dear diary :: the end of November

The last day in November and then December is upon us and the urgency to get Christmas organised begins.  I had intended having much more ‘done’ towards Christmas this year but somehow life has managed to get in the way.

No matter it will be low key this year and it is often the time running up to Christmas that gives as much pleasure as the day itself – it really has become a season over the years.  I love the evocative smells throughout this time – the fragrant spices of cinnamon and citrus fruits wafting through the air, the smell of the Christmas cake baking in the oven and the scent of the real fir tree when it is brought indoors.

When I was little the Christmas tree was brought home by dad on Christmas Eve and we decorated it before we went to bed, whilst mum was in the kitchen preparing trifles and vegetables for the next day.  As I got older the tree was bought earlier and earlier (never earlier than the week before though) then it became an artificial one, but my memory will always be of the anticipation of dad arriving home from work on Christmas Eve and throwing open the back door complete with tree in hand. Magical.

I am wondering already what to put on my Not so Secret Santa wish list.   I am thinking perhaps books – I have on my ‘books I would like to read list’ a number of titles by Persephone books and they are not altogether cheap. A few weeks ago I looked at the lovely ADVENT book in Waterstones, also on my list; hardback and full of stunning photography but there was actually little I would make from it so I decided to cross it off the list as it would be for the gorgeousness more than the content and I am going to be ruthless next year about not buying things that I really don’t need more of. As I have been decluttering more of our stuff recently and intend to do even more in the coming new year I am loving all the extra space I have gained and don’t wish to lose this again by introducing more things I don’t really need.

Looking over last year’s list I found I had asked for various goodies from Neal’s Yard, a mini solar fountain, the box set of Cranford DVDs and some king sized Victorian cloches for the garden.

I have a fancy for putting down the mini solar fountain again for my little blue ceramic dish that I fill with water, as that is something I didn’t receive.  My one concern is a) it is plastic and b) I don’t really need it – I just think they look quite nice.

Or perhaps I will go with a treat – a craft workshop session or a token for a relaxing massage or facial although booking for things in advance at the moment with the appearance of the new variant, does put that into question again.

To be honest there is not a lot I actually need or want but one of the things I would love most to add to my list is TIME – we seem to give plenty away but sadly it is not something you can buy!

We will be leaving Scotland and the beach behind today and probably won’t be back now until January so our temporary caravan will have to be drained down and made winter proof for the meantime. I was disappointed that the Christmas decorations in Stranraer are not switched on yet (and some not actually put up yet) it will happen sometime this week when we are not here. Castle Douglas, the little town we drive through on the way back, is looking very Christmassy and I hope when we stop there for our tea I can capture a few snapshots of the shop windows and maybe, if we are in time, browse a few of the little independent shops.

dear diary :: blowin’ a ‘hoolie’….

It’s been a while I know, and one of the reasons I am writing this post is because we are in our safe haven, our little sanctuary in Scotland…far from the pressures of normal daily life at home.

It has been, as usual, a busy few weeks coming and going to see mum and helping out our daughter with childcare in North Yorkshire and our elder daughter at home.  On the last visit to mum and younger daughter we stayed at my sister’s glam home near my mum’s; it is spacious and beautifully decorated and situated in a lovely little village, I could easily live there myself – apart from the fact that we wouldn’t have the money to even buy a one bedroomed cottage there.  The house price difference between West and North Yorkshire is huge.  Still one can dream.

We celebrated little Sweetie’s third birthday – a small family party at her home – she has spent a third of her tiny life so far in lockdown, at home with mum, the local toddler groups being closed, so has few friends. Her cousin little Freddie and his mum and dad joined us for the day and after playing games and opening presents we all went to the local fish and chip restaurant in Thirsk and had the extended side room to ourselves which was nice.  Being vegetarians we had chips, beans and battered mushrooms – veggie burgers are on the menu but we are not keen of them.

I made the cake – it was the usual disaster.  Sprinkles had been requested so it should have been simple enough but the buttercream had far too much air in it so didn’t go on quite as smoothly as I would have liked and the white chocolate dribbles didn’t dribble quite where intended.  Of course I did it in a rush too, but little Sweetie loved it.

