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In which we decide to call time

We’ve had a rough time of it lately, Mr Namasi and I.

The political situation in the UK over the past couple of years has made for much uncertainty regarding our future in this country. Recent events in our own lives have only added to that:

  • My chronic pain condition has made it increasingly difficult for me to walk, let alone carry out any physical work in my workshop.
  • The accident in my workshop has led to the loss of pretty much all my stock of completed items, as well as my pending projects.
  • Things did not work out as planned at the job that Mr Namasi took in Oxfordshire – the one that was the reason for our move from Northamptonshire.

I simply don’t have the heart to keep trying to make Karyn’s [re]Kreations work, so I’m calling time.

I have sold most of my power tools, and am looking for buyers for my workbenches (let me know if you’re in the market for them). Such stock as has survived the workshop disaster (by dint of being in the house at the time) will be sold off at clearance prices.

Thanks for your company along the way. Thank you to those of you who supported me by sharing posts about my pieces, and a special word of thanks to those who bought either my pieces or my services.

I don’t think there’s really much point in saying more than that. Take care of yourselves.

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Don’t diss the flatpacks

This started as a Facebook status and grew like Topsy, so I thought I’d turn it into a blog post instead.

The Architectural Digest recently published an article about the 13 most popular Ikea products. Why 13? I have no idea, and it’s beside the point. Moving on.

Some people assume that no flatpack item of furniture would ever be allowed to darken my door because I ‘make stuff’. Occasionally, I will be chatting to someone who will sheepishly admit that they sleep on an Ikea bed or own an Ikea something or other.

Please allow me to disabuse you.

hbatar
hallonbåtar

For one thing: I’m married to a Swede. A certain amount of Ikea stuff is mandatory. Much like the three Volvos we have owned at one time or another. Okay, our visits to Ikea usually have at least as much to do with the kiosk as the furniture store. Meatballs, pickled herrings, lingonsylt, and our permanently disappointed hope that the Lördagsgodis (pick ‘n mix) stand will start stocking hallonbåtar (raspberry boats – see image).

Because we’re in the throes of packing up to move, I’ve had a birds’ eye view of the role that Ikea plays in our home furnishings.

So, here goes, working down the list from the article in Architectural Digest:

  1. Billy bookcase. After one too many house moves, our faithful Billy book cases have finally been retired and recycled. We had three of the really tall ones in our last house, and two in this one. Our next house has built in bookshelves.
  2. Poäng chairs. We currently have two of these chairs (in bright orange): one rocker and one standard with foot stool.
  3. Malm bed. I don’t think we’ve ever had one of these, but we have certainly had other beds from Ikea, single, double and bunks.
  4. Kallax shelves. From where I am sitting at the moment, I can see two of these units in our passage.
  5. Rens sheepskin rug. I think this must be a US product, because the sheepskins in the UK have different names. Either way. Not a fan.
  6. Stockholm rug. As with the Malm bed, we might not have owned this particular item, but we have owned (and still do own) woven rugs from Ikea.
  7. Lack table. I think I draw the line at these. They’re useful and cheap and cheerful, but not very durable. There are better options out there among the pre-owned goods up for sale on any number of sites.
  8. Ektorp sofa. We haven’t had one of these before. But we are currently looking at getting a Friheten sofa bed for our new house. Especially if we can find a pre-owned one in the right colour!
  9. Docksta table. Not something we’ve ever had.
  10. Klippan sofa. Not something we’ve ever had, but for a couple just setting up home..? Ideal.
  11. Färgrik mug. Hell yes! We don’t have any at the moment, but we’ve had more than a few over the years. 65p for a coffee mug? And when it breaks, it can go into the hard-core skip at the recycling centre and become part of a structure. What’s not to love?
  12. Ribba frames. With so many frames available in charity shops and freebie sites, I doubt that we’ve ever had any of these, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
  13. Frakta shopping bags. Hell yes. I have several of these, and they are so useful!

