Sunday, 21 May 2023

Simple Mushroom Soup

It's been ages since I shared a recipe with you all but I made this mushroom soup which was so simple and easy to make I thought it was worth a share.

I use this recipe whenever I have a glut of mushrooms,  which occurs with ridiculous frequency in our house because I'm an appalling housekeeper and buy food without checking what we already have! 

Fortunately I love mushroom soup so all is not lost.

This recipe is really simple and can be made with as little as three ingredients. I do like to add a bit of a flourish with extra seasoning though so you'll find eight ingredients in this version. But that's eight ingredients you'll very likely find in your cupboards, and can be omitted without a disaster. 

Anyway enough chit chat let me get on with the recipe:

Begin by adding a good knob of butter or dairy free spread (which is what I use, flora is my favorite) to a pan and let it melt.

Next chop two large brown onions into small slices and add them to the pan. Gently fry them till they're soft and a little bit caremalisd.

Whilst the onions are cooking slice all your mushrooms, then dump them into the pan with the onions. 

Cook this down till the mushrooms are soft, then its time to add the seasoning.

I use one vegetable stock cube, ground garlic, black pepper and if you have it, dried parsley. 

Give this a bit of a stir and add about 500ml of boiled water.  Give it a whizz with a stick blender or whatever you have and voila! Delicious, garlicy,  oniony,  mushroom soup, delicious served immediately with buttery sourdough bread.



2 large brown onions,

Approximately 750g chestnut mushrooms,

1 vegetable stock cube,

1/2 tsp garlic granules, 

1/4 tsp ground black pepper,

1 tsp dried parsley,

500ml boiled water.

For the short version, simply fry the onions and mushrooms and add a stock cube for an equally delicious meal. 

Monday, 8 May 2023

Joyful Body

 As you know my word for the year this year is "Joyful", for the month of May I have decided to focus on working towards a joyful body.  

I cringe slightly at the word "body"; it feels fleshy and like restriction.  But this month isn't about criticising my post partum body or restricting my food intake to try and force my body to comply with beauty standards.  Yuck.  No, this month I am going to focus on nourishing my body, treating it like the gift from God that it is, treating it like it really is a temple for the Holy Spirit and a part of me that I want to last and be healthy for a long time. 

This month I will turn 40.  what an amazing gift to have lived to see 39 years, to have grey hairs on my head and a few unwanted hairs sprouting from my chin!  I love this bit in Diana Gabaldon's book "The Fiery Cross" where Jamie is admiring Claire's greying hair, he compares it to his mother's who, he says: ""...hadna one grey hair...[because she died young] see the years touch ye gives me joy Sassenach," he whispered, "for it means ye live."" My grey hairs too are a sign that I have had the privilege to live long enough to acquire them. The Bible even praises grey hair as "a crown of splendour, it is attained in the way of righteousness." (Proverbs 16:31.)And who would I be to argue with that?

I am so thankful to my body for what it has achieved over the past 39 years, grey hairs and all, especially the last 10 or so years of growing, birthing and breastfeeding babies.  I think it's in pretty good nick! But it needs a bit of a pamper, I have given a lot to others with my body and it feels right to spend some time giving back. 

But before I go into how I am going to create a "Joyful Body" in May I want to reflect on April, whose focus was "Joyful Home".  I feel like I already know what my word of the year for 2024 will be as I have felt like "home" is far too big for one month and it could easily be my focus for a whole year, it's been such a lovely thing to focus on.  My goals with "Joyful home" were to finish off some bits and pieces round the house that had been neglected and to work on improving the atmosphere by renewing our rhythms, routines and traditions.  I am pleased with some of the progress I made, but what I didn't get to work on was the atmosphere of the home, if anything it was worse this month than usual.  Bank holidays, extra days off work for my husband and too much chocolate definitely put the month out of whack, getting into good rhythms, inserting new traditions and spending time refining the atmosphere of our home felt like an impossibility, there were too may arguments, too much friction, too much screen time and too much overwhelm for me.   

