dear diary :: welcome to the new year

A very Happy New Year to everyone.

A new year and a new start for me – I have been away from my little space here for far too long – habits can soon take over, even ones you don’t particularly want, and I found that finding the time to blog became harder and harder. I have tried to keep up with reading my favourite blogs but only as a commentless reader. I hope once I get back into the rhythm that you will be hearing from me a lot more. I have certainly missed you all and hope you are all in good health.

I couldn’t even tell you where all the time has gone since I was last here in July – it has just evaporated; but I can say I have been busier than ever, despite the Covid restrictions.

As I write this now it is the first day that I have nothing, nothing I must attend to and I can truly relax and not feel there is something I have to do or someone I have to call and best of all it is snowing outside and looks absolutely beautiful.

And yes that is my new greenhouse you can see in the garden – the best Christmas present ever.

Just after my last post in July we managed a trip to Scotland to the cottage – the maintenance jobs and problems awaiting us because we had not been allowed to travel was extensive and upsetting and in the end we had to stay on a few extra days to sort out all the problems. What a good job we drained down the caravan when we left as little did we know then it would be our last visit of the year.

Since our return in August we had many trips to see my mum when my sister needed some respite and restrictions allowed and soon mum will be celebrating her 95th birthday though we do not know what we will be able to do and have nothing planned – we know a party will not be possible other than on Zoom.

Most of September and October was taken up with installing the new kitchen….yes the new kitchen….I know I can’t believe it either but it is, as I had hoped, absolutely wonderful even allowing for the fact I am still getting to grips with the new hob and oven and we have not even tried the dishwasher yet. I will no doubt be overloading you with pictures of the transformation soon.

Back in November my daughter helped to decorate the railings outside Little L’s school with these poppies made from plastic bottle bottoms that she and some of the school children collected and painted.

They were so effective and equally as striking as the cute little display in her village.

We also celebrated a very special birthday for two year old Sweetie – no party as such just granny and grandad and a chocolate caterpillar cake.

In the run up to Christmas we managed to do all of the Christmassy things but in a simple and quieter fashion this year. Didn’t it look so wonderfully festive everywhere when the decorations went up? Most villages and towns had an abundance of lights this year – it was such a cheery and welcome sight and it will seem quite drab when they all come down again.

I made and iced the cake and Little L carefully placed all the decorations on it.

Delightful. I love the way she wanted them all lined up like soldiers! We finished it off with an old fashioned paper cake frill that I found to go around the sides. Little L also made the truffles which did not last long and were simply delicious.

I turned old Christmas cards from last year into money and voucher envelopes, they looked quite effective mounted onto some black envelopes I had in my craft cupboard with the messages written in a silver coloured pen.

For my own homemade Christmas cards I decided on a simple wreath design and hand painted each one in watercolour paints and then over stamped with a rubber stamp and copper ink.

I always try and make the gifts I give to my closest friends and this year I made up a mini cheese board for each of them with a selection of cheeses, oat cakes and chutney using a paddle board I bought from Ikea and covering the display with a large cellophane roasting bag.

And for other friends that I don’t exchange gifts with I made little posies of flowers.

After all the restrictions placed on us for weeks on end it was a major treat to be able to go to an outdoor lantern event which was well managed and the weather kindly stayed dry.

We also had great fun at our usual family Secret Santa get together – this year though it was through Zoom – playing Bingo and name that Christmas tune amongst other games – with Sean the Sheep of course.

On New Year’s day we had a walk at a local nature reserve. At barely above freezing the ground was hard and each of the puddles had a skim of ice with some quite superb patterns – it was irresistable to crack like popping bubble wrap.

And now I am thinking of the days and months stretching ahead – I am trying not to think that they will be dark days as this virus twists and turns and continues to be such a nuisance in our lives. I want to use the time wisely and I want to carve out a new normal for us – I have a feeling this is going to go on longer than anyone had first thought.

As with most beginnings I am trying to think of a suitable word that will sum up what I am aiming for this year. Flourish was the word I chose last year and in many ways I did – I learnt a lot about myself during the lockdown and we also learnt to do without very much whilst still living well.

