Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Something that is very useful for every frugal mama to have in her workbox is a "rag bag". It's referred to in the "Little House on The Prairie" story books by Laura Ingalls Wilder several times, because back in our great-great-great grandmothers' day, no one would have ever considered discarding a garment that was worn beyond repair, or a sheet or bed cover that had become too thin to "sides to middle" any more times. Instead, the worn out items would be cut into useable pieces, and reserved to make into quilts, baby garments, patches for repairing other clothes, or to use to create small useful or decorative items around the home. Little girls learned how to patch and quilt by using pieces of fabric from their mothers' rag bags, and it was also a lovely resource for creating dolls clothes, too. As I grew up my mams always had a rag bag, and when I became a wife and mama myself I carried on the tradition. So it is that in our home, I always have a reserve of fabric swatches that I can draw on whenever I need to!
Pictured below, are two little bags that I created using fabric from my rag bag. The main fabric is acutally a pillowcase that I picked up from a charity shop because I liked the cheerful sunflower pattern. I knew it would come in handy! I've put these wee bags in our bathroom (they match the decor in there, which is yellow and white with beechwood trim - it sounds more opulent than it is!) for Little Bear and I to use for "personal items". They're just perfect for keeping everything stashed safely out of sight!
They were extremely simple to make, but I did use a sewing machine. If you don't have one, something like this could easily be done by hand also, although it will take a little longer.
I started by ripping the side seam of the pillow case, and undoing the top hem. The bottom edge I cut, for speed rather than anything else, as I only lost about 1/2 inch fabric by doing this. I then folded the opened pillowcase in half widthways, and cut it in two equal sized pieces.
Having done this, I then took one half and folded it again with the right side facing inwards, so that the fold became the base of the bag. I tacked both side seams, right to the top. Then I stiched these on the sewing machine. With something this symmetrical and simple I did not bother to pin before tacking but I would reccomend this if you are a beginner as it will result in a neater finish. Having done this, I then turned in a hem at the top about 1 1/2 inches deep all the way around the bag, to create a channel for the draw cord, turning under the rough edge about 1/4 inch for neatness. I did pin this, both the rough edge which I tacked, and then again to form the channel, before tacking and then stitching it on the sewing machine. For a garment, I would not use this technique, but I wanted something simple and speedy. To create a channel for an elasticated waistband, I would instead add interfacing, and sew this down before the side seams, using an invisible hemming stitch so that the seam did not show from the right side of the garment. But that's for another time!
To create the draw cord you could use rope, ribbon or whatever else comes to hand. I used some calico fabric that was in the rag bag, to create a long enough draw cord to tie a bow with when pulled through. Again this is really the simplest approach to doing this. To create a more sophisticated version, you could leave the two side seams open at the top, the width you wish the channel for the draw cord to be. This will involve hemming a neat seam down the 2 sides of the channel on either side of the draw cord, before turning it down and proceeding to sew it as above. This means you fetch up with 2 separate channels for 2 drawcords, one on each side of the bag, which creates a more symmetrical look to the bag when it is pulled shut. As I wanted to hang our bags, I decided to use the simpler one cord approach so that the loose ends of the cords could be tied together to make a loop for hanging them.
Having finished the main body of the bag, I then added applique embellishments. I cut hearts from the same main fabric and the calico fabric, with the calico hearts being slightly larger. Onto the top of the 2 layers of hearts I sewed co-ordinating buttons (I squirrel away buttons as well as fabric and wool scraps!), and then tacked these directly onto the front of the bag before stitching down with the sewing machine (in truth you could easily get away with doing this part by hand, as it is a little tricky to do it with the machine, but the bags are quite wide, so I had no real trouble doing it).
And voila, they were done! It took about an hour and a half all told - the second bag is identical to the first, and they are proving to be very handy for us! I really enjoyed making these, and Little Bear was so inspired when she saw them that she's created some more, for her toiletries and other possessions, to keep her bedroom tidy. You can make them as large or small as you like - a sweet friend of mine from Ohio sent us a huge one that she'd created - out of teddy bear fabric. What could be more appropriate, for a bear family? We love it - and she loved making it too!
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Another beautifully balmy day - but with little sunshine. It is lovely to be able to get my laundry dry outside! Watching it blow on our small balcony makes me so happy! Papa Bear has rigged up 2 lines for me to maximise the space we have - it isn't really a balcony, but a walkway with a rail. It's nice to lean on, of a summer evening, and watch the world go by!
It's time for Tuesday's Time To! So here goes ...
A time to plant ... Papa Bear and I have been busy making a list of all the things we need to beg, buy or borrow, to get our "indoor garden" started. It's not going to be very extensive or complicated! We plan to grow chilli peppers (we all eat these, including our birds - did you know that birds don't produce saliva, so they can eat the hottest chillis with no problems! Well that's what I've heard, anyways!), plus basil, cilantro, parsley and carrot and turnip tops (these last for the birds). We thought we'd start small, and see how we go! Our apartment has huge wide windows, so there is plenty of light for plants to grow, but for the time being we will put all the plants in the kitchen where it is easier for me to keep an eye on.
A time to heal ... in our family, we use to suffer a great deal with ecezma (I am sure I haven't spelled that right!) until I changed what we used to wash with in the bath, and switched washing powder to Fairy. This, plus changing from (a much more expensive) fancy facewash to Dove soap, has pretty much eliminated ecezma for us. In fact we are all amazed at how much of a difference these 2 changes have made for us. The culprit? Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS). It is in a lot of products that froth - the ingredients should be listed on the bottle. If you have trouble with ecezma and haven't tried eliminating SLS from your toiletries, I suggest giving it a try - it has definitely worked for us!
A time to laugh ... I don't believe that as Christians, we should be serious and droll all the time. Obviously there are times when we should be solemn and show our reverence - at Church, for example (our Church doesn't encourage chatting, before the service, though afterwards it's welcomed!) or when in the company of people you don't know well, or who are your superiors. But we bears have a great sense of humour, and we love to laugh and joke and have fun - as long as it isn't at anyone else's expense! Smiling is good for you, and a joyful countenance that radiates God's love is a gift you can give anyone, for free.
A time to embrace ... I can remember my mam telling me that she had seen a sign somewhere that said "have you hugged your child today?" It is so important to make sure your children know they are loved. The right sort of love - not love misinterpreted as indulgence, absence of proper discipline or lack of boundaries - is a blessing to them which cherishes and nurtures them and helps them to grow into confident, caring and affectionate adults. I know this, because I made sure I hugged my cubs every day, right from the start (who doesn't want to hug a baby? They are just designed for hugs!) and they have grown up to be just this way - sweet and loving, just like their mama and papa.
A time to keep ... perhaps "save" would be a better word than "keep", this week! Papa Bear increased by half again, our food budget this week. He is such a generous and sensible husband! I am so lucky to have a husband that keeps our pennies so safe and helps us to stay out of debt! (Actually he has asked me to say that I help him too, because it's me that plans our menu - and I do help with his book keeping whenever he needs me to!). But when he handed me this week's money, I asked him if he would mind very much if when we did the supermarket shop, there was money left over. He said of course not - it would be wasteful to spend it just for the sake of it, and he trusts me to make wise decisions with the money and not to spend it carelessly just because I could - and then he said that it would be a wonderful thing if there was any left over, becuase he had a grand plan for it! He told me what it was, too! But I am not going to share just yet ... we'll wait and see what happens! I am a little bit excited about what he told me ... actually quite a LOT excited! But we must wait and see how much the bill at the supermarket is! He he! If there is any money left over, we will keep it to go towards our grand plan! All shall be revealed in good time!
A time to sew ... we've not ordered the 2 dress patterns or fabric that Papa Bear has picked out for me, just yet. Until the warmer weather comes, there is no point, because for at least another 3 months I shall be wearing the clothes I already have. We don't buy new clothes unless we actually need them. I keep the ones we do have, going nicely by doing repairs on them, when hems come down or holes appear. I also replace buttons - and in fact this is one great and inexpensive way to revamp garments, when you're starting to feel (as does often happen at this time of year) a little tired of wearing the same old things! You can pick up buttons for a few pennies each in most haberdashery shops, or for even less, in charity shops (sometimes a mixture of buttons looks great!). We have a button box where all the odd buttons go. It use to be a great source of entertainment for the cubs when they were wee (and quite educational, too, as we use to count them, sort them, divide them and such, without them ever realising they were learning!).
