Sunday, 11 March 2012
We decided to walk home from Church today - not a decision we made lightly, because it is a loooong walk, but it was such a beautiful day that we felt it would be a waste not to enjoy the sunshine while we could! In England you can never be certain of the weather. It might be warm and sunny one day and the next, it will be cold, with icy winds blasting and rain lashing at the windows. Still another day it will be almost subzero temperatures (it's not uncommon to see snow in April) and then the following week, we will be back to walking about in shirt sleeves and summer dresses! All very confusing. But we're use to it and we know that when the weather is good, we better enjoy it while we can! And it was a lovely walk, thought my legs were very tired by the time we got home. We walked through the park, which is almost on our doorstep. It's a big park with lots of playing fields and paths, an old fashioned Victorian bandstand in the centre, a boating lake, duck pond and a children's play area with swings, slides and such. When the cubs were small we use to spend a lot of time there, and it was fun watching another generation of young parents enjoy the facilities just as we had. Everyone was smiling and there were children on bicycles, scooters, skateboards and roller skates flying about everywhere with their anxious mamas and papas running close behind! It was so good to see them, enjoying the healthy sunshine. And it seems like 5 minutes, sinse we were those anxious parents, running behind our cubs! How incredible it seemed, when they took their first bike ride without stabilisers! Wobbling precariously along, proud but terrified! Now we still follow them anxiously, but it's metaphorically these days - praying for their safety, and trusting that God will help them keep their balance and stay on the right path when they falter.
Today at Church our first reading was from the book of Exodus - Chapter 20, verses 1 - 17 which as many people will know without reading any further, is one of the two locations in the Old Testament where we find the Ten Commandments. As we sat and listened to the reading, it struck me how at times, I've found myself losing sight of these, as I strive to focus more, on what God specifically wills for ME, and my life, and in how best I can serve Him. It's as if I've strayed away from the bigger picture, to the finer details, which while important, are really the product of this far more fundamental teaching. For Scriptural teaching to be relevant, and therefore applicable, to everyone, there has to be some kind of benchmark by which we can all, man and woman, adult and child, measure our conduct, a set of rules that is easily applicable to our lives, no matter where, or when, or how we live. These rules are so clear, and so far reaching, that even today, they are used to form the foundation of the laws of the land in most civilised countries. We apply them, oftentimes without even realising it, as the basis for deciding whether our behaviour is morally acceptable or not. And they can be found here, in the Ten Commandments:-
"And God spake all these words, saying,
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's". (Exodus 20, 1 - 17)
How easy it is for me to think "well, this is only a SMALL sin, so God won't mind, if I take it to Him later". It seems to me like there are some sins, which manage to slip through the screening process of the Ten Commandments. It's as if they don't really matter, because they're "only small". You know the sort I mean. When you read something in a magazine or watch something on the TV, that glorifies stealing, murder or adultery. Or when you decide one Sunday that as it's a sunny day, you'd make better use of your time if you stay home and help your husband get the garden tidied up instead of going to Church. Or maybe (this is the one I'm most guilty of) you've overheard your neighbour talking about her new kitchen, and you think "it's not fair. My husband doesn't earn enough money to pay for US to have a new kitchen, and I'm a MUCH better cook than she is!". (In truth, I am very happy with the kitchen that I do have. I like MY kitchen because it's in my home! And if Papa Bear earned nothing at all, I'd still be happy with whatever we had, as long as we had each other. But still, that's an example I think we can all relate to!).
I'm sure it's no coincidence that this morning's Spurgeon devotional, that Papa Bear and I read before we had even risen from bed, was about just this very subject ...
"Beware of light thoughts of sin. At the time of conversion, the conscience is so tender, that we are afraid of the slightest sin. Young converts have a holy timidity, a godly fear lest they should offend against God. But alas! very soon the fine bloom upon these first ripe fruits is removed by the rough handling of the surrounding world: the sensitive plant of young piety turns into a willow in after life, too pliant, too easily yielding. It is sadly true, that even a Christian may grow by degrees so callous, that the sin which once startled him does not alarm him in the least. By degrees men get familiar with sin. The ear in which the cannon has been booming will not notice slight sounds. At first a little sin startles us; but soon we say, "Is it not a little one?" Then there comes another, larger, and then another, until by degrees we begin to regard sin as but a little ill; and then follows an unholy presumption: "We have not fallen into open sin. True, we tripped a little, but we stood upright in the main. We may have uttered one unholy word, but as for the most of our conversation, it has been consistent." So we palliate sin; we throw a cloak over it; we call it by dainty names. Christian, beware how thou thinkest lightly of sin. Take heed lest thou fall by little and little. Sin, a little thing? Is it not a poison? Who knows its deadliness? Sin, a little thing? Do not the little foxes spoil the grapes? Doth not the tiny coral insect build a rock which wrecks a navy? Do not little strokes fell lofty oaks? Will not continual droppings wear away stones? Sin, a little thing? It girded the Redeemer's head with thorns, and pierced His heart! It made Him suffer anguish, bitterness, and woe. Could you weigh the least sin in the scales of eternity, you would fly from it as from a serpent, and abhor the least appearance of evil. Look upon all sin as that which crucified the Saviour, and you will see it to be "exceeding sinful."
