24 December 2010

"Who would put cigars on their Christmas tree?!"

So this post is dedicated to my favourite Auntie Lauren, who is one of a kind!

My Mother and Auntie Lauren were recently out shopping in a large department store browsing the Christmas decorations section. My Auntie clutching a handful of brown stick like objects tied with a piece of ribbon, turns to my Mother and says- "Who'd put cigars on their Christmas tree?!" My Mum needless to say burst out laughing and quickly rebuked her and replied- "They're cinnamon sticks! Not cigars!!"

I love using cinnamon sticks in cooking, especially around this time of year so every time I opened my spice drawer and saw my cinnamon sticks I had a little chuckle to myself. 

This amusing story has inspired my favourite Christmas craft to date. It just came to me one morning and I couldn't do anything else until I had constructed what I had envisioned in my mind.

As you can see it's very simple but to me its beautiful, and the best thing about this is anyone, even children could make this from just a few materials in a matter of minutes. I think they would be a hit with parents and kids alike at Eat-n-Mess. The image inside could obviously be changed depending on people's taste and religious beliefs. This one now hangs off of my Christmas tree.

This one is made using slightly bigger sized cinnamon sticks. All you need is a picture, strong glue, some ribbon or string and four cigars.....I mean cinnamon sticks! The reason I say they're beautiful is not because I have some freakish cinnamon stick fetish, no it's to do with the image they frame. I have loved it for a while now but have never thought to actually have it displayed in my home. But now it will always be a part of my families Christmas. The one above I will be giving to my Mum. I should give one to my Auntie too, but not sure she'll see the funny side! To learn more about this image please click here.

My last edible gift for this season is an un-esembled gingerbread house kit; complete with icing sugar and a variety of sweets for my very sweet nephew and nieces. I think this makes a great, fun and personal gift for any child or family. 

I plan to have 'gingerbread house assembling and decorating' as one of the many festive crafts at Eat-n-Mess. Kids and their parents/carers will get a choice of gingerbread houses and then get a bundle of sweets and chocolates together with a nice big heap of icing to then experiment with and hopefully have a holly jolly good time with!
Should be a win-win as what child doesn't like sugar, sweets, chocolate and getting messy....without being yelled at!?

Thanks to my big sister we started a new tradition with the Hud-man tonight by leaving a bag of straw, aka 'reindeer food' outside our home for Rudolf and his gang. 
As you can see this is a super cute thing for any small kid to do on Christmas Eve. It got me thinking to future Christmas's and about the the children who visit Eat-n-Mess before the most important day of the year. We could of course just re-create this simple bag full of straw or they could do something a little bit more special and magical. Coincidentally I came across this on one of my favourite food blogs; "Our Best Bites" today- 


Reindeer Food for Christmas Eve

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, Kate and I are supposed to be on a blog-cation!  But I just finished making these and had to share.  See, the stomach flu attacked our house this week, right after it attacked our house last week.  So for almost 2 full weeks I've had at least one, and at times 4 people hurled over buckets in my family room.  Needless to say, it put a kink in my holiday baking plans and I feel bad that I didn't get goodies to all of my friends!  But even the guilt isn't enough to inspire me to slave in the kitchen on Christmas Eve, so I decided to scrap the last-minute baking and do a little craft for my boys to deliver to their buddies instead.  I spotted this idea on The TomKat Studio and thought it was adorable!

Basically you're just putting random stuff in a little baggie and calling it Reindeer food, the poem on the bag is what I love (In case you're on a screen where you can't see the picture)

Sprinkle this reindeer food outside tonight,
The moonlight will make it sparkle bright.
As the reindeer fly and roam,
This will guide them to your home.

Since this was totally last minute, all I had was oats.  Next time I do it, I think I'll add some sunflower seeds and maybe a few nuts, or use granola.  Or go with coarse sugar or colorful sprinkles like many of you readers suggested.  But hey, this was totally last minute so since reindeer are magical, I'm sure they don't eat normal oats.  And as it says in the poem, the moonlight will make it *sparkle*.  So, as I saw lots of people on the internet doing, I added glitter.  In retrospect, I probably should have used something like sugar sprinkles so it's more eco (and kid)-friendly.  Don't call PETA.  And don't lecture me.  And if you do call PETA, definitely don't mention that I used a light dusting of hairspray to make the oats stick.  What?  I think it's resourceful.  Kind of like when Kate used her Creme Brulee Torch to light fireworks on the 4th of July.  I told you next year I'll use sugar sprinkles.   And I'll make sure the recipients know it's not for human consumption (as if everyone doesn't already know that only Santa's magical reindeer like sparkle oats with a side of maximum volume super hold spray).