I will need a few more ‘thinking’ days before I settle on something, so watch this space.

So I have little more to say at the moment – I am going to have a visit into blogland to see what everyone is up to and say hi.

creating a simpler Christmas * Christmas eve and Christmas day

On Christmas Eve at 6.30pm we attended the Carols by Candlelight service at Baldersby St James; the church looked absolutely beautiful with hundreds of tiny tea lights flickering in the darkness.

Once back at home in my daughter’s new house we enjoyed a simple evening meal of baked potatoes and salads then gathered around the fireplace for the children to open their Christmas Eve boxes containing new pyjamas, a bedtime book and a small game each. It was time to hang out the stockings and quieten down ready for bedtime.

On Christmas Day we all travelled a few miles up the road to my sister’s house to gather there with all the rest of the family for a mammoth lunch of turkey or nut roast, five different vegetables plus the roasties and every kind of sauce imaginable! The three tables pushed together stretched to a good 15 feet long to accommodate us all this year as there were 13 of us in total.

Afterwards we opened our Not so Secret Santa presents and many others, all beautifully wrapped with homemade tags. My sister had made up a little stocking for each of us containing an orange, some chocolates and a couple of inexpensive gifts appropriate to the recipient. My stocking had a tub of Green and Blacks hot chocolate powder and some tiny baking cases for making sweets. DH got some fancy cheese in the shape of a snowman.

By the end of the day we were all tired out but everyone had a great time, especially my lovely mum.

So that is another Christmas gone by – doesn’t it take ages to get there and then is over so quickly.

I hope all my readers wherever you were for your Christmas and whatever you were doing had a good one. xxx

creating a simpler Christmas * days 18-24

My cold was short lived – in fact barely a cold – I think it just came out in sympathy with those around me who have been stricken quite badly…..but many thanks for the messages and best wishes you sent – a few blog hugs always makes you feel better.

It is hard to believe Christmas Eve is here already – how did that happen so quickly. Now everything has to stop ready or not and the busyness of the last few weeks suddenly ceases and at last we can sit back and just enjoy the time with our family and friends, but also thinking about all those lonely people who will not have anyone to celebrate with.

The good side of having a simpler Christmas means I have had more time to go out and about seeing friends, past colleagues and neighbours and I have been busy too filling my new pantry – only the shelving on the wall remains to be done, but that will be after Christmas now. It has been a challenge trying to organise it and no doubt I will be continuing to move things around and get them into a permanent place as I go along but I can say it is one of the best things I have ever had done in the house, after the airing cupboard refit and my linen cupboard. I will post photos post Christmas.

But….so many things have not been done for Christmas this year, but you know what…… I really don’t mind – it is different to usual, but not awful. The bulk of the decorations are still in the loft – I am not really missing them – I have a few, almost discreet, decorated spots around the house and I am loving the minimalist look.

In the end I didn’t buy a tree and I didn’t make a twig tree either; instead I have filled the house with vases of holly and cream roses, snow sprayed pine cones, lots of candles and twinkly lights.

I quite like it.

My two favourite decorations this year are this little round wooden plaque that lights up from B&M for £2.99 and the shiny red Volkswagon Beetle I found in a lovely flower shop in Baslow for £1.

The cake happened and the mince pies. The lemon curd willl be a job for the day after boxing day. I made more chocolate; some as a small token gift for friends and some for our family gathering – it is eaten quicker than I can make it.

So yesterday was the last of the cooking – a quiche for Christmas tea and a few more mince pies; I can hang up my apron now and begin the packing. We will be heading up to North Yorkshire to attend the local carol service in my daughter’s new village – it will be quite special to be with all the family singing carols together on Christmas Eve and then sitting down afterwards to share a simple meal of baked potatoes and salad and have a good old chat and just relax. Christmas is all about being together so I am hoping my sister and mum can join us too, then it will be perfect for me with all my family and the grandchildren – Little L, Sweetie and little Freddie around me.

