dear diary :: a bit of meandering

The seagulls were having great fun gliding on the wind over the sea yesterday which was crashing about a bit here, somewhat in resemblance of my life at the moment I think!

We are nearing the end of our visit here, it has been a turbulent time and I am not referring to the weather, but we have managed to put a few bits in order in the garden in line with my focus word for this year of improvement.  So far we have cleared leaves and weeds and swept the paths and put the earth back into the holes dug out by the rabbits.  We have also managed to take the pile of old sheets of roofing felt to the tip left by the roofer when he re-felted the kitchen roof.

Luckily we have a small trailer to transport it to the nearest waste disposal and recycling point in Stranraer, which is an excellent place – well-kept and managed by a very friendly and helpful team.  Sadly, roofing felt is not in any way recyclable and will go to landfill.  It always makes me feel quite ill to see what has been put in the skip marked ‘non-recyclable items for landfill’ – usually plastic windows by the dozen (which incidentally are claimed to be about 70% reclaimable plastic – but no-one bothers to do this), old mattresses and general plastic based waste.

I was shocked however, to see a large plastic dog bed thrown in there – now what is not reusable about a plastic dog bed?…. surely a good wash with some disinfectant and it would certainly be reusable by someone, especially as in Stranraer the waste centre has a huge shed that houses a shop full of people’s unwanted items that are still useful.  They have anything from reconditioned bikes to books to china and I am sure there would be a place there for a dog bed.   I felt like lifting it out and taking it round to the shop myself but of course you are not allowed.

Ironically, for a much larger area, our recycling and waste point near to us in Huddersfield is just the opposite – managed by a team that seem to have a rather couldn’t care less attitude and is badly organised.  I often see people put the wrong items into the wrong skips even when being overseen by one of the ‘management team’.  Our area only accepts plastic bottles in the recycle bin at home, whereas, here in Stranraer, they will take all plastics, including food trays and yoghurt pots.  It is time there was a national policy put in place and one that includes businesses, especially pubs, restaurants and caravan parks.

We diligently recycle our very small amount of domestic waste here at the cottage into one of the local authorities three bins; plastics, paper and general waste and compost the kitchen and most of our garden waste; meanwhile the pub, restaurant and caravan site next door to us do not have to do this, so all the glass bottles, drinks cans, cardboard and plastics and all the waste from the individual caravans are just heaped unsorted into the general trade waste bins, presumably headed for landfill.  It makes little sense to me.

With the weather remaining unsettled and rather blustery yesterday we earmarked it a ‘rest day’ and decided a shopping trip into Stranraer to pick up some fresh bread and milk was in order. I subsequently forgot to pick up a couple of pots of ‘tete a tete’ to plant in the planter DH made last year, but never mind.

We filled the flask with soup, made some bread and butter, collected our sketchbooks and paints and jumped into the car; we intended to take a diversion out to Port Logan and Portpatrick before going on into town.

The scene that met us at the sheltered little harbour village in Port Logan (where 2000 Acres of Sky was filmed) was just how I love to see it – deserted, quite bleak and a raging Irish sea washing up onto the shore. The greyness of the sky met the greyness of the sea on the horizon so you could hardly distinguish where the meeting point was.

Someone there has a sense of humour!

It is not easy sketching in the car but we each did a quick ten minute sketch – DH drew the lovely line of cottages that wrap around the harbour, easy for him as he is an architect ….

– I chose the old light tower placed at the end of the curved harbour wall – not a good choice as it is a tricky building and my preference is always for flowers and I cannot compete with DH’s natural ability to draw in perspective. The picture I took yesterday was out of focus so this in one from a few years back on a sunnier day.

As you can see not a good result…oh well….I keep trying….

After having our picnic lunch we headed up the road a bit farther to Portpatrick another little harbour village. By now the Irish sea was in full swell, frothing like a Costa Coffee and roaring into the bay, the sea spray reaching quite spectacular heights as it hit the rocks – the most dramatic of them I unfortunately missed capturing on camera.

