To us a child is born

It was the start of December last year that I started this blog – so it’s Happy 1st Birthday to Mixed Bag of All Sorts! I remember distinctly that one of my first posts was about Advent, and what this time of year means to me and to us as a young family as we start new traditions. Well, what a difference a year has made to us as a family – there are now four of us instead of three, and this is the first Christmas that Andrew really has much idea of what’s going on. He was 11 months old last Christmas, so although older than Joel is for his first Christmas, he didn’t really get the concepts of presents, parties and why we were spending time with family and friends.

Guarding the Advent calendar from early morning predators - you never know who might want to get at your mini socks!

Last year I wrote about the Peanuts (Snoopy and co.) Advent calendar that tells the story of the first Christmas line by line each day as you open a door, all in rhyming verse. It has survived many Christmas-times from my childhood to the present. My parents gave it to us last year so that we could carry on the family tradition of opening it with Andrew, not that he had much clue what it was then, but this year he’s definitely more interested in listening to stories. Next year Joel will also be more in to this kind of thing.

It's a bit fiddly to get at the contents of these socks, but I'm determined to do it without help, and that's part of the fun of it!

In addition to this calendar, my parents have bought the boys another Advent calendar this year. It’s one that you can fill with your own treats again and again each year. It came with little chocolates for this year, but in future we could put various things in like little toys or pieces of paper telling a story a bit like the Peanuts calendar. The design is quite simple but lovely and effective – a string of 24 mini stockings that you hang up between two hooks on the wall. Ours is hung at Andrew height across our living room window so that he can help us discover what’s in each day’s stocking. When he first saw it he was very interested in it and kept saying ‘socks, socks’! This morning he took out the first chocolates – two mini chocolate Father Christmas figures, and he proceeded to say ‘Father Christmas’ after me with not bad accuracy. We think he understands that it’s only one sock per day, now that we’ve explained to him after Tom caught him fiddling with another stocking after we’d emptied number 1!

Wow! There's shiny stuff in these socks - cool!

In the build up to Christmas, which we are marking as a family with our calendars, I am personally thinking about the first ever Christmas, when Jesus was born into this world. During Advent each year I’m often reminded of a couple of verses from the Bible, from the book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 6-7. Isaiah was a Prophet who told of Jesus’ birth many years before it actually happened – Jesus is the child referred to by Isaiah in these verses:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

Although I have read and heard this passage many times, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that it really took on a new meaning for me. This Advent, a child has recently been born to us, a son has been given to us; last Advent, the memory of our first child having been born to us was still fresh in my mind, 11 months after the event; and the Advent before that we were anticipating the birth of our first chid in about a month’s time. The experience of our own children being born to us brought it home to me that Jesus was a real person who was born to a real mum and a real dad, just like us. As I sit here feeding Joel, I think of Mary feeding Jesus, and changing his nappies (no Pampers or Huggies around in those days!) – or maybe Joseph helped out with that? I think of Joseph finding a place for them to stay just before the birth and supporting Mary through it, and how that’s similar to Tom’s role of getting me to hospital and being with me for the birth of both our children.

The difference between this family in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and our family is that Jesus, as well as being fully human, was also fully God, just as it says in the Isaiah verses above. And not only is He Mighty God, but also Wonderful Counsellor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the person I turn to for help in the most difficult of life’s situations, who is always there for me and always will be, giving me His peace which goes beyond all human understanding.

Baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby, he grew up; as a man He went on to do what He was born into this world to do – to die on a cross in order to make up for all the wrong things that we do which separate us from God, and if we believe that He did this for us, we can have everlasting life beyond our lives in this world. The ‘us’ referred to in Isaiah’s verse doesn’t just mean Mary and Joseph in a literal sense; it means anyone, at any time and in any place on Earth – Jesus was given as a present to everyone, it’s just up to each and every one of us whether we accept the present.

In all the busyness of Advent – the shopping, the parties, the chocolate eating – why not take some time to think about why this time of year involves all these things. Advent is the anticipation of celebrating Jesus coming into our world many years ago. Have you accepted the present that He came to be? If you’d like to find out more, there’s a great course called Alpha that runs across the country – you can find one near you here.

Now there are only 24 days left to celebrating Jesus’ birthday this year. Can’t wait!

Ha ha, I have chocolate.... not sure I should share it with Mummy, Daddy and Joel....!

Peanut butter cookies

A while ago (OK, quite a while ago, back in June!) I posted a recipe for cheese scones, and I talked about the reason why I decided on that recipe that particular day: I had 2 eggs to use up as they were on their use-by date. One of those eggs went in the scones, and the other I promised I would blog about later. Well, these peanut butter cookies are what the other egg went in! The idea for the cookies also came from the need to use something up that had been in the cupboard for a while. I usually like peanut butter, either in a sandwich or used in cooking (for example, I have a great and easy peanut butter curry recipe), but I went off it in early pregnancy as I didn’t feel like eating it when I was so sick. So we had a couple of jars (one smooth, one crunchy) open in the cupboard for quite a while. But as the sickness eased, I felt like I wanted to try it again, and it turned out I really quite fancied it then, I think because it’s quite savoury (at least the brand I buy is, with no added sugar like some).

I had heard something about avoiding peanuts in pregnancy though, so I looked this issue up in the NHS ‘Pregnancy’ book. The current advice is that eating peanuts as part of a balanced and varied diet in pregnant is fine, unless of course you are yourself allergic to them. It was once advised that pregnant mums should avoid eating peanuts if their baby’s immediate family had a history of allergies in general (such as asthma, eczema or food allergies). But the most recent research shows no clear evidence that eating or not eating peanuts affects the chances of the baby developing a peanut allergy. That advice sounds good enough to me, and as I was in the mood for something peanutty, the cookies were a good option.

I only put a small amount of sugar in, so they actually turned out more like savoury biscuits with the texture of a soft cookie than sweet cookies. I used some smooth and come crunchy peanut butter, so I was careful when I gave one to Andrew, checking each bit as I gave it to him for big chunks of peanut – it was fine though, as there were no big chunks. If I was making them just for myself, I’d probably go for all crunchy, to give the overall soft cookies a bit of a bite to them. But the smooth butter needed using up! The recipe is below – it’s a really quick and easy one to do.

Ingredients

  • 100g margarine
  • 100g peanut butter (I used half smooth half crunchy because that’s what needed using up!)
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1 egg

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and line a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine, peanut butter and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg until smooth.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder, and stir until well combined.
  5. Dollop teaspoonfuls of mixture on the baking sheets, spread well apart as they will expand.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 15 mins, or until lightly golden and still quite soft.
  7. Allow to cool, during which time they will firm up.
  8. Remove from baking sheets and store in an airtight container – though they go dry quite quickly, so I would recommend eating them asap!