fEAsible ~ what works for me

It is so grey outside but I quite like it – it feels restful and quiet – just right for a period of reflection and I find January is a good month just to ‘be’ rather than do.

Transition is my focus word for the year – a period of adjustment –  and I need to adjust some of my household routines to fit in better with my new circumstances.  So, since the start of this year I have been steadily working on a list of household tasks I need to do everyday now I am not working in order to …well keep order… and prevent a build up of clutter and chaos that can arise from letting things pile up.   You might have the same problem with little piles appearing in corners or on a table or worktop.  They tend to quietly build up over time because finding time to deal with them is often in short supply.

My starting point has been to think about what worked for me and what didn’t last year, what will I continue to do and what needs improvement or ditching altogether.  My word(s) last year were ‘The power of small’ and I did just that – some of the things were just little changes, some became major improvements and some…well I even surprised myself.

The small changes that worked for me are…
  • Making soup – I never seemed to have the time to do this regularly when I was working – now it is almost routine – and what is better than a hot bowl of soup full of winter vegetables.  We don’t have it for lunch everyday but I do freeze some and it is great to use at a moments notice for a  picnic.Tomato Soup

Winter Picnic

  • Taking picnics and flasks on our trips out – it might be shopping, or a day out or travelling but wherever we go the first thing we do now is make the picnic and fill the flasks.  DH is getting very good at this and not only is it a good money saver but we also prefer it to some of the cafe lunches we have had as the vegetarian choices can be limited.  It will be a real treat now to have a bought lunch and we can limit this to visits our favourite places that we enjoy.
  • LaundryKeeping up daily with the ironing and the finances – I make sure that I iron everything I washed the day before in the morning and this way the pile never builds up.  I did lapse at Christmas when I was busy doing advent activities but I am back on course again now as I love seeing my empty ironing basket.  I do the same entering my receipts and keeping a tally of my spending.Courgette plant
  • I grew courgettes in a large pot again this year and this time from seed – it is so easy and the results are so satisfying and they taste wonderful.  I am expanding this to grow some outdoor tomatoes this summer – I have earmarked a little space for them in the garden by the fence where they will have the most of the sunshine and shelter.
  • My Year Book – I can’t tell you how much pleasure this has given me and I have just started a new one this year.  I keep a list of my monthly intentions, notes of books I want to read, recipes I might find, decor and gardening ideas and bits and pieces of everything and anything and it is a great place to stick all my cuttings of things I might want to do.
…and the major improvements
  • this has to be focusing on the outside of the house – we took one step at a time completing one job then moved onto the next and the rendering and repointing has made such a big difference to the look of the house and cleaning the brickwork brought it back to look like new.  Once the weather is better we will continue with painting the front door, replacing the garage door and relaying the tarmac drive – but of course these are quite expensive projects so we need to make savings elsewhere.
  • Somatic Exercises – the Feldenkrais method – if you have never tried these then I can only recommend that you have a go.  Try the Posture Queen on you tube – it is the best way I know to help any posture problem like tense shoulders and general stiffness – it is so gentle it feels like you are not doing very much but the results can be felt after just one session.  They do take quite a while as taking it slowly is key and scheduling time for this is still difficult for me so I am going to make a positive effort to do some each day because it works.
and then the unexpected –
  • Our Italian holiday – I had forgotten how much I enjoyed travelling and seeing other countries and cultures.  Since we bought our little cottage the renovations took up all our time and holidays but having the wedding to go to gave us the nudge we needed to have a break from this and plan a proper holiday.
  • Leaving paid work – this was a ‘biggy’ – not exactly planned and not exactly ideal timing as I cannot draw my state pension yet but I am getting used to being at home, trying to get used to a drop in income and easily getting used to not rushing about all the time – though I can still feel guilty about that.

The little changes have almost become habit and I will add more changes to these as there are things that did not work for me last year and I will need to work on those.

More on this later…

Meanwhile a big welcome to my new followers and everyone that has left a comment recently – I love getting to know new readers and your ideas are always so helpful.  I promise I will get round to posting the recipes soon – I am sorry Dar that you have waited so long for the Stroganoff!

 

 

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dEAr diary ~ just in time

This is a day of celebration – we have finally finished the decorating at our  elder daughter’s house, the new fireplace has been installed and the carpets were laid yesterday on the stairs and in the living room – it all looks wonderful – clean and bright and ready just in time for her new baby coming (due date the end of January).

A close call though.

DH and I are relaxing today after our marathon and catching up with a few household jobs ourselves.  I feel we can now concentrate on getting our new kitchen chosen, ordered and installed and fitting out the pantry which we will do ourselves.  It has been a long time coming and I just hope that nothing happens to delay our progress this time as we first started the whole new kitchen thing back in 2008 and since then it has been one crisis or drama after another that has meant our kitchen has had to be put on the back burner.   I have got to the point where I dare hardly mention the words ‘new kitchen‘ as I don’t wish to tempt fate.This room currently known as the dumping ground will be our new pantry – it is the old downstairs cloakroom and toilet which we never used very much – we have only capped off the drains and water supply not removed them entirely so it could be turned back at some time in the future.  As you can see not a pretty sight – though some of these boxes are actually my daughter’s belongings and some items can go back into the new shed.  Thank goodness I have been able to just shut the door on all this – but now I have the chance to get it sorted – starting tomorrow.  Maybe.

This morning I washed some of my daughter’s throws that I brought home with me to lessen her load and got them out on the line.   She is washing her baby clothes to prepare them which is much more exciting so  I also volunteered to wash all the dust sheets for her but they will have to wait for a dry windy day.

