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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Elderflower Cordial

I always feel the preserving season is really underway when the elderflower come out & I make Cordial.  I use this same recipe, below, every year.  I am afraid I don’t know it’s original source as it was given to me but it is a good recipe and makes a fragrant and delectable syrup which you dilute to drink or that you can pour over ice cream for a wonderful summer treat.  It keeps for months and months as long as your bottles are well sterilised but can also be frozen.  This recipe makes about 1.5litres.
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You will need…
20 large elderflower heads
1.8kg Granulated sugar
1 Litre of water
75g Citric acid (you will need to buy this from a chemist – tell them you want it for cordial)
2 lemons
Place the elderflowers in a large bowl.  In a pan mix the sugar and water and bring to a gentle boil, stir until all the sugar is dissolved.  Pour this mixture over the elderflower and stir in the citric acid.  Grate in the zest of both lemons and then slice the lemons and add the slices to the bowl.  Cover and leave for 24 hours before straining through a double muslin.  Decant into sterilised bottles and store in a cool dark place.
You can drink this cordial almost instantly once it has been decanted however after a couple of weeks the flavour develops a little more.  I can never resist a little taste when it’s first made – it has a lovely freshness at this stage.
Please be careful Elderflower is a tree or large shrub with sprays of white flowers that later turn to deep purple berries, it has a distinctive smell.  Be certain that what you are picking is Elderflower!  Some people have mistakenly picked cow parsley as the flowers are similar but this grows up from the ground on tall stems.  Cow parsley is poisonous!  However, after a little familiarisation elderflower is very easy to identify so don’t be put off, give it a go!

Nutella ice lollies

My kids are crazy about Nutella they’d eat it for breakfast, lunch and tea if I let them.  I very much doubt they are alone in this.  I saw a recipe for grown up Nutella ice lollies using baileys and I tried making them with just milk instead of baileys but they needed a little punch.  So this is my very own tweaked (child approved) Nutella ice lollies recipe.

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Nutella ice lollies (makes 4)

  • You will need 225ml milk,
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 heaped tbsp of Nutella

Put all the ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth, pour into your lolly moulds and freeze for at least 24hours.  When you want to eat your ice lollies dip the moulds in some hot water to release the ice lollies.

Wedding Bunting Tutorial

Press_Bunting_23454_1My lovely friend Liz is getting married in August – yay! Liz bravely decided to make meters and meters of bunting to adorn her reception venue.  I have written this tutorial for her and others who might like to make bunting for a special occasion. This tutorial is for quick and simple bunting suitable for complete beginners.

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Cut out your bunting triangles using pinking shears (these are scissors with zig-zaged blades and can be bought for around £5 on Amazon or in any craft shop).  This will ensure your fabric doesn’t fray and unravel and will also mean you don’t have to stitch two triangles together pin, sew, press, clip, turn out etc. Pinking your triangles will save you LOADS of time and fabric.  Perfect if your bunting dreams are on a grand scale.

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Most tutorials tell you to use bias tape to string your bunting and that’s fine and is worth doing if you want your bunting to be more durable and a permanent feature.  However bias tape can be a little fiddly if you are a beginner so I suggest you find some cotton tape or ribbon (this will also save you quite a bit of money).  Anything about 1.5-2cm wide is ideal.  Take your stack of triangles and pin them at even intervals along your ribbon.  Don’t forget to leave a longer length of ribbon at either end so you can tie your bunting up.

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You’re ready to start sewing.  My top tip for sewing in a straight line (don’t be embarrassed, it’s harder than it sounds) is to align the top edge of your ribbon and the fabric with the edge of your presser foot (see picture) and to hold that line. Alternatively mark a line right across the sole plate of your machine (that’s the metal plate with the lines etched on it in my picture) using masking tape or washi tape. Align the edge of your fabric with the tape to keep you on track.

Finally just to make sure you’re happy with where you’re stitching will be.  Align everything as described above. Lower the presser foot and then lower the needle by hand down into the fabric.  To lower the needle by hand turn the fly wheel (the big wheel on the side of your machine) towards you. Doing this will also stop the fabric slipping when you begin your sewing.  If you are happy with how everything is aligned begin sewing.  Don’t watch the needle fix your eyes on aligning the bunting with the edge of the presser foot or your tape depending on which method you are using.  Try to stay nice and relaxed and don’t forget to back stitch by reversing your stitches at the beginning and end of your sewing to secure your threads. Sew in one continuous line along your ribbon the whole length of your bunting.