I know, it's really hard. But it's meant to be! I had to think about this quite a bit, as we walked home from Church, and Papa Bear and I discussed it with the cubs as we went. We know that we are of course not perfect. Only God is perfect. We're not, and because of that, we are going to sin. But it's our contrition when we do, that's important, however small the sin (and perhaps, in recognising that the small sins are still sins, they're just as important as the big ones). Because in that, in recognising that we have sinned, no matter how small, and confessing it to God, we are forgiven. God love us just as we are - that's the wonderful thing. The Ten Commandments exist not so much to test us in our ability to keep them, but to test our love for God - because it's that, not just our willingness to submit to His will, that matters to Him. Our motive in keeping His laws, should be our love for Him, as our Father. Just like loving parents who guide their children to keep them safe, so does our Heavenly Father want to keep us on the narrow path. And just like children who mess up sometimes, and falter, and take the wrong turn, so will we, but as long as we recognise this, and show repentance, we will be forgiven. Little Bear reminded us of the hymn we often sing at Church, the words of which were written by the late 18th and early 19th Century poet, Charlotte Elliott, which you can listen to in the You Tube clip above. I think they are just right, and we all wished we'd sung this hymn today, because it seemed so appropriate for the reading we'd had, and for the one that followed, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians -
"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men". (1 Corinthians, 1, 22 - 25)
Isn't it wonderful that God is so great and so wise? We may be weak and fallen but through His Son we have been given the gift of Salvation - that we may be forgiven for our sins and recieve eteranal life. We are reconciled to Him through His Son, our sins redeemed by His blood. At this time of Lent, that's a thought that I want to hold on to, trusting that I am loved as God's child, just as I am - and so are you.
Just as I am - without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am - and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am - though toss'd about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am - poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am - Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am - Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am - of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Saturday, 10 March 2012
Links to these books below.
Papa Bear made me smile LOTS today!
I really have not been feeling very well these last few days. I just can't stop coughing and shivering, and I ache all over. But it seems to me that the more I try to hide this from my family, the more they seem to see through my determination not to give in to this illness, and treat me so sweetly and kindly, that it makes me feel as if I must be making far too much fuss! I feel so humbled by their kindness and truely undeserving of their care! After all I am not THAT ill (or I'd be in bed - though like most mamas, in all my years of marriage and motherhood, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've felt unwell enough to do that!) but today and yesterday, Papa Bear and the cubs have been so sweet to me, and been so patient and helpful. I did go to the supermarket today, and did all my chores (the Saturday chores are just my daily basics, and a bit of food prep - I have cut this down recently, and now do the bulk of it during the week). I also took advantage of the good weather we're having just now to do some extra laundry, which blew beautifully dry - by 3.30 pm today, it was all done! That made me smile too, but not nearly so much as the wonderful gifts that Papa Bear surprised me with!
The images you see above there are the Taste of Home Church Supper Desserts and Best Church Supper Recipes cook books, both of which are available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, and which my wonderful husband had ordered, and gave to me as a surprise gift, today! I was so thrilled with them! Thank you SO MUCH Papa Bear! He knows how much I like the Taste of Home recipes, and how delicious they taste too! There are a wealth of fantastic recipes in these 2 books, not just for potlucks and church socials, but also for larger families, as well as smaller ones like ours too! I've been busily looking through them both this afternoon, and have been so inspired already by what I've seen. Lots of tasty, frugal, easy to prepare dishes that I know everyone will enjoy. I have a long, long list of recipes now, that I can't wait to try out on the family! Papa Bear had actually planned to give these books to me as a gift on Mother's Day, next Sunday, but he decided they'd make me just as happy if he gave them to me today instead! Aren't I lucky?
In our family we enjoy a lot of cosy casseroles and one-pot dishes. This is partly cultural, as one-pot dishes are the tradition for us, and we were both brought up eating dishes like pot roast pheasant (sooo delicious, and extremely frugal too, but out of season now until October - we had our last one just before Christmas), and stewed rabbit (my mams taught me how to skin and paunch a rabbit when I was still young. It isn't fun, but I grew up on a farm and was taught not to be emotional about animals - they were there to feed us and provide us with a living, first and foremost, although we were also taught to treat them with compassion and respect. But I've never liked doing it and am not sorry to say that nowadays, we don't often eat this dish as there are others that we prefer a lot more). In addition, stews and casseroles are very easy to eat (and to prepare and cook!), usually with few ingredients and being served straight from the dish, with maybe only vegetables alongside. They are a complete meal in one. What is more, sinse they can often be prepared in advance and frozen, or cooked in a slow cooker, they are very adaptable, and easy to fit into a busy schedule, and the left overs usually taste as good if not better than the first time around. For all these reasons, csseroles feature frequently on our menus all year round, though more often in the cooler months.