This year’s wrapping has been minimal too – brown craft paper and tags, stamped simply in white and a little foliage added here and there.

My friend’s twin daughters are 30 today so I hand stamped two craft bags to put their presents into.

Then set off around the village delivering a basket full of homemade gifts and cards to my friends – so now all is done and all there is left to do is enjoy Christmas.

Have a wonderful and happy Christmas everyone – I will be taking a few days break now to enjoy the festivities.

Happy Christmas

xxx

creating a simpler Christmas * day 17

My days do not often go to plan and today was no exception. I intended to do the small pile of ironing, then a spot of wrapping, weigh out the fruit for my Christmas cake and then a little crafting.

I managed most of the things on my list – ironing (done), present wrapping (more or less done), weighing out the fruit to soak in the alcohol ready for making the cake (this is when I discovered that…shock horror…the brandy bottle was almost empty). I was getting on well with my tasks but then from this point on we had a visit from a very dear friend who had called round with his gift and Christmas card – I swear he can smell my chocolates from the other side of the village. He was in luck only four pieces left – we had one each and he had the spare one. He went away happy.

We had a late lunch of soup and then let it digest whilst watching a little Columbo on the TV. I say a little as I promptly fell asleep…but then awoke with a sore throat…where did that come from…and tonight a runny nose.

Mum and my sister are doing a flying visit here tomorrow; coming down by train as mum wants her old hairdresser to do her perm. The young ones don’t seem to have the training now in perms and mum’s new hairdresser where she lives is very young. I will pick them up from the station and deliver her at the hairdressers while sis and I will go for lunch somewhere and I will try not to sneeze all over her.

Only a little crafting got done this afternoon – it may even warrant a photo.

Meanwhile DH has just about finished the pantry. The flooring went down today – it is only temporary sticky back vinyl until we do the kitchen and whatever we choose for this will run all the way through both. There are shelves to cut down to fit into the wall cupboard and a little sealant to go around the edge of the worktop. I can then start to arrange things on the shelves.

I will of course take some photos to show you the finished result but right now I am off to snuggle down in bed with a hot water bottle and a drink of vitamin C. x

creating a simpler Christmas * days 10-16

Doesn’t time seem to evaporate during December? One moment you are ahead and the next lagging behind. I am definitely behind. Most of our Christmas decorations are stored in the loft and as yet we have not brought them down but during the last week I have been slowly decorating parts of the house with posies of Christmas foliage and flowers and a very few special decorations that I keep in a box downstairs. But I am loving the minimality and I might not bring down the rest of the decor at all. Well I did say I was going for a simpler Christmas.

Christmas would not be Christmas though without an appearance from my knitted Christmas pudding tea cosy, my red china cup and plate and the handmade robin print napkins designed by my daughter and kept in an old Christmas tin from Crabtree and Evelyn.

In the last few days I have been making a few gifts. Starting with the chocolates. I always take a tray full round with me to our neighbours get together – they positively drool with delight; they are rather more…ish.

Homemade chocolates

Once the dark and milk chocolate are combined in a swirl I throw in handfuls of Christmas delights such as nuts, raisins and glace cherries in one half and pieces of fudge, honeycomb and glace ginger in the other. Anything goes. Sprinkle on a few tiny Christmas sugar beads, stars or meringues and decoratively lace all over with melted white chocolate. Leave to set and cut into small squares.

Any left over chocolate can be made into lollypops and decorated.

I made enough chocolates to give a box to a dear friend of mine together with the table decoration of hypericum berries, eucalyptus, euonymus and tiny cream roses arranged in……you guessed it one of those vintage style plant pots!

We have also been on a shopping frenzy – well it felt like it for us – we had one or two gifts to buy for the grandchildren and some temporary flooring for the pantry.

We have been particularly mindful this year with presents to buy items that are as ecologically sustainable as possible or make little impact on the environment. The grandchildren have got mostly wooden toys – the two babies have a little trike each and a smaller educational toy, they are far more expensive than plastic but are so much nicer. Little L has a new leotard (knitted cotton jersey) and ballet shoes (leather) for when she returns to her classes in January and my friends will receive the table decorations and either chocolates or florentines. So minimal plastic in any of our gifts.

