Friday, 9 August 2013

Making a decision

A couple of disclaimers...

1. I'm not writing this for attention, or ego stroking... complements are very welcome and I appreciate support but this is a decision I've made and I feel I owe some kind of explanation
2. If I say anything "negative" about blogging, please assume I am referring purely to my own personal feelings. Anything said on here doesn't reflect on blogs I read and love, nor the people who write them.

Now I've got you all interested...

I think I am going to give blogging up for a while. Indefinitely.

Nothing has happened. No-one has upset me. Things have just changed. I've been lacking in motivation since I got home from Australia, not even being tagged in memes or regular posts like Meal Planning Monday or Some Things I Love have been able to entice me back. I have been feeling a bit wobbly about having everything OUT THERE and so PUBLIC and even started an anonymous blog to continue in years to come, somewhere I could write in privacy and relative safety... but I am still feeling different about blogging all of a sudden.

The truth is, I just don't want to blog any more.

I don't want to mentally write posts every time something vaguely interesting happens, or feel pressure to have something for my lovely readers to read. I don't want to worry about people knowing where I work and what I do and when I go on holiday. I just want to get on with life without assuming that people should know what I am doing.

This is a really tough decision to make because it is so permanent - yes I could just have the blog lying dormant and resurrect it when I am feeling more creative but to be honest, I am not a wishy washy kind of person. I want to be decisive about this. This blog has led me to some amazing friends but I will still have those without this blog. I will still READ blogs and COMMENT on blogs and of course I will be on Twitter to chat to those amazing friends. I suppose I am just realising that life can go on and people will still be there even without the presence of this blog. I am not that important.

I know that many of you have enjoyed reading and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and lovely comments and helpful hints. Please don't see this as me dismissing that. But I think you'll agree (especially if you blog yourself) that a blog reflects you and your feelings, and there isn't much point in a blog that doesn't want to be written.

I am going to go through my posts, all 300 odd of them spanning 4 years, and delete all but my recipes which are handy to have and my Messy Church craft posts which according to my stats come up in people's searches for ideas. But in time I will probably delete the blog altogether...

As an aside - thank you so much to those of you who I shared my new blog with. Ridiculous as it is, I have made this decision about that one too, despite the high hopes I had for it. I need to take a break completely.

Perhaps one day I will return to blogging, perhaps not. If I do then I'll want a fresh start anyway. In the meantime it is time to say goodbye to the Big Eejit.

I will be on Twitter so please keep in touch (if you aren't already)

Thank you so so much for being lovely readers

God bless xxx

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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Messy Church Craft Share: The story of Hannah

Image used with permission
We are in the middle of a little mini series at Messy Church, looking at women from the Old Testament. Last month we looked at Ruth, a story of loyalty and romance and redemption, but I forgot to take pictures of the craft so didn't have a post to share for that one! This month we focussed on Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the prophet who chose the young shepherd boy David to be one of Israel's most important kings.

Hannah's story is a beautiful one, but one that requires some sensitivity. Hannah was infertile, living a life of humiliation and misery while her husband's other wife bore many children and mocked her for her failures. Coming to God in anguished prayer she begged him for a son, and soon afterwards she had one who she named Samuel - "God hears" - and as soon as he was old enough she took him back to the Temple and gave him back to God. Samuel lived in the Temple and at a young age God spoke to him and he began a life of a prophet. It is important to tell this story without giving a message of "Just ask God for it and you will get it"... similarly there are many women who have prayed Hannah's prayers and still remain childless. So we wanted to tell Hannah's story without causing pain and grief, and so we focussed on the subject of prayer.

Hannah prayed openly and honestly, she came to God just as she was - heartbroken, bitter, angry, hurt, and desperate. Hannah's story teaches us to be real with God, to bring him our joys and sorrows, and to give him a good yelling-at if we need to because he can take it.