We also have:

  • some or other Ikea desk (possibly Malm) in Mr Namasi’s study. I’m sitting at it at the moment. I’m not sure it will survive this move, to be honest.
  • a lycksele sofabed in the guest room. I’ve made a new cover for it, and even slept on it myself from time to time. It has a better mattress than most of the sofa beds that I’ve looked at – especially those that look prettier in sofa mode.
  • Malm chest of drawers. At one point we had three of these. One recently gave up the ghost in protest against the thought of another move. One has gone to live with a friend who is just setting up home and finding the cost of things a little prohibitive. The third one is going to attempt to make the next move with us. Here’s hoping.
  • Hol side table. This has been part of our living room decor for yonks. I love the solid construction of it, but it’s showing marks now, from years of use. I’m thinking of painting it. Maybe with Unicorn spit.

And that brings me to my final point: it’s always possible to personalise the admittedly rather bland appearance of Ikea furniture. A new slip cover. A coat of paint. Wallpaper. Transfers. Funky handles. If you’re stuck for ideas, you know where to find me.

Don’t let anyone shame you for owning this stuff, okay?

Billy bookcase image credit: Matt.

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Moving on…again

The last nine months have been among the happiest of my life. We have been living in a thatched cottage in a village in rural Northamptonshire, and I have had the luxury of a studio and a workshop in which to wield my various pieces of kit.

When we sold our previous house and started to look for places to rent, the sort of places we were shown within our chosen budget caused my spirit to plummet. There were some fairly decent places within that price range, but none that would accept our pets. And the places we were seeing were dire. Dilapidated, insalubrious, poky… The only place we saw worth considering turned out not to have broadband – a deal breaker for us.

Then a friend told us about a client of his who had a property to let. It was well outside our budget, so I had doubts about going to look at it. I’ve watched ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ (don’t judge: my son was due to get married). I know how it goes. If you look outside your budget, you’ll find the perfect thing that you can’t afford, and then be miserable about everything you can afford. But Mr Namasi thought we might as well look. So we looked. And we fell in love. And nothing else would do.

Because neither of us had a regular income, we had to pay the full year’s rent up front. It was a massive chunk of change.

And it has been worth every penny.

It has been a time of restoration and healing for me, on so many levels. I had hoped that I would see out my days in this lovely home in this delightful village. Everyone who has come to visit us here has remarked on how well it suits us. When the subject of the end of our lease came up, I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and shout lalalalaaaaaa in that time honoured gesture of denial. Mr Namasi is more pragmatic, but this place has been balm to his soul, too. Not least because of how happy I have been here.

With the end of our lease period approaching all too soon, it transpires that it has been ‘for a season’. Mr Namasi has accepted a wonderful job offer in Oxfordshire, and starts on Tuesday. It has all happened incredibly fast. The job is such a perfect fit for him, the recruitment ad might as well have had his name in it. When he went to discuss the offer with the MD, they were so busy talking about their plans and visions for the future of the business, they almost forgot to discuss his remuneration package.

Of course, I am disappointed to be leaving this cottage and the little village. The craft-and-coffee group I started is just starting to take hold properly. And the response to my litter picking events has been so positive. The neighbours are a delight. But I’m optimistic, too. We’ll find another wonderful house in another village setting. I’ll join or start a craft group there. I’ll get involved in a local environmental initiative there. And we’ll befriend the new neighbours. We’ll be somewhat further away from our sons, and I will miss them sorely. But they are adults, and living their own lives. They will still come and visit us – we will only be a manageable car journey away. And the wonderful thing about Karyn’s [re]Kreations is that they can be [re]kreated anywhere. So the house hunting has begun in earnest.

I really thought I’d crumple in on myself when I had to face moving away. But I haven’t. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the scale of everything we have to do in the next couple of months. But I’m not burying myself under my duvet. And this gives me enormous hope.

If you happen to know of a wonderful property to rent within reach of Abingdon, do get in touch, won’t you?

 

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My tangential ‘process’

Working with found and reclaimed materials requires a measure of flexibility: you can never be sure what you’re going to have to work with, so it’s best not to run on rails.

Two recent pieces I’ve made illustrate this fairly well. So I thought I’d write about them.

Shepherds’ delight

The impromptu weaving

One Sunday night, while Mr Namasi was at ice hockey, I ran out of yarn for the project I was working on. This was the second time in a week that there was too much project left over at the end of the yarn provided, and I was deeply frustrated. Also, I was in the middle of watching a movie on telly. Something which I simply cannot do without something to occupy my hands. I had to find something to do. And quickly.

