making room

I love the period between Christmas and New Year.  I am fortunate enough to be able to spend that week gently chilling at home.  After the hustle and bustle of the preparations for the festive season I enjoy the sameness about each day and forgetting which day of the week it is.  Many years ago when the girls were still at home we had a huge blackboard (about 3 x 2 ft) in the kitchen upon which we wrote shopping lists, messages etc.  After I we had eaten Christmas lunch I would ceremoniously wipe the board clean and write in capital letters “MUMMY’S DAY OFF – FOOD IN THE FRIDGE!”

I don’t need to put the message out quite so clearly now, but the message is the same.  For the next day or so meals are assemblies of existing preparations, Mummy is going to knit/read/walk/watch old movies.  Because I am more still, there is less running around, I have time to have a closer look at my surroundings and notice how they have changed over the year.  What has gone, but more often, what has crept in.  Time for a whizz round.  Not a deep declutter of the kind that takes a couple of weeks at least, but a focus on one or two areas where accumulation has taken on epic proportions.

A few years ago whilst I was visiting my father in the States the girls and the Boss arranged for some beautiful waxed pitch pine shelves and bookcases to be built in the the sitting room as a Mothering Sunday present.  Because of the weird shape and history of our house (the original dates back to the 13th Century and bits have been added on all over the place over the years) we have a lot of doors and a lack of window sills and wall space for shelves.  For the first time ever I was able to display some of my precious carvings, silverware and photographs.  Books could come out of the dark and DVDs and CDs no longer made tall skyscraper skylines behind sofas and chairs.

However, as we all know, stuff expands to fill an empty space and as I was curled up with my knitting last night I knew that the DVDs and books in one corner of the sitting room just had to be cleared.

Two bin bags later it looks like this.  Not exactly minimalist (there was some discussion over some of the DVDs – they are now on a secret watch list and may yet have only a short time left in the house!), but there is now order and some space.

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Why not give a small corner a quick makeover, you won’t believe how much better it makes you feel.

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If you are struggling to decide what should stay and what should go, then turn to William Morris, he always has the answer;

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Love Gillie x

feeling festive in Riga

 

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The shops are not full of images of Father Christmas, the cafes and restaurants are not heaving with fairy lights.  Yet Riga feels a lot more festive than most cities in Western Europe.  Yes it does help that is is cold and everyone is wrapped up in big coats with fluffy hoods, that there is snow on the ground and there is a whopping great Christmas Tree in the square next to our hotel, but there is more too it than that.

We attended the lighting of the tree ceremony on Sunday.  As it was obviously all in Latvian we didn’t understand a word, except for the countdown.  I think that is universal.  There was no need for barriers, I think I saw two policemen, the small square was full of people enjoying the Christmas market, drinking Black Balsalm or hot chocolate and enjoying browsing the stalls.  There was no brash commercialism, just people having fun.

Before

 

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and after.

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Also, did you know that the first ever Christmas tree was from Riga?

I am feeling festive in Riga because there is no loud Christmas music blaring out of every shop, there are no plastic Father Christmases, no tinsel on every till.  Just a beautiful tree, a lovely market and other people feeling festive.

love Gillie x

 

 

wrapping presents zero-waste style

wrapping zero waste

Well if not entirely zero-waste then certainly considerably less wasteful than the norm.  This is my wrapping station.  It contains:

  • Magazines
  • Ribbon carefully saved year after year
  • Pretty scarves
  • Empty boxes saved year after year
  • Pretty bags saved year after year
  • Paper sugar/flour bags
  • Paper wrapping from Who Gives A Crap loo and kitchen paper
  • Gift tags made from old cards
  • Endless cups of tea!

To be fair I have been wrapping along these lines since I was a child.  I was trained  young to save the wrapping paper and ribbon and it was a family tradition to cut up the Christmas cards in January and reuse them as gift tags.  The collection of boxes and bags are thanks to the Boss who can’t stand wrapping and has always packaged presents the easy way!

One year I wrapped everything in brown paper and red ribbon.  I still have the ribbon and the last of the brown paper was used to send parcels to Bea while she was in Thailand last year.  But this year I have decided to go one step further.

Using magazines can be a bit of a challenge for larger presents as you have to use several sheets together.  Garden and lifestyle magazines are good sources of pretty photos.  Although do watch out – I wrapped one present in a picture of a sumptuous Christmas dinner – only to remember the recipient is vegetarian and probably wouldn’t appreciate the turkey and all the trimmings around their gift!

