Monday, 31 January 2011

Things of a very vaguely scientific nature

Youngest daughter keeps asking to do "experiments".  Recently, we investigated ice and melting using an idea from a DK science book, "In the Garden".

I've been really impressed by some of the ideas in the book but this idea around freezing and melting was particularly good-home ingredients, little mess and results that were fun to observe.

We half filled a muffin tray with water. We used tap water although the book suggests rain water. I didn't know how long I would have to wait for rain. We then put in pieces of flower and leaves in the water and a loop of string in each hole.

The flowers have strange tints as they were previously used to look at transport in plants, using coloured water.

The muffin container went in the freezer for half a day, we took out the finished product and hung it outside and talked about how long it would take to melt.

This current interest, probably stemmed from our cell model using jelly for cytoplasm, a truffle for the nucleus and various other sweets for other organelles. Thank you to Apologia for this idea.

Friday, 28 January 2011

End of an era

Some little while ago, I posted about becoming a professional wife and mother.
Today, was my last day at work-a bitter-sweet time. Sadness of saying farewell to great colleagues, many of whom I have worked with for over a decade, and of leaving a job which is useful and stimulating. To be honest, I will probably miss the status. What will I call myself now? Domestic engineer sounds too cut and dry. Homemaker-maybe but this doesn't put enough emphasis on the people. Wife and mother is about right although I doubt this is on any official forms.

I realised, listening to the radio, that I am now classed as "economically inactive". Complete fallacy. What wife and mother doesn't determine how far the money goes? The woman in Proverbs 31 wasn't economically inactive so my aim isn't to be economically inactive either.

It is easy to get all this reflection on change out of context. Psalm 90 is a great antidote. I love Isaac Watt's verses on this.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home;

Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thy arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou are God,
To endless years the same.

Thy word commands our flesh to dust,
"Return, ye sons of men";
All nations rose from dust at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by thy flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They lie forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the openning day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand,
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower's hand
Lie withering e'er 'tis night.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thous our guide while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Practical aspects of living with three generations-setting up the household

I wrote sometime ago that I planned to write about the practical aspects of three generational living.

This is about the set up of a three generational household. Grandma or Grandad usually come to stay because of illness or frailty. Not just because they are old. Being elderly doesn't necessarily mean that someone wants to or needs to give up their home and independence.

Most people reading this are likely to be in the middle generation and thinking about the change for them-enormous, I know, I've been there. It is also a massive change for the older relative.

First, is the change really necessary? Could you pop in more often? Is this a temporary issue, for example, after an operation? Could they live in a flat near you?

If independent living is no longer possible or reasonable, can you manage? It is easy to feel that you have to make the promise "I'll never put you in a home." Think twice, think again and pray for honesty and strength and don't make promises that you may not be able to keep.

Providing meals, medication, supervision and transport to appointments is more time consuming than it sounds written like this but washing and dressing, feeding, cleaning, hoisting, turning take far, far more time. If you already have young children and home educate, this higher level of care may be impossible. Sadly, some older people have dementia. Some of those people will need supervision and may only become apathetic but others will wander and some will even develop aggressive behaviour. It may not be possible to manage.

Having decided that three generational living is the way forward, here are some practical points
-help with decluttering and packing. Most people who are unable to live on their own will be unable to declutter effectively and you are about to put the contents of two houses into one. The maths doesn't work without decluttering or a very, very big house. You will need to declutter too-this may mean losing treasured pieces of furniture.

-get practical advice especially about any alterations. We were able to have occupational therapy advice before we had alterations done.

- Ask-the man in the carpet shop had been in a similar position and was able to advise about a carpet suitable for a zimmer frame.

-financial issues need to be discussed. You may well need a contribution for living expenses. This isn't a holiday. Expenses will go up-there may be special items of food. Heating expenses are likely to take a hike. More than this, there may be inheritance tax issues if you are buying with an older person and also issues if they need to go into care. Take advice from specialists in these areas.

-Who is going to be head of  the house? Who is going to be in charge in the kitchen? Is the older person safe in the kitchen? How are you going to handle this?

-If at all possible, find someone else who has been in the same situation. I have been greatly blessed by an older lady who has cared for an older relative. Someone else who has been in the same situation can listen with understanding, pray intelligently and offer advice that makes sense.

