Monday, 30 December 2013

a letter for you

Hello lovely readers,

This post is just for you. In some ways, all of the things I share here are for you, but this one is especially for you. Let me explain. You see, I love the way that blogging provides me with a way of recording the moments in life that I want to remember. It's a brilliant tool for storing recipes and creative ideas, and it's a way of documenting the beauty that I see around me every day. But the thing is with writing a blog, is that everything I write is out there for all the world to see, and from the blogs that I follow, I have seen how wonderful the impact of sharing a little bit of life online can be. Blogging can foster community, and I think that this makes the process and time that goes into blogging seem so much more worthwhile - when a blog becomes a space where conversations happen, where inspiration is found and where encouragement is given. In my sidebar, there is a picture of a chair, and the words,

 'come sit a while and have a little read...'

I suppose my hope for this blog has been that you, dear readers, would come and visit the space I have created here, sit a while with a mug of your favourite hot beverage in hand, and feel like you're sharing a little bit of life with a friend. But can I be honest with you? When I look at the content of my posts, I don't feel like this is a place where I would come and sit with a big mug of coffee, because for the most part, I write about baking with a sprinkling of life thrown in between. And I feel that's all I'm really giving you - the sprinkles on top of a cake instead of the beauty of the cake as a whole - with a perfect sponge to sink your teeth into, topped with just the right amount of frosting. For the most part, you, my readers, are a quiet bunch, and in all honesty, if I were to write from my heart, and put a lot of time and energy into sharing life in a little more depth, to speak to silent onlookers feels a little disheartening. And I feel that this contributes to the nature of my blogging being just about giving you the sprinkles on a cake, rather than the whole cake experience, to continue with that analogy.

As I begin live out this new season in my life of motherhood, and as a new year approaches, I have been thinking about the things I blog about, and what direction I should take in blogging over the next year. I would love to have a little bit of input from you, my readers. I have grown to love taking photos of food, and the more I have taken photos of my baked goods, the more I have enjoyed styling the photos to make them just a little bit more exciting. You see, I love to bake and cannot imagine that changing any time soon. I am aware that food and baking are the things that I blog about most frequently. And there is a part of me that feels there is value in keeping a visual and written record of what I make and bake, even if no-one who reads this blog ever feels inspired to make what I share, because I will always enjoy looking back at what I have baked each year, and challenging myself to vary the way that I style and photograph food.
So the way I see it, I could continue blogging about food, and leave it at that. But I can't help but wonder what you would like to read about when you visit my blog, and what it is that keeps you coming back. Would you like for me to continue sharing what I bake here? Would you be interested in me writing about other topics, like motherhood, or my faith, or experience in Early Years education? Perhaps there are a number of you who read this blog who had no idea that, for the last ten years, my studying and employment has been in Early Years Education. I have rarely talked about it here, as I have needed to protect the privacy of the families whom I have worked with. Now that I am taking a year long break from teaching, and am not directly involved in teaching any children, I feel that I could talk about Early Years Education without compromising my integrity as a teacher, if that might be of interest to you.

Can I invite you to join me in a little conversation in the comments section of this blog? If you have followed along with me here for a long time, but never commented, I would love to hear from you and what you are interested in. For those of you who do kindly take the time to comment here on a regular basis, can I say a huge Thank you? I really do value your generosity and encouragement offered through your words.

With kindness,


Sunday, 29 December 2013

life is worth celebrating

As 2014 feels close, and 2013 draws to an end, I am thinking back on the year that has past and am so thankful for so many wonderful moments, both big and small. I always want to remember that life is worth celebrating, and a small way that I try and celebrate the beautiful moments, people and places, is through capturing the snapshots with my camera. Here are a few of my most memorable moments from 2013.

The year began with a big focus on finding a house for us to buy. On a snowy evening in January, I went to see a house that was being renovated, and was not yet on the market, as the renovation was still in process. Despite the exposed floor boards and unfinished garden, I fell in love with this house, and desperately wanted John to see it. The housing market was moving incredibly quickly, and I knew that if we didn't act fast, we would lose the house to another buyer. Unfortunately, John was unable to view the house, due to a work trip to Japan, and sure enough, the house was sold before John got to see it.
One of the small features I loved about the house was the original tiling from fireplaces that once existed in four of the rooms in the house. Even though I knew they would be covered up with carpet, I loved knowing that this little piece of the house's history still remained after a thorough renovation.

