One man’s junk…

As a mother of three, meal preparation can be pretty manic. My least favourite two hours of the day are from 5pm until 7pm in our house, I call it Happy Hour, it is anything but happy and sadly in no way resembles the Happy Hours of old circa 2003. That said the odd G&T might help to get me through the mealtime madness, you know what I’m talking about fellow mummies! Steve normally returns from work to find a basket-case of a wife, running from the toilet to the kitchen and back to the dining room to deal with the chaos of three small girls.

While everyone ends up fed and watered, eventually, my enthusiasm for cooking creative meals has waned in the last number of months. I promised myself that while off on maternity leave I would up the stakes on the cooking front, I think that lasted for the first week, but hey reality doesn’t always allow for the fulfilment of good intentions. Hence the age old favourite, Baked Beans, have been making a big comeback in our house recently. With each tin I open, I gaze at the tin and think about the possibilities. You’ll know by now that I like to reuse and repurpose where I can and tin cans provide a useful resource. This is a tin I decorated in washi tape a while back and we now use it for pencils:

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I always like to make my neighbours a little something at christmas, whether that be shortbread or fudge or, as in last year, a little floral arrangement with my trusty tins:

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Then there was my Gran’s birthday:

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And last week to cheer myself up after another round of Happy Hour I made one for myself:

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It’s the little things. Waste not want not people, all you need is that old tin can, some quirky wrapping paper and some flowers, even grab a load from your garden. I also tend to use some green styrofoam inside to push the flowers into.

Again Pinterest has a wealth of ideas with regards to how to use your tin cans. You could decorate them and use them to hold cutlery or pierce holes through them to create a nice tealight holder, I feel another project coming on but preferably not between 5 and 7pm!

 

 

 

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That’s a wrap!

So party season is still in full swing, oh yes, our weekends are booked up for the next few weeks yet. I promised you a post on the all important wrapping of gifts and I am eventually getting round to it, apologies for my tardiness! I don’t know about you but the wrapping alone is enough to get me excited about a gift, so let’s make it special peeps! Get creative and put a bit of thought into it, you’ll be surprised at how well you can wrap a gift for how little.

My firm favourite is the plain brown paper (available for 89/99p for 5 metres in Home Bargains/B&M) dressed up with tags, stamps, ribbons or accessories. When wrapping children’s gifts, get the kids involved and use up some of their energy and a good bit of the afternoon, I put the girls to work a few weeks ago and behold their handiwork:

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My advice is personalise the gift as best you can, I like to use stampers to do so, whether that be on the wrapping paper or accompanying tags.

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Ikea have a lovely range of wrapping paper and wrapping accessories at present at great prices and Paperchase offer some good discounts on quirky wrapping at sale time, it’s always worth a look.

At Christmas I like to use The Financial Times to wrap gifts for under the tree, recycle, recycle, recycle! Making your own tags is also a no brainer, I bought a dymo machine last year and there was no stopping me. Home Bargains stock these brown tags at around 89p for a pack of 10.

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Pinterest has a wealth of ideas when it comes to tags. I’m particularly fond of the Hama bead art on tags and the wrapping dressed up with poms poms or those with washi tape and a bit of sketching. Check them out, the possibilities are endless so go to it present givers and feel free to share the love by emailing me with your own works of art.

It’s all about the pressies

Since my last post we have had three parties, I kid you not! Hey it’s all good craic. Anyway, as the title implies this post is about the pressies. While the best bit of the party for an attendee is receiving your party bag loot, the best bit for the host will no doubt be unwrapping all their awesome gifts. As I’ve said before we try and stick to a budget of £5 and I see it as a personal challenge to get a variety of cool gifts suited to the party host in question.

I figured I should give you a wee selection of ideas for future gifts by showing you the most recent items we have packaged up for parties. I always try and include my girls in the purchasing of these gifts as I think it’s good to teach them to spend money on others and not just themselves. Also they are pretty savvy shoppers and I value their opinions, after all they know their friends better than I and my girls love nothing more than a mission.

The first of our gifts was for a friend in Amelia’s class, the topic of the month in class was the garden and the chosen book they were looking at was Jack and the Beanstalk so it made sense to include a wee copy in the parcel, bought at Home Bargains for 69p (RRP £5.99 ).