Monday, 17 January 2011

More Newton

We sang this, John Newton, hymn yesterday.

Let worldly minds the world pursue,
It has no charms for me;
Once I admired its trifles too,
But grace has set me free.

Its pleasures now no longer please,
No more content afford;
Far from my heart be joys like these,
Now I have seen the Lord.

As by the light of opening day
The stars are all concealed
So earthly pleasures fade away,
When Jesus is revealed.

Creatures no more divide my choice,
I bid them all depart;
His name, and love, and gracious voice,
Have fixed my roving heart.

Now, Lord, I would be Thine alone,
And wholly live to Thee;
But may I hope that Thou wilt own
A worthless worm, like me?

Yes! though of sinners I'm the worst,
I cannot doubt Thy will;
For if Thou had not loved me first
I had refused Thee still.

I written this out from our facsimile copy of Olney Hymns. It is slightly painful to read having "f" for "s" in old style. Having said that, it is a great way to stop skim reading!
The younger children and I visited Olney, last summer. John Newton was curate at Olney and a near neighbour of the poet William Cowper. The town houses the Cowper and Newton Museum which is worth a visit although it did seem rather out of sympathy with the convictions of these two men. The curators were more interested in telling us about the Second World War garden out the back.
John Newton's grave is in a corner of the churchyard.
Sadly, the most important part of the memorial is right at the back by a wall and difficult to see. This defeated my dubious photographic skills so I will copy what it says
John Newton clerk
once an infidel and libertine
a servant of slaves in Africa was
by the rich mercy of our
preserved, restored, pardoned
and appointed to preach the faith he
had long laboured to destroy
near 16 years a curate of this parish
and 28 years as rector of St Mary Walnorth

Just last week, I found a great Newton hymn, or more really a prayer, on Penned Pebbles with comment that cannot but speak to the heart of believing mothers. Do read this-it is very precious.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Warm winter vegetable pie

This week, 4 Moms are posting cold weather recipes. Do take a look at some of the recipes-there are some that I'm looking forward to trying. This lentil chili sounds like a must.

Anyway, this is my contribution, a vegetarian winter pie. We aren't vegetarian and I keep meaning to try it with a little bacon but it is so good as it is that I haven't got round to it. We eat this frequently in winter. One pie serves all of us-three adults, two teenagers and three children although one of the younger ones isn't keen on veg and doesn't eat any. I serve it with mash and usually peas, sweetcorn or baked beans (for the child who doesn't like much veg)plus some mushrooms fried in a little olive oil.

2 potatoes peeled and diced
2 parsnips or a swede, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 leeks thinly sliced (I have substituted 2 onions)
1 tbsp of oil (whichever you use for cooking)
1 tsp plain flour
1/2 pint vegetable stock
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
9oz puff pastry (I have made this with short crust but usually buy ready made puff pastry)
milk to brush on pastry

Cook the potatoes, parsnip and carrot in boiling water until soft.
Drain veg.
Cook the leeks, in oil, in a large frying pan until soft. Add the flour and cook for a further minutes.
Pour in the vegetable stock and stir. Add the drained vegetables.
Simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Add the cheese and stir.
(The picture looks a bit strange as the vegetables were steaming.)
Put mixture in a pie dish and top with pastry.
Brush with milk.
Cook at 200C/gas mark 7/400F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

This freezes well.

Gratitude and the suffering church

The message ,the work of God in Iran, by Pooyan Mehrshahi is worth a listen, partly because it encourages prayer for the suffering church in Iran but also because it encourages gratitude for our privileges. I've been thinking about various challenges from this message today.

I needed this-I heard it on a bad day. You probably all know the sort of thing, nothing had gone right, but hearing of the persecutions of those dear believers puts it all into perspective and as for the final exhortation to gratitude, well, I needed to think again about my minor discomforts.

There is so much to pray about in this message-the believers with their two fold difficulties, the translation work, the literature work and the radio work are just for starters.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Frugal links

For anyone who wants to save and hasn't seen the Moneysaving Expert site, it is a must. We've saved £lots with it over the years. This article is a particularly useful, long list of possible ways to save and includes motivators for not spending.