For lunch I made another batch of tomato soup and for tea we had an old favourite using leeks – Cheesy Leek ramekins (which will do two meals) and tonight will be served with a winter salad.   It is so much easier having a menu plan and I find this way we have far less waste and don’t over buy with the shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

trEAsury ~ a review of 2018’s spending

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

We should be happy then as we didn’t exceed our income but I always feel I could do better.  I knew it would not be a pretty picture when I ran this years accounts report  – and it did disappoint a little when I read the final figures as I had tried quite hard and even managed to get DH on board with being slightly more spending aware on the grocery shopping now he is helping me to do it.  I was hoping for better figures though and some bigger savings.

It wasn’t all bad –  we did make some enormous savings  –

I only bought 2 lunches at work whilst I was still working at a cost of £7.40 the rest I made at home which gave us a big saving although you have to factor in buying extra bread and salad to make them.

We also cut down on our grocery shopping by sticking to a menu plan as far as possible, buying items only on offer and looking out for yellow sticker food; but at the same time we have been battling ever-increasing prices so we seem to be running to stand still – overall though we came in under the last two previous years totals.  As frequent readers may know we are vegetarian which helps (although fruit, vegetables and nuts are not the cheapest of foods these days) and eat organic foods where possible which is always dearer – but we would not compromise on this even to buy cheaper food as I totally believe in organic farming methods as a sustainable and healthy way of life.

Christmas came in at £400 which is much the same as previous years now that we do a Secret Santa within the extended family.  Each person spends £50 on a gift so our spend is a £100 for the both of us.  The rest of the £300 is made up of presents for the children in the family – any grandchildren, nieces and nephews who are still in full-time education are not part of the Secret Santa and we buy as normal for them (in our case it is now 4 little ones), a few small presents for our closest friends, a small hamper of goodies for my mum, a present to each other and a few bits for our two daughters, the Xmas tree and any new decorations, postage, cards and wrappings – in fact anything to do with Christmas other than the food and drink.

I repurposed a lot of unwanted gifts and hope no-one received something back that they had given to me – I do think I managed to match the gifts to a person quite well and it did shave a good £50 off the gift budget.

We made a profit of £478 on our eBay sales and gained a lot of space in the house.  We still have items to sell so as soon as I have another offer from eBay for capped final fees and free listings I will be selling again.

Our savings have generated a nice passive income which is hard in this low interest environment.  We had a few good fixed deals that will end soon but as I am not working and paying tax I will be able to look at reinvesting in any savings account not just ISA accounts.

However, not everything was a win –

One area which is our biggest expense of any month is fuel.  We have been up and down both the A1M /A19 to North Yorkshire and the M6 to Scotland many times and it takes about a tank of petrol depending on whether we go far once we have reached our destination – I am not sure how I can reduce this cost as I need to see my mum regularly to relieve my sister a little bit and also I do like to see the grandchildren as often as we can.  Mum used to come down by train and we would run her back but now she cannot cope on the train with the crowds and her luggage so we have to go and pick her up – a round trip of 180 miles.   Rising petrol costs (in our case diesel) is really starting to eat into the monthly state pension and probably uses about a third of the £164 a week we receive in a bad week.  I can’t see any way around this though.

We had some other very significant costs this year – the maintenance on the house – repointing and rendering is not a cheap job and not something we could have done ourselves.  Looking to the future though this maintenance work will have added value to our property and it is a whole lot warmer and drier inside now too.

Alongside the house maintenance we also had to replace our shed before it fell apart on its own.  As we had to move it out of the way to allow the contractors access to the walls it seemed like a good time to ditch it and buy a new one.  The difference in price though was quite marked as we only paid £99 for the old shed back in the nineties this time round it was nearer to £400 although it is far better made and uses preserved timber.

Our other major cost last year was one that I don’t regret and that was for our trip to Italy and Venice for our niece’s wedding.  We had the most wonderful time and the memories will always be with us.  Because the wedding location was off the beaten track and we travelled around it is a much dearer way of having a holiday than a package tour but much more enjoyable as I am not one for sitting around a pool all day.  What a good job I was still working though to cover the costs.

Our clothing and footwear bill would have been lower had we not gone to Italy but the summer clothes we bought will last us a while and now I am not working and won’t be needing clothes for work a clothing budget of £200 should more than see us through this year.

We are currently reviewing all our bills to see if there are any that would benefit from switching – switching is such a hassle – who invented switching? – someone with heaps of time on their hands and a degree in gas and electricity units terminology.

DH has a phone contract of £7.50 a month, mine is still a PAYG and cost me £30 last year – the dearest year ever!  I do need to find a cheap contract from Vodaphone (the only reliable network for the cottage area in Scotland) but each time I try to buy a cheaper deal using uSwitch it doesn’t connect through.

The biggest savings to be made in our budget have to be:-

  • the No Spend Days  – we are having many more of these now we are both at home.
  • taking drinks and picnics whenever we go out
  • being able to get by with casual clothes – or better still not buying any for a season
  • passing unwanted gifts on
  • making my own cards
  • planning a menu each week before doing the grocery shopping
  • cooking once but making a meal for two nights
  • using up all the food in the fridge once a week to avoid food waste
  • buying toiletries only on offer
  • constantly checking for better deals with electricity and gas companies
  • avoiding the magazine aisles in the supermarket
  • Sainsbury’s double up Nectar reward points week

At least the day to day housekeeping and groceries are reducing I just need to find ways of lowering our other outgoings further such as insurance and utilities bills whilst trying to fight against rising costs.  Even if by the end of this year we find we have only stood still it is better than an increase or overspending.

