Monday, 4 October 2021

Here I go again....

 Once again I've failed miserably to keep up with my plans! Was it last November that I last concentrated enough to sit down at the laptop and kick myself into writing gear? 

Still, it's autumn, and that's usually the time I get my head round my plans and targets. Is that odd when so many people seem to prefer January the 1st for their resolutions and new habits? 

Possibly, but I guess after so many years in the classroom either as part of a class or in front of one, it seems to have ingrained itself in my psyche as the time for new starts!

Perhaps it's also the drawing in of the nights, the changes in weather and the pull of the indoors that do it for me.. although that having said I did get back to running today in an effort to restart my Parkrun fix so not all about the indoors then!

Anyhow, I digress - no change there then.. SO, it's time to settle down and attack this writing itch properly. I've taken the plunge and sent off a short story to a magazine based on the murderous feelings I had by the time our new drive was completed.

The whole thing was quite a drama - it was supposed to be a four week job - it overran by two months!!

 It feels like this 'little' episode happened a lifetime ago.

Then, just to keep us amused during lockdown we had the entertainment of further works on the garden wall and patio so the digger returned (but with a different crew of workers).


That then just left us the job of finishing off - lugging large rocks around, taking out shrubs, painting new walls - lots of that!! At last that bit of the work seems under control, so it's back to the blog.

I'm going to try and pick up from where I left off - in the middle of planning for Christmas...

Last year I began writing about how I (and the rest of my family) try to get ready for the festive season so you might want to take a look at those few posts as I'm sure you don't want me to witter on about finding boxes, making lists and so on if you've read it all before..... I only got as far as four posts so it's not a lot if you want to pop back in the archive and get up to the experiences bit.

Having explained all that it's back to the train of thought that got me here - my run... it just reminded me that the hedgerows are looking rather full so it must be time to consider the next bit of festive planning - the edible (and drinkable) bit. 

Excuse me while I just go and check on the empty bottles and jars I've been amassing.. I promise I'll be back soon to expand.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Promises and Experiences


I mentioned experiences and memorable presents last time, so here's my take on that.

You probably find as time goes on that you've got lots of 'stuff' and when asked what you'd like as a present it's not always easy to know what to say. 

Yes there are things that are useful or desirable that might come to mind, but sometimes you end up suggesting a gift just to provide the giver with something to wrap, alternatively you guess at a present for someone so you have a wrapped gift to hand over. It might be that ramping up the 'stuff' that may end up as clutter isn't the best idea!

It was my sister's 60th this year. When we get to a zero ending birthday our family tends to create that many gifts. Imagine how much fun that was the year before last when 30 presents had to be delivered to my niece in Italy (and guess who was going there to deliver them). Now this might seem to be the ultimate in clutter busting and waste, but when the gifts are anything from a pair of socks to a bar of favourite chocolate it's actually much more pragmatic! It's also a great deal of fun discovering what we've all been accumulating for the special day. There may not be one HUGE present to mark the occasion, but the experience and fun on the day make it memorable - and the presents are always useful and wanted.

This year for Christmas my sister and I doing the same sort of thing on a smaller scale by making each other a hamper of presents. Our favourite shower stuff, small chocolate treats, etc. Nothing costing the earth, but everything wanted or needed.

For my Mum's birthday it was the same problem. She didn't want anything big, but couldn't really think of anything in particular. So we made vouchers - my sister's were for things like the take-aways they enjoy together, while mine was for her and any 'responsible adults' that she could find to have cake and coffee or snacks from a local cafe that we've been using as a meeting spot during the latter part of the first lockdown when meeting up was allowed. The 'spending' of the vouchers provided us with lovely experiences to photograph and remember. Oh how easy computers and printers make things!

So vouchers are in the pipeline for Christmas! What might you give some homemade vouchers for? Of course there's nothing wrong with shops' own vouchers or cash, but these are specially made for us to share and enjoy together and are particularly personal.

Be inventive in presenting them too! A card in an envelope is nice, but what about making a mini envelope from old wrapping paper or a printed photograph of where it can be spent, or making a mini bag or using one of those photograph holders where the picture is held by a crocodile clip. 

You could even stitch a small purse to hold them. This is one I made for one of my nieces.

Experiences - they're a great way to extend the present giving into something to look forward to after the main event is done and dusted.

Friday, 6 November 2020

The Best Laid Plans....


