On your marks, get set, Bake!

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How to Throw a Junior Bake-Off Birthday Party

I recently organised a Junior Bake-Off party for my daughter’s ninth birthday, and I thought I’d tell you about it in case you might want to do something similar.  If not, then at least in six year’s time I can read this blog post and do it again for my younger daughter.

I’ll say right off the bat that this was quite a tiring thing to do, and there were lots of little bits to remember.  However, I actually enjoyed it and much more importantly, the children loved it.  It actually felt like the real thing! Plus, a great big, huge, enormous thank you to the unsuspecting mums who came along and ended up helping with a lot of clearing up – not to mention rescuing burning bakes from the oven.

There’s a list below of everything you’ll need to prepare and buy in advance, but first I’ll tell you what actually happened.  It looks more complicated than it actually was because I’ve tried to write absolutely everything down.  Please don’t be put off!

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What we did:
We set it up like the real Bake-Off, with a Signature Challenge, a Technical and a Show-Stopper:
Signature: Pizzas
Technical: Fork Biscuits
Show-Stopper: Cupcake Decorating

For the Signature, I emailed the parents in advance to ask what toppings the children would like.  I bought pizza topping sauce (although I could have made some), grated cheese (lazy, I know) and whatever toppings they’d chosen.  I made the dough the day before (but you could buy bases).

For the Technical, I used Mary Berry’s Fork Biscuits recipe, which is available online.  I halved the recipe, so each child made eight cookies.  They could choose whether to make chocolate or plain.  I then needed to prepare a tray each with margarine, sugar, flour and the recipe.  (The optional cocoa was a the front of the room.)  This is a recipe that all the children (aged 7-9) could manage.  They found it challenging, but they enjoyed it and they came out well.

For the Show-Stopper, I made cupcakes in advance (I used Nigella’s Christmas Cupcake recipe but you could use any), and bought icing and sprinkles. I provided disposable piping bags and cutters for ready-to-roll icing.  You should really have trays ready with all of the stuff they need for this.  I didn’t, so it became a bit chaotic at this point.  (Cue helpful mums.)

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At the end, we put the cupcakes onto a cupcake stand, stuck candles in it and sang happy birthday.  They ate their pizzas and a cupcake each, and I gave out prizes.  I’d come up with four prize categories as we went along, so that everyone got an award for something, (such as ‘most imaginative Show-Stopper’).  For the prizes, I bought personalised wooden spoons from Not on the Highstreet – see pic below.  If you wanted to do something cheaper, you could try getting plain aprons from Baker Ross (£5 for two), and ironing on a star or something.  But since the party on the whole wasn’t expensive, I didn’t mind paying £20 for the prizes (£5 each).

To prepare in advance: 
Email the parents to ask for the pizza toppings and give them an equipment list to bring. This will depend on what you have at home, e.g. I had enough rolling pins, but you might not.  Also, ask them if they can stay to help their child if possible.
Find a judge or two.  They need to be fun, or at least pretend to be.
Try to find some people to help with the washing up!
Make pizza dough
Make cupcakes – we gave them four each
Print out recipes for Techincal
Print out timings for yourself, otherwise you’ll get confused.
Save margarine tubs and other containers because each child will need their own margarine, sugar and flour

To buy:
Pizza toppings
Enough flour, butter/margarine, sugar and cocoa for everyone in the Technical.  The quantities are not huge.
Greaseproof paper (we used this for pizzas and biscuits)
Butter icing, ready to roll icing, various sprinkles, disposable piping bags.  (My daughter went through three piping bags and I’m sorry but they’re a pain to clean.)
Salad and fruit for the meal, if you wish
Candles if you don’t have any
Prizes.  If you’re keeping costs down, I’m sure some biscuits or pretty cupcake cases or something would be just as lovely.

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To set up:
I used four long tables and put all the equipment and the pizza toppings on top, ready to use
If you have enough trays, get the trays for the Technical and the Show-Stopper ready before the party starts
Have a table at the front of the room for the judging of the Technical. I got them to write their names on little cards which went in front of their bakes, so that they knew whose were being judged, but the judge couldn’t see.  (On the show they have photos for this.)
I put a big bowl of soapy water and some flannels at the back, for hand washing

Equipment List:
Aprons
Rolling pins
Kitchen scales
Sieves (for cocoa)
Piping nozzles (if you’re using disposable bags, you probably can manage with just one set of nozzles as you won’t need the collar)
Mixing bowls
Wooden spoons
Cutlery
Small scissors – one pair each
Ask each child to bring a box to carry their goods home in
Cupcake stand (or just use a plate)