I have bought one or two new decorations that again are wooden or of natural materials like hessian and pine cones. I did relent though and buy the little LED pink glittery stars which are £3 from The Works.

The cards and newsletters are all written and posted but I do need to deliver a few now and make arrangements to go and see my old work colleagues one day this week.

There still seems to be a lot on my list to do – lemon curd for the girls (can’t disappoint them), a cot duvet cover for Sweetie, the Christmas cake (yes you did read that correctly) and the mince pies. So it is a week of making and baking again – I had better get a move on.

creating a simpler Christmas * day 9

Today was definitely a slow day of getting my head back into gear. We took mum home yesterday with many carrier bags so I think she had a good time and bought everything she wanted. She is finding it difficult to accept her limitations now and we had to abandon our usual trip to Tissington and Ashbourne this year as her feet and legs had swollen up so much with the travelling that we felt it would be a step too far and decided to stay a little closer to home, only venturing as far as the Chatsworth Estate near Bakewell to visit the farm shop and The Derbyshire Craft Centre nearby. I packed up a car picnic for us so she didn’t have to wait in a queue for lunch and a good job I did as it was so very busy everywhere.

I only managed to take the one photo during the weekend – mum kept me too busy – she managed to leave her stick in every shop and cafe we went in and sometimes her gloves too. Her handbag was safe as I carried it most of the time. Manouvering her in the crowds is not easy these days and people were trying to push her out of the way in their hurry – I was worried she would over balance. None of the shops have a seat for the elderly anymore so I didn’t get much of a chance to look for anything myself – as soon as she had what she wanted she was off back to the car for a sit down!

The scenery and Christmas lights on the journey into Derbyshire did not disappoint, though on the whole I felt there were less decorations around this year in everyone’s gardens – maybe a lot of people are feeling quite behind as far as Christmas goes – neither of my neighbours have their lights up yet.

I have been feeling pretty exhausted today and rather than do any of the Christmas things on my list I made a start with a little clearing up and cleaning – I had the beds to change and washing to do and then some hoovering and dusting so that the house is ship shape and ready to decorate when I get round to it.

I am still dithering over the indoor tree – we are away for Christmas and not really hosting anything so I may even go for a simple decorated branch or a £10 potted tree. At this very moment I feel too worn out to even think about it.

For lunch we had a simple winter salad of grated beetroot, grated carrot and cucumber with a drizzle of olive oil dressing – apparently it is one of the healthiest meals you can eat – packed with vitamins and minerals; we had ours with some egg mayonnaise sandwiches and it was nice to have a meal at home after living on a lot of cafe meals in the last few days where they serve you a garnish of limp lettuce and an unripe tomato.

For the rest of the day I printed down my Christmas card list and tomorrow I will make a start on writing them and finishing our yearly newsletter. We have to stay in as the worktop man comes at 9.30am so we will need to have everything ready for him. DH has been working on cutting the wall cupboard down to size so hopefully by the end of tomorrow I should see some advances in the pantry.

Thank you for all your lovely comments wishing me a good weekend – I am not sure how much longer these Christmas visits will be possible for my mum so it was especially nice to be able to take her out so she could still get some of her Christmas bits and bobs.

creating a simpler Christmas * day 6

What could be simpler than taking some time out during the Christmas frenzy we often find ourselves in when we are running around going from completing one important task to another. Stepping back to really absorb the Christmas spirit and watching the festive season unfold rather than rushing through it is much more desirable, although not always possible.

Having my mum to stay for a few days gives me this opportunity…..it forces me to stop and just enjoy the time and I try not to think about the 101 jobs I should be attending to. We browse around the shops looking for nothing in particular, stopping frequently now for a sit down and a coffee or a leisurely lunch. Today we went down to our local town centre and then round to Sainsbury’s.