However it wasn't a total loss as I did make improvements to the physical home that we live in.  I bought some frames and put up some beautiful Hannah Dunnett prints that I've had for a while, I ordered some photos from our old house to be printed and put them in a big frame that I bought before we moved, I emptied a couple of stale old boxes full of papers and other junk that I still hadn't unpacked from the move, I bought a new rug for the living room and I finished the dining room off.  Little things, but things that have been hanging over me and meaning to do for ages and I feel a sense of accomplishment in having achieved them.  I also had a bit of a spring clean, which, shall we just say, is ongoing, and I might even change the name to summer clean, or just all year round clean.  Cleaning seems never ending.  

So onto May and "Joyful Body".  First on my list of things-to-do is to purchase some multi vitamins, my poor neglected body hasn't had to benefit of multi vitamins since I was pregnant and it desperately needs some. I buy Pregnaplan from Cytoplan, not because I am pregnant but because I am breastfeeding so I still need to be careful about the quantities of some vitamins I am taking. Their vitamins are made from food so they are better absorbed into the body than synthetic alternatives, I don't get paid by them or anything I just like their vitamins.  I am also going to get some nice moisturiser, I used to use a lovely cream made from natural oils by a company called Akamuti, but in a bid to be frugal I have been using plain coconut oil,  I want to treat myself a bit so I am going to buy them again.  Again not paid just enjoy the product.

Obviously my diet needs an overhaul, we have been eating far too much processed food, and I am coming to believe that the main cause for ill health and overweight is processed foods and overuse of seed oils.  Just this weekend as a treat we bought some vegan squirty cream to top my scones and jam and I had a peek at the ingredients (maybe I shouldn't have!) The first ingredient is water, fine, second in ingredient is fully hydrogenated palm oil, third ingredient sugar, followed by a whole host of unpronounceable additives.  I think I probably won't ever eat this stuff again. It's not real food and I want real food.  I'm not sure what I will replace it with at this point but my goal is wholefoods because I know this is healthier and likely better for the environment. 


We have been trialling gluten free for the past two months in a bid to improve my one year olds skin which has been plagued by eczema almost since birth. His skin is currently hugely improved but gluten hasn't been our only change so I will add in the gluten this month and see where we are.  Being able to go back to eating gluten will improve our diets hugely because I have been relying on gluten free versions of our usual foods which of course means lots of additives.  Gluten free bread has about half the fibre, protein and carbohydrates of wholemeal bread per 100g so the nutritional benefits of eating wheat are clear.  I have not experienced any health benefits from cutting out gluten so I see no reason to continue restricting if my baby's skin remains healthy, and I'm looking forward to making my own bread again.

This poor body of mine is in dire need of some exercise, although I am always on the go, I haven't done any intentional exercise since I was about 12 weeks pregnant and I know it's time to start again.  I'd really like to start jogging again, I used to love it but had to stop because of back pain, but I would like to ease myself into it again and see how I do. I also need to get back into doing some stretches and exercises to improve my core, I feel like I have no muscle function at all in that area, when I bend over it feels like I am only using my back muscles to stand up again which is likely causing me back issues, so core exercises are another thing to do. All this I will find very challenging to squeeze into my schedule.  Home educating 4 boys takes up virtually all my time and I get very little free time, and this little I do get I usually spend doing what I am doing right now...writing. So carving out some extra time for exercise is going to be tricky but I will see what I can do. 

