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Saturday, 28 December 2013

Slowing down the world

We've all had that feeling, haven't we - stop the world, I want to get off!  For me, these few days between Christmas and New Year are just that.  It doesn't exactly stop, but it slows down - not as much as it used to before emails and internet - but enough to let you catch your breath, reflect on the holiday just gone and plan for the year to come.

Last night was a perfect example of that for me.  My husband had a friend over so that they could sample each others' Christmas whiskies so big daughter and I took the opportunity to watch a girls' film together (as opposed to a boys' film which usually involves aliens, espionage, shooting and lots of fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat action).  We watched Sliding Doors, a film I remember going to the pictures to see when it came out (in 1998, doesn't time fly!) and knew that big daughter would really enjoy.  A glass of wine, a roaring fire, a box of chocolates, a good film and a daughter to share it with - perfect!  Oh, and something woolly, of course!

Last night was a good opportunity get the knitting needles out to start on a new project.  Yes, yes, I know I'm half-way through a pair of socks and my Vivid sock yarn blanket will never get finished if I keep starting something new, but there's just something about choosing a pattern, finding the right needles, breaking open the band on a brand new ball of yarn (not something I always do but necessary with this yarn) and settling down to cast on that really fits with this time of year.  I bought the yarn, luscious Sirdar Peru, chunky and soft with alpaca, a few years ago to make my sister in law a cowl for Christmas.  She loved it and after knitting with the yarn, I knew that I had to make something for myself so bought more yarn to make a jacket - and I'm glad I did as it's been discontinued now.  I'd made a Central Park Hoodie jacket that same year and then found a version with Viking cables so that was what I had in mind.  It's just taken me until now to cast on.  Yarn, I have discovered, has a definite pattern and time frame for itself in mind and whilst that might sound crazy, ask any knitter (or crocheter) and they'll agree with me completely.  So now it's time for the alpaca yarn to become a jacket and it seems to be very happy with the idea.

Christmas was just lovely for us this year, and I hope yours was too.  We take it in turns with other members of our family to host Christmas Day and this year it was our turn.  Christmas dinner was a noisy, friendly, happy affair.  Our timings were just right, our rather temperamental Aga behaved perfectly and even remembering that I hadn't decorated the Christmas cake in time wasn't the disaster it might have been.  Big daughter and my brother took over decorating duties and our cake ended up looking like no other Christmas cake - we had candles, writing icing (including a few unfortunate orange splodges that looked like baked beans - not your usual Christmas cake decoration!), gold and silver nuggets, a jolly snowman and a moose that came IKEA many years ago - and big daughter laughed and laughed and loved every moment of creating a fun memory with her uncle.  

Small daughter, to my delight, spent the day keeping tight hold of the knitted fairy that I'd made her for Christmas.  She'd seen the pattern some time ago and asked if I would make her one (sometimes I think she imagines that I can whisk these things up overnight and it would be lovely if I could) so I thought that it would make an ideal present.  I wrote down detailed instructions about exactly which colours to use if I ever got round to knitting it and then set to work whilst small daughter was in bed.  I used to make quite a lot of knitted toys and had forgotten quite how fiddly they can be.  Not only the knitting - cast on 7 stitches, increase here, decrease there, cast off - but the sewing together can take as long as the knitting itself.  Here she is, and I'm very very pleased with how she turned out.  I wasn't sure about the mix of colours when I was writing down my instructions, but now that she's finished, I think small daughter made good choices.  I'm not always very good at faces but after several attempts this one was just the right kind of smiley.  I still don't think she has a name but she's still appearing all over the house wherever small daughter is and has a special place in her bed at night.  I think it's fantastic that although small daughter is growing up so quickly, she still wants toys like this and I know this fairy is going to be very loved which makes all the effort worthwhile.

In a few days' time it will be New Year.  These days before it always feel a bit like the climb on a roller coaster before launching off into the New Year - hurtling, laughing, a little bit tense and breathless, and so many emotions that will come into play as the year unfolds.  It's like sand on a beach when the waves have washed it clean and flat.  There's always the chance to start something new, to create something good, to repair what's gone before.  I like the infinite possibilities of it all.

