday afternoons!



You will need:

Cellophane Gift Bags or Cellophane on a roll
2kg of Air Drying White Clay (available online or at craft shops)
Snowflake cutter (or cutter of your choice)
9m Ribbon for hanging (Snowflakes only)
Curling Ribbon for gift bags
Kraft Labels or Tags
Glitter Paint and Paint Brush (optional)
Rolling Pin
Greaseproof or Baking Paper
Sharp knife (handprints only)

Makes: Out of this we made 24 snowflake decorations, and 9 handprint keepsakes. The number of bags and tags you will need will depend on how many you want per gift. If you want to hang your handprints too, then you will need probably another 2m of ribbon.

Note: These take a few days to dry out so ideally start to make them a couple of weeks before you need them!

How to:

1. Firstly, roll out your clay until it is the thickness you want - we did ours quite chunky so they were about 1cm thick.

2. Cut out your shape of choice (we used snowflakes) and place onto greaseproof paper lined trays (or plates, whatever you have).

3. We also made handprint keepsakes of all the children, 3 of each child. Get them to press their hands into the clay, and then cut around the print with a sharp knife (once their hand has been removed from the clay!). Again, once done place onto lined trays.

4. Using the end of the paintbrush or a pen / pencil, create a hole in the middle of the shape for hanging. It's up to you whether you put a hole on the handprint keepsakes.



5. Leave on the trays out of reach of little hands (or big hands if you have curious adults!) for about 5 days to completely dry out. They need to be in a dry place, we put ours on the top of the wardrobes and they dried out at room temperature.

6. Once they are dry, you can paint them if you like. We used glitter paint to give a little sparkle when the Christmas Tree lights catch them. Leave to dry - they dry quite quickly but I left them for a day to be sure! You can see in the pictures the difference between the painted ones and the ones yet to be done.



7. Cut a length or ribbon enough to hang with, and knot it at the top. If you haven't made the hole quite big enough you can make it bigger by gently pushing a pencil through the back.


8. Package up into your bags, depending on how many you want per gift.



9. Write your tags (I used a "Homemade with Love" stamp too). Please make sure they know these are not edible!lol!



Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hello, remember me?!

Hi to all my readers :-)

I know it has been a very long time since I last blogged, and it wasn't the intention to leave it so long, but things have been a real struggle for me in the last couple of months, and I'm only starting to feel like myself again with the arrival of the festivities!

We have been through the hardest few months we've ever experienced, and when I thought it was all calming down, everything went up a gear and unfortunately this blog had to come last on my to do list. Not because I wanted it to, I have so desperately wanted to share what is going on but not been able to find the words. The longer I left it, the harder it has been to know what to say - that's ridiculous I know!

So here I am, having written so many posts in my head but not actually written them on here - I have a lot of catching up to do. There are so many things I've done with the intention of having tutorials, fun Christmas projects etc, but I've just not had the time to write it all down. I will do, and it may be too late for this year but they'll be here for next.

I have only just kept my head above the water with everything at home recently, and as much as I hate to admit it, have had a number of emotional breakdowns when it's all gotten too much. Thank you to our friends who are walking with us through everything.

It's amazing how a longer day for Mr Strong, challenging behaviour from one child, teething from another and frustration on my part for not feeling like I'm doing what I should be or want to for our family, can have such an impact on things. I hold my hand up and say my natural reaction is to pull back, re group (I have learned recently how to pray very hard for things, seemingly constantly as there's nothing else I can do) and re assess everything.

For those of you who know me well, know that I love being with people, but that actually being in my own company re fuels me, and I get myself into a bit of a state if I don't have adequate time to just be me.

A number of times I've wanted to pack our bags and leave Norfolk. Not that it would have solved anything but that's how I felt. What I have learned most, which I thought I already had (obviously not!!) is how to wholly rely on God. And I mean WHOLLY, not leave things, try and cope, try and change them, and THEN pray. No, I mean pray, pray, pray and then let's just pray some more - because I have NO idea what is happening, what the plan is, how this is all going to work out, but by praying I know that there is at least the smallest amount of hope left in me somewhere that God has it all in hand.

Someone asked me this week if it was hard having three children. I don't think anyone has ever asked me that. I've had the unending comments from passers by, "You've got your hands full", "Are they all yours!?" and similar attempts at polite humour. Every time I've heard it, it's ground me down just that little bit more - not because I don't love my children abundantly, not because I regret having our family, but just because like many parents, life just sucks sometimes and is just a little more than one person can handle. So my answer to the question was "Yes, it is really hard, but it's ok". It's ok because I am no different to any other parent, whether they have one, two, three or more children. I am tired. I would like to go to the bathroom without an audience. I would like to stop having to tell my children to not jump of the sofa's. I would like to go and buy a new pair of shoes because shoes don't make you feel overweight!lol! I would LOVE to go and sit on the beach and just listen to the waves crashing on the sand, in peace and quiet......

But right now I can't do that, and I am learning that God's plan is so much better, even when it feels like you just want to double check He's not got distracted and left you to make a cup of tea!

Life right now is hard. I am not saying that to receive sympathy, this is just me being honest!

So, as the next few weeks come around, I will be turning 30, Erin will be turning 4 (where did that go!?) and we have the MOST wonderful time of the year approaching! Oh how I am thankful for so many things this year!

