Christmas Past and Present

A few days ago I had a real ‘Bah Humbug’ day when I just couldn’t be bothered with all this Christmas Malarkey. What was the point? A lot of work for not a lot.

It was partly because I had a streaming cold. Or was it Covid Omicron? Apparently the latter looks very like a cold to the naked eye and only a pcr test can tell the difference. The NHS website told me I should do a lateral flow test and, if it was positive get a pcr one before self isolating for 7 – 10 days (rules vary between England and Wales with Wales sticking to 10 days). But to get a lateral flow test I would have to go into a pharmacy and risk infecting others or wait for some to be sent in the post. To get a pcr test I needed to drive to Carmarthen where there is a test center. Driving with one hand fully occupied stemming the flow from my nose and catching sneezes didn’t seem a good idea either. And asking a friend to take me, cooped up in a car for over an hour seemed rather silly. Even if the test came back negative did I really want to give someone else a bad cold? So I cut the process short and have been self-isolating. I will continue until Boxing Day.

Sitting by the fire feeling sorry for myself and all negative about Christmas set me remembering Christmas’s past. When I was a child my parents ‘did’ Christmas but with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. Mum thought a real Christmas tree made far too much mess – all those needles to clear up. So we had one of the early artificial ones which was a number of dark green bottle brushes arranged in circles around a plain wooden dowel. On it were some fairy lights (about 10 in a string I think) which looked just like the Meltis fruit jellies which Mum liked and always made an apearance at Christmas too. There were some uninspiring baubles, some blobs of cotton wool as snow and a small fairy doll for the top. I honestly believed that the whole thing was put away each January with all the bits still in place because I could detect no change from one year to the next. It was still making its annual appearance at my last Christmas in th family home in 1970. I have a vague recollection of making paper chains with my Dad and even balloons in the corners of the room but that must have been when I was very small. I suspect they were banned for collecting dust. So the only other decorations were some ‘yule logs’ – small logs decorated with polyfilla snow, a red candle, a small sprig of Holly and maybe a plastic robin. They were deemed tasteful. Christmas dinner was a roast chicken (turkey would last too long) nicely cooked but not really different from any other chicken dinner. Christmas was OK and I got nice presents but Oh! how I envied friends who had a real tree, exuberant decorations, a big family gathering and loads of fun!

Fast forward to the Vicarage years. Christmas was a frenetic dash to an exhausted finishing line. As well as working effectively full time and organising the family Christmas there was the ‘Vicar’s wife’ bit to do. I bought industrial quantities of mincemeat and made mince pies in batches of 6 dozen to take to various events. There was ‘Candles by Carolight’ (a spoonerism stuck!) to help organise – boxes and boxes of candles to put in holders for people to carry without burning their hands and others in foil dishes to go on the floor and vats of mulled wine to brew and remember to get some of those mince pies out of the freezer to take. Something for littlies to do at the crib service, the youth group party, Christmas Eve morning spent decorating the Church which involved me filling the car with greenery from the vicarage garden and therefore having to be the first to arrive. Then midnight service, home at 1am, put the turkey in, get up early for John to go and do Matins, have breakfast and let the kids open their stockings, back for the family service, home to finish our dinner and, finally – fall asleep as soon as our bums hit a comfy chair! Of course there was fun too, we had a great team of people who all did a lot. And there were good memories of that time too of massive Christmas trees, of winding greenery and ribbons through the banisters of the vicarage stairs – an Edwardian Villa has great potential at Christmas! But it did give me considerable ambivalence to the whole Christmas thing.

It was those memories that came to the front of my mind when I was low. I had to remind myself of the other Christmasses. The ones in the early years of our marriage when we had ridiculously big real trees in small rooms dripping with decorations, of small people with bulging stockings, of creating family traditions. And latterly of experimenting with diferent ways of celebrating, of allowing ourselves the luxury of a whole day in front of the fire with a good book.

So I gave myself a good shake and decided it was down to me to choose if I wanted to be cheerful or miserable. I made a wreath for the front door, decorated the big mantle piece, hung baubles and stars over my worktable and put up the Christmas bunting in the kitchen.

The day before my cold started I had gone for a walk on the beach with a friend and she had got the cold too so there was no point in isolating from her! We cheered ourselves up with a solstice fire. She had found a ‘Christmas tree’ in her loft given to her by someone in her village and which she never used so she brought that and we ceremoniously burnt it as symbol of letting go of what was no longer or value to us. For me that included half-hearted or overwhelming Christmasses.

I wish you all a very Merry time whatever you celebrate, whoever you celebrate it with and however you do it. And I look foward to hearing about your adventures, highs and lows in 2022. As they say it here

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda – literally ‘A full Christmas and a good New Year’

Scrap Happy December 2021

Regular readers will know that I rarely buy Christmas presents. Most of the people to whom I give at Christmas have more than enough ‘stuff’ and if there is something they particularly want or need they can ask me for it. Instead I try to give ‘experiences’ and ‘memories’ as the opportunity arises and mark Christmas and Birthdays with small hand made gifts. This means that December is a flurry of scrap happiness! However since some of the recipients read my blog not everything I have made recently can be revealed until January!