I'm in a different place emotionally this year as I'm ready to face 2014.  I spent five days before Christmas at a meditation retreat run by Art of Living (which I've mentioned before) at the very beautiful Florence House in Seaford just outside Brighton.  Yes, it is a long way from Winwick and especially a few days before Christmas, but it was absolutely the right thing to do.  I was all organised thanks to my Flylady routines and my husband had finished work for Christmas and was able to look after the girls and take care of the last few Christmas things that we needed to do.  It was actually his idea that I went, which just goes to show what a wonderful man he is!

All I had to do was enjoy myself - which I did, immensely - even the two and half days of complete silence that were part of the course.  I'll have more to tell you about it in future posts, but what the retreat has brought me is a sense of joy, of peace, of calmness in the Christmas madness, and a sense of purpose for next year.  I'm even contemplating starting my own business which will take time, money, effort and more than a little courage, but I'm in a good place now to get my research done and see if it's something that will work for our family.  When you tell people you meditate, many of them roll their eyes and assume that you're a bit mad - you may be one of them, and I certainly didn't see the point of it before I started - too slow, too boring, I have too much to do! - but now that I see what it's brought to my life, I think it's something that everyone should do.  Closing your eyes for even a few minutes to concentrate on your breathing is enough, and helps us face the day - and the New Year to come, whatever it might bring.

I wish you every happiness for 2014.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Our decorations have been up for ten days now and I still feel a thrill of delight every time I come downstairs in the morning and see them.  We always used to put our decorations up just before Christmas, but last year we decided that we'd put them up earlier and we loved it so much that we've done the same thing this  year.  It still has to be December - November is just a little too early for us - but the very beginning of December means that we get to enjoy them for longer.

So, indulge me whilst I take you on a tour of our Christmas festiveness - I love our Christmas house so much that I can't resist showing it to you!  We'll start at the front door where our home-made wreath hangs.  I had wanted to make my own wreath for a few years instead of just renovating a shop-bought one, so a couple of years ago I finally decided to give it a go. The base is made from some bendy branches of forsythia which I simply wrapped into a circle and secured with some wire.  The ivy comes from the bottom of the garden and voila, that's it done.  Some people might think there's not much to it, but I like the simplicity of it and the fact that I can keep the base and replace the ivy every year with whatever I want.

Come on in, I'll show you some more.  This is an indoor wreath that I made last year.  I bought the base but knitted the Santa, holly and gingerbread man from Simply Knitting patterns.  I love the crocheted 'more is more' wreaths on Lucy's Attic 24 blog, but I wanted to keep this one simple just like the one on the front door.  Small daughter has to stroke Santa's beard every time she walks past, and it's so soft and fluffy it's not hard to see why.  I chose the gingerbread man to go with him because both my girls love gingerbread men and that's a good enough reason for me.

This is our bannister garland.  When I bought it, I had hoped that it would be big enough to wrap right round the bannister, but it doesn't so I'm starting to think that I need to make one that does what I want it to do.  We've had this one for about ten years now and whilst it's not quite ready to go into retirement, it could probably do with a bit of help.  I love the tiny clothes on the washing line which I bought last year - I couldn't resist!

Here's another knitted decoration - Father Christmas!  Small daughter has been asking me when I'm going to make Rudolph to go with him and I know that I probably should (the yarn is sitting in my stash, waiting) but knitted toys aren't my favourite thing to do.  I'm quite happy to do the knitting but the sewing up is so time-consuming and of course I always leave knitting Christmas decorations until far too late in the year (there's something odd about knitting for Christmas in the summer, I think) so it becomes more of a chore than I want it to be.  So, for the time being, Father Christmas sits by himself but I don't think he really minds.

Big daughter saw these little hats when we were in Liverpool one year and insisted that we bought them for our family of wooden ducks.  I'm sure they enjoy being part of the festivities!

