Make it a lovely local Christmas!

As crafters, I think we can all understand how much skill is involved in turning a hobby into a successful business. At Christmas, I do like to try and find unusual gifts, rather than rushing to a high street chain or relying on Amazon to do my shopping. I also feel it is important to support local producers wherever I can. If we don’t, they won’t survive and the world will be a poorer, less interesting place.

I have already spotted several super local producers in my neck of the woods and will be getting quite a few local gifts for family and friends. I have included links (where I can) if you are interested in buying from my local producers, but I hope it will inspire you to have a look around your own area and see what is on offer. I bet you’ll be very pleasantly surprised!

Twool sounds lovely – and it is lovely! Super sustainable twool products are made in Devon from the ‘lustre’ long wool of the rare breed Whiteface Dartmoor sheep. Versatile twool yarn is the eco-friendly British alternative to jute. Their online shop is full of lovely gift ideas from garden twine to posh woolly bags to dog leads. They also have some special Christmas gifts including a ‘Chelsheepensioner Dumpling’ hand knitted from twool – you’ll have to go and look at their website now just to see what that is!

I confess I have mentioned The Dartmoor Soap Company before, but I truly believe it is worth another mention! Their soaps are fab and make great stocking fillers. Their artisan soaps are handmade using natural ingredients which, wherever possible, are sustainably sourced and harvested on Dartmoor. How good is that? They produce a wonderful range of soaps including aromatherapy soaps, soaps for men and even soap for pets! There is definitely a soap for every member of your family!

Clare’s Preserves is a true artisan producer of multi award winning marmalades, jams, jellies, chutneys and relishes. Based in the foothills of Dartmoor, all products are handmade by Clare in small batches, using traditional open pot methods. Clare’s preserves include some wonderful flavour combinations – Beetroot & Orange Chutney, Blackcurrant & Lime Jam, Lemon, Dartmoor Honey and Ginger Marmalade and many more! You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Not wishing to be accused of being sexist, but… here’s one for the boys well, definitely for Richard anyway! Dartmoor Brewery is the only brewery on the moor producing Dartmoor branded beer, the brewery is passionate about preserving and promoting Dartmoor and its traditions. The Brewery’s own shop at its HQ in Princetown sells everything from its popular beers — including Jail Ale, Dartmoor IPA, Dartmoor Best and Legend — to Dartmoor Brewery branded goods such as T-shirts, rugby shirts, hoodies and beer gift packs.

And finally… how about a bit of light Christmas reading material? I know, absolutely shameful self-promotion but the fourth book in the Swaddlecombe Series is entitled The Proof is in the Pudding and has a Christmassy theme, so I feel I am allowed to include it! You can buy this one (and the previous three!) in paperback from my website, or on Kindle.

 

0 Comments

We all love an Advent calendar!

As today is 1st December, I thought it would be fun to look at that Christmas favourite – the Advent calendar!

As a child, I can remember being SO excited about opening the little numbered windows in the run up to Christmas Day. Back then, there was nothing more than a picture behind each door or, if I was very lucky, a chocolate and I found it thrilling! Today, you can buy Advent calendars stuffed with 24 ‘surprises’ ranging from chocolate to gin and everything in between, with just as many aimed at adults as children. Each to their own of course, but I can’t help feel it’s another nice little innocent tradition that has been thoroughly hijacked by commercialism! But hey ho… I thought I’d do a bit of delving and look back into the origins of the Advent calendar.

An Advent calendar is used to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Technically, the date of the first Sunday of Advent can fall anywhere between between November 27 and December 3, but today, pretty much all Advent calendars begin on December 1. It’s widely accepted that the Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now common across most Christian denominations.

Traditionally, Advent calendars featured the manger scene, Father Christmas or idyllic snowy landscapes and featured paper flaps, windows or doors, covering each date. The little windows opened to reveal an image, a poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity), or a sweet treat. Often, each window had a Bible verse and Christian prayer printed on it and Christians would incorporate this into their daily Advent devotions.

Today, as well as covering a mind-boggling array of indulgent treats, the calendars can take the form of fabric pockets, painted wooden boxes with cubby holes for small items or, as I spotted online, a train set with 24 mini waggons, each loaded with a present… and so on and so on. So much for any religious significance!

In the snowy northern climes of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden there is a tradition of having a so-called ‘Julekalender’ ­– the local word for a Yule, or Christmas – calendar (even though it actually is an Advent calendar) in the form of a television or radio show, starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Eve. I’m amazed this hasn’t caught on over here! Surely we could have a series of 24 gardening, cooking and dancing shows to trot us up to Christmas in a very merry frame of mind! But then, that wouldn’t seem all that different to our usual TV scheduling, would it?

Oh, but that’s enough of my cheek. My granddaughter Grace will have a lovely traditional Advent calendar (with perhaps just some small sweetie treats!) and I know her little face will light up with joy as she opens each window and begins to feel the magic of Christmas. Smiles, Joanna.

 

6 Comments

A bit of a swagger!