We had a brisk walk around whilst the rain had stopped and when the sun appeared it was so welcome as, believe me, the pictures may look pretty but ‘bitterly cold’ does not even come close in describing the temperature.

The odd bits of colour here and there helped to brighten up the greyness.

The whole place was closed up, including many of the hotels – such is the winter season in these tiny resorts.

We ended our trip out in Stranraer and went into a local coffee bar (Stranraer’s equivalent of a Costa) for a warm drink.  Whilst in there two young girls came in – one of them looked like she had just rolled out of bed…with tousled hair and clad in her PJ’s with a hoodie on top and some towelling mule slippers, even though it was quite wet underfoot.  In my head I could just hear my gran coming out with a few choice words about her appearance – she would have been shocked to see someone out in their nightwear in public at three in the afternoon!! How times change.

So today looks another gloomy one with continuous rain forecast so it will have to be spent indoors. We had intended to visit Logan Botanic Gardens today – they have a Snowdrop Sunday event running until the end of February but I think it is looking unlikely that the weather will improve. I shall prepare the lentil stew for tea instead to use up some of the older veg, no point in taking it back home with us.

dear diary :: weeding, sketching, worrying

It has been very pleasant the last couple of days here at Beach Cottage but today we awoke to frost, a rarity in these parts.  We have been in the garden and the calmer warmer weather was quite welcome, though windier, colder weather is forecast for the next few days.  This picture was taken yesterday when the sea turned a very strange colour of green against the blue sky.

I have been working mainly in the pine tree border, removing a vast quantity of weeds and uncovering the perennials that are buried under a mound of leaves and pine needles.  There are tiny shoots everywhere and plenty of self-sown seedlings of foxgloves and valerian growing which I transplant to other more suitable parts of the borders.

I have a few shrubs and plants that need moving too; ones that are becoming a little overshadowed and I need to get these done before we go home.  The compost bin has produced some wonderful rich compost which I am using to mulch the beds.  Tomorrow, weather permitting, I really need to prune the new apple tree as this was one of the things that didn’t get done because of the lockdowns.  I keep putting it off this week mainly because I am not sure I know what I am doing!  The old apple tree needs a few branches off the top – that is DH’s job to climb up with the saw – it had never been pruned when we bought the cottage so is quite a large tree which bears most of its fruit well out of reach at the top.  We have been cutting it down gradually knowing that we will lose fruit but it will keep it in check.

Whilst I have been working in the garden my little friend the robin, who is never very far away, has been hopping around waiting for me to unearth a juicy worm or two, we have both been overlooked by the beautiful big rust coloured bull that has now appeared in the farmer’s field across the burn.  I am just glad the burn runs between me and him, though he does seem very placid.

We have seen very little of the new neighbour, but I would be keeping well out of his way anyway – I don’t want another confrontation with him.  DH has spoken to him since – just in passing, over the garden gate so to speak, he is a peacemaker and hates bad feeling and would never hold a grudge against anyone, but I know some people, like said neighbour, who might see this as a sign of weakness and think he can just do as he likes in future.  DH though has that knack of being able to tell people that their actions are not to be tolerated in a very calm and reasoned way that leaves them both unable to argue and in no doubt that he means business, unlike me of course who, like a bull at a gate would jump in and inflame the situation!! 

Over the years we have lost plants to the salty sea spray, the gales, the flood, and the rabbits but to lose plants because of the neighbour hacking away at them is far more maddening. It seems a bit sneaky to me that he chose to chop the hedges whilst we were not around! When we leave in a few days time I shall be wondering what he is doing next behind our backs.

I will say no more.

We are on our third variety of homemade soup now, tomato and red pepper today.  Just before I used them for the soup I decided to paint them – I find tomatoes quite a nice subject getting the shine and highlights is the difficult part and I certainly need a bit lot more practise. 

The next soup to be made will be our last batch before we go back to Yorkshire and I shall be using up some of the bits of veg left in the fridge – so pea, cabbage and leek with celery and onion it is.  We always eat well up here; I bring packets of lentils, chickpeas and brown rice to go with the veg I buy locally and keep the meals simple.  As the Calor gas is neither cheap nor readily available at the moment I decided all the meals we have should be ones that can be cooked on the hob, rather than in the oven, to preserve the gas. 