Just put your reindeer food in little baggies (a sandwich bag will do)  and punch a hole in the corner and tie on the tag, or do as I did here and punch two little holes and pull the ribbon through

then tie in the front

My boys love pretending to be the mail man and making deliveries so they're going to be super excited to get to carry a basket and hand out these little magical favors. And even if you don't make these to pass out to friends, I think it's a super cute thing to just do at home with your kids.  

I just love these, so cute but seemingly simple and inexpensive to put together.

So, the most magical night of the year is here. The Hud-man is sleeping peacefully, the reindeer food has been left out, the presents have been wrapped, festive food has been prepared, and I'm exhausted as ever! Just time to wish you all a very healthy and happy Christmas and a fabulous 2011!!

I'm off to snuggle down with a box of chocolates and my husband, to watch 'Elf'.

Thanks for reading the blog! 

See you again next year.

17 December 2010

Can you ever have too much ribbon?

This post is dedicated to my love of......ribbon, yes, that's right-ribbon!

Christmas time is filled with beautiful coloured ribbons so I thought I'd make use of them whilst I have the opportunity and make a couple of things. I'm a sucker for anything red or green at Christmas. I recently went to Chelmsford market with the Hud-man and let him a grab handfuls of 'bundles' of any red, green and gold ribbons. We got a lot because I'm also a sucker for a bargain (who isn't?) as the bundles are a steal at 60p each for 3 metres. I was in heaven. The Hud-man was extra happy because we stocked up on glitter too. 

I've always liked the idea of making my own door wreath from scratch. I wanted to make one that was a bit different with lots of Christmas colours. Don't get me wrong I love the whole minimalistic thing but at Christmas time that all goes out the window for me. I love colour, and as I said before the more red and green the better! So I know it won't be to everyone's taste but here's what I came up with-

I like the idea of seeing parents making these with their children at Eat-n-Mess. It would be an ideal activity for adults to do with their children. It was so simple to make. I think as it has a lot of pins and cutting of the ribbons it would suit kids aged 8 and up. But we'd give the option of having pre-cut ribbon too. Imagine the sense of achievement and pride your child would feel if they had made this!

Ok, so I don't have the prettiest front door. But it sure does look dressed for the holiday now.

These glittery Christmas cards kept the Hud-man entertained for a good 20 minutes (which, if you don't know him, is quite an achievement). Until I had my son I thought only girls were into glitter. Oh how wrong I was!!

So, with it being the end of term I thought I better at least try and be a good parent and make something for his pre-school key-worker (note I did not say teachers-there's at least 10 so we decided on just giving to his key- worker, who also happens to be my favourite staff member). I thought biscuits would be a general crowd pleaser since we wanted to give some to the Playgroup leader (who is phenomenal, and worthy of a whole separate post!) and also a couple of the Hud-man's best mates from pre-school. I have to say these lemon biscuits were pretty yummy, it's a very good job we were making them to give away because I'm sure I could have eaten all 35, maybe not in one go though!

I still have a fair amount of ribbon left from the wreath so I decided to put some to use and attempt some table decorations/name place settings for the big day. I have had these shallow glass ramekins sitting in my kitchen collecting dust for months (I always thought "I'm sure I'll use them one day"). Well that day finally came today. For the foodies amongst us-yes the ramekins are from those very naughty puds.

I know; they're not exactly something Ina Garten would have on her table at Christmas time, or any time actually, but a 2 (very nearly 3) year old did help me. He picked out the ribbon, counted out the berries for me and placed the tea lights inside...and begged and begged me to light them. I'm glad he's getting involved in making things and preparing for this very special holiday. He seemed to have fun and that's the main thing.

13 December 2010

Getting more Christmassy than businessy

As far as all things 'business' I'm feeling mainly a bit down-hearted with it all this week. I feel as though I'm going no-where fast. TPT still haven't allocated me a mentor (which I could really use right about now). I'm finding it impossible to get in contact with anyone at all from TPT, the Trust leader is out of the office until mid-January. Slightly frustrating, especially as I know other people from the PT course have actually met with their mentor's. I was promised I'd meet mine over a month ago. 

But, on the other hand, this week a good friend asked me if I've ever looked at how many times the blog has been viewed. I hadn't. Truth is; I didn't even know how to access that info. I soon learned that was very quick and easy to do. I was shocked to discover it's had nearly 900 hits! It gave me the little confidence boost I needed. Here's to hoping the actual business will be a hit too!

This time of year has made me think heavily about crafts that I would like to see children doing at Eat-n-Mess one day....hopefully next Christmas.

