Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Battening down the hatches as winter makes itself known

The North West of England is certainly in no doubt that winter has landed. The past week or so has seen temperatures plummet, and we've had the first snow of the season. There's been a real mixture of beautiful, bright sunny days when you feel you could get out and about and walk for miles, and days where the weather never really allows things to get going - constant cloud, gloom, rain and wind.  We've also had a couple of incredibly cold and clear mornings, resulting in some pretty spectacular ice formations on our car windscreen...

It's like looking at a forest of evergreens, except it's not - it's some amazing
ice formations on my car windscreen on a particularly cold morning this week!

Winter snow in this part of the world is pretty much a given, although nowadays we only tend to get a dusting that lasts just a day or two.  When I think back to my childhood, I can recall snowfalls as deep as our car. No exaggeration - Dad first put his back out shovelling snow off the road to get our grandparents' car out as it was pretty much covered. And I remember regularly sledging in deep snow on the field opposite our house.  Sadly my own children have only experienced a true, heavy-ish snowfall a couple of times in their lives - there were two consecutive years of really good snow when the Girl was 3 and 4, which she only remembers vaguely.  The Boy has seen the odd day, or weekend, of good snow but nothing more than that.

This photo was taken back when the Girl was little (that's her on the sledge),
when we had the last really good fall of snow

As the days get ever shorter, the nights longer and the temperatures lower, my basic instinct to hibernate kicks in.  For me, this means simple pleasures such as warm drinks, extra socks, and comfort food such as warming home-made soup (which I make in a big vat and freeze in portions) and the Husband's tasty stew. And chocolate, lots of it. Too much really (I've learnt that it's dangerous having a well-stocked newsagents less than five minutes' walk away…).

Spicy lentil soup - one of my favourites, it's actually a Slimming World recipe that
my sister-in-law passed on to me. Goes beautifully with some warm buttered toast

The Girl models one of my numerous crocheted blankets! The mug - or
The Bucket, as the Husband calls it - comes out when a significant amount of
warming liquid is called for. It's by Scion and it came from TK Maxx

We all love a tasty hot chocolate as a treat, with all the trimmings:
squirty cream, marshmallows and, if they're lucky, chocolate shavings...

It's also about swapping the duvet from a 4.5 tog to a 10.5 tog, having a pile of cosy blankets on hand for sofa snuggling, and making a start on the pile of books next to my bed that I've been meaning to read for ages.  And it's about battening down the hatches and letting the weather do its worst while you hunker up and settle down inside.

And as we head rapidly towards December, it's about continuing our preparations for Christmas.  I confess that we haven't even started on our cards, and the kids have yet to complete their letters to Father Christmas, but we have had further crafty festive fun which is certainly helping to get us in the mood.

I showed you my grey painted reindeer in a previous post, and have had lots of lovely compliments about it, thank you.  I happened to be passing Hobbycraft again last week and I couldn't resist popping in and treating myself to a further two reindeer (which surely means I almost have a herd now).  At just £2 each it would be wrong not to, right? Besides, reindeer number 1 was getting kinda lonely...

Are three reindeer a small herd? Or just a trio?

I procrastinated over which colours to paint the newbies but, after a good root through my basket of sample paint pots, I decided on a mustard colour and a mid dusky blue.  I gave them a couple of coats of paint and one of varnish, and I think they make a fantastic set.

The complete herd! They look really, really good together and I'm delighted with the
colours. They say 'Christmas but in a slightly quirky, Comfy Marmalade-y way'!

Not bad for £6 in total.  In fact I love them so much that I suspect they will stay on display long after Father Christmas has 'ho-ho-ho'ed.

The kids got round to painting their cardboard baubles, also from Hobbycraft for £1 each.  The Girl's masterpiece is a reindeer (can you guess which one?) and the Boy has gone…abstract.  They're both rightly proud of their work, and they can choose where they wish to hang them - on the family Christmas tree or elsewhere.

The Girl's 'Rudolph' bauble...

...and the Boy's abstract one. Each perfectly beautiful in its own way.

And I also 'made' this simple but really effective tree: the metal frame was from Hobbycraft for just £2 and the white pompom garland was a steal at £1 from Poundland.  I didn't need to cut the garland down as it was just the right length at one metre, and I didn't even need to use glue as the garland stays in place by itself - I wedged it in the frame at the top and wrapped it back on itself at the bottom.  I think it looks brilliant, and for £3 in total!

Xmas tree, £3 total. No gluing, cutting or measuring.
Happy days.

Tree and one of the three reindeers (other two just out of shot),
currently residing on top of our low bookcase.

The end of this week marks the beginning of December - how time has flown this year.  And so it's time to turn our attention to our advent calendars!  The kids both chose standard chocolate ones from a local supermarket, and we also have our homemade advent garland this year, to which I need to add some lovely chocolate treats.

I saved the chocolate trays from last year's advent calendars, and I also saved the cellophane wrappers from a box of Quality Street.

I gave the tray a good wash, as it's been in our attic for the last twelve months.  Then I melted 100g of milk chocolate with 20g butter.