As I think many of you know, I have spent a great many hours of my life cutting, drying and arranging flowers both for work projects and also for my own personal pleasure, especially at Christmas. It’s a hobby I love and never tire of. Those of you who have read my latest novel ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will know that this keen interest of mine has even crept into a murder mystery!

But anything I have ever produced as a Christmas decoration pales into insignificance next the utterly extraordinary giant swag that, every Christmas, graces the Great Hall in Cotehele in Cornwall. Although this National Trust property dates back to Tudor times, the yuletide tradition of decking the Great Hall with a garland is a relatively recent one. Begun in the 1950s, the Christmas flower garland is now firmly established as one of Cotehele’s annual highlights.

Every November, gardeners and volunteers at Cotehele create the 60ft long Christmas garland using thousands of flowers grown on the estate. The giant swag hangs in the Great Hall throughout the festive season and, if you are anywhere near Saltash on the Cornwall/Devon border between now and 6th January 2018… I urge you to go! You will need to book, so do have a look on the website before you set off.

Preparations for the garland begin almost a year earlier in February when the flower seeds are sown and planted in early spring in the Cut Flower Garden. The gardeners pick them daily during the summer, strip their leaves and carefully hang them in the potting shed to dry. Stripping the leaves from each individual stem is one of the most time-consuming elements in the garland-preparation process. Typically, the gardeners would like about 30,000 flowers in the garland – yes THIRTY THOUSAND!!

One of the things I love about this magical project is that, rather than following a standard design, each year the garland is different and depends on which of the specially grown flowers have done well. The garland often includes ornamental grasses, paper daisy, paper rose, statice and garden thrift.

Creating the garland is a task that involves Cotehele’s gardeners and volunteers using scaffolding to add flowers into the growing festive display. The results are spectacular, not only because of the stunning visual impact the garland makes but also because of the months of work, skill and care that has gone into creating it.

Photo:  The Christmas swag at Cotehele – photo copyright National Trust, go to their website for more information and photos

 

8 Comments

Simple pleasures…

As we get older, I think we become more aware of ‘simple’ pleasures’, well I know I do! The smell of coffee brewing, freshly cut grass or hearing an owl hoot – all simple things that give immense pleasure.

I read the other day that Vita Sackville-West (she of Sissinghurst Garden fame, amongst other things…) used the term ‘through leaves’ to describe simple pleasures enjoyed by her family. She coined the phrase after “the small but intense pleasure of kicking through leaves while out walking”, which I thought was rather lovely.

Another classic, that I expect almost all of us know, are the lyrics to the song ‘My favourite things’ from the Sound of Music, including whiskers on kittens, warm woollen mittens and brown paper packages tied up with string.

It’s so easy to think that pleasures have to be big and expensive, like holidays, or fancy clothes… but I think we start to appreciate the simple things the more we experience life. You often hear people who have survived cancer, or cheated death in an accident or natural disaster, say how they appreciate every day, every moment, and are more aware of what’s around them.

I had a think about my ‘through leaves’ moments, and came up with the following list:

  • The smell of baking bread (thanks to Richard and his bread maker!)
  • Little Grace running towards me with her arms open
  • A beautiful sunset (or dawn, but that’s rare!)
  • Hearing my daughters say a casual I love you
  • Finishing a card and sitting back and thinking – that’s a keeper!

My co-author Julia was here (we were busy having a book signing session!) and I asked her, for her ‘Through leaves’ moments and she said:

  • Standing in the middle of her runner bean arch(!)
  • Being greeted by her dog, Moss, in the morning
  • Watching beech leaves unfurl in spring
  • Walks on frosty mornings
  • Birdsong

So what are your ‘through leaves’ moments? Do let me know… smiles, Joanna

 

18 Comments

Have a Holly Pond Hill Christmas!

I wanted to share a couple of Holly Pond Hill Christmas cards with you today – hmm not that many weeks to Christmas, have you made all your cards yet?

Of course the first thing you are going to do is say “Have you?” and of course the answer you knew was coming is… nope nothing like all of them yet!

One year I promise I will be a super organised Christmas person, I will plan in advance not only what we are eating, who is coming and when, but also make my cards months in advance. I’m not succeeding very well on that list this year. Currently I have no clue if my girls are with me on Christmas Day or whether as we have done in the past we postpone the big day to December 26th.

It’s so much harder when children are grown up, they acquire other families (their in-laws) that have just as much right to Christmas Day as you do and, shock horror, they even occasionally want to go away for Christmas! I do wonder what the reaction would be if Richard and I went away for Christmas, not sure they would think that was right! No stockings, no-one to cook and clear away on Christmas Day – noooo!

But back to the cards – Christmas in Holly Pond Hill is a fabulous CD. If you haven’t got it already, then it’s definitely on my top 5 list for making Christmas cards and I can recommend it. I love the little characters and there are also some amazing images without furry bits too!

Both the cards use the matching backing papers that come with the toppers on the CD (easy to find!) and the little parcel on the right uses the (SD553) Small Box Envelope die and again a paper from the CD.

Maybe aim to have half your Christmas cards done by the middle of November Joanna? Hmm … maybe!

 

8 Comments