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Christmas gift suggestions

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I’m doing a series of gift suggestions. I thought it might be worth posting a collation of them here. You will quickly discern a common thread: an unapologetic emphasis on the renewable, sustainable, eco-friendly and global-village-considerate. I have also tried to be considerate of a range of budgets.

I should mention that none of these links are sponsored. In fact, none of these businesses even know I’m writing this post. So all recommendations are my own.

Here goes:

  • A bee saver kit from somewhere like Friends of the Earth. You’ve heard all the dire warnings of the trouble we’ll be in if the bees disappear. And you probably know that bee populations are declining alarmingly. So – even if you share my phobia of pointy insects – let’s do our bit for the pollinators.
  • A stainless steel insulated drink bottle. An alternative to bottled water and the plastic it usually comes in. Chilly’s does a great one.
  • A cooking kit. Not one you’ve bought from a supermarket, but one you’ve assembled yourself. Something as simple as brownie ingredients in a reusable jar, or something utterly hip, consisting of the tears of a mermaid’s uncle, exotic spices from the Land of the Lost Metaphor and truffles harvested at 9 minutes after midnight on a day not ending in Y. You could be precise and measure out the ingredients to the last picagram, or supply a box of this, a bottle of that and a tube of the other. Don’t forget to include the instructions.

    4Ocean original bracelet
  • A bracelet from 4Ocean, made out of plastic removed from the sea. This is definitely an ‘accept no substitutes’ situation. 4Ocean isn’t a company that sells bracelets. It is an organisation that cleans the ocean. The bracelets are a fundraising by-product. Every bracelet sold represents a pound (450g-ish) of plastic removed from our oceans. So a bracelet that looks like this one, but has been made by a company (or even an independent Artisan) that makes jewellery isn’t the same thing by a long shot. The UK supplier is here, and the USA supplier here.
  • A place at a half or full day workshop. This will take a fairly generous budget for the most part. They are of the order of the gift that keeps on giving: the fishing lesson, rather than the fish from the old adage. Something like welding, wet felting, silversmithing or blacksmithing. Or perhaps a master class in singing or dance or worship leading might be a better fit for your loved one.
  • An eco-friendly bird feeder from somewhere like Ethical Superstore. These are such a win-win item. The birds are fed, especially through the lean winter months, and your loved one has the pleasure of seeing the birds come into their garden.
  • A bamboo phone stand/holder from somewhere like Protect the Planet. I know. Some of you are wondering why anyone would need such a thing. Most of my knitting/crochet patterns and cooking/baking recipes are online, accessed via my phone. Every time I want to see what the next step is, I need to pick the phone up to look at it. If my hands are covered in marinade, or bread dough, this is less than ideal. A phone stand is simple genius at its best. And bamboo is highly sustainable.
  • Craft/artisan food and drink items. Gin is enjoying unprecedented popularity at the moment (in the UK, at any rate), and you can scarcely turn around without encountering entire walls of varieties. They seem to come flavoured with every imaginable herb, spice and fruit. Craft beers are also popular, and local microbreweries are enjoying strong support. Since moving away from Wellingborough, we have missed Hart Family Brewers, but Mr Namasi has manfully set about tasting all the nearby offerings in the Vale to find a local replacement. Such a trooper. Artisan cheeses are another option, and will keep long enough if you buy a whole cheese with a protective coating of some sort. Farm shops (such as Three Trees and Saddleback) are usually a great place to find these items. I’d also like to give a shout out to a local business in the Vale of the White Horse called Bloomfields Fine Food. Not only do they stock all these items – and more besides – but they display a map showing where their suppliers are based and most of their items have a shelf edge ticket which includes the food miles of the product.
  • Membership of English Heritage, National Trust or Woodland Trust. Obviously, if you don’t live in the UK, you’d need to explore equivalents in your part of the world. Your loved one gets what amounts to a season ticket to visit various sites, while the funds go towards maintaining these valuable spaces. We thoroughly enjoyed our family membership of English Heritage when we lived in Kent and the children were little. It took us 6 visits to Dover Castle to see everything we wanted to see there, which would have been prohibitively expensive without our membership cards. When we moved to Milton Keynes in 2002, and then Northamptonshire in 2008, we found there were too few places within easy reach to make it worthwhile being members, so we allowed it to lapse. This year, as soon as I knew we were moving to Oxfordshire, which abounds in English Heritage sites, I took out annual couples’ membership for us to mark the occasion of our 30th wedding anniversary.
  • Following on from the previous point, as one friend suggested, an annual pass to Blenheim Palace or membership of Kew Gardens or The London Wetland Centre for someone with a special interest in history or plants or birds or photography… For example, I have a notion of visiting Kew Gardens several times throughout the year, and taking photos of the same trees each time to capture the seasonal dance – and those trees’ steps in that dance.
  • A keyring made from a recycled circuit board. Protect the Planet has some cute ones. Dumped computers are a very real problem, particularly in developing countries, where richer countries pay for the privilege of dumping their electronic waste. There are entire communities which – quite literally – live on these dumps, and are exposed to all manner of hazardous waste as CRTs and the like are subjected to the elements.
  • A custom starter pack for a more ecofriendly/sustainable daily lifestyle. You could buy one from somewhere like The Wise House, or you could make your own, including plastic-free items like beeswax wraps and handmade bath puffs.
  • A loose leaf tea gift set from somewhere like Wearth for the tea aficionado in your life, or a starter pack for the person who is an aficionado-in-waiting.
  • Upcycled cufflinks made out of colouring pencils, or a fire hose, or a Jackson Pollock-esque painted canvas. If your budget is a little bigger, perhaps a fire hose wallet?