A time to speak ... last week Cubby had a BIG "time to speak" when he had to give a presentation for part of his college course (both the cubs attend the same college. In our country it is more common for young people to attend a college hundreds of miles away from home. Not for ours! They have both stayed right here at home with us - aren't we lucky! I am so proud and glad that they both decided they'd rather be here with us than go somewhere else and be among strangers). He was sooo worried about it, and worked really hard, staying up all hours and going to the library every day. And it paid off (what a wonderful lesson for him to learn) - he got a First, the highest mark awarded. Way to go, Cubs! We think you're GREAT!
A time to love ... as always, my family! I am so proud of them, and so happy to be the one that gets to take care of them all. I love them, and I love my life, taking care of them. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing, and I know that even when the cubs are grown and have families of their own, they'll never be too far away from us, and we'll have another generation of sweet bears to love and cherish!
A time of peace ... although the main focus of Lent is about regeneration and renewal, casting off old, bad habits and adopting new ones, to me it is also a time of peace - the calm before the storm - as we use this time before Passiontide to reflect on our lives, and the ways in which we can grow as God's servants. For me it is always a time when I want to spend more time meditating over God's word, and this in itself, brings great peace. I feel as if I am closer to Him now, than at any other time (for us, Easter is a far greater feast time than Christmas is, though we don't celebrate it anything like as openly as we do that festival). I think the rest of the family feels this way too - I heard Cubby playing praise music on his guitar again recently, and Papa Bear, who has never been a great reader of the Bible (he has dyslexia which makes reading anything quite effortful) has been doing Bible study with me, these last 3 days, which has been so beautiful. That is most definitely the most peaceful time of the day! And the most precious too.
Monday, 27 February 2012
In our wee apartment, the kitchen is most definitely the heart of our home, which is one reason why you'll find lots of heart-themed items in it - like that sweet bread board! I really do enjoy cooking - yes, I LOVE cooking. Truely I do. I love trying out new recipes, and I love seeing my family and friends enjoy what I have created. And it's important to me that my family experiences that love, every time they step into the kitchen. I want it to be a warm, nurturing place, peaceful and welcoming. And this week it certainly has been! I've turned our kitchen into a real production line! I've been busy home making as many different staples as I can. From scratch this week already I've made ...
I'm not sure that it is necessarily cheaper to make any of these things from scratch, although it certainly isn't more expensive than buying them ready made. My main motivation in making them myself, apart from the enjoyment in doing it and the satisfaction when you see the results of your hard work (I was so thrilled with the yogurt, my very first attempt, that the cubs wondered what on earth was going on as I skipped about the kitchen in delight! I was so happy to see that it had set!), is that you know exactly what is in it - and that tends to be, only wholesome, good-for-you ingredients. And that has to be worth the effort! I'm not at all into cranky specialist diets, but on the other hand, if I can make something myself (and perhaps save a little money in doing so) then I know exactly what my family are eating, and that the nutrition they are receiving is as good as it can be, without having to invest in expensive supplements and special foodstuffs.
The yogurt, as I say, was such a successful enterprise that I think I'll make it this way for always from now on! In fact once you've invested in the small bit of kit you need to make your own yogurt, I'd say it is cheaper to do it yourself than to buy it ready made. During Lent, we tend not to eat fancy desserts, so yogurt makes a simple alternative, during these weeks.
All you need to make your own yogurt, is a reasonably large bowl, a candy thermometer, a saucepan and something to wrap the bowl in while the yogurt sets. You will probably also need to some containers to keep the yogurt in once it's ready to go into the refrigerator. You'll also need about 2 pints (roughly one quart, or, as I measured it, 4 cups) of milk, and a small pot of live yogurt (this is important - check that it is proper, live yogurt, as this is the "starter" that you'll use for this first batch of yogurt).
Start off by making sure all the equipment you're going to use is scrupulously clean - I sterilised mine with some anti-bac spray and then rinsed it well in hot water.
Next measure out a quart of milk into a saucepan. Put your candy thermometer in the pan, and then heat the milk to "sterilise" - about 160 F. You'll know when it is scalded because it will be just coming to the boil - remove it just as it begins to bubble.
Add to it immediately 1/2 cup dried skimmed milk (apparently this isn't strictly necessary, but it does add body to the yogurt. I have only made it once so far, so I don't know how it would work without the dried milk).
Now pour it into a large bowl (not metal), stir well to dissolve the dried milk and allow it to cool to 110 F. This will take a while - for me, about 30 minutes. Keep checking so you know exactly when it hits 110.
Next add the live yogurt "starter" - about 1/4 cup. Some recipes suggest more than this but as I say, this is my first attempt, so I can't say how it will turn out if you alter the amount. Stir well.
Cover the bowl tightly with cling film, or a large plate.
Now wrap firmly in a heavy blanket or other insulating material. I used bubblewrap! We always have lots of bubblewrap - Papa Bear brings it home from work for us! It has a million uses - one being that it is great for keeping hot things hot and cold things cold, so it is really useful for transporting food to picnics, potlucks etc. I then covered the bowl over with a light blanket.
Now place your bowl somewhere in your home which is warm and draught free - either your airing cupboard, on top of your fridge, even in the oven (pre-warmed, but switched off. I didn't use the oven because the yogurt needs about 12 - 24 hours to set, during which time I would have had to use the oven to cook meals in, which would have meant having to remove the yogurt). I put the yogurt in our airing cupboard.
Now leave it to set - you can check after 12 hours, but I left ours for 24. I wanted it to be really set and sour, as that is how we prefer the taste of yogurt (I tend to use it as a condiment or for a sauce, or to add to baked items).
When it is done, it needs to be decanted into suitable containers, and kept in the fridge. Reserve another 1/4 cupful, for your next batch of yogurt - which will be truely home made!
If you want to make some cream cheese with your yogurt, all you need to do is strain some through a fine, clean cloth (I used a muslin square which came with some face wash I was given for Christmas). Simply secure the cloth over a bowl using an elastic band, then put some of the yogurt you've made on the cloth. Cover with a piece of cling film to avoid it taking on flavours from other foods in your fridge. Leave it to drain through the cloth for about 12 hours. What is left in the bowl is whey - which apparently you can use to soak grains in, or make into a drink. Papa Bear did not like the look of that, so I'm afraid to say I discarded it. The yogurt on the cloth, I took and whipped with a little double cream to loosen it. Then I added some dried herbs and a tiny dash of garlic powder, to make cream cheese! It should be kept in a sealed container in the fridge. Ours didn't stay IN the fridge long enough for me to take a photograph of it!
The bread I baked in my breadmaker, which means very little effort was involved. My family have sometimes been rather unenthusiastic about home baked bread, partly because it often has rather a "heavy" texture compared to bought bread - this is especially so whenever we've tried sourdough, which Papa Bear and the cubs really are not keen on. But this time I tried a different flour - a malted grain with rye, barley and wheat in it, to which I added about 1/3 cup of mixed seed (not donated by the birds, I hasten to add!). It came out wonderful! A nice light loaf, with lots of crunch and a pleasant, very slightly sweet taste. Everyone declared it was the best I've ever baked, so I am happy to take on baking loaves again all the time now. It isn't cheaper than buying them ready made (we get through about 4 loaves a week, and rolls also) but they are fresher (I get all the bread at the supermarket, to last all week, which means by Thursday, the loaves that are left aren't all that fresh. We don't have room to keep bread in our freezer). I decided for these reasons that I should try baking our own bread again and I'll persevere with different techniques and recipes until I can find one that's perfect. I have some more to try over the next few weeks - so hopefully we'll all have a favourite loaf soon! For the bread pictured above, I simply followed the basic white bread recipe that came with the breadmaker, and it is the flour, rather than the recipe that made this come out so well (the gap in the loaf you can see there, is the hole that the paddle from the bread pan left - the crumb is actually quite dense).
I've been making my own granola for years. Everyone loves it and I vary the ingredients a little each time I do it, so that no one ever gets bored.
A simple granola base consists of ...
1. 10 cups oats (not quick cooking).
2. 1 cup oil (I use Crisp'n'Dry).
3. 1 cup honey, apple or orange concentrate or maple syrup (I usually use honey. If you choose maple syrup, it seems to dry out faster in the slow cooker than the others do, so if you use this keep an eye on it, because it can take on a bitter taste if overcooked - it may only need 5 hours or so on low before it is ready, compared with 7 for the others).
4. 1/2 cup flaked almonds.
5. 1/2 cup shredded coconut.
6. 3 teaspoons vanilla essence.
7. 3 teaspoons almond essence (optional, but especially nice if you use honey).
