In praise of advent

I wanted to bring you a little advent project and share with you why advent is so important to me.  So in this season of business, of sparkle, of mince pie making, present wrapping, card writing and nativity costume making may I invite you to make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy a moment of quiet and reflection with me.

Advent seems to be  forgotten season/tradition the first of December arrives and its up with the decorations, out with the Christmas jumpers and boom Christmas is here. As a Christian advent is one of my favourite seasons, the waiting, the anticipation, the savouring, the preparation. I enjoy all these things … dare I say it…more than he big day itself. I hope what I write doesn’t sound like a sermon, that’s not my intention.  I simply wish to share a few of he things that help us as a family to savour this precious season each year. I do an advent calendar for my children. We have one of those cloth advent calendars with the pockets.  I do include the occasional sweet treat but I’ve always tried to make it a little more meaningful too.  One year we had a calendar of random acts of kindness I included thing like donating toys to charity, writing a letter to a friend, holding a door open for someone and we had a lot of fun doing it. In fact my children got quite competitive about who could complete their act first, or be most generous.  When my girls were very young they had a snippet of the Christmas story and a wooden nativity piece to add to the stable each day. In other years we’ve had  bible verse or Christmas activity each day  We’ve had a lot of fun and I have found these traditions bring meaning, joy and anticipation to the season of advent.  This year however, Granny showed up with a chocolate Frozen themed advent calendar and a Thomas the tank engine one for my son – I was frankly horrified. My children where amazed such things existed (7 years I’ve kept it a secret that other children get chocolate for breakfast during December)  and of course absolutely ecstatic. Once I reigned in my slightly over the top reaction to the chocolate advent calendars & accepted that my beautiful cloth advent calendar would just have to stay in the loft this year I set about trying to think of a simple way to  capture the true meaning of advent in our home this December.

My plans (and this post) were delayed when I spent most of the first week of December in hospital with my son, Beau who had just turned 2 and has Asthma.  That first night in hospital my son was absolutely buzzing with all the medication he had needed and at 8pm (way past his usual bedtime) I was feeling tired and emotional after what had been a difficult and long day. I’d read him every book in that place. Feeling unable to face yet ANOTHER tale of Apple Tree Farm or round of Dig, Dig Digging I got out the Gideon’s bible that the Gideon society place by every hospital bed. I began reading  the story of the birth of Jesus from Mathews gospel. I got no further than 5 versus in and Beau was asleep, at that moment it felt like a miracle – definitely an act of God, I was so relieved. I continued reading and took in all that wondrous story with a very grateful heart. So familiar is that story and yet I so rarely find the time to stop and read it in the busyness of December the words seemed new to me.  They stayed with me that week. My son now asleep I tired to make myself as comfortable as possible (not easy in a hospital) I watched Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas (I love that program) and flicked through a Christmas copy of Country living magazine – oh comfort and joy! Stuck in hospital away from all the distractions of home although not where I wished to be actually gave me a unique opportunity to just be.  To savour and slow down. Both the magazine and the television program full of beautiful images and lovely ideas for Christmas reminded me of the words from the Christmas song “Joy to the world”

“Let every heart prepare him room

And Heaven and nature sing…”

 Over the following few days as we left hospital and we continued to nurse my son back to health and make sense of that strange other worldly experience that is staying in hospital. Gradually an idea for making advent meaningful for all in our home came to me. It is wonderfully simple (well it needed to be with a very poorly tot to care for), not in any way original or new but it has given us pause for reflection this year.

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4 candles, some black paper and chalk, some raffia string, foraged foliage and some clementine’s and apples I sliced and baked in a very low oven for a few hours. I created this advent centre piece for our dining table.

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We have marked the Sundays of advent (Peace, Hope, Joy and Love) we have lit our candles at our evening meal every day and included a simple prayer on the theme in our usual mealtime grace. Next Sunday when we light the final candle we will put our decorations up.  AND eat gingerbread and Christmas will really be here but only once we have reflected on the meaning of Peace, Hope, Joy and Love.