It was all going so well with my plans for the blog when I managed to sabotage my own efforts. Yes reader, I put myself out of commission with a momentary lapse of concentration.. I shut my thumb in the car door! It's only a little car, it's only one digit, but wow what an effect! I never really acknowledged quite what an impact such a simple injury would have. The making had to stop and I couldn't even write for a while, still enough! I won't bore you with a photo of the offending thumb - it's made quite enough people turn seedy looking when I've shown them - so onwards and upwards...

One thing I could do while incapacitated was search out what I already had. I've shown you my stash of mini presents in a previous post and some of the kits I found awaiting completion. This time I raided my craft stock to find what was lurking, in particular in the yarn and fabric line. These are some of my treasures:

We've also been switching the contents of the kitchen cupboards around after finding the one nearest the oven wasn't a good idea for some of the tins in there (don't ask about the curdled rice pudding or the rancid anchovies - just don't). One or two spice packs were a bit out of date - no good for eating, but possibly for a pot pourri? Well I've put them in my Christmas storage box (I think I may need a second or a bigger box).

What have you got lurking around that you could utilise?

The process made me think about the type of presents that have been most memorable over the years. We all know the stories of small children who happily unpack their presents and then spend ages playing with the boxes. In fact, my great-nephew enjoys unwrapping so much that one year he re-wrapped all his presents so that he could open them all over again!

The presents I remember more than any others come from when I was little. One birthday I came down to find, not only a copy of Cliff Richard's L.P. 'Summer Holiday' (okay age showing), but also some bunk beds for my dolls. Dad had made the bunk beds, mum had sewn sheets from an old pillowcase and my Nan had crocheted bedcovers. It stands out, even now almost 60 years later, as one of the best presents I've ever had.

So with the yarn there are doll's blankets to be made ready for the Italian littlies who spend hours dressing, undressing and putting their 'babies' to bed along with some new outfits. (If you want to try these and haven't knitted or crocheted before I can recommend the internet for great 'how to do it' videos - blankets in particular are ideal starters as they can be really simple and quick to produce.)

And the fabric stash has already begun to yield items - bags for all of the children to collect their Christmas stashes! These are just rectangles of fabric stitched together on three sides. The tops are turned over and stitched to give a neat edge. For the handles fold strips of fabric in half lengthways and press. Open these out and fold them back towards the centre fold and press again before stitching along the open side (this will give you a nice, neat edge). Then finally sew them, evenly spaced to the top of your bag. (I always stitch an 'x' shape over the join for strength.)

That's probably enough from me for now. I want to talk about memorable experiences too and how to parcel them up as presents, but perhaps next time?

Stay safe.....

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Christmas Lists....

 My family are great on lists - well for one of my nieces, B, it's spreadsheets, but that's just a refined list really, isn't it?

Mine are a mass of crosses and squiggles, but they work for me!

My Mum has always got her notebook on the go - she used to have small pocket sized books, but I've noticed of late how they've grown in size! Dad was a great one for lists too. Before he retired he brought home a stock of tiny notepads that were to be scrapped as they had the wrong contact details for his company and we used them for years. For my wedding day one of them held a list of 'to-dos' which Dad opened up at speech time, referred to the fact that the last thing on the list was 'leave for church' and pretended to sit down - his list being done.. only pretended though - there was a speech....

Anyway I digress. Last time I started on a list of lists to make... Now you can begin to add to them to make them more helpful. You can expand the list of who you're buying for by adding in suggestions. You may have already started, but where there are blanks you could ask some of them what they might like, or list things they enjoy to prompt further ideas or even begin to note how to source them. (This is beginning to sound like one of B's spreadsheets!)

While chatting at this early stage try, if you don't already do so, to set a limit on what's to be spent. We do, although there are some of us in the family who regularly break the rules (you know who you are Mum...). But generally it does create a bit of a sense of balance.

I know it's early, but it's really useful, especially when you can save cash too. My sister and I tend to take photos of things we like and send them back and forth by mobile. My nieces take it one step further by sending links ready to click on and order. It means that there's no mistake or getting the wrong thing for a start. And if you have someone like B who is a whizz with flash sales and bargains you can get what you want quickly and at sale price too. Too close to Christmas and the problem of low stock, higher prices and postage issues intervene.

By casting an eye over the stuff beginning to appear ready for the festive season I've already found these at reduced price. They're fine date-wise for Christmas and just the right size for the crackers I want to make AND I know that keeping them in my storage box for Christmas will discourage me from nibbling away before I've used them for their proper purpose.

I've been chasing down some mini gifts and freebies. There's lots of things you can send off for - although I keep a separate email account for it so my regular inbox doesn't get flooded with later advertising! These sample perfumes will be perfect for one of our traditions. My sister has also begun her stash for it too.