We still have some major outlays for the house maintenance – outside we need a new garage and front door and the driveway resurfacing.  Inside we need a new kitchen before we can continue with the redecorating of the remaining rooms in the house.  I don’t mind these costs quite so much as it is all adding value whereas paying for phone calls, heating and insurance, although necessary, doesn’t really feel value for money.

I have ideas though to get us through this year which I will talk about another time.  Of course the house maintenance, new kitchen, decorating and any capital costs will come out of our savings but our general living costs will be covered by our meagre income of one state pension – mainly because I am interested to see how possible it is to live on one state pension and what kind of lifestyle we would have if this is all the money we had coming in.  We do have a small private pension to back us up should we need it but for the experiment this will be out of bounds.

Phew, I am a bit exhausted now and need to go for a lie down – at least that won’t cost me anything and if I do it in a darkened room I will save on electricity LOL!

Back soon x

 

 

 

 

 

dEAr diary ~ has Elton saved John Lewis?

Their sales increased over the Christmas period according to the latest news.

Although I do like to shop at John Lewis if I can afford to sadly it wasn’t down to me;  but I am pleased this might mean they will not go under – not yet anyway.

Meanwhile Debenhams and M&S are still struggling with decreased sales.

If in fact Elton has been instrumental in helping John Lewis through a bad patch perhaps someone might persuade him to take over the Brexit talks after all we don’t seem to be getting anywhere with them at the moment.

A lady interviewed on the lunchtime news (from Barclaycard I think) said that they were looking at how they can get customer confidence back to spend more on the high street by introducing memorable ‘instagram’ moments through experiences whilst shopping.  As an example she said such things as free coffees and Yoga mornings.  I smiled thinking of my aging mum doing Yoga whilst shopping and then perhaps taking a selfie – not that she isn’t active still but I think when she needs a new dress she might just want to go and choose one without having to contort herself in the process!

I wonder too at the necessity to make the whole of life an instagram moment.

I don’t often mention the news but I am feeling more and more concerned over the things that I am hearing and the messages we are receiving through the media.   Maybe the reason sales are down is just that people don’t want to buy so much stuff any longer or perhaps don’t have the means to keep on spending with prices rising on food and the basic essentials.

We seem to have got into a catch 22 situation now where we have to keep spending to keep everyone in a job. That is quite a burden for me as I don’t actually want to keep buying stuff any more – nor do I want to buy into these ‘experiences’ either – I can find my own by just having a walk along the seashore or a picnic in the country.

It has seemed quite strange not going back to work after Christmas but it is nice to have more time now to plan out the year ahead and set new goals. I will get back to chatting about my progress tomorrow. x

dEAr diary ~ the importance of friends

After a very late night again last night – 2.30am when we got to bed this time – I am struggling today to get my act together as it were.  It has been another busy few days preparing the house and food for our friends (some neighbours up the road) coming, but all worthwhile as we had a very pleasant and relaxed evening just chatting, eating and laughing round the table.  I decided on buffet type food instead of a formal meal but eaten at the table rather than balancing a plate on our knees  –  things to nibble at, a selection of Quiche and sausage rolls etc. a green salad, some pots of couscous and coleslaw,  a few tiny baked potatoes and a cheese board.

Isn’t this what life is all about – connecting with people, enjoying each other’s company and eating together.

When we bought the food and drink for last night I did try to be quite prudent and not over buy.  Had our friends been vegetarian or even had a liking for vegetarian food it would have made things simpler and cheaper but they are traditional meat eaters and one of them does not eat fruit and the other no nuts or salad and more recently pastry – we only found out about the pastry when they sat down to eat – a bit tricky as I had bought pork pies, sausage rolls and Quiche as they always seem to go down well.  Our friend ate the fillings and left the crusts which solved the problem!  The left over meat products have now gone up to my daughters for SIL’s lunch at work tomorrow.

Anyway my main point about the food and drink is to say that I find the state pension does not really stretch to entertaining or buying alcohol so in future I need to think ahead and buy the drink in a bit at a time.  Catering for all the varied tastes now is a bit of a headache when you ask guests ‘what would you like to drink’ we have requests for Prosecco, Gin, rosé wine, Peroni and craft beers in addition to the usual red and white wine and lager – to stock everything is going to prove too difficult with less income especially when a mixer is required like tonic or lemonade as we don’t drink them ourselves and they have often gone flat by the next event.

As well as a good evening it meant we had leftovers to eat today – bits of Quiche and spinach parcels, salads and leaves so we packaged them up added some bread and hey presto we had a picnic to take out with us accompanied by a flask of hot chocolate.

We headed for a local garden centre to choose a birthday gift for another friend.  Had I been well organised I would have bought this before Christmas and not at the last-minute.  But I was not on this occasion.

However, we did take advantage of the sale items and as well as a lovely mosaic outdoor table light for my friend I bought two half price items – a solar light for hanging on my outdoor cherry tree (so it doesn’t look too bare outside now the Christmas lights are over) and DH got some secateurs (you can never have too many when you have two gardens to upkeep!).

Our dining room and kitchen has been the hub of many  get togethers over the years with friends and family and for all our daughter’s parties as they grew up. I have so many happy memories connected with this room – it may be battered and old now but the joy and laughter still seems to linger in the atmosphere and in some ways I am loath to decorate in here in case I lose that but we do need to give it a fresh new look.

I have been holding a Burn’s night celebration with a group of friends over the years but this year we may have started on the kitchen renovations by then and I am not sure we can afford to host it; even though Haggis, turnip and spuds are fairly cheap foods my friends have hearty appetites.

During January I aim to review all those important things in life-like health, diet and finances to see what is working for us and what is not.   This week I will be reviewing the finances and will find out just how we have done over the past year spending wise and look at what areas need a bit more attention to cut down any wasteful and unnecessary spending.