The energy price hikes are quite worrying – when we go home, where we cook by electric, I will be trying to use the oven as little as possible too.  Our gas and electricity prices will not go up until April as we are currently on a good deal until then so I have time to revise our meal plans and look at other ways to save on our fuel bills.  We don’t have a microwave at home so baked potatoes cooked in the oven might become a speciality soon. Luckily as we head towards warmer weather we will need less heating and can eat more salads.

I have very little data left now on my phone so there is a limit to the number of photos I can upload – so for a few days it might just be me and the written word.

dear diary :: moments of joy and a moan…

My, it has been a bit breezy here – the caravan rocking away each time a forceful gust hit us from the side, but at least the new felt on the kitchen roof of the cottage has stayed in place.  It was too windy to be outside so I snipped off a piece of Hypericum and settled down indoors to a bit more sketching and painting until the light became too dim.

Eventually a little sunshine broke through the heavy clouds and a rainbow appeared.

I also used the time to make more fresh soup, mushroom is one of my favourites and today DH made celery – one of Master Freddie’s favourites. It is very rare now that we don’t have homemade soup for lunch and it is a good way to get those five a day in one meal and leaving in some big chunks means we have the benefit of added fibre too.  It is one of my areas for improving; both trying new recipes and, rather than having bread with the soup, I aim to try out a few different garnishes like roasted chick peas.

In the evenings we have been watching Channel 4 catch up via the internet as we don’t have a TV here.  At home we had started watching the Danish program (with subtitles) ‘Seaside Hotel’ and we are addicted, we just had to continue through the series and tonight it is the last one – does anyone else watch it?  Such a shame it is a fictional hotel because I would dearly like to stay there.

I just love the bleak winter landscape up here – so many beautiful colours on the grey and blue spectrum, the most colourful object being the yellow buoy out at sea.  Being winter we are quite alone here nestled in our little hollow, the caravan site next door is as empty as the farmer’s field on the other side of us.  Only a handful of locals frequent the pub at the top of the lane, and then only the ones who are brave enough to face the weather and walk along to the outskirts of the village when there are two other pubs much nearer in the centre.

We have dark skies too as there are no lights nearby and the stars on a clear night are spectacular; you feel you could almost reach out and pick one.

The snowdrops are nodding away on the floor of the woodland walk in the lower wood and spreading nicely –the rabbits do not seem to have uprooted them like many of the new bulbs I planted in November, tulips and narcissus and nearly all have been dug up and eaten, only the hole remains as evidence that I did in fact spend a whole day planting out.

All the daffodils dotted around the garden will be next in line to burst into flower This time of year when everything is bleak and sleepy having these little pockets of new life and colour is magical.

Our joy at coming up here was short lived though.  Our new neighbour who has bought the caravan site, pub and restaurant had taken it upon himself to hack away at our Rosa Rugosa hedge and the ivy that grows alongside the lane down to our cottage.  This is the hedge in the summer in full bloom and many of the birds like to nest in it.

Rather than just taking off any overhanging branches along the lane (which he owns but we have right of access over it) he has chopped the plants back far beyond the boundary line which is to the edge of the tarmac.

We have been left with some rather short stumps which may or may not regrow as it is way below any new buds.

The ivy was even worse – he has chopped this right back into old wood and we know from experience this will not regenerate.

Worse still this part has no hedge left at all just a big gap.

The tragedy is that pruning the hedge was on our list for this visit as normally every two or three years we prune it down to about two feet tall and to a good strong bud and during the year it will make up its height once more but be much healthier and stronger and less liable to flopping over with the weight of the branches; then in the summer I go along the hedge and with a bit of light pruning make sure all the branches are well within our boundary and not liable to scratch any vehicles going down the lane.  It is a few years now since it had a major prune because of the lockdowns and then last year by the time we were allowed up here we had so many nesting birds in the hedge I could not do it.  We tried to say nicely that we were not happy that he had not, even out of politeness, told us it was a problem (which I am not sure it was) and allowed us the option to cut it ourselves.  What will the poor birds do now that their nesting place has been wrecked?

