Appearances can be deceptive!

Today, someone knocked on our front door and asked us if we wanted them to pollard our silver birch tree in the front garden. We have been in this house for nearly four years and not done anything with this tree. Whilst it is a lovely looking tree, the small branch shredding and the dropping catkins and leaves have been the bane of my life, along with lots of tiny little bits that seem to constantly find their way into the house on the bottom of people’s shoes. We had been thinking about having it “tidied up” and they had been working in a neighbour’s garden, so we agreed to them going ahead. Five minutes later, another knock on the door and a conversation over the fact that the tree was actually rotten all through the trunk. To cut a long story short, and after lots of discussions, we agreed to the complete removal.

With the tree gone, there is a surprising amount of light coming in that I never realised the tree was blocking. It’s really opened up the front of the house and I no longer have to be fussed about the dust, tree bits and pollen landing on the cars and being traipsed through the house. I must admit that this was a beautiful looking tree, and despite it blooming each year, it’s centre was rotted and the disease spreading on the inside could eventually have caused branches to fall and thus cause some real damage.

It’s so important to look past the outward appearance and see what’s in the heart.

So what’s blocking the light in your life? What can look great and positive on the outside, might, on closer inspection, actually be toxic and damaging. This could be the season to take the plunge and cut out those superficially pretty things that we think we need, but which in reality are holding us back and stopping the true light in our hearts from shining.

1 Samuel 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Virtual Wedding Fairs

I recently had the experience of taking part in a Virtual Wedding Fair organised by White Sky Events. The original Kent Wedding Fair was due to take place at the Mercure Hotel, Tunbridge Wells, but was (understandably) cancelled due to the Covid-19 restrictions. White Sky took the initiative to set up a virtual platform on Facebook so that all of the suppliers still got a chance to showcase their services to prospective brides and grooms.

Everything was planned and timed meticulously with each supplier given the choice of providing photos, a pre-recorded video and/or appearing “live”. I chose to send some photographs and then appear live. The idea was that couples would register and be able to watch each video and then ask questions via the comments section. Each supplier was given a 15 minute time slot.

I managed to set up a little table display could that be viewed behind me, popped on my branded polo, and wrote lots of notes so that I would be prepared for any questions thrown at me! My time eventually came, I pressed “go live” and if you would like to see my video, then just click here. I am not sure how long the video will remain on Facebook, so apologies if you are reading this in 2022!

I was a little nervous (as you can probably tell), and I enjoyed the whole experience, but not as much as meeting people face to face.

Confidence in a supplier can only be gained through that personal interaction or experience. If you are using someone for the first time, especially for something as important as a wedding or any other big event, then you really need to feel that they understand exactly what it is you want, that they will deliver, that you are getting value for money, and that you will not be disappointed with the final result. That is why it was important for me to do the live video rather than pre-record something or just rely on photographs.

As a result of this, I am pleased to say that I have several enquiries to follow up on and I am very much looking forward to meeting these couples albeit via Zoom.

So for those of you who are planning a big day, or just a small quiet celebration and you are browsing websites, uncertain about whether to choose me (or any other cake supplier) please pick up the phone for a chat. I would love to get to know you better so I can provide you with peace of mind and assurance that this part of your day is sorted and you can concentrate on deciding whether to put Auntie June next to Grandad or Great-Uncle Tom and whether you really need to invite ALL of your cousins to the reception!

Another Lockdown?!!

Oh dear! Boris has spoken and the nation is under another lockdown. Whatever your personal thoughts and feelings about the decision, it has happened and we have to live with it. Time (and the data) will tell if it is the right decision or not, but something had to be done if we are to stand any chance of getting back to normality (whatever that is!).

I don’t know about you but I feel as if my whole life is on hold. I have been wistfully browsing holiday cottages and exotic locations, but never pressing the “book now” button. Mr. Monumental has a big birthday this year and I was hoping to have a great big get-together with friends and family in the summer to celebrate. Instead we are living in a “will we, won’t we” situation. All of those couples who were going to get married in 2020 and had to re-book for 2021 must now be wondering if they have to look further ahead.

However, my problems seem very trivial and I am brought back to earth with a bump when I witness the situation as part of my volunteering at our local community food bank. Every Tuesday, I sit in the Pembury Church Office, as part of the team taking phone calls and packing and delivering food parcels to people in need in and around Pembury and Tunbridge Wells. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have to decide whether to spend what little money you have on food or heating. Parents are going without food in order to feed their children. People are giving up their precious family pets because they cannot afford to keep them. The elderly are alone and frightened about catching the virus. Those with mental health issues are confused and don’t understand why they cannot hug their friends, or go to church, or to the pub. Then there are those without work who are continually rejected for jobs because of the sheer number of applicants. The self-employed who started their businesses just before the first lockdown full of hope and enthusiasm, but now must close their doors and put all of their dreams and plans on hold.