Today we had for our tea (evening meal) - served a bit later than usual so that the cubs, who both have part time jobs, were able to eat with us - Cheddar Tater Caserole. This is (no surprises here) a Taste of Home recipe, and is a new dish that I decided we'd try as an alternative to the more traditional Tater Tot Casserole that we have eaten and enjoyed many times. This dish is slightly different, in that it has no meat in it. I also adapted it slightly to make it a little healthier than the Taste of Home recipe, which you can read here. I will also re-write the recipe below ...
1 10 3/4 ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup (I used non condensed low-fat mushroom soup instead)
1 12 ounce can evaporated milk (I used half fat)
1 cup sour cream (I ommitted this altogether)
1/2 cup butter, melted (I also ommitted this)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder (I didn't have this, so used Knorr Season-All instead)
1 32 ounce pack frozen Tater Tots
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup crushed potato chips (I used cornflakes instead, to reduce the fat and salt)
To this I also added a can of drained sliced mushrooms!
1. Combine the first 6 ingredients.
2. Add the tater tots and stir gently to mix. At this point I also added the sliced mushrooms.
3. Place in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan, and cover with the potato chips or cornflakes, and the grated cheese.
4. Bake uncovered in a fairly hot oven for 30 - 35 minutes (ours was done in 35).
I'm afraid to say that although the recipe states that this dish is supposed to serve 8 - 10 (oh the shame), we managed to eat the whole entire pan between four of us! BUT we didn't have anything else with it except a simple green salad - that is how I normally serve tater tot casserole. However having eaten (and very much enjoyed this) I would say that it begs to be served with boiled or roast ham - and Papa Bear agrees! It is delicious though. Not totally healthy, I agree, but then we had granola for breakfast, and home made wholegrain peanut butter sandwiches with apple coleslaw (no cheese) for dinner (lunch), and only grapes for dessert. So I don't think it is too bad, seen as part of our whole day's food! It certainly was scrumptious - the cheesy, crunchy topping was especially yummy, and the lack of butter and sour cream in the sauce went unnoticed. It was such a success that I am eagerly looking forward to trying out lots more new recipes now, from my new cook books! Oh, I am a VERY happy mama bear today! And best of all there were smiles all around the tea table too - which makes any amount of effort well worth the results!
Friday, 9 March 2012
I went for a walk with Papa Bear in the park today. Lured by the gorgeous pink and golden sunrise that we'd seen an hour or so earlier over the rooftops opposite our apartment block, we went out before Papa Bear left for work. It was so beautiful in the park at that time of the day. The sun was just beginning to shine and all around were birds, having their breafast. We saw a song thrush, a rare treat for us here in the part of England where we live. And everywhere the earliest stirrings of spring. So lovely! Among other things, we talked a bit about our plans for the weekend, which are pretty much the same as they are every week, and of course include a trip to the supermarket, and after seeing all the sweet wee birds in the park, it got me thinking.
I really enjoy our supermarket trip on Saturdays. It's only in the last couple of years, that Papa Bear and I have been able to take our weekly trip alone together - when the cubs were younger, it was a full-on family event - which was fun, but for altogether different reasons! In those days, we use to divide the shopping list up into 2. Papa Bear and Cubby would take one half, and Little Bear and I would take the other. We'd have competitions to see who could get round the supermarket first, and ones to see who had made the most savings when we got to the till! Of course we girls always won! Actually that's not true - when Cubby and Little Bear joined forces, THEY were the pair that were the canniest, when it came to clever shopping! That was often a big surprise to us grown-ups!
One of the reasons why they were so clever at shopping was because they'd stick rigidly to the list - they weren't swayed or tempted by bargains or new products, because as they were children, they were more focused on the game of seeing if they could be the most frugal, rather than the distraction of spending money on things they didn't need. It wasn't their money to spend, after all!
Well in fact NONE of us have money of our own to spend. The Bible tells us that God wants us to be good stewards of all that we have on earth - because it isn't ours. Everything we have belongs to Him. David tells us this in Psalm 24 -
"The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24, 1).
Jesus also had plenty to tell us about the love of money, and the damage this can do to our relationship with God -
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6, 19 - 21).
It's very easy to get carried away in the supermarket, especially if you haven't planned your shop carefully beforehand. But there are lots of ways to ensure that you do shop sensibly, and frugally - and in a way that pleases God, just by employing a little forward thinking. Here are a few ideas that I've found to be helpful for us as we do our supermarket shop ...
The first thing I've learned, and which I've spoken of before, is to menu plan. This way, food-wise at least, you know exactly what you need to buy, because you know exactly what you will be eating. You don't have to shop once a week like we do, to be able to menu plan sensibly. There are lots of different ways, and your personal circumstances, and the needs of your family, will dictate how often you are able to do this. The point is really just that you DO do it, no matter how often or infrequently you shop. If you don't know what you will be eating, how on earth can you plan your spending? It may seem restrictive, to plan for a week or more ahead, what you are going to be eating. But actually I have found it's bought me more freedom. It makes life easier if I know what we're going to be eating beforehand. And I have also found that I really do enjoy the menu planning because I enjoy cooking, so it's fun working out which dishes to make for my family, and how to plan these wisely, to take account of how much money we have to spend at the supermarket.