However my neighbour told me last year that she would like some knitted Christmas stockings to hang over her fireplace and wondered if I had a pattern. I can take a hint! After some searching I decided to use my usual sock pattern designed for 4 ply but knit it in DK on larger needles and decorate it with some cross stitch designs from books on my shelves.

And just for fun Laura and I spent yesterday, when it was too wet to work outside, playing in the workshop. There were some logs on the stack which were too fat for either of our fires and I find splitting with an axe very difficult so…

Scrap Happy is hosted by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The contributors listed below are all amazingly creative users of scraps. Not all of us post every month but do click on the links for inspiration.


KateGun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Bekki, Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera,
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Bear, Carol,
Preeti, EdithDebbierose

Mincemeat

Helen, whose blog ‘Growing out of Chaos’ I follow (http://www.silverbells.wordpress.com) mentioned that she had picked some eating apples which would not store. I suggested she make some mincemeat and offered to give her the recipe. It occurs to me that she may not be the only one faced with that problem so I decided to share it here. Actually this is such a nice recipe that it is worth buying apples for! I heard it on the radio nearly 30 years ago and have been making it ever since. It contains no fat and most of the sweetness comes from the fruit so it is relatively healthy. And it doesn’t need maturing so you can make it and use it at once. It is in Imperial weights – sorry to those of you too young to be familiar with them – 1lb (pound) is 450 grams and there are 16 oz (ounces) to each pound

2 lb eating apples grated

1lb sultanas

8 oz raisins

8 oz mixed candied peel

4 oz dark muscovado sugar

finely grated rind and juice of 1 orange

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 pint (just under 300ml) cloudy apple juice

Mix the whole lot together in a large pan, bring to a boil and simmer gently for 30 mins stirring frequently. Transfer to warm sterilised jars and seal.

Making Progress

Some of you may recall that ages ago I started following 2 courses on embroidery – Pintangle’s Take a stitch Tuesday and Anne Brooke’s 52 tags. My aim was to increase the range of stitches I could use and also to get away from simply filling in someone else’s design. I have been lamentably lax about keeping up with either challenge but last week I decided to ‘have a go’ at doing some embroidery from scratch. And the result was…

I am under no illusions. This is not high art. It isn’t even particularly fine embroidery. But it was an achievement. I did it all myself from the first drawing to the finished piece. And I experimented. I used stranded cotton (mainly because I had a better range of colours in that) and tried mixing strands of different shades or colours.

I also mentioned previously experimenting with the way I knit and finding that it was easier if I controlled the yarn with my left hand. Well, quite by chance, I discovered how to do that flicky thing with the right hand so that I don’t have to let go of the right needle – or at least not so completely hands off. Months ago my neighbour, who did all my laundry for weeks when my machine broke down during lockdown, mentioned that she fancied having a row of Christmas stockings to hang over the fireplace and I offered to make some. Now that I can have yarn in either hand two colour knitting is so much easier! One colour on the left hand and one on the right! I used my usual sock pattern but in DK not 4 ply and motifs from various cross stitch pattern books I had on the shelves.

I can feel my confidence growing!

Scrap Happy #1 for 2020!

Actually these are things I made last year but were Christmas presents so had to stay secret until now!

John’s immune system had been very damaged by all the chemotherapy so we hardly ever saw our grandchildren and in consequence struggled to know what they might like for Christmas or Birthdays and what they already had We got into the habit of sending a small token gift and putting what we would have expected to spend into a bank account so that we could help fund things like school trips that their parents might struggle to afford. I still send them either just a card or a small handmade something. This year, for grandson number 2, who is 19 and currently has a small motorbike, I will top up what his Mum can afford for driving lessons for him to ensure he is able to pass his test.

Anyway, this years gift to all the grandchildren, including the fostered ones, was based on a free pdf download pattern from Ann Wood handmade. I chose to do more embroidery on mine than she specifies and used beads not small buttons for the eyes. It used very small scraps, part of a reel of ribbon I had been given, left over embroidery thread, stuffing from stock and a lot of love.

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun (see links below) on the 15th of the month. Not everyone posts every time but if you want inspiration for using up scrap this is the place to look!

Kate, Gun, Titty, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sunny and Kjerstin

New Year, Renewed Me, New Projects

I really enjoyed my Christmas break!

It was obvious back in the Autumn that it was going to be a strange one and that any plans might be scuppered at short notice by restrictions being imposed or lifted.

My son, being Muslim, doesn’t celebrate Christmas and, as Head of Triage in the IT department of a multinational company, had volunteered to be ‘on call’ on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in case a computer glitsch stopped the cash flowing. That meant he couldn’t come to see me – my broadband is not good enough! I knew I was welcome to go there and that he always cooks a huge meal for the extended family. However my daughter-in-law is terrified of dogs which makes visiting complicated.