Then there are those for who the Coronavirus is a very real and tangible part of their lives. Either as patients or as carers, nurses and doctors – who have to witness the effect of this illness first-hand. Those who not only have to deal with their existing illness and the signs and symptoms associated with that, but now have to make life changing decisions about their treatments in case they are exposed to this dreadful virus. Those on the frontline who are working tirelessly, fire-fighting some say, to try and keep this virus in check. Risking their own lives in order to save others. We salute you.

So, I may moan and groan about not being able to see my friends or hug my (grown-up) children, but everyday I give thanks for those of us who are safe and well. I offer up a prayer for those who have the virus. I pray a blessing for those who are working to beat the virus. I try and follow the rules, and I do what I can to help my neighbours and my community. Everything else I have chosen to accept and trust that there will be an end to this and we will all come out blinking in the sunlight and live again.

Cake International Competition? Me? Ooer!

A few months ago on a whim, I entered a competition run by Cake International. CI is a huge exhibition held in London and Birmingham each year at which you can go and see all things cake related, demonstrations by renowned “cakers” and buy even more stuff that you never knew you needed. I was hoping to go in person, but the date clashed with my mother-in-law’s birthday. However, CI decided to run a virtual competition alongside the exhibition for those that could not travel due to Covid-19 restrictions. Then the exhibition had to be cancelled so they moved the whole thing online which meant I could still enter.

The first thing to decide was which category to choose. There were 19, including Wedding Cakes, Sculptures, Cookies, Cupcakes and Decorative Exhibits. I always like to look at the previous years winners to see what standard is expected and to be honest, it stopped me in my tracks! These people are ARTISTS! The detail and skills on show were a-maz-ing!! Surely, I could not compete with that and I certainly felt that I was way out of depth. There was one category where I felt that I might be able to contribute something to and that was “Floral Inspirations”. You have to read the rules very carefully to ensure that you include only those things specified and I was relieved to see that you could use things like vases, wood and containers as long as you label them as such.

To cut a long story short, I entered, and had every intention of making a marvellous display based on a lovely bunch of flowers that my brother had sent me for my birthday. After all, I had plenty of time…..

Well, best laid plans and all that. I way overestimated the length of time it would take for me to make the amount of flowers and leaves that I needed to make a large display and my entry was reduced to a small posy of roses, hydrangea and daisies. I found a suitable vase and something in the cupboard to hold the flowers in place so they didn’t flop everywhere. After taking the requisite number of photos I emailed my entry in due time and then forgot about it.

The weekend of Virtual Cake International came around and I tuned in on Facebook to see the video of the Head Judge and to have a look at all of the marvellous entries. There were over 600 entries into all of the categories and so I concentrated on my category and logged in to see the gallery. My heart sank. There were so many beautiful entries that you really had to zoom in close to see that they were not real flowers. All artistically arranged and photographed. You can see all of the results in every category by clicking here.

If you ever manage to go to CI in person the awards are usually Gold, Silver, Bronze, Highly Commended, or Not to Schedule (means that you didn’t follow the rules properly). As it was all Virtual due to lockdown, the awards were Best in Category, Highly Commended, Commended, No Award or Not to Schedule.

Well, competitors started to post their results on Facebook and there were quite a few that had No Award or Not to Schedule and when I looked at them I thought – why? They are beautiful! I suppose the answer to that is with the judges’ feedback to them. Anyway, I didn’t hold out much hope for my little entry, but I logged in anyway and scrolled down to find my name. I was delighted and very surprised to receive a Commended! It was actually a bit of relief.

You see, that little thing called “Imposter Syndrome” had slipped in. I had started to doubt myself. I thought I was getting too high opinion of my abilities and of course, I wasn’t going to be able to compete – what was I thinking of entering a competition? I started questioning why I had bothered, what use could it have possibly served? Why was I punishing myself? I then started thinking how would I have felt if I had received “No Award”?

I could have withdrawn under my duvet in despair, or thrown out all of my cake stuff and given up completely (both a bit extreme – I know). Instead, I have decided to take a closer look at the entries, get some inspiration for new techniques, think about how I could have elevated my entry (thanks to the judges feedback, there were quite a few things I could have done!). I know that if I do anything like this again, I need to plan better and allow myself much more time! The only way is up!