We've always had a little extra at Christmas that we open when we're all together - usually on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. It used to be a tree present each. There were always rules about them. One year we weren't allowed to spend more that £1 each, another the gifts had to come from a charity shop and yet another they had to be free! It was almost as much fun tracking down the presents as it was getting them.

A few years ago after I'd moved to Devon we were able to get all our diaries aligning and got together on Christmas Day. It was a bit last minute and I wanted to take something, but my sister had already got everything sorted out. The only thing I could think of was a Lucky Dip'. I amassed a number of small items, wrapped them randomly and we spent a long and enjoyable time picking our Lucky Dip items out and swapping any inappropriate ones with anyone else who'd appreciate them more.

It sort of grew from there. The year my younger niece, who lives in Italy, got married in England she even took a mini Lucky Dip for her household back with her, as they were having an Italian Christmas and wouldn't be with us.

This year it's a bit different, obviously. She and her family are in Italy and the rest of us can't plan to gather en masse as we don't know what the rules on numbers will be in December. We're going for a Christmas Tombola anyway! The only difference to an ordinary one is that every ticket will win a prize. More about how we'll manage that another time...

Next time it's onto the fun stuff - making things.............

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Shhhh - not the dreaded planning ahead for C........ yet

Sorry to bring it up, but the festivities will start all too soon (and my local supermarket already has mince pies and Christmas puddings on the shelves!). BUT - there is some sense in starting a few quick and easy steps towards making it a manageable feast.

I've been meaning to lay out some of the ideas we've tried as a family to eat the Christmas elephant (you know - one bite at a time!) and make it as stress free and pocket light as possible - especially with the growth of minis in our clan. 

The first preparation is simple - find yourself a box. Yep, any old box. You could start with a shoebox or something bigger - no buying a box, just one that's around or that you can pick up from the empty boxes at a local shop. It may seem premature, but we start our box off after Boxing Day (that was unintended - honest)! In it goes anything that will help spread the fun and cost for the festival.

What are you going to put into your box? ... you may ask.. 
Well, start off with anything which you think might be helpful when you see one of those 'buy one, get one free' promotions that you know someone on your list would welcome.

There, that was a fairly easy one to start with....

Now you can add anything you might make or see on sale that might fit the bill. 

This is the haul that's been building in my box - I may have to transfer it soon into something bigger - a spare suitcase in the loft is what I've got my eye on! It includes items such as bunting from some scrap material I had last year, hand-knittted socks, scrunchies, coasters from left over yarn.. you get the idea? I can't list everything as I need to give the family some surprises - they can't be allowed to preview them all here before the main event can they?

Next double check for any left-overs from last Christmas - spare cards, wrapping paper, gifts you haven't used (label these with who gave them to you...) and add them to the box.  Here's mine so far - it includes some I got reduced when they were selling off the 2019 stock...

I also keep some odds and ends of cards and gift tags that might be useful for creating new cards - like this... ( I know it needs repositioning - that's for the full on making session later!)

Now collect any containers that might be useful when creating presents (more about this another time) - this is what I've got so far...

And finally... if you're like me you may well have some projects, kits from magazines, ideas that haven't developed yet .. all lurking around. Gather these together and put them somewhere handy - not hidden away so you can forget about them. This is my box...

Now the very last job for this time - make two lists...

The first is all those people you might send/give cards to. 
It doesn't matter where or how you make it - on paper, in a notebook, on your phone, in a spreadsheet. Just make and keep the list where you'll find it easily. Add any addresses to it that you need too. This is a list you can update during the year - starting with straight after this Christmas when you realise you missed someone off or they sent you a new address!

The second list is gifts you need to supply - you notice I say supply... not buy, although that might be necessary too. If you've got any ideas or something you usually get for these recipients add it next to their name.

Right - planning/auditing/sorting and storing done? 
Big pat on the back and then draw breath before the next session!

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

So where was I?

Now I know when I last wrote I talked about rethinking things, simplifying life and creating space, BUT a world wide pause on 'life as we know it' was not what I had in mind....

Every time I've sat myself down to write I've deleted my words as nothing felt serious or respectful enough to take up space.

I thought, like many others I guess, that the lockdown, stay at home, whatever this last six months gets to be called, would mean that I'd get my house in order (literally) and have time for being creative, productive and all those things. Yes, the household stuff I had in mind got done, as did the list my other half had down to do too. The garden has been tidied and sorted and plans for alterations to it made. 

Crops have been grown and harvested, jams made and all looks ship shape outside.

It's been great to eat straight from the garden (and not actually buy stuff!).

And with a glut of basil we've been on regular feasts of pasta and pesto 😋

Now though, I think I have to stop prevaricating and step forward ready for what comes next.