Throughout December we'll be having a visit from our Kindness Elves, each day we'll post what we've done. At the end there will be a printable for you to use or adapt if you want to have a go next year. We have made some home made Christmas Tree decorations, I've made my first ever home made chutney and there'll be some biscuits too - all home made gifts with recipes and tutorials.

Christmas is my favourite time of the year - it represents family, spending time together, being thankful and giving generously to others. Most of all, it signifies the birth of Jesus, who has given us life, eternal life for anyone who comes knocking. He never said it would be easy, but it's all worth it to be shaped and refined to become more like Him.

Looking forward to being back!

xxx

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Bigger Picture: Don't Disqualify Yourself




Last night I went to a church meeting where all the churches in our region gathered together. The speaker Maurice was talking about things that had been spoken over the churches 10 years ago, and looking at the bigger picture.

What challenged me the most, and what my mind has been mulling over all morning is how we view the things God has planned for us, specifically how much faith we have in God's plan for us. Maurice talked about how easy it is for us (and others) to disqualify ourselves from God's plan - "I can't do that, I don't know how", "I don't know where I'd find the time" or "That's not really my area, someone else is better at that than me". How often do we talk ourselves out of something before we've really considered it and heard what God has to say on the matter?! I am guilty of this too, I can promise you!

The only qualifications that we need is that God has called us to a mission far bigger than we can imagine. God has chosen us, despite our weaknesses and past failures, because He knows that if we have faith in Him we can achieve anything he sets out for us. What got me most was when Maurice said "God can only take you as far as your faith" - that worried me! If we don't have faith in God, how many chances will we miss out on because we have not been willing to focus on Him rather than our own potential inadequacies.

Maurice also talked about how we can look at the situation and think it impossible because we can't see how we can get through it, and especially when looking at what God is calling you to do. If you look at something and think "Yes, I think I can do this, I can see how I'd be able to achieve it" then you're probably not close to what God wants for you. If you look at something and doubt whether you will be able to do it, maybe even be confident that you think it would be impossible for you, then you are much closer to what God wants!! How challenging is that!! Maurice continued to say that the what God has called you to do, is to be done in faith, and what He has called you to will require doing it with God's help - if you can do it in your own strength what's the point!? Have faith for the bigger things, the bigger picture, the bigger challenge, and get ready to reap a bigger harvest for God.

I sit here this morning, with a couple of things in mind that I feel God has called me to, and a few desires that he has put in my heart and quite frankly I have no idea how they are going to come to fruition. I don't know if I have the capacity. I don't know if I have the skills, natural or spiritual. I don't know where I will find the time. I don't know if it will be a success or a complete failure. And part of me, if I'm honest, wonders if it's really God giving me these callings and desires because they seem quite far fetched considering my starting point. But last night made me look at it from a different angle - if I have faith that God can do anything, if he can set things in motion and lay the way for my next steps, then actually that's all I need, and those are quite amazing things to know!

If all I need to have is faith and trust in God, then maybe I should stop focussing on "how" and start focussing on accepting and identifying the next step. God has already qualified us, that is more than enough!

Have a think about what you feel God has called you to, have you already disqualified yourself before even asking God to help you do it? Have you perhaps lost sight of the bigger picture because you have been focussed on the "I can't" of you current situation. The learning journey along the way is just as important as the end goal. What challenge will you take up today?




Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Coffee Break: Hair loss in pregnancy


Well, after the cookie disaster earlier, I decided I'll have a go tomorrow after a little more research into a better recipe. Instead, I have spent the last hour dying and cutting my hair!

Nothing drastic, but my last home colour was a little more orangey than I had bargained for and as it's approaching autumn I decided it was time (as I usually do this time of year) to go darker!

Other mummy's will know about this - but no one ever tells you pre children about the ridiculous hair loss!! After having Erin I genuinely thought I was losing it due to stress or something and remember having a conversation with my mum about all this hair I was losing. Turns out it's natural as you lose less when pregnant, and therefore it all falls out after pregnancy when your hormones level out - what I didn't know at the time was that your hair recedes slightly and then grows back (or is that just me!?) to leave you with ridiculous looking tufts like you've had a mishap cutting yourself a fringe. Or in the case of myself and a close friend - Monica Geller type "sea hair" with a miniature afro of regrowth all over.

So, I am now third time around experiencing this post pregnancy hair loss - for the last few years, just as the regrowth has got to a length that I can blend into the rest of my hair, I have become pregnant again and the process has started over. So, this evening, in order to disguise (I realise that everyone will now know!lol!) my lengthening regrowth after having Caleb (my third and final!) I have cut myself a fringe.

Thankfully, when I had Erin, there were a number of us at the church we were going to who were pregnant at the same time, and the sigh of relief when we realised we were all experiencing it!lol!!

Anyway, thanks to Asda's current offers, my new hair has cost me a fraction of the price it would in the hairdressers! Living on a budget doesn't have to be so bad!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Kindness Elves Part 1: Elf on the Shelf Alternative




I think I've mentioned about Kindness Elves before? Last year my friend Jess over at Catch A Single Thought wrote about Kindness Elves, an Elf on the Shelf Alternative that had been created by Anna at The Imagination Tree. I thought it was a fantastic idea and knew that it was a tradition that would be fun to do for the children, but looking at the prices of elves (home made, shop-bought and other alternatives) we simply couldn't afford it last year.