March was a very exciting month for us. We received a phone call to say that the house that I had seen in January and loved, had come back on the market. John viewed the house as soon as he could, we made an offer, which was accepted within just a few hours, and the following day was John's birthday. As well as celebrating John's birthday, we found out that we had another life to celebrate in the form of the little baby King, who would be joining us by the end of the year.

April held some of my favourite teaching memories for me this year. I started taking my class to the local nature reserve each week in small groups, and we had such fantastic experiences together. Perhaps the most memorable feature of our trips was discovering a swan's nest. The first time we saw it, we were saddened to discover that a dog had disturbed the nest, and as a result, all of the babies had died. This led to some wonderful conversations with the children about life and death, saddness and anger, and the joy in new life. The scene depicted in the photo below reflects one of these conversations where a child shared their theory that perhaps the swan was chasing the duck because it was sad and angry that their babies had died. Thankfully, over the course of our visits, we saw the swans return to their nest, lay more eggs, and successfully hatch signets.

April also saw our last holiday together as a family of two. We stayed in a beautiful cottage in St. David's and enjoyed going running together and talking about the tiny babe growing in my belly, who was still a secret from everyone.

In May, the purchase of our house moved along very quickly, and we received the keys at the start of the month. Needless to say, the rest of the month was spent packing our belongings and starting from scratch with barely any furniture - the only pieces of furniture we owned when we moved in were a desk, a coffee table, a dining table and a bookshelf. I want to remember these days that felt slightly overwhelming but also very exciting, as we turned our house into a home and sought out secondhand furniture around our city and the country.
July saw the start of my adventures in baking bread by hand, and I discovered the fun and fulfillment there is to be found in taking a small amount of time to craft something with my hands, that I had relied on a machine to do for me for the last seven years. Since July, many, many hand made loaves of bread have come out of my oven, and I am hoping that I will be able to continue this craft in 2014.
August brought with it adventures to Barbados with John's family. One of the most incredible parts of the holiday was witnessing hundreds and hundreds of baby turtles hatching from their nests each evening on the beach outside of our hotel. It felt like such a privilege to get to observe this momentous occasion that was the end result of months of growing and days of hard work to travel up through the sand from the safety of their nests.
October and November will remain in my mind as months that were rooted in waiting for the baby in my womb to finish growing. The waiting process brought with it a humility and yielding to the weakness in my body as the babe grew stronger, and a need to just be quiet and still. Never before have I felt the need to hibernate and hide away as I did in those last few weeks of pregnancy. Only four weeks have passed since the highlight of the year of giving birth to our first baby, and yet when I remember how I felt in those last few weeks, it feels like so much longer ago. I feel like I am still getting my head around the fact that I had a baby grow inside of me for three quarters of this year, and now that baby, our beautiful daughter, is here with us. 
At the start of 2013, the lovely T, author of the ever-inspiring blog, A Seed Inspired, offered to pray for any of her readers who wanted prayer, and share with them a word for 2013. The word she gave me was create, and throughout the year, God has spoken to me about creating and creativity in so many ways. Much of this teaching has been around the time it takes to create. We have been blessed by lots of people with beautiful hand knitted gifts for Ruby - I love the beauty of handmade gifts - and I especially appreciate receiving knitted items, because I do not have the patience to learn to knit myself. I value the time that people have invested in sitting for hours with needles clicking back and forth, just to create something for our daughter. 
God has taught me a lot about the value and importance in the process of creating, rather than being focused on the intended outcome. When T initially shared the word create with me, my first thoughts were of what I might create in the artistic sense. And while I have enjoyed exercising a bit of creativity this year in baking, sewing and photography, the learning that has taken place around the word 'create' has run far deeper than the tangible things that I have created. 

This year, I have watched my husband devote hours and hours to removing rubble from our garden, so that we might be able to create a place of beauty. I had to sit back and watch as he laboured, due to the growing babe inside of me. As I felt the weight of frustration of not being able to help John, God taught me about the way that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8 verse 28), and just as I was unable to help John with removing the rubbish & rubble to make space for beauty, He was knitting together and creating the body of the baby in my womb, creating life that I could not work or labour towards. The great beauty of my babe had very little to do with anything that I could or couldn't do, but God was in control through it all, as each beautiful part of her body formed. God reminded me that He is always at work, and sometimes, we just need to plant the seeds and He will do the rest. In those times where we physically cannot work hard, or we feel like we are not being pro-active in life, He is always at work. Not only this, but in the Bible, Jesus invites us, 

'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.' 
Matthew 11 vv 28 - 30'
So I got my hands dirty, planting bulbs, allowing the lessons that God was teaching me about the place and purpose of messiness and time in creating, to take root in my heart as I pushed the bulbs down into the soil so that they might be able to take root and create beauty after the Winter passes. And as this year draws to a close, I will remember that God is the great Creator, who equipped us to create, in so many different ways.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Joy to the world

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the wold in sin and error pining, 
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, Oh, hear the angel voices,
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born.