I have mentioned before ideas about the Wento project (which is about refocusing finances) and about producing some step by step instructions for creative projects. 

But each time I sit down to write about finances it doesn't seem like the right time and writing step by step instructions comes face to face with my inertia... 

I did think I ought to write about playing catchup with lost learning as I've had some fun during lockdown trying to think of active ways to make home learning interesting for my great-nephew. While I've got some ideas already sorted I'm not sure this is the forum for them so I'll have to think about that. 

Mind you at about the same time Mel, the writer of Ink Spots and Grass Stains, (who I first met many years ago when we were writing for the Scout Association) has just launched a new website about play and life,  (the link is on the right) so perhaps there's some mileage in my thoughts. The coincidence of her starting this up as I was thinking about the role of play isn't the only coincidence in our lives.... She moved to Scotland and I moved to Devon only to find that she used to live a few couple of roads away and babysat for one of our neighbours!

Oh gosh, out on a tangent again.. well the long and the short of it is... I'm not going to follow any of those threads just yet. Instead I'm thinking I'll start with (whisper it softly) Christmas... There's a method in this particular madness and it will link to playfulness, crafting, decluttering, money saving, instructions and so on... just you wait and see! 

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Create Space....

Happy New Year! 

I know it's a bit later than usual, but that's deliberate... It's part of a new regime...

Just recently everything I've picked up to read seems to say that the way to go is to have 'a word' that will sum up, point forward, provide focus, whatever, for the year ahead. Well I've got two words, not one -  'Create Space'.

It's been something lurking at the back of my brain for a while. Whether it was while I was Marie Kondo-ing stuff or just generally wondering why I don't seem to be able to sit myself down at the laptop since retirement; creating space for a number of things keeps nagging at me.

I've a lot of ideas for projects floating around, but in the (almost) three years since I finished work they have just been that - floating ideas. Then just before Christmas I thought it's time to sort out my thoughts, but what with one thing and another there wasn't any - time that is not thoughts!

Time ran out before Christmas for a number of reasons - one was a craft fair that I said 'yes' to. It wasn't so much the craft fair, it was the fact that I needed to produce some extra items for it that ate into my 'making time'. That had the knock on effect of pushing the Christmas knitting and gift making dangerously close to the 'big day'. Then there was my husband's 70th which we celebrated with a short trip to Cardiff. 

Everything taken individually was great. I enjoyed it all, but I truly ran out of time and space to get everything done. Hence the decision to Create Space and get some of the 'stuff' that I really want to do underway. 

A digression now (but relevant).

This is a picture by a local-ish artist that we've got hanging in our dining room. It's huge and it's got a proper title (Waterfall in Dialogue) and a back story (about pollution and the environment). But in our house it's called Sue's Brain. Graeham had his eye on it for a long time before he bought it. Unbeknown to me he'd already told Steve (the artist) that it looked just like my brain.  Then it so happened that I was in Steve's shop when Graeham asked me what I thought it looked like - 'it's the inside of my head' I said and Steve nearly fell off his chair knowing that I wasn't told in advance what Grae had said!

Well, it truly does look like my brain feels. Lots of interlocking stuff going on with only a few bits joined up. Depending on the way the light falls, sometimes it looks more disjointed and at other times the golden hues stand out - yep - still my brain...

The picture's been there a few years now, but it and my brain still resemble each other, so it seems about time to focus on those golden thought bits and do something useful with them, but needs space for me to do so! 

First step then is - no more craft fairs. A number of items - hats and scarves mainly - are now in a local library on their donations rail for anyone who needs them. Some stuff went straight to the charity shop and other items are waiting to be unpicked and re-made into things that have a pre-decided purpose. I have got about a suitcase full of items that I'll try and sell elsewhere - Facebook groups maybe or perhaps in an Etsy shop, but no more making without purpose!!!

Then there's a new financial planning project that I've been musing over since some conversations with my niece. More of this next time, but it's the sort of thing that lots of platforms come out with on 1st January and that everyone thinks is a good idea and forgets by the end of the month. So I'm not starting it till next blog post.

Finally I'm taking on board the ideas of Sara Tasker of me_and_orla fame with her 15 Minute Magic prompt cards. Even I must be able to organise myself for 15 minutes each day to do something productive and useful surely? If only to make sure that these posts happen more frequently and regularly.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. I'll be back with the first part of the Wento Project or the Eating a Money Elephant or the 366 Ideas Book or whatever it ends up being called very soon, spurred on by my prompt cards - now if only I could find the safe place I put them in...