I’m going to stop there, because although I’m not out of ideas, I realise that I have provided links to several sites where you may get wonderfully sidetracked and find your own inspiration. But I can’t end without suggesting the sort of gift your loved one will never even see. I’m talking about things like toilet-twinning and the donation of a goat, chicken, beehive or cow to a needy family. Within my circle of friends are many people who would love such a gift, and in fact one who proudly displays a picture of her twinned toilet in her own guest bathroom. Not everyone needs something that benefits them directly.

I hope I’ve inspired you. Please feel free to share your own ideas and suggestions, or stories of your loved ones’ reactions to their lovingly chosen non-tat Christmas gifts.

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Why I’m not getting gifts this Christmas

A few days ago, Mr Namasi and I sent this message to our sons:

Dad and I don’t want you to buy gifts for us, please. It will be our great pleasure to have you home for Christmas and to be able to feed and spoil you for that time time. That will be enough for us. We’re not even buying each other gifts this year, choosing instead to do some nice things together.

They have enough expenses. Now that our sons have left the nest, seeing them is beyond any of the gifts their limited budgets could stretch to. One of our sons became a student this academic year, at the age of 25. The other recently had a car accident in which his little car was totalled. That’s one part of it.

Another part is the stuff. We moved twice in a year. The first time, we shed possessions as part of the normal moving process. Then we promptly became the repository of masses of furniture as first one and then the other son moved in with us temporarily, bringing all their furniture, and then moved out into furnished places, leaving their possessions behind. The second time we moved house, we downsized significantly and shed yet more stuff. We still have more than we have space for, even after a fairly successful yard sale in the summer, and an ongoing relationship with Facebook Marketplace, local ‘for sale’ sites, Freecycle and the like.

We have reached the stage in our lives when it’s hard to choose gifts for us. Particularly if you’re on a tight budget. I mean, I’d love to attend one of Emma Mitchell’s (aka Silver Pebble) workshops, but they come with a price tag beyond the reach of pretty much everyone buying gifts for me. So the fallback tends to be gimmick gifts which raise a laugh when they are opened, and add to the general merriment of the occasion. What’s lovely about these is that they show how well a person knows you. What’s less lovely is that they tend to end up in landfill once you get past the guilt of throwing away something given to you as a gift.

Yet another part is the wrapping. Around this time of year, we begin to see articles about the environmental impact of Christmas wrapping. We are reminded to do the scrunch test, to see whether wrapping paper is recyclable.

But that doesn’t really help with the packaging the gifts come in: the boxes and plastic and tissue paper and and and.