Happy Christmas, one and all!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Christmas Wrapping // Clay Gift Tags

I love wrapping presents, so Christmas is especially fun for me, because I get to wrap presents for all of my loved ones, not just one person. Last year, I came across The Imagination Tree's recipe for white clay, which I made into Christmas tree decorations with my children at school. The clay was so cheap to make and so perfectly white, that I decided to make it again this year, but to use as gift tags instead of tree decorations.
{two decorations from last year when I did a quick trial run of making the clay before trying to make tree decorations with thirty children who were three years old.}
I have a gift tag hole punch, which I used to give me an approximate size and shape for the clay gift tags. I made a paper template, then cur around the rolled out clay with a sharp knife. To make the holes for ribbon and twine to go through, I simply used a straw as a cutter to create the perfect circle.
You can choose to oven bake the clay, or air dry it. In my experience, it is a little tricky to manage to bake the clay for exactly the right amount of time to dry it out and ensure that it stays beautifully pure white. Sadly, I ended up wasting a batch of clay through trying to oven dry it in our new oven, which just didn't work out as planned. So for the next batch, I let them air dry.
Once the clay was dry, I got to work with an artist's pen using a 0.3mm nib to decorate each of the gift tags with the initial of the gift recipient. I just wished I had more clay, because I only had enough to make tags for family members, and I so enjoyed the process of decorating them that I could have kept on going for hours! If you would like to have a go at making the clay, just follow the link to The Imagination Tree's blog at the beginning of this post.

Monday, 9 December 2013

weekend round up

Weekend Gratitudes
I am starting the week feeling fresh from a calm and cozy weekend, feeling so thankful for....

// The company of wonderful friends, who made the journey to Bristol from London, just to spend the afternoon with our little family.

// Nostalgic Christmas music filling our home in the form of the soundtrack from Home Alone

// Having a sleeping baby to cuddle for hours on end. Cherishing these days of having a newborn.

// Church community who blessed us with food - homemade steak & ale pie, chocolate and mince pies - and filled our home for hours on end on Sunday afternoon.

// Christmas candles filling our living room with their divine aromas

// Bright winter sunshine, blue skies and fresh, crisp air filling my lungs

// Family walks around our neighbourhood 

// The last colours of Autumn glowing bright in the December sun

// Neighbours who left a stack of bread tins on their wall for the taking. Yes please & thank you very much. Now I can bake even more loaves of bread simultaneously.

// Music by The Piano Guys. I am especially loving their take on Angels we have heard on High and Arwen's Vigil (which was on the playlist that I listened to while I was in labour).

Friday, 6 December 2013

photo walk // red

I haven't done a photo walk for a long time - so long in fact that I can't remember when I last did one. All I know for sure is that although I have taken many photos this year, I have rarely just gone for a little walk to capture the things that catch my eye. In these early days of having a baby, I have been enjoying getting out of the house each day, even if it is just for a ten minute walk around the block, it refreshes me, and it feels good to be moving when I am spending many hours of my days sitting down to feed little Miss King.

So today, while John went shopping, I went on a stroll with my baby in her sling and my camera slung over my shoulder. And this is what I saw. Red. Here, there and everywhere.

Red is...

Tbe colour of sprigs of tiny red berries, full of life through the cold of Winter;
It's the colour of the cross-hatched gate, left slightly ajar, eady for the next visitors.
Red is the old-school mini, reflecting the shape of the clouds in its shiny bonnet.
Red is reflected in the Christmas garland adorning a front door,
It's the shade of the dying leaves of a Bay Tree, still beautiful as the life fades.
Red is the paintwork that's looking old and tired;
It's the bold colour of the discarded coffee cup on the red brick wall.
And it's the colour of the blanket that my babe lies on.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Homemade Christmas Gifts // Chutney