I filled the moulds with the melted chocolate, taking care not to go over the edge of each one. Then I left them to cool to room temperature before popping them in the fridge to solidify them.

Not the neatest work I've ever done, but not bad for a first go

There was plenty of chocolate to fill the moulds - and a spoon and bowl to lick at the end - bonus!

And so now I'm waiting for the chocolate to set. I'm going to wrap each chocolate in colourful cellophane, and pop them into the advent envelopes.  The kids (and the Husband, if he's good...) can take it in turns to open the envelopes until Christmas Day - a really simple, inexpensive and fun craft idea that anyone can make.

[UPDATE 24 HOURS LATER: well, I'm still waiting for the chocolate to set!  Obviously the advice I'd received about including butter with the chocolate was duff. Hmm. Might have to go and buy some more chocolate and try again.  I'll keep you posted...!]

The dog and the Husband don't have advent calendars, but in all honesty don't seem that bothered about it!  However I confess that I've treated myself to a calendar this year, and its one that I've been coveting for a while now. It's a design by Eric Carle (he of The Hungry Caterpillar fame) and I hope, if I'm gentle with it, that I'll be able to re-use it year on year.  I bought it on Amazon, although it may well be available elsewhere.  I'm ridiculously excited about it and can't wait for 1 December!

I've been desperate to break into this since I ordered it in the summer!

It's around about now that I crack open my stash of favourite festive books and DVDs, which certainly help to reinforce my festive hankerings and really get me in the mood to craft and create some festive niceties.  Here are a couple of my yuletide viewing and reading recommendations.

Possibly my most favourite ever book, Christmas or not, is a children's book called The Winter Bear by Ruth Craft and Erik Blegvad.

My most favourite book. Probably ever. Definitely ever.

The illustrations are just beautiful.

It's not a festive book per se, but it certainly puts me in the mood for these colder days and darker nights and reminds me so much of happy childhood times.  I'm told that I took this book out on repeat from the local library as a young child - I suspect that my parents got sick of reading it to me!  It's a simple story about a group of children that find a stuffed bear in the winter - nothing more, nothing less - but it's beautifully written and illustrated, just gorgeous.  Having searched high and low for a copy for years, I discovered one in an independent London book shop as a young adult, which I treasure and which no-one is allowed to touch.  I've since found a copy in a charity shop, and the kids flick through this one.  But I've never seen it stocked in any other bookshop (although I imagine you can get it online now).

I also try and read Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and I like to dip into the stash of festive books that we have for the children, including classics such as Raymond Briggs' The Snowman and bloomin' old Father Christmas.  It's the big kid in me…

I also love a good magazine as you know, and this year I'm looking forward to flicking through one or two of the lower budget homes ones (which I find much more inventive and penny-friendly than the big glossies) with a large mug of milky coffee.  I've also discovered two really good magazines, The Simple Things and Creative Countryside, both of which focus on getting back to basics, enjoying and discovering ways to live well and shedding some of life's general detritus.

Just the front covers of these two magazines make me smile.
And their contents are pretty darn impressive too...

I find them both inspirational and aspirational, especially at this commercially-driven time of the year. The Simple Things is a monthly publication and can be found at larger newsagents and ordered at smaller ones.  Creative Countryside is a new, quarterly publication which can be ordered online at and also found in independent shops in the UK - I bought my issue in Hearts for Homes in Hebden Bridge.

Viewing-wise, I'll happily watch most things with a festive bent!  One of my all-time favourites is a largely forgotten classic BBC TV series called The Box of Delights, based on a book of the same name by John Masefield.
The Box of Delights DVD, an annual festive must-watch for me.
You've just got to forgive (or embrace) the dodgy effects and acting.

You can still buy the book in most good bookshops
and it's a lovely, entertaining read.  Perhaps one for you and the kids in your life
to read in the run up to Christmas this year?  You could do worse...

It was made back in the 1980s; the special effects are certainly reflective of the era in which it was produced and the acting is more than a little dodgy in parts, but I think I must have watched it pretty much every Christmas since it was produced, and there is nothing else that quite says to me that Christmas is coming than this programme.  I kind of love that no-one else in our house appreciates The Box of Delights, so I get to watch it all on my own, tucked up under one of my crocheted blankets, lights down low, Baileys in hand and chocolates close by - bliss!

As we head towards 25th December our family viewing always includes White Christmas - which I could probably recite to you line for line - and The Polar Express and Elf, which is a real favourite of ours (and one that we have been known to watch at other times of the year too!). And on the final day or two, the Husband and I cuddle up on the sofa and treat ourselves to Blackadder's Christmas Carol and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

A selection of the Comfy Marmalade festive viewing this year (and every year...)

I hope the run-up to Christmas in your house is calm and chaos-free, with a bit of crafting here and there.  I'm going to try and take some inspiration from those recently-discovered magazines, get back to basics and bit more, and try to focus less on the commercialism and more on the true messages of this most special time of the year.

Bye for now xx

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