8. About 4 teaspoons cinnamon (I use more than this as we all love cinnamon!).
9. 1/4 cup sesame seed (optional).
Get your slow cooker and switch it onto high to warm up.
Measure out the ingredients in the order I've given them - the oil will make it easier to pour out the honey, concentrate or syrup if you measure the oil first.
Stir everything well, then turn the slow cooker to low (if you have only one setting on your slow cooker, don't worry - just keep checking the granola every hour or so until it is cooked).
Cover but leave the lid slightly askew so that it is not sealed (if you cover completely, then you will fetch up with sticky porridge, not granola, because the atmosphere in the slow cooker will be too damp for it to dry out properly). I use a wooden spoon propped across the side of the slow cooker, at the edge, so that the lid doesn't quite fit.
On low it will take about 7 hours to cook. It won't be crisp at this stage, but will be a darker colour.
After it has got dark and the house smells beautiful (like Christmas!) your granola is ready to dry out.
Take a tray or large baking sheet and a large sheet of greaseproof paper or foil. Spread across the tray or baking sheet, and then turn the granola out onto this and spread it out to allow it to crisp up. It will do this as it cools.
Once it is cool, you can add embellishments to it such as dried fruit, nuts, seeds, chocolate chips etc. Don't add any of these to it before it has cooled or they will overcook and spoil. Our favourites are - mixed dried cherries and berries with honey, dried apple, chopped hazelnuts and sultanas with apple concentrate, dark chocolate covered orange pieces, dried cranberries and chocolate chips with orange concentrate (nice at holiday time) and chopped pecans and sultanas with sesame seed and maple syrup.
Now place in a suitable container and it is ready to eat!
Finally, butter! I've already talked about how you can make simple butter with your children by putting some cream into a glass jar and shaking it. This of course isn't quite how real butter is made though. It's butter, but it will be very dilute as all the buttermilk and water has not been extracted. To make real butter suitable for regular eating and cooking, you need to add a couple of extra stages into the recipe which take care of this. It's actually not as labour intensive as the simple method though, because no shaking is involved, so don't be afraid to try it - it really didn't take long at all and this is one home made item that, if you buy the better quality butters, will save you money - the big pot of cream I bought cost £1.64, and would make about 300g butter, whereas that amount of the brand we usually buy (which isn't one of the cheaper ones, I'll admit) costs quite a few pennies than this.
You'll need -
Double cream (I used about 400 mls, to finish with about 200 g butter). It needs to be at room temperature before you start, so remove from the fridge well beforehand.
Salt (to add as flavour afterwards, optional).
Place the cream in a large bowl and whisk it (I really wouldn't do this by hand or you'd fetch up with a very tired arm!). If you have a food processor with a balloon whisk attachment, use this. Keep whisking and you will go past the whipped cream stage. It will turn colour to pale yellow, become fluffy, then pop-corn like, and small blobs of butter will start to form. Carry on until the blobs get bigger, and it looks as if you are creaming it to make a cake. By now there will be buttermilk left - drain this off and use for cooking.
Now rinse the butter. This stage is important because there must be no moisture left in the butter or it will go rancid very fast. You may need to rinse it many times over - you must keep going until the water runs clear. Add about 1/2 cup very cold water each time, whisk a little, and then drain. Repeat as required. I found this took less time than I expected - I rinsed about 6 times.
Next comes squeezing and shaping the butter. Back in the day wooden paddles were used to shape the butter (my mams still has some, but I didn't borrow them for this!). I used a wire seive and a spoon. I squished the butter against the sieve until no more water came out. If you want, you can salt it a little for flavour as you go (about 1/2 teaspoon). When the butter is completely dry, shape it into a roll or pat, and refrigerate it.
If you want to, you can freeze home made butter, but if so don't add the salt until you are ready to eat it. Freezing intensifies its saltiness, apparently. I wrapped mine in greaseproof paper, then foil, and put it in the fridge.
Now all I need to be a true Dairy Queen, is my own cow!
Sunday, 26 February 2012
We walked to Church today as it was so beautiful. The sun was shining brightly and although there are not yet any leaves on the trees, it really did feel as if spring has arrived. Papa Bear and I were Sidespersons today (that means, we help with the collection) so we were home a little later than usual. For dinner (lunch - we call our evening meal "tea") we had sandwiches made with the new bread I baked yesterday. More about that tomorrow! We also had some of the yogurt I made, with apples and maple syrup, which was scrumptious (I adore the taste of maple syrup, which in England is a great indulgence as a wee glass bottle of it is very expensive). Tomorrow I'm going to make granola and butter! I have been thinking about posting up our whole menu, not just our evening meal, but I am not absolutely sure whether it would be better to do this as a stand-alone page, a regular post, or a gadjet in the sidebar. Papa Bear will help me with this, today!
Up above is a sweet film with a beautiful message - do watch if you have time. It's suitable for all ages. I was inspired to find this on YouTube after noticing all the trees as we walked to Church. It fascinates me that they may be hundreds of years old - imagine the sights that may have passed them by, over the generations!
Here are the words of one of the hymns we had this morning at Church - which I think are so beautiful, they are like a poem or even a psalm. Having typed it out now, I think I shall print it too, and put it on the wall in the kitchen.
Be thou my guardian and my guide,
and hear me when I call;
let not my slippery footsteps slide,
and hold me lest I fall.
The world, the flesh, and Satan dwell
around the path I tread;
Oh save me from the snares of hell,
thou Quickener of the dead.
And if I tempted am to sin,
and outward things are strong,
do thou, Oh Lord, keep watch within,
and save my soul from wrong.
Still let me ever watch and pray,
and feel that I am frail;
that if the tempter cross my way,
yet he may not prevail.
Saturday, 25 February 2012
Source for this picture here.
Spring has sprung! The weather here the last few days has been beautiful. Today Papa Bear and I went for a walk through the park, and it was so lovely to hear all the different birdsong, and feel the sun on our faces. Of course, it is not properly warm yet, and the early mornings and evenings are still very chilly, but during the day the air feels light and fresh and the sunlight is a very welcome sight. Everywhere small buds - aconites, crocuses, hyacynths and snowdrops, are unfurling their beautiful petals and furnishing the ground with splashes of spring colour. It was truely so lovely today we didn't want to go back indoors! But back we did go - and here am I, busily typing away again finishing off this post which I started to write 2 or 3 days ago now! Papa Bear is sitting beside me and we are enjoying the lovely music of the concert violinist, Andre Rieu, who is on the TV performing a concert in South Africa. I really enjoy watching his concerts - the costumes and settings are always so beautiful! And the music is really wonderful to listen to. Papa Bear has already had me waltzing around the living room tonight!
Little Bear asked me a question the other day which has really had me thinking. As always with children, the question came when I was least expecting it - while we were preparing the tea together! She asked me:-
"If people think it's OK for women to wear trousers, why isn't it OK for men to wear skirts?"
I must admit, I was pretty much lost for words when she asked me this! It's not something I've ever even thought of. For one thing, in our culture women traditionally don't wear trousers - we wear skirts that cover our knees and which are loose enough to hide the shape of our bodies. The influence of popular Western culture and the dissolving of our traditions as our people become more integrated into society has meant that a lot of girls do now wear trousers, but Little Bear and I do not. But this was a question that I'd never considered before - and it inspired some very interesting conversation!
The Bible specifically tells us what God's commands for men and women regarding dress are. We're meant to look different - because we are different. In the Old Testament we are told quite clearly that women must not wear men's clothing, and men must not wear women's:-
"The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God". (Deuteronomy 22, 5).
And this is expanded upon in the New Testament, in Timothy 2, verses 9-10, where we're told specifically that women are to dress modestly ...
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works".
And Paul, writing in Titus, takes this even further:
"The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed". (Titus 2, 3 - 5).
The reason for this emphasis on appearance is not just to command that we are physically different from people who are not Christians - so that we stand out among them as beacons for Christ - by having apparel that identifies us as having certain character qualities; modesty, humility, meekness, gentleness, that are attributable to our Christian faith, but also that our beauty, our Godliness, must be internal; our outward appearance should not be showy, or over-adorned because our true beauty comes from our behaviour, not our appearance.
So what has happened - and why has it only happened to women?
It is only as recently as the 1960's that wearing trousers began to be acceptable for women. Before then, they were worn by women as work clothes, but as most women did not work outside the home - especially after marriage - this was not common practice, and they were seen very much as a means to an end - like a tool, with which to enable them to do a job properly. It is this fact, that they were primarily worn to enable women to carry out their work, which is at the root of the question that Little Bear asked me. Men don't wear skirts, because they are not practical for working outside the home in.