Have a good week everyone and thank you to all those who took the time to make themselves known with a little comment on my blogday post – it is much appreciated. x

 

 

 

dEAr diary ~ ‘happy blogday to me’

It is 7 years today since I did my first blog post in 2012 on my previous blog ‘where the journey takes me’ – I have had a wonderful time, gained many new blog friends and read a lot of interesting ideas – it has been an exciting journey so far and long may it continue.

A big thank you to all those who have journeyed along with me – your company has been much appreciated as have your comments.  I would love to hear from anyone who reads but doesn’t normally comment – just a quick hello would be great.

Over the Christmas period I have thought long and hard about my focus for 2019 and one word I keep coming back to is that of

Transition

It fits well with my present circumstances since I am no longer in paid work, probably retired but maybe not just yet – everything in abeyance.

I looked it up on Google…

Transition – the process of changing, or a change from one form or condition to another:   from transire ‘go across’.

Synonyms – change, move, passage, transformation, conversion, adaptation, adjustment, alteration, changeover, metamorphosisshift, switch, jump, leap, progression, progress, gradation, development, evolution;

Lots of alterations and adjustments to make and with any luck a complete transformation by the end of 2019.

We have friends coming tomorrow evening so I need to make the house presentable – I have been working on it most of the week.  The Christmas decorations are down, the windows have been flung open to let the fresh air of the New Year in and even the duvet spent the morning outside on the line to freshen up before putting on clean bed linen.  My positivity at the moment is encouraging and I am ready to begin.

Presently I am still at the planning stage and January is the ideal month for this.  As we have plenty of major projects either on the go or on the master list that need to be co-ordinated it will be a question of fitting everything in.  Some of the top priorities are the decorating, installing a new kitchen and completing a few outside jobs once the weather is on the turn.   Added to which we need to sort the cottage out it has been a dormant project too long now.   And on the domestic front I need a new spending and saving plan, an exercise regime and of course lots of healthy eating wouldn’t go amiss…and when I have time a bit of crafting, reading and relaxing.

As my blog was always intended as a diary for myself to look back on my starting point for this year will be to review and reflect on last year and see what worked and what didn’t.

Did my focus word of the ‘Power of small’ work for me?….all will be revealed.

Back soon x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dEAr diary ~ a happy new year

2019Hello everyone and a Happy New Year to all my followers and readers.

I just thought I would drop by for a few minutes whilst there is calm once more.  It is so quiet here today I feel the house is fast asleep – recovering from the busyness of the last few weeks.

We spent Christmas Eve delivering gifts to friends and then had an unexpected visit from my elder daughter and SIL in the evening.  Unintentionally, we were late to bed and then quite late up on Christmas morning – this did not matter though as DH and I spent Christmas day on our own, through choice, as we did not relish a further trek up to North Yorkshire after having been up there on the Sunday before for the family party, and both our daughters were spending Christmas with their respective in-laws.

It was the first time ever we have been completely alone on Christmas Day but I actually enjoyed it.  We had no deadlines to meet for meals, no one to entertain and it was a chance to take advantage of the quiet time after a busy month and a busy year.  In fact I will make sure we have a day like this every year – perhaps not on Christmas Day but maybe at some point over Christmas.  Of course it is much easier to plan a day of doing nothing when everyone else is occupied.Christmas Tree

I had some lovely gifts from my friends and vouchers for John Lewis from our Secret Santa.  Perfect.  Here are a few of my favourite.These delicate handmade wire snowdrops… a little felted bird… a stack of hand made soaps and some pot pourri… two printed mugs on a matching little tray.

Last night we spent the evening with some of our dearest friends, feasting, laughing and playing games  – a wonderful way to see the new year in.

So now we are in 2019 already looking back on 2018, which for me was quite a mixed year; we started the year in January with the sad loss of 3 family members and then a few months later celebrated the marriage of one and the birth of another.  So like many other families it is always in a continuous state of ebb and flow.

During the last few days I have been planning and plotting and also pondering on a new focus word… but at the point of writing this has not revealed itself to me yet; but I am not in any particular hurry.  My focus word last year was  The Power of Small and indeed I did make small adjustments to various aspects of my life which then produced some major and unexpected changes – the most notable being leaving my job and the security that brings.

I always love this month of January it never feels bleak to me – I am eager to set new goals, think about new challenges and looking forward to what the new year may bring, even those little unexpected surprises.  Of course I want it to be all good things but I know that will never be the case – I only hope that the inevitable problems when they come are not insurmountable or too traumatic that I will not be able to cope.

But for now all around me is good – my friends and family are all relatively well, we have a warm home plenty of food and I am feeling quite blessed.

A good start to the year so far.

 

 

 

crEAting Christmas…days 19 to 24

Christmas Eve has arrived.  There was still a lot of hustle and bustle in the village earlier – the last-minute dash to the Co-op and Post Office for those forgotten items; but in the main people are settling down at home now and soon calm will descend on the village again.  We were out this afternoon completing my final Advent task.  This is how my Advent days 19 to 24 panned out…

Day 19 my task read ‘make lemon curd for gifts and save a jar to keep’.Lemon Curd Lemon Curd Lemon CurdI had just four organic lemons to make some lemon curd – there was enough for 3 jars – one jar went to my younger daughter yesterday and another into a home made hamper for my elder daughter and of course one saved just for me for my toast tomorrow.

Day 20 was set aside to make a gift for three of my closest friends.  I  bought some of those wall calendars that you can put your own photos in.  I needed 3 and was lucky to find that Boots did three for the price of two so they only cost me £5.33 each plus printing costs.For each friend we chose a selection of photos some months included pictures of themselves (unseen footage) and we also found photos of places they might recognise.

