Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

Knit your own tree, part II…

December 24, 2016

Just a little festive tale, hopefully to amuse you all… every year, my kids always express a nostalgic longing for a “real” Christmas tree. And every year, being not only the skinflintiest of skinflints, but also someone who doesn’t like to feel responsible for encouraging the aimless slaughter of innocent trees, I say, of course we can have one, provided it doesn’t cost more than about £10 less than any “real” tree actually available in our neighbourhood…

I went to pick up Dear Son no.3 from his university city on Tuesday. I needed some lightbulbs and one or two other small things, and by this point in the festive season I’m always very short of time, so I decided to leave half an hour early & pop into a well-known Scandinavian emporium en route, rather than make a separate trip down to our nearest city, which would have taken over an hour.

For the last few years, they’ve done an offer of “buy a tree for £25, receive a £20 voucher” to spend in the New Year. Which makes the tree very reasonable; basically £5, provided you can get back there in January/February & spend the voucher on things you actually need. And indeed I will be going back there, and there are things  – like lightbulbs – which they do very well, and it does no harm to have a few extra in stock. But being so close to Christmas, I assumed they would have sold out of their very-reasonable trees long ago.

But whilst I was hurtling round the store, a voice announced over the tannoy that the offer had become rather better, as they’d been left with a fair number of trees & it was getting rather late to sell them. The trees were now just £5, but buyers would still get the £20 voucher. Which means, in effect, that they were (potentially) paying us £15 to take them away!

That, of course, was easily inside the arbitrary limit that I’d set. So a beautiful little Nordmann fir came home with me (little because our living room is little; they had bigger ones but I don’t have a bigger room!) and has been decorated with 1001 precious little memories, and is gracing a corner of our lives for the next 12 days.

We do have a very nice “fake” tree, from the same source, also bought for much less than the original price. But it will still be in the loft to be used next year, if I can’t track down a tree for free (or very little) that isn’t otherwise going to be used. But I doubt that I will ever again effectively be paid to take one away…

15tree

Wishing you all a merry, lighthearted & peaceful Christmas – or Yule, or Hanukkah, or Midwinter festival.

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Knit your own Christmas tree…

December 6, 2016

Not really! But surely I’m not the only person dismayed by the price of “real” trees and the profligacy of a society that just throws out perfectly good imitation trees just because they’re not this year’s colour or shape, or don’t fit the space available any more?

This week it became apparent that a small, pre-decorated Christmas tree might make a nice surprise for someone. So off I went to my favourite emporium, the local Tip, where needless to say they’ve been inundated with redundant Christmas trees over the last few weeks. A few pennies secured me a promising well-taped-up box, which said it contained a 6′ “Woodland Pine” tree. As the box was only about 3′ long, I was fairly sure that this would be easily re-jigged into a smaller tree, and so it proved when I got home; three graduated trunk sections, with lots of slot-in “branches”, taped with different colours according to size. It just took a minute with a pair of pliers to move the fitting that the top piece of the tree sits in from the middle to the lowest section of the trunk, and a small bit of masking tape wound round to make it stay put in the larger tube, making a 3-4′ tree. The smaller branches slot into the lower trunk perfectly well, and the plastic stand was unbroken. It’s not a thing of beauty, but I’ve tied a festive-coloured scarf around it so it’s not visible.

I happened to be visiting the city this morning, and visits to £land and W!lko’s secured me two small sets of battery lights, one clear and one coloured. The intended recipient doesn’t bend too easily, so I thought battery lights would be easier for them to cope with. I’d already bought some pretty acrylic “jewel drops” for our own tree; there were more in the box than we’ll need, so I put some on the little tree to scatter the lights. And I’ve made some felt hearts out of old, moth-eaten blankets, stitched round with gold thread rescued from old needlework boxes, and some of those have found their way onto the tree too.

budgetree1

However I did bust the budget when it came to topping the tree; it had to be an angel or a star, and I didn’t have anything suitable, or enough time to make something. So off we trotted to a town up the road which has a an all-year-round Christmas shop, where I invested in a pretty little glass angel, which gives the impression of being lit up with an LED or two underneath her. But she is not in any way begrudged; I’m just glad that saving money on the tree itself has allowed me to buy the loveliest tree-topper in town!

budgetree2

 

A Very Merry (and traditional) Christmas to you all!

December 26, 2014
ChristmasCake

Hark, is that the sound of a celestial choir…?

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy & well-blessed Christmas, and a chance to rest & put your feet up!