Next on the list ... the list! Always shop with a list. As above, if you don't know what you want to buy until you get to the supermarket, how on earth can you manage to stay in budget? Surely no one shops without a list? OK, some people do! But there's always time to change! Transforming your attitude to your spending starts with small changes like this, but it will make a huge difference to your bank balance! It may seem boring, but it's no fun being in debt either, and that's what is really at the heart of this. Self-control is needed, to stay on top of your finances. If we exercise self-control in this matter, it pleases God, because it shows we are choosing to live under His guidance, placing Him first and trusting in Him for all things -
"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
"Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" (Matthew 6, 24 - 26).
Before you write the list, consider offering up a prayer to our Father God to ask for His guidance as you write it, and also for His help in ensuring that you shop wisely. I do this and I'm sure it has made a huge difference to the results of our weekly shop! Also bear in mind things like the time of year (seasonal foods are usually cheaper, but at holiday times there are also mark-ups on certain items, so it's a good idea to take this into account). Consider coupons - there are websites where you can download these, and some stores will post flyers through letterboxes or print them in newspapers.
When you're at the supermarket, there are a few points worth remembering, as you push your trolley up and down the aisles. Bargains may not be as good as they seem. We've been caught out oftentimes in the past by the "2 for £2" offers, thinking this must be a great saving. But look at the unit prices. If the single unit is 99p, and you only need one, you are only going to be saving 2p to buy two, and in reality not saving anything at all since you only needed one item in the first place. Also read carefully which items offers actually apply to. Sometimes it may seem as if you can choose from any of a certain brand, but read the small print on the signs carefully, and you may find it only applies to a selection of that brand, and not the whole range.
Items that are marked down are often about to go out of date, so consider whether it is still worth purchasing them. If you can't use them before the use-by date, then you're wasting your money. Do also check the dates on multipacks. I've often been caught out by this, and found that although the multi-unit buy was cheaper than a smaller amount of single units, the use-by date means we can't eat them all before they're out of date. Of course perishable items like meat and fruit and vegetables can be frozen, but make sure you've enough room in your freezer! In the past I've been carried away by bargain buys of meat or soft fruit, only to find when we got home, that (and I'm very ashamed to confess this) I've had to discard something from the freezer, to make room for the new purchase. Suffice to say I've learned my lesson now, and don't do that any more!
The cheapest items are often on the lowest shelves, because the supermarket wants you to spend more, on the more expensive ones that are at waist height or eye level. So make sure you've compared all the prices before you buy. Having said this, quality does count for some things. If you are going to be using twice as much of the cheap item as another brand that is slightly more expensive, it is a false economy to buy the cheapest. We tend to usually go for the shop's own brand, but not the real bargain one. There are some exceptions to this. We always get the cheapest all-purpose flour, rice, pasta, potatoes, carrots and onions. But the cheapest tea or coffee? Ugh! No thank you! We'd rather go without if we can't afford the better brands.
Which brings me to my next point! When you are confronted (and let's face it, all of us are, now and then) by something which seems a really incredible bargain, say, electronic goods that have been marked down to 1/3 of their original price, it's very tempting to snap them up just because they are offering such a great saving. But ask yourself these questions before you buy ...
1. Can I afford it?
2. Do I really need it?
3. Can I buy it even cheaper elsewhere?
If the answer to the first question is no, you don't even need to think any more about it!
Another suggestion that I've read of, which works well for impulse buys, is to give yourself a week or a fortnight, or longer even, to think about what it is that you really want to buy. If you are still sure you want it at the end of that time span, then revisit the 3 questions. But very often (and I know this to be true from my own experiences) you will find you've completely forgotten about what it is you so desperately wanted! (Better still, the shop has usually sold out by then, so you can't have it anyways!).
We know how hard it is to have to stick to a strict budget. Sometimes it isn't fun. We don't always get to buy or eat the most exciting food. Our menus these days look a great deal more interesting than they have done in the past, when money has been very tight indeed. There have been seasons in our lives when we've really not had a choice at all about what we ate, and while we did survive those lean times, I'm very thankful that we don't have to live that way now. We are grateful for the gifts that God has given us, but we also know we can't be complacent. That's why we try to be sensible and frugal with our spending, and not let ourselves get carried away when we do our supermarket shop! It's terribly tempting, especially with all the lovely produce available in the stores these days. But it's not God's plan for us to be over-indulging ourselves. We don't need to! Our riches come from Him, and will be in Him, and with Him, for evermore. Let's praise our Saviour for His goodness as we do our shopping, and thank Him for His provision and protection. If he can take care of the wee birds in the sky, He will certainly take care of us.
"Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?" (James 2, 5).
Thursday, 8 March 2012
"Shew me thy ways, oh Lord; teach me thy paths.
Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day". (Psalm 25, 4 - 5)
Today my cold has been slowing me down quite a bit. I've been coughing and sneezing my way through my chores! Thankfully the sinusitis seems to be behaving itself at the moment, but I have very definitely got a bad cold! When I feel like this, I find it helps a lot to keep a humble heart and a happy spirit and just carry on regardless! I'll put on some lovely praise music, or sing to myself (today I didn't - I really couldn't! I could not stop coughing!). The clip above is a hymn which always inspires me when I'm feeling slowed down and sorry for myself, and it reminds me of two of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 86, and Psalm 25, which was read at our wedding. Just like that precious day, today it was a beautiful cloudless sunny day, cool but brightly sunny, and not for a moment did the sun stop shining, all day. Winter seems to have been chased away by spring today, and it was also a wonderful day for getting laundry dry and as I took it in from the line this afternoon I kept my mind busy with thoughts of the nice things we'll be able to do as the weather gets better, and the summery months arrive. Things like ....
Picnics in the park.
Walking around the lake.
Feeding the ducks.
Eating fish and chips on the pier at the seaside.
Taking a train to the village where we can walk to a real working windmill.
Flying a kite.
Visiting the gardens of a stately home.
The feel of a silky warm breeze rustling your hair and caressing your cheeks.
Collecting kindling for Grandmama Bear in the woods.
Queueing up at the ice cream van to buy 99 flake cornets to eat as we walk home from the town.
Watching the seagulls swooping and diving in a bright blue sky.
Listening to the sound of the wind rustling leaves on trees.
The sound of birdsong early in the morning.
The smell of freshly cut grass, lavender, and lime or apple blossom.
Sunny evenings around the kitchen table as we eat our tea in daylight!
Just imagining these things, made me feel MUCH better! And tomorrow is Friday which I always enjoy - it's a really busy day with lots of before-weekend chores, but I look forward to seeing a beautiful spick-and-span kitchen when I'm finished in there, and then sitting down to finalise our menu plan for the week ahead. Always fun!
"Teach me thy way, oh Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.
I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore" (Psalm 86, 11 - 12).
Teach me Thy way, O Lord,
Teach me Thy way;
Thy gracious aid afford,
Teach me Thy way.
Help me to walk aright;
More by faith, less by sight;
Lead me with heavenly light,
Teach me Thy way.
When doubts and fears arise,
Teach me Thy way;
When storms o'erspread the skies,
Teach me Thy way.
Shine through the cloud and rain,
Through sorrow, toil, and pain;
Make Thou my pathway plain,
Teach me Thy way.
Long as my life shall last,
Teach me Thy way,
Where'er my lot be cast,
Teach me Thy way.
Until the race is run,
Until the journey's done,
Until the crown is won,
Teach me Thy way
Wednesday, 7 March 2012
Pictured below is the cross stitch embroidery that I started TWO years ago! As I said yesterday, I can only sew during hours of daylight, and as I don't schedule myself time for hobbies (which this is) until the evening and perhaps during the weekend, it means I don't get an awful lot of hours to sew, during the winter months. You can buy special lamps with daylight bulbs just for sewing, but they are very expensive and for the amount of time I'd be using it, this seems like an unnecessary extravagance. If I were serious about sewing - making items to sell, for example - then maybe the expense would be justified. But for now, I just wait patiently until the summer months, and then get stitching!
Cross stitch is very easy to pick up. In fact Little Bear has been enjoying this craft for almost as long as I have! I didn't get interested in it until after I became a mama. It seemed a little overwhelming, when confronted with the stiff aida fabric (the material that you sew on, which comes in different grades, depending on the thickness of floss you will be using. It is like a very open weave calico or cotton), the silky coloured skeins of floss and the outline pictures printed on huge sheets of graph paper! (Each square on the paper represents one square of the aida fabric). I couldn't see how I'd ever get started on anything, and although I had lots of ideas and inspiration from books and magazine cuttings, I never went any further than this. That was until I discovered pre-printed cross stitch! With this, the design that you are going to sew is printed right onto the aida, and you have a paper guide that shows you which colours of floss to use where. It cuts out the need to count the squares of aida to see where you should get started, and some kits even include all the coloured floss, so all you have to do is read the instructions and get sewing! Here is a picture of my cross stitch, as far as I have got to with it, to date ...
Isn't it beautiful? I really like the pretty peach and pink colours, highlighted by the green of the leaves. Papa Bear has said he will frame it and hang it in our bedroom when it is done. It is entitled "two hearts entwined" and it is a wedding or anniversary commemoration. The heart in the centre will be filled with our names and the date of our wedding day, and above it (not completed at this point) are two wedding rings, entwined, that are picked out in a special gold thread. I have really enjoyed sewing it thus far! And along the way, I have learned a few things!
Before you start, ensure you have correctly identified all the different colours of floss. This kit has a great many very subtly different colours, and it is all too easy to use the wrong colour without realising it. Most kits come with a key, with the different symbols, the colour description and then the identification code, should you need to purchase more at any time. In different countries, these codes can vary depending on the brands of floss available (this is a Dimensions kit, but it is not possible to purchase loose Dimensions floss, where we live). I have found a very good website which will translate them for you, and I would suggest you keep a copy the web address for future reference! I have found it to be invaluable, and you can access it here.
