Sunday, 4 March 2012
Source for this picture here.
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it". (Proverbs 22, 6).
Our teenagers arrived home today from their fellowship weekend. How grateful we were that our prayers for their safe return had once again been answered! It had been snowing, where they had been, although it has rained all day here and is still doing so now as I write. Not at all like the beautiful spring weather we had been enjoying! They had a great time, and felt like they'd learned a lot! Little Bear said to us as we ate our evening meal, that she felt as if she'd grown more, and was more spiritually and emotionally mature, compared with a lot of the girls she had spent the weekend with, even though some of these girls seem to have been given far fewer boundaries than she has been allowed. That pleased us greatly!
One of the greatest challenges of parenthood, as parents of teenagers, has for us been the need to protect our childrens' hearts from the ugly influences of the secular world around us, whilst still allowing them opportunties to interact with wider society as they grow up and become independent adults. When they are small (and particularly if you are homeschooling) it is easy to protect your childrens' hearts. You can monitor their activities, what comes into the home, who they interact with outside the family, and can also teach eager young hearts, through example and instruction, how to make safe choices when they become older. But putting that into practise when they actually ARE older, is still quite daunting! Of course, the solid grounding of their childhood years accounts for a lot, as does the power of prayer and trust in our Father God to guide them. But they are still innocent and tender hearted, at a time when society expects teenagers to be extremely worldly. It is one thing to trust them to behave sensibly and make wise choices, but another to know they are actually doing it when there are so many negative influences at force.
How can we ensure our children remain safe, as they grow older and become more autonomous and independent?
The following are practises and attitudes that we've developed and adopted during our years of parenthood that have worked for us. They are just what we have found to be effective - and I feel our children are living examples of that. They aren't perfect (and neither are we) but I feel we've done the best job we could, under often quite challenging circumstances, and yet we are a close and happy family with shared values and a strong commitment towards each other - and of course, to God. We've learned as we've grown with our children - and that's what I'm sharing here.
Please know that nothing I write here refers to the physical admonishment of children - our blog is not the place for such contentious issues. If as parents or parents-to-be you feel led to use physical admonishment as a way to discipline your children, may I prayerfully urge you first to seek the counsel of your pastor, Church elder or priest, and to pray heartfully about this matter, as it is one that should not be gone into lightly. Suffice to say that in England, it is against the law to discipline your children physically and in all our years of experience of being parents, we personally have never found it to be necessary.
1. Lead by example. I can't stress how strongly we feel that the very best way to encourage good behaviour is to exhibit that very behaviour yourself. For one thing it is hypocritical to expect certain behaviour from you children if you don't also engage in that same behaviour, and for another, once they realise that you have double standards - which soon enough they will - any authority you hope to have will start to be undone.
2. Set firm but realistic boundaries and stick to them. Ensure your children know what is negotiable, and what isn't. It's good to allow them the opportunity to make some choices, and in fact it is easier to enforce boundaries if your children know there are occasions where they are allowed some freedom of choice, but ensure that the selection of alternatives is sensible - don't give them unrestricted choice. Older children ought naturally to have some wider boundaries than younger ones. Unrealistic or unecessarily restrictive boundaries are asking to be challenged.
4. Have standards of behaviour that are expected at all times, whether at home or when out. Teach your children from an early age what is acceptable behaviour, and more importantly, what isn't - and what the result will be, if they disobey you. Don't threaten to punish and then not act on this - consistency is vital to good discipline.
4. Never lie to your children, even over small things, and especially not over things like father Christmas, the tooth fairy etc. It is still deceit, even if your intentions are well-meant. If you feel it is important to subscribe in some way to these fairytale figures, then do so with your childrens' full knowledge that they are just that - fairytale myths that are designed to represent the theme of the season or celebration, and that they are not real.
5. Don't use bribery as a means to get your children to do something they don't want to do. The reward in doing something (such as cleaning their room, homework, or a regular chore) should be intrinsic - engaging in the duty itself, and completing it, is the reward. To expect otherwise is to encourage materialism and greed.