So many aspects of Christmas can be… is unseemly the word I’m looking for? The shops become a deeply stressful place to be. The foods that no-one enjoys are served up because it’s traditional. People spend money they can ill afford on gifts for people they scarcely know. Vast quantities of alcohol are consumed to alleviate the stress of the whole business. Masses of packaging is included in the next few kerbside garbage collections.

And it needn’t be like that. Why not leave out the food no-one likes, and replace it with something you do like? Make it part of your family’s unique Christmas tapestry. Support independent shops or local makers, artisans and crafters when choosing your gifts. Explore alternative ways of wrapping gifts that don’t have a massive environmental impact.

Consider intangible gifts: indoor skydiving, a spa treatment, a tank driving experience, membership of English Heritage/National Trust.

So many posts have been written on this subject, I feel as I would just be reinventing the wheel to go on. So I’ll steer you towards this post which contains several workable suggestions.

And I’ll end with this little reminder:

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Upcycled Christmas part 2 – handmade decorations

As a follow on to my last post, today I’m going to focus on Christmas decorations made out of reclaimed materials.

To start the ball rolling, here is a Christmas wreath made out of a pool noodle, hessian, ribbon and various other bits and pieces I had to hand – mostly saved from centrepieces from previous Christmases. There’s even a pair of earrings in there somewhere. Can you spot them?

Christmas wreath from reclaimed materials

This weekend coming (25-26 November), our village church is holding a Christmas tree festival. My entry is called (as you might expect) Upcycled Christmas. The trees and everything on them will be made from reclaimed materials.

I already touched on the madonna-and-child models I made with the local craft-and-coffee group, using reclaimed materials and polyfilla. My own madonna will be part of my display at the festival. As will this little choir, and their conductor. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what went into making them!

Totally rubbish singing

Obviously, I don’t want to reveal all my secrets in advance, but here are some of the trees I have made out of reclaimed materials in the past:

A mooring rope…as you do

Wall-hanging tree for small spaces

This pair was a commission

Table top tree

 And of course, there are the decorations to hang on them! This is where discarded curtain rings, disposable coffee cups, previous years’ ribbons and wrappings, broken jewellery, scraps from the craft cupboard, etc. come into their own. Even a piece of an old bathmat has been pressed into service in one of these photos (see if you can spot it). The chains from a few hanging baskets will also be putting in an appearance, but you’ll have to wait until after next weekend to see them!

Tree topper

Broken jewellery and a wedding garter are included here

Lots of curtain rings and glitter glue

The point of all of this is that so many of our decorations are made of plastic, and wind up being thrown away after Christmas. Only there’s no such place as ‘away’. It’s all going somewhere. And, with a little thought, they could all be pressed into service for another go-round in a different guise. You could even make a family activity out of it – it will help build the excitement. And children love to see their own handiwork hanging in pride of place on the tree. Just make sure any hot glue and/or superglue is kept at a safe distance from little fingers. And make sure to use solvent-free options where possible when involving the little people.

I’d love to see your own handmade Christmas decorations!

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Upcycled Christmas part 1 – handmade gifts

Those of us who make things to sell have to start thinking about Christmas quite early. In less than two weeks, I have a double whammy weekend:

  • Our local church is having a Christmas tree festival on 25th and 26th November. Local people and organisations are invited to participate. My theme is upcycled Christmas, and my tree and all its decorations will be made out of reclaimed materials. I will share more about that in my next post.
  • The church in the next village is having a Christmas market on 26 November, and I have a stall. I thought I’d unpack a bit about that today.

Generally speaking, people go to village fetes and fairs expecting to spend the money in their wallets. There is little likelihood that I will find a buyer for my chaise or my hall stand. But I can certainly raise awareness of the items and services I offer, while offering for sale a range of small ticket items.

It is, of course, important, that my small ticket items adhere to the same ethos as the bigger pieces I offer: unique, handmade pieces majoring on reclaimed materials. So I have been frantically building up stock of items that fit this bill.
Reclaimed wood of various sorts has been repurposed.
Wall art: reclaimed wood

Framed driftwood

Willow stems

Reclaimed pallet end

Reclaimed pallet end
A box of specimen tubes (unused, of course) was saved from the tip, and used for a range of handmade bath oils and bath salts.
Bergamot, patchouli and lavender

Bath oils, decopodged with paper napkins

Handmade bath salts, petals from Deema Delights

Bath salts – I’ve tested them on myself 😉
Various found materials were used to make dreamcatcher-style wall art.
Giant quadruple wall art

Autumn colours

Traditional seven-point style
I have been making inroads on the yarn stash with lots of knitting and crocheting.
Place mat

Set of 4

Set of 6

Plant holder, fruit bowl… or hat, if you prefer

Tam o’shanter style jar

Pair of octopus (there are also teddies)
Glass jars have been decorated to within an inch of their lives.