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Also included was a How to Draw Princesses colouring book (69p in Home Bargains RRP £6.99), Stampers (59p each, HB), Pack of 4 TY erasers (£1, Poundworld – I have seen these elsewhere retail at £1.39 for one eraser!), a make your own candy jewellery set (79p, HB), funky lollipops (29p each, HB), and lastly some of my homemade flower clips (approx. 10p each to make). This selection of gifts cost £5.13 in total. I bought the cute postcard in Paperchase for 60p, sometimes I prefer to include a quirky postcard in an envelope instead of a card and they can always be framed after the birthday, we throw far too many birthday cards away!!!

The next party was that of Phoebe’s ‘boyfriend’ as she likes to call him, much to her Dad’s horror. Like any father of girls, Steve will always think of his daughters like this:

So the thought of this:

(You gotta love Seth Cohen!) Causes Steve a world of stress:

I just know he’s rehearsing the scene from 17 Again, you know the one where the Dad owns the no good boyfriend in the school cafeteria, for such times. And I’m sure the purchase of a display cabinet for his many shooting medals will coincidence with the appearance of the first boyfriend. Anyway plenty of time before that madness ensues.

So this ‘boyfriend’ was turning a big four on his birthday, he oozes cool therefore the gifts had to do the same. Behold the present:

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Included was a How to Draw Dinosaurs colouring book (69p, HB), a funky plane pencil (59p, HB), lollipops (29p, HB), Polystyrene Planes (from a pack of four from Poundland), a clay monster set (39p, HB), Pirate stampers (59p, HB), a Bingo set (99p, HB) and my favourite, a Transformers Optimus Prime Egg Cup and Toast Stamp set (79p, HB). This gift cost £5.12 in total.

Onto the next party, Amelia’s friend Amy turned five. Amy is a girlie girl who loves to dress up so we opted for a Barbie Bride ensemble, this was purchased in the Smyths sale. Every now and again Smyths have a stock clearance sale to ditch old stock, if you know when it starts and you’re prepared to be there when the doors open and battle with other manic women then there are bargains to be had. This dress was reduced from £17.99 to £1, I of course bought as many as I could get my hands on, that was only two unfortunately.

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Included with the dress up gear was a Bunny nightlight (£1.99, HB – these retail at £4.99 on dotcomgiftshop), a lollipop (29p, HB) and a candy jewellery set (79p, HB). This gift cost £4.07 in total.

Next weekend we have another four year old boy’s birthday party and Amelia’s friend Gracie is having a disco party, check out the uber cool invite:

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As Gracie’s party is set to be outdoors with a festival vibe we are preparing a festival inspired gift, can you tell I love a theme?!

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We’ve gone with a Design Your Own Pumps set (reduced from £2.99 to £1 in B&M Bargains), a sun hat (£1.12 in the Sainsburys TU 25% off promotion), sunglasses (75p in the same Sainsburys promotion), Pepsi Cherry Vanilla Lip Balm (39p, HB), Candy Jewellery set (79p, HB), lollipop (29p, HB) and although not pictured here I’m also including some of my flower homemade clips. This gift cost £4.54 in total.

Phoebe has another party in a few weeks for her friend Zara who will be five. We’ve decided to train Zara up for the Great Northern Irish Bake Off, check out her equipment/present:

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A Charlie & Lola Apron (99p, HB), Hello Kitty Cookie Cutters (49p, HB), Tea Cupcakes (£1, Poundworld), a Frozen Cupcake set (99p, HB). As the gift only comes to £3.47 I will probably add a whisk, bowl and wooden spoon with it.

I love gifts like this because they often provide you with something to do with the children on rainy days, of which we have many in Belfast. Practical gifts are great. One of the best gifts I ever received was that of a herb plant pot with accompanying his and hers gardening utensils and gloves, it was a wedding gift from a friend and we are still using them.

As a parent the best type of gifts are those with crafty items or a game or items of clothing. Clothing can be a gamble but if you are confident about size and style then clothes are a good buy. I bought this little dress for a birthday girl for later this month, she is a close friend so I know this will work and it was originally £10 reduced to £3 and then £2.25 in the Sainsburys TU 25% off promotion. I will of course add some extras with it.

