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.

creating Christmas * day 5…the Christmas cake

There is nothing like the smell of a Christmas cake baking in the oven.  I love the whole procedure of weighing out the fruit and soaking it in brandy and orange juice a few days before adding it to the cake mixture.

My mum always made our Christmas cake along with one for my brother and sister, then when dad became less able and she had to provide a lot of care for him she was struggling to carry on the tradition so I took over and made my own.  I have used the same recipe for years now and it has served us well.  Neither of us like candied peel too much and the recipe I use has dried apricots cut into small pieces instead, which we much prefer.

I normally make the cake near to the end of November and then drizzle a little more brandy into the top until I am ready to decorate it – not that I always decorate it – if I have the time it gets done, otherwise it is just as good without. 

Last year I had lots of help from little L who arranged these Christmas figures I found reduced in Home Bargains.

This year, like last, I plan to put marzipan and roll out icing just on the top again and dress the sides with one of those lovely old fashioned paper frills. What decorations go on the top will be anyone’s guess at the moment but I will take a picture when it is finished.

Here in Yorkshire you can expect to be given a slice of Christmas cake with a good chunk of cheese – and Wensleydale is usually the preferred variety as this is a cheese that matures well for the winter season and has a crumbly texture, though Blue Stilton is becomming quite popular.

The tradition can be traced back to Victorian times in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire when it is mentioned in a book by Joseph Lucas in 1871 called Studies in Nidderdale and reads:

“On Christmas Eve one Yule cake is given to each member of the family, along with a piece of Christmas cheese. As a rule, part of it is left for Christmas morning, and eaten at the breakfast.”

Along with the Christmas cake I have been baking three Victoria sponge cakes for my younger daughter’s 40th birthday in a few days time. They have now cooled and been popped in the freezer ready for when I have to assemble the layers and decorate it. I thought I would have another go at drizzling a chocolate ganache over the sides – fingers crossed it will be a better outcome to the one I made for little Sweetie as I won’t be able to hide the mistakes quite so well without the million and one little sprinkles I put on hers.

Tomorrow our plans have already changed, or been changed for us! Instead of a day out in Derbyshire to see the lovely Christmas decorations in all the villages and perhaps calling in at Chatsworth Farm shop we are now looking after Master Freddie for the day. Having just put out a few more Christmas Decorations in the lounge I will have to run around and move some to a higher level….he is just at that enquiring age and some items might be a bit fragile.

Hope everyone has enjoyed their weekend. x

creating Christmas * day 4…the Christmas film

Everyone has their favourite one don’t they?

Years ago on Christmas Eve when the children were about 8 and nine we would attend our Church crib service at 4 o’clock and then go into town to the local cinema to watch a Christmas film – for some reason it was never very busy. Afterwards, we would have a Pizza at one of the Pizza chains and both events were a great treat for the girls and after days of rushing around a lovely way for us all to wind down together and begin Christmas.

This was eventually superceded by the purchase of our first DVD player one year just before Christmas and the first DVD we watched was the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It is this film that has become our family Christmas film; in fact Christmas would not be Christmas without it. We watch it at some point every year – though often we each watch it separately now our girls have their own homes and children. Over the years as you can imagine we have become word perfect but their partners like DH are still mystified as to why we still howl with laughter at the moment the Griswald lights are switched on and Aunt Bethany wraps up the cat for a present! (It must be a girl thing).

Holiday Flicks - The New York Times
Picture from Google

Now we have a whole Christmas channel on the TV so we can watch as many Christmas films as we want to at any time of day in the run up to Christmas. I find they are great to watch when ironing or baking, but my favourites are always films like Little Women, in any of the versions, and more recently The Christmas Candle has been added to my list.

So when I woke up to the grayest of days with lashing rain I knew today was the day to snuggle down on the sofa, light the candles and switch on the twinkly lights and watch my Christmas film – not forgetting to make the moment a little more special with a mug of hot chocolate and indulge in one of the recently bought Ecclefechan tarts.

Have a lovely weekend x

creating Christmas* day 3….the outdoor lighting

Dunham Massey at Christmas
Dunham Massey at Christmas

I don’t know about you but I love to see twinkly outdoor lights at Christmas, though they are increasingly becoming a year round occurrence and I have mixed feelings about that as it does water down the Christmas season and the feeling it is something special.

Today we attended to our outdoor lighting, I say we, but in reality it is DH that does most of the technical stuff – attaching cables and timers and winding lengths of lights around branches. I daresay he does it just for me as if he were on his own I doubt he would bother at all.

I would love to say any of the more spectacular lights in the photos above are our lights but of course they are not….the one below is actually ours. A simple Christmas tree with tiny lights and a star on top and to the side (off picture) we have a few more in the climbing Clematis. But they look quite effective as you approach the house.

When our two girls were young we would all pile in the car one evening after tea during Christmas week and drive around the neighbourhood to survey the lights awarding people first, second and third prize with a highly commended for anyone who had made the effort but it had just not worked out. You will know the ones I mean where they have started to decorate a tree or the edge of a house and partway have run out of lights.

My friend and neighbour up the road here would fall into this latter category and now they have moved I will miss Mr J’s efforts at decorating. Urged on by Mrs J and a bit of nagging Mr J would eventually put a single ring of lights around the bush at the end of their front garden. Every year it was wonky, as if he had just opened the front door and hurled it onto the bush, and every year it looked forlorn as if there were more lights to come but they had run out of time. It was the only Christmas gesture he made and he didn’t make it quietly but Mrs J had to be satisfied with his effort lest he took the whole thing down again!

Although I would never decorate my garden to the extremes some people go to there is something quite appealing to me to come across the house and garden that has been decorated to within an inch of its life. There is always one to be found on every street and I think they are good fun; though how the neighbours sleep with the multi-coloured, show stopping, flashing lights all evening I don’t know.

My own outdoor decorations seem pretty minimal in comparison but I always look forward to a bit of twinkle, whatever we can manage. Some years we have done more and some less. Last year I hung some large silver baubles on our Cherry tree in the back garden – I bought them years ago from a junk shop, I think they had been shop window decorations. I was pleased with the effect but they didn’t fare too well in the cold weather up here and the coating came away in patches and some broke. I suspect they were not really for outdoors but they were nice whilst they lasted. This year I have more pressing things to attend to and hanging the baubles won’t be one of them.

Once done DH can relax and his only other Christmas obligation is to fix the real indoor tree securely into the pot when we decide on one. I think he is all in favour of the small rooted ones that come ready to put in place in a decorative pot – it cuts down on the effort to wedge a larger cut one in place and lift it into the living room whilst avoiding losing all the needles.

I usually complete the outdoor trimmings by adding a wreath or spray on the door or filling my wire cone with Christmas flowers – but that will be another day.

Today we had a stroll down to the village after lunch to post birthday cards and parcels. I have so many in December including my younger daughter who is 40 this year and my neice on Christmas day. They are all extra tasks on an already lengthy To do list. The walk was a welcome break though and we kept off the main roads as much as we could as the traffic is just unbelievable – where is everyone coming and going to?

Tomorrow I have one last birthday to attend to, a dear friend who is 70. After I have sorted a card for her and the present I will get back to the Christmas list. I have baking to do and the cards – perhaps I will toss a coin.

How are you Christmas plans going?