Another trick to use to avoid getting into a muddle with your floss, is to do as I did, and stick a tiny sample of each strand of floss beside the corresponding symbol on the paper key. That way you can match up skeins of floss as you go quite easily and quickly. I found that the quantity of floss provided with my kit wasn't nearly enough, so next time I buy a kit, before I even get started, I shall purchase some extra skeins of floss. They aren't expensive, and any left overs can go into your work basket for future projects. Some shops will take back unused skeins (but none that I know of here, sadly). This way I won't get stuck like I have this time around, finding I am stalled going any further with my stitching because I've run out of floss.
I would also strongly recommend purchasing a floss organiser box, to keep all your separate skeins of floss organised. This is a large flat box with many small compartments in it. I put a different colour of floss into each compartment, along with a label from a used skein, so that I know which colour goes in each compartment. It's surprising how quickly you can find yourself in a huge muddle if you don't have some way of keeping the colours separate, especially once you start snipping lengths of floss from different colours (in this cross stitch, separate colours are combined on the needle to make another colour. It lends a lovely pearly luminescence to the work, which you can't really see in the picture above). I got the largest box I could afford, which was just a few pounds, but if you didn't want to spend that much, egg boxes would be a good alternative!
After watching me struggle with the floss snagging, snarling and knotting as I stitched, Papa Bear suggested that I try using shorter amounts of floss each time I rethreaded my needle! What a very wise suggestion - it eliminated the tangles immediately! Thank you Papa Bear! It is much easier (and you'll get a much neater result) if you use shorter lengths of floss. I can really see what a difference this has made when I look at my sewing. The areas I did first, with longer lengths of floss, are not nearly as neat or uniform as the areas I did after Papa Bear intervened!
You will inevitably find yourself needing to use your scissors frequently when you do cross stitch. To avoid having them keep disappearing from your side, as I did, why not try this trick - get a long length of ribbon, a chain or even a bootlace, and tie the scissors to the length, then fasten the two ends of the length together, and wear it like a necklace around your neck! Instant access to your scissors whenever you need them!
Use an embroidery hoop. I thought this was an unnecessary extra at first, but it makes a huge difference to the neatness of your sewing, helps you to keep your work clean (you hold the hoop and not the fabric) and has the added bonus of making you feel like a Victorian gentlewoman as you sit and quietly stitch! They cost just a couple of pounds, so they are a very worthwhile investment in my experience. Remember to remove it when you are done with your stitching each day though, or you will spoil the fabric.
Finally, in my experience, if you want a really neat, professional look to your finished stitching, invest in a pair of reading glasses! I cannot believe the difference wearing these has made to the quality of my sewing (and also knitting - and Bible study!). They work like magnifying glasses, but because they are on you, and therefore move with you, it is much easier to work on your sewing wearing these, than it would be to buy a far more expensive magnifier to hold over your work. You can purchase reading glasses for next to nothing in most pound or dollar stores (that is where mine came from). Of course, the fact that I later discovered I am long-sighted, was probably also a contributing factor, but I still prefer my glasses to a magnifier, and would recommend them even if you are only slightly long-sighted and don't need to wear glasses to read.
If you or your daughters haven't ever tried cross stitch before, or like me were put off it because it seemed so fiddly and complicated, why not have a try with a miniature kit, and see how you get on? You can buy small, fairly simple kits at many craft and habadashery outlets, and they don't cost much to purchase. Be warned though - cross stitching is very addictive, and if you get hooked like me, you may well find yourself longing for the beautiful, sultry days of summer, not so that you can get outside, but so that you can sit quietly indoors with your sewing on summer evenings! Mind though, if you have a garden (we don't), I can think of few nicer way to spend the evening or a Saturday afternoon than to sit quietly under the trees with your sewing!
Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Oh my goodness it has been soooo cold here the last few days! On Sunday for a while we even had snow, but it didn't last (thankfully). Yesterday it rained all day long. Not for a moment did it stop - it poured and poured, from dawn to past dusk. Today at last the sun came out, and it was such a pleasure to see it bravely shining between the clouds! In the trees outside our apartment it was so lovely to hear the birds singing joyfully, as if they too were thankful that the rain had finally beaten a retreat! I've been feeling as if I'm getting a cold the last few days, and the sunshine certainly helped to cheer me as I went about my chores today. I've been busy, but just recently I've still had time to ...
A time to plant ... after our last trip to the supermarket on Saturday just gone, Papa Bear was very inspired by seeing all the potted herbs on sale there! On the way home we talked about whether or not it would be cheating to have some pots of herbs that we had not actually planted ourselves, to try growing in our small home, rather than starting off the hard way with packets of seed and some pots of compost. We came to the conclusion that although it wouldn't be as exciting or rewarding as growing the herbs from seeds, it would be a lot less wasteful as we were guaranteed healthy plants right from the start - and it would also be a less disappointing experience, if the plants didn't do very well! So with that in mind, we are not so much planting, as purchasing, our herbs this weekend! Hopefully they'll be lending some nice new flavours to our food - and making the kitchen look pretty, too!