We bought the tins of biscuits for the family and a bottle of whisky for DH; I bought a few fresh rolls to have with some homemade mushroom soup tomorrow – the cafe we usually go to for lunch are unable to reserve a table and mum cannot stand in a queue for long so we are opting to take a picnic instead and then go to the cafe for afternoon tea when it is quieter.

Finally this evening, we met my brother for a fish and chip tea and a natter, keeping everything relaxed – well as relaxed as it can be when I am looking after mum.

There have been moments of frustration. Her memory is not what it used to be and asking shop assistants for some of that ‘ buferon’ cream doesn’t get her very far and they look as bewildered as I am. Of course it was Ibuprofen gel for her knee and Boots will not sell it to her because she takes blood pressure tablets and it needs to be prescribed by the doctor. Trying to explain this to her….well you can imagine…she is having none of it.

Tomorrow we have our trip down into Derbyshire – it is always the highlight of my Christmas and I will immerse myself in all the delights of the beautiful decorations, twinkly lights and Christmas windows.

Have a wonderful weekend. x

creating a simpler Christmas * day 5

Day 5 to 8 is all about creating simple enjoyment and Christmas traditions

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and hoorah, the car is back – fully recovered and repaired and it has also had a good wash (it needed it too). It did cost us just short of £400 for the pleasure – and it probably did breakdown from having a spray of grit, from passing the grit spreader on the motorway, thrown up under the car and into the ball bearing that is part of the hydraulics that snapped – but we are mobile again and we can carry on with plan (A) today which is to drive up to North Yorkshire to collect my mum who is coming to stay for a few days on her annual Christmas shopping visit.

We do very little Christmas shopping these days as mum cannot walk as well as she could but she loves to go to the same places we have always been – they have become a tradition and are quite enjoyable if not a little tiring.

So it will be a trip down to town on Friday, then round to Sainsbury’s to check out their clothes and buy all the family a tin of biscuits each – something my dad started when he was alive; finishing with a fish and chip supper at Compo’s restaurant (broccoli bake for me) where my brother will join us.

Saturday will be a trip out to Derbyshire for lunch – we usually go to the little village of Tissington but as it gets quite busy there now I am wondering whether to reserve a table. Afterwards we will go down to Ashbourne or over to the Chatsworth farm shop or maybe even Bakewell to visit the pudding shop.

On Sunday we will have a leisurely drive back up North to take her home, possibly stopping in Thirsk to browse in the White Rose book shop and see what is on display outside the greengrocers where they sell very reasonable flowers and plants.

The next few days of meandering will form part of my creating Christmas after all it is not all about the ‘making’ but also about enjoying the festivities out there. I love to see all the villages and market towns in Derbyshire dressed and decorated for Christmas – it has that ‘olde worlde’ feeling that is so typically English.

And it is surprising what you can find over a garden wall.

The photos above are all from our previous Christmas trips but I am hoping I will get chance to take a few new photos….. but don’t hold your breath as just getting mum in and out of the car and on her feet and then keeping her there takes a lot of effort -trying to take pictures on top is almost impossible!

At least I hope there will not be any guitar players where we intend to go.

We were given an early Christmas present at the christening with instructions to open on 1st December; I promptly forgot but remembered this morning and what a lovely surprise – a Pukka Advent calendar (though not for DH he doesn’t drink tea – so they are all for me!) and I have a few days to catch up on.

I have no idea what the tea ‘tulsi clarity’ will taste like but no doubt all will become clear on the 7th. Today I have mint refresh – just right with a chocolate mint if I had one….do you think a packet of Maltesers a good substitute?

I hope to pop in over the next few days with tales of our meanderings and a few photos -but you know how it is! x

creating a simpler Christmas * day 4

Today I have made a start on the Christmas card.

I have been working on a lino cut wreath design but in case I don’t get the time to finish it I decided on these little hand stamped ones too. I like the idea of sending out love and peace to everyone.

They were very simple to make and I love the simplicity of the design and the crumbliness of the texture from using wooden rather than rubber stamps. I chose the message ‘Peace on Earth’; it seemed to fit with the candle theme quite well.