It was my intention to look for elves during the summer months when demand of elf products might be slightly less, but I have to confess I had completely forgotten about it until I'd spotted a little book with a fabric elf for sale in Sainsbury's for a mere £5! Result!! So I sent Mr Strong in tout-suite to get us a couple. The books with them were lovely despite only buying them for the elves so I am going to save those for next year as it's a little book to fill in all about your elf!


"This Little Elf of Mine" by Annette Rusling


After much deliberation, we decided we would call our Kindness Elves "Cedar" and "Spruce", something simple that toddlers could say easily but with a little thought behind it. They will arrive at some point in December (yet to be decided) along with a letter from Santa explaining they'll be staying with us until Christmas Eve. Obviously being Christians, there will be an element to it linking in that we are being kind to people and each other (nothing more complicated than that this year as they will be ages, 1, 2 and 3!) - that we are celebrating Jesus' birthday at Christmas, and being kind to others is something Jesus likes us to do.

The letter is almost finished, and the tasks that they will leave for the children to do are decided on so they just need to be designed onto cards (I will provide printables once they are done if you fancy having a go yourselves!). One thing, knowing my children very well, is that they hoard things! My only thought was that it's all very well having these exciting elves but I need to be able to find them once the children are in bed to get ready for the morning!lol!

I had an idea! If the elves came with their own little beds, then the girls could put them to bed somewhere I could find and make life a little easier! So last night, I made them some little sleeping bags out of some tea towels I'd got in my fabric box. I then thought that if they could come in a little bag (like they were coming for a sleepover) that would be quite cute but a little trickier to make. I decided if I could put little handles on for the elves arms, they could wear the sleeping bags as backpacks when they arrive - a stroke on genius even if I do say so myself!lol! The finished sleeping bags were the most exciting thing I think I've made! (I realise I probably shouldn't admit that out loud!)


Just a couple of little touches to complete yet, somewhere they'll have their initial on so we know which elf is which.

If you're not sure what activities to do with your elves, come and take a look at Kindness Elves Part 2!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Coffee Break: Hope




Sorry it's been a bit quiet on the blog - I have been suffering with bird flu (as opposed to man flu!) and having a little pity party for myself! Mr Strong came home from work on Monday saying everyone in his office was sounding a little worse for wear, and they had gradually got worse as the day went on. Well, needless to say, Tuesday morning Mr Strong had it, and I wasn't feeling too bright myself.

Yesterday I felt terrible, the kind of head cold that spans your forehead and eyes so that nothing really seems right, but you keep telling yourself it's just a cold! I could barely put two thoughts together (more than my normal mummy brain I have developed over the last almost 4 years!) and quite frankly couldn't care less whether the house looked like a bomb site or whether I had got anything out for dinner.

Today was the day that Mr Strong HAD to go back to work, so I dosed up and strapped on my battle armour! I would much rather be really ill, than feel completely incapable as a result of what is quite a minor ailment. You feel dreadful but if anyone asks what's wrong how many of us say "oh, it's just a cold" when deep down we feel like we've been hit by a truck.

But it got me thinking - we have just started leading in our youth team at church, and it was also the first week back for our Growth Group (cell group, home group, church in the home etc) but guaranteed it has been the week we have both felt physically rubbish. You can always count on something knocking you down when you have the potential to have a really good week. That sounds really pessimistic I know, and I'm not a negative person (most of the time!lol!) but I really do believe that we can be open to spiritual attack in the smallest ways, that snowball into having a potentially huge affect on how God can use us and our attitude.

Mr Strong and I recently joked, through one of the toughest times we've known, that the "good news factory" wasn't just out of stock of good news, not only was it closed, but it had gone into administration!lol! That's how it has felt at times! And as they say, it never rains, it pours! But the best thing is seeing the impossible come together by having just a little faith - even when things seems like they are just going from bad to worse, it's so important to choose to have hope, to have faith that somehow God will turn the situation around... because He can! A situation is never as bleak as it may sometimes seem, but the key is not shifting your focus away from God, but making sure more than ever that your eyes are firmly planted on Him. Easier said than done, been there, done that, but it's true!

I don't know what you are going through at the moment, I don't know what you have come out of the other side with, but I believe there's a silver lining in almost all situations. Sometimes it might not be obvious, or even visible from the viewpoint you currently have, but don't let your situation take away the hope in your heart. What is even better, is that where there isn't even a glimmer of hope, God can still break into the situation.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Jingle Elf Boot Christmas Stocking Tutorial


 Constant Craft


For those of you who know me well, I LOVE Christmas, in fact that is probably understatement of the century!! When all the shops start stocking the festive products, and everyone else is groaning that it's too soon, my blood pressure is sky rocketing with excitement. No exaggeration!

So, about two months ago, I made these lovely stockings - having bought a few, and being quite OCD, I like things matching, but also found a great pattern to use. I like a challenge, especially one that means I can escape into a project which in theory I should be able to do!

What I didn't realise is that the pattern I bought was made for felt, and so were the instructions... what I wanted was a lined fabric stocking - can't be too difficult to adjust surely!? Well, I spend a couple of evenings trying to get it right, but got there in the end, and I'm SO pleased with them.