I could weep and did so.

If that wasn’t enough the little strip of land below us beyond the trellis border that once housed the 3 static caravans belonging to Eric, Joe and Les, our summertime neighbours, is now almost empty and only Joe’s caravan remains.  This has greatly changed the climate for our plants along this border which have been snug in the shelter of Eric’s old van.  The owners have decided to leave for one reason or another and we will miss them and so will our plants.  We had clematis growing through and over the trellis and this too has been hacked away.  Will any of it recover – I have no idea?  The new owner obviously wants every last millimetre of his land. 

Asking him to let us know in the future if the hedge is a problem did not go down well with him and ended in an argument, as did the previous conversations we have had with him about the bright yellow barrier he intends to put at the top of the lane and keep locked to which we have objected. He informs us he is running a business and he is entitled to do what he wants, he is not prepared to leave the hedge until an appropriate time just because I like birds. 

He also informed us indirectly in conversation that his new CCTV cameras that he installed on the outside of the pub look right across our woodland garden as he claims he has seen rats coming from the burn (and he might well have – rats are not far away from anyone and they will undoubtedly be heading towards his large commercial bins full of food waste).  I am not sure he should have cameras directly looking across our garden but I do know he seems rather paranoid and has an alert on his phone if we or anyone else drives up and down the lane.

On our last visit I am certain he sent someone down to check on us whilst he was away in Glasgow.  No matter how much we tell him we are just a neighbour and not part of his business he will have none of it.  Are we being unreasonable?  He says we are always complaining but in our defence it is not only us that finds him difficult – the lady and her daughter who sold the business to him agreed to carry on working for him but after only a few months they walked out on him and a lot of the caravaners have now left the site.

He has saddened me so much and with the added worry of the changing weather patterns we will have to rethink our future here.  Going to all the trouble and expense to reinstate the cottage back to liveable could be a pointless exercise if we are going to be so unhappy living here.

On a brighter note we are relishing the quietness and being able to work outdoors in the fresh sea air – up till today it has been cold but sunny.  Our intentions are to carry out a number of maintenance jobs around the wood and garden that are best done at this time of year and hopefully finish the boarding on the banking ready for plant for the spring. As for the hedge we can only leave it alone for now and see what regrows.

dear diary :: February already?

Hello everyone.  How are you all – I have missed you, it has been a long time and life here has been no less frantic than when I abruptly abandoned my blog?  Of course every day I have intended to write a post….but we all know what we intend to do and then what we actually do can be quite different.

For those regular readers you will remember I had to make a hasty departure up to Scotland during the Christmas advent to survey the storm damage to the cottage.  The wind had taken the felt, on the flat roof kitchen extension, clean off and we had to find someone to come and re-roof just before Christmas and you can imagine the long list of people in the area waiting for a roofer to do repairs for them – so many properties affected.  If this aggressive weather is not due to climate change then I don’t know why it is getting progressively wilder.

Roof sorted, we returned home just in time to sort out Christmas. 

And with a long list of to do’s I set about completing the Christmas plans.  It seems an age ago now.

I had cards to finish making, writing and posting, presents to wrap and some for my friends still to make – this year I chose to make Florentines and found some pretty wooden bowls by Habitat to put them in. I had to make them the day before Christmas Eve so they were nice and fresh.

We had very simple decorations this year no more than the mantelpiece and a bowl of dried orange slices and we never did buy a tree; by the time we came back from Scotland there were only a few days before we were setting out to go up to my daughter’s house for Christmas and buying and decorating a tree for two days of pleasure seemed a little ridiculous.

Our wider family all got together for the first time in goodness knows how long for Christmas Day at my sister’s house (she has now got the most room) and we tried hard to keep it a secret from my mum just in case someone caught the virus beforehand and we couldn’t go. It was hard to surprise my mum as each day when I rang her she would say ‘don’t you know what you are doing for Christmas yet?’ and I would always reply ‘ no as we are not sure if we will be locked down’.

