Merry Christmas

I would like to wish everyone who drops by this blog a Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2018.

Instead of a plant themed Christmas greeting I am sharing with you my Christmas sewing and craft projects this year.  I have really embraced my love of sewing and embroidery this year and made some lovely new friends through it.  Apologies for the poor quality photos, they are from my Instagram account and have lost something in quality in the transition to the blog.

The top photo shows a wall-hanging I have made this year.  The centre is embroidered in red work and has a quilted border.  It’s only my second wall-hanging  so I am pleased with the outcome.

The cushion was designed and made for my Embroiderers Guild Christmas competition.  The theme was ‘stars’ and I was thrilled to claim second place against tough competition. You can see the other entries on our Facebook page (see 16th December). I have to say though that sewing on white felt wasn’t the best idea and I learnt that I’m not very good at repetitive things.

My final project is a ribbon wreath.  It was very easy to make just involved a lot of ribbon cutting and tying – simple but effective

I hope you enjoyed seeing something different to my usual plant themed photos.  If you are interested in my handicrafts I share them on my Instagram account and maybe I will share some more on the blog in the New Year.

So it just leaves me to say Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

Festive Stitching

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I am rather pleased with myself for having finished my Christmas sewing projects before Christmas.  I did think I was being somewhat optimistic at one point especially when I got distracted for a few weeks with knitting a poncho.  I wasn’t too ambitious but I wanted something festive and simple which I could occupy my hands with in the evening without having to concentrate too much.  I am really pleased with the little bird photo, he looks like some form of Blue Tit but is actually an American Chickadee, so pretty.

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I’ve also done three cards for my nearest and dearest.  Seeing them in the photo I realise that I really should have ironed them before mounting them – opps! They are now under a pile of books to try to flatten the fabric but I am sure they will be fine and the creases won’t be so obvious when they are stood up.

Now they are done I can go back to knitting the poncho….

 

Seeking the Spirit of Christmas

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I have found myself pondering the meaning of Christmas over the last week or so.  Now I know that sounds very deep but from an agnostic’s point of view it is quite a key question.

We are a somewhat small and depleted family having lost Dad a few months ago.  There is me, my two adult sons and Mum.  Of course there is also my brother-in-law and niece but since my sister died five years ago his focus, understandably, has been more to his own family, and I find myself thinking of them as an extension to our family rather than the core family if you understand my meaning.

When my sons were small the whole focus of Christmas was around them.  The excitement that built up from shopping trips, visits to Santa’s grotto, school activities until by Christmas Eve they were fit to explode and indeed they did around 4pm on Christmas Day when it all got too much and they burst into tears.  As they got older the focus moved to my niece some 11 years their junior and then we had the trauma of Christmas without her mother.  We found a way of moving forward going through the motions including trips to the pantomime.

This year, as I have said, there will be 4 of us around the Christmas table.  There is no pantomime trip for a range of reasons and it has started to feel that I was going through the motions following a prescribed routine which was fuelled by the media and commerce. It felt as though Christmas was really just a glorified roast dinner with some gifts, that none of us really need, thrown in. This is why over the recent weeks the sense that I needed to provide Christmas and some magic, whatever that maybe, has grown and grown.  It lead me to wonder what Christmas was actually about.  We don’t go to church so once you take out the whole religious meaning of Christmas it seems you are left with the commercial aspect which doesn’t sit well with me at all.

I have said I am an agnostic; despite being christened and confirmed I struggle to embrace organised Christianity.  However, I do believe there is something out there – I have no idea what – and over recent years I have felt myself more empathetic to the old religions, the circle of life, mother nature, call it what you will. I find myself more attuned to the changing seasons, lengthening of days, cycles of the moon than I ever will be to the teachings of Christ or any other religious deity.  I believe more and more in respecting our surroundings and working with nature.

So as I pondered on how to make Christmas special for my small family, how to bring some magic into the house, how to move away from the commercialisation of it all (prompted by my son on a recent visit to a well-known supermarket saying ‘You can buy Christmas here’). I found myself thinking about why we decorate our homes with greenery, why we have Christmas trees, why we feast and why Christmas is when it is?  It doesn’t take much effort to discover that the timing of Christmas coincides, almost, with the winter solstice and the old religion celebrations.  When Christianity was being devised (I’m sorry I don’t mean to offend I can’t think of another word) the key celebrations were timed to coincide with existing pagan festivals in order to ‘sell’ the new religion to the masses.  In so doing many of the traditions associate with the pagan festivals were subsumed into the new celebrations which is why when you start to think about things like mistletoe and the obsession with holly and ivy and how they relate to Christianity it makes little sense – the same applies to some of the Easter customs. The bringing in of greenery into the house was partly to ward of evil spirits, it was for decorative reasons, and  in some cultures evergreen were brought in and decorated to represent gods or goddesses.  Mistletoe was considered by the druids to be extremely sacred. It was cut on the sixth night after the winter solstice and distributed to the people to hang over their doors to ward off evils spirits. As for our modern obsession with gift giving this may have developed from the  Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival which took place in late December.