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This is the first year I have used fabric.  I sent the Boss down to the charity shop in search of pretty scarves.  It took a bit of practice and I am sure the Japanese experts are not too impressed with my Furoshiki but I’m pretty pleased with myself.

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I have spotted some elderly shooting stockings and kilt socks that I think might make some rather lovely bottle carriers too!

Love Gillie x

herb oil

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Yup it’s that time of year again.  Now we all know that a cute little baby elf will die every time somebody puts up a decoration or sings a carol before the beginning of December?  What you didn’t know that?  Shame about all those poor little elves.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan, in fact you need to plan, unless of course you a bloke with a woman who does all the planning for you.  Massive generalisation I know,  but if the cap fits …

Rather smugly I can say that present wise I am pretty much sorted.  Well, I still have to finish a pair of socks and start a cardigan but the rest is pretty much sorted.  Today was hamper day.  Some exceptionally lucky people are getting a little hamper of home made goodies.  What do you mean “poor sods I hope she doesn’t give them botulism”?!

Today was herb oil.  The lovely bottles originally contained a rather lovely Rosé from Provence.  For reasons of which I am unsure we only drank four bottles.  I may have to purchase some more.  Anyway, I originally bought the wine because I loved the bottle and I loved the glass stopper.  The wine was a pleasant bonus!

Wash and dry bottles and add herbs of your choice.  I tend to use stronger woody ones that can survive in the oil without curling up and looking manky! A whizz round the garden produced:

  • Rosemary
  • Bay leaves
  • Lemon thyme

To which I added:

  • Sliced garlic
  • Red peppercorns
  • Long peppercorns (also known as Indonesian peppercorns)
  • Penja black peppercorns
  • Juniper berry

Topped up with olive oil and sealed.  I’ll tie a pourer around the neck and they are all ready for the little hampers.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

the dead zone

The presents have been sort of put away.  The fridge is full of leftovers, not enough for a whole meal on their own but little bowls of stuff.  Your Christmas guests have departed and even the dogs aren’t trying to eat the last chocolates.  What do you do between Christmas and New Year?

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In some countries it is business as usual, 26th December isn’t a public holiday and everybody troops back to work until 1st of January when the hangover cures come out and regretful memories of jaegerbombs and advocaat bang around sore heads.  However, for some, particularly large parts of the UK the holiday starts on the evening of 24th December and stretches out until the alarm goes on 2nd January.

I have to admit I love the long Christmas holiday.  I have my family around me, I can have a lie in, I don’t have to cook much as we have a long list of family traditional leftover meals that would spark a revolution if we didn’t prepare, I have lots of books to read, I can plan for 2014 and the dogs get long and wet walks.

But that time is also a great gift and it is easy to squander it, to look back at that fortnight and wonder what on earth you did. So, why not shift that backside, shake those legs and try something different….

  • Go to a local attraction, you know, the one you never go to because you live next door.  Better still go to one aimed at children and families and let your inner child out playing the treasure hunt or working out why ice is solid, feed the reindeer and make a paper snowflake.
  • Play one in one out with your christmas presents.  Unless you were given a Picasso for Christmas the chances are that you already have several of whatever you were given, but the new ones fit/work/go with your decor.  Throw or donate the grey knickers, the books you have read the scarf you never wear, the shoes that don’t quite fit.  This isn’t a clear out it is a single swap.
  • See if there are any matinee tickets for the local panto.  The evenings will definitely be sold out but trying to feed everyone and be in your seats for 7.30 can be a pain anyway.  Far easier to have an early lunch and work it all off with Widow Twankey (UK readers only I am afraid 🙂 )
  • Get out that book you keep meaning to read but never have the time.  Maybe it’s a heavy duty history book, an esoteric guide to comparative religion, a thumping great biography or a cookery book you have never had the time to try out.  You have the time now.
  • Bake.  Yes I know you were cooking right up until midnight on Christmas Eve.  But this is fun cooking, not mass catering I am talking about.  Bake cookies and decorate them with wild and ridiculous colours.  Have a go at making your own croissants or brioche, or bourbon biscuits, or custard creams….
  • Go to the garden centre and search out the “scratch and dent” corner.  They all have them, the corner where the dead looking plants are.  Most of them aren’t dead just hibernating but you can get fantastic bargains and now you have the time to bring them home and give them a little tlc before planting them out.
  • Paint.  No I do not mean redecorate.  This is most certainly NOT the time for that.  If you have always wanted to have a go at painting, palmistry, papier mache, pottery, philosophy then get out a book from the library, go online and have a go. This isn’t a full on course, this is spend an afternoon doing something simple you always said you would but never have.   Not everything has to begin with P by the way.