So these are the crafts we did - they could be used in other contexts where you are encouraging children to pray or reflect. Some are a little tenuous but great fun all the same ;)

Prayer Candles (from Messy Church 2)
Candles have long been used as a symbol of God's presence, a focus for prayer and reflection. I had one lit on my desk when I was writing my dissertation, to help me stay focussed and calm. We gave the children a clean jam jar, some glass pens and glitter glue to decorate them with, and then a tea light to put inside.

Prayer candles

Praying Hands (from Messy Church 2)
Sometimes it's difficult to know what to pray. Repetitive prayers learnt by rote may seem ritualistic and old fashioned but they are often good for when our hearts are so full we don't know what to say. These praying hands are good for ideas too - we assign a topic for each finger and when we want to pray we can just look at our hands!

Praying hands - my example!

Praying hands

Praying hands

Blessings Boxes (from Messy Church 2)
When I was little my mum gave me something from her childhood - a box of "promises", encouraging Bible verses to pick out each day. I loved it. I felt like it was a special treasure and even if I didn't understand the verse I loved picking it out and reading it. The blessings boxes were a similar idea - boxes to be decorated and filled with encouraging verses that could encourage you or to pass on to someone else who needed encouragement.

Blessings boxes

Tuck boxes (from Messy Church 2)
Ok ok, so this *was* a little tenuous...but the kids loved it! We read that every year Hannah visited Samuel in the Temple and brought him a new coat, and Messy Church founder Lucy Moore suggests she might have brought him some treats too :) We bought some wafer oyster shells and invited the children to decorate them with food colouring before filling them with tasty treats.

Tuck boxes

Tuck boxes

Samuel's Coat (my own idea!)
And speaking of Samuel's new coat...! We always do a big picture to display in the hall, usually a joint collage or something the can all add their own thing to. So we made Samuel a very nice bright new coat :)

Samuel's coat

Samuel's coat

Prayer Notebooks (from Messy Church 2)
People pray in different ways. Personally I prefer to write my prayers down in a journal - it helps me concentrate on my thoughts and also provides a great record of the ways in which God has answered my prayers and my life has changed. We provided notebooks for the children and invited them to decorate the front with a mosaic pattern. Although we called them prayer notebooks, we encouraged the children to use them generally to write down things that they were happy or sad or worried about, so that they could look back on them and be encouraged at the way the situation changed or made them feel.

Prayer notebooks

Let me know if you give any of these crafts a go!

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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Home made tortilla chips

I make no secret of the fact that I LOVE crisps. Give me a bag of crisps over a bar of chocolate or piece of cake any day. I love many types of crisps, anything from Worcester sauce wheat crunchies, to salt'n'vinegar Walkers, to Flamin Hot Monster Munch, and...tortilla chips.

Our favourite tortilla chips of choice are Marks and Spencers jalapeno flavoured chips - they are great for snacking, dipping, topping a fajita lasagne, or piling high with chilli and cheese to make nachos. I also love the humble Dorito, with chilli heatweave or lime being my favourite flavours.

The other night I watched Ina Garten (AKA The Barefoot Contessa) make her own tortilla chips and I thought I would give it a go, having some tortilla wraps left over from my lunches this week. She actually deep fries them but as I am a bit scared of deep frying things in a saucepan (too many chip-pan fire safety adverts on TV when I was growing up) I decided to oven bake them instead. The result was lovely and crunchy with a nice kick from the seasoning. I'll be honest, they don't come anywhere near a proper bag of crisps but they are a nice easy alternative to whip up in a hurry, and I've no doubt they are a bit healthier too!