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Running Order:
Write name cards
Introduce Signature – give them 10 minutes.  Remember to say, “On your marks, get set, bake!”
Pizzas in the oven
Technical – they need about 20 minutes for this. You can give them longer if they need it!
Biscuits in – meanwhile, judge the Signature.  Put the pizzas on the benches and the judge goes round and tries each one and gives feedback.  Remember to say, “tell me about your pizza.”
(There may be a pause here while the children try their own pizzas/wash their hands/wipe down their benches)
Now judge the technical by putting the biscuits on the front table and getting the children to sit in a row while the judge makes comments about each one.  They could choose a winner for this, although my judge didn’t.
Showstopper – decorate four cupcakes. I thought this would be quick but they spent ages on it.  Allow as much or as little time as you wish!  Tell them they will be marked purely on presentation, and that they can do them all the same or four different styles.
Judging – get them to bring up their four cupcakes on a plate and comment on them.
Now put the cupcakes into the stand and light candles, sing happy birthday etc.

Eat!

Prize giving.

Now do a lot of washing up.

If you try this, please let me know!  I do hope it helps somebody else to have a happy birthday.

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Swing it, shake it, move it, make it

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I love CBeebies – which is a British TV channel for young children. I’m always impressed by how talented the presenters and cast members are when they perform their annual ‘CBeebies presents…’ show. This year’s was Thumbelina. Nina-of-neurons fame is obviously terrific and did a lovely job.

I did feel sorry for Thumbelina though, because she spent most of the show telling people she didn’t know who she was. How terrifying for her.

I missed a bit – went off to cook the tea – and then saw the finale, which was a song:

“Thumbs up, you can be what you want to be…
I want to be free, I want to be me,
That’s what I’m gonna be.”

This is the doctrine of the young generation:

I can be whoever I want!
You can’t tell me who I am!
I’ll choose who I am!

And by the way… who am I?

After my children watched Thumbelina, we sat down to read the account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary in Luke Chapter 1.

Imagine if Mary was a young girl now, and listened to the messages of the iGeneration:

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“I am nobody’s servant,” Mary answered. “I won’t let anybody push me around.”

And the famous Magnificat, the song of Mary, would have been more like this:

“My soul magnifies me.
And my spirit rejoices in me: I’m awesome.
From now on all generations will hear me roar!”

I know this is very silly, but just imagine it for a moment, because is is the attitude our children are being encouraged to have. If Mary had said this, she’d have missed out so badly! And she’d have been so wrong! She’d have lived and died in obscurity. Nobody would have heard her roar.

Our children shouldn’t expect an angel to visit them and tell them what their life will be all about. Instead we have God’s word, which gives us clear answers to questions about who we are and why we’re here. Praise God for that! None of us has to wander through life, wondering who we are.

The advent devotion we’re using said this:

The serpent’s lie says, “You won’t be happy unless you are in charge of your life.” (Here I added, “Thumbs up you can be what you want to be!”) The truth is, God is in charge and God is good.  Mary did not demand her own way.  She gladly gave herself to God.  True happiness is ours when we give our lives to our good God.

And the following day read:

The truth is that God made us to love him and live for him… You were made for God… Our dreams are too small compared to God’s purpose for our life.

I’m not going to ban CBeebies, but by God’s grace I’ll try not to sell my children short by telling them they can be what they want to be. Praise God! He has given them, and us, an identity and a purpose. “No human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2v9.

Happy Christmas, friends. X

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*In case you’re not British, or you’re a young whippersnapper, the title of this post refers to a song by the Spice Girls… ‘Who do you think you are?’

Bah Humble Brag

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I’m sitting amongst some serious Weetabix crumbs here, but I feel the urge to get in touch. The crummage I will always have with me… it can wait half an hour.

I’m reading an advent devotion, Love Came Down at Christmas. I know it’s November, but I started early because a) I wanted to be able to recommend it in time for Advent, and b) it might take me two months to read because I’m a genuine failure.  But it’s OK, because Jesus succeeds where I fail.

Yesterday I read a chapter about the truth that “love does not boast.” And it got me thinking about how Christmas can be a prime opportunity for boasting.  All of the opportunities we have to love people can instead be used to inflate ourselves and say, ‘look how marvellous I am.’ Better still if we can do it in a self-deprecating way – so en vogue. You know how it can go on Social Media/the local toddler group:

“I’m a bit disappointed with my bouche de Noel this year – it’s a little on the dry side.”