We've been lucky enough to be able to take the girls to Lapland to meet Father Christmas.  It's such a special moment when you watch your child meet him, one of those catch-your-breath-brings-tears-to-your-eyes moments that you know they (and you) will never forget.  Small daughter was quite overwhelmed and for the first time in her life was completely speechless, although she had plenty to say about it all afterwards!  If you ever get the chance to go to Lapland, then go.  It's so beautiful, so quiet, so snowy and if you're really really lucky you get to see the Northern Lights.  These decorations are our reminders of the fabulous time that we had, and it's always a joy to bring them out of their wrappings to put on the mantelpiece.

We have so many decorations that are just part of our family tradition, and you don't need to see them all.  This one, though, is one of my favourites and I hope you won't mind looking at just one more.  My Mum painted this tree for me; it has a bulb inside and little lights at the ends of the branches so when it's lit it looks beautiful.  Because my Mum's not here any more, being able to put the tree out makes me feel a bit closer to her at Christmas time.  All of our decorations have memories; we've collected them over the years - some are from when I was small, we've even got one or two that are from when my Mum was small, some were made by the girls, some have been made by me, some have come from special holidays - they're moments in our family history and bringing them out each year is like greeting old friends.

I think that the year flies past so quickly that it's nice to be able to take the time to enjoy the run up to Christmas.  I'm hoping to have everything done by the end of the this week so that I can sit back and relax rather than chase about like a mad thing.  I've done the wrapping presents on Christmas Eve thing and it's not fun.  For the last two years I've been following Flylady's Cruising Through the Holidays plan and it's made a huge difference to how calm the days before Christmas are - I'd recommend it to anyone!  It means that I've got time to spend baking Christmas biscuits with the girls, building and decorating our IKEA gingerbread house kit (always a fun morning!) and for one of our very favourite traditions - going to see The Polar Express at a 3D showing on Christmas Eve.  It's a magical film - readily available now on video or to read as the original story book - about a little boy who isn't sure whether he believes in Christmas or not.  We've seen it so many times now but every year is a treat and part of the Christmas magic - we wouldn't dream of missing it!

I have every intention of writing more before Christmas but I know that the way that time disappears like sand running through your fingers will probably mean that it's January before I actually manage to - so I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year just in case I don't get chance to later.

Thanks for reading this year xx

Monday, 2 December 2013

Monthly Musing - December 2013 - Christmas Spirit

The other week I had one of those weeks where if it was going to go wrong, it went wrong.  I couldn’t wait for the week to be over, and said so today during a phone conversation with one of my best friends.

“Why didn’t you call me?” she asked.  She lives a long way away so wouldn’t have been able to offer much in the way of practical help, but as she pointed out, I could have talked to her and that might have made me feel better.  “It might have helped you regain some perspective and seen that it wasn’t such a bad week after all,” she said, and she’s absolutely right.  There were many reasons why I didn’t phone her that week, but I think the biggest one was that I thought I had to sort things out on my own.

Our conversation made me realise that I’m not always very good at asking for help when things are going wrong.  I feel that I should be capable and in control and able to fix the problem for myself - but sometimes this just isn’t possible.  Sometimes, you need somebody else to help and what I learnt today during that phone call is that people are often delighted to be asked for help.  Struggling on denies somebody else the pleasure of doing a good turn, and Christmas is one time in the year when the stress of planning the holidays could be alleviated by either doing a good turn yourself or allowing someone else to do one for you.

There are so many little jobs that could make someone’s day that bit easier if they were taken off their hands; trips to the Post Office or even just the post box, helping to put up decorations or taking in parcels when a neighbour is out to save a long trip to the sorting office.  I wouldn’t hesitate to help someone out if they asked me and I bet you wouldn’t either, but I also imagine that like me, you’re not brilliant at asking for help for yourself. 

Not a great one for keeping New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to suggest that we should have a Christmas one instead.  I think we should resolve to ask for help if we need it, to allow other people to share their expertise and generosity in our lives, and to be aware that others are just like us and will struggle on before finally “admitting defeat” and asking for assistance.  Acknowledging that you can’t do something on your own is not an admission of defeat.  It allows others to share in what we are doing and often that makes the whole experience more enjoyable.  They can see that that we’re not perfect, not always in control and capable and instead of turning them away, it draws them closer.  You are giving them the gift of being able to give something to you, and that’s what I think Christmas spirit is all about.
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