There are some who might be able to understand the degree of urgency with which I was looking for a project: those people who absolutely have to have something to read on the loo. Inevitably, at some point in your life, you’ve experienced a sudden and urgent need and you haven’t been able, for the life of you, to remember where you put your book/kindle/magazine/whatever. There follows an urgent search, the like of which mere mortals will never understand.

It was like that.

I have, under the table in my studio, a stock of picture frames. They were used by a sixth form student as part of a design technology project display, and had been dumped. And then rescued by yours truly.

I grabbed one of them, a spool of sisal twine, and some yarn remnants. I had only the vaguest idea of what I planned to do with it, but swirling around my mind were images of the beautiful weaving my (Swedish) mother in law used to do. Of course, she had a proper loom (and a proper spinning wheel… both of which were works of art in their own right). But I thought I might be able to fashion some sort of rough loom thing out of the frame. It was never going to be of the order that my mother in law could produce, but I thought it might work.

A bag of felt tip pen lids

Once I started working, I couldn’t stop until it was done. It has ever been thus with me. When I’m on a roll, I have to keep going, regardless of the nature of the project I’m working on.

My husband’s ice hockey ends very late on a Sunday night*, and he seldom gets home before 12:30am. I usually manage to wait up until he gets in, but I’m less usually able to stay awake long enough after that to join him for his wind-down drink before he makes his way to bed.

On this occasion, he came home, had his drink and went to bed before me. I joined him at about 2:30am, having finished a piece I call ‘Shepherds’ delight‘.

The fragrant mobile

I recently acquired a bag of plastic felt tip pen lids. I was pretty sure I could find something creative to do with them. And I have no doubt I eventually will.

But yesterday (what is it about Sundays?), when I started exploring ideas, my mind went off at a tangent, and I ended up with this.

About as far from plastic as it’s possible to be. All natural materials, with the exception of a smidge of gold paint: driftwood, cardamom pods, some other kind of seed pod, felt balls (wool), sisal twine, pine cones, twigs…and a splash of essential oil for olfactory delightfulness.

The fragrant mobile is not yet on the website, but if you’d like to snap it up before then, you can purchase it from my Facebook page.

So I guess it’s back to the drawing board on those lids. I have an idea of what they will become. Watch this space!

*This is quite normal, in order to spread the huge cost of running an ice rink, a large number of teams, clubs and groups will pay to use to the rink at all manner of weird times. The teams with the greatest chance of bringing in a paying audience – understandably – get the best time slots. Everyone else has to fit in where they can. I have heard parents express their dismay at their 10 year old children having to attend trials for regional and national teams between 11pm and midnight. My husband and elder son play on a Sunday night from 9-10:30pm. My younger son plays on Mondays and Tuesdays – his Tuesday session finishing at midnight.

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Reflecting on 2017

This year has been a rollercoaster ride on so many fronts. Let’s start with the setbacks, so that we can end with the good things.

  • Mr Namasi and I were both unable to find employment. John has kept a spreadsheet of all the jobs he has applied for, and what has transpired in each instance. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many jobs he has applied for. Perhaps if you’ve spent some time job hunting, you would believe me if I told you that the most common outcome has been no response at all. Over the course of this year, I have lost pretty much all faith in the recruitment industry, and pretty much all respect for it, too. Mr Namasi has been more or less corralled into setting up a limited company of his own. I’m sure you will get to read more about that in the new year, as it takes shape.
  • We really struggled to sell our house and were in pretty serious financial trouble for a while. The sale took almost a year to go through, and there were a few setbacks along the way. It got to the point where we were pretty desperate, because we needed the proceeds from the sale to live on. We introduced an austerity budget, and accepted any and all offers of assistance and support.
  • Both our sons had to move out of their homes at short notice, and had to move back in with us for a while. They had both had the good fortune to find wonderful accommodation. The elder one lived in a shared house in a quiet area beside a canal. From time to time a narrowboat called the Tea Junction would moor almost outside his door, and we would hightail it to share tea and scones with him on board. The younger lived in a lovely shared flat an elegant avenue – a proper, tree-lined avenue, just a few doors down from one of the classiest pubs I’ve ever been in. First, the younger son’s lease came to an end, and the only places he could find within his budget were utterly depressing, so he – and all his furniture – moved back in with us for a while. After a couple of months, he was able to find a house-share nearer to his work. Said house is fully furnished, so most of his furniture is still with us. No sooner had that happened than our elder son was royally stitched up by housemates who had already moved out, and discovered that he had 24 hours to vacate. He – and all his furniture, as well as some left behind by the outgoing tenants – had to move in with us within the day. We borrowed a van and lugged as much as we could to our house. He is still with us at time of writing.
  • We had to have one of our cats put down. In 2015, we had to have a cat put down, due to kidney failure. Her litter-sister lived for another two years, before succumbing to the same condition this year.