“I’m one of those total losers who is ready for Christmas by Black Friday.  Maybe I should use Black Friday for next year’s Christmas shopping…”

“My children are so grateful and happy – they’re content with an orange and a new pair of socks each year.”

“Look how well I directed my family Nativity play – the home made costumes worked much better than I expected this year.”

“I just want to bless you all with the amazing Christmas dinner I’ve cooked from scratch, with no help from Marks and Spencer.”

“Sorry your Christmas gifts are a bit rustic; my two year old and I made them together in a bit of a rush.”

Am I making sense, here? I love Christmas – as you well know.  If I didn’t despise Santa and all he stands for, you’d be making me don a red cape and calling me Mrs Claus.  However, I can easily see how all of these wonderful ways to bless my family and the community can be completely ruined by my own selfish attitude.  In fact, selfishness is my default setting.  So with each of these things, I need to pray and ask God to help me love people well.

Wouldn’t it be terrible, such a travesty, if I were to abuse Christmas by making it a means of boasting?  We’re celebrating (arguably) the most humble act in history.  Christ, the glorious King of the universe, the eternal Son of God, by whom all things were made, came down.  And he was born in a place you or I wouldn’t sit down in. He was laid in a trough you or I wouldn’t let our children touch.  He was welcomed by dirty outcasts on the night of his birth.  It’s truly astonishing.

If I really want to celebrate Christmas by showing people Jesus, then humility must be my soundtrack and my heartbeat this Christmas.

“… love… does not draw attention to itself.  It deliberately seeks to follow the way of humility – and not in order to show how humble it is!” (Love Came Down at Christmas, p. 50)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8v9.

What would they like?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I do at least a double portion of Christmas shopping.  I need to think of gifts for my family and friends, as well as think of what I would like from the kind people who ask me.  (It’s also my Birthday a week before Christmas, but I’ve only myself to blame for that, I suppose.)

But I also need to answer the dreaded question, “what would the children like for Christmas?” If, like me, you find this all quite  a lot to deal with, and your relatives have already started to ask, here is a list that I hope will help.

These are all things I highly recommend.  I’ve been very selective.  If these don’t go down well, you can certainly blame me! And if you do find any of these recommendations helpful, please do comment below.  This will benefit other readers and also encourage me!

If I’ve left any gaps, do ask below as I probably have more ideas.

Pre-schoolers (and above – my older children still like them):

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Toys
For tiny ones, the Galt wooden pop up toy.  Wooden pegs; springs.  A timeless classic.

Magformers – or knock-off equivalent.  I’ve heard Magnatiles are better, but we have Magformers and Magmagic (which are cheaper) and love them.  Amazing toy.  If I had my time again, I would buy fewer toys and be willing to spend more on good quality toys like this.

Melissa and Doug wooden Birthday cake or pizza.  Last year these were cheaper in the Black Friday Amazon sale.  Also the Melissa and Doug ice cream set is popular in our house.

Books
Julia Donaldson audio collection (10 CDs) – available at thebookpeople. This is the best thing that ever happened to our car journeys.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with the actors.  Please buy it.  (It’s the one with The Gruffalo, What the Ladybird Heard etc.)

The One O’Clock Miracle – this can be a good one for non Christian families too, although you’d need to use your judgement.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr

Music
Anything by Colin Buchanan

Anything by Randall Goodgame, particularly Sing the Bible 1 & 2.  Also, “Under Where?” might work for a non Christian family as it’s a mixture of Christian and silly songs.  We love it, as we are quite silly, and quite Christian.

Primary Schoolers

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Toys/Games
Dobble kids – every family should have this.  It’s particularly handy when you have guests for lunch and your children are looking after them while you’re doing the final preparations.

Ticket to Ride, First Journey

K’Nex – good value and my son adores it.

Lego Spinjitzu spinners – I was surprised at how good these were.  I’m embarrassed to say that I spelt Spinjitzu correctly on the first attempt.

Stomp Rocket – this would work for pre-schoolers as well.  It’s an outdoor toy but as long as it’s not raining you could use it in the winter.  It’s just truly fabulous.  Simple, yet so effective.  We always gather a crowd of curious children when we use it on the beach.

For girls, anything from the shop Smiggle tends to go down well.  As far as I can tell, they always have things in the sale.  Don’t buy anything full price – what a rip-off.