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Blackberrying Dress

I realise its been AGES since I shared anything I’ve sewn with you on here.  Sewing write ups tend to be quite time consuming.  So I thought I would take the pressure off and keep it simple. This was dress I made back in the early autumn (look at that gorgeous low autumn light streaming through this photo, how I miss it).

I used a free pattern from an old copy of Prima magazine that a friend always saves for me.  In hindsight I wish I’d drafted my own like I usually do for my children’s clothes.  I used the pattern as I hoped it would save me time but I ended up having to use a small bodice size according to my daughters measurements, adding length to it and adding length to the skirt, its still a little short and I’m not sure it saved me any time.

The fabric was a lovely cotton lawn (I’m guessing) salvaged from a vintage ladies dress.  The dress was a proper 1980s Laura Ashley style number with a long and full skirt and it was a fairly large size so there was LOTS of fabric to work with.  the dress was fully lined and I managed to use the lining as well to line this dress.  The dress was also given to me to use for the fabric and so the total cost of this dress was £0.

We have dubbed this dress the Blackberrying dress because of the time of year I made it and also the lovely green and purple bramble type design of the fabric. With a t-shirt and a war pair of tights underneath this dress is still getting a lot of wear.

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In case your wondering about those boots, aren’t they gorgeous! They are a metallic leather with velvet ribbon laces. I got them on e-bay and they’d hardy been worn they were originally from Marks and Spencer and they go so perfectly with this very thrifty dress.

 

 

My Sewing Space

I have a little desk in the corner of our living room where I sew.  I find it helps so much to have my machine out all the time, it means any time I have a spare 5minutes I am ready to sew.  My family are very tollerant to allow me such a luxury in what is quite a small house.  I like my space to be tidy and well organised but pretty too with all I need at hand.

I keep my spools of thread on my desk in a beautiful glass jar that I bought in Dunelm’s bathroom department, it wasn’t expensive but I think it looks a million dollars.

Because I sew in our living room I need to be very tidy I keep a vintage tea cup cup on my desk for all the threads I’ve clipped.  I love old crockery and it’s lovely to find a way I can use this cup and have it out on display. My thread snips rest perfectly on the saucer and are always to hand.

I’d love to hear where you find space to sew and what little finishing touches make your sewing space special?

Flower Arranging

June for me is the month of flower.  If you didn’t already know I LOVE flowers and more often than not there are some on my table.  Rarely are they bought flowers more often than not they are cuttings from the garden, something we’ve plucked from a hedgerow on the way too or from school or carefully selected gathering to remind us of a lovely weekend walk.

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I don’t claim to be an expert on arranging flowers (I am rather anxious to be joining the church flower arranging rota soon) but I’ve had a little practice so I thought I would share what I do know.

  • Firstly the shorter you cut the stems of your flowers the longer they will last because the water won’t have to travel so far, using less of the plants energy.  Consider using a smaller vase, a jam jar, tea-cup or decorative bowl for your flowers.
  • Bacteria kills flowers so change the water regularly and add a tablespoon of household bleach to the water. Don’t panic the bleach will not kill the flowers, quite the opposite. Then add a tsp of sugar to feed your flowers.
  • Tulips stems will continue to grow after they are cut, that’s why they look floppy after a few days.  Don’t be afraid to trim the stems of your cut flowers every few days.  Cut at an angle to give greater surface area so your flowers can absorb as much water as possible.
  • Remove any leaves that will be below the water line they will just make the water disgusting and reduce the life span of your flowers.
  • Flowers like cool temperatures.  If you have bought flowers for a special occasion keep them in water in a cool place (like your garage or shed) until you need them.

I hope you have found these tips useful in extending the life of those precious blooms that grace your home.  I’ll leave you with a picture of our May-day posies.  This year we chose to revive the ancient tradition of giving May-day Posies of wild flowers to our neighbors & I hung a little jar of flowers on our front door in honor of the day. You can read more about this tradition here.