    RIP Molly-Mae
  • At the beginning of the year, I was helping a friend with her wedding/event hire business, through which I was able to display and market some of my ‘kreations’. Sadly, she was forced to close the brick and mortar space and follow a different model. Of course, her loss was far greater than mine, but it was a closing door for me, too. At least two other doors have appeared to be opening, only to close again without warning. Fairly recently, I was approached by someone who has (had?) a furniture shop, and was interested in stocking some of my pieces. She has subsequently disappeared off my radar. I can only hope that her own circumstances haven’t forced her hand on that front!
  • I had a cancer scare. I won’t go into too much detail about this one, since it would result in an overshare of monumental proportions. Suffice to say it turned out to be a different condition which is responding to treatment.
  • I made some sobering discoveries about my place in some people’s lives. Once again, I won’t go into detail, because I think it might cause hurt, but I was forced to adjust my understanding of the role I played in the lives of one or two others. That’s always a tough one.
  • My application to renew my ILR (indefinite leave to remain) documentation was declined. Like a passport, the little piece of paper that says that I’m allowed to live in the UK has an expiry date. Initially, I thought that the ILR itself had expired, and wondered why it was called ‘indefinite’. But I was assured it was just the document, and that I could renew it, as one does with a passport. Yay. I filled out the application and mailed it off with the payment. It arrived back several months later, with the news that it had been declined. Apparently, my ILR was contingent upon my marriage to an EU citizen, and I now have to apply for Permanent Residence (which, it transpires, is not the same thing) in my own right. This might have something to do with Brexit, but I’m not sure. Since I’m not earning a great deal of money right now, there is the possibility that my application will be rejected. I’m not sure where that will leave us.

Enough of that – let’s look at the good stuff:

  • Our circumstances have brought me to the point, where I have decided to try to make a real go of Karyn’s Kreations. I rebranded as Karyn’s [re]Kreations, set up this website, bought a van, and started exploring my options with more focus. Initially, Karyn’s Kreations was an attempt to monetise a hobby. 2018 will see Karyn’s [re]Kreations become a proper business. It’s a saturated market, I know, but I will try to find myself a niche within it.
  • I have found a way to make my skill for narrative a part of my life as a maker of things.
  • We have discovered and taken advantage of various opportunities and support resources available to us as we attempt to either find employment or become properly self-employed. We have attended courses, had 1:1 sessions with mentors, etc.
  • I had to opportunity to try new things, and discovered that some of them don’t work. Yes, that’s a positive thing. It means I can draw a line under that and move on. Some avenues are still open, and I might be working with a charity (on a volunteer basis) during 2018, offering therapeutic crafting sessions to people with mental health challenges. I met some of the service users this month, and shared their Christmas dinner with them. I think the fact that I have mental health challenges of my own make for a good starting point.
  • I have explored new and existing skills. Just as learning new things was part of life as usual in my previous role as an L&D professional, the love of learning is part of my life as an artisan.
  • I’m not scared of hard work. I am seldom idle. What I do need to learn to do is to become more sniper rifle, less scattergun. More purposeful, less spur of the moment. More honed. More deliberate. Less….squirrel!
  • We did eventually sell our house, and wound up living in the most beautiful thatched cottage in a rural village (population 900). I love it here. I have genuinely never been happier. My home reflects that: every room contains something that I’ve made or adapted. I have a studio off the kitchen, and a workshop in the garden. We have a year’s lease, and we’re almost halfway through it, but I hope with all my heart that we can find a way to renew and stay here indefinitely.