As I predicted the dress did not get finished in time so it will be a Christmas present. Since this picture I have finished the knitting and tacked the skirt to the bodice and all is looking good. The sleeves which if you remember I had to try and alter myself did work out perfectly in the end by only decreasing on the knit rows and not every row as the pattern said.

Mum has been taken to Leeds for the weekend by my sister and her husband (he is able to lift her in and out of the car as she doesn’t have the muscle strength herself to get out).  They are staying at a new hotel just outside Leeds ( she will have one of the disabled rooms to help her get about easily) and from there they will go to John Lewis in the centre so she can see all the Christmassy things.  She cannot come down to stay with us any longer because of the stairs so there is a big hole now for her at this time of year that needs to be filled, as we would take her Christmas shopping and have a trip into Derbyshire to Tissington and Ashbourne.

So whilst mum was being attended to we made our escape to Scotland.  We were met with the bad weather – blowin’ a raging ‘hoolie’ all night; our caravan rocking in the frequent strong gusts but luckily no trees down like the gales of 2010 that took ten large pine trees down in our cottage garden.

It is cosy warm in our temporary caravan as we are lucky enough to have double glazing and central heating but yesterday it was a scramble to get Calor Gas – there is a shortage and our usual stockist in Stranraer sold us one that had the wrong connection so we had to drive the 17 miles back to town to return it.  She was apologetic as they didn’t have the one we needed and we had to take back the empty bottle so that we could try elsewhere, as at the moment you can only buy a new Calor gas bottle by returning an empty one.

We were lucky and found the local shop in a village on the way to town had one left.  It was cheaper by a £1 and much more convenient so we will continue to buy the gas there in future.  So at least some good came out of a tricky situation.

It was the same with the major power cut we had on our last visit to the cottage and we were rejoicing that, although unfortunate at the time, it happened back then and the fault repaired because it would surely have gone in this last storm and it would have taken longer for the power team to get to us with so many people being affected with the wind.  The local garden centre had no power because of a fallen tree and they had been plunged into darkness, could only take cash and the café had to be closed.  We had trees down across the main road and for a time would have been captive on the peninsula as there is only one road back to town down here on the Mull, however it was cleared very quickly, probably by local farmers.

We only have a few days here and I have a little pile of ‘bits’ to look at, financial papers, a bit of knitting, making Christmas plans and catching up with some reading.  I finished The Winter Children – not really my kind of read but I persevered not wanting to abandon it. I have just read Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read again – always a favourite at this time of year – there is something so calming about her books where the lives of the villagers seemingly have order and sequence to them like the natural world and busyness is not a word that takes over.

I did the live family Not so Secret Santa draw from the caravan – so we all know who is buying for who now.  I am buying for my eldest daughter, whist DH is buying for my mum, my BIL is buying a gift for me and my brother is buying a gift for DH and so it goes on all around the family each person only buying one gift for another. 

We switched to the Secret Santa a few years ago now as the mammoth buying sessions had got out of hand as our family expanded.  No-one knew what to buy for each other and we ended up with a house full of gifts we didn’t really want and opening all those presents from one another meant there was little time to play games and have fun.

Our version is not so secret…hence the title.  Each person can provide a list of up to ten wishes of things they would like as a gift to the person who is to buy for them (which is different each year – hence the draw).  You can be as specific as you like or opt for a surprise gift or a gift token, (tokens are very popular with my brother and mum).  The gift or combination of gifts must only amount to £25 per person – it used to be £50, but has been reduced to £25 now (reflecting the fact more of us are on pensions or lower incomes). 

Because you list ten items the actual gift or gifts you get is still a surprise as you don’t know which one the buyer might choose to get.  If they are lucky and get your gift(s) discounted then to keep it fair they still have to use the whole £25, the difference cannot be pocketed by the buyer.  Everyone buys for the children as normal; they are not included in the Secret Santa.  It has been a great success and we would not go back.  It has cut down on all the tramping around shops looking for ideas and the expense of parking that goes with it.  And it leaves more time to enjoy the Christmas events that are put on everywhere.  This year we are going to the light show at Temple Newsam.