My daughter was planning how to spend the first Christmas in her new home with her 2 teenage kids and since her husband believes me to be the source of most of his woes, ‘putting her up to it’ and misses no opportunity to tell the kids how evil I am and that it is my fault the family has broken, it seemed wisest that I not be in the mix this year.

Being on my own for the festive period held no fears for me. The infection that proved the last straw for John began on a Christmas Day and he died early the following January. The next year I decided not to inflict my misery on anyone else and refused all offers to join others. Since then I have mostly stayed home alone though I have sometimes accepted invitations to lunch with local friends. There was a debate about whether I would go to my daughter’s on Boxing Day when her 2 would be at their Dad’s and maybe we would drive over to my son’s. In the end the Welsh lockdown and then the English one kept us all apart.

However I had formed a plan! I did the bulk of my shopping, including for food, booze and chocolate, early. I promised myself a ‘staycation’ from Christmas Eve until the 4th of January when everyone would be back at work. During that time I would only do essential housework and no gardening. I got plenty of books from the library and bought some from charity shops. I also made a list of projects I wanted to at least start but kept not making time for.

Just after Boxing Day I got the weirdest sensation – that I had shrunk! A quick check showed that physically I was the same height as always and if anything slightly wider – well booze and chocolate do that to you! But I felt the same size as my Aunty Megan who was 5 feet nothing and skinny with it. It took a few days to work out that I had lost confidence in trying new things or ‘having a go’. It wasn’t my body which had shrunk but my sense of self. I think that all the restrictions have meant that my world has shrunk and whilst I have been busy in the garden and house it has been maintaining what is already there rather than doing new things. Partly I think it was feeling that if I started something and it went wrong it would be harder to get someone to help me put it right. In addition I haven’t been on a course to learn a new skill for ages so there was nothing new to practice having been shown how to do it once.

That seemed to explain the projects which had stalled when I got to a tricky bit or one requiring decisions as well as the ones I never started. I get lots of inspiration from reading all your posts, my head is full of ideas but can I actually do them?

In one of those nudges the Universe sends my way from time to time one of the non-fiction books I had got for my holiday reading was ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes recommended to me by my new tenant, Laura. It isn’t an easy read – she is a storyteller and Jungian psychoanalyst of Mexican birth but raised by Hungarian foster parents in the USA. The slightly odd English mixed with bits of analytic theory are – um – interesting! But I have found what she has to say very interesting and enlightening. Particularly the chapter on why we procrastinate!

I am still trying to determine which of my 4 legged companions chewed the cover! Lucky it is my own copy!

A ‘good talking to’ was required so I went and did some yoga stretches to pull myself up straight instead of being rather crumpled and then gave myself one.

I recognised that on my break I had taken the time and trouble to cook nice meals and that I had previously rather got into the habit of leaving it to the last minute to decide what to eat so that it had to be quick and easy. So I started to cook my main meal at lunchtime. I am usually indoors in the mornings so I can combine cooking with another job whereas in the afternoon I am often in the garden and don’t want to bother taking my boots off and coming in to start a meal. I also browsed my cook books and recipe file noting things I hadn’t made for a long time. Food is now a lot more interesting!

I also reviewed all the stalled projects and realised that most could be finished quite quickly if I just stopped faffing about and dithering. One big one which has been going on for over a year, partly because of shops not being open, will be another post but I finished making a pair of slippers for my daughter (yet to be posted as the roads have been icy) and turned some granny squares into a cushion cover. Another lot of squares are mostly edged and I have worked out the placement but have run out of the yarn I am using for edging and joining so no more can be done until the market reopens.

I now feel back to my normal size (with a little extra for self-indulgencies!) and having ‘cleared the decks’ am ready to start on new creative projects. My next post will be scrap-happy which will be presents I made but I hope to be able to regale you with more new things soon.

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Or if you don’t speak Welsh Happy Christmas and a Good New Year!

And if you don’t celebrate Christmas Happy Solstice or simply enjoy the break from work and routine.

This year I decided to mark the Solstice AND Christmas. I felt that I needed to make the most of the chance to celebrate having come through a year that has been difficult for many of us. So I put up my decorations a little earlier than usual. There is no room for a traditional tree so I improvise.

This afternoon I will be walking down to C&M where I buy my greengroceries where they are serving mulled wine and mince pies (Outside!) to any customers who turn up. Then like them I am metaphorically ‘pulling up the drawbridge’, lighting the fire and settling in to read, make, eat, drink and reflect on the year just gone.

Thank you all my fellow bloggers for the posts you have written with words of wisdom, funny stories, inspiring makes and allowing me to get glimpses of your lives – I feel as if several of you are friends I just don’t get to see in person very often even though you live on the other side of the world and we have never met.

I will be back in January but until then stay safe and I hope that however strange this festive season feels it brings moments of hope and joy.