A time to heal ... I really do need to find a way to heal the chronic sinusitis I suffer with. The rest of the family don't seem to be bothered with this problem but whenever I catch a cold, I am troubled with terrible pain and discomfort from my sinuses being blocked. I've tried steam treatments, various inhalants, and, much as we dislike them, even antibiotics, but nothing seems to do more than lessen the problem. I'm yet to find a cure - and at the moment I've got the beginnings of yet another cold - so once again, I'm ready and waiting with all my medications!
A time to laugh ... once more, we've been laughing at the antics of the animals on the TV programmes that we watch. We don't watch a lot of TV. When the cubs were wee it was strictly monitored, and we've never watched it at all during the day (apart from whenever Papa Bear's football team is playing a live game - which is only occasionally). The radio we do enjoy during the day, but even then only when we actually want to listen to something - not just as background noise. In the evenings sometimes, Papa Bear likes to relax with a DVD or an interesting programme on the TV, and we especially like programmes about wildlife and nature. We have several DVD sets that are about animals (pandas in particular - well, we are bears!) but the other night we were watching a documentary about sloths. What incredibly strange creatures they are! Not only do they really truely move just as their name suggests, extremely slowly, but they also look very odd too - a bit like a monkey, but with even longer arms and a flatter, squarer head, with big eyes that are almost hidden under a long fringe of fur, and a wide mouth that turns up at the corners, so that they look as if they are smiling. It was fascinating watching their behaviour - and so funny too, as they crept languidly about, still managing to outwit their keepers despite their very slow and purposeful movements! We adored the sloth cubs that were being treated for mange, and had to wear special custom-made suits to protect their delicate skin during the treatment - they were very cute. Papa Bear suggested I make something similar for one of our birds, that has a feather-plucking problem (his mate passed away last year, and he has been a bit unhappy ever since then, although he seems better than he has been in the past few weeks). We really enjoy watching programmes like this, which can inspire so many emotions - and laughing together is so healthy.
A time to embrace ... did you know that it takes 3 weeks to embrace a new habit? It can be difficult to adopt lifestyle changes, even if they are ones that you know will be beneficial - and even if they're only small ones, too. It's just so much easier just to carry on doing things the way you always have, because you don't have to think about it. Making a change involves a conscious decision, and then a commitment to stick to the new way of doing things. But it does work! When Papa Bear and I decided that the best time of day to do our Bible study and devotions was first thing in the morning, it was very difficult to adjust to having to wake up so much earlier. But do you know now, I could not honestly tell you how long we have been doing things this way! It seems as if we have always woken at 5 or 5.15 to do our Bible study. Papa Bear doesn't always do Bible study at that time (he has dyslexia so reading even when he's wide awake is a challenge for him) but he joins me in our devotional and that is truely one of the most precious times of the whole day for us. I'm glad we've embraced that change! But it's good to keep on refining and adjusting and making changes, so that we're able to keep ourselves challenged - and therefore growing.
A time to keep ... I use to keep recipes that I'd clipped from magazines. I have a real passion for cooking - and therefore a passion for discovering new recipes, and over the years, it hadgot so I had so many that I had to keep them all in a huge ring binder. And yet in all truth, I could probably count only 5 recipes out of that whole big binder, that I ever actually use regularly. They weren't organised very well either because whenever I clipped a new recipe I would simply add it to the back of the binder, which meant that whenever I wanted to actually find one I intended to use, I'd have to flip through the whole binder trying to locate it. I'd planned to file them according to type, but since some were double sided with different types of recipe on each side, it was impossible to categorise them sensibly. One day last week I decided enough was enough. Since I've been using the Taste Of Home website (which has a wonderful online customisable recipe box feature), I have found I've relied less and less on printed recipes. And almost all the ones I'd clipped, I could find versions of online (and add them to my Taste Of Home recipe box). So, the recipe binder got culled! It now has about 20 recipes in that I can't find online, and that is all. Most of them are ones that friends or family have shared with me, so they're unique and I'm happy to hang on to them. But the rest? No more keeping things I don't use! They went the way of the recycling bin, and now, my recipes are stored nicely online - so I don't have to flip through hundreds of pages, to find the right one (the online recipe box has a handy search facility too). This is definitely how I'll be keeping them in the future!
A time to sew ... I hope to post about my cross-stitch project tomorrow. It's nearly finished - only 2 years later than I'd intended! I find cross-stitch very absorbing and enjoyable, but I can only do it during the hours of natural daylight. In England that means in the winter months, not very many hours! I don't indulge in hobbies during the day - I may be at home, but I'm working - I always say I'm not a stay-at-home wife, but a wife who works from home - and enjoying myself with sewing or knitting or other crafts that I'm doing just for the pleasure of it, isn't work. Lovely though my hobbies are, I feel it would be a terrible insult to Papa Bear, and a poor example to my children, to while away my working day, enjoying myself with sweet pleasantries such as these whilse they are busy laboring at their own work rather than enjoying their own chosen passtimes. Like them, my work during the day time is industrious labour - not always fun, or pleasant, but very worthwhile. That's one reason why this blog is usually updated in the evening - blogging isn't work (well, not for me, anyway) either. Another reason of course is that Papa Bear likes to read over what I've written before it goes public - so I wait for the evenings so that he can share in the input of each post. I have lots of hobbies to enjoy but not so much time to enjoy them - and that's what makes them special! I'm very much looking forwards to the clocks changing to BST, in 3 weeks' or so - because that will mean there's time to sew!