Where does this leave me and my quest for the spirit of Christmas?  Well I have decided, that I wanted to refer to the winter solstice and nature more, and to start some new family traditions.  So I have left the artificial tree in the loft and instead we had the fun of going to choose a real Christmas tree, the annoyance of trying to get it to stand up straight and we will no doubt spend a considerable amount of time over the Christmas period hovering up the needles but it feels special.  I have kept the decorations simple and traditional – no gaudy tinsel.  Finally, I have used the branches cut off the bottom of the tree to make a wreath for the front door to which I have added foliage collected from around the garden which for me is a celebration of mid-winter and marks the turning of the year and days getting longer – as a gardener something I look forward to more than Christmas.  Just these simple things have brought Christmas to life in our house far more than in previous years.  I think the ‘effort’ of having made/created these things myself rather than buying them ready-made off a shelf means more; my sons have certainly commented on it.

This year it will be a quiet Christmas, with a nice meal, some gifts and spending time together. We will miss Dad and my sister and remember past Christmases and tell stories.  It will be a time for reflection but also for looking ahead to the future and I think that is what Christmas is, for me,  really all about – being with loved ones and sharing good times and in a way tapping into the American tradition of Thanksgiving, remembering how lucky we are in whatever way.

 

 

 

Snowflakes

Crocheted snowflakesI haven’t been able to do any sewing or crocheting over the last couple of weeks as I have been just so tired due to the stress of work and long hours but this evening I had twitchy fingers and felt in need of something to occupy my hands.  In my project bag was a free crochet kit from Simply Crochet with some sparkly yard and instructions to crochet a snowflake or two.  With the weather turning colder and Christmas around the corner I thought this was just the thing to get me in the mood.

To date my crocheting has been very square or oblong – granny squares etc nothing fiddly looking but I am aspiring to do the more intricate patterns.  My aunt is a very clever crocheter and knitter, she even crocheted her own wedding dress back in the 1950s, hooking a motif each way on her way to work and then sewing them all together.  I would love to be able to have her skills and to crochet the dainty crocheted dollies such as my mother has gracing her dining room table and sideboard.  I think they are quite beautiful.

I have seen a number of patterns for snowflake on Pinterest and they seemed to be made up of fairly simple stitches.  I have to report that this kit was so simple that I quickly crocheted two snowflakes in less than an hour and the only thing that stopped me doing more was that I ran out of the sparkly yarn.  I think I will get some more and crochet some more snowflakes to use for Christmas decorations.

Crocheting this kit has given me the confidence that I can try some more complicated looking patterns and I no long have to stick to straight lines!

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Happy Christmas

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A big Happy Christmas to everyone who reads this blog.  Thank you for your comments, advice, encouragement, support and even disagreement this year – its why writing this blog so rewarding.

May you and your loved ones all have a wonderful New Year and may 2013 bring you everything you wish for.

I’ll be back on Boxing Day with the annual flower count – albeit it  only the second year!

5 minute Christmas table decoration

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Any one who has read this blog for a while will know that despite its title I’m not really very patient and there are certain things, like flower arranging and the similar activities, that I am hopeless at.  However, I am becoming adept at finding quick and in my opinion snazzy alternatives.

Having put up the Christmas tree and decorated the living and dining rooms I had a lots of assorted bubbles left over.  So I piled them into two bowls one for the gold and white themed living room and one for the red themed dining room.  I am rather pleased with the result.

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How to make a Christmas wreath for nothing

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In another moment of domestic goddessness and probably because I have been looking at Martha Stewart’s website too much I decided to make a Christmas wreath.

I used to make them years back at our old house.  Back then we had a lovely front door that invited the addition of a wreath and I had more time as I didn’t work full-time.  Our front door now is Ok but its UPVC so you can’t attach anything to it.  I have tried numerous stick on hooks but they just don’t take the weight of a wreath.  Last year my son put up a hook by the front door and it looked better than I had anticipated.

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I was going to collect some holly from work where it grows plentifully in the grounds but then I remembered how badly I used to react to the scratches it causes as you try to assemble the wreath.  Instead I stopped at my parents and cut some Golden Cypress as the background plant for the wreath.  My parents have a ridiculously large Golden Cypress that they inherited with the house and are only too pleased to see another bit chopped off!!

I then collected a range of evergreen foliage from my garden and was pleased to see how many evergreen plants I have.  I went to a talk earlier in the week and the speaker suggested that you should have 50% evergreen plants in the garden for it to look good.  This did seem rather a lot but I can see the point.  Anyway, I collected ivy, rosemary, choysia, euonymous and shiny dark green leaves from an unidentified plant.