The grandchildren all had the most wonderful time and my mum was so happy to see us all.

I iced the Christmas cake so the three grandchildren could have fun decorating it all by themselves with some little figures and sprinkles. And they made a good job too it was quite delightful though I think most of the sprinkles were eaten before they got anywhere near the cake.

We all managed to dodge the Covid virus but DH and I did come down with a cold / flu virus the day after Boxing Day, as did my brother and little Sweetie.  Why just the four of us out of a gathering of thirteen people we will never know. 

So that was our Christmas and thank you all for your lovely greetings and messages.

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Meanwhile January has been spent catching up with myself and planning.  It is always a job I look forward to as the New Year begins and listing everything down tells me we have more plans than time.  Nothing changes!

My focus word for this year is Improvement.

I intend to improve one area of my life each month – everything from health to wealth, two of the areas which need a good overhaul.  Some areas do overlap and once I make an improvement I will obviously have to review and keep it going in the coming months….that is probably the harder part.

January is always a busy time here with birthdays. One of my oldest friends reached the grand age of 80, though she doesn’t look it, so I had cards to make. I was a bit stuck for ideas but settled on this one using up scraps of fabric.

My mum reached the even grander age of 96 and we had a trip up to see her and take her a chocolate sponge cake with fresh cream inside and chocolate on top, her favourite.

Little Freddie celebrated his 3rd birthday and I organised a little tea party for him at home with a jungle theme. It was mainly immediate family – my two daughter’s and their partners and his two cousins, Little L and Sweetie who came and they helped him unwrap the presents, play party games and eat the party food. Sweetie, who is almost the same age as Freddie could hardly wait to play with all his new toys and as soon as they were unwrapped and admired and he had moved on to the next one she would edge nearer and nearer to try them out for herself, hoping no-one would notice!!

We had so much fun making these party hats from Tesco – I can certainly recommend them. They were easy to decorate even for the little ones – each person chooses some eyes, ears and a mouth from a selection to stick on and create your own little character.

I made a jungle cake which again was super easy with some little jungle animals and dessicated coconut dyed green with food colouring. The log effect around the outside of the cake was created with some chocolate coated wafer biscuits sliced in half and stuck on with melted chocolate – it saved me mixing up some buttercream for the sides.

I found some jungle animal and foliage pictures on the internet to print out and stick onto card for decorations and to stick on the front of each party bag with their names (which I have obscured). The party bags contained a few chocolate coins, and other jungly bits and bobs and these cute little hand puppets peeping over the top I discovered in Poundland (£2 each and made from recycled bottles) and they were a big hit.

Currently we are back in Scotland enjoying a break for a few days.  There are improvements to be made here at the cottage, weather permitting and if the weather is bad then it is the perfect place to sit and do some more planning. But I will tell you more about that another day.

Bye for now x

creating Christmas * day 10…the Christmas card

This should have been a post about our Christmas outing to Derbyshire but that had to be postponed for another day due to unforseen and unfortunate circumstances which I will tell you about later. So today instead of going out I stayed in and put the filling into the cake for my younger daughter’s 40th birthday (which is on Monday but we are celebrating it tomorrow) and mixed the buttercream for the coating. Then while there was a smidgen of light left I started making my Christmas cards.

Well better late than never!

Each year I try and produce a few of my own Christmas cards – they vary from year to year, different sizes, different medium, different designs. Many readers will have seen previous cards I have made and anyone interested can search my blog under the Creating Christmas link in the sidebar or in the menu above.

Sometimes I want to try out a few new ideas that I have and sometimes I have a very definite idea of what I want to do.

This year because of time pressures I have produced a very simple lino cut print of mistletoe from a few sketches I did 2 years ago.

It is still in the development stage – testing the design for unwanted marks and the colour. My initial print was a bit too much lime green so I added first some white (too wishywashy) and then tried again with a little Prussian blue to tone it down.