6. Ensure that your days, no matter how busy and complicated, have a basic routine that is adhered to. Routine makes small children feel safe, and older children more efficient. It also helps you to stay on top of things, and feel in control, and the days will run more smoothly as a result.
7. Expect children to take responsibilty for themselves. This is a sliding scale that starts with tinies helping to tidy up their toys and assist with simple chores such as sweeping and putting clothes in the laundry basket, right up to teenagers who manage their own bank accounts, make their own appointments and organise their own daily schedules. Encouraging your children to rely on you to organise everything for them will foster an attitude of idleness and a lack of self-discipline and self-regulation, and will not help to mould them into sensible,responsible, hard working adults.
8. As much as possible, organise social activities and days out around family, rather than friends. Of course it is wholesome and normal for your children to have friends outside the family, but we very strongly feel that those friends should be invited to our home first, so that we are able to ensure that they are people we're happy to see our children mixing with. It isn't overprotective to do this, just loving. Papa Bear wouldn't want me to visit with other women he hasn't met before, so neither would he want his daughter to. It's also important to spend time with your children individually. I know, and so does Papa Bear, coming from large families, that this isn't always easy to achieve. But it is really important. Schedule one-to-one time with each of your children, and make sure that special occasions like birthdays, graduation days and so on, are celebrated. Every child deserves to be made to feel precious in their parents' eyes - they are after all, unique!
9. When it comes to older teenagers and courtship, Papa Bear and I are happy to subscribe to the traditions of our culture, which dictate that an unmarried girl never visits with a boy unless she is chaperoned - right up until her wedding night. Any boy that intended to make a marriage proposal to our Little Bear would need to be able to demonstrate to Papa Bear his ability to support our daughter financially and make a lifelong, Chrisitan commitment to her as her husband. He would need to be financially independent, debt-free, in employment, and to have a good home to provide her with. We would also expect to meet with his family many times before we agreed on a courtship - let alone marriage. Equally, Cubby Bear must establish his own career (he'll probably follow in his Papa's footsteps and join the family business) and be sure of any potential wife's good character and family before thinking of courting a girl. It may be old fashioned, but for us it is the tradition of generations that it be this way and we see no reason to change it.
10. And never forget - the family that prays together, stays together! Make your faith a central, shared focus of your lives as a family. Group devotionals, Bible study and worship are the foundation of a happy family.
"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons". (Deuteronomy 4, 9).
Saturday, 3 March 2012
"This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it". (Psalm 118, 24)
This week I finished the Growing In Gratitude 30 day challenge by Revive Our Hearts. I found this a really useful challenge! I began it thinking that I was already pretty grateful for many things in my life, but this challenge has taught me firstly that I am not nearly grateful enough, and that I could do more to show this - both to God, and the people around me, and secondly that it is very easy to take for granted the good things in life, to be complacent, and forget how very lucky I am. I like the way that these 30 day challenges are linked to Scripture, because as well as reminding me to turn to God first for all my needs, it also shows me clearly how Scripture shapes our lives - if we let it.
One of the things that it has really helped me to do is to structure my prayers around gratitude - thanking God for all the good things in my life - the times when He has helped us through a difficult experience, and the times when things have been easier for us than we had hoped for. He sends us so many blessings, every single day - not just for now, but for always.
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning". (James 1, 17)
But what about the small things? These are the things I find myself REALLY taking for granted! Just to have a warm place to sleep, good food to eat, water running from our taps, healthcare that's free of charge, being able to read and write and count - so many other things that it is easy to forget are gifts from God.
What are you especially grateful for, today?
Here are a few of the things I've thanked God for this Saturday ...
Our safe journey to and from the supermarket in the fog this morning.
The money that Papa Bear had given me to pay for the shopping - it was more than enough, so I gave the change right back to him for our special plan. We got some very nice food this week - ingredients for all the things I plan to make for our evening meals and more besides, for lunches and breakfasts.