Various other items have been revamped and made over.
Brooches

Wall mounted candle sconce

Variation on the above

Vintage Sylko cotton reels

Decoupaged clock

Light bulb hot air balloon
So swing by St Mary’s Little Harrowden at some point over the weekend of 25/26 November to see the trees, and/or St Mary’s Orlingbury on Sunday 26th November and grab yourself a Christmas bargain.
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Local craft-and-coffee

A few months ago, Mr Namasi and I moved from a town with an estimated population of 50,000 (75,000, if you include the rest of the borough) to a village with a population of fewer than 900. There is no shop, no post office, and only one pub in the village.

And I love it. I’d like to see out my days here.
We have made an effort to engage with the community: attending the various functions at the local church, eating in the local pub, joining the FB group, etc. I started a chapter of nextdoor, a UK based online community site, which automatically connects members within close proximity to each other.
I also started a monthly craft-and-coffee. Although I offer 1:1 and small group sessions, for which I charge, I also wanted to have some sessions which were just about engaging and sharing.
So far, we’ve had three get-togethers. For the first one, we each brought our own projects and talked about what crafts we like to do. One of the ladies brought along a beautiful mixed media wall hanging she’d made.
So, for the next session, we explored that. Here are the two pieces I made (I should point out that I continued the work at home – I didn’t manage all that in two hours!)
Mixed media cushion cover
‘Garden’ (now framed and for sale)
Yesterday was our third session, and we made Madonna-and-child models out of reclaimed materials (and polyfilla). I had made one of these some years ago, so I was able to concentrate on guiding the rest of the group through the process. It was wonderfully messy, and the results are now drying in my studio, where they will be collected when ready to be transported.
Have a look at these photos and see if you can identify where and how each of the following items has been used:
  • piece of MDF or stiff card
  • 2l plastic bottle
  • newspaper
  • plastic shopping bags
  • dowel stick or length of bamboo
  • old cotton bed sheet
  • wire coathanger
Not looking like much, yet

 

Getting there

And here they are, drying in my studio.

 

 

 Next time, we’ll be making needle felted robins, like this one. Because I don’t have the equipment to facilitate this one myself, I have enlisted the aid of Eve Louise Newman (Eve’s Gifted Paradise).
If you’re local to the Wellingborough/Kettering area, and would like to join in, please contact me to find out more.
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Post Christmas ruminations

For various reasons Mr Namasi and I decided to keep Christmas very low-key this year. We were content that both our sons would be joining us. Our elder son works in the hospitality industry and isn’t always able to have the time off.

Dinner was pretty much the sort of roast dinner one might serve on any Sunday or Bank Holiday when the family comes to visit.

It was lovely: warm, cosy, unspectacular.

Then…

Christmas day wasn’t even over before the emails started coming in to my inbox.

eBay, Preloved, Shpock, Gumtree, the various Freegle/Freecycle and Trash Nothing groups I belong to, charities…”Make money from your unwanted gifts.” “Regifting is the new giving.” “Don’t want it? We’ll take it!”

At the same time, everyone appears to be having a sale and I‘m being urged on every hand to take advantage of the low prices and buy more stuff. 60% off. 75% off. Free this when you buy that. Free delivery. Spend x and we’ll throw in a <something or other>. I’m not sure I can afford to save that much money! 

It’s breathtakingly mercenary, isn’t it? So unapologetically cynical.

It reminds me of a scene from Jim Carrey’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas:

“Do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me… in your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your garbage! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump, and the avarice… THE AVARICE NEVER ENDS! “I want golf clubs! I want diamonds! I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and sell it to make GLUE!””