But there's more to it than that. The fact that wearing trousers was not considered socially acceptable except for women who were working (which in turn, was also not considered socially acceptable before the "women's lib" movement of the 1960's) doesn't explain why it still isn't socially acceptable for men to wear skirts - since women wear skirts, and nowadays, many women also work.
To me, this is about something far more fundamental. The idea of a man wearing a skirt is something that even the most liberal of egalitarians would probably feel uncomfortable with. It is symbolic of an extreme blurring of the boundaries between the physical identities of men and women that seems, even to the most modern of minds, to be inappropriate. Most men would feel very embarrased if they were to go out in public wearing a skirt, and they would certainly recieve derision and mockery in a way that most women don't if they go outside wearing trousers. When men do dress up publicly in women's clothes, it is usually seen as a comical, mocking attempt to satirise women, a sort of performing act, like a pantomime dame. No one would take seriously a man who turned up for work, dressed in a skirt.
But does this not contradict the arguments that are made by feminist and equal rights groups, that say that men and women should be treated the same because they are the same? To me it seems that it does. Obviously, the fact that it is socially acceptable for a woman to wear trousers, but not for a man to wear a skirt, suggests that beneath the loudly trumpeted theories and beliefs, even the egalitarians know that fundamentally men and women are NOT the same. And to my mind, that's because at the root of this, they don't really seem to want equal rights for everyone. Put another way, if trousers are practical garments for work, and skirts aren't, and it isn't socially acceptable therefore for men to wear them, then doesn't it follow that work is still considered by most people to be a principally male activity? And furthermore that skirts are the perfect uniform for working IN the home in - which is what women are called to do?
Despite all the claims and postulations of libertarian theories about the rights of women, they do not seem to have been able to address this issue, which suggests to me that what they want cannot be equal rights. To me, instead, it's about having more rights for women, than there are for men. Men, the libertarians seem to believe, have got it all already. They don't need to have anyone fighting their corner, because they've got everything that women supposedly want - they can work, be financially independent, have no home or caring responsibilities, make decisions, be in charge. Why should anyone want to change that? What they want is for women to BE men. They don't want anyone to wear the skirt!
How tragic it is that God's beautifully ordered plan for all of us seems to have gone so awry. In a world where men and women can have their bodies mutilated by surgeons to make them look as if they were born of the other gender, and where children are being brought up to be "gender neutral" because their parents erroneously believe this will buy them "more freedom to express themselves", the true worth of our God-given natures has become distorted into an ugly parody of ourselves. Men seem to want to be women because they think that is the only way they can express the gentler side of their personalities. Women seem to want to be men because they think it will be more fulfilling if they don't stay at home to care for their children, and they want to have a turn at being the boss. And everyone thinks they'll be happier this way. In our fallen world, pursuing happiness is lauded over any other goal. As long as we're all happy, who cares what we have to do to achieve it?
The answer to true happiness doesn't lie in us assuming the appearance or behaviour of the opposite sex. It lies in us discovering, in all its wonder and glory, the potential that we have, as the people God has created us to be. It lies in us striving to reach this potential through serving Him, and through fulfilling the roles that are His will for us. We can only know true joy if we are living out God's plan, and only through prayer and dutiful study of the Scriptures, can we know what this plan is. It's a lifelong journey, but every step of the way is a new discovery, and if we trust in our Father God as we walk the path He has laid out for us, we shall never stumble far away from Him, no matter how rough and rocky that path may be.
Let's adorn ourselves with garments that shout out our high calling, and make ourselves beacons for Christ. God knows what is in our hearts - let that passion and joy shine out and inspire those around us. And let us never forget that, both as men and as women,
... "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them". (Ephesians 2, 10)
Friday, 24 February 2012
Today's Frugal Friday is all about how to look good on a budget!
In our secular, fallen world, where the focus is on material things rather than spiritual ones, being beautiful has become an idol that everyone, it seems, from infancy upwards, is expected to pursue at any cost. The beauty industry is a multi-million pound business, even discounting the huge sums spent on plastic surgery, as people search ever further for the perfect face and body. As Christian women, of course we know that the pursuit of beauty for its own sake is not part of God's plan for us. When a woman focuses more on what her outward appearance is, than on the condition of her heart, she has her priorities very wrong. Unfortunately, the world we live in now isn't geared up for putting spiritual beauty before physical good looks, but when we have God at the centre of our lives, what the world thinks becomes much less important than what the news stands, televisions or department stores are telling us.
However, it is also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because we should not make an idol out of our outward appearance, in order to please God, we should make a point of paying little attention to it. But this attitude is mistaken also. It DOES matter what we look like - not just for our own sake but, more importantly, for the benefit of our husbands, and our families - and for the world at large. As His children, placed in this fallen world, God wants us to pay attention to our outward appearance. What we shouldn't be doing, is spending lots of time and money on our looks. But we can - and should - be making an effort to take care of our appearance, and our outward well being, because it has many positive benefits.
Not only do we feel better, when we take care of our appearance, but we also behave better. You only have to take a look around you to see how easily we make value judgements based on appearance. While it is certainly vanity to prefer some people over others based on how well-dressed or physically beautiful they are, it is also sensible to make other reasoned value judgements. If we don't know who the store assistants are when we are out shopping, we can't ask for help when we need it. Likewise with clergy, policemen, doctors, judges ... the list is endless. They are clothed in a particular way, to make their roles and positions in society easily identifiable. And so it must be for us! As Christian wives and mothers, we need to be identifiable too ... as servants of God! It isn't enough to think "well, I don't have a job, so I don't need a uniform." We DO have a job - a very important one! And our uniform should be one of simple modest beauty, that inspires respect - and from our husbands, adoration!
There are three strands to looking good, but spending less, that I'm going to consider today. The first is a healthy diet. Everyone knows what they need to do to have a healthy diet. These days, the advice is all around us. The trouble is, that advice isn't always the same - and it isn't always grounded in commonsense! I personally believe that anything gimmicky or cranky or difficult to implement in an ordinary family lifestyle, is a waste of time and money. We don't need to spend our money on supplements, tablets or specialist foods. God has provided us with everything we need to live well - and it is easily available. Moderation is the key. Aside from food allergies, I don't think there is any value in eating a very restricted diet, or one that has an overemphasis on only certain food groups, or on combining certain foods, or preparing them in a special way. Everything is good for us - it is just the quantities that we need to watch. And we can eat quite simply and cheaply, and still be well. It's easy to find the basics for a wholesome diet that will make you feel and look good in your supermarket without spending lots of money. Wholegrain breads, pasta, flour, and rice are cheap and form the basis for many different meals. Add to these some other grains such as lentils, pulses, vegetables, a little meat and fish, and some cheese, eggs and milk, along with fruit and a little fat in the form of butter or oil and you have all that you need for a balanced diet. Nuts and dried fruits are nutritious treats, and water is the cheapest drink of all! Whilst it's true a diet formed only of these foodstuffs won't be very exciting, if you use these basics as the foundation for most of your meals, you can't go far wrong. Furthermore, wholegrain, simple foods like these will leave you feeling fuller for longer, so you'll eat less and won't crave unhealthy, junk food snacks between meals - which is better for you, and your bank balance.
The diet that I provide for my family is based on a balance of these simple wholesome ingredients, with enough calories to keep Papa Bear (whose job involves a great amount of hard physical labour) and Cubby and Little Bear (who are growing teenagers) going all day long. I don't need all these extra calories, but rather than cook separate foods for myself, I simply reduce the portion sizes of the more calorific foods, and increase the amount of fruit, vegetables and other lower calorie items, to compensate. That way we can eat a balanced, but enjoyable diet, which to my mind is exactly what God planned for us.
There are a few books that I can recommend that will assist in helping you to plan a healthy, frugal diet - I've read them and found them all to be inspiring, although I have not used any one single meal plan in exclusion. They are all available through Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com, either new or second hand ...