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When I used to make wreaths I used one of those really thick wire coat hangers you get from dry cleaners.  As I didn’t have any of these I used two lesser wire coat hangers and wired them together for strength.  Then I started by wiring a layer of Cypress around the wire hoop.  I had gone to buy florists wire this morning and a big red bow but the florist was shut.  I then realised that I had plenty of wire in the garage from tying in various climbers etc.  Having created a base I then built up the layers with the other bits of foliage, wiring each in place.

As I couldn’t get a red bow to embellish the wreath I  had bought some wide gold ribbon to try to make one.  The ribbon turned out to be one-sided and very stiff and the bow I created was just too big and bulky for the wreath and looked incongruous.  The only other thing I could find was some of that thin gold ribbon you use on presents so I tied a few small bows around the wreath and I have to say I am quick pleased with the effect.

It isn’t as rich and colourful as the wreaths I used to create but I think it has a certain elegance about it and it cost nothing which is even more satisfying. The rosemary also gives off a wonderful scent

Homemade Mincemeat

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The worst thing about blogs and twitter is that I get lured in and at this time of year feel a need to do all the Christmassy domestic things.  However bitter experience has taught me that this is just ridiculous as I work full-time and I am not naturally a domestic goddess so I am trying to pick and choose my moments of domestic goddessness.

Last Saturday an early morning twitter conversation about mincemeat had me looking out recipes before I did my weekly shop.  I settled on Delia’s mincemeat recipe as she has never let me down in the past, well not  if you overlook the plum jam incident.  It’s a traditional mincemeat recipe and Delia says it is easy – sounds right up my street.  The recipe says it makes 2.75kg but I am hopeless at visualising how many jars this might be.  After looking at jars in the cupboard and peering at labels I decided to err on the side of caution and make half the mix.

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The recipe was indeed easy.  You just mix all the ingredients, apart from the brandy, in a large bowl and leave overnight.  Then you cook in the oven on a very low heat for 3 hours to melt the suet which then covers and coats the fruit in a unctuous goo.

In case you don’t have Delia Smith’s Christmas Cookbook to hand here is the recipe

Ingredients

450g Bramley apples, cored and chopped small (no need to peel)
225g shredded suet
350g raisins
225g sultanas
225g currants
225g whole mixed candided peel, finely chopped
350g soft dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g whole almonds, cut into slivers
4 tsps mixed ground spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
grated nutmeg
6 tblsp brandy

  1. Combine the ingredients, apart from the brandy, in a large mixing bowl.  Stir and mix together thoroughly.  Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave in a cool place overnight or for at least 12 hours.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1/4, 225 F or 120C.  Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place in oven for 3 hours
  3. Remove from the oven.  As it cools stir from time to time.  When the mincemeat is quite cold stir in the brandy
  4. Pack into  clean dry jars, cover with wax discs and seal.

Makes 6lb (2.76kg)

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If you are more adventurous than me or a real domestic goddess  then you might like to try this mincemeat recipe – Deborah,   the owner of this blog is one of the people who encouraged me to have a go and I am glad she did.

This weekend my domestic goddess moment will see me trying to make a wreath for the front door – hopefully!

 

 

Stay at Home Christmas

If you read my last post you will know that we were meant to be going to the Gower tomorrow for Christmas.  However with the snow we have at the moment – a good 4″ here and more heavy snow forecast tonight our enthusiasm for the drive has waned considerably.  By ‘We’ I am referring to myself and my two teenage sons and my parents.  We all live in Malvern no more than 10 mins drive from each other and were only going away for a change of scenery!!! On top of the weather my two sons both have really chesty coughs and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t my turn any day now!! My parents were really not keen so Dad phoned the cottage owner this afternoon.  She had been out to do her shopping and said the main  roads were Ok and the rest Ok if you were careful.  The cottage is a good mile from the nearest main road!

Dad took a management decision that it was a no go and we have cancelled.  However, on a plus side the cottage owner and the holiday company have agreed that instead of loosing our money (and it was a lot given it is Christmas) we could transfer to another week next year.  So we are looking at going just before Easter which should be great.  I want to go to Aberglasney Gardens and the National  Botanic Garden of Wales so mid April should be nice and my parents are interested in birdwatching (there are some estuaries near there) and it will be the breeding season.  So a result all round.

Luckily, I had a feeling we wouldn’t be going so I had done a big shop on Friday which should see us through to next Monday. I  have to say I’m relieved as I wasn’t looking forward to driving for 2 hours in the weather we have and now we can do our own thing and then just pop over to Mum and Dads for Christmas dinner which will be great.

I know there are lots of people in the UK whose plans for Christmas are going wrong, but wherever you end up and with whoever!! I hope you have a lovely Christmas and Best Wishes for 2011.

Helen