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Finally, for the funky little four year old boy this weekend, we’ve opted for this funky circus light for his room (£4.99, HB). How cool is this?

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Other quirky items I’ve come across that could be included in a gift are:

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Ship Shape Pencil Case (19p, HB)

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Papermate Felt Tips (£1.49, HB)IMG_0102

Finger Puppet sets (29p, HB – Paperchase sell similar products but at much higher prices)

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Play Doh sets, HB often have great Play Doh sets for super prices, this Doc McStuffins one was £1.99 (RRP £4.99).

Do look out for Crayola items at good prices in Home Bargains (Paint sets, Washable Colouring Pencils), B&M Bargains, Asda and Poundland (especially the Crayola Pavement Chalks), these always make good gifts. I also spied chunky chalks that look like Sharpie pens in B&M last week, they are called Chalkies and are £2.99, I’m dying to buy some but alas we’re all stocked up on chalk at present.

For the accompanying birthday cards you should head to your local Barnardos Retail Shop for nice cards at good prices, most of them are 79p. In my local shop they are always on sale for 29p/39p or four for £1. What is more, you can giftaid your purchase to enable Barnardos to claim back 25p on every pound you spend. Bonus!

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In final, don’t let the numerous birthday parties overwhelm you or your bank balance. I hope I’ve given you some handy tips for future present buying.

Next up, the wrapping…

Tie Dye Part Deux

A few weeks back one of my brothers read my blog and having seen the tie dye post he asked me to make him one, a t-shirt that is not a baby vest. Ever the Hipster, Mattsy reckoned he could pull off the tie dye look. It was his 30th this week and while we had ordered him a few items from Amazon, one of the major components of the gift hadn’t appeared yet. Not wanting to attend Matt’s birthday party empty handed, for fear of looking like a stinge of an older sister, I decided to make him the tie dye tee as requested.

I should add at this point that my husband is becoming more and more concerned that I’m going to buy a Delorean and attempt to transport myself back to the eighties.

Recently I’ve been making a lot of tie dye, covering everything in sight in dymo labels and I had Steve buy me a pair of the classic black Doc Marten boots last Christmas, which I never have off me. Now all I need is a shell suit and a perm and I’m good to go.

I digress, anyway, I headed to Home Bargains and purchased another tie dye pack at £2.50, I only needed two of the three colours but I’ll maybe use the third one for another tee for me or one of the girls. I’m ashamed to say I purchased the tee in Primark for £2.50, not very ethical I know but I was worried I’d mess up the first, even the second t-shirt and end up spending  lots of money before I got it right. I needn’t have worried it seems all the practice has paid off after all, behold a Lisa Skinner original for a mere £5 and the birthday boy seemed pleased with it. Happy 30th Matt!

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The best things in life are free

If you haven’t gathered from my blog already I am a Christian, my faith has an impact on every aspect of my life, or at least it should do, that means how I spend my (our) money, what I do with my time, what job I do, how I parent my children, how I vote, what I write in my blog, everything. As a Christian I also need to grow in my faith by doing things like accessing good Bible teaching, doing personal and corporate Bible study, praying and sharing fellowship with other believers. Being fed spiritually is important in order that I continue to grow in my knowledge and love of God which in turn should affect the lives of others who I encounter in my everyday life.

A great way of being fed spiritually is through attending conferences with great preachers and speakers but these conferences can be expensive, in part due to the quality of the speakers invited and often because of the distances they are travelling. I find that these types of conferences in Northern Ireland can cost anywhere from £15 to £100. So it was a joy and a privilege to attend a free Presbyterian Women’s conference this week where the speaker was a girl called Emma Scrivener.

It has been said that ”the best things in life are free” but let’s face it very little is free these days so when I told friends there was no ticket required and this was a free event their reactions were not dissimilar to Adam Sandler:

Ok so it wasn’t a horse or a car called Ferrari but I felt a bit the same myself so I was reluctant to miss this opportunity. My mother-in-law, God bless her, agreed to take my two older girls so it was just Tabitha and I. Of course Amelia just so happened to be off school that day and after a morning of tidying up after they went from room to room wrecking everything in their path, as well as feeding Tabitha then cleaning copious amounts of sick off my clean clothes for going out in public again, and packing the girls up for an afternoon at Nana’s, I did stop and ask myself was it all worth it? Then I caught myself on, it was an afternoon with only one child to deal with, of course it was worth it. Oh and Emma Scrivener was tipped to be great too.