In these days of high petrol prices, it can be useful to know where the lowest local prices might be. The petrol prices site gives the lowest prices around and will send a weekly e-mail with the cheapest local filling stations. This probably isn't useful in the depths of the country but is of value in the city and interestingly, the cheapest stations vary.

e-on, the energy company has an "energy-fit" site. Some friends of ours are one of the featured families.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Clothes for older girls

I've been asked about this by three different people in about the last month. Not sure that I have many answers but maybe some ideas that might be useful and many of you may have more and better ideas.

The problem
There are two problems:
-stores that produce beautiful clothes for girls up to the age of about eight and maybe even for women but what older girls are meant to wear is a mystery.
-clothes do exist for older girls but they are often too low, too short, too tight or have inappropriate logos.

Before I really start it is only fair to set out our principles for clothes as if yours are different this may not be useful. We have three basic principles:
-clothing must be modest and not likely to be a stumbling block to others.
-girls' clothes must look like girls clothes and not like boys' clothes. The reverse also applies. We don't believe that this means that girls should never wear trousers providing they look like girls' clothes and are modest.
-preferably, clothes shouldn't look 20 years out-of-date or draw attention by being frumpy.

One other thought is that this isn't an area where major saving is possible. Teenage clothing stores tend to be very cheap, and often poor quality. It is unlikely that even making clothes will be cheaper than this.

Possible solutions
-make your own. When my eldest daughter reached this age, we spent a couple of years struggling to find clothes and then I went to a sewing course an evening a week, at an adult education centre. It was very helpful and, at that point, quite reasonable although I understand that prices have gone up since then. I made a few garments but then had a baby, moved house and had another baby so my sewing has not progressed. Now the "baby" is almost two, I don't really have an excuse.
The easiest clothes to make are elasticated skirts. I had a very simple pattern which seems to be out of print but was basically two pieces of fabric with a simple elasticated waist.
There are on line groups which are helpful. Sensibility has some simple girls' patterns with photo instructions for some patterns and a forum for asking questions.

-get someone else to make clothes. Great if you know someone who can make clothes less good otherwise.

-buy clothes from the UK.
Bola is a friend of ours who has recently set up a company making clothing for this age group. She has done research about the type of clothes that this age group would like. Do check out her collections.

-buy clothes from the US. There are a plethora of "modest" sites in the US. They vary and some do have clothes that my eldest daughter finds unacceptable being too "frilly".
We did buy a few clothes from the US and ,successfully, had some made for us there. At the time that we did this the pound was much stronger than it is now so it wasn't as expensive an option as this would be now.
If you take this route, ask for the clothing to be marked as "children's clothing" to avoid having to pay VAT on the import. It is possible to appeal the VAT, handling charges etc but this is a very cumbersome process including having to prove the child's age.
Also remember to be careful about sizing as US sizes are different to UK sizes and by the time the parcel has arrived it will be beyond the time allowed for returns!

-buy from general UK suppliers. Some retailers have a "teen" section. There may be little that is acceptable but you probably don't need to buy the whole shop anyway! Gap and Next both stock teen sizes and we have successfully brought from them. Outlet stores can reduce the cost. This is time consuming process as often there will be nothing that meets the first two principles but sometimes there is.
Don't forget that if a top is too low then a cheap top can be worn underneath.
An elasticated skirt can be worn on the hips, with a long top, rather than on the waist.
Forget the idea of letting down hems, these clothes don't have much in the way of hems.

In the last couple of years, Landsend have sold their children's clothes in the UK. Previously, they were only obtainable from the US. Landsend girls' clothes go up to larger sizes and are usually very well made as well as generally not being skimpy.

-second hand/hand me down. Older girls clothes date rapidly so this may not be possible but encourage your daughter to like more classical clothes which may be found this way. Don't forget to hand outgrown clothes onto other families-their daughters may like some and the mothers may be very grateful for some acceptable clothes for older daughters.

Edited 7/1/11 to add link.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


My Mother made marmalade the day I was due to be born. I was late so the marmalade was finished. Two years ago, I was making marmalade waiting for my baby to be born. He was born a bit late too which meant that I had time to use up all the fruit that I had brought. Most years, between these times either my Mother or I would have made marmalade.