Papa Bear's patient assistance, as always, as we did the shopping, and carried it from the car all the way to our apartment on the third floor. He never grumbles or says that he would rather be doing something else!
Cubby and Little Bear are away at a fellowship weekend for young people, so Papa Bear and I have both been very thankful for the extra time together that this has awarded us today!
We're also very thankful that our cubs arrived safely at the venue, and are surrounded by kind and supportive companions who will be monitoring their welfare, but yet also, we are grateful that they've grown up to be responsible and caring young adults - so we trust them entirely to be safe when away from us.
I've been so glad of the warmer weather we've had just recently which has made such a difference to getting my laundry dry - and to our fuel bill! That's been a big blessing.
I'm glad too for our good health at the moment. We've been through some challenging times in the past, through ill health, but at the moment God is being good to us and all of us are doing great!
Of course, focusing on the good things is easy. We have no problem thanking God for the good things! But the Growing In Gratitude challenge also reminds us that even in trials and difficulties, we can be thankful. Each challenge that God sends us, improves us and makes us grow - become more mature, both emotionally and spiritually. God will never send us more than we can bear ...
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it". (1 Corinthians 10, 13).
And no matter how difficult the trial, through it we will be restored, strengthened and find peace and salvation - what wonderful gifts!
"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him". (James 1, 12).
If we endeavour to live our lives as God instructs us, using the Scriptures as our life's guide book, and seeking to know God through them and in regular prayer and devotion, then soon, our reasons to be grateful will multiply! I'm so glad I've studied this 30 day challenge and worked through it. Now, whenever I feel discontented (I'm not perfect, after all!), I shall remember this passage below, and know that before too long, I'll be grateful again! We must remember - gratitude isn't something that just happens to us. It's something we choose - like joyfulness, humility and love, and we have a duty as God's servants, to make this choice. If we do, the blessings will be abundant!
"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." (Colossians 3, 15 - 17).
Friday, 2 March 2012
Despite always trying to plan our menus meticulously so that there is little or no wasted food at the end of each week, there are still days when I find myself with left overs to deal with. Mostly these get frozen or eaten as dinners (lunches) the next day – if they aren’t suitable for Papa Bear or the cubs to take as pack-ups, I’ll eat them myself. I’ll be honest – the thought of eating the same meal over again isn’t always very appetising, so I usually try to embellish them a little or serve them in a different way. This makes the meal much more enjoyable, and so today I am going to share with you a few hints and tips for using up your left overs usefully!
First of all a few general points worth noting regarding left overs and food safety …
Check the use-by dates on perishable items before you prepare them the first time around. We all know that foods like meats and fish need to be eaten by certain dates, but this applies whether or not they’ve been frozen beforehand (the freezing does stop the clock, as it were, but it starts ticking again once the frozen item comes out of the freezer – so if you bought an item on 1st March with a use-by date of 7th March, and you freeze it for a month, it will still need to be eaten within the same time frame once it is out of the freezer – i.e. 7 days – this includes the time taken to defrost. It’s worth noting the date the item went into your freezer to avoid getting into a muddle with this). It’s particularly important to remember this when using left overs. Don’t re-freeze foods that have previously been frozen.
I personally never defrost food at room temperature, but always in the fridge. The exception to this is prawns (shrimp) that I buy frozen from the supermarket. My technique for defrosting these is to place them in a colander and run cold water over them. I’ve been doing this for years and never had any problems.
I wouldn’t recommend ever reheating a dish more than once. If you are not sure that you will be able to finish all the left overs (say, after a potluck or holiday meal) in one go, then either reheat individual portions rather than the whole dish, or divide and freeze those portions you won’t be eating immediately.