Seeing as my brain is a part of my body I probably ought to do something to improve that too. My poor old brain is very fuddled at the moment.  Possibly the hardest thing about being a parent and especially about having them home all the time, and especially about them all being boys (this is scientifically proven by the way, not gender stereotyping) is the high level of stress I experience for long stretches of time.  This isn't the kind of stress I used to experience as a teacher in a secondary school which was more pressure and time related.  This stress is to do with my brain constantly being made to believe that something dreadful has happened and it's a big emergency and I have to rush and save my children from a life threatening disaster.  Let me explain, I don't know if this is unique to boys, or unique to my boys, but they do very alarming things and make very alarming noises which signify either real or fabricated emergency.  Unfortunately my brain can't distinguish between the two so is almost constantly on high alert and is regularly being injected with cortisol and adrenaline thinking it is going to need to send my body into fight mode to rescue my children from some terrible foe, or some sort of horrible accident.  Sometimes it is a horrible accident or emergency, like a child jumping from a high height and breaking his foot, or accidentally cutting himself with a whittling knife, or getting himself so stuck in a tree that I have to saw a branch off, or disappearing in a busy public place (I could go on).  And sometimes it is fabricated such as one child won't let the other have the TV remote, or a fight breaks out on the trampoline, or someone doesn't like the dinner I made, or doesn't want to go to the group we are supposed to attend and they scream like they are being murdered. My brain can't tell the difference so is constantly stressed, there are studies that show mothers of boys are more likely to suffer from dementia in later life because of the higher level of stress that boys cause, (read about it here if you like) and since no one else is going to bother to take care of my brain health I need to do something now to protect it for later on. But what to do?  Well diet and exercise can mitigate some of the effects of stress, I think I also need to try and do some sort of meditation (cringe) and dedicate some time to prayer.  Again carving this time out in my busy day is going to be difficult but I need to try for the sake of my future health. 

  So I think that's about it for now, May is my favourite month of the year so I'm looking forward to taking care of myself a bit this month.  If you got this far, thank you for reading,  do you have a focus for your month?  What is your word of the year? How is it going?  Consider this your reminder to reflect on your word of the year, why you chose it and what you want from it and also don't forget to take some time to take care of yourself, you matter too in this busy life, you care better for others when you are well cared for yourself. 


Sunday, 2 April 2023

Joyful Home

Yesterday marked two years exactly since we moved from a tiny two bed semi in a large housing estate just outside Reading to a 4 bed house in a little village in the Forest of Dean. It's been an incredible journey full of surprises, not least finding out I was pregnant two weeks after moving! 

We had great plans for our new home when we moved in, and perhaps we might have done them if we hadn't had to deal with pregnancy and a new-born, plus two bouts of covid, one of which nearly finished my husband off. We have, for some reason, suffered a lot of health issues since we moved including being diagnosed as asthmatic and my husband suffering from long covid, which have also impeded our progress on transforming our new house into our forever home. 

I am incredibly thankful that we have this beautiful space to live in with plenty of rooms and a big garden, and although we haven't achieved as much as we thought we would have in two years, we have had some successes including painting five of the rooms, getting new double glazing fitted, removing our old fire place and hearth and getting a log burner fitted, fitting a shelving unit in the dining room and lifting the patio and laying it to lawn. But perhaps more important than all those we have found a wonderful community here in the forest, of neighbours, home educators and Christians who have really helped us to feel at home here even if our house isn't quite feeling as settled as we'd like.

However, I am now feeling like the time is right to really knuckle down to improving our house, because, although I am proud of our accomplishments we have definitely slowed our progress in recent months (winter has an tendency to do that to you).  But now spring is here, albeit a rather wet one and I am ready to tackle some new challenges.  Spring time brings renewal and for me, a desire to have a good spring clean, freshen things up and get a few more jobs ticked off our to-do list. For these reasons I felt that April would be a good month to start creating a joyful home.

You may remember that my word of the year this year is "Joyful". I spent January thinking, praying and reading to help me work out what having a joyful year meant to me.  February was focused on "Joyful Parenting" and March's focus was "Joyful Home school". Before I get down to the details of crafting a joyful home, I was to spend a bit of time on last month's "Joyful Home school" focus.

At the start of March I talked to you about how our home school was feeling very disheartening and I was feeling very discouraged.  This month I tried a few new things but  I must admit, a month doesn't feel like a very long time to make big changes in your life, and I'll be honest with you, I am still struggling to make our home school feel enjoyable.  But I know this is just a small part of a large picture, that each new day is a fresh start and that my goals don't end just because the month has, I can keep on working on crafting a joyful home school for years and years to come. 

One things that I did to try to make things more joyful was to say "yes" to more spontaneous and fun things. One of the days the boys had asked to go for a play in a particular playground, I agreed even though no formal work had been done that day.  When we were in the playground my eldest saw a man with a pack of fish and chips and asked if we could go and get some.  My initial response was to say no and come up with a list of excuses for why we couldn't get chips; too expensive, not just before lunch, we don't have time.  But I decided to say yes.  We drove to the chip shop then back to the playground and ate the chips on paper with little forks and sachets of ketchup in the car because it had started to rain.  Something so simple but the boys loved it and it turned an ordinary day into a memorable day.