 

Decluttering is not just about getting stuff out of your house, it’s about getting stuff out of your life so that there is room in your life for the stuff that you love and that really matters to you.  If you are fortunate enough to have time off this Christmas, then why not use some of that time to find out exactly what it is that you love and matters to you.  It isn’t always as obvious as you think.

 

planet smellie

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Oh jolly dee.  It’s that time of year again.  Sleigh bells, Nativity plays, mince pies, hangovers, overdrafts and thirty six new pairs of socks.  Oh yes, and the annual update from Planet Smellie.

Animal tally much as last year although Meg had a close shave earlier this year.  Copious quantities of steroids later and she has bounced back tremendously, they don’t seem to have done much for her farts however which are now more pungent than ever.   Not bad for a 15 year old springer though.

We have finally understood why the Dancer’s bedroom is so heart attack inducingly messy.  For she has applied to medical school and when she starts rummaging around in people’s insides she will already have had plenty of practice locating hidden objects and will thus have a head start on her more tidy colleagues.

The Singers have been choosing their A-Level options.  We can only hope that deciding on the answers on the actual exam papers will be easier.  Final decisions have now been made and their minds have moved on to where they would like to do their work experience.  Singer Two has opted for a law firm and Singer One for the Police.  That is quite handy.  Should you plough your car into the central reservation, The Dancer will patch you up, Singer One will lock you up and Singer Two will stitch you up.

I have finally left Choristers, only two years after I originally gave my notice. I am now a lady of leisure.  Although I maintain I got more peace and quiet when I went out to work.  And as The Boss  pointed out I got paid as well.  President of the Brancepeth Village WI does not bring in any remuneration but is a lot more fun.

The Boss has managed to get himself on the more interesting lecture circuit after years of Leeds, Nottingham and Glasgow et al.  He and his helpful bag carrier spent three wonderful days in Padua in October, even if we did have to wrap the truffle risotto mix in eight plastic bags in an attempt to keep the smell volume down.  It didn’t work by the way and The Boss’s  jumpers would have been lethal had he worn them anywhere near a sniffer dog.  In February our intrepid pair are flying off to Australia.  This is both extremely exciting and extremely worrying as The Dancer is being left at home as the “Responsible Adult in Charge”.  No we do not want to hear your horror stories, we have heard enough already and have very vivid imaginations.

So that brings our news to a close.  We hope 2013 has treated you well and wish you a peaceful and happy 2014.

 

farthings and fancy cars

Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat

If you haven’t got a penny a farthing will do

If you haven’t got a farthing God bless you.

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Christmas is indeed coming, but farthings (a quarter of a penny) are long gone.  The man with the hat is sadly still with us.  I was speechless to read the news reports about “Black Friday”.  With apologies to my American readers, but this is yet another US import that we really could have done without.  As I try to gradually rid our house of all the unnecessary stuff that we have accumulated without even noticing (sometimes I really do think that clutter does procreate and at the rate of rats as well) people are killing each other in order to get a discount on something they probably didn’t even know they wanted.

What is our relationship with belongings?  Why do we feel the need to own things, does it validate us?  We are probably quite unusual in that we have never taken out a loan to buy a car, we always buy second hand and we buy the best we can afford with the money we are prepared to send.  Consequently I have never owned an Audi nor a Merc nor a Range Rover.  We have to have a 4×4 because of where we live and we have a 16 year old RAV (one careful female owner whose father happened to be a car mechanic and only 80,000 on the clock – private sale for less than £2K)  It does what it says on the tin.  I don’t need to say who I am by the car I drive.

We do need the basics for life and most of us would like some creature comforts,  I am not for a moment suggesting that asceticism is the only way to go but I am staggered by the conspicuousness of the consumption.  I like to look good, I like my home to look good and feel comfortable, I like a car that starts and I enjoy my food and drink.  I do not need 50 handbags and 20 black skirts.  We need only one fridge and as long as it is the right size for our family and keeps the food cold does it matter how old it is?

Age and background don’t seem to make any difference.  Is it our fault?  Have we brought this upon ourselves? Can we stem the tide or is it too late?

It is the third day of Advent.  If you would like to do it a little bit differently you could do no worse than read Stephen Cottrell’s excellent book.

Do nothing – Christmas is coming