The 15 Minute Meal Planner, by Emilie Barnes and Sue Gregg
Greater Health God's Way, by Stormie Omartian
The Fast Food Kitchen, by Sherri Torelli
Of course, we can't be fit and healthy without getting some exercise as well. All of us need to be physically active - enough to make our heart rate rise - for about 30 minutes a day. And this is where real savings can be made financially, because to my mind the best sort of exercise is free! As I said above, Papa Bear's job means he is physically active for many hours a day. He doesn't need to work out, go swimming or cycling, play tennis or run marathons, to stay fit. He does it naturally in his work. The cubs are the same - they get plenty of exercise just through their natural daily activities at home and at college. And I get my exercise, through my daily work at home! Yes, really! I make sure I keep physically active every day through just doing my usual chores. I aim to be so busy physically each day, that I am too tired to do anything else except sleep, by the time bedtime arrives. Obviously, my chores aren't as demanding on me as Papa Bear's work is, so therefore, I don't need to sustain myself with so much food. I simply eat a little less, and that way I stay fit and active without spending any money - in fact, I save it, by eating less and keeping busy at home with my chores instead of going out and indulging in leisure activities like shopping, going to the beautician or hairdresser, or the gym. On Papa Bear's days off and at weekends, we like to go for walks, which again cost nothing. In the summer, we may go a bit further afield, and visit the beach or the countryside, and again, we simply walk until we can't go any further! We don't need to pay for gym subscriptions or exercise equipment for our home. We get all the exercise we need, just as our ancestors did, for free, through our work.
The final strand of looking good on a budget, is about hair, make up and clothes. And this is where a lot of us get into a bit of a muddle. We either seem to think we shouldn't spend anything at all, or we get overwhelmed by the vast array of choices there are to be made in the stores, and fetch up with far too much, rather than not enough. A balance is needed, and I personally have found that the easiest way to achieve this is to defer to my precious husband about this issue. I've asked Papa Bear for his guidance on how much make up he would have me wear, how he likes me to have my hair, which clothes he prefers to see me in, and what his favourite perfumes, accessories and adornments are. And he has been delighted to help me! It has been a wonderful, bonding experience for us to share. We both really enjoy going shopping together for clothes and shoes for me, and I get very excited when he arrives home, as he often does, with a wee surprise for me, which turns out to be a sweet neck scarf, or a new hair trimming! However, he doesn't spend lots of money. We have a tight budget for things like new clothes and accessories. And as we don't have much space in our home for storage, it makes sense not to have too many items. How we stay on top of this, is as follows ...
1. We only shop for clothes and shoes when we need them, as opposed to wanting them (unless it is as a gift for a birthday or holiday occasion).
2. When we do shop, we have a budget and stick to it (I find using cash is always the best way to help you stick to a budget. You can't spend more than you've got, if you only use cash rather than a debit or credit card).
3. We always look first in thrift shops, or at whether the required item can be made, before we buy new. We aren't quite as good yet as Jim and Michelle Duggar who "buy used and save the difference", because we don't always HAVE the "difference" to save! But we use the same principle - if you don't have to buy it new, then don't.
4. The exception to this is shoes. We only ever buy shoes that are previously unworn. Worn second hand shoes are moulded to the foot of the previous wearer and you can be sure that even if they are in good condition they will not fit your foot as they did that person, and they will therefore be likely to cause problems like blisters and calluses. This is especially important for children - even brothers and sisters. Wellington boots maybe, but not everyday shoes. And anyway, could you really wear shoes that someone else had worn? I'm not sure I could! We tend to go to Shoe Zone for all our family footwear. There is plenty of choice, they are reasonably hardwearing, and they are mostly under £15 a pair (well below half the price of the more upmarket stores).
5. As we do, check out the childrens' department for clothing and shoes if you or your grown up children are smaller than average. They usually go up to age 16, so even if you aren't really tiny, you may be surprised to find that you can find many garments that will fit for considerably less than the adult sizes (at least in England, where VAT isn't charged on childrenswear). For girls there is an added bonus that oftentimes the styles are more modest and feminine, than the adult garments.
6. Items like jewellery, perfume, and special occasion wear are luxuries. We tend to only ever buy these as gifts.
7. Most every woman has too much make ups. It is probably the greatest clutter causer, in our bedroom! What with the toiletries, hair products and so forth, you can fetch up being drowned in them! Try to pare down your products so that you have a simple selection - perhaps 2 lipsticks, 4 eyeshadows, a mascara and an eyeliner. These are very easy to buy cheaply. Buying expensive make ups, hair and body products and perfumes, again is a luxury and they are usually no better in terms of how well they perform when you use them, than cheaper versions. ELF is a great cosmetics website which sells very good value make ups, if you like to buy online. For luxury products, why not save your money and ask for your favourite Estee Lauder (I always do!) for your birthday. Hair products are a particular waste of money. The more expensive ones come with all sorts of promises to mend your split ends, grow your hair faster, change its texture and enhance its colour, but these are all false promises designed to get you to part with your money. Stick to cheaper ones and you won't notice any difference (however I do have to say that in the past when we've had to be REALLY frugal, I have discovered through personal experience that the very cheapest ones aren't worth the money either!).
8. Make sure you use up all your products. Most of them are packaged in such a way that you think they are finished before they really are. Cut tubes and bottles in half if you can (as I've mentioned before the exception to this is shared items like toothpaste, which is unhygienic if used in this way). Make up has a shelf life, so don't be too frugal with it - the natural bacterias that get into it aren't good for your skin and eyes if they're allowed to sit around for too long.
9. A tin or tub of basic, original Vaseline, will go a long way on a dressing table! It is very cheap to buy but can be used as a moisturiser (in tiny amounts, as it is very rich indeed), as a hand cream (try rubbing it into your fingernails to soften cuticles) and as a lip gloss! You can even try mixing it with your lipstick to make a sheer gloss, and it can also be used in this way (again in tiny amounts) to stretch creme eye shadows or foundation (which I really don't like so never use!).
10. Don't waste your money on expensive make up removers. A friend suggested I try baby oil instead, and I am a complete convert now! It is brilliant at removing eye make up, and very gentle on your skin, even around the eyes. I also use it as a light facial moisturiser.
11. Again, the simpler products are best in the bath and to wash your face with. You really don't need to spend lots to get products which do the job perfectly well. I use Dove soap, just ordinary bar soap, for my face. It costs under £1 a bar, and lasts for ages and ages. In the bath, as I've mentioned before, we all use the same bath product, which saves money and cuts on bathroom clutter.
12. You don't need to pay for haircuts - God's command for us women is to have long hair, so at the very most, all you need to have is the odd trim - which your husband or older daughter can do for you, and for the males in your family, why not invest in a hair clipper, and become their own personal hairdresser? It's so easy to do, and much quicker than having to make an appointment and go out to the barber shop.
13. Likewise, trips to the beautician or manicurist are real indulgences. If you're trying to be beautiful on a budget, reserve these treats for very special occasions, or request vouchers for them as gifts. I like to do my own nails with a miniature manicure kit, whilse Papa Bear and I are watching TV. And pedicures are great fun done at home too! Little Bear and I often have a "pamper afternoon" when we're home alone together. We'll make our own facepack using oats, honey, lemon juice and a little salt, and use a mixture of basic cooking oil and sugar to create a wonderful moisturising hand scrub (do try it - it will make your skin feel like silk). We drink smoothies and give each other pedicures and manicures, then finish off by having a "workout" to a fitness DVD we got in a thrift shop. It's great fun!
Finally, the cheapest and most effective trick you have for making the most of your good looks, is also the easiest to find.
Everyone looks beautiful when they smile - so make sure you do, often. Especially when your husband is around!
Thursday, 23 February 2012
Oh my goodness! I have a really big post that I am working on today, but I haven't been able to get all my thoughts drawn together properly yet, so it must stay in draft format until I am happy with it.
I've been so busy the last few days! There have been a few practical things that came up that weren't in my schedule - like Little Bear's door key snapping in the lock, and Papa Bear having an emergency dental appointment. Then Cubby had an important presentation to prepare for at college.
And I've been busy making sure that everyone had what they needed, got to where they had to be, was reassurred when things went wrong, and didn't have their own timetables disrupted, when the emergencies happened! It's at times like that, when I am so thankful that I have our Father God to turn to. Without Him, the burdens of my responsibilities would sometimes become quite difficult to bear! But I offer them up to Him in prayer and know that I can trust in Him to carry me through even the greatest challenges.
The key and lock got fixed, Papa Bear's tooth was fine, and Cubby's hard work was rewarded and he did brilliantly with his presentation.
Thank the Lord!
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time:
Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. (1 Peter 5, 7).
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Today's Wednesday's Workbox is going to focus on a skill that's fast becoming obsolete but which I personally believe deserves to be carefully preserved as a time honoured housekeeper's tradition ... DARNING!