All the candles you see on our festive table have been rescued from our local Tip, aka The Household Recycling Centre, in the last few weeks, most of them completely unburnt & still packaged. They’ve glimmered & danced on our festive table throughout the Christmas feast & are still glowing long into the evening. The flowers were a gift from my cousin, and my lovely Cake Angels come out to play every year. Which is probably very unenterprising of me, but they’re a bit of a tradition now, and certainly less stressy than trying to achieve the perfect icing. There are times when long-established traditions are a welcome framework, rather than a bind, and in the hurly-burly that the modern Christmas has become, it’s nice not to have to innovate & plan ahead, but just to reach for the box of much-loved Christmas ornaments, pop them into place and go off to help Santa with that sherry…

 

It’s beginning to feel a lot like – a frugal Christmas!

December 18, 2013

Once again that certain date is racing up towards us and the bank account is groaning under the strain of buying for a big family. We don’t go over  the top with presents or food, and never have done, but the sheer quantities involved mean there will always be a distinct bulge in the budget at the end of December. And I’ve been sad to read people panicking online this week that they can’t afford to give their loved ones a “real” Christmas, which they seem to imagine looks like the one you see on the adverts, with lots of plastic toys, plastic decorations, plastic-looking food & a plastic-looking family. So a few ideas to cut the cost (and the plastic – horrible stuff!) whilst retaining the joy and good cheer might be timely.

The catering itself isn’t very much different to an average Sunday dinner round here; a few more faces, a few more trimmings and a few more hours with the cooker blasting away, perhaps, but plenty of willing hands to help, too. Good solid food & plenty of it, followed by treats like nuts and a well-chosen cheese board, but no dubious “gourmet” delights that no-one will actually eat, only stuff that can be eaten cold with salad, made into leftover dishes or frozen for later reference. I rarely have to do much shopping after Christmas until well into January, apart from fresh fruit, bread & dairy stuff.

But the setting does need a bit of adjusting, we can’t fit 11 round the kitchen table… however, we can run two market tables end-to-end down our conservatory and use the folding wooden chairs we use for doing the markets. This year’s festive board will be dressed in 5½ yards of pure vintage silk – an elderly & slightly damaged sari, before you panic that I’m about to ruin something priceless – and I’m really rather proud of my planned centrepiece. I came across a handful of mismatched tall crystal glasses at the Tip yesterday, and some old floral decorations; I can just see the glasses lined up down the centre of the table, with tea-lights glowing & twinkling inside, and pale silvery, slightly glittery hellebores laced around the bottom of the stems. Something like the picture below, in fact, but with sparklier glasses & less OTT greenery, when it’s all cleaned up.The china will be my parents’ old China Tree set, I found a set of 12 matching glasses at the Tip recently, and I don’t suppose anyone will even notice if the cutlery doesn’t match; hopefully they’ll be too busy eating, chattering & laughing.

We’ll be using our “fake” tree, acquired at vast expense – part of £1, if I remember correctly – at the Tip some years ago, in about May. It’s a perfectly nice one, even if it doesn’t smell like a real one; then again, it doesn’t make me come out in a rash like a real one does. I’m not quite sure why people find it necessary to buy a new fake tree in the latest “fashionable” colours every year; seems somewhat wasteful to me, but I know they do. And I’m not really happy with the idea of real trees being sacrificed for such trivial reasons, even if they’d never have been grown otherwise, and I’m certainly not happy to pay £35-40 for one. Decorations will be much-loved old favourites, home-made or foraged from the garden & the riverbank; the hallway is always adorned with big star sequins dangling on cotton pinned to the ceiling, which sway & glitter in the breeze whenever anyone walks down there. They cost 50p for a large tub, many years ago; I’d meant to use them for card making, but never did. In amongst them is the odd bigger star, bought for pennies in sales after previous Christmasses, never before. I’m afraid I buy my cards that way too, from charity shops; it’d be nice to give them the full price, but I know they still make a small profit on them half-price & I get to feed my family too!

We’ll be making paper chains for the living room. It’s a small space and big brash tinselly things are far too dominating; chains made from wallpaper samples or free printables from the Web are just right. There’ll also be a garland of evergreens over the fireplace; branches & ivy from the garden & riverbank woven into a tube of old chickenwire & decorated with fir cones, cinnamon sticks and berries from the berberis and cotoneaster bushes. We’re lucky enough to have a female holly tree too so springs of holly will be poked behind all our pictures & mirrors. If I’m organised enough, we may even have home-made crackers; I can do a LOT better for cracker surprises with the cash that one box of bought crackers would cost, never mind two. Paper hats are easy, but sadly the home-made jokes will probably be even worse than usual. I might try decorating the tree with broken bits of junk jewellery this year; single dangly ear-rings & broken glittery & pearly necklaces I have a-plenty & I’ve always thought that might look rather nice. I’ll report back, maybe with a picture. Or not…