I have taken pictures of each stage so that if you would like to have a go at making some, you can print off a tutorial. I reckon if you are just doing them in evenings, you could make one stocking over two evenings. If I was making these all day, I reckon I could have done all five over a whole weekend - it did take me longer as I was trying to work out the best way of doing that but I have done that hard work for you!

They are perfect size for not holding a lot if you are a larger family like ours. They would hold a few small things but wouldn't be wide enough to hold a DVD - if I was making them again I would probably make them double the size if I wanted them purely as large stockings but they are perfect size to hang on a fire place. We only plan to put a small gift in, socks, chocolate and that sort of thing - perfect size for us as everyone gets main presents in their Christmas Sacks.

I had the help of Shani over at The Crafty Giraffe make me the wooden stars to go on each stocking.

You will need McCalls MC299 Christmas Stockings Pattern, enough fabric for your project (it gives details on the back of the pattern - remember to double this if you want to line it like I did), medium weight iron on interfacing (enough for one layer of each side of the boot per stocking), sewing machine ideally, 6 x 20mm bells per stocking, and some toy stuffing filling fibre (the toes of the boots are stuffed so they hold their shape whilst empty). Add some thread, fabric scissors, and iron and an ironing board, creativity and a little patience and voilĂ , you are ready to get started.

The pattern is for a single layer felt stocking - if you want to make a simple one and add bells then that would be just as nice and save you a lot of effort :-) I also plan on making some mini ones using the pattern for Christmas tree decorations but that can wait for another year!



Thursday, 4 September 2014

Pinterest!




Just wanted to share something exciting whilst I'm having a quick break!

You can now follow Constant Heart on Pinterest - Click Here to visit our page!

You'll find all the recipes are pinned there, along with the crafts and any other projects.

COMING SOON... I am currently working on the Jingle Elf Boot Stocking Tutorial which should be up in the next couple of days - plenty of time to have a go before Christmas if you fancy a challenge or are feeling creative!

Here's a sneak peak! Looking forward to sharing it with you :-)


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Smokey Homemade Burgers (or meatballs!)


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul

This is my most recent recipe, and Mr Strong has insisted I put it up because he enjoyed them so much!!

Smokey Homemade Burgers (or meatballs!)

Makes 4 Burgers (or about 12 meatballs!)

Ingredients:

500g Extra Lean Beef Mince (now labelled as Lean in some shops - less than 5% fat)
1 Tbsp Oregano
3 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
1 Tsp Mild Chilli Powder
2 Tbsp Garlic Granules or Powder
1 White Onion (finely chopped)
Black pepper to taste

To Serve: Burger Rolls (cobs as I call them!), salad and home made chips - or whatever you fancy!

Method:
  1. Mix all together in a bowl and make sure you squash all the mince so that it is fairly smooth.
  2. Form into 4 burger shapes* and ideally leave in the fridge for an hour, or until you need them.
  3. Cook until the juices run clear. I tend to cook these in the oven on 180°C (Fan, increase to 200°C if not using a fan oven) on a baking tray in the oven for about 25-30 mins. You could grill or fry them if you prefer.
  4. Serve and enjoy!!
* I have a great burger maker from the Betterware catalogue which I can highly recommend. It is a plastic mould which presses the burgers into the right shape and size!

Note: They are low fat by using extra lean (now labelled as lean in most shops - less than 5% fat mince) and therefore if you are on Slimming World like me then they are syn free. I would recommend not using extra lean mince unless you really want to as I think they would be better with the next mince up (lean - or now labelled reduced fat in some shops - less than 10% fat mince).

Tip: You can also make these into meatballs, which are delicious! These can be made ahead of time, and provided the mince hasn't already been frozen and defrosted, you could make up a batch raw and then freeze, ready to be cooked from frozen on another day. I would suggest that if you cook from frozen you reduce the temperature of the oven to 160°C and cook for another 15 mins or so longer.


Caramelised Cranberry Relish


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


As is my tradition, I bought the Christmas Edition of the Good Food Magazine last year, and found a number of recipes that I can't wait to try! One caught my eye, and I decided to have a go the other weekend.

I was so impressed with how nice it tasted even though it was really quick and easy. Below is the recipe I made, slightly adapted as I couldn't buy the exact amount the original recipe required. Working on the basis that most people only have a heaped dessert spoonful of cranberry sauce I think it would stretch to 10-12 people. I split the quantity in two, one for 4 adults on Christmas Day and one for 5 Adults on Boxing Day. I have put it in the freezer ready for Christmas - one home made thing completed ahead of time that will make a tasty difference on the day.

Caramelised Cranberry Relish

Ingredients:

1 x Large Orange
1 x Small piece of fresh ginger (I used a Thumbnail size piece after guidance from my mum!)
120g Golden Caster Sugar
600g Fresh Cranberries (I would have used frozen if I could find them - they'd probably cost less!)