I wonder how many of us actually know how to darn a garment properly? It may seem that nowadays, it isn't worth bothering to take the time to darn a sock or sweater, when you can buy a thrift shop or even new replacement quite cheaply, and indeed, heavily darned garments do have a certain "Cinderella" look to them which isn't necessarily what you want to aim for if well groomed is the look you're trying to achieve! But there are certainly times when you will find you are glad that you've got some basic mending techniques to turn to, when you're trying to stay on top of keeping everyone well clothed and neatly turned out without spending a fortune!
Along with darning, patching, hemming and button sewing are also mending skills worth learning, which I'll share over time. But today we'll focus on darning.
There are 2 main types of darning - "web" darns, and "hedge-tear". Web darns are the type that you're most likely to find yourself needing to use, to mend small holes in socks or knitted items. Hedge-tear darns are a little trickier as you have a darn that needs to be worked at right angles, and is best not attempted unless the garment is one you like so much you couldn't bear to see it being discarded. Larger holes are better patched, and socks, which these days tend not to be of knitted wool but of lycra and cotton, or entirely man made fabrics, are really not worth darning unless the hole is smaller than the size of a 10 pence piece. I'll be concentrating on basic web darns, in this post.
Most oftentimes, it's socks that I find myself darning, because my family seem to be particularly hardwearing on these! Especially, it seems, Little Bear, who although as dainty as her mama, seems to be very heavy on her socks! She is forever presenting me with very sorry looking, wilted little rags with great big holes in the toes or heels. And though it is tempting just to toss them and buy replacements, I do find you can prolong the life of socks quite a bit with just a simple darn, if its done quickly enough before the holes get too large.
To darn socks made of man-made fabrics, you really need to use quite a fine sewing yarn. I tend to use regular dressmaking polycotton thread. Back in the day, when everyone's socks were woollen, you could just use a skein of 4 or 3 ply wool and have a nice neat darn done in minutes (if you'd knitted the socks yourself, you had the added bonus of being able to match the colour of the wool exactly!). But wool would be too thick for today's fabrics. It's also less costly to use polycotton thread (floss) and you'll probably find you have at least a few basic colours in your sewing box already, which can be used in most cases.
Choose a sewing needle that is perhaps a little thicker than you would naturally choose for such a fine thread, and cut off a good length of the thread, as it isn't easy to start a new thread if you find you've run out in the middle of a darn (you will need to restart threads as you work, but it is better to do this after you've worked right across the hole all in one direction, than halfway through).
Take the garment and turn it inside out. Place your left (right, if you are left handed) inside the garment and using your thumb and forefinger, stretch the hole across the palm of your hand, using your fingers to elevate the fabric enough to get the needle between your palm and the garment.
Now take the needle in your right (left) hand and draw it inside the garment, so that you will be pushing it up through the right side of the fabric out into the wrong side, which is facing you. As you insert the needle from the inside of the fabric outwards, make sure you are aiming about 1/2 cm past where the hole begins (in other words, you are going to sew a few rows of thread onto fabric, before you start sewing across the hole). To start with, whilse you are sewing on the fabric, use a simple, small running stitch. Once you hit the edges of the hole, insert the needle from the underside of the fabric through and then pull it loosely across the hole, and insert into the top of the fabric on the other side, through to where your hand is (but not into your fingers!). Repeat all the way across the hole. You may then need to work back again, depending on how large the hole is. Try to keep your stitches as close together as possible, to form the foundation layer of "fabric" to cover up the hole you're mending.
Once you have worked stitches all across the hole, cast off and now rethread your needle, and insert it from the inside of the fabric outwards, as before, but crosswise to the stitches that you have already worked. Here is where it gets tricky. Instead of working one large stitch across the hole you must now weave your needle in and out of those stitches, to create your "web" (in fact, it is simply weaving, a bit like the technique you would use to weave a rag rug). Again, you may need to work back and forth more than once to get a weave that is thick enough to be durable. Try to work your stitches as small as you can. It not only looks neater, but makes the darn more hardwearing.
Now fasten off, and turn the garment back the right way around! Voila! You have just completed your first piece of darning!
A few quick hints to make your work more successful ...
Don't pull the thread too tight, especially when you are darning socks or other stretchy fabric, or you will find that the fabric rucks up when you've finished and creates a ridge. At first the threads will seem too loose and loopy, but once you start weaving in crosswise, you will find it knits together quite well. What you are really doing is weaving a small patch of fabric to cover the hole in the garment, so you need to keep the stitches as close to the shape of the original fabric as you can.
Ensure that you use long enough pieces of thread (floss) when you are sewing. It is difficult to rejoin a new piece of thread if you run out halfway across a darn. Try to rejoin new pieces of thread at the edge of the hole, when you've worked all the way across. If necessary, to prevent yourself running out before you get to the edge of the hole, cut a long piece of thread and then almost double it so only the first few centimeters nearest the needle are single thread. Then it won't run out. You can use doubled thread all the way through for extra durability, but this will give you double the amount of threads to weave when you start working crosswise and can get a bit muddly if you aren't very experienced at darning.
As mentioned above, darning is really only suitable for small holes in fabric. Larger holes are better fixed by patching, which is a bit more straightforward and can be used on a wider variety of fabrics. Darning isn't suitable for very fine, man-made fabrics such as satins, polyesters or rayons that will ladder when torn. It works best on jersey or knit style fabrics and is best used where the mend won't show.
If for ethical or financial motivations you plan to regularly mend and reuse garments rather than instantly replacing them when they show signs of wear, then I would strongly advise that you choose to acquire garments that are plain block colours, in tones that will be easy to match to suitable, robust darning threads, such as black or grey. When you come to fix these with a darn it will be much less obvious than one on a patterned fabric. I guess this is why our ancestors seemed to wear plainer clothes than we did - the mendings wouldn't have shown up so much!
Why not have a try at darning a sock next time you're presented with one that's grown a hole? At the very worse, if it isn't a success, you can at least admit defeat, and go out and buy some replacements. But you may just find that it isn't as tricky or time consuming as you'd first thought, and even if it doesn't look as if Cinderella herself has fixed it, your family will likely be very impressed at your frugal, but creative, homekeeping skills!
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
It's Tuesday again already! How can it be that a whole week has gone past since St. Valentine's Day? Those days have just slipped past so quickly, I almost didn't notice them going! What have I done with my time?
Well ... I've had ...
A time to plant ... just now I'm taking especial care to plant more deeply a real, stirring passion for the Lord in my cubs' hearts. They've grown up in a Church going, Christian home, and I know that the seeds of love for our Saviour have been planted and blossomed many times over, but they're now on the threshold of adulthood, with so many worldly temptations all around, and it scares me that despite the solid ground in which those seeds of faith have been sown, it will be a difficult life for them as young adults living in a secular world. We cannot cushion our children from the fallen world around them - but we can teach them to be "in it, but not of it", and that means not just setting them an excellent example in all that we do, but in giving them plenty of scriptural reinforcements!
"Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." (Ephesians 6, 11 - 18).
A time to heal ... I've spoken often about humility, which I personally feel is a character quality that many of us don't find very easy to cultivate. I know myself that it is all too easy to build ourselves up, and become prideful, because we've been taught by the world to believe that we should delight in ourselves, and seek pleasure for our own ends, which, in the materialism which this drive for constant self-satisfaction feeds, can lead to greed, covetousness, and pride. Consequently this pride can easily lead to us saying, or doing things that can indirectly cause hurt or damage to our relationships, in our quest to ensure our own desires are satisfied before those of our fellows. When we think we're more deserving than everyone else, we develop a sense of entitlement which can make us insensitive to the needs of others, and to the effect our behaviour has on them. It's a negative, dangerous mindset, that quickly leads to self-destructive, sinful behaviour. I feel that humility is a noble, Christlike quality that takes a lot of courage to nurture and grow. We none of us want to be "shrinking violets" (though I adore violets - they are such sweet, shy little flowers, so pretty, and they smell wonderful), but do you know, being humble makes us much more admirable than being proud (the opposite of humility is pride). It takes even more courage, to admit when you are wrong, or when you have hurt or offended someone, and take that first step to mend and heal your relationship. But how blessed we are when we do!
"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father". (Phillipians 2, 3 - 11).