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Styling the Seasons May

Last month my styling the seasons post went horribly wrong, broken glass all over a freshly spring cleaned room! I posted an image on instagram but I wasn’t entirely happy with it and I never wrote it up here.  I think I was just trying to say too much and do too much and so this month I’m keeping it really simple. Styling the seasons has really helped me to think about each month and what it means to me. To embrace slow living and appreciate the subtle changes in nature month by month rather than more generally each season.  I wanted a way to share this with the rest of the family, my children especially.  I saw an idea for a nature table and loved it, my nature loving 4 year old would just adore one however with a toddling 16 month old it just wasn’t practical.  Over Easter I was clearing out some decorations and found this little tray.  Perfect for a little mood board or…a nature tray!  So here it is each month the children and I gather little items to reflect the changing season.  Items may be replaced and refreshed throughout the month as new things catch our eye & the little tray sits in our living room for all to enjoy (although out of reach of Beau’s mischievous little fingers).

I do love May, spring is truly here and the flowers are almost at their very best.  May excites me as a month.  It begins with the romantic May day full of tradition and legend and nature.  This year we made May day posies and my girls enjoyed washing their face in the morning dew so much they did it twice. And whats not to like about two bank holidays in one month.  I do hope you enjoy our nature tray.

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Our nature tray for May’s styling the seasons featuring blossom, a Robins egg, a feather, bluebell, late snowdrops, box leaves and a catkin.

Styling the seasons – February

Here we are in February, my least favorite month of the year. It is endlessly grey and cold and the warmer weather seems a distant prospect. Then we have this delightful little day in the middle of the month all about love and pink and little hearts and flowers. I love how girly it is. So I’ve decided a light and airy valentines vignette on my living room bookcase would bring a smile to my face when skies are grey.  Yet again I struggled enormously with lighting my photo’s this grey month & I am still not happy with my results.

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Sadly you can’t read the titles of the books. they are Love Letter of Great Men and Love Letters are Great Women. A valentines gift I bought my husband a couple of years ago, he didn’t take the hint in fact I don’t think he’s read them. Romantic gifts for men are so tricky.  This year I have decided to live by that old phrase “the way to a mans heart is through his stomach”.  I’ll be making truffles for my husband.

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Happy valentines day to you all.

Sausage and bean stew

I am afraid I have no sewing posts to share with you because my sewing machine broke and has been sent off for repair. I feel like I’m missing a limb! I am no good at being unoccupied and whilst my machine is in for repair I have taken the opportunity to clean and sort my sewing space (a corner of our living room). I have also spent some time cutting out my next projects so they are all ready to sew together when my sewing machine returns. It can’t come soon enough.

A lot of my time has been occupied with poorly little ones.  It has been one of those winters for us sadly.  This January I have spent a lot of time cooking comforting nourishing food in an attempt to get us all back to full health.  My eldest daughter commented the other day that everything I cook is “goodness”.  It has become a little phrase we use now. “What’s for tea Mummy?” “More goodness I’m afraid”.

Feeding my family good, healthy home cooked meals is something I am really passionate about so I thought I would share a recipe with you all.  This stew is one my Mum used to make when we were children and I now cook for my children, those sorts of recipes are always the best. Most pleasingly of all This sausage and bean stew is inexpensive and easy to make.

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Sausage and bean stew (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 1 onion (fresh, frozen, tinned – however you buy them)
  • Garlic (again fresh 1-2 cloves or if you buy as a paste 1-2 tsp)
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • One Matteson smoked pork sausage sliced (if you can’t find this use Frankfurter sausages)
  • 2 tins of mixed beans, drained

Method

Fry the onion and garlic until soft, add the sausage slices and lightly fry for a minute or two. Add the beans and chopped tomatoes fill the chopped tomatoes tin two-thirds full of water and add that to the pan as well. Bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer for 35-40 minutes. Stir occasionally and add more water if necessary (beans are thirsty creatures). This can be served immediately or kept in the fridge once cool and then reheated when needed (the longer its left the better the flavor). ladle generously into bowls and enjoy.