Thursday, 22 November 2018


The weather has taken a distinctly wintry turn over the last few days, with frosty mornings and icy winds. The drop in temperatures, combined with the endless adverts for Black Friday, remind me that Christmas will be here sooner than I'd like.

I've been thinking a lot about the festive season over the last week; what I can do now, versus what I can do later, what I want to do versus what I realistically have time or budget to do. Trying, as ever, to get that elusive balance just right, and trying to do things in a less wasteful way too.

Christmas brings out my inner homemaker like no other celebration, and I always want to make every edible item and craft idea I see in every magazine I open. This year, as always, I have made a Christmas fruit cake which I will not ice as I don't much like marzipan or royal icing, and my usual batch of cranberry chutney. I did both of these in the October half term break when I had time to pleasurably potter around the kitchen with the radio on, and neither of these tasks are particularly time consuming.

I also - a first for me - made a Christmas pudding. I always buy one, although it's only me who really likes it, but this year I fancied making one. I've always been put off by the steaming, as having to leave a pan simmering for eight hours seemed like a disaster waiting to happen for someone as distractable and forgetful as me, but my mum suggested steaming it in the slow cooker. I didn't even know this was possible, but after quite a lot of research I gave it a go and it was incredibly easy, although obviously we have yet to taste it! But the cake, pudding and chutney were made in advance, not out of some mad desire for a perfect homemade Christmas, but because I enjoy this kind of thing and I had the time. However, two weeks before Christmas, when we're in the midst of a hectic weekend but Angus really wants to bake mince pies with me, we'll be using shop bought mincemeat and ready rolled pastry as we do every year, and we'll proudly call them homemade because we cut out the shapes and baked them in our oven. If we make a gingerbread house, it will be from a kit. I'm not above bashing the kit up a bit and passing it off as homemade either. It's all about balance.

As far as handmade crafting goes, I will make my own cards again but purely because I want to and I enjoy it. I bought a stamp, an ink pad and a pack of blank cards and envelopes to create handmade cards with minimal effort, and it supports a small independent business too. However, if the children want to send cards to their friends, we'll be buying a multipack in the supermarket. I'll be making my own gift tags for parcels from last year's Christmas cards and wrapping my gifts in brown parcel paper. I am a big fan of brown paper; it's cheap, you can decorate it for any occasion (we'll be using a star stamp with white and gold ink pads) and it can be recycled, unlike most of the usual foil covered Christmas wrapping paper. It also makes me think of brown paper packages tied up with string and The Sound of Music, and that's no bad thing. 

Handmade gifts have been hugely scaled down; a toy for Angus, a bag for Bella, and two small wall hangings for friends. That's it. I am going to make an advent calendar this year based on last years driftwood advent calendar but without gifts. This one will be hung with twenty four little envelopes, each containing an activity or treat. Gifts have been scaled down and my consumption of single use plastic has crept into my thoughts more this year than any other, as I try to reduce the amount of plastic we'll be throwing away this Christmas. 

So that's where I am with Christmas. I'm working my way through the gift shopping, I've booked my online supermarket food delivery slot, and I've made a couple of very long lists. I feel calm about it all now, but focused, because I don't want the week before Christmas to be horrible and stressful. I want to be able to get into the spirit of Christmas at school without spending my evenings frantically doing last minute things that I wish I'd done back in November. Although it wouldn't be a real Christmas in our house without me panic-crocheting a soft toy on Christmas Eve, now would it?

Can I point you towards a wonderful blog post written by my friend Laura and, if any of you use Instagram, you may like to look at her account which is endlessly inspiring and one of my favourites. 

I hope you are not feeling too overwhelmed by the pressure to do and buy everything that inevitably occurs at this time of year. How do you strive for balance in your households?


  1. oooh that looks rather delicious! the Christmas chutneys and cake...Yes! its lovely to support a small business...we have lots of little independent shops where i live and they are family run a lot of them and just a card or a candle really helps~ its like the local market with lots of little farm grocery stalls, ciders, cheeses...I still do buy lots of things in the local super markets but thats mainly as we live on a tight budget. but where possible i like to buy locally. I run a new~ish little shop through etsy selling illustrations and my partners comic art and i do a little skip round the room when someone buys something!. usually im quite organised around November to December with little gifts for friends and family and food buying, but this year with my dads cancer treatments i've decided to go stay with him for a week he lives alone and i just couldnt bare to think of him alone, but he just cant do the journey. I dont know how long he has~ so im taking a rucksack and going to his for christmas leaving my partner and daughter here in devon...its about 6 hour journey, totally dreading it through london then on to the east coastline, but i need to be with him. So my christmas will be a bit up in the air...worth it for that precious time with dad. I love Christmas, I love how the local shops decorate the window displays and the market has a choir and twinkly lights sparkle through the little town. I've been making tags and home made wrapping paper. oooh i had my first mince pie today!..I always find your blog so inspiring. x

  2. Christmas preps at your house sound very calm - I am trying to keep calm - cake making is scheduled for Sunday, I am trying to do a lino cut Christmas card again this year and hopefully make a stocking for the new baby but nothing else.
    I use brown paper for wrapping too I am just about to finish a roll I bought from Tesco 5 years ago for £1 (great value).
    Keep us updated with your card.