Much better. Currently I am debating the wording; if I decide to use any wording it will be stamped on afterwards as cutting out the ‘mistletoe‘ wording, as I had on the original design sketch above, has to be cut out backwards on a lino print which is an art in itself and I really don’t have the time.

So this is my progress so far. It is meant to have that home made look that is one of the qualities of a lino cut. Sorry about the awful light it goes dark so quickly these days but you will get the gist.

Hopefuly I will get them all printed tomorrow – I find lino cuts are a good way to do a mass production.

It has been a turbulent week for us so far and one where I am left wondering if anything else can happen.

To summarise briefly my mum is not a happy bunny at the moment and so my daily calls are a bit fraught trying to keep her cheerful, one of our relations in Scotland has sadly died and there will be a funeral next Thursday, decorating the cake I have made for my daughter’s birthday has proved a bit of a challenge time wise (will I ever learn), then the icing on the cake (not my daughter’s as I have still to do that)….is that we received a call from a friend in Scotland in the same village as our cottage to tell us the recent storm was horrendous and the waves along the shore have been so high and so powerful part of the harbour wall and other concrete sea defences have been taken out, the surface of the main road broken into pieces, and some nearby wooden holiday chalets at Ardwell village flooded out….and…wait for it….. the wind has completely ripped off the felt on our flat roof kitchen extension (oh dear, here we go again).

We hadn’t planned to go up to Scotland so close to Christmas but we will have to now and I have had to rearrange hair appointments next week and other planned tasks and DH has been on the phone all day trying to find a roofer who can come and replace the felt; but of course they are all busy repairing all the storm damaged roofs in the area.

To add to our problems all week I have been having dizzy spells (such a lot of tension in my neck) …not surprising. Our Christmas plans will be on hold for a while and what gets done will and otherwise I am not going to worry (too much) but I think we will be lucky if we get our Christmas tree now!!

So for any readers following along with my creating Christmas I may go quiet for a day or two as my advent blogging is interupted, but hopefully not for long.

I am going for my tea now and then have another go at getting the cake decorated if the phone manages to stay quiet for an hour or two and there is no further bad news.

I really fancy going for a lie down in a darkened room.

back soon x

creating Christmas * day 9…the Christmas Angel

All of us tend to create one or two family Christmas traditions over time, many of ours began when we had our own children, as our two girl’s loved to repeat what we had done the previous year and so it went on.

And now they have flown the nest but the traditions started back then still carry on.

Some of our family traditions happened accidentally, in that they were never started with the intention of becoming a tradition, rather they just evolved as they became a much loved repetitive theme.

One of these was the Christmas angel.

A tradition that began unintentionally the year I made a stocking for each of us in about 1987 when our two daughters were 6 and seven.

The very first year of our new stockings I had found two lovely little angels to balance on the top; poking out over the top they somehow finished the stocking off quite nicely and the girls of course loved them.

The following year I repeated this with another two different angels and after that they always waited eagerly each year to see what kind of angel would greet them on Christmas morning – it was more exciting than the stocking itself and so the tradition was born.

Over the years we have had fabric, wooden, metal, glass, porcelain, wire and even chocolate angels – whatever I find that catches my eye. Some have been quite tiny and others much larger but they always fit into the stocking. I haven’t got this year’s angels yet and it is one of the reasons we go for a trip into Derbyshire each year as there are plenty of those lovely little gift shops and I can search for just the right angel.

Of course by now, as you can imagine, I have a collection of angels carefully wrapped in tissue paper in a box labelled Special Christmas Angels and this is where they all reside – others are kept at my daughter’s homes. Sometimes one or two are allowed out at Christmas to hang amongst the other decorations and a few of them will now be over 30 years old.

Although both daughters left home long ago we still use the stockings I made when we are all together – but now there is one difference…….sometimes they surprise me with a Christmas angel on the top of my stocking if they happen to see one they think I would like.

Yesterday was quite a slow day…. I didn’t do very much other than make up the little posy of flowers for Helen’s mum. I deliberately chose these really cheerful colours as it is so grey and miserable outside.