Making marmalade isn't toddler friendly. The boiling sugar solution is very hot. I tend to make mine in the evening or when they are having a nap.

Marmalade is yummy! Orange jam or grapefruit or lemon or lime or a mixture to make sure nothing is wasted. Sevilles are the best oranges to use; others don't produce such a good set or flavour. Sevilles only appear in the shops for a few weeks in January and sometimes disappear fast.

Marmalade is best on toast with butter and homemade bread but good in bara brith (Welsh fruit cake).

2lb citrus fruit (Seville oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes)
2 extra lemons
4lb sugar (ordinary granulated is fine although lime is special with brown sugar)
2 pints boiling water

Wash the fruit, then cut in half (grapefruit in quarters) and put in the slow cooker with 2 pints of boiling water over night.

Turn the slow cooker off first thing, then when the fruit has cooled, put the juice into a large saucepan or preserving pan. The suacepan needs to be large-I use the base of a pressure cooker without the lid and weights. Scoup out the centres of the fruit with a metal spoon and put these in a metal sieve above the saucepan. Crush the fruit, in the sieve, with a metal spoon to release extra juice.
Cut up the skins into strips with a sharp knife. It is possible to use a food processor but I have obtained odd shapes this way.
Put the skin into the saucepan and add the sugar.
Cook over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil and allow to cook at a "rolling" boil until reaches setting point.
To test for having reached setting point, put a small amount on a saucer, allow to cool and push gently with a finger. If set, the top of the marmalade will wrinkle. Marmalade which has reached setting point will also drip slowly off a wooden spoon but the last drop will stay on the spoon.
Turn off and leave for about 20 minutes. Stir and then pot into sterilized pots.


Monday, 3 January 2011

10 ways to save in 2011

At the end of this month we become a one income family so I've set myself a challenge. The plan is to save as much as possible each month of the amount that I would have earned. I don't think it is really possible for savings to equal previous earnings but nothing venture. In addition, it would be good if the family feel that they have gained and not lost by mum being home full time so being too stingy isn't an option!

There are some lists around which suggest ways of saving large amounts:
stop smoking-thankfully, never started.

Take packed lunches-been doing this for years.

Change energy supplier-done this a few times. Rewards decrease each time. Saved lots the first time.

Change mobile plan-pay as you go has worked out just cheaper and once I'm not  at work will almost certainly be the best option.

So this is what my husband calls "Serious Saving".
Anyway, here goes with hopefully 10 points! Mainly directed to myself.

1. Cook from scratch. Do a fair amount of this already but now it is "goodbye" to Tesco pizzas and "hello" to home made ones. On the rare occasions that we have eaten home made pizza the family prefer this so a win-win.

2. Use the slow cooker more. The slow cooker uses several times fewer watts than the oven which more than makes up for the longer cooking.

3.Use the pressure cooker more.
 I'm a bit scared of the pressure cooker-I don't like the noise or flabby vegetables-but was particularly put off by a bit of an accident with a Christmas pudding when I was first married. Recently, a friend encouraged me to use it again and we've enjoyed pea and ham soup a few times. This is ideal as it would take ages to cook the dried peas without a pressure cooker. Now, to find a few more successful pressure cooker recipes. Ideas gratefully accepted!

4. Don't waste anything. Dh is much better at this than me. He is the one who picks the nettle shoots and makes a soup from them. It isn't bad either. The sting goes with cooking.

5.Don't forget that motorway driving necessitates coffee and remember to take a thermos.

6.Make our own. Eldest daughter made a wreath from the garden and with odds and ends around the house. I can't claim any credit for teaching her. She is much more artistic than I am. It would be good to get knitting and sewing again!

7.Cut out small wastes of money-chocolate is my failing- especially little Yorkie bars. Not much but multiplied over a year it all adds up.(62p x2x52=£64.48) I do need some chocolate! Best brought with the main shop-also discourages too much as the rest of the family see, and share (not sure that this is good) when the shop is delivered.

8.Don't go shopping!

9.Clear some cupboards. Having the household items from two homes means that more cupboards are filled with china than in most people's homes. I need to declutter so that there is more space to store preserves and items on offer.

10. Buy in bulk. I want to research buying half a sheep and fruit juice straight from the farm.