A time to laugh ... our pets make us laugh every day! We only have caged pets - in our culture, animals like cats and dogs don't live with us in their homes but are kept outdoors, as they are considered unclean because of some of their natural behaviours and grooming habits. Small animals that do not engage in these are OK to have indoors, and birds are especially welcome. We have 4 cockatiels (parakeets) and they are delightful creatures. One of them loves to sit on my head! It is the funniest thing to see and everyone always laughs when he does it, which makes him "laugh" in return (he kind of nods his head up and down and sais "ack, ack, ack, ack" at the same time). They do make us smile! Pets are good entertainment and company, and a valuable way to teach young children simple husbandry responsibilities. Both Papa Bear and I grew up in rural, agricultural environments (me on a farm, him with horses) and we feel the lessons we learned in our lives seeing animals not as mere toys, but as resources to provide labour or a livelihood, helped to ground our emotions in dealing with our pets, and keep them in perspective. They are loved members of our family, but they are not as precious as humans. We care for them and treat them with compassion and respect, but we realise their place in our lives, and do not seek to elevate it inappropriately.
A time to embrace ... change! I need to make a few changes to the schedules in my "daily treasures" box. I've realised there are a few tweaks that I need to do to make the basic daily timetable run more smoothly. One change I need to make is to the timing of how I do the laundry. I've decided that it makes more sense, and is less intrusive to our morning routines as a family, if, at least in the winter when the laundry is hung indoors, for the time being, I do it in the evenings, rather than first thing in the morning. Another change I plan to make is to alter the timing when I do my week-ahead baking and food preparation. There are a few more changes too, all of which are minor adjustments, but which will hopefully make our home life run even more smoothly. I'll share the changes, and the new timetable, when it's up and running! I also want to create a simplified timetable that Little Bear can use, if I am ever ill and unable to carry out my homekeeping duties myself. She already does many chores herself and can run our home nicely all by herself, but has not previously had to do so, for more than a couple of days at a time. Not that I'm planning to be ill, but I like to be prepared for every eventuality and she's plenty old enough now to take over the reins, in an emergency.
A time to keep ... precious memories of the special times! In our home, we don't have a camera, so therefore, we do not have photographs. This is Papa Bear's personal choice and as head of our home, we honour this decision. But it does mean we have to look to other ways to keep memories alive. I've been thinking about this and wondering how I can do it in a way that is neither intrusive nor clutter creating. Scrapbooking is one idea, but I get the feeling that this could be a tempting project that steals time from my chores, and perhaps should be approached with caution. This blog does provide an opportunity to journal some of our special times, so maybe that is the way forward. I am giving this some thought and prayer, this week and will share what I come up with in a future post.
A time to sew ... after talking with Papa Bear some more about my dressmaking plans for the spring, he had yet another bright idea about how I can create some lovely, customised garments! We were looking online at fabric stores (there are some WONDERFUL ones out there, which I'll share in another post), and whilse we were looking, we came across an English website that sells patterns as well as fabric. Although they're more expensive than buying pattern paper and drawing the pattern yourself, they can be reused, so are still more economical than buying ready made clothes, though cost is not why I have avoided buying them in the past. It is more to do with the fact that certainly in England, even dress patterns it seems, are not quite as modest in design as we would prefer. Some are quite pretty, but many are as ugly and flesh revealing as ready made garments. But then Papa Bear suggested, why not look at the CHILDRENS patterns? I'm quite tiny (I fit a child's age 11-12), and generally if I do buy ready-made clothes, I get them from the children's department where they not only fit me better, but are cheaper, and also usually (but sadly not always) more modest too. I'd never thought to look for dress patterns in that department though! Well we were amazed! There were so many gorgeous dress and skirt patterns to choose from! We were both delighted. Papa Bear has picked out 3 or 4 that he especially likes, and some fabrics too (he prefers me best in pink!) and I can't wait to get started on some stitching now! I think the knitting will soon be taking second place (I tend to sew only in the summer months, as I can only do it in daylight, which means I don't get much time to do it in the winter, when it gets dark too early). We are going to order a couple of patterns first to see what they are like, and then see how it goes from there! I'm so excited!
A time to speak ... I'm still working on NOT speaking. I do believe this to be one of my greatest character faults. And I'm not just referring to the words that come from my mouth, but from my fingertips too! It's very easy to think that the rest of the worldwide web is eagerly hanging on to every word that issues from my small keyboard as I tap away. And it's lovely (and very humbling) to think that anyone beyond my immediate family is even slightly interested in what I have to say! But I need to learn to keep it concise. Time is precious to all of us - and if I'm spending it writing very long blog posts (like this one!) instead of with my family, then my "speaking" is getting in the way of what's important - and possibly intruding on my readers' time too. It's about priorities. I like blogging, but my family must come first.
A time to love ... What an over-used word LOVE is! We say we "love" a particular song or TV show, or a well used phrase. We "love" certain foods (especially the ones that aren't good for us!) and we "love" our pets, our daughter's cute dresses, the smell of roses, the feel of the fresh air against our faces, the pretty snowscene that greets us on a winter morning. But do we really truely LOVE these things? What matters most in our lives? If we say we love most anything that we find pleasurable, then it devalues that precious word. Let's resolve to say it only where it really carries value - to our husbands, our children, our close family - and most importantly of all - our Saviour, Father God. That way its true meaning is preserved, and it becomes a precious gift that we give to the ones that matter most in our lives.
A time of peace ... it's easy to focus on our imperfections and linger over what is wrong with us, our lives, our goals. But I think it helps to keep in perspective the fact that all of us ARE imperfect - only God is perfect! It's hard work constantly striving for perfection - not just for us, but for the people around us. Let's resolve to have peace in our hearts as we go about our daily duties, knowing that as long as we are doing so with willing, humble hearts, we are good enough for our Father. That's not to say we can afford to become complacent, but if we strive to always follow the teaching of the Bible, and to keep our priorities in order, all shall be well.
"The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace". (Numbers 6, 24 - 26).
Monday, 20 February 2012
I've been busy baking today and yesterday, so I thought I'd share another recipe with you that we frequently enjoy - cinnamon buns. These are so popular at our home and are requested so often, that I usually find myself making them on a Sunday morning. If I have time, I can get the dough ready for the second rising before we leave for Church, and put the buns into the oven, set to come on so that they will bake whilse we are out at Church and be ready when we get home! Mmmmmm! It doesn't seem to do them any harm sitting out for a bit longer than the required 45 minute rising. They make a wonderful brunch, and I often serve these to follow home made apple coleslaw (recipe also to follow) and taties (potatoes baked in their jackets - in North East England, where we are from, this is what they are usually called), which I part bake beforehand so they can then finish baking in the oven along with the buns while we are at Church.
I use one of 2 recipes for my cinnamon buns. The basic recipe has some vanilla pudding mix in it, and the fancier one uses yellow cake mix. These 2 ingredients really elevate these delicious buns out of the bread roll category and into cakes, becuase they both somehow seem to make such a beautiful light, sweet dough. It is really worth having a go at these, if you would like to try to recreate the wonderful taste of the store bought versions (we don't have a chain bakery that sells cinnamon buns anywhere near us - I am not sure they are found anywhere in England - but you can buy almost the same thing from the Waitrose supermarket chain). These are much cheaper - and you may be surprised to know that even with the frosting on (which I don't always bother with) one bun is 350 calories, which is not over the top in my opinion (especially not if it forms part of a meal).
Anyway here is my basic tried and true recipe ...
For the buns ...
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup butter (melted after measuring)
1/2 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix (I use sugar-free)
1 cup warm milk
1 egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon of white sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 cups bread flour
1 sachet (7g/25 ounces) dried yeast
1. Measure the ingredients in the order given into the pan of your breadmaking machine, and prepare on the dough cycle.
2. When done, remove from pan (the dough is light and easy to handle) and place on a floured surface (I have a pastry sheet which I find helpful to use for this as it has measurements on it).
3. Carefully stretch the dough into a rectangle about 16 inches long and 10 inches wide or thereabouts (you can make it thinner than this, but I wouldn't make it any thicker, as you're going to roll it up).
4. Spread onto this the following ingredients ...
1/4 cup butter, softened (I use margarine, which is already soft)
1 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
You can also add about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of chopped nuts or raisins, we tend to have them just plain as this is what our family prefers.
5. Spread the butter on first, leaving a margin about 1/2 an inch all around.
6. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, and then spread these on top of the butter.
7. Using the wider end of the dough nearest to you, roll up, jelly roll style, tucking the opposite end neatly underneath the roll and sealing the ends. Mould it a little with your hands if necessary to ensure it is the same width all along.
8. Now take a knife or pair of large kitchen scissors, and chop the roll into 16 equally sized pieces (you may want to discard the ends of the roll as these often don't have so much filling in them).
9. Place the rolls on a greased baking tray or pan, and cover with cling film. Leave somewhere warm to rise for about 45 minutes.
10. After they are doubled in size, place in a warm oven (175 degrees) and bake for about 20 minutes (mine took 17).
11. Allow to cool on the tray before separating them and placing on a rack to ice.
I think they look lovely just as they are, don't you?