    The most beautiful thatched cottage in the whole world
  • Village life suits me down to the ground. I have started a local craft-and-coffee group which meets once a month. I started the local chapter of NextDoor (an online community space). I have joined the village Facebook group. We participate in local events.
  • We have had the opportunity to get to know our sons in a new way. Having both lived away from home, and functioned as independent beings, they came into their own as individuals. So the dynamic was very different when they moved back in again. There is a slight remove, and they no longer shelter in the shade of their parents. They have been more completely themselves, as opposed to being our sons. Perhaps I’m not doing a great job of explaining this, and you have no idea what I’m on about. If that is the case, please take my word for it that I am seeing my sons more clearly – as complete, autonomous individuals, and I love it.
  • Both sons started dating women they have known for some years as friends, and who have been wonderful additions to our family. Both girlfriends joined us on Christmas eve for dinner and the exchange of gifts. They have formed relationships with the other members of the family, and with each other. I have always referred to that wonderful sense of peace when all four of us are happily under one roof as ‘having all my beads on the string’. These two young women are like two new jewels added to my metaphorical necklace. I think of them as carnelian and opal. Carnelian is auburn and warm and glowing. Opal is fair and soft with inner glints and sparks.
  • I have learned to value myself. It has been a long time coming. I still have to work on the way I handle it when I am treated with disrespect, but I’ll get there. I have learnt to step back from situations and relationships where I am not valued. That probably sounds quite narcissistic and self-serving, but it’s actually more self-preserving. My resources are finite (it’s taken me a lifetime to learn that that applies as much to the intangible as to the practical), and if the role that I play in a situation isn’t of value to the person or the circumstances, I’d be better off investing my time and energy where I can make a positive difference.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. But I do like to spend the early part of each year setting goals. So, rather than saying that I’ll be looking to make 2018 better than 2017, I will be spending January identifying quantifiable ways to achieve that.

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If your Christmas wasn’t great

It’s the day after Christmas, referred to in some parts as Boxing Day. Perhaps you are lying on the sofa, telling yourself you ‘really ought’ to be cleaning up after yesterday’s merry making. Perhaps your house is full to the gunwales with the people you love, and perhaps your gifts were wonderful and thoughtful.

But perhaps none of that applies to you. Perhaps Christmas was horrible. Really, really horrible. It can be. Perhaps you’re broke. Or newly unemployed. Or both. Perhaps you found out that you (or someone you care about) have a serious illness. Perhaps your relationship broke down. Perhaps you lost a loved one. Or perhaps you just felt generally bah humbug about the whole thing.

That’s okay. Seriously. It’s okay. And it’s absolutely no indication of what the rest of your life is going to be be like. It’s not an indication of what the rest of your Christmases are going to be like. Heck, it’s not even an indication of what the rest of your week is going to be like.

We had a lovely Christmas this year. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. It was (for me) the best Christmas in twenty years.

So you might be wondering why I’m writing this post at all. Like pretty much everyone – or at least every adult – I’ve had some less-than-merry Christmases, too.

Last year we gave it a bit of a Christ-miss, really. We had a nice meal, but nothing particularly spectacular, and we kind of skipped the gift giving thing. My husband had been made redundant. We were broke. I was struggling with depression. It was all pretty blah, to be honest. And not for the first time, either.

For some years, it had seemed that Christmas time was the time that bad news found us. Each December seemed to bring financial reversal of one sort or another. And this, coupled with the fact that we were thousands of miles from our respective sisters and mothers (our sons’ aunts and grandmothers) and the various extended branches of the family, made Christmas a tough time for us – for me in particular. December was the time the black dog came a-calling (and a-settling and a-staying). Inevitably, this rubbed off on everyone else, too.

Of course, I put in some effort for the children’s sake, but I’m woefully poor at dissembling, and my sons are insightful beings.

There have been other tough Christmases. There was the year my grandmother died on 19th December (the day after my birthday), and her funeral took place on 21st December (my mother’s birthday). Christmas that year was awful. My grandfather was newly widowed, a month shy of his 50th wedding anniversary. My Mom, aunt and uncle had lost their Mommy. Six of us had lost our beloved Granny: the very core of Christmas in the family. If I were to begin to tell you about the role my grandmother played in my life, this post would veer irretrievably off topic. So let’s shelve that for another time. Suffice to say that Christmas that year was dreadful. I suspect the only reason we went ahead with the big meal and the silly hats and the Christmas crackers and the gifts was because there were still children in the family. But it was… I think ‘grotesque’ is only a slight overstatement.