For many years we’ve had a strict upper limit on what we can spend on each other in the wider family, and we all stick to it. It’s just plain sensible; Christmas presents are meant to be a token, not to beggar us all. And some of us have agreed not to exchange anything at all now; it doesn’t mean we don’t love & respect each other, but that we all have enough stuff & don’t need or want any more. If money must be spent, let it go to a good cause like Oxfam Unwrapped or Sightsavers, not to buy more stuff to further clutter my home with. Unless, of course, it’s a timeless vintage treasure you simply know I’ll love…

festiveglasses

In praise of soup…

December 26, 2012

On my hob, two pots are simmering gently. One contains a nice easy soup; the remains of yesterday’s turkey-stock-based gravy with leftover vegetables (sweet potato, parsnip, onion, sprouts, carrots & leeks) just dropped in & stick-blended. Took seconds, tastes gooooood; real comfort food for a lazy Boxing Day. The other has the skin & bones of the goose, picked clean of flesh, broken up & boiling away with some herbs, seasoning, roughly-chopped onion, carrot & celery. The veg were bought cheaply as our weekend market closed a couple of weeks back; they’re the biggest, toughest & leafiest ones that more discerning shoppers evidently didn’t want, & they’ll be full of overwhelming flavour. You wouldn’t want them in a salad but they’ll be adding plenty of body to my stock; peelings will go to the rabbit with her breakfast tomorrow. (She seems to do all right on them, before anyone tells me she shouldn’t have them, as she’s nearly 7 now.) The fat will be skimmed off, chilled to solidify, lifted off any remaining stock, heated up again & strained to render down into a pure white  substance to keep in the fridge, which will make the nicest, crispiest roast potatoes well into 2013. The turkey remains will be demolished later; most of the meat will be made into a curry supper for tonight and tomorrow that carcass too will be in the stockpot. Most of the stock will be frozen in batches, to be defrosted & used in soups for weeks to come, and small scraps of meat will be frozen in little containers to give those a bit of body.

Why do people turn their noses up at soup, or view it just as a starter for a “real” meal? And why do some of the most impecunious people I know just throw their festive leftovers away? There’s so much taste & goodness left in there; you’re only getting about a quarter of the value you could be getting out of your money (and that creature’s sacrifice) if you just throw it away after one meal, when you’ve eaten the “best” bits! We normally have a roast on a Sunday, then (time allowing) leftovers of whatever sort, apart from those destined to be made into another main meal, will be made into a big pot of soup on Monday morning, by whichever method is most appropriate, but usually involving the stockpot or the slow cooker. Those of us who work from home will have this for lunch well into the week. When I had my shop, I took flasks of soup in for lunch most days.

Soup is Bibilical – mess of pottage, anyone? – a well-known restorative for invalids & convalescents, and historically a mainstay of peasant diets, though of course, sometimes there just plain weren’t any other options. The best soups are seasonal, delicious, and all round good for you. It’s easy to add in foraged goodies like fresh young nettle leaves or garlic mustard without anyone with delicate sensibilities noticing. It’s even possible that they eat it on other planets – anyone else remember the Soup Dragon from The Clangers?! And what could be more heartwarming than knowing it’s filling your stomach with goodness without emptying your purse?

A serendiptious Christmas…

December 24, 2011

Here’s a little seasonal tale to warm the cockles of any moneysaver’s heart….

Our little town used to have two shops where you could buy inexpensive real Christmas trees. Sadly, during the last year, they have both closed their doors and we’ve been thrown on the mercy of the surrounding posh garden centres. So I was resigned to using my reclaimed plastic Christmas tree, or possibly sending one of the boys out to the front garden with a handsaw; there are a couple of Lawson’s Cypresses out there which need a good pruning & shaping up, and an offcut from one of those would make a perfectly good festive tree. But the kids weren’t very happy with either idea, and one in particular was holding out for a “real” Christmas tree, despite my pointing out that the ritual sacrifice of a tree doesn’t occur anywhere in the original Christmas story.

Anyway, in a rash moment I promised to pop into a garden centre or two and look at trees, once the “reduced” signs had gone up. This I duly did, on my way home from a fairly fraught last-minute shopping trip yesterday. Oh my word – whatever were they reduced FROM? A sad 4′ Norway Spruce with virtually no needles left was “reduced” to £25, and a 5′ Nordmann Fir that still had needles was “reduced”to £40. Since when were people happy to pay more than that for something that’s going to be burnt or chipped in a couple of weeks? So home I trotted, to point out to my impecunious students that there are far better uses for any excess money than that.