Pomanders. These will be on offer every Christmas. Not only is it an easy one for kids, it will also make the whole place smell fantastically festive and fresh. Older children can get creative with making patterns with the cloves. I like to stick in as many as possible purely because it gives a stronger aroma.
Sorry, this isn't a great photo but's the best I can do with my trusty digital camera. I remember making these in primary school so that's proof that young children can make these. I recall my Mother hanging them in our airing cupboard.

One thing that's been taking up my time of late but in a good, fun way is making some edible gifts. So I thought I'd share in case you too want to make someone something with a personal touch but don't know what.

In my opinion you can't have Christmas without having mince pies. So some homemade pies will be on the Eat-n-Mess menu during the holiday period. Shop bought mince pie's just don't cut it. Yes, I am a mince pie snob.....blame my Mother.
Some of my (Grandmother's recipe) mince pies.

I'm not in the habit of taking photograph's of food I've made, partly because I haven't got a posh camera to do the food justice and partly because I'm usually too busy eating it! So, this isn't great quality either as I just snapped these with my phone, but you get the idea.

4 December 2010

Survey's, snow and smiles

Firstly, I would like to say a big thank you to all of you lovely people that have filled in one of my survey's. This has helped massively with some all important market research. I initially aimed at getting 100 completed but....I actually managed to get over a 120 filled out! As I kept them quite simple I have been able to notice trends easily. Which is a BIG help!

So what with all this gorgeous snow we've had this past week and the fact the Christmas period has begun I'm finding it hard to do a few things from my still, mega long, business to-do list. Isn't it CRAZY how much a bit of snow can affect everyday life?!! But I have embraced it and actually unlike many others I've enjoyed it, especially watching the Hud-man play in it, laugh in it, fall in it, run in it and just generally be the little kid he still is. 

I've been reliably informed that a good blog needs some pictures. So to hopefully make this a good AND interesting blog here's a few....

Because of the snowy weather we've had more time to ourselves indoors this week. So we got busy in the kitchen and followed in the footsteps of Nigella Lawson and continued what is also one of our families favourite Christmas tradition's by making biscuits for our Christmas tree.

I never thought I'd be one of those parents who let their kids put their homemade decorations on their tree and really love them. But yep, you guessed it-I'm one of those parents! The Hud-man LOVES the decorations he's made so much, he talks to them, about them, holds them, and touches them all the time. The two white ones in the centre of this photo are ones he made from just card and a bit of glitter and glue, but boy is he proud of them! You should of seen his face when I said we could put ribbon in them and hang them on our tree! I just love how kids are easily satisfied!
Here's another example of the Hud-man's Christmas creations-

I honestly don't think he could have shown more excitement and happiness after finishing these, even if I'd let him loose in Hamley's! Again, sooo easy to make all you need is card, glue, scissors and lots of tissue paper. These kept the Hud-man's attention for ages, and well for me that's a BIG thing! These window decorations could well be a on the Christmas craft list at Eat-n-Mess one day. Great for little ones, and parents on a budget....and what parent isn't on a budget at this time of year!?

25 November 2010

Many good people in the world

So the waiting is over....I can officially have the name 'Eat-n-Mess'! So happy and relieved. After a bit of chasing up from my husband we got the good news that there are no problems with us having the same name as another business. My husband received this email from the partner of the owner of the other Eat 'n' Mess'- "As discussed I have no objection to you registering company / domain names
that you wish however I will retain the company registration and domain
names that have been registered. Should this change I will let you know.
Many thanks for your mail and best of luck with your new business."

But, and here's the but, we still aren't really official as it is not yet registered with Companies House. This is a scary and long form to fill in. I've quickly learnt its best to take your time with the big things before you do anything hasty. But hopefully very soon I can report that we really are a proper limited company. Also then I can register a domain name which I'm unexplainably excited about!

I went on my last business planning course on Monday through Business Link again. I was taught, inspired, instructed but I learnt the most valuable things from one man who was there to learn too. He was an ex-British Army serviceman who had been injured from serving on the front line in Afghanistan in 2008. He had one of his legs blown to pieces by shrapnel but amazingly it wasn't bad enough to be amputated. So he has to live with unbearable pain and the leg is always super stiff. He can just about manage stairs but is in a lot of pain and told us how he wakes up screaming EVERY night in agony because the knee locks and theres nothing he can do. He has been unable to work ever since. He was 2 years off of completing a full Army career. He was devastated. He told his story quietly and softly and I could tell he didn't want or expect pity. He was there to make his life and his families lives better by embarking on a total career change. He is in the process of training to become a solicitor and is aiming to own his own practise and specialise in family law. He was the only solider that has been injured through fighting in Afghanistan that I have had the honour in meeting. I've watched many programmes about them on TV, but meeting one made it so much more real and truly made me appreciate what those remarkable men and women do every day and the sacrifices they make. I didn't actually learn a great deal from this course as I'd been taught most of it through the PT course but the experience of meeting this gentleman and the impression it left on me was well worth the time and effort.