Day 21 this advent task was the grand wrapping day.  I always like to make my gifts more individual by wrapping each of them differently – I think it makes a gift mean so much more. 

I filled a bag with a few goodies for my mum to enjoy…

You may remember the gift envelopes I made from last years Christmas cards in January (see here).  For the smaller gifts I often use printed tissue paper – I absolutely loved this old-fashioned Christmas design with the holly.  The little clay dove tag I made in a previous year. With difficult presents I wrap them in tissue paper and then put them into plain craft bags that have been stamped or you could stick a Christmas picture onto the bag from an old Christmas card.The calendars were wrapped in plain brown paper and then stamped with snow flakes.I also keep a roll of wrapping paper when I want something just a bit special and try to tie in the colours of the paper with a tag made from …you guessed it…an old Christmas card.

Day 22  – ‘set some time aside to read a favourite Christmas book’

Who can avoid reading Miss Read at Christmas time – tales of village folk and their country ways.  I wanted to get the Village Christmas but could not find it to buy and the library do not seem to stock her anymore.  So I settled for rereading an old copy of Battles at Thrush Green and after tea watched another episode of Poirot.Miss Read

Day 23 – ‘a birthday party celebration’

For this we made our way once again up to North Yorkshire on the A1(M) putting the car onto automatic (Ha ha!) to go to my sister’s house where we were celebrating my niece’s 21st birthday with family and friends.  It was a lovely do and I got to see Little L and Sweetie once again and also exchange any gifts.  My sister now has the largest house and it is a perfect entertaining space (not that I am deeply envious or anything!).  The draw back is I cannot even make a cuppa tea as there is no kettle, only one of those strange taps, and I have to guess which cupboard houses the fridge from a bank of cabinets and I always choose the wrong one.

Day 24 – Christmas Eve…delivering the remainder of our presents to our friends.  This is so enjoyable as most people have done all they are going to do by now and we can go from house to house enjoying a drink, a biscuit and a natter.  This year took rather longer than expected so I over ran and have missed the Crib Service which was included in my Advent task so I might go to the Midnight Mass later.

So that is the end of my Advent activities – I switched a couple of tasks as I was running out of time.  The little tea cosy and napkins are half started but will have to wait until later in the week before I get the sewing machine out again.

And just before I go you might remember a picture of some little tissue wrapped parcels I had after our recent visit to Scotland see here.   They were inexpensive items of one pound or just over.  This is what was inside.Two glass owls, 5 baubles in the shape of pine cones and a tiny red father Christmas.

I am not sure when I will post again – a few days rest perhaps – but I wish you all a very

   Happy Christmas and New Year

xxx

 

crEAting Christmas…day 18

So much to do and so little time  – maybe that is better than so little to do and so much time?   I often find if I have time I will fill it with something and Christmas is no different.  Just when I think oh yes I am nearly done you can guarantee I will be off on another project – just fitting one more thing in.  I can’t say it has been any different this year but I do get carried away with all the Christmas making and baking and never feel I have done enough.

Anyway to the Advent task on day 18 – this was one of my favourites a bit of repurposing.

Christmas stocking

A while ago I sorted through a bag of vintage table linens and crotched doyleys that I acquired when my mum moved out of our family home a few years ago.  They had been passed on to her from my grandma.   I washed and pressed the ones I wanted to keep and took some to charity, but there was one or two that had bad stains on them that I couldn’t remove.  I kept them and began thinking of what I might do with them as I loved the fabric.

One of the items I kept was a small round tablecloth that you would put over a little side table.  The fabric is a white Jacquard linen – the type you will have seen old-fashioned napkins made of – edged with some cotton lace which may or may not be hand-made.  Because of the stain it was no use as a cloth anymore so I thought about what I might do with it.

Then recently I saw it in the drawer with my sewing bits and had an idea.  I decided to make little Sweetie, my new granddaughter, a little Christmas stocking for her first Christmas.  I only had a few hours to make it so it is not my best sewing and the beading is a bit wobbly but my daughter likes things to look homemade so it won’t be a problem.

So now little Sweetie has something that once belonged to her great, great grandma to keep.Christmas stockingBut you will need to keep it a secret until Christmas Eve (and her real name too!)

Only a few more days to go now so I hope I can complete my Advent activities posts in time.  Apologies again that I am out of sync with the actual days – but you can’t have everything – life has a way of taking over sometimes.  x

 

 

crEAting Christmas…day 17

Mince pies Mince piesDay 17 – I swapped my Advent task today to make the mince pies  – after all Christmas would not be Christmas without them even though I can only eat one or two as they don’t really agree with me now.  I often bake these tiny ones as they make a lovely token gift and this batch was to take in to my old workplace for my former colleagues.

I was eager to try out the new kitchen tool I found at the local hardware store when we were in Scotland.  It is a wooden pastry tamper – it cost about £5 and is double ended for pressing the pastry of small or large circles into the trays.

I was impressed – it works a treat and gives the pies a professional look.  To save time I used the ready-made roll of all butter short crust pastry – I like the fact it has all natural ingredients.  I was a bit disappointed that the finished pastry case is a little on the thick side; if I used it again I would put the rolling-pin over it to make it slightly thinner.

Mince piesThe thickness didn’t affect the taste though, the pastry was ‘melt in the mouth’ with no soggy bottoms.  After a dusting of icing sugar I packaged them up onto these little white trays (I collected during the year from Chocolate Mini Rolls) lined with a doyley and added a sprinkling of confetti – green metallic holly leaves. Mince piesI also took in a tray of the chocolates.  Well it is Christmas.