Some foods don’t freeze very well. Cooked pasta and hard boiled eggs seem to go rubbery. Cream, soured cream and egg based sauces will curdle, although I do find that if they form part of a dish with several other ingredients (and therefore textures) such as a casserole, the change in texture is indistinguishable, as long as you allow the dish to defrost before you cook it and don’t heat it straight from frozen. Some fresh fruits don’t freeze well either, so if you have a glut of these, blanch or stew them first before freezing.
When reheating most foods (other than liquid items such as soups and sauces, or foods that have been cooked in a sauce, such as chilli) I would advise against microwaving them, if you have one, as in my experience microwaving never improves the flavour or texture of your left over food.
To store left over plain cooked pasta, place in a baggie or plastic container and add a few drops of water. This will keep quite well in the fridge, and in fact I frequently deliberately cook more pasta than we need, and store it this way, to save on having to cook a separate batch for another meal later in the week.
Cooked rice and pulses are better frozen rather than refrigerated, if you don’t intend to eat them within a day or two (rice should be kept cold at all times when being kept once cooked, and eaten within 24 hours).
Left overs containing raw egg, raw meat, raw fish or pate, are not suitable for keeping – bin them instead. Likewise perishables that have been out of the fridge for a long time at room temperature. It isn’t worth the risk to your health to eat these.
It hardly needs to be said, but I will sinse I have actually witnessed (to my horror) someone doing this – that if you have served a family meal and there are left overs on individual plates, don’t then put the contents of those plates all into one container to be reheated later. That’s asking for germs to be spread! To avoid this, don’t allow your children to serve themselves larger portions than they’ll be able to eat – if they think they haven’t got enough, they can always take second helpings later. Ewww!
Ways to use up left overs …
Cheese is your best friend when it comes to making left overs seem more appetising! Even dishes that have already got a cheese topping (such as a lasagne or strata) will benefit greatly from a dusting of freshly grated cheese before they are reheated.
Similarly, herbs (fresh or dried) can be used to embellish a meal of left overs. Soup definitely benefits from being re-seasoned in this way and I also like to dress up left over dishes such as casseroles and chillis with a sprinkling of fresh parsley or cilantro.
Left over pasta sauce can be made into a “chilli” by adding a tin of black or kidney beans, and some seasoning. This can be used as a filling for “enchiladas” also, with some grated cheese and sour cream (I certainly wouldn’t serve this to anyone who is use to eating the real thing, mind!).
Mashed potatoes can be made into a nice side dish by adding grated cheese and a dash of Worcester sauce. Mash together then bake in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until the top is browned.
Left over bread can be ground into breadcrumbs and frozen – you can use them straight from the freezer without defrosting first.
I frequently use left over bread that is beginning to go stale to make a strata or a bread and butter pudding. I only ever use unsliced bread for this though – the sort of loaves that come packaged in plastic and ready sliced will not work in these dishes – the bread just becomes soggy and tasteless, like wet cotton wool, and makes the dish too moist.
Apples that are not good enough to eat raw can be chopped and stewed to make a simple applesauce that can be frozen or kept in the fridge for a couple of days. In England applesauce is quite expensive to buy and always heavily sweetened, so I prefer to make it this way anyways.
Bananas that are going black are begging to be made into a banana cake! I often buy more than we need for eating, just so I can make these delicious banana chip muffins – they’re usually gone within 24 hours of my baking them! Bananas also make the base for a nice smoothie – even on their own they are very creamy and delicious, whizzed up with some milk, yogurt or even ice cream!
If you’ve got several different fruits that need using up, why not make them into a fruit salad? Dissolve about 2 tablespoons of caster sugar in a pint of water, add some lemon or orange peel and bring to a rolling boil for about 4 minutes, then allow to cool until completely cold. Place cut fruit in the syrup with the juice of 1 lemon and keep in the fridge overnight before serving.
A little meat can be stretched a long way by adding to a stir fry or stew. In the summer, I like to make an oriental style dressing made with nam pla, soy sauce, lots of lime juice and a tiny amount of garlic paste, to put with salad leaves and warmed left over chicken. Sometimes I’ll add a few chopped orange or mandarin segments, and peanuts or cashews if I have them.