It really is that time now. I have been on courses, I have read numerous books, sought advice from various sources and searched MANY different websites with hints, tips and advice for writing a business plan so now I just have to DO IT!!

But first I'll just have a quick browse for more recipes of edible homemade gifts.....because Christmas is coming......and FAST!

15 November 2010

Sitting, waiting, hoping

I'm sure by now you've all assumed that the name 'Eat-n-Mess' was all official, and presumed it was a registered company. Well, I wish it was, but sadly it looks like it may not be easy to secure that actual name. When I decided upon Eat-n-Mess I thought it was an original name until I did what I should have done in the first place and check with Companies House if it is in use already. Which it is. I felt so gutted. Truthfully, I was so upset I actually cried. A lot. I felt like everything was then going to go wrong and I wouldn't be able to handle things. Yes, I do generally overreact! Luckily my husband was around and took control of the situation and obtained the phone number for this other 'Eat 'n' Mess' company and called them to see what they were. He was very calm and polite and got the answers we needed: They are a small dormant company, who have never actually traded. They aim to make the dessert Eton Mess and take it to Festivals to sell. They thought of the name 'Eat 'n' Mess' a while ago and decided to register it with Companies House just in case they do get around to doing it in the future and they have the domain name too. But the lady my husband spoke to said it was her boyfriend's business idea and she doesn't even know if he still wants to pursue it. So was very nice and liked my business idea, so she said she'll have a chat with her boyfriend about us wanting the name 'Eat-n-Mess' and see if he would be willing to let us have it and then inform Companies house of the situation. She said it shouldn't be a problem as we are two very different companies. She also confirmed what I had already thought and hoped; that I could register the company as 'Eat-n-Mess Craft Cafe' but trade under 'Eat-n-Mess'. So I'm just waiting on her to call me back with an answer. Hence the sitting, waiting and hoping. I really love the name Eat-n-Mess so will be really sad if we have to give it up and go with something else. I just want to be able to make things official with Companies House and purchase a domain name. So keep your fingers crossed for me!

On a more positive note I suddenly had a brainwave when I was lying in bed in the early hours of this morning......... Netmums! So I posted a short notice about the business together with the blog address. If you're reading this and you're a mum and haven't heard of netmums.com, check it out because it's full of local info; from school lists to activity play centres for children to fun recipe ideas. Brilliant website. I've already had five really positive responses to my notice from local mums who are excited for Eat-n-Mess to open. Thank you to those that have replied! So reassuring to know that other parents think this would work.

11 November 2010

The power of text messaging

So I've been a fan of text messaging for over 11 years now but never have I received such a motivating and complimentary message as this from a good friend. I hope she doesn't mind me sharing it- "Hi Kelly I read your blog and think your idea is fantastic! I wish I had business ideas like yours, since working in London is too far once I give birth but working in Chelmsford won't even cover child care costs, the perfect solution is your idea, at least H**** can be with you and you will make other people's lives better and more fulfilled! If you need someone to make good hot chocolates let me know, I trained at Costa." 
I've never really done anything where people have said these kind of things to me, which is one of the reasons I decided to try this whole project in the first place. It really meant a lot to me, especially today as I was tired from the minute I got out of bed and was having one of those days where I just felt like I was trying to achieve the impossible. So friend; you know who you are-Thank you!!! Right I'm off to bed to try and get an early night for once. Because since this business idea took off I've been going to bed far later than what I used to and when I do try and sleep I generally can't switch off for at least an hour! 

10 November 2010

How do you eat an elephant?...

Today I met with an advisor from the Mid Essex Enterprise Agency (MEEA). I had to cancel the first two appointments due to not having child care for the Hud-man. I'd heard good things about the MEEA, mainly that they give grants to new businesses. After an hour I realised I do actually know a thing or two now about whats involved in setting-up in business, because roughly 80% of what MEEA told me today I already knew. MEEA asked me if I'd heard of 'Business Information Service' (which is accessed through libraries) I said "yes" and he replied -"I see you've done your homework". I smiled to myself because then I figured he would be taking me seriously, which is something I'm slightly paranoid about. One thing MEEA made me understand better and decide upon was what type of business the cafe should be. It will have to be a limited company as opposed to a sole trader. But my goodness, a limited company is more difficult to set up!