It is getting very close now to the big day – most of my list has been ticked off and just a few bits and pieces left to do but if they don’t get done I wouldn’t be worried. The traffic in town and the village is building up and the shops getting busier so it is taking longer to do anything that requires leaving the house.  I expect it will get worse over the weekend.

There still seems to be an awful lot of stock to shift in the shops and the prices are steadily dropping but there is nothing now that I need to buy.  We have all the gifts ready and a spare emergency one just in case.  My family Not so Secret Santa gift was for my younger daughter and she needed a coat that fit her now she has had the baby.  I bought part of it for her birthday too (as it is in December) and suggested she start wearing it now rather than wait for Christmas.  We wouldn’t normally do that but there was no point in her being cold until Christmas Day.

We have a family 21st party on Sunday at my sisters and then I am looking forward to a quiet Christmas at home.

 

crEAting Christmas…day 16

A little of my favourite music while you read this…

Hathersage HathersageDay 16 – Sunday – we woke up to an unexpectedly bright and sunny day here – we really had plenty of jobs to do; my Advent task was to make some tiny mince pies to take in for the girls at my old workplace sometime during the week, but instead we left all that at home and drove down into Derbyshire for a bit of a break and the mince pies would just have to wait.  Of course we had been the weekend before with my mum but it was difficult to really do very much or spend any time looking around the shops and there was a couple of gifts I needed to sort out and I knew just the places for some inspiration.

We packed the usual picnic and set off – this time we drove up high above Hathersage to sit and eat our lunch in the car whilst admiring the stunning view – just us and the sheep.  Bliss.

Then on to the David Mellor cutlery factory just outside of Hathersage where they have a shop with the most beautiful (and expensive) kitchen and tableware.  As well as the unusual round building that houses the cutlery factory there is also the museum where you can see all his wonderful design pieces.  Like me he was born in Sheffield and was well-known for his metal work specialising in cutlery.  If I ever had enough money to splash out I would buy a set of his original Pride silver plate cutlery with the white ivory coloured knife handles only £136 per place setting of 6 pieces and the cute little Embassy sterling silver toast rack only £750.  Of course I have made sure DH knows of my desire to own these should he ever find himself with a little spare cash.

David Mellor is also famous for his industrial design of a few recognisable pieces of metal work that you will no doubt see everyday.  Here are a few of them laid out in his outdoor museum in front of the shop.David Mellor designs Sadly he died in 2009 but the work he has left behind still stands the test of time. If you want to see and read more click-through here.

Even though we cannot afford most of his products I just love to browse around the shop, especially as it is all displayed like a piece of artwork.  This is actually the window display from last year which I preferred to this year’s snowman.David MellorAs you might expect the shop only stocks quality linen tea towels and amongst them I found these old-fashioned oven gloves which I bought as they were only £6 – I have been searching for ages to replace mine as they have developed a hole from overuse –  I like them to be quite soft and flexible as I do not get on well with those quilted stiff ones.  These passed the test for flexibility.Oven glovesOn our way to Bakewell we stopped off at the pretty little village of Baslow.  There are a couple of independent shops selling gifts and plants and vintage finds.  In the vintage flower shop we came across a round zinc tub perfect for holding our Christmas tree and at a very reasonable price (photo later when I take one of the finished tree).  We then stopped briefly at the Derbyshire Craft centre looking for a small gift that would be light enough to post, but nothing really fit the bill.

By the time we reached Bakewell most of the shops were closing and it was going dark but it was the best time to have a walk around, see the lights and soak up the Christmas atmosphere – everywhere has that old-fashioned Christmas card feel – streets lined with little stone cottages adorned with wreaths and pretty decorations and curtains left open inviting you to peep inside; all that was lacking was a sprinkling of snow.Bakewell - OldBakewell Nativity The huge Nativity scene outside the church on the hill is certainly something to see – we climbed up through the grave yard to capture this photo – I wasn’t sure it would come out very well but it has.

There is another Nativity scene in a little glass case in the gardens down in the town centre just at the right height for children to be able to see inside easily and it brought back memories of when I was a child and would run up to similar display cases pressing my nose up against the cold glass for a better look.  Bakewell NativityWe had a ‘perfick’ day – I do love doing something impulsive from time to time just as the mood takes us and we chose a good day to do it  – and I did manage to fit in the mince pies the following day – photos tomorrow. x

 

crEAting Christmas…days 14 and 15

Homemade chocolatesDay 14 – on Friday my Advent task was to make a tray of my now famous chocolate for the neighbour’s get together that evening.  This year I found a tub of miniature meringues reduced to 30p in Waitrose and these were sprinkled on the half with tiny fudge and honeycomb pieces.  The other half of the chocolate had fruit, nuts and ginger pieces.  The whole slab is laced like a spider’s web with white chocolate and when it is set chopped or broken into square pieces.  It is as my friends say ‘just far too moreish’.Homemade ChocolatesI kept some of the chocolates to take a packet in to my old work place for my colleagues to share.Homemade ChocolatesDay 15 – Saturday – after getting home at 2am in the morning (it was a good night!) I didn’t have a very early start and it took a while to come round and eventually I had another go at printing my lino cut Christmas card.  Robin Lino cutThis year I tried creating a more stylised robin and nothing has gone well with it.  The black ink has taken ages to dry and I swear some of the cards were still sticky when I put them into the envelopes – even after being in the airing cupboard all weekend.  Robin Lino cutRobin Lino cutAll I can say is that it is ‘different’ and I certainly need more practice but I had fun doing them and I shall miss my ’round’ of robins now they are gone to new homes.  Each one was so individual I could have given them names!