Homemade spicy tortilla chips

Cut 1 or 2 tortilla chips in 8 wedges
Place on a baking tray and brush both sides with a little oil
In a small bowl mix up coarse salt, onion salt, chilli powder and smoked paprika - the quantities are up to you but I used about 1/4 tsp of everything except the salt which was just a pinch. You could also experiment with other flavours like cayenne, chipotle, or cumin.
Sprinkle the spice mix over the tortillas and bake in a 200deg preheated oven for 10 mins. 
Keep an eye on them - they burn very quickly!!!!!! (yes I did discover this the hard way)

I had these with lentil dhal and they went very well, but I reckon they'd be best scooping up some nice hot chilli :)

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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Speedy spaghetti and sausage meatballs

Oh Big Eejit readers have I got a treat for you tonight.

This is a recipe I have adapted from one I tore out of an Essentials magazine ages ago. I like meatballs a lot but feel it's a bit of a waste of money buying ready made ones when you can make them yourself out of mince...but then I could never be bothered with that either. This is the best of both worlds - easy and cheap. Bonus!

Speedy spaghetti and sausage meatballs

2 TBSP olive oil
450g pack of pork sausages
Small red onion, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Pinch fennel seeds
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 TBSP tomato paste
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
400g spaghetti, cooked to pack instructions

First of all, skin your sausages. It is a bit messy but strangely satisfying (or that might just be me...!) Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan, tear your sausages into chunks and add them to the oil. 

Cook for about 5 minutes until starting to brown, draining off any excess oil. Add the onion, garlic and fennel seeds and cook for a few moments more. De-glaze the pan with a splash of white wine.

Add the chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and tomato paste, along with a splash of water. Reduce the heat and simmer until your spaghetti has cooked. Take a ladle or 2 of the pasta cooking water and add it to the meatball sauce - it'll help it stick to the spaghetti better.

Serve on a warmed plate sprinkled with cheese, and some chopped basil if you have it.

I honestly cannot recommend this recipe enough - it is so delicious and tasty with lots of nice flavour from the fennel seeds and onion. Mr gave it a massive thumbs up too so it is definitely one to add to the regular list. I'm sure that meatball sauce could be easily frozen as well.

Why not give it a go!

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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Chicken and Broccoli Bake

This is another Mother-in-Law special from Mummy J. I am always pleasantly surprised by how much I like this because I am not a huge fan of broccoli, but the fact that it is with chicken and a delicious sauce somehow makes it more edible! Fussy, me?! ;-)

It is very simple to make and freezes well. Don't be put off by the peach juice, it adds a nice sweetness. If you didn't fancy it, you could just add more milk and lemon juice.

Chicken and Broccoli Bake
Serves 4-6

4 large chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
1 large or 2 medium heads of broccoli, cut into florets
1 tin of Campbells condensed chicken soup
1 tsp curry powder (I used hot)
4 TBSP mayonnaise
Juice from 1 tin of peaches
1 tsp milk
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup grated cheese

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Brown the chicken in a frying pan and cook the broccoli until al dente. Layer the chicken and broccoli in a lasagne dish or similar. 

In a bowl or measuring jug, empty the tin of condensed soup and mix with the curry powder, mayo, milk, lemon juice and peach juice (I used about 2 thirds of the tin as I didn't want it to be too sweet). Pour the mixture over the chicken and broccoli and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until the top is brown and the sauce is bubbling. 

Serve with buttered wheaten bread

It got Mr's seal of approval for being as tasty as his mum's, which is always a sign of success!

Let me know if you give it a go!

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Saturday, 30 March 2013

Messy Church Craft Share - Easter

Image used with kind permission

It's Easter crafts galore in this edition of Messy Church craft share. I realise that for many the Easter crafting season may be over already but just in case you wanted to do some more then here are some ideas! 

As you can imagine, Easter is a very special and important time in the church calendar. It is a time of hope, new life, repentance and joy. We celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the new life which that can bring. And of course, we celebrate the new life shown in Spring warmth (ha!) and new growth. We tried to convey some of these messages in our Messy Church crafts. Some are specifically Christian, others are more general. Please feel free to use any of these ideas with your family or children's work.

Edible Easter Garden
This is far and away our most popular craft. I got this idea from my lovely friend Tina from uni, and I don't know where she got it from! 