I had to leave them on the doorstep as she was out but she rang me this morning and we had a lovely catch up and arranged that we will meet in the New Year…. (Covid willing).

creating Christmas * day 8…a day for remembering

This might seem an odd title for the Advent countdown but it is a very special day on my list of Christmas activities and has become a bit of a tradition.

On 8th December 2015 my dearest friend and colleague Helen passed away after her brave fight with cancer.  She was only 51 and we had worked together for 13 years side by side, no matter which office we worked in, and we were moved about many times, she sat on the left and me the right.  We were affectionately known as ‘Hinge and Bracket’ and between us we administered the Legal Aid contract for the solicitor’s firm we worked for checking client’s eligibility for Legal Aid, compiling the claims and keeping the Solicitors in mind of the strict rules and compliance.

We both had a love of the job and although we were like chalk and cheese in every way possible we soon became firm friends, supporting each other through our many ups and downs.  Although we worked hard there was always time for lots of fun and we could often be found with tears of laughter rolling down our cheeks and if anyone in the office needed cheering up or had a problem they found their way to us, we always made time to listen. 

Christmas was a very jovial time at work with Helen and when the firm moved to larger premises with more individual offices we each decorated our own room, some better than others.  We had a large and spacious office and together we hung a selection of shiny gold and silver snowflakes and stars from the ceiling. The effect was much admired by our colleagues and so the idea came to us to award ourselves First Prize and make a certificate which, to everyone’s amusement, we blatantly displayed on our door! Some of our other colleagues thought there was actually a competition going on that they had not heard about.

Our good friends Miss T and J were situated a little way down the corridor from us and shared a very compact room no bigger than a shoe box and in comparison their meagre effort was a very sad looking lopsided Christmas tree, sparsley decorated with a few trimmings and it had obviously seen better days, so we sneakily taped a ‘Could do better’ certificate to their door – of course they knew it was us but thought it very funny. 

Feeling that their room needed jollying up a bit more Helen and I went to the Pound shop at lunchtime and spent a fiver on the most tasteless décor we could find (not difficult in the Pound shop), which included an oversized tacky banner, a battery operated door plaque with Merry Christmas that flashed on and off and a full length door curtain made of shimmering multi-coloured strips of Lametta. 

We sneaked in early the next morning and proceeded to glam up their office, streaming the oversized banner in zig zag fashion across their very low ceiling and completing the look with large dangly baubles.  When we had finished it looked like a bad version of Santa’s Grotto complete with a singing Santa, positioned just outside the glittery door curtain, so he would be triggered into song as soon as anyone passed through.

We then went back to our own office and waited.  It wasn’t long before everyone started arriving and we kept hearing the shrieks of laughter down the corridor. Of course they all knew instantly who would be the culprits but we kept a straight face and denied all knowledge – it was the best £5 we had ever spent and somehow Miss T and J managed to work the rest of the week in their ‘grotto’ and even the Management saw the funny side, though Singing Santa did have restricted hours after the first day for all our sanity.

After Helen died, Christmas at work was never the same for me; the laughter and spirit in the office seemed to die with her.

As many long term readers of my blog may know, in remembrance on this day each year I take some flowers round to her mum, nothing elaborate just a small posy of flowers that I make up myself to say she is not forgotten.

We have a little chat and a catch up and remember Helen together. Whilst I am carefully assembling and wrapping the flowers I am often deep in thought remembering all the people in my life that are no longer with us this Christmas.

I might shed a tear or two but it is not a sad day – I am remembering all those happy memories.

creating Christmas * day 7…the donations

Christmas is a time for giving….so the saying goes, and for me it is not just about giving presents to people I know but spreading the giving a little wider, especially giving to those who are less fortunate than myself and people I may never meet.

As a family we really do have more than we need and for us Christmas is a very pleasant indulgence. I put things on my Not so Secret Santa list that I know I might not buy for myself. They are not always useful things or things I need but I think at least at Christmas I can satisfy having something just because I would like to have it and not feel a pang of guilt.