Method:
  1. Zest the orange and finely shred the ginger, putting to one side.
  2. Juice the orange and tip into a saucepan.
  3. Add the sugar and stir well.
  4. Boil gently until you achieve an amber-orange caramel.
  5. Add the orange zest and the ginger, leaving to cook for a minute or so.
  6. Add the whole, washed cranberries and cook on a high heat.
  7. After about 5 minutes the cranberries should be starting to split but still have their texture.
  8. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes or so until you have a soft but textured sauce.
  9. The sauce will thicken slightly as it cools. Once you have roughly the consistency you want, take it off the heat and allow it to cool.
  10. Once cool either put in the fridge until you need it (the original recipe suggests it will keep for a couple of weeks) or freeze it.
Tip: The original recipe suggests a splash of Port if you fancy it, this is added together with the cranberries.

Homemade Lamb Doner Kebab


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


This is an ABSOLUTE favourite in our house, and since discovering this recipe and tweaking it to make sure it is perfect, we have enjoyed delicious kebabs at home for a fraction of the cost.

Homemade Lamb Doner Kebab

Serves 2 Adults (2 medium sized kebabs)

Ingredients:

425g Fresh (not frozen) Lamb Mince (400 - 500g of mince is fine depending on the packet size you buy)
1 Tsp Dried Oregano
Half Tsp Dried Italian Herbs (Mixed Herbs or Herbs D'Province are fine)
1 Tsp Garlic Powder or Granules
Quarter Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Tsp Salt (Leaving salt out isn't nice - I tried it!)
Half Tsp Ground Black Pepper

To serve: Pitta Bread, Salad and Chips

Method:

  1. Mix all thoroughly by hand in a bowl and shape into a loaf. The more you mix it, and the smoother it is, the more it will taste authentic!
  2. Put into slow cooker for 2 hours on High, no need for oil or anything in the slow cooker.
  3. When it is done the juices will run clear and the outside will be browned slightly. Don't overcook as it will be dry.
  4. Slice thinly, and serve warm.
  5. Enjoy!
Tip: If I have 400g of meat in my slow cooker it takes about 1 hour 45 mins, and it takes a little longer in one of my other slow cooker so they do vary - keep an eye on it and if you have a meat thermometer then this is perfect for checking if it's done. You can also double the quantity as if you are feeding a family this won't go very far. Remember, you do not need to adjust the cooking time if doubling the quantity. I haven't tried it multiplying it any more than double but I'm sure it could be done with a little extra time cooking.

Chicken, Bacon & Leek Casserole (Slow Cooker)


Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


This is really tasty recipe, and is great for a simple and no hassle dinner for guests as well as an everyday family meal.

Chicken, Bacon & Leek Casserole (Slow Cooker)

Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients:
3-4 Skinless Chicken Breasts
25g Butter
Olive Oil
3 Shallots (I used 2 White Onions)
1 Large Leek
2 Cloves of Garlic (Thin sliced)
4 Rashers of Smoked Streaky Bacon (I used Value bacon and it tastes great!)
2 Sprigs of thyme, leaved removed (I just used dried to my taste)
1 Bay Leaf
Salt & Pepper
400ml White Wine
200ml Chicken Stock
Optional: 1 Tablespoon of Cornflour (Thickener)

Method:

  1. Fry the bacon in the oil until it starts going crispy, then add the chicken until it is browned.
  2. Put chicken and bacon into the slow cooker.
  3. In the same frying pan, fry the butter, garlic and onions / shallots until golden.
  4. Mix the onions / shallots, garlic and leek with the chicken and bacon in the slow cooker.
  5. Add the wine, stock, thyme and bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover with the lid and cook on High for 5-6 Hours or Low for 8-10 Hours.
  7. I like to add some cornflour to thicken the sauce and make it creamier. Mix 1 Tablespoon of Cornflour with a little bit of water in a mug to form a thin paste. Add this into the slowcooker and leave to cook with the lid off for a further 10 mins whilst you get the rest of your meal ready. This is optional and is purely preference.
  8. Serve and enjoy!

Note: I have tried this on High and on Low, with and without the cornflour and it tastes just a delicious every time so it is down to you which you choose depending on how much time you have (and if you are like me, what window your toddlers will allow!).

Tip: If you don't have any white wine (I tend to use left overs if we have any!) you can add more stock instead. Either Vegetable or Chicken Stock are absolutely fine. Alternatively you could try white wine vinegar but reduce the amount.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


We have a large Tagine which we get out for special occasions, but I'm sure this could be cooked in a casserole dish or even a slow cooker!

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Serves 4-6 Adult Portions

Ingredients:

1kg Lamb Shoulder (Cubed)
3 Crushed Garlic Cloves
2 Tsp Ras-el-hanout
1 Tsp Ground Ginger
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tsp Ground Coriander
1 Tsp Runny Honey
15 Dried Apricots
1 Tsp Dried Mint
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Paprika
1 Red Pepper
1 Yellow Pepper
2 Onions
440g Chick Peas
1/2 Large Butternut Squash or 1 Small one
400g Couscous
500-800ml Vegetable Stock
Fresh Coriander
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

Method:
  1. Mix all herbs together (except the fresh coriander) in a large bowl including the honey, add some oil to make a paste, and then add the cubed meat.
  2. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes - 1 hour (or overnight if you want to get ahead of the game!).
  3. Cut the peppers and butternut squash into large chunks (make sure you peel and deseed the butternut squash first!) and chop the onions. Cut each apricot into 4, and preheat the oven to 160⁰C (Fan Oven - increase to 180⁰C if you don't have a fan oven).
  4. Put a little water in your tagine and put it in the oven to heat up.
  5. Brown meat in a frying pan, add onions and drained chick peas.
  6. Add meat to tagine and cover with vegetable stock. Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  7. After 1 hour and 30 minutes, give it a stir and add the remaining veg and some fresh coriander. Cook for a further 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  8. Serve with couscous (mixed with chopped fresh coriander) and top the tagine with fresh coriander to serve.
  9. Enjoy!
Tip: If you want to do this in a normal casserole dish that will also work. If you want to do it in the slow cooker I would suggest doing it for 9-10 hours on LOW or 4-5 hours on HIGH.