At the end of the week when I’m cleaning the fridge before we do our Saturday food shop, I’ll often find some vegetables that need using up, so I’ll make them into a “clean up the fridge” soup, with perhaps some barley or lentils to thicken it. Anything can go into this – root vegetables, kale, spinach, celery, leeks. Whatever I find!
Another alternative is to roast your left over vegetables (either pre cooked or raw) in a little oil, with some seasoning sprinkled over (we like chilli flakes, season-all, garlic powder and nutritional yeast flakes, along with some rock salt and ground pepper). Place in a roasting dish and cover with foil for the first 30 minutes, then uncover and allow to brown nicely.
Left over plain rice, pulses or pasta can be used to make a salad, or added to soups and stews.
I've got lots more left overs ideas to share - but I'll put them in another post! I'm off now to serve up our tea (evening meal) now ... and no, it isn't soup!
Thursday, 1 March 2012
Have you become acquainted with buttermilk as a useful cooking ingredient yet? In England, it is still quite difficult to find buttermilk in some supermarkets. The sort that you will find is cultured buttermilk - not the byproduct of butter making (as was produced when I made some butter myself just this week) - but manufactured by adding lactic cultures to cow's milk. Either way, buttermilk has a pleasantly clean, tangy flavour and is a wonderful leavener to add lightness to baked products.
I like to add it to mayonnaise dressings to lighten them and add an extra depth to the flavour which all the family seems to appreciate, and I also use it in many of the foodstuffs that I bake, especially pancakes and scones (biscuits). I also use it in this wonderfully easy bread recipe, which I'm going to share with you today.
This is such a simple loaf to make, and extremely speedy too. You can have it baked and ready to eat, warm from the oven, from scratch in about 45 minutes! There is no kneading required, and because there is no yeast, no rising either, so it is a really useful recipe to have as a standby if you suddenly find yourself without any bread and need some in a hurry. The original recipe can be found here but I will repeat it again for you if you prefer not to navigate away halfway through reading! I've added a couple of tweaks which are in the recipe below, based on what I've learned from baking this before.
Start off by turning on your oven to 220 C (425 F or Gas Mark 8). Grease a 2 lb loaf tin.
You need ...
8 oz (about 2 cups) wholegrain flour
8 oz all purpose flour (I use all wholegrain usually - i.e. 4 cups).
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (not baking soda)
350 mls buttermilk (I use 400 mls as this is 2 whole cartons).
Put the flour, salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda in a very large bowl.
Add the buttermilk and draw together with a fork. It will be quite wet (but not liquid). If it is too wet, add more flour, a little at a time, until it is dry enough to draw into a ball with the fork. If it is too dry, loosen with a little milk.
The original recipe tells you to knead the dough but I never bother to do this as it saves time (and sticky hands!) and I honestly don't find it necessary - the buttermilk will make it light without you having to do anything! If you do want to knead, do so very briefly without removing from the bowl and work quickly so that the bicarbonate of soda is still active when you put the dough into the oven. Just work the dough long enough to shape into a loose ball.
As I say, I don't knead. I just turn the dough straight from the bowl to the loaf tin, where it gets a quick sprinkle of mixed seeds before I put it right into the oven on the middle shelf . In our fan assisted oven it takes exactly 25 minutes to bake this loaf to perfection.
The buttermilk helps to give it a beautifully light and tender texture, not at all as you might expect. It's described as "soda bread" but in my experience (one of my grandmothers was Irish) this is not traditional soda bread - which whenever I have eaten it, has been made with white flour and more sugar, so that it is almost cakey, rather than bread like. Soda bread is also lovely though, as are soda farls - I'll share the recipe for them another time.
If you've never had a go at making bread, why not try this delicious loaf? It's so easy to make, and so satisfying when you take it out of the oven. We ate it warm with the last of my home made butter. Yum!
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!