Apologies that the Advent days are running out of sync, I have been so busy I am finding it difficult to photograph and write a daily update.

Welcome to my new followers – I hope you are enjoying the advent period.

crEAting Christmas…days 5-12

Hello everyone, I know it has been a while, unintentionally of course, and thank you for asking after me – I didn’t mean to raise any concern from my lack of posts – life just gets in the way sometimes and having my mum to look after for a few days took all my time and energy.

As I knew mum was coming to stay whilst my sister went on a short holiday I centered days 5 to 10 of my Advent activities around the visit.  She will be 93 in January and I was a bit concerned this time at the change in her and what she is able to do, or should I say what she is not able to do.  She has acquired a few new ailments, a swollen knee and swollen foot, added to her ‘dodgy’ hip that is painful in cold weather (she was knocked down by a five-year old who ran into her from behind with his scooter in the shopping precinct and knocked her to the floor last year – she fell on her hip and although she was lucky and did not break anything she has suffered from a bad hip ever since).  So walking has become difficult.

But my mum is a determined lady and likes to be out and about even at a hobble so we spent Friday shopping in our local town of Huddersfield, followed by tea at Compo’s fish and chip restaurant with my brother – I have the Broccoli and Cheese bake – they have the pensioner’s fish supper.TissingtonOn the Saturday the Advent activity was our traditional annual visit to Tissington in Derbyshire for lunch at Herbert’s Tea Rooms and a browse around the tiny gift shop in the village.  It was heavy rain and with mum’s inability to walk far we skipped the usual walk around the village which we love to do and moved on by car to Ashbourne.  Mum managed a few shops and the little Waitrose and then we came home for tea.

Sunday was much brighter, we hastily packed a picnic of homemade tomato soup, cheese and beetroot sandwiches and Higgedy’s Cheese and chutney sausage rolls. Picnic We ate our little feast in the car parked high above Abney in Derbyshire and watched the hang gliders taking off over Great Hucklow.  Afterwards we visited more of mum’s favourite places – Pilsley farm shop and the Derbyshire Craft Centre.

We had a lovely day and once back home my daughter and SIL joined us for tea and a chat.  It was the perfect time to fulfill day nine’s activity which was to cosy down in the evening with a hot chocolate and watch a Christmas film.  A good laugh did mum the world of good as her lack of mobility has been making her feel upset and frustrated.

On the Monday we took mum home to North Yorkshire and then called at our younger daughter’s house to see Little L and Sweetie.  We were out much longer than planned so the advent activity for this day was abandoned as was the following day mainly due to me being so tired after looking after mum and all the travelling up and down – I just needed some time to get the house straight and my brain back into gear.

Day 12 – I was super excited on Wednesday knowing the Advent activity was our trip to see the Winter Light Festival at Dunham Massey (a National Trust property in Cheshire) with two of our lovely friends.  We were picked up at 3pm for our timed tour at 5pm.  Everything went exceptionally smoothly and although the roads were busy thankfully, we had no hold ups and parked easily.Dunham Massey at Christmas Nutcracker Soldier Dunham Massey at ChristmasThe lights which are accompanied by music were quite spectacular – some are activated by and keep time with the music and were pretty amazing – we followed the trail around; each section just as breathtaking as the last. (Did you spot the picture just for you Sadie if you are reading this!) Dunham Massey at Christmas Dunham Massey at Christmas Dunham Massey at ChristmasDunham Massey at ChristmasSo it has been a few hectic days and I am now having a quieter time of reflection.  Mum is becoming increasingly high maintenance now when she visits and needs a lot more attention to help her do all those little things that she would have done herself at one time – it can be a bit exhausting.  On the other hand though how lucky am I to still have my mum around and that she is still able to look after herself in her little apartment with a little help from my sister.  But I do fear for the future and how she will continue to cope.

During these last few days it was also the anniversary of when my dearest  friend and colleague Helen passed away. I made two tiny posies – one to give to her mum and one for her two daughters in remembrance of Helen.  I just quietly leave them on the doorstep – it is just a little something to let them know we are thinking of them.

Again it made me think of how lucky I am to see my two daughters and granddaughters growing up and that we can be together at Christmas time.  So although I am tired at the moment beyond belief I am certainly counting my blessings.

Must go now I have 25 robins drying in my craft room and needing my attention before bed.

I have a bit of catching up to do in blog land and I will be back and commenting in the next few days and hopefully posting pictures of my Advent crafting. xx

crEAting Christmas…days 3 & 4

As we left for home yesterday we drove past the sad little bay just round the corner from our cottage where the recent tragedy happened, all was completely calm and peaceful now as if nothing had happened and at that moment a rainbow appeared.It is a community in mourning, feeling the loss of a friend and neighbour – many of the locals are calling for a road barrier to be put in place now so this loss of life does not happen again in the future when the sea is at high tide.  The sea that I love so much has suddenly become quite a fearful place but even so now I am back in landlocked Yorkshire I miss going to sleep with the roar of the waves in the background.

As we were on the road yesterday I had a really simple Advent activity – something only available to ‘us northerners’ and something I look forward to getting each year…

…the Booths Christmas Book and for you southerners (and any readers from other parts of the world) Booths is a family run grocers business founded in 1847 and now a chain of supermarkets across the North of England and often refered to as the Waitrose of the North.  It trades on quality, local produce and great customer service.   Their release each Christmas of their hardback, bound book is always eagerly awaited by all their shoppers and followers.Our nearest store is – a bit too far away for a our weekly shopping but we always call in on our way to or back from Scotland at the Penrith or Kendal branch.  It is packed with photographs of deliciously tempting Christmas fayre to order or buy in store interspersed with a few recipes to make.