Breakfast Casserole (Sausage Casserole)


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


A friend made this for us a while ago, and it was so yummy it has become a firm family favourite with a few tweaks of my own! She calls it Sausage Casserole but I like to think of it as Breakfast Casserole because of it's delicious ingredients. Served with mash and veg, and possibly a Yorkshire pudding or two, or jacket potatoes, or even pasta, it's a feast for Kings!

Breakfast Casserole (Sausage Casserole)

Serves 6 (Large Adult Portions) or for a family of 4/5 (two adults and children) this will do two meals.

Ingredients:

16 x Sausages
10-12 x Rashers of Bacon (I used smoked)
3 x 415g tins of Baked Beans
2 x 400g tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 x Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
25g Dark Brown Sugar (Granulated or Sweetener is also fine)
2 Large or 4 Small Chopped White Onions
2 Tsp Garlic Granules or Powder (alternatively 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped would be fine)
Black Pepper to taste

Method:
  1. Cut sausage into small pieces and brown off in frying pan.
  2. Tip into a saucepan.
  3. Repeat with bacon and onions.
  4. Tip into the saucepan and add everything else.
  5. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 mins.
  6. Serve and enjoy!
Tip: If you are stretching this meal you can easily half the amount of bacon but I just like lots of bacon in it! If you are a family of 4 or 5 (two adults and children) then follow the amounts as above, and you will have enough for a meal and half left to freeze for another day. Will happily keep in the freezer for a couple of months.

Slow Cooker Alternative: This can be done in the slow cooker really easily, if you have time to brown everything off do so, if not and your happy with the sausages and bacon being soft, just throw it all in raw and leave it to cook! On Low this takes about 6 hours plus 30 mins - 1 hour on High with the lid off at the end so it can reduce, and on High for about 3 hours plus 1 hour with the lid off again so it can reduce.

Cheesy Beans


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


I'm having a hungry day today! It's nearing payday and therefore the cupboards are starting to look a little bare. I suddenly remembered I hadn't had cheesy beans on toast for ages, something my mum used to do as a quick meal.

This is great for using up left overs, especially for when you've tried to buy a cheaper brand of beans on offer and they taste awful!lol! It is very quick, cheap, uses leftovers and very filling!

Cheesy Beans

Ingredients:

1 x 400g Tin of Baked Beans
1 Teaspoon of Basil
1 Teaspoon of Oregano
Grated Cheese (as much or as little as you like!)

If you don't have basil or oregano, 2 Teaspoons of Mixed Herbs is fine.

Method: (Seems a bit ridiculous really!)
  1. Mix all together in a saucepan and cook over a low heat until all the cheese has melted!
  2. Serve on top of a jacket potato, toast or whatever you fancy!
Tip: Experiment with other herbs - I sometimes add a little garlic and pepper to give it a boost!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Christmas is in the air!




I have been busy with lots of Christmas preparations (I know it's only just September!) but I have a few things to share with you over the next few weeks so stay posted. You have been warned!lol!


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Place of Solace


 Constant Faith


As I sit here, going through what feels like the most difficult circumstances I have found myself dealing with, I have just found solace in the last few evenings in The Twilight Saga. Having finished watching the last film this evening, my mind lingers on things in a different light.

As a Christian, I know there are many who are against these sorts of films, vampires, demons, things that are not healthy to be feeding into your mind. Whilst I truly believe in a supernatural world, one of angels and demonic powers and forces, I do watch this as if I am watching a story. I am comfortable that I am not opening myself up to something that will do me any harm.

I can see the love, for family and friends, the devotion to doing what is right, the willingness to fight for a cause and for the most part, finding a way to fit into a world when you feel like an outsider. Different to others, not being the norm, believing in something because you know it is true having experienced amazing things. Growing up with stories, teachings and personally seeing things happen that you wouldn't dream possible.

We are now, as a family, facing a season in our lives which is incredibly tough. We are making what we know are right decisions to make way for better things in the future. We are tearing down foundations that will not stand strong and rebuilding ones that will be able to withstand the incredible things God has planned for us. Right now, I feel like my brain cannot take any more, I flit from anger at my circumstances, to feeling anxious about the unknown, to feeling complete and utter supernatural peace that God is in control. I'm not going to share what this all relates to because that is on a need to know basis.

What I can share is that I am learning to trust God in a way I have never known. To put aside all my natural tendencies and desires to control and instead fall at God's feet, waiting on Him for something incredible to happen. To persevere, and stand in prayer against things that are not what feels right, to fight for even simple things knowing that justice will prevail, and that God knows every single decision made by every person involved.