If you haven’t heard of Emma Scrivener she is the author of a book called ‘A New Name’, published by IVP, and she blogs at emmascrivener.net. Emma won the 2014 New Media award for Christian blogger of the year. 9781844745869

Emma was speaking on the theme ‘Here is Love’. She drew on the text in 1 John 4: 7-21 about God’s love and ours. Emma said that the world says ‘’love yourself,’’ religion says ‘‘make sure you love God first’’ but the Gospel says ‘’receive God’s love and then pass it on.’’ Her testimony was interspersed in the message as she bravely shared about her own battle with anorexia. One of the things that Emma said really struck me, she talked about how as Christians God’s love flows onto us and that love should spill over onto others. This was by no means the first time I had heard this but it hit home that afternoon. She said that while anorexia is something she feels a lot of guilt about and something that she finds shameful she no less shares her experiences of it because she knows it blesses others for her to do so.

I had read Emma’s book a few years ago and cried most of my way through it. It resonated with me, although I have never struggled with an eating disorder Emma spoke a lot about identity and self-image. I don’t know many women who don’t struggle with self-image, myself included. The way she writes is eloquent, poetic almost, and powerful so I had purchased copies of her book for some younger women I knew also, certain that they too would be greatly challenged and encouraged by her words. If she could speak as well as she wrote I knew this would be a great event and what a blessing to be able to hear her speak for free. This is a yearly conference which is funded by the generous giving of Presbyterian Women throughout Ireland.

I have to confess I am not purely unbiased when it comes to PW, I used to work for them so I have seen first hand how these women benefit the church through serving, prayer, financing mission both at home and overseas and enabling discipleship. It is truly humbling when believers give of themselves and their resources in order that others might grow in their faith. And isn’t that a tangible sign of God’s love flowing out of them and onto others.

It has to be said that this kindness is not limited to Presbyterian Women, anyone who has attended the New Horizon conference in the University of Ulster in Coleraine in July will have been spiritually fed through the teaching of world-class speakers, funded largely by a number of anonymous big donors.

Before we were married, Steve and I attended a Christian Leaders’ conference in Hungary through his work. It was called the European Leadership Conference. The line-up of speakers was impressive, many of them well known biblical scholars, but the beauty of the conference was that those attending from the likes of the UK and America, those with the means to attend, sponsored Christian leaders from Eastern Europe, those without the means to attend such a conference ordinarily. We learnt and grew side by side over the course of the week, we shared ideas, knowledge and visions. It was a wonderful thing to behold.

In a culture that is more and more self-seeking and ‘me’ orientated. We as Christians need to be the difference, and like Christ seek to serve and to sacrifice of ourselves and our resources for the benefit of others. While at times I think we, as a family, do not have much, hence the constant budgeting, the reality is that we have much more than others in this world. I’m guessing most of you own a car, did you know that only 8% of the world own a car. Even in a Northern Ireland context we are more well off than we think, Storehouse a local ministry, say that the average user of their foodbank  in Belfast have just £2.88 to live on a day, find out more at www.storehousebelfast.com. Good stewardship over what we have is important because one day we will have to give an account to God, and tell Him what we did with what He gave us, take a look at the parable of the talents in Matthew 5: 13-30. God will not just ask us what we did with the money He gave us but with our gifts and talents, our time, our families, everything that He has entrusted to us. The Master will be looking for a return on his talents.

We love because Jesus Christ first loved us, if we’re not doing that already it’s time to pay it forward. We live across the road from a South African family who we’ve been friends with for five years now, they’ve become like family to us over that time. When our first daughter was born they noticed and put a congratulations card through the door, we met on the next street a week or two later, I thanked them for the card, we got to talking and the rest as they say is history. We share much together, our faith, our time, our homes, our resources, our hopes and dreams, our lives. I often wonder if what we have with these friends resembles, to a small extent, the early church in Acts 2. Our love runs deep for them and their children and our lives have been enriched through them, it’s hard to describe just how much. In them we see love in action on a weekly basis. I could say the same about many of our family members and some of our other friends. The love of God which spills out of them and onto us makes us wealthy beyond measure. Truly the best things in life are free, after all you can’t buy love.