I used small cream cards from a selection of the blank card stocks I have accumulated over the years and a tiny wooden candle stamp I bought from Oxfam a long time ago for £1.49. I tried out the copper coloured ink pad I bought the other day from the Range. So very minimal cost.

The key to making cards is those little finishing touches that really help to personalise them. I usually print out an inner leaf paper, stamp the back of the card with a ‘homemade’ stamp and add a further tiny stamped motif on the envelope flap.

The message inside is one of my favourites from the book of John ‘ the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ – such an appropriate bible reading for our world at the present time.

I also thought a touch of glitter would be nice to add to the flame.

I have made a quick mock up of the lino cut print too – this year a simple wreath overstamped with a little copper ink using fir tree branch motif. The red berries will be added afterwards by hand.

This is just the first ideas roughly sketched in felt tip pen. I am not sure if I prefer the scroll writing of the second stamp or maybe I will have a look out in a craft shop for a Season’s Greetings message.

Anyway this might end up being next year’s card so I will have plenty of time to play about with the design.

On the home front we have now heard back from the garage, they assessed the car yesterday and got the parts and today it is ready for collection. Let’s hope we can pay the bill – I think it wil be a sit down job.

I have more returns to Sainsbury’s so we will pop round there and I will try not to buy anything. When we get home I do need to have a good tidy up – crafting can be a very spread out untidy job.

Now I have the cards I need to get on with the yearly news letter – I send a lot of them out by email but still have to enclose some in with the card. It is often quite therapeutic looking back over the year and you can see a balance of the good things that happened along with the ‘lesser’ good or in our case, this particular year, the pretty awful.

I will be back creating more for my simpler Christmas tomorrow. Have a good day x

creating a simpler Christmas * day 3

I am feeling less muddle headed today after our problematic weekend. The car has been taken away on a low loader to a nearby Citroën specialist and we await their assessment in a day or two.

A nice man came yesterday to give us a quote for doing the pantry worktop – on the face of it he seems to be someone who produces accurate work – I like that as I have a very keen straight eye and like things done ‘proper’- but we shall see. I also persuaded DH to ask him to cut down the wall cabinet for us as he will most likely have a circular saw that will power through the melamine faced carcass of the cupboard in no time.

In the afternoon we went down to town in my little car – I had two internet orders to collect; one from Bodyshop (Vitamin E cream, 30% off) and Boots (a Liz Earle skin repair cream, 20% off). I also bobbed into the Range for some thin card for a Christmas activity (to be revealed) and whilst I was there picked up a lovely bronze coloured stamping ink and some tiny white jingle bells.

Then round to Sainsbury’s with some returns and to pick up a few groceries and fresh fruit and veg for the week. I also noticed at the checkout that some Christmas items (reduced of course) had found their way into my trolley….can’t think how that happened ……….DH is never impressed with anything Christmas, I just have to ignore him.

My total spend on such frippery was a mere £10 – although in state pension terms that is quite a lot – maybe it will have to come out of our winter fuel payment – just as well that I cosied up under a throw last night instead of putting any heat on. Keeping the house warm on a budget in these freezing temperatures is quite difficult and I can understand how some elderly people simply cannot afford to heat anything other than the one room.

The bits and pieces I bought will be making an appearance as I work through creating my simpler Christmas.

For my task today I have decorated last year’s rooted Christmas tree that is outdoors in a pot using a string of outdoor lights and these pretty little bulb shaped baubles that I bought -I am not overly convinced they look that wonderful on the tree but it was far too cold out there today to be spending a long time trying out different things so they will stay put for the moment.

Another quick and simple task off my list.

I have also been having a look on the internet for a Christmas event that we can go to with our friends. Last year we went to Dunham Massey and their light extravaganza which was quite awesome. This year we are looking at Hardwick Hall or Haddon Hall in Derbyshire.

I also want to go and see the Alan Ayckbourn play, Absurd Person Singular at the Bingley Little Theatre – it is an observation of three different couples Christmases and should be quite funny – has anyone seen it?

Back tomorrow with more creating. x