My God. Who sends angels to surround us when we are at prayer meetings at our church, who brings words and pictures for others to encourage, direct and bless them. My God. Who has been before me, who knows every hair on my head, who knows my thoughts before they are formed in my head, and who knew me before I was even born. My God. Who can turn every situation around for the good, who can show mercy and grace to anyone who seeks Him, and who guides each step I take whether I know my destination or not.

My God. Who provides me with exactly what I need, when I need it. Who settles my soul, gives me peace, and is my refuge when times are hard. My God. Who doesn't make my life easy at every turn, so that I can grow and mature, and learn how to follow Him no matter what. So that I can see Him at work, and when I can't, He gives me the peace to know that His has already been before me. My God. Who provides the food on the table when we have nothing left at the end of the month, or the fuel in the car when the car is needed for work. Who lights up the darkest of places with a hope that is tangible.

The battle of being a Christian in a world where we are not the norm, where we have to put aside and sometimes fight off the natural tendencies that were given to us in order to live a supernatural life. One that witnesses the power of prayer, that sees breakthrough in tough times, that sees healing, that sees His Holy Spirit at work where to the natural eye you would look straight past.

I am... we are... waiting for our breakthrough, trying to put aside feelings of frustration and despair, and instead hold onto the knowledge that God is in everything with us. The promise that God has it all in hand is one we are not questioning, but when your faith is stretched, it's not gently pulled to a comfortable level, it is pulled to almost breaking point, when you think you can't take any more and then you realise that in Him you can. When you give yourself a good talking to, as my Dad constantly used to say "Just pull yourself together!", stop wasting time fretting and commit it all in prayer once again (even if it's for the hundredth time) knowing that He has heard your heart for every single breath of those prayers.

Being in this world but not of it is a tricky thing. Being able to reach out to people and show them there is so much more to life is amazing, and what is even better, is introducing them to a God that just wants to know them personally, just the way they are. And then He takes us, stretches us, grows us, matures us, and refines us until we are pure and like Him. We might be going through something that we cannot see the reasons for, we might not be able to see the outcome, and we might find it stretching our faith incredibly, but we can assure you that God is at work doing great things. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Dreaming of Green Fingers




Since moving to Norfolk 2 years ago, we have seen our lives change dramatically in many ways. We live in a lovely house, and I still feel like we live in a hotel! It is a new house, and we were the first tenants for our landlord, who is in the armed forces. We moved with very little time to find a house, and this was the last one which would work out in our time scale. The only downside is that is doesn't really have a garden. We have a walled yard, which is covered in gravel and has a few patio slabs - we used to call it our bin enclosure, that's how inspiring it is!lol!

This year we tried to do something with it, and have managed to successfully grow tomatoes, a range of herbs, some mangetout and some sugarsnap peas. Rather unsuccessful were our beans, peppers and strawberries. Earlier in the summer I enquired about the local allotments, finding out the waiting this was terribly long and we could be waiting a few years to get to the top! So, without delay I put our names down, with the dream that we would be allotmenteers in a couple of years once the kids were a little older. I would love to be telling you that we'd be given a plot but it's only been a few months so chances are unlikely. But oh how I have been dreaming of it!lol!

My last 4 years have been focussed on having children - Erin turns 4 in December, Lara turns 3 in March and Caleb will be 1 in October. I love our family, and I love having 3 children, but my life has just been completely engulfed in being a mummy and a home maker. I am craving for a hobby, something that will be worthwhile, something that I can get my teeth into, learn new skills and ultimately pass onto my children. Gardening; the cultivating, the nurturing, the sewing and reaping, up close and with hands dirty, back to the simple things in life. I cannot wait. I know I have a steep learning curve, but I'm really excited that as a family we'll be getting stuck in together!

Now we are debt free (Yay! Another post for another day!) I am looking forward to a fresh start, new beginnings and find myself excited about the future again. Whilst I patiently (Please note, in reality I am not very patient!) wait for our little plot of land I will be gathering together books on gardening, saving up to buy the tools we will need, and researching thrifty and creative ways of doing things in the garden. After all, just because we are now debt free, doesn't mean we stop being wise with our money. I look forward to posting our gardening adventures in the future!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Faith: A Reality



 Constant Faith

Just over 5 years ago was our Wedding Day, a day of promise of a life to come and many adventures ahead of us. Last year, we were blessed with the gift of a son, a brother to our two daughters, and we entered the realms of having three children under the age of three. The last 3 years we have been tackling some debt that has tried to define our lives, but instead we have been transformed. Rather than taking the view that we were missing out on so much (although we did have days like that, don’t get me wrong!) we have found that it has transformed our faith immeasurably. Getting to the last week before payday most months with around £10 (sometimes less) left in the bank account for a family of five to live on has been tough. It has meant that we have relied on our faith in God to not only keep the panic at bay and give us peace that it will all be ok, but the reality of relying on Him to provide the food on the table and the fuel in the car.