John and I made chutney for the first time three years ago, when some friends of ours who have lots of land to raise their own meat and grow their own fruit on, invited us to go and help ourselves to their abundance of damsons. In our ignorance, we picked their plums, so we ended up making a batch of what we called 'Plumson Chutney', as we used a combination of plums and damsons. We gave away jars to family and friends for Christmas, and most of the recipients devoured their jars, before requesting more. And so a tradition was started. The following year, we made spiced apple chutney, and ventured a little further into making edible gifts, to include chilli jam and lime syrup.
So this year, when the boughs of trees weighed heavy with their harvest for the year, we contacted our friends with their fields and fruit trees, and soon became the happy recipients of 3 pounds of damsons and another friend kindly gave us a few pounds of apples. I felt even more keen than ever before to store up a cupboard full of chutney, ready for Christmas, in the knowledge that our precious daughter would be arriving just in time for Christmas. In anticipation of our lives being taken over by a tiny person, I was keen to get preparations for Christmas underway, and so one October afternoon, John and I filled our home with the smells of Christmas spices and vinegar, and worked together to make a big old batch of Damson Chutney. (It's messy work, I'm not going to lie!)

The recipe we followed can be found here, thanks to good old Delia Smith (if you are reading this and are not English, Delia is a well loved British cook, who has been cooking, baking and writing recipe books for decades). This year, we invested a very small amount of money in a funnel, which proved to make filling the jars a dream, with no sticky messes that needed to be cleaned off the jars. What a simple joy! Roll on the Christmas season, when we can distribute dozens of jars of the matured chutney, and eat cheese, chutney and crackers to our heart's content.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Giving thanks // a little announcement

Back in October, I started reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, which is so much more than a book that you might read and then forget about. It is a call to live fully in every single day of our lives - not just the joy filled days - but the mundane, grief filled and downright difficult times in life - through giving thanks to God in all things. One of the ways that I like to celebrate life in both the small and beautifully ordinary moments, as well as those moments in life of greater significance, is through taking photos and sharing them on this little space & Instagram. Because photos can speak so much more of the profundity of beauty than any words that I could ever conjure. 
So, I have been thinking a lot about giving thanks, as the words of One Thousand Gifts  have been circling my heart, and all the more so with the approach of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. While this is not a holiday we celebrate in England, we share life with some wonderful Americans and Canadians, who have brought this celebration of giving thanks over to the UK, and for the first time last year, we shared in a wonderful Thanksgiving feast with a great gathering of friends. Whereas once upon a time, I was oblivious to when this celebration took place for Americans, it has now become an annual tradition, which John and I look forward to with great eagerness. As the sun rose on the morning of Thursday 28th November, there were a few things going through my mind. One of those things was that today was the day that Americans would celebrate Thanksgiving.

Another of the thoughts in my head as the sun rose is that this would be a particularly significant day of Thanks Giving for us. For it would be the day that our daughter would be born, as I was enveloped deep in the process of labour as the sun rose in the morning sky. On this day, we would get to meet the precious little life that we have been giving thanks to God for over the last nine months, and the moment we would meet would be greeted with the crescendo of our ever-growing thankfulness to God for the blessing of a daughter. And so it is with great joy and Thanksgiving that I can share with you that our daughter, Ruby Elizabeth, was born on Thursday 28th November.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

healthy(ish) snacking

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Guy Fawkes night with friends, who kindly hosted us and filled our bellies with all kinds of delicious foods. One of the snacks they provided were home-roasted pumpkin seeds, and oh my, I loved them. So I decided to give it a go myself. I was reliably informed by our hostess that the trick is to soak the seeds in heavily salted water for a good few hours before roasting, otherwise they just don't taste as good.
I rinsed the seeds through a sieve and separated the pulp, then filled the bowl with water. I then added about half a cup of salt (I just poured an approximate amount in), and thought that it probably would have made far more sense to mix the salt in before adding the seeds, but there was no going back, so I just enjoyed the swirling patterns of the seeds as I mixed the salt in.
After soaking for about 8 hours (they probably don't need this long, but it's quite convenient to do them overnight), I drained off the water and patted the seeds dry with kitchen towel. Then I dredged them in lots of black ground pepper, a little olive oil and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, before baking for 30 minutes at 200C / Gas Mark 5 / 350F. You can season these with anything you want - the first time we had them, they were just seasoned with the salt they had soaked in, and were delicious, or you could throw in some chilli powder to give them a good kick of heat.
Ours had a little too long in the oven, so some of the seeds were a bit well done, but I still devoured them, and found myself wishing that I had another pumpkin so I could make these again.