 There are a lot of components, but some you may already have in your house and if you are doing it for a crowd then get a conveyor belt production line system going! The garden is assembled inside a large takeaway container (I bought mine in Bookers) and is made up of:

  • Rice, put in a lidded box with a squirt of green food colouring, then shaken to coat all the rice. Obviously this bit isn't edible!
  • A Coco-Pops path
  • Iced Gem flowers
  • A muffin hill
  • Matchmaker cross - glued with edible glue bought in a craft shop
  • A brownie tomb - using mini brownies cut in half
  • Fondant icing grave clothes
  • Cookie stone...rolled away!
Add caption

Each one looks a bit different but that's the beauty of it!
I believe this is a wonderful way for children to remember the Easter story in a multi sensory way.

Painted Eggs (taken from Messy Church)
In order to make life a bit easier for myself I bought some polystyrene eggs from Yellow Moon for the children to paint. They used normal ready mix paint in a variety of colours and different paint brushes to use. We found it handy to rest the eggs on milk bottle tops for both painting and drying. We made sure each child's name was on the bottom of the lid because inevitably some get left behind and we have to reunite them with their owners!

Decorated crosses (from Messy Church 2)
As I was buying the eggs I spotted some wooden crosses on sale and decided to snap those up instead of cutting out 50 or so from card....! The children decorated them with felt tips, tissue paper and sequins and then wore them round their necks with pride for the rest of the session!

Tissue Paper Flowers (taken from Messy Church 2)
This is such a simple and easy task. Just take a few squares of tissue paper, pinch them in the middle to make a point and stick the point in the end of a straw. Secure with some sellotape, then tease the "petals" of the flower out a bit. A nice way to celebrate the colour Spring flowers bring after a deary winter.

Big Picture - Lambs
Each month we try to do a big picture that can go up on display in our hall for church folks and visitors to see. It is a nice way of showing families that we value their creations as well!

First of all an amazing lady called Rosie painted a wonderful background on lining paper for us, then we filled it with sheep! We drew around our hands on black sugar paper, then stuck on cotton wool and wobbly eyes. Our thumbs made the sheep's head and our fingers the legs. I think this might be one of my favourite crafts, it looks so effective!

Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any pictures of the children doing their sheep but you can make out their little handprints clearly. I also encouraged them to look at their handprint in amongst the "flock" and remember that they are part of the Messy Church family.

When the crafts were over and the queue to do the Easter garden died down we went into the church for the celebration. It is always difficult to do the Easter story sensitively with children without glossing over the key elements of the story. I used pictures to bring the story some meaning and I hope I was able to help them understand the message of hope, happiness and new life in Jesus that Easter can bring.

We also gave the children a gift. You may have seen the "Real Easter Eggs" in supermarkets this year. They are from the Meaningful Chocolate Company and aim to celebrate the Easter story along with the joy of eating chocolate! Each child who came today got one of these eggs, which also comes with a story board and stickers so they can remember the Easter story. It was a real blessing to be able to give them this gift and I hope it has a positive impact on them to receive it.

What Easter crafts have you done this year? I'd love to see some.... I can store up ideas for next year ;-)

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Saturday, 2 March 2013

Doing Free Play at KidZone!

In case you are wondering, KidZone is the youth club I run for primary school kids! It is great fun and as it was the first thing I set up when I started the job, it's kind of my "baby" and I am really proud of how it has developed and the great team I have in place to make it all possible.

Free Play is something I brought in last year as a result of a Playwork module I did for my degree. In it we learnt that play is a form of learning and "work" for children, and can reach its best potential when the children have as much choice as possible. This is naturally within certain boundaries, and rather than being a crazy free for all, it is actually carefully managed. A good playworker is one who can create the best atmosphere for children to play and learn safely and effectively. Play of this sort is child-led but adult managed, the adult creates the play environment but the children decide how it is to be used.