I still buy little things for my friends or make them as they very much like the homemade craft items.

In normal times and because not all of us could be together on Christmas Day we would have a big family gathering just before Christmas to swap our Secret Santa presents (but not open them).  You try disguising the fact you have bought an ironing board or wheelbarrow in wrapping paper!  We would often use the pub/restaurant where my daughter worked to meet and have sandwiches and home-made chips laid on with mince pies for afters and wear our best santa hats and jumpers of course.

We would play games (this is some of us below playing the guess who I am game)…

and have our musical interlude (whistle blowing and handbell ringing) …..and generally have a fun time. 

Because of Covid we had to have a Zoom party last year and pass presents on as best we could.  This year most of us are going to my sisters for Christmas Day, Covid allowing, so we won’t be meeting beforehand.

I am just starting now on crafting our Christmas – a simpler Christmas like last year, maybe even more so. I will try and keep you all updated as, throughout the run up to Christmas, I make cards and goodies, decorate the house and attend events.

Hope all is well with everyone – time allowing I keep dibbing in and out of the blogs I read to keep up with your news and occasionally I might even get to leave a comment.

Back soon x

dear diary : November already

“How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.

At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow.”

–   Elsie N. Brady, Leaves

Can you believe it is November already? As I look outside the very last of the leaves are clinging to my Amelanchier, the rest having been brought down quickly with the wind and rainfall over the past few days. The bare trees everywhere are a sure sign that I need to get a move on now and start on the Christmas plans.

I seem to have spent last week and the weekend pottering, but slowly getting a few jobs done around the house. Maybe not what I had intended to do but nevertheless there has been a satisfying tick made at the end of the day on one or two tasks, many of which have possibly rolled over from last month.

I have more or less caught up with the washing and ironing. I know it is always an ongoing household chore but when we return from the cottage there is quite a heap of bedding and dirty gardening clothes to wade through on top of the general clothes. Presently, I have a large bucket with our socks soaking in it ready to wash in the washer tomorrow. I know the washer does a pre-wash but it takes so much more water and time when an overnight soak will do the same and in less water. Then I have the remaining gardening clothes and I might wash the cushion covers from the living room and I am done.

I have also been sorting as I tidied. I don’t know about you but I often end up with ‘things’ upstairs that belong downstairs and vice versa, or have items waiting to be put away – so I stop and have a bit of a putting away session, getting everything back to its rightful place. Whilst I was in a drawer or cupboard putting away I had a quick check to see if I could spot anything that I do not use or was in the wrong place or could be slimmed down to make more space. And I did.

They were mostly just little things like some very old blank cassette tapes that we would no longer use and some TV recordings on DVD’s that we can no longer watch. Every little adjustment lightens the load in my quest to minimise our stuff and what a difference it makes to the space once they have been removed.

I had been keeping six empty 2lb glass jam jars that once had mincemeat in and I reused them as storage containers for rice and couscous (I now use the larger kilner style clip jars in the pantry and I am happy with them). They took up quite a bit of valuable shelf space in the utility cupboard and as I could not think of a use for them I decided to let them go or maybe I will use them in the garage. So now I can get all my small empty jam jars that I do use and are waiting for the lemon curd at Christmas and maybe marmalade in January on the one top shelf.

As I have been pottering about I have been noticing just how many of the things we have are either used a lot, used infrequently or sometimes not at all. As far as I can see the ‘not at all group‘ fall into three categories

  • not used and probably never will be,
  • not used but would if time allowed
  • not used but are of some sentimental value still.

Of the ‘not used and probably never will be’ group are a number of items that were gifts from friends….unfortunately gifts not quite to my taste, but I keep them because someone took the time to buy them for me. After a while I will take them off view and put them away in a drawer. Some of the toiletries, smellies and things I just don’t use I will sometimes pass onto other people but it seems an ongoing exercise and makes me feel quite ungrateful. I try to address this when I buy gifts for other people by buying flowers, book tokens or something like food that will not add to their decluttering.

Of the ‘not used but would if time allowed’ I really must make the effort to address this. I have knitting patterns in the waiting, sewing projects on the go, music CD’s that I haven’t listened to in ages and audio books ditto….I could go on but you get the gist – I am sure you have the same.