  3. Oh good luck with the christmas pud!

    My Christmas preparations are somewhat scant as we are not entirely sure where we will be for Christmas. But I have a good idea of Christmas shopping,all of which will be kept minimal. This year my brothers and I are giving each family a family gift. So a beautiful book to read together, or a board game to play together. I LOVE this idea, and all of us are stoked with the concept of a simpler Christmas.


  4. All sounds rather festive in a lovely, gentle manner. I definitely should be making more lists at this time, to plan how much of the that looks beautiful must make it now things I can realistically manage!

  5. Balancing my (pre-)Christmas activities is easy, as I am (mostly) a single household. Christmas Eve will be spent, as per tradition, with my parents at their place. Christmas Day will see me on the train to O.K.'s, and Christmas dinner with his family at his sister's.
    Now that the opening of our Christmas Market is just around the corner (next Tuesday!), I will start shopping for small gifts there pretty soon. I already have bought a few items for the parcel that is going to my Yorkshire family, but so far, I only have a few ideas for my loved ones here, and not bought anything for them yet.
    Baking will, as usual, be done by my Mum and our family friend (my "big brother") Rolf. I'd love to do some of my own but just can't think of when I should fit that in between work and other things.
    Decorating: I will bring up my Christmas box from the cellar this weekend and FINALLY clean all the windows - they look horrible! I don't think I'll decorate properly just yet; I like to do that just in time for the first Advent Sunday.
    Cards will be bought at the Christmas Market and written on Monday after the 1st Advent.
    I admire you for making so much yourself!

  6. Ooh the cake and chutney look gorgeous and I don’t even like Christmas cake! We don’t generally do a cake as only hubs likes it here and we’re lucky this year because it’s not our turn to do Christmas, so that makes it much more fun! I always try to get pressies done by December too, cos I just get stressed otherwise. That way We can enjoy some Christmas crafting in December. Well do doing tags this year from old cards like you. I also haven’t brought any new cards or wrapping paper as I think I have enough left over from previous years to get by! We will be putting the Christmas tree up super early though (in my opinion) on the 1st... but just cos that’s the only free weekend to do it. Oh well, it’ll get us in the spirit at least!

    S x

  7. Yay for less waste. Christmas can be absolutely obscene when it comes to packaging and rubbish plastic toys etc. etc. I hardly send any Christmas cards now, and the children don't either. Well done on all the baking and cooking, it looks like things are nicely under way with you. I was thinking about you the other day when I was showing my eldest (the birdwatcher) a selection of crocheted birds. I need to know my limits though... Wishing all a good weekend. CJ xx

  8. This post is so timely! Today is the day after Thanksgiving and I am just exhausted from all of the cooking I did this week. I was just saying to my husband that I need to find a way to avoid this feeling during all of December. I'm already planning on scaling back our Christmas meal. I also really applaud your effort to try to reduce your plastic consumption, yet also accept your limits. I try really hard to avoid excess plastic, but I too have purchased a gingerbread house kit. It just isn't realistic for me to bake one. I'm determined to finish the felt advent calendar I have started and will have it for years to come. It's lovely in that there aren't any treats expected with it. The thing itself is the treat. I did a bunch of my holiday shopping already at the kids' school book fair. Books are always good gifts. I love that you and I are of a similar mind going into this holiday season.
    Also, I've never tried chutney or mince pies, and I don't even know what a Christmas cake is! I think it is probably a good thing I live in the US since most of the classic British bakes featured in the British Baking Show aren't for me. I want to like them, but I don't want raisins or nuts or orange zest or ginger anywhere near my baked goods!

  9. Your cake looks wonderfully flat, mine always seems to rise a lot! The food all looks and sounds delicious and your pre-planning will really pay out. Enjoy the month.

  10. This all sounds lovely. Please could you tell me how you reheat the Christmas pudding on Christmas Day?

  11. I love Christmas cake and wanted to make one this wekeend but time got away from me. I didn't make one last year because I realised the year before I ate a 9" Christmas cake to myself and that is enough calories to climb Ben Nevis! maybe the builders will help me out this year! Happy making... no more soft toy marathons though Gillian. Jo xxx

  12. I always plan on making my own Christmas cake and Christmas pudding, but time ALWAYS runs away with me. The last 3 months of the year are when practically every family member has a birthday (and we are a big combined family), so I always seem to be so consumed with Birthday's that Christmas comes around in a rush. It all seems very last minute and that stresses me out. Every year I plan to get ahead of the game, but it's funny, there is always the pressure of everyone telling you off for starting Christmas planning in September! As much as I have always been desperate to 'enjoy' Christmas, I always find it more stressful than enjoyable. I find wine helps greatly! ha ha! xxx

  13. Hello! As an American slightly obsessed with all things British I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog for a while now, I found you through Attic24. Every year, as soon as I have recovered from Thanksgiving cooking, I begin planning my Christmas fruitcake. Only one other person in my house likes it besides me but that’s fine by me! I would love to try your recipe, would you share it with me? Your chutney looks lovely too. I made Christmas jam for all my siblings this year, it’s tucked away in my pantry waiting patiently. Enjoy your sweet family and Christmas season!

  14. I always love reading about your holiday preparations, Gillian. I think you do it better than just about anyone I've ever known, it always looks so beautiful and festive there. I don't think perfection even enters into it - you do what you love and what makes it happiest and most enjoyable for you and your family, and everyone will love it. :)


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