Another day, after of what seemed like weeks of rain we were invited to a beautiful nature spot in the forest to hang out for a morning.  My initial though was that we couldn't, we had work to do and I didn't want to make a packed lunch.  But I decided to say yes and we ended up having a lovely time on one of the only sunny days that week. 

Maths and English hasn't felt like such a chore this month either for some reason, the boys have been much more willing to sit down and get it done.  I wonder if this might be because I have worked with them individually rather than trying to do it altogether at the table and I have let my eldest do his work up in his room. 

Our topic of Australia has also felt good.  We were getting a big bogged down with the history so I decided to switch things up (inspired by some things I had seen on Pinterest (if your ever struggling for ideas to spice up your home school Pinterest is a really great place to go for ideas.)) and create a sort of 3D relief model of the topography of the Island, it was fun once we got started and the outcome ended up looking amazing and the boys were really proud.  I need to remember that I can be flexible in our approach to a topic and that it doesn't need to be studied in a strict, orderly way, it's ok to jump around from idea to idea to build up a picture of the place. 

I read a little book called "Joyful home school" (it was certainly appropriately titled) which gave me a few ideas about how changing my own mindset might make our home school life more joyful.  Gratitude, positive thinking and descriptive praise were all key features, things I already know really but need reminding of.  I have often had rather sceptical, negative thoughts about the power of positive visualisation and thinking, and gratitude, not without good reason but because it does not always align with the teachings of Christianity, and it can become an idol whereby we rely on our own ability to think positively, visualise positively and verbalise our gratitude to make good things happen and stop relying on God.  However the Bible does also affirm that thinking good thoughts, and gratitude can help you have positive outcomes: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Those verses from Philippians have been such an encouragement to me this year and as I said at the start of this year, they remind me that the important thing to remember about joyfulness is that it is a choice and that it comes from Christ Jesus. Any positivity or gratitude, although it might make things feel better are ultimately meaningless unless I rely on the Lord for my strength and place all my desires in his hands. I have to remind myself time and again that it is ultimately God's will that I should be seeking.  

And so as I begin a new focus for the month of April, the most important thing is to remember that all my hopes and prayers must be asked in Jesus name and for it to be God's will. 

So, all that being said.  I now look to a month of April and how I will create a "Joyful Home". At the moment our home does not feel very joyful.  Mainly because it is a big mess but also because of the unfinished look of the place and the fact we are missing some items that would help it be less messy for example shelves where there are none, toilet roll holders and towel rings, and hooks.  I never realised how much I use and enjoy hooks until I had none! We also need to add some finishing touches that would help our home feel more homely like pictures and art to put on the wall and boxes that remain sadly unpacked. 

Those are the physical aspects that would help our home feel more joyful but there are other areas that need work too.  Our daily, weekly and monthly rhythms  for example, making set times for doing certain things that bring joy and togetherness.  A lot of my good ideas, habits and intentions have either remained just that or have fallen by the wayside because they felt too much like hard work compared to just letting the boys watch TV. This obviously needs to change.  I need to pull my finger out and start being more intentional with my routines and rituals, to take the harder but ultimately more rewarding choices. 

I am thankful that this month includes the Easter holidays because that means I can crack on with house jobs and feel less guilty about having a break from formal lessons. The boys can play and I can work on crafting a beautiful and creative home for my family.


I will be revisiting Sally Clarkson's book Lifegiving home to remind me of what is important and that it's not about spending a lot of money, but creating a loving and nurturing atmosphere that makes a joyful home and I will be taking with me the words of advice from "Joyful Homeschool" about positive thinking, gratitude and the other excellent points made which remind me that joy is not just about what we do but a mindset.  I will inevitably buy another book or two to help me on this journey and I will show you the results next month.  Hopefully I'll not only have visual changes to share with your but also atmospheric changes which reflect an injection of joyfulness into our home.