Compassion Fashion

There are two things I try to do of late when making clothing purchases, the first is SHOP LOCAL and the second is SHOP ETHICALLY. My parents have a holiday home up North which we use frequently and these visits provide me with the perfect opportunity to visit a wee haunt called ‘Hope & Gloria’ in Coleraine. I love everything about this shop, the staff, the decor, the stock and the ethos.

Hope & Gloria is a ‘not for profit’ vintage themed lifestyle store. It is also a ministry of Causeway Coast Vineyard and any profits support projects such as Sunday Food Give-Away, CAP debt counselling, OAM Sports Academy in George, South Africa and the E3 Initiative. Did I mention they also run free training for the unemployed out of their premises, in creative skills such as dressmaking, hairdressing, upcycling etc. Their work and vision is holistic, what’s not to love?!

All of this fuels my desire to spend money in this store and it’s hard not to, in the past I have bought vintage homeware, dresses, hats and dozens of quirky, one off pieces for my girls, and all at amazing prices. I never seem to leave Coleraine without a Hope & Gloria purchase and this weekend was no different. Check out my loot peeps: image image I bought this Osh Kosh Denim Jacket (age 3-4) at £4 for Phoebe, the tag said – The perfect addition to a sun dress, I was sold! The Plain and Simple Papa Pea tee was a purchase for my eldest daughter Amelia. This is one of the many examples of creatives based on the North Coast. They produce well designed, hand printed tees, ethically, using organic cotton, eco inks and recycled biodegradable packaging. With every purchase, £5 goes directly to the partnered cause at that time. Hope & Gloria usually stock some of their range and I’m hoping to get my very own tee once they are in stock again. Find out more about them here.

On my last visit to H&G I was chuffed to pick up this wee vintage red PVC dress for Tabitha for only £3, bargain! image Look out for their chest of drawers full of baby clothes (some brand new) for 50p each. Hope & Gloria also stock some very funky fabrics and sell bags of their offcuts for only 50p, I usually pick up some of these for future small sewing projects. imageFor more info on H&G and their work visit their website here.

The best way to finish a days shopping in Coleraine is with a coffee in Lost & Found, a business that also has generosity and community at the heart of what they do (http://www.wearelostandfound.com). And so concludes a day of guilt free, intentional shopping and money well spent!

* This is not a sponsored post.

A smoothie a day keeps the Doctor away

Trying to get foody goodness into my children (and husband) is a daily struggle. Any time I set a plate of greens down in front of them this is pretty much the reaction I get.

Nevertheless, man cannot live on sweets alone so desperate times call for desperate measures, I have resorted to making smoothies and in the process duping my children into thinking that they are drinking milkshakes. There is nothing else for it and my strategy seems to be working.

I first discovered the beauty of homemade smoothies when I was a penniless student, in those days the ingredients consisted of banana, milk and Tesco Value strawberry yogurt. Now as a penniless Mum I’ve been forced to up the fruit and veg content to try and get those five a day into the girls by any means possible. I was inspired to start making smoothies again while out with a group of girlfriends one night, a pregnant friend had been talking about a new machine she had bought for making smoothies and of late one of her ingredients had been spinach. Spinach is a superfood with lots of nutritional benefits but spinach in a smoothie, really?! I was intrigued and my knowledge of Popeye promised that spinach would provide you with superhuman strength.

Anyone who has seen my no.2 daughter in action will know that spinach is not required to induce this type of behaviour but in any case I thought it was worth a go. I resurrected my trusty hand mixer from the back of the kitchen cupboard and hit Lidl for 100% pure orange juice (99p), a bag of spinach (99p), a bag of frozen forest fruits (£2.29) and bananas (68p per kg). A spend of approximately £5 will make you, on average, ten smoothies, working out at around 50p per smoothie, a lot cheaper than the shop bought smoothies, as nice as some of them are, I’m talking about you Innocent!

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So the process goes, you simply cut up as many bananas as you require, add a handful of spinach, some forest fruits (still frozen, which keeps it cool and saves you adding ice) and a cup full of orange juice, then get to work with your hand mixer and voilà! Lots of goodness disguised as a treat for the girls. Mission accomplished.

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