I don’t really consider myself a Grinch, but as an upcycler, I also see the stuff that people throw away. It’s one thing when an item has broken or clothing has worn out or been outgrown. But I see what the Grinch sees: stuff that is still perfectly useful. Stuff that someone spent money on. Stuff that the gift giver agonised over choosing (but obviously still got it wrong).

This is the side of Christmas that I don’t like. And we can do something about it. Smaller, thoughtfully selected or home made gifts strike a chord that lavish impersonal things just don’t. Think back on the memorable gifts in your own life. Which are the standout gifts for you?

So… during the course of this year, why not learn a new skill so that you can make something for your loved ones in 2017? Here are some suggestions:

  • Attend a massage course, and give your family vouchers for massages
  • Learn to make pamper products (face masks, body lotions etc.) – there are hordes of tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest
  • Make a batch of wine/beer/cider
  • Learn to work with wood or metal and make a shoe rack, a toy box, a key rack, a table, a <something else>
  • Attend workshops on beading, sewing, knitting, crochet, calligraphy and produce something in exactly the right colour, style and size for your loved one
  • Improve your baking/cooking skills and give them a promissory note for a home cooked meal with all the trimmings (for them and a plus one)
  • Attend a creative writing workshop and write them a story (or a song)
  • Learn calligraphy and make a beautiful plaque for their wall, or write a dedication on the fly leaf of a much loved book 

Alternatively – pay for them to attend a programme to learn/improve a skill.

The possibilities are endless…and these are gifts that are unlikely to become property of the Grinch on Boxing Day.

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Giving a shout out to the independent businesses and crafters

As an independent crafter, I like to spread the ‘link love’ and share news of others who are in the same boat.

It was my birthday yesterday, and my friends and family took the trouble to give me gifts that supported small business and independent makers. I’d like to share their details with you. Perhaps you’ve already finished your Christmas shopping, but there are still birthdays, weddings, graduations, mother’s/father’s day and so on…

Jacaranda World Wooden Carvings

This beautiful giraffe carving was brought all the way from Cape Town when my son travelled there to attend a recent wedding. It is the work of Dennis Maguma at Jacaranda World Wooden Carvings, and is made from sustainable timber. He has a stall in the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and can be reached at dennismaguma75@gmail.com.

Steampunk buttons

These pewter buttons came from someone who knows of my weakness for all things steampunk and my love of sewing. They came from Alchemy England. I shall have to think of something fitting to do with them!

Bath time goodies

This selection of handmade bath time goodies comes from FruFru. I’m a shower person 6 days a week. But on a Sunday night, when Mr Namasi is off playing ice hockey, I treat myself to a soak in the tub with my Sudoku. The friend who gave me these took account of my preferred colours and smells and my love of all things lime. As if that wasn’t enough, the card that came with this gift was handmade, and included a watercolour portrait of me by an artist called Samantha Crowe.

Sammy’s Scribbles

While not strictly a birthday gift, this also arrived today, so I’ll include it: a lovely personalised Christmas bauble, hand painted by Henna Exquisite.

The last few months have been hellish for us. I lost my workshop under unpleasant circumstances (as you know), I had a cancer scare, my husband’s company was closed down and he was made redundant. But thoughtful, handpicked gifts like this make a world of difference.

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On appearing in print

One of my kreations is featured in the December issue of Reloved Magazine, in the section called Creative Hub. I am disproportionately excited about this.

During my time at drama school and ‘on the boards’, I was mentioned and pictured in various local and national newspapers.

That’s me in front on the right

I later appeared in people’s living rooms across the (South African) nation every Saturday, during my time as a (rather poor) TV presenter.

Presenter of Lekker Ligte Liedjies

Then, during my quarter of a century as a Learning and Development (L&D) professional, I had several articles published in various sector publications. I was never one of the movers and shakers, but many movers and shakers knew my name – I was even on hugging terms with some of them. I wrote a blog then, too, which was occasionally cited by other bloggers.

In comparison, my tiny little feature in Reloved is very small potatoes. But somehow, I feel just as excited about it as any of the above. I’m not sure why that should be the case, but what the heck. Much delighted squealing and hopping from foot to foot chez Romeis when I saw my mooring rope Christmas tree in print.

Note: at the time of writing, this item is still for sale, please contact the author for further information.