The first few years after my grandmother died, it was hard not to grieve afresh, as we went about preparing without her. Even twenty years after her death, I dissolved into floods of tears when I tried out her Christmas cake recipe and it failed. I wanted to ask her what I had done wrong. Had I copied it down incorrectly? Was there some missing bit that was just assumed, because ‘everyone knows’ that you do such-and-such when making a fruit cake? I was thousands of miles away from my Mom and my sister who, under other circumstances, would have been with me in the kitchen, as we made the cake together. I had never felt so utterly alone.

Perhaps your Christmas was like that.

And that’s okay. Honestly. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be happy again.

A friend of mine lost her husband. She was – as you might expect – consumed with grief in a way that can’t be explained. She had to take over looking after the farm and did so like an automaton. Numbly going about the daily grind. Then, one day, as she was driving along a track, on her way to repair a fence, she noticed how the sun was shining, and how much she enjoyed the song playing on the radio, and how beautiful the countryside was, and how adorable the calves were. And it dawned on her that she was, for the first time in two years, happy.

As a person with depression, I am well acquainted with the view at the bottom of the black pit. And more than once, I have been sorely tempted to call it quits. But then I would have missed out on this Christmas, with Mr Namasi, our two wonderful sons and their lovely girlfriends. We sat at a table decorated by one son (mainly by his girlfriend, but he was involved). We ate food chosen by the other son. We laughed and smiled and joked and exchanged gifts.

Please don’t allow the fact that the joy of the season has passed you by (this time) colour the way you fell about yourself, your life or you future. It really, really isn’t an indication of anything particular. Tomorrow may be better. Or the day after that. Or next Christmas. Or the one after that. Let’s find out, shall we?

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Traditions

If you know me personally, you’ll know that I’m not much of a one for observing tradition for the sake of it. Sometimes, in my opinion, traditions can become tyrannical. If they don’t add value, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.

You’ve probably heard this story, if so, skip to the end of the indented section:

A newly married young man and his wife are preparing a roast for dinner with her parents. He notices that she lops a slice off the end of the little joint, which she then carefully places on top, before popping the roasting pan into the oven. He’s never seen that done before and asks her why she does it. She looks at him blankly, “Because that’s how you cook a roast.” He tells her he’s never encountered that method before. She is puzzled by this and tells him that’s the way she learned to do it from her Mom.

When her parents arrive, she asks her Mom about the slice of roast taken off the end and placed on top before cooking. Her Mom says, “That’s how you cook a roast.” Her son in law explains that he’s never seen it done that way before. And her husband admits that, although he hasn’t mentioned it in nearly 30 years of marriage, he had never seen it done that way before he married her, either. The Mom is puzzled by this and tells them that’s the way she learned to do it from her own mother.

Fortunately Grandma is alive and well, so Mom phones her and tells her, “We’re discussing the correct way to make a roast.” Grandma says she doesn’t think there’s a single right way. Mom reminds her how she always cut a slice off the end of the roast and put it on top. Grandma thinks for a while, then laughs, “I had five children. My roasting dish wasn’t big enough to hold a joint that would feed all seven of us, so I sometimes had to improvise to make it fit. I stopped doing that as my children left home and the joints got smaller.”

And yes, it’s an urban legend, but it serves my purpose.

Sometimes, we follow traditions simply because that the way it’s always been done. Christmas (and Thanksgiving, I suspect) is particularly rife with traditions for their own sake. We roast a turkey, even though few of us like it very much, and wind up with leftovers enough to last through to the end of January. Probably not a bad thing, since we spent all our money on expensive gifts (another tradition) and are feeling the pinch somewhat. We place a large bowl of brussels sprouts on the table and throw most of them away afterward because only two members of the family actually eat them – and one of those will practically suffocate the family with his flatulence during the Queen’s speech.

When I was a child in South Africa, it was completely normal to have a full roast dinner for Christmas, even though it was 35C outside… and hotter than that in the kitchen. Tradition.

Now, if stirring up your late grandmother’s Christmas cake recipe puts you in touch with your treasured memories of her, that’s a tradition that serves a purpose. But perhaps, if nobody in the family eats marzipan, you could find a different way of decorating the cake, and make a tradition your own grandchildren will want to follow.