Books
Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor – extremely simple doctrine book with beautiful illustrations.

The Diary of a Disciple – a Tom Gates style re-telling of Luke’s gospel, and there’s one for Acts as well.  My son loves these.

The Action Bible.  I highly recommend this for around ages 8+, and there is a junior version for younger children (my 5 year old has it), but you’d have to decide whether it’s suitable.

The Ology, Marty Machowski.  A beautiful doctrine book for 6-11 year olds.

Magazines – my son really likes the Aquila magazine.  They frequently sell back copies for £2.50 each, which is excellent value.  I’ve got a stash in the cupboard and every month or so I give him a ‘new’ one.

Music
We’ve recently discovered Jamie Grace, whose album “Ready to Fly” is excellent, particularly for pre-teen girls.  Although my boys love it too.

Also, any of the above music CDs go down well with our older children.

 

Over to you:
What would you highly recommend, please?

All Grace

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I recently read a really good secular parenting book.  It was practical, insightful and loving. And it got me thinking about grace.

I know loads of fantastic parents who wouldn’t consider themselves Christians, so this is in no way a dig at non-Christian parents.  If anything, it’s a dig at myself. 

Advice given in this book included (these aren’t direct quotes):

Start each day with a clean slate – no matter how badly yesterday went.
Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes – give yourself a break and look ahead, not behind.
Teach the children to be kind to one another, because in this family that’s how we do things.
Family traditions should be kept, no matter how people have behaved.

These are all really important, in my opinion. Great advice.  But how do you do this without grace? When you’ve been called names and had things thrown at you, how do you put your child to bed with a goodnight kiss and, “I love you” and start the next morning with, “Good to see you, how are you feeling?” How do you forgive?

And how do you forgive yourself when you realise that they’ve learnt their bad anger from you, or when you snap at them again because you were distracted by something else?

When her brother deliberately ruins the craft she’s been working on for three days, how can I tell her to forgive him and love him anyway?

And how can I hand my daughter a Christmas Eve Krispy Kreme when she’s tantrummed all the way there because no, she will not be getting a Segway for Christmas?*

For all of these predicaments and more, I need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When I consider his grace to me, that the Son of God should die for me, an ungrateful sinner, then forgiving others becomes possible.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.

When I come to the cross of Christ with my parenting failures, confessing again that I’ve fallen short, again, and that it was completely my own selfish fault, I find sweet forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

And none of this – the forgiving others and the confessing my own sin – would be possible without the Holy Spirit, who changes my heart daily.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

I suppose if you don’t believe in the grace of God and you’re not filled with the Spirit, then you need to summon the strength from within you to forgive your family and yourself.  It can help to believe that your children ‘don’t mean it.’  He didn’t know it would make her sad if he did that; she doesn’t know how expensive Segways are.  It’s only natural they should fight – all children do.  He’s calling me names because he’s upset about something – he doesn’t mean to hurt me.

Sometimes these are the things I tell myself.  But that’s not what the Gospel tells me.

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The Gospel says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3.23-24.) There is no difference between parent and child.  We’re all sinners in need of mercy.

So if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer, I marvel at your ability to parent well. I marvel partly because you’re doing it without a church family to help you, and without the wisdom that the Bible gives us, but mainly because you’re doing it without the daily supply of grace that I desperately need.

To learn more about this grace, try clicking here. Or you could watch this award-winning Christmas video.

*I should say that the examples I’ve used about things children do are not specific to my own children.  My daughter has never actually had a tantrum over a Segway!  I don’t want to defame them.  

(Belated) Back to School

 

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September is a bit like January, with all of its good intentions and naïve dreams of being a better version of myself.  Over the summer I scheme and daydream and about being more on top of things, and wonder whether this is finally the year we’ll get “the balance right.”

When my children returned to school this term, I felt quite lost for a couple of days.  Suddenly the flat was quiet and I had time to do all the things I had been putting off during the holidays. But where to start?

By week two, we’re were off to the proverbial races and we have to remember PE kits, after-school clubs, homework and consent forms.  I feel like now that it’s all in full swing, there isn’t much time for quiet reflection.  But I have noticed one thing:

I’m still me.

I’m not the slick, imaginary version of myself I’d dared to hope I might be.