So I collected mine yesterday and spent my elevenses this morning pouring over all the Christmas food on offer and a quick look at the recipes in the back.  I find it remarkable that Booths can produce such a lovely little book and give it away free – I was a truly happy bunny.

Todays activity…As you may remember from last year I decided to do something different to the usual wreath on our front door so I hung my chicken wire cone see post here (a left over from my daughter’s wedding that hung on the Church gateposts full of flowers) and this time filled it Christmas foliage.  I quite liked it so have done it again this year.  If you don’t find wreaths easy to make this is a simple alternative…

…first bend some chicken wire to form a cone shape – making a hanging loop at the point on the back.  Pack the front and sides with moss (I had collected a small heap in the summer in readiness).  Find an empty jam jar and push down into the cone as far as it will fit and so it is not visible. Remove the jar again and push some chicken wire into the jar to hold the stems steady when filling with foliage.  Fill the jar with cold water and start arranging pieces of foliage. Hold the cone steady in a small bucket then lower the jar into the cone making sure it is a snug fit. At the moment I am using some dried red hydrangea heads and a dried white one, some ivy and a few holly stems.  As we get closer to Christmas I will swap these for eucalyptus, holly and Hypericum like last years.

I have hung mine to the side of our main door but they are quite light and will hang on a door.As you can see I am no florist but it is not too difficult to get a pleasing arrangement.  You could add sprayed leaves, ribbon or pretty much anything.  Just remember to keep topping up the jar of water.

We have placed a small rooted Christmas tree by the front door (only £10 at Wilko) and put a few lights on it.  DH has still to do the rest of the lights in the front garden and paint the front door – I will take a few photos when it is all finished.

Whilst in Scotland we went over to Portpatrick for a stroll by the harbour and found they were having their annual Christmas craft fair in the village hall so went for a look around.  There was some lovely things to buy – after much deliberation and bearing in mind I had to limit my spending I chose these……a pack of watercolour notelets (right) painted by a local artist to support the Aldouran Wetland Garden and these two pretty little felted Christmas tree cards for each of my daughters – made by a local crafter.

I also bought a few other bits and pieces whilst we were out and about – goodies that I never see down here in Yorkshire.The frilly cake band takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of Christmases past – they would appear each Christmas round our Christmas cake – at 99p I just had to have one.  The packet contains an iced ginger cake – we always buy one when we are at the cottage but usually we get the un-iced version – these too are only £1 from Tesco or Morrisons but I have never seen them south of the border.  I thought the iced one would be a nice treat for Christmas. And on the way home a few small inexpensive things for Christmas from Tebay services of all places – each of these little tissue parcels were a £1 – you will have to wait a while until I unwrap them to find out what is in them.

Welcome to my new followers too.  Christmas is a lovely time in Blogland – everyone is so busy making and baking.

Back tomorrow for Day 5 of Advent. x

 

 

crEAting Christmas…day 2

Today my Advent card reads…

‘fill the house with the scent of Christmas and make pomanders and dried fruit slices’

At home I would do these in the oven to savour the wonderful smell it produces but here in the caravan to save on the gas I used the microwave to dry out the slices and I wasn’t sure if it would work. I stuck a few cloves into the end slices and the smell was really nice.  I wasn’t very impressed with this microwave method – one or two of them scorched a bit but this won’t be that noticeable when the colour darkens with age.  I will take them back home and put them in the airing cupboard for a while.  I decided not to continue with them here and wait until I get home and can use my oven.

As promised in my last post a few pictures from the Stranraer Christmas parade and switching on of lights.  The town has a population of about 13,000 and is around 70 miles from the larger towns of Dumfries and Ayr so the people here have to provide a lot of their own entertainment and they do it so well.  There are few national chain shops – a recent but small New Look, Argos and Peacocks and a WH Smiths, Boots, Superdrug, Mac & Co and a Subway; the rest are all little privately run businesses.

Most of the outlying community had come into town eager to see this event – the cafes were full and the shops very busy.  Eventually you could hear the distant pipes as the procession arrived in the town centre… …with the Three Wise Men on camels who were awesome (as Sybil would say) though it was hard to get a good photo without all the police escorts and minders getting in the way of taking pictures. They were like big cuddly teddy bears and didn’t seem the least bit phased by the noisy crowd, the bagpipes and the loud speakers on the castle belting out Christmas music; and were very amenable to the children stroking them.

Santa made an appearance too in his chimney …As it is quite a small town the parade circulated a couple of times and as it became dark everyone gathered in the square by St John’s castle (which had become Santa’s grotto for the day) for the countdown to the switching on of the lights by the winner of the Primary Schools competition.  There was such a sense of excitement in the air.Once the lights came on a big cheer went up and it was quite spectacular but not something easily caught on camera.  It felt so nice to be part of this community spirit here. All the shop windows around the town have been dressed with a Christmas theme and lit up too – it was a wonderful sight that you don’t see very much now on most high streets (well not in Huddersfield) since the national chain shops seem to have taken over and don’t really go in for window dressing in this way;  but up here in Stranraer the majority of shops are mainly small family concerns and whether they are bakers or hairdressers they all join in to make their little town look delightful.  Here is a quick tour of the shop displays and haven’t they done well.

…even the man at the antique shop has done a lovely old-fashioned display…

…and this one with the Nutcracker soldier is for Sadie if you are reading this!

Tomorrow we will be travelling down home again – it has been a very mixed emotional time for us this visit – I think for once I might be glad to be home for a while.  I may have to delay tomorrow’s post until Tuesday – but I already know that my Advent activity for day 3 is a very simple one.