When I married my Mr Namasi, I encountered a different way of doing Christmas. He is Swedish, and their traditions are very different. Most notably, Christmas dinner is eaten and gifts exchanged during the evening of 24th December. Since this means that children have all their new gifts to keep them occupied on Christmas morning, parents are afforded the luxury of a late lie-in. Particularly useful if the traditional levels of alcohol consumption are also observed by the family on Christmas eve!

Swedes also tend to have a sequence of smaller courses, rather than a massive roast.

My children’s early Christmases alternated between the two families. And neither family was particularly purist in their observance. The Swedish side compromised based on the weather and available ingredients. And, once my grandmother had died and my own mother became matriarch of Christmas, her ‘rebellious’ streak came to the fore, as she opted for Christmas dinners that suited both the climate and her less than enthusiastic relationship with the kitchen on a hot day.

Then we emi/immigrated to the UK.

Christmas suddenly shrank down to just four people. We decided to do Christmas our own way, to make it special for our children. To pick and choose from among the habits of our respective families and to fill the gaps with what suited us and our own preferences. As we approach our 19th Christmas here, I realise that the practises my children consider ‘traditional’ are largely those of our own invention. Perhaps they will incorporate them in to their own family Christmas observance in due course. Or perhaps the Christmas traditions of their chosen life partners will dominate.

I would hope that they would choose to blaze their own trail and build their own family traditions.

Just for the record (and you’re free to skip this bit, if you prefer), this is how Christmas looks in our house:

  • We have Christmas dinner and exchange gifts on 24th December
  • This year, we have a tree (an upcycled one I made out of a mooring rope). This isn’t always the case – we are far more likely to have a manger scene.
  • We make a Scandi version of mulled wine called glögg, which we drink throughout December.
  • Santa/Father Christmas has never really been a feature of our celebrations for various reasons, some of which can hopefully be deduced from the points below
  • Our sons take it in turns to set the Christmas menu: starter, main course and dessert. We have never yet cooked a turkey. We have had everything from salmon to beef stew to roast lamb for the main course.
  • Mr Namasi usually does the roast (if that’s on the menu) in the Weber outside, which is interesting when it’s cold… but then he is a Viking. 😉
  • The son who isn’t setting the menu is in charge of designing and decorating the table. The table has never looked the same twice. We’ve had everything from red-and-silver, to wood-and-ceramic. And no, I don’t give in to the temptation to improve on their design/decorative efforts. Their contribution to the festivities is as much a part of things as my own.
  • We avoid expensive gifts and major on lots of small, thoughtful things, with a good dose of silly thrown in.
  • We emphasise the value of handmade gifts. The imperfect fruit of a young child’s hands is far more precious than a mass produced, store-bought thing any day. Especially to my sentimental husband! And this is part of why Santa doesn’t get the credit. Of course, the children are adults now, but the principle still holds.
  • We support the local economy and/or small businesses as much as possible.

People often ask us how we spend Christmas day itself, if all the celebrations take place the day before. And the answer is: we relax. We sleep late, eat far too much chocolate, watch schmaltz on TV, play games, take le mutt for a walk. That kind of thing. A distinct upside is that our sons’ girlfriends are able to join us for our Christmas this year while still spending Christmas with their own families.

What traditions have passed their use-by date in your family? What new ‘traditions’ have you invented that your children consider an integral part of the season? I’d love to hear your stories.

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Christmas tree festival

I realise that I never did update you on the Christmas tree festival which took place recently in the 12th century church in our little village. By all accounts, the turnout was very good, with a steady stream of visitors on the Saturday and an intermittent trickle on the Sunday. The weekend ended with a songs of praise service on the Sunday evening. By all reports, the festival was a success.

I was able to get photos of the displays which had been completed before I finished mine. Sadly, I missed out a few, but I hope you’ll agree that there were some lovely contributions, especially when you consider that our little village boasts a population of just 900 souls.

We were asked in advance how tall and wide our displays would be, and I went with 180cm x 180cm, thinking that would be pretty average. When I arrived at the church with all the bits I needed to assemble my display, I discovered that many of the trees were table top sized. My heart sank. What an attention seeker I was going to seem! But fortunately there were a few other large ones, so I didn’t dominate. Here is my display: trees and decorations all handmade from reclaimed materials. The green tree on the right is not mine (see further pics below). My madonna has been invited to stay for Christmas and will form part of their display for the Christmas morning service. My totally rubbish choir was apparently quite a hit, and was bought by someone at the end of the exhibition. I did explain that they were totally rubbish, but she wasn’t put off.