As it’s a ‘new year’ I’ve been using some new Bible reading notes, and I’m slowly reading John Chapters 14-16.  I keep thinking about these words:

 

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15)

If you can relate to my emotional ups and downs, here are a few encouragements from Jesus’ words here:

You’re in Christ.  If you believe in the Son, and he’s your Lord, then you’re secure in him. This is the same whether your kids are at home, at school, or at the hospital.  It’s true when your morning is running smoothly, and it’s true when someone spills the cereal and the cucumber lands in your tea.  It’s true at the Seaside in August, and it’s true on the school run in September.

You’re bearing fruit.  If you’re in Christ, then he’s making sure you bear fruit.  He’s making you more like himself.  It’s not just my children who’ll be learning a thing or two this year.  Jesus has a curriculum ready for me, too.

If you’re bearing fruit, you’ll be pruned.  Jesus’ curriculum for me will at times be painful, because he’s chopping off the selfishness; the pride; the impatience; the harshness; the self-pity; the badness etc.  And this is good news! He’s getting rid of it, so I need to get with the programme.

Apart from Him you can do nothing.  I don’t need to be slick (there’s no danger of that, so phew!), and I don’t need anyone to think I’m on top of things.  I don’t need to depend on a new system or regime for getting out of the door and through the school gate on time and in a state of calm serenity.  I need to depend on Him.  Seriously, I need to remain in him.  Jesus repeats this phrase to emphasise that this is what we need.  We must depend on him.  We must trust and obey him.  I need to take my eyes off my ‘to-do’ list and wish lists, and fix them on Christ.

It’s for the Father’s glory, not mine.  “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15v8) When I remember and acknowledge that I’m completely dependant on Christ, I will give the glory to the Father.  What’s my goal for this term?  Is it to keep a neat hallway?  Is it to donate more stuff to the charity shop?  Is it to finally teach my daughter the piano?  Well, those could be my mini goals, but my ultimate goal must be to glorify my Father in heaven.  That is obedience.  And let’s face it, that is much, much more worthwhile.

Let’s pray for a fruitful term, to the Father’s glory, knowing that the Gardener will have some pruning to do.  (And try not to forget the packed lunches.)

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Two Women

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I’ve been thinking a bit lately about Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).  Please don’t switch off – I know you’ve probably read many a blog post about them but this won’t take long!

I, of course, identify with Martha.  She’s so busy.  She can’t see the wood for the trees.  She hasn’t chosen “what is better,” which is to listen to Jesus.  As parents, we are so busy.  Sometimes I’m a slave to my own – or other people’s – expectations of what can be achieved in a day.  And so I fail to make time to sit down and listen to Jesus.

If only I could be more like Mary. There she is in my children’s bible, sitting at Jesus’ feet and smiling serenely.  She’s a woman with the right priorities.  She doesn’t seem to care about her culture’s expectations of her.  She puts Jesus first.  I must be more like that.

The problem is, that feeling guilty about not being more like Mary isn’t actually going to drive me to the feet of Jesus to listen to him.  It might for a day or two, but not for a lifetime.

There’s another woman I’ve been thinking about.  She’s not serene or sensible.  She’s not had the right priorities.  She hasn’t been putting Jesus first.  She’s a “sinful woman.” She’s found in each of the four gospels, and Jesus honoured her for her devotion to him.  The two things – her sinfulness and her devotion – go hand in hand, as Jesus explains to the Pharisee in Luke Chapter 7: “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (See Luke 7:41-47).  It’s logical, right?  She’s desperate for forgiveness, and when she receives it she’s overwhelmed with gratitude and love for Jesus.  In a simple but extravagant act which would make her famous, she gives up her greatest treasure so that she can worship him.

So we’ve got these two women.  One (Mary) puts Jesus first, as I know I should.  One is sinful – and I know I’m that.  But sisters, let’s not forget that these two women are in fact the same woman.

John is very clear about that in chapter 11:
“This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.” (v2)
and chapter 12: “Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour… Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.” (v3)

It turns out, therefore, that I can be like Mary.  I am a sinful woman, and I need to be forgiven much.  So when I come to Jesus it’s as someone who has been forgiven much, and who needs to be reminded of that forgiveness which is only found in Christ.  I come as a desperate woman, needing grace and to know the Father’s love for me.  I come knowing that I have other things I could be doing, but I am free – free to choose what is better.

And how do I come to Jesus?  Well, I pray, read the Bible, and pray.  I feed on his living and active word, which wonderfully I can do because I have it in my language.

Our God speaks: let’s listen to him.

As often happens, this brings to mind a Colin Buchanan song:

“If you’re a fusser or a fretter
Take the plunge and choose the better 
and Pray for help, when you’re stressed,
Leave the good, and choose the best!”