A time to speak ... a particularly special time for us to speak to each other, is at mealtimes. We may not see each other very much during the day now that the cubs are at college, but we do all come together every evening (and most mornings, though the cubs aren't usually very talkative then!) around our dining table. We actually have 2 - a bigger one, for main meals, and a smaller one in the kitchen, which we can just all squeeze around, where breakfast is eaten. And that's where a lot of important things get said! It's where events of the day are shared and discussed, observations and ideas are debated, and everyone enjoys the fellowship and togetherness of being blessed with beautiful food and a loving family. I always like to make an effort to ensure that our dining table - whichever one it is, or even if it is just a lap tray - is nicely set, with a pretty centrepiece, themed in some way to the season or occasion or type of food we're eating. I have some nice dinner services (in our culture, it is common to own several full dinner services to use for different occasions, the first one usually being given as part of a little girl's gifts at baptism, in preparation for the future, when she becomes a wife and mother with a home of her own) and really enjoy taking the time to make the table look lovely, even if it is just a simple occasion. When we have friends to dine with us as well, we often eat sitting around the living room and I'll serve a buffet style meal, as even our big our table really isn't large enough for more than 4 with all the plates and dishes as well. But I make it feel just as special, and the sense of sharing and companionship is still there! Some of our happiest memories have been forged around the dinner table with our loved ones. It's a very valuable time indeed and one where we always feel the presence of our Father God, who provides us with our daily bread, in our lives.
A time to love ... I do love my cubs! Just yesterday, they were telling me, of things they personally thought were valuable, to share with other parents about how to protect your children's hearts and foster a wholesome, loving environment for them to grow up in (I wrote about this on Sunday). Cubby said he thought that having no TV was a good idea. And Little Bear shared that she thought a home where there was an all-out ban on shouting, made for a more caring environment where children would more respectful to their parents, because the example they saw, was of adults behaving responsibly and respectfully to each other. What insightful comments I felt these were - and so true, too. Both constant TV and the sound of raised voices are sure ways to turn your children's hearts from the hearth to the colder world outside. Thinking about this made me realise how easy it is too - almost without realising it, we can sever the bonds we've made with our children. But for their sakes, we need to foster the self control and temperance that form the foundation of true, solid love - a love that will nurture and guide, and fortify our children with the character qualities they need to be able to leave our nests and become strong, independent and Godly adults.
A time of peace ... well, in our home, it is almost always a time of peace! While our birds can be quite vocal sometimes, the humans are fairly peaceful! In fact I'm pleased to report that we are a non-shouting household, and, as I've already said, we don't have a lot of TV either. But we do have a lot of laughter! And a LOT of "I love you"s too! Of course, sometimes peace doesn't have to be quiet - it can be the contentment of a tranquil heart - even when the world around you is bubbling with busyness. And that comes from knowing that all is well - with us and our homes, our families, and most importantly, our Father God.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid". (John 14, 27).
Monday, 5 March 2012
This is one of Papa Bear's favourite TV snacks. I make it for him often to enjoy whilse he is watching the football. Like a lot of husbands, he is football-crazy. Not being a born football fan, I've found that rather than allowing this to be a source of disagreement in our marriage, I've learned to use it as an opportunity to develop an interest and passion for something I never once, before I became Mrs. Bear, thought I'd be able to enjoy. Now I get almost as much pleasure and excitement from watching the games as Papa Bear does - and so I was just as happy when our team equalised yesterday in the 90th minute of the game! Yay! Smiles all round!
To make this simple snack, per person, you will need ...
Half a 14 oz can baked beans in spicy tomato sauce
3/4 cup salsa
1 individual size pack Dorito chips
1/2 cup grated (shredded) cheddar cheese
1/2 tablespoon green chillis from a jar
1 large tomato, cut into eighths
Sour cream or yogurt to serve
Place the beans in a small microwave proof dish.
Spread the chips on top of the beans.
Put spoonfulls of the salsa on top of the chips.
Add the grated cheese and chillis.
Microwave on high for 4 /12 minutes (850 watt microwave), or until the cheese is melted and the beans are bubbling.
Garnish with the tomato eighths and serve with sour cream and more chillis if liked!
As in the picture above, Papa Bear likes to have this dish served with a glass of chilled shandy (non alcoholic beer and lemonade). It's a quick and easy snack that is perfect for watching the football (I can get it prepared during half-time, without having to miss a moment of the game), and although it is fairly calorific (about 700, I estimate) and therefore a treat rather than an everyday staple, it is also not too bad for you health wise, with lots of fibre from the beans, and the salsa and tomato mean it counts as one portion of your five-a-day, too! And although I've never made it any other way but this, you could also try making it with refried beans, instead of baked (they are not easy to come by, where we live), or even plain canned beans.
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.