Unfortunately there are no grants available at the moment. Hard times! So if you know anyone wanting to invest in a new small business then point them in my direction! Overall, I felt it was a positive meeting though. I feel like I have another professional on my side, rooting for me. He said that my business idea was in the middle of the small business start-ups scale; in size, cost and timeframe. It confirmed what I have been thinking; I have a huge task ahead of me, and there is MUCH TO DO now, and once the cafe is up and running.

I still feel overwhelmed at how much research I still have to do, just to put a sound business plan together. In the words of my mother "How do you eat an elephant?.....One bite at a time". She said this to me a while ago, and I have thought about it everyday since. It keeps me sane. If I just tick off one thing from my ridiculously long 'to-do' list then thats fine, however big or small that may be. Each time I do, I feel like I'm getting a tiny step closer to seeing Eat-n-Mess open it's doors.

I have a meeting set up with a man named Bob (who just reminds me of my Granddad Reg) from The Prince's Trust (TPT) on Friday, he is one of their retired mentors and speakers and knows all about renting business properties so he is going to go over all the nitty gritty and fun things in detail with me and another girl who attended the course at TPT. Again this is free of charge. I am continually amazed at how much free help there is out there!

9 November 2010

Starting the 'start-up' process

So after many many months of just quietly contemplating if I could start and run my own business, and questioning whether or not I had it in me, my husband and I were driving home from a friend's house. It was a long journey and after chatting to my husband about my little dream, I suddenly realised that I was passionate about something and felt a fire in my belly that I had never felt before. My husband made me see that I needed to just try, plain and simple. A case of 'if I don't try it now I may never' and always be wondering what if? And well, who wants to live with regrets.

I already had the business idea firmly in my mind and, as I've realised, that's one of the biggest things a successful business needs - just a good, sound idea that can be built on.

I plan to open an arts and crafts cafe aimed at children under 12 and their parents/carers in Chelmsford (Essex) town centre. It will be a fun, relaxing and different sort of cafe where adults can enjoy good quality fresh food and drink, whilst their children are engaged in something creative and constructive. It will be a great place to socialise with other parents/carers, whilst the children are busy creating a master piece or just making a mess! Thats fine though because at 'Eat-n-Mess' children are allowed to be children. They can "make a mess without any of the stress" (for the parents). The staff will be happy to set up and clear away all the mess, serve food and drinks and assist in the crafts. There will be a safe and secure space just for babies too so parents can have their hands free if needed.

In early Sept '10 I got to work on my little dream. I am not business minded in any way shape or form, so I really have my work cut out. That's actually been a positive thing thus far because I've already gained so much knowledge and confidence. The reason I have not tried to bring my business idea to life before now was purely a self-doubt issue, but again its been my husband's gentle but persistent nudges that have made me start this project.

I really was clueless about EVERYTHING business related up until two months ago. I feel I've come a long way in a relatively short space of time. I have been greatly helped already by two organisations: Business Link and The Prince's Trust (TPT). I have been on a few courses (all free of charge!) courtesy of both organisations, and have really enjoyed them. More importantly I have been inspired to continue pursuing this very daunting task. I have to mention one of the workshops I attended through Business Link called 'Women and Enterprise'. I left feeling like I was on cloud nine, buzzing from it for hours! The leader was an inspirational woman called Mandie Holgate (founder of The Business Womans Network) she really treated us all with respect, no matter what our ideas were. She gave me so many fresh ideas and avenues to think about and research, together with the encouragement and added motivation I needed.

I feel really blessed to have the support of my friends and family, and now The Prince's Trust is also behind me. I approached them because i'd heard they give low interest business loans to people under 30 who are unemployed, or working less than 16 hours a week. They told me I had to attend a 4 day course called 'Exploring Enterprise'. It was so useful, I would recommend it to anyone thinking of starting their own business from scratch. They even provide a business mentor for us, who will be a retired business person, willing to give up time each month to meet with me and offer help and advice for the next two years! This is free too! If your circumstances are similar to mine and you're from Essex, and want to do a similar thing as me but don't know how to, then contact Anne Gredley from TPT. She's a little gem, full of business advice, and will be more than willing to help. I cannot praise TPT highly enough, they really do fabulous work and most of their staff are unpaid.

I have a meeting with the Mid Essex Enterprise Agency (MEEA) on Wednesday, so hopefully they will be another useful tool that can help 'Eat-n-Mess' become a reality.

I have much more to share, but it's getting late....