By the way, this is my entry…

Light in the Darkness

Just as we think that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out to be an oncoming train! Additional restrictions are back in place. No more than 6 people inside or outside for social gatherings. I don’t know about you, but I was just beginning to make plans. Plans for a holiday; plans for coffee mornings; plans for birthday celebrations; even planning for Christmas! Now what??!

There is no precedent for what is happening in our society right now, and, as we approach darker nights, colder weather and the flu season, there doesn’t seem very much to look forward to.

I am in a fortunate position in that my faith is the rock on which I can build my hope for the future. When I am feeling unsure, hopeless or alone, I can turn to my God in prayer. So, I would like to think of things that will change my feelings of negativity and hopelessness to positivity and thankfulness. Every day, I am going to find just one thing that makes me be thankful and smile. I plan to share that on my personal Facebook page, along with a bible verse, and I would love it if any of you out there would respond to my posts and share what has made you smile.

There may be days in which it is very hard to see the lighter side. If you don’t want to share on social media, then how about writing it down on a small piece of paper, date it and pop it in a jar? Store them up and then, on those days when you just can’t see the funny side, open it up and spend a little time reading them. Or, you can just try praying…..https://www.trypraying.co.uk/

Psalm 18:28 “You Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”

Which way now?

Just over 1 year ago, and after over 30 years of being desk bound in offices, I launched Monumental Cakes. I had no idea we were about to be thrown into a global pandemic or I may have thought twice! However, I was able to adapt and keep working throughout this difficult period and I am really grateful to the many new customers for whom I have been able to provide a little cake relief. Things are still very up and down, and I am constantly trying to supress that little voice in my head that keeps telling me I’m not good enough!

Being a self-employed sole trader is hard. No sick or holiday pay, trying to balance outgoings with incomings, marketing the business and myself in order to find new customers, and trying not to panic if there are empty spaces in the calendar.

I am a Christian, and as such, I have a faith that God has a plan for me. However, I also believe that God doesn’t expect me to sit back and wait for him to make things happen. Trying to discern what path to take in order to achieve His plan for my future is difficult. You don’t always have a clear voice in your head. I certainly didn’t wake up one day and clearly hear a booming voice saying “Tracy – stop working – you need to set up your own business making cakes!” It doesn’t quite work like that, although I know many people who say they have experienced that sort of intervention! My method is to look at the paths in front of me and weigh up the options. If I go this way, will it do harm? If the immediate answer is no, then why not give it a go? If it is the wrong path, then it will soon become clear. That’s pretty much the way my conversation went with Mr. Monumental just over 12 months ago, and here we still are. Like many people right now, I have no idea what the future holds. I am going to take it one day at a time and trust that I am following the right path and if God has something else in mind, then those opportunities will appear.

One of my favourite bible verses is from Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This is only a very small part of the story. These words were written at a time of many years of testing and trial, pain and sorrow, darkness and uncertainty. We are living today in similar times, and I encourage you to look up and read these verses in order to seek assurance, comfort, strength, and the will to walk the path that God will lead us to.

If you have never prayed, then I encourage you to give it a go. www.trypraying.co.uk provides a simple prayer guide for people who are not religious and don’t do church. It will help you get to know God and pray about things that are important to you. Or click to visit Pembury Baptist Church facebook page. There you will find videos of some of our members reading their favourite bible verses and explaining why they are important to them.

How do you cope with change?

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Iulia Istrate from Skills for Mars – Transitions. A YouTube video platform in which Iulia has one-to-one chats with people from various different environments but with the one thing in common is that they have experienced great change in their personal and/or business life. In these videos Iulia invites us to share our experiences with the viewer and (hopefully!) add insights to help anyone who might be going through a period of transition.

It was really fun and sort of cathartic going through some of my history and how I have coped with the many changes in my business career which eventually led me to take the plunge to start up Monumental Cakes as a business.

Why Monumental Cakes? I spent most of my teenage years thoroughly embarrassed by admitting my surname to people, it led to much name calling and hilarity amongst my peers, but now I am loud and proud to have Monument as my maiden name so it only made sense to use Monumental Cakes as the name for my business!

Click on the picture above or the link below to watch my interview on YouTube – subscribe to the channel (it’s free) to get notifications when new videos appear. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrZc_wftTOY&t=0s

Step away from the scales!