But I know not everyone is so lucky. There are many less fortunate people, homeless and lonely. So with the Christmas spirit of giving in mind I put aside some time today to think of others and do some giving by sending out a few donations to some of my favourite charities like the Salvation Army who do amazing work at Christmas giving up their time to help people in need.

It is not all monetary donations though I do try to give back in other ways by using my time to make a few ‘crafty’ items to sell at our local Church Christmas coffee morning where all the proceeds go to support the charity Crisis. They provide homeless people with a Christmas dinner, warm clothing and hairdressing on Christmas Day.

I love making things that will help to raise some of the money – part of the fun is thinking up ideas of things to make that use very inexpensive materials. Over the years I have made rag dolls, stockings, tree decorations, writing boxes and wreaths. Below are a few of the things I have made.

These little bags below were made from left over wrapping paper and old Christmas cards – like a selection box they contained a handful of the assorted mini chocolate bars – the ones you can always find on offer in any supermarket at Halloween time.

Chocoate selection pack.

These painted terracotta plant pots I got free from a lady in the village where our cottage is in Scotland. I bought a pack of tulip bulbs to divide up between the pots and packaged them in cellophane with a hand stamped label.

Grow your own tulip pots

Using a variety of stamps and coloured inks I made an assortment of six little Christmas cards and packaged them in these pretty tissue parcels – all hand stamped.

Christmas Card selection pack

Even if I am not able to do anything else it doesn’t cost me much in time or money to add a few extra Christmas groceries to our local food bank when I am shopping in Sainsbury’s or fill a shoebox with a few inexpensive items for one of the Children’s Christmas Shoebox appeals.

My attempts at giving back never feel like they amount to much, they are small gestures but I do hope the little I do to give back helps to put a smile of someone’s face this Christmas.

Other than that today I had to go to the hospital in Leeds to have the usual routine blood tests. It was rather challenging trying to get there as they have closed some of the roads that lead to our house for resurfacing and in their wisdom the ones that they closed today were different to the ones they said they would close on the website information (I suppose I could have guessed that!). Then just outside our village we were held up at a junction as three wide load escorted lorries pulled out in front of us and joined the main road, then proceeded at 20 miles an hour down the middle of the road all the way into town. It was another 3 miles before we could turn off onto an alternative route. The alternative route took us off the main road to town and onto a windy back road where we then ran into a tractor (not literally) that was hedge cutting and removing overhanging branches for the council and had to crawl along behind him!

Luckily the blood tests are done on a walk in arrangement rather than an appointment time. Afterwards we had a trip to Ikea for one of those picture ledge shelves and a wander around Home Sense. It was quite late when we arrived back home and hence the reason I am late with today’s post which you will be reading a day late no doubt.

creating Christmas * day 6…the Christmas mantel

The mantelpiece is by far my favourite spot to decorate for Christmas and it will be done before any of the other decorations are put up. So they are easily to hand and because they are quite precious the selection of items for the mantel are kept separately in a box in the house and not with the rest of the decorations that reside in the loft.

It is an odd collection – a real assortment of little bits and pieces; everything that appears on my mantel (to quote a well known person) gives me joy and over time I add a few new things and remove others.

Christmas cards that I have received and loved over the years are also kept and are added to the display and as it is quite a ‘busy’ little arrangement for my normal tastes I use the cards to give it some height and balance. This must be recycling at its best! Whatever I choose to put on the mantel my lovely dad is always amongst them.

I tend to put the things I want to display out and over the coming days I will often find myself moving and adjusting until I am satisfied. I have yet to spray the little cones with snow but that will be another day. I love the effect once the main lights are dimmed and the twinkly lights and candles are switched on.

Below are a few pictures of the same mantel going back over the years.

2020
2019
2017
2014
2009

Just a small reminder if anyone is wanting to read the previous years posts attached to the little photos on Day 1 you need to click on the wording on the thumbnail pictures. If you just click anywhere else on the picture you will just link through to a larger picture not the actual post. I can see in my admin page that some people are having difficulty so I hope this helps.

You can also find all the previous posts for past years by clicking on the Creating Christmas picture in my sidebar.