Mid-evening, I sat down to Freecycle some books that had emerged from the Great pre-Christmas Cleanup. And behold! someone had offered a real Christmas tree at lunchtime! I didn’t think I stood a chance 7 hours later, but fired off a quick email anyway, explaining that I’m a bit of a Scrooge really as my teens would love a real tree but I couldn’t justify spending that much on one to myself. And by some massive stroke of luck,  it was still available, so said student & I picked it up at 8.45 this morning. The offerer is a volunteer in one of the local heath-clearing organisations and had cut herself two; the other one fitted her space better so she Freecycled this one – what a lovely thing to do! It’s quite made my Christmas.

Despite the grim, tired, stressed faces all around the shopping centres,  the Christmas Spirit’s still alive & kicking around here! So here’s wishing you all joy, peace and every festive blessing…

A festive Freecycled Christmas tree!

The Reclaimed Christmas Project…

October 16, 2011

Buttons, buckles, beads...

Following on from my musings in the previous post, I’ve decided that this year I’m going to reclaim Christmas, in more ways than one. I’m probably not the only person who’s had enough of the commercial version; of the endless grimly-glittering tawdry tinfoil decorations which start to appear in mid-September along with incessant adverts for wildly expensive bits of plastic or noxious potions, of giant flock snowflakes obscuring the aisle lables in supermarkets and “this year’s colour” plastic tree. I’ve nothing against fake trees, as I love the real thing, especially where they belong (outdoors)  & don’t like to feel I’ve been directly responsible for the needless death of an entire tree. But I really cannot get my head around people feeling they have to buy a new plastic one every year just so they have the “right” colour… Our current tree was rescued from the Recycling centre a couple of years ago and does a grand job; however this year it may get left in its box as there’s a Lawson’s Cypress in the front garden that needs a good haircut and one of the upright branches of that would make a fine Christmas tree too – it even smells right. Handling spruce always brings me out in a rash, anyway.

I’ve also had enough of spending too much money at Christmas. The retailers have parents over a barrel;  every year there’s a blizzard of adverts for electronic must-haves that every other child in their class will surely be given – and some of them undoubtedly will be – how can you possibly be so mean/inhuman/unloving as to say no? You love your child and you really, really don’t want them to feel deprived/disadvantaged/unloved, especially not on Christmas Day… but it does start to wear a bit thin when said children have technically reached adulthood and could, probably even should, go out & earn said must-have trinket for themselves.

I have a clear idea in my head of what I want Christmas to be; a time of goodwill to all living beings, and that includes the trees. A time to reflect on why we’re here, and a time to celebrate the life that we have. A real feast with family & friends, but not at the expense of going short for the next couple of months. A time to remember those who are really going without, and a time to try in some way, however small, to help. An oasis of goodwill & good cheer, peace & tranquillity in a mad, mad world…

Not much chance of that, really! But there are ways I can undermine the dominant view of Christmas as an opportunity to spend, spend, spend, and indulge, indulge, indulge. Quite apart from what we as a family get up to on The Day itself, I’m going to run the Reclaimed Christmas Project at my shop on Wednesday afternoons from here to – well, mid-December. We’ll be making beautiful & unusual festive decorations, cards & gifts from reclaimed or natural materials. And buttons, LOTS of buttons, thanks to a wonderful find at the Recycling Centre this week. There’ll be plaids & checks & stripes, there’ll be ricrac and lace and possibly even sequins, but there will NOT be overblown tinsel so thick it looks like it could do with a good prune. There’ll be felted wool,  embroidery silks and a little bit of angelina; there will NOT be irritating flashing lights that make you grind your teeth whilst attempting to hypnotise you. Homer Simpson will NOT be featuring; in fact there will not be any blow-up or cartoon characters at all, not even a cartoon reindeer that looks like it’s the morning after a very heavy night before. The only festive icon perching on the roof will be the robin that lives in the bushes opposite. However, there may be gingerbread & icing, not to mention tissue & crepe paper. There may even (shock, horror!) be a little religious imagery, though I shall try not to upset the Thought Police too much. And if there are any icicles, they’ll probably be made of ice. “Keep it simple, keep it joyful, keep it real,” will be my motto!

I’m hoping that even if you’re not able to come & join me, you”ll be there in spirit & doing your own Reclaimed Christmas in your own special way.

And more buttons...