When the lockdown started, I took up the Couch to £5K challenge and have just started week 5 (I admit, I repeated week 4) but I am actually loving it. My knees, however, do have a little moan now and again, but I just ignore them. I was so enthused with this new regime, that I also started planning our meals and religiously recording everything I eat, so that we all eat more healthily and I keep track of where all those calories came from. Every other evening, Mr. Monumental and I have been going for very long walks exploring the local woods and footpaths and taking advantage of this lovely weather. I am feeling very pleased with myself – that is, until I step on the scales. Oh dear, I’ve so far managed to lose a grand total of 1lb in 6 weeks. Yes, reader, one whole pound!

Now I am sure that there are many of you out there, either in the health profession or just enthusiasts or will give me chapter and verse on what I should or should not be doing and where I am going wrong. I thank you for your concern, but just let me stop you there. I’ve decided that I don’t care! That’s right, I DON’T CARE, I am doing what I can to keep myself fit and healthy by endeavouring to eat balanced meals and exercising regularly. Yes, I could do with losing a few pounds as well, but hey, you can’t have it all! Experts will no doubt tell me that if I persevere the weight will start to drop off, so be it.

In the meantime, I will continue my regime and also continue to enjoy life with a little slice of cake along the way. If God gives you lemons, make a lemon drizzle cake I say!

Reach Out to Someone

So, how are we all doing? Silly question, I know! Some people manage better than others under times of stress and anxiety.

We are fortunate in that we have a reasonably sized garden in which to escape to when all four walls feel like they’re closing in and I have certainly tried to make good use of it during this lovely sunshine. My husband has continued to work (from home), so I don’t see much of him during the day, but I do have his company in the evening. I should be using my time productively during the day to do things like, marketing, updating the website, sorting out cupboards, practising new skills, etc. In reality, it’s been more like playing computer games and watching box-sets with the occasional bit of baking thrown in!

I volunteer at our local church once a week, which is acting as a community hub to coordinate aid to those who are vulnerable or in need during this time – answering the phone, packing food bags and coordinating deliveries. It actually reminds me how lucky I am.

So many people are alone, anxious about the current situation and confused about the guidelines, so to be able to pick up the phone and speak with another human being, just for a chat, brings great comfort. But there is a generation who “don’t want to be a bother” so are unwilling to call for help.

So, it is up to us lucky ones to reach out and call someone. It could be a neighbour or a relative that you’ve not spoken to for ages. Not all of us are qualified carers or medical professionals, but we can be a cheery voice, a willingness to help, a listening ear – one small act of kindness and consideration could make an immense difference to someone’s life – so do it now.

Pandemic? It won’t happen to me!

Well, this time last year I certainly didn’t expect to be here. Even a few months ago my only worry about the future was whether we could afford to go on holiday or not in 2020 – now that problem seems moot. I do not want to belittle this current crisis in any way. Many people are really anxious and worried and there are also those who actually have tested positive for COVID-19, and also those who have already lost someone dear to them to the virus. My daughter lives in London and has just self-isolated on NHS advice as she has developed a cough and, although not displaying any severe symptoms, most likely has the virus. The rest of my family and I (so far) have not really been touched apart from taking heed of the advice from the NHS on social distancing, working from home and trying not to panic at all of the empty supermarket shelves. Every sneeze and snuffle is now analysed and God forbid you cough in public! Yet, there are still people who seem to think that they are invincible.

It reminds me of the story about Muhammed Ali. The story goes that at the height of his fame and success, Ali boarded a plane. As the time came for take-off, the stewards did their usually safety demonstration, followed by their walk down the aisle to check that everyone had their luggage stowed correctly and their seatbelts on. When the steward came to Muhammed Ali’s seat, she politely requested that he put on his seatbelt. Ali looked up at her and said, in his typical style ‘Superman don’t wear no seatbelt!’, to which the steward promptly replied ‘Superman don’t need no aeroplane!’

I guess we all take risks at sometime in our lives. Just take that quick call whilst driving; go across the road on a red light; don’t wear a hard hat on a building site; climb up a wobbly ladder on our own; walk across the road whilst looking at our phone; and so on. There is this stubborn in-built nature that seems to say ‘it won’t happen to me’ – until it does.

I think we all need a reality check. Those that make the decision not to self-isolate, or decide to ‘carry on as normal’ – I would just say THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT YOU! Your actions and decisions do not just affect you – they affect everyone around you. How would you feel if you became infected because you had taken the decision to ‘carry on as normal’ and then you somehow spread that infection to someone close to you and they became seriously ill, or even died? The risk is real. This is an invisible killer and unless we all take it seriously, and follow the NHS and Public Health England advice, it is going to get worse.

Be sensible, follow the advice, look out for each other and, eventually, THIS TOO WILL PASS.