Before now, I thought I had a strong faith, one that I could rely on to guide any of my decisions, a faith that gave me guidance and direction when all logical thoughts couldn’t make sense of it all. God gave me pictures and words to help me, and my spirit directed my feelings about everything. When I have conflicting advice or the worlds view doesn’t quite sit right, I can be safe in the knowledge that God has it covered. That He has been before me and set a path for me to walk on. This path isn’t necessarily straight or obstacle free, and it isn’t always clear; but refinement comes from hardship, and maturity comes from experience. From someone who likes to know exactly what, when and how in every aspect possible, I have had to learn that as long as I know where to place my foot next, that is all that is important. What comes from the fog that can sometimes descend in a situation is the blind faith in God that has to be a daily choice. Listening to His direction, bringing all challenges to Him, laying down any worries at His feet and making the choice to do it willingly and faithfully. Sometimes it is easy to make a wise decision. To lay out all the facts and make a justified, well thought out plan, to take advice from a select few you deem wise around you and wait for everything to fall into place without any difficulty. How many times has that been your experience?! It certainly hasn’t been mine, and whilst there have been times like that, I can probably only count them on one hand, two at most.

For me, to romantically describe it as a journey of discovery would be to skim over the heartbreak, the gut wrenching despair, and the complete helplessness I have felt at times. These times have lead to a choice as to whether I let myself sink into despair, as that would be the worldly reaction, or to pull myself out and try and find the silver lining. To focus on the bigger picture, and to believe that there is a purpose to everything. I believe in a God who knows no limits, who can turn everything round for the good, and who wants me to become more and more like Him. That refinement and maturing that is required is not easy, and why should it be? When you are left with absolutely nothing, only then to you realise that you have everything you need – A God who is faithful, a God who is unwavering, a God who is mighty, and awesome and who above all has chosen YOU despite all your faults and failures. He knew us before we were born, He knows every hair on our heads, He knows our innermost thoughts and desires because He crafted us individually with purpose.

If you take one thing from this post, let it be that there is a God out there who knows you better than anyone even if you don’t know Him personally yourself. That He is above everything and is waiting for us to take the time to know Him, learn from Him, trust Him and love Him.

Nothing is beyond my God. And I wholly put my faith in Him wherever that may lead me, and our family because there is no better reason for living, that to be His servant. I cannot take my worldly possessions with me, and although in reality it can make life easier, it cannot bring me the salvation that is what truly transforms our lives, now and forever.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Sewing Station


 Constant Craft


When I first got my sewing machine, I used it whilst working on our very big and beautiful Oak kitchen table. The only problem was that it was difficult to work on when it needed to be cleared every time! I'd like to think we're not the only ones who tend to dump place things on the dining room table that need putting away... and seem to stay there for a number of weeks days!! It is a natural surface to get things out the way, but then seems to become invisible once you've done it!lol!

On Facebook I follow a number of people who have their own businesses making various crafts and handmade things. One of the ladies who makes bags posted a picture of her workshop and I immediately became jealous of such a wonderful space to have everything out and within reach. Now obviously she needs this to run her business but I thought, "That is what I'm missing in my life"! So I searched online to see if anyone else had a space to call their own for sewing, to find a wide range of "sewing station" ideas.

I decided that the best thing would be to get myself a desk I could use as a sewing station - somewhere that was always ready to go, or at least could be if I was in the middle of a project, and could then leave set up until I'd finished days or weeks later. Google image searching "sewing stations" opened up a world of amazing spaces people had created and I most definitely wanted!!

So, a gorgeous new desk or table was needed, with a smooth work surface, some storage space, and of course it had to be a little different and personal to me - could I find something perfect within my very tight budget - most certainly NOT! Back to the drawing board! Upcycling was my only option. Having searched Freegle and Ebay, I came across a desk on Gumtree for £15, and having watched a few things on ebay going for around £25 decided this would be a great compromise, drawers for storage and not too big as to overpower the room.

It was going in our bedroom - the only place we could feasibly keep little hands away from if needed! I had looked at all sorts of furniture with the view that I could paint or get Mr Strong to make changes if needed, if we could get something cheap. Turns out that actually buying a desk that was almost identical in colour laminate to our bedroom furniture, and didn't need any work at all, was the cheapest option!


The laminate on top was slightly damaged but add in one of our old dining chairs it certainly would serve it's purpose. Next job was to find some PVC fabric to cover the top, not only to brighten it up but so that I would have a smooth surface to work on without fear of snagging fabric etc.

After looking online, again thinking that was the cheapest option, I popped down to The Range and found that I could buy fabric to the nearest 10cm that I needed, and also saved paying postage. For less than £3.50 I bought the following and with the assistance of Mr Strong just tacked it in place.



Finally, after looking all over the place for nice but decently priced handles (and choosing some but sending them back!) I got these for £3.30 each. The original ones I ordered were £2.99 each and were very cheaply made, but these are well worth the extra 31p each!!!



So, for less than £30 total, I got myself a wonderful and personalised sewing station when I would have spent far more than that doing up an old piece of furniture!


When I first used it, it was full of all my sewing things but as things have changed and I've had less time to sew recently, it's now full of all our stationery and is much more of a desk. However, it is still perfect when I get my sewing machine out and I still love it! I never did get around to getting a cushion, and every time I sew think to myself "I MUST get that cushion sorted!" as the wooden chair isn't great after an hour or so! Perhaps eventually I'll get myself a nice desk chair - better get hunting!

Have you ever tried upcycling - making something new out of something old, or something that was created for a different purpose! It's great fun, and if you haven't already - find something and have a go! Not only are we sending less to tips and dumps, we are saving money creating something that no one else has! That's got to be a winner!