However, if you decide you do want to frost your buns, I usually use a glaze made of about 2 tablespoons milk, approximately twice that amount of icing sugar and a drop of vanilla essence. I wait until the rolls are warm, rather than icing them as soon as they come out of the oven.
A traditional cinnamon bun frosting recipe is as follows ...
1/2 (8 ounce) pack cream cheese, softened (I would use Philadelphia)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup icing (confectioners) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 1/2 teaspoons milk
However more often than not, I tend not to bother to ice these at all, as the Bear family particularly love them warm, right out of the oven! The ones you can see in the picture, which we had yesterday, I did ice. Obviously 16 rolls is a great deal more than a family of 4 needs, so once they are cooled, I tend to freeze about 10 of them, wrapped individually in foil so that whenever anyone gets the urge to have a cinnamon bun, all I need to do is remove one from the freezer and warm it up in the oven! Yum!
The fancier recipe can be found here. I thoroughly recommend the Taste of Home website. At least 70% of the recipes I use come from here. It is so easy to search for a recipe for something you want to cook, and you can even create your own customised "recipe box" where you can save all the recipes that you think you'd like to try. I really like it, and am always delighted with the results of everything I've cooked from the Taste of Home magazine collection.
As I said, we often have these buns to follow hot taties served up with my home made apple coleslaw. Papa Bear really likes this, and frequently I will make up a big bowl full so that he can have some in his pack up for lunch during the week. It really is a meal in itself, although sometimes I'll embellish it further with a small tin of tuna as well.
For 4 people you need ...
6 sweet apples (Gala is a good one)
1/2 small head of white cabbage
1/2 small red onion
5 or 6 ribs of celery
2 oz red cheese (red Leicester or coloured Cheddar is good)
6 tablespoons mayonnaise (I use Hellman's extra light)
1 tablespoon salad cream (I use Colman's extra light)
juice 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1. Chop the apples into small cubes. There is no need to peel beforehand.
2. Chop the cabbage into small strips.
3. Finely dice the red onion.
4. Chop the celery ribs into 1/2 inch cubes.
5. Mix vegetables in a large serving bowl. Grate cheese over the veggies.
6. In an empty screwtop jar or a bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, salad cream, lemon juice and seasonings. If using a jar, give the jar a good shake.
7. Pour dressing over salad and stir to mix.
8. This is really yummy with taties! It keeps pretty well because of the lemon juice, but to save time you could prepare everything other than the apples beforehand, and keep the dressing mix in a jar in the fridge. I have also made this using blue cheese, but we all seem to prefer the flavour of the red cheese as described above.
Finally, I just had to share with you these cute pictures. We don't usually have dessert during the week, but I really wanted to try out my new "pie bird", that we got this weekend. See how cute it looks peeking out of the cherry pie I baked for our tea? Did it help the crust any? Well, yes I think it did! It certainly prevented the filling from oozing out the top of the dish!
We certainly enjoyed slices of this, today! Tomorrow we'll have a much plainer meal though. We can't have treats like this every day, or they wouldn't be treats any more!
Sunday, 19 February 2012
(Source for this picture here).
We had such an interesting and inspiring sermon at Church today. The theme was about life - not merely the life we should be living as servants of our Father God, but also, the priceless sanctity of all human life. We should be advocates of the glory of life, the gift that God breathed into us, when He created us in His image -
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1, 26 - 27).
Thinking about this more deeply now that we are home again, it seems to me that the as advocates of the sacredness of human life, the example we must set to our fellow humans, should be one that clearly demonstrates that this is a belief fundamental to the teaching of Christianity, as stated plainly in the sixth commandment in Exodus 20, verse 13 -"Thou shalt not kill". Thus we should demonstrate in our behaviour and beliefs as we go about our daily activities, that our commitment is to preserving life, because this is what God demands of us. This is not merely a personal interpretation of the teachings of the Bible, as some issues may be. But how should we demonstrate this? It is not enough, just to state what our beliefs are, and what the teaching of the Bible states. We must demonstrate it through our actions. And these actions should be ones, that reveal clearly to others, the true nature of Christian people - a nature formed in the image of our creator, whose Holy Spirit works within us.
"And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ". (Colossians 3, 23 - 24).
To me, it seems that God desires that we should be showing compassion, benevolence and love to those for whom the end of life is drawing near, rather than looking to the world of medicine and law to hasten this end, and similarly, towards those who are forced into a situation where a decision must be made about the preservation of unborn life. Sadly, this goes directly against the current secular teaching that it is kinder, to prevent someone's suffering, than to prolong it, and that euthanasia is preferable to palliative medical and nursing care, and furthermore, that a mother's life is more precious than an unborn child's. How disposable life seems to have become! In a world where having a child is seen as a possession and a right, rather than a privelige - a gift from God, it seems that the child matters least of all, when it comes to the sanctity of life.
These are difficult issues for anyone to address, but as Christian wives and mothers, we are placed in a prominent role as advocates for God's teaching on this important matter, and it is therefore our duty that we take on the mantle of setting an example by our actions, and that we are not afraid to defend the teaching of the Bible when we are challenged on this issue. In our daily lives, how can we demonstrate our commitment to upholding the sanctity of life, in keeping with the commands of our Saviour?
Of course, our responsibility starts at home, with the education of our own children, ensuring that from the earliest age, they are familiar with the Bible teaching about the preciousness of a life created in the image of God, and how this impacts on the decisions they will make and the activities they engage in - both in terms of their own lives, and those of others. We have a duty to teach our children, both by example and by instruction, about the importance of fulfilling God's teaching about the marriage relationship, about how the creation of new life should only happen within this union, and that it is God's will, not ours, that should determine how many children we are blessed with. It also means teaching our children to be caring, empathetic, selfless, considerate, responsible, sensitive, virtuous - willing to put the needs of others first, and to have compassion for the weak and ailing, rather than seeing them as a burden or inconvenience.
So many character qualities to cultivate, but which will provide them with a firm foundation for sound decision making, as they become independent adults themselves, and able to begin a new generation of Godly men and women. And if we can do this, then we are ourselves, serving God in our roles as mothers who have sole responsibilty for the training - and future well being, of our offspring.
But it doesn't stop there. Whether we like it or not, as Christians, God teaches that we also have a wider responsibility to society in general -
"And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these". (Mark 12, 31).
Of course, our duties lie first with our families, and we should not think of neglecting their needs, for the needs of others. That is not God's plan for us. After serving Him we are commanded to serve our husbands, and then our families. But there are still ways in which we can be seen to set an example for others, in our compassion, considerateness and commitment to God's teaching about the sanctitiy of life. We can do this in many ways. There are charities we can support, education programmes to which we can contribute - materially, if not in person. There are hospitals, care homes, residential units, childrens' centres, where we can give our support - and our children can, too. Just by showing an interest and finding out more about the good work that they do, and encouraging others to use their services, we are supporting them. Depending on the season of your life in which you are presently, you may even be able to offer some of your time, if your husband is agreeable. Or you could think about providing practical support in the shape of meals, clothing, toys, toiletries or books, to enable the lives of others to be improved and enhanced. Even bringing a cake you have baked to share with others during coffee after the Church service on Sundays, is a way of extending our love - God's love - to our fellow beings.
We cannot change the world, corrupt and sinful as it is, alone. But despite this we should not shy away from upholding the teaching of our Father God, whatever we are doing, wherever we are, in the hope that others may be inspired by us - and led to Him. The failings of society are due to a complexity of causes, at the heart of which lies the deterioration of the traditional family unit and therefore, it is in unity with our loved ones, that we should seek to set an example. It is simple really, for at the centre of all this, is a humble willingness to serve joyfully, regardless of our circumstances. As we go about our daily activities, if we do so with a joyful heart, we are telling the world that we are grateful to God for the role He has placed us in, and accepting of His will in our lives. This is a precious lesson to accept and to demonstrate to those around us. As Christians, we should be shining our lights in all that we do, that we may inspire others around us and draw them closer to God. Our duty is to show, through our own actions, that life is ALWAYS valuable - at whatever stage it is - whether the beginning or the very end of life. God loves all of us, and He wants us to share this love, with everyone around us - as His son Jesus Christ, taught. The best way we can do this, is to follow His example, and rejoyce in the precious gift of each day, that He has given us with which to live out His plan, knowing that we are humbly serving Him, as we follow faithfully the commands of His word.
"For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ". (1 Corinthians 2, 11 - 16).