Of the ‘not used but I am setimentally attached to’ I sometimes feel there is no hope – I know I am a sentimental person and once in a while when we are together with my daughters we will get out the old projector and have a good laugh at the old slides going back to my younger days in the 50’s or I will get out one of the memory boxes (yes I have more than one) that hold such delights as an old mobile phone and my grandad’s first driving license that provide us with hours of entertainment. I do love to hang onto such treasures and they could never be replaced.

But then there is the stuff that I buy myself… you know the everyday temptations in the cheaper shops, especially around Christmas time – another Christmas jumper, the odd book from The Works, a few crafty bits from Hobbycraft, things I think I need from Home Bargains (but don’t really) and not to mention IKEA, and within a couple of years what was a must have becomes yet another thing to declutter and hit the charity pile…the cheap Christmas jumper full of bobbles, the book on the shelf unread, the crafty bits still in bits and a load of things that were just not that needed after all.

So next year it is going to be my year of limited and mindful spending. I can’t say it will be no spending, as currently we are decorating through the house, but I aim to make anything I buy and anything that comes into the house much more considered- I no longer want heaps of stuff around me and I certainly don’t want to spend the rest of my life decluttering.

A while ago I received a 20% online discount for Neal’s Yard and ordered my usual face cream and serum – probably my one and only indulgence – and as a birthday present from DH I took up the offer of the Heritage Beauty Box (worth £125) for only £25. I must say it was worth it just to receive such a beautifully packaged gift – with all those individually wrapped goodies inside – and every bit is recyclable.

I will use all these products and the mass of gorgeous tissue paper has been ironed out and stored in my tissue paper box for future use.

At the moment I am reading two books. The one on the left Cut and Dry, borrowed from the local library (and I will be very sorry to lose it when I have to take it back), is full of ideas for dried flower arrangements around the house. I do love having dried hydrangea and seed heads at this time of year and a scattering of leaves.

I bought the other book The Winter Children at a charity coffee morning pre-pandemic and couldn’t get into it the first time round and after a few pages I lost interest and read something else. On my ‘sort out and sort through’ days last week I noticed it in the little stack of books on the bedside table in the guest room. I decided as part of my reading through what I already have challenge to either read it or pass it on.

So I will give it another go as I have just finished The View from the Corner Shop by Kathleen Hey. She was one of the diarists taking part in the Mass Observation project during the second world war and her daily diary from a shopkeeper’s perspective gave a really good insight into how the local people in nearby Dewsbury lived during the war, where attacks were so infrequent that at times they wondered if there was a war going on. An interesting contrast to the daily life not that far away in Sheffield where I grew up (Sheffield being very much under attack because of the steel works) and where many of my own family were left homeless after being bombed out.

Amongst all the tidying and sorting I am managing to squeeze in a little knitting time and the part knitted part fabric dress for little Sweetie is coming along – the front, left back and one sleeve all completed. The sleeve head is not right though (too small for the armhole despite following the pattern to the letter and checking it a number of times) and I will have to adjust this when I knit the other sleeve.

Being a novice knitter the only way forward I can see would be to do a decrease for the sleeve head shaping on every other row rather than every row as the pattern says which I think whould increase the depth. Unless of course any of you brilliant knitters out there can advise me differently.

I found this lovely lightweight soft printed corduroy for the skirt part in Boyes and it was discounted too. Sweetie’s birthday is on the 10th so I need to get my skates on a bit. Alternatively I could give it to her for Christmas and hope she doesn’t grow too much.

It is always a constant aim of mine to try a new recipe at least once a week where time allows. This week I chose this recipe Spiced Pear and Stilton tarts with Watercress. I had to adapt it slightly as DH is not over keen on Stilton so I used some rather lovely Shropshire Red that I had bought on one of the Sainsbury’s Smartshop scan offers. I love using pears in cooking and so I bought one of the bags of small mixed pears and intend to use what is left for a pear and ginger pudding.

Then this morning surprise, surprise… my rather soggy December issue of Country Living dropped through the letterbox and being so eager to see what was inside I stopped immediately to take a tea break.