Phew…

October 6, 2011


…life seems to be calming down a little now. Just enough to write a post, anyway. We had a wonderful holiday (there’s so much more to Spain than many tourists ever see! Every time I go I leave a little bit more of my heart behind) but spent much more money than I’d anticipated. And now I’m beginning to realise why more people don’t start their own businesses… even running the shop for just 25 hours a week, there’s never enough time for all the things I need or want to do, either in the shop or at home. This season has been a complete write-off from the preserving point of view; I’ve had no time at all for foraging or preparing, beyond a small batch of crab apple jelly. Luckily there’s still plenty left in the freezer & on the garage shelves from last autumn, but I actually physically miss going out & gathering stuff in. I really need to sort the house out & redecorate whilst there’s less stuff in it, but there’s no time for that either. And younger daughter needs more input from me (elder girl is my right-hand woman in the shop, and is in fact a huge help in all ways – I wouldn’t be able to do it without her, and can’t thank her enough, even if she is just working off her airfare to Las Vegas!) but there’s no time for that, or re-stocking the shop… MUST do better at the things that really count; it’s thinking cap time.

So I’ve started the Christmas planning now. For many reasons, we have never gone overboard & spent a fortune on consumer goods, but this year I’m really going to rein in the festive spending. I know that for a lot of people, that isn’t a matter of choice, and I don’t mean to make light of their grief & dismay, but I see this as a joyful & interesting challenge; how can we have a happy & meaningful Christmas for the least possible cost? A while ago I read Jo Robinson’s excellent “Unplug the Christmas Machine” about how to make Christmas less stressful & genuinely enjoyable, and I’m taking many of my cues from that as well as from various Frugal-type forums I’ve belonged to & contributed to over the years. Also from the Quaker attittude that every day is a holy day; there’s simply no need to work yourself into the ground celebrating just one or two of them, especially if you end up losing sight of what makes them special in the welter of work you’ve created for yourself. For that reason, I’m not going to go all out for a handmade Christmas either, lovely though that is; I’m going to concentrate my efforts on the things that really matter.

I have a collection of in-date Tesco vouchers saved up that will cover festive booze and any of the “special”  food items I can’t buy locally; Twiglets particularly spring to mind! Otherwise our local market & shops can supply everything we need – superb quality at reasonable cost. Prezzies for the offspring will be modest again this year (especially as I gather they’re hoping to go back out to Spain next year) and amongst the wider family I have suggested a second-hand or home-made Christmas; with more than 30 of us that’s only sensible, and we’ve had a strict “upper spending limit” for many years now. Decorations will be home-made (or possibly CraftsPlace-made) or natural and the tree may even be home-grown, as a Lawson’s Cypress in our little front garden is in need of a severe haircut. We never decorate until just before the Big Day anyway; IMHO the whole idea goes stale after a couple of weeks & if you start Christmas at the beginning of December you’ll have had enough of it all by about the 20th!

So now I need to find the time to hunt around for those little special items that will bring a genuine smile to people’s faces. And for patterns, supplies & ideas to keep my customers happy in the shop, too. In other words, what I need most is just – more time

Never mind the homemade, Kirsty…

December 27, 2009

…we’ve had a recycled Christmas!

Well, mostly. We ate off reclaimed plates (Midsummer’s Stonehenge, from the Tip, and J&G Meakin’s Wayside, some still from our wedding but mostly acquired secondhand on Wimborne Market), drank from reclaimed lead-crystal glasses, and pulled crackers made from loo roll inners & covered with some lovely red sparkly wrapping paper we found blowing around outside the recycling centre.  The hats were made from saved wrapping paper. Next year I’ll aim to use entirely recycled cracker presents as well, but at least the jokes were well-used… I’d forgotten napkins, so stamped up some kitchen roll (normally rationed like gold-dust around here) with cheery poinsettias & holly leaves.

And when it came to present time, we’d agreed in advance with my brother that all presents should cost a maximum of £5, and have been bought in a charity shop or homemade. Which was a roaring success with all concerned, and somehow 100 times more in the true spirit of Christmas than any amount of expensive tat.

Our tree decorations were all homemade, re-used, or from various swaps I’ve taken part in over the years. But I did crack & buy some new lights, because it appears that LED lights genuinely use less electricity to run, and our old fairylights gave up the ghost last year. Hopefully they will give us many year’s pleasure, whether in fashion or out. All of our room decorations are either entirely natural – and from our own garden – rescued, homemade or re-used for many years. And our cake was decorated with dried fruit, angels & a tree from several years back, the ribbon my younger daughter wore as an angel in her playgroup Nativity (she’s 14 now) and bits of no. 1 son’s old shirt…

I already have some ideas for next Christmas – I feel a new challenge coming on – but I’ll have to start earlier next year…

The fruit was good, anyway...