Normal nights at KidZone involve some free time at the start of the session where they get tuck, can play board games or the Wii, watch cartoons, colour in or just chat and chill. This works well for the most part. Then they split into 2 groups - games or craft. "Or" being the operative word here. Because we have a limited amount of leaders and a rabbit warren of corridors the children chose and activity and that is what they do for the evening, no wandering around in between, for their own safety more than anything but also so that they are doing something productive. This works and the children enjoy it but I wanted to bring in these Free Play nights to give them a different experience and a bit more choice.

I put more leaders than normal on the rota so that we could use more rooms in the church and children could be properly supervised. Here's a rundown of the different activities on offer:

Physical Play
The hall was filled with large empty cardboard boxes (courtesy of the Christian Aid book sale in half term!), balls, uni hoc sticks, skipping ropes, space spots, hoops, beanbags, cones, mini netball hoop and blankets. These were laid out in a way that didn't suggest they had to be used for any particular game - children could chose what they wanted to do.

Obstacle course
Above you can see that a couple of the girls created an obstacle course with the hoops and space spots, having to skip through them using the ropes. Not pictured is another group of children who engaged the leaders in a game of netball. I emphasised to the leaders that they must be led by the children and it is interesting to note a mix of those happy to do their own thing, and those wanting to play a structured game.

Messy Play
This was the room I was in charge of! I set up tables with painting, water beads, cloud dough, and "gloop"... and of course a basin and towels to wash their hands. I was pleasantly surprised at how much they engaged with this. The water beads, gloop and cloud dough were all ideas I had got from Pinterest and parent bloggers and had been used with pre-schoolers. But even my top end primary kids enjoyed these tactile activities.

Getting the hands gloopy!

Cloud dough - 4 cups plain flour to half a cup of baby oil - reminded the children of baby powder. 
Cloud dough is soft and silky but can be moulded into solid shapes.

Water beads - a great tip from The Boy and Me - start off minuscule and gradually get bigger in the water

Still not at their full size!
 There were some great comments as they were playing:
"It feels like rotten milk" (gloop)  
"It's all hard at the bottom but water on top" (gloop) 
"You can't pick it up!" (gloop) 
"I'm going to make it freeze" (cloud dough) 
"It feels soft in my hands. Is that why you call it a cloud?" (cloud dough) 
"I found the biggest blue one. Did it go in first?" (water beads) 
"They feel like berries!" (water beads)

One of the children, who attends Sunday morning worship with her family, asked me to keep the beads in the water so she could see how big they get and show her younger brother and sister.

Creative Play and Junk Modelling
A great way to get rid of (clean!) recycling ;-) This is the "making" room - 2 tables piled high with cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, LOTS of masking tape, card, paper and various collage materials like tissue paper, pasta, ribbon, sequins, feathers etc. I have a couple of kids who would happily spend their entire lives creating beautiful things from junk and adding sparkly glitter and sequins to anything., so they were in their element here. Rather than a specific craft, they were able to make whatever they wanted and proved themselves to be creative and imaginative.

Making a kite
Chill Out Zone
This was a place where they could just sit and chat, play quiet board games, watch cartoons and grab a drink if they wanted. Often the kids came and went from this room, but one little boy stayed the whole evening watching cartoons. I wanted to encourage him to go and try some other activities, but held back. If after a busy week this was what he wanted to do, then I wasn't going to stop him!

Board games - can you spot the retro Mr Pop? One of mine from the 80s! 

Enjoying Looney Tunes!

So that was our Free Play night, and it went down a treat. They just loved it - "Can we do this every week?!" Well, considering I was on my hands and knees for 20 minutes scrubbing cornflour gloop off the carpet afterwards....perhaps not ;-) But we will definitely do it once a term I think. It's well worth the extra effort.

Do you have any ideas you can share for my next Free Play session?!

I've linked this post up to Edspire's Messy Play blog hop, in memory of the beautiful Matilda Mae x

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