Here are some photos of the displays. Sadly, I didn’t get all the details, but I have supplied the details I do have:

This sweet little wrought iron tree didn’t seem to come with any details

This tree was called ‘Nature’ and was supplied by a private contributor

This poignant little tree was supplied by a private contributor in memory of a lost loved one

This one was called ‘Sweet Christmas’. I think it was supplied by a class at the village school

Mark’s Cycles supplied this ‘Cycle mad’ tree with cycling themed decorations

The Gruffalo preschool supplied this eponymous tree

This one came from a local charity

‘The smell of Christmas’ was supplied by the reception class (I think) of the village school. It really did smell lovely. Make sure to read the handwritten note bottom right, if you can

This one came from a local business – I don’t remember the name

A private individual supplied this ‘Lavender’ tree, making use of the abundance of lavender in her garden this year

The local ‘Knit and Natter’ group supplied this tree, decorated entirely with knitted ornaments or knitting related paraphernalia

A private individual supplied this ‘MK Dons’ tree, with a knitted version of every member of the MK Dons football (soccer) team

This one was called ‘Eat, Drink and Be Merry’. I’m not sure who supplied it. The veg are real, the birds not.

This one is called ‘All the Trimmings’ and was supplied by a private individual

The local ‘Jesus and Me’ children’s group made the decorations on this one. Each of the baubles contains a photo of one of the children in the group

A private individual supplied this Great War themed tree, which stood below the board honouring those of the village who died during WWI.

The church social committee supplied this fibre optic tree which changed colour

There were a few I didn’t catch, but I trust you’ll agree, the little village done good.

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Where do I begin?

So much has happened since I last updated this blog! At that time:

  • the sale of our house was going through and we were looking for a rental property that would allow us to have our beloved Jess-dog and grandkitten, Gimli
  • we were both unemployed and looking for work.

Let’s begin by addressing the first of those two points today, shall we? I’ll look at the second one in my next post.

The sale of our house duly went through, and we moved out. Friends of ours were travelling abroad for five weeks around the time of our scheduled move, and asked us if we would house-sit for them. This immediately relieved some of the house-hunting pressure. Since they live a very short distance from the house we were selling, it was very convenient to be able to move out while still packing up and cleaning. The fact that their home and garden are beautiful and well-maintained was an added bonus.

The search for a new home continued during this time. All the pet-friendly rental houses that we viewed within our budget were utterly depressing. Many of them were small and poky… and those were the better ones! In some cases, the word ‘squalid’ wouldn’t be an overstatement.

Of course, most landlords had put in some effort for the viewings, but nothing could be done to hide the mountains of rubbish in neighbouring gardens, the derelict cars and/or fridges on display, and the graffiti on walls and fences. Other landlords showed total disregard for their prospective tenants, with filthy carpets and appalling decor.

One little cottage ticked so many of our boxes…except for the lack of decent broadband. For us, this was a deal breaker. It was very isolated, so no plans were in place to lay fibre there any time soon, and it wasn’t an expense the landlord was looking to take on.

We were feeling pretty discouraged.

Then a friend, told us of a property in a little village not far from where we had been living. The property belonged to a client of his who would have no problem with our pets. The house was bigger than we were looking for and way outside our budget, but we took a look anyway.

And that was it. Nowhere else would do after that.

And this is how we come to be living in the most wonderful house in the world:

The most wonderful house in the world

A 19th century thatched cottage with a lovely, low maintenance garden and outdoor living area. The perfect space for a craft studio for me inside and a stone workshop outside. As well as a lovely office for Mr Namasi (which is where I am sitting as I type this post). Nothing in the cottage is quite straight, and our taller friends can’t stand upright on the ground floor. I have been able to channel my inner bohemian in addressing the interior decor.

The population of the village is a whopping 700 souls. During harvest, tractors and other farm vehicles drove right past our front door. And just a few steps from that same front door, there are several public footpaths.

Just a few steps from our front door

There are two pubs within walking distance, both of which are happy to welcome dogs with well-behaved owners.

Dogs with well-behaved owners welcome

I would be happy to see out my days in this wonderful place. For now, we have a year’s lease, paid in advance.