Thursday, 18 December 2014

considering the true meaning of Christmas

Around this time of year you hear occasional mutterings that children 'these days' are greedy, prioritising consumerism over the 'true meaning of Christmas'.

It is certainly the case that there is a lot of stuff my daughters would like for Christmas (my son, not so much, he wouldn't mind cash though), but they are also constantly bombarded with adverts for stuff (most of which they note looks rubbish), and people often ask them what they want. It's hardly their fault they're thinking about it. As I say, my girls have long lists going to Santa. They know they won't get everything on the lists, and that's OK, because Santa has to get presents for everyone in the world.

I love this time of year, but for we non-Christian types, the real meaning of Christmas is not about baby Jesus. That doesn't mean it isn't special, or that we need to stop calling it Christmas. After all, we still call mince pies mince pies, when their isn't any minced meat in them any more. We could call it Yule, or Winter Festival, but Christmas is fine.
Cheeky bauble on the town tree :-)

Whatever you choose to call it, this special time of year is about coming together in our darkest days to support each other, celebrate love and caring, and think about other people. People in Scotland have been doing that since before Christianity, and will continue after. It's just what we need at this time of year when we've survived the misery of November, it's really dark and we've got more cold and rain, snow and storms to look forward to.

Some of the really special things we have done around Christmas this year include my son's class (led by the marvellous Ms Hughes) collecting chocolate advent calendars for the food bank. They got 127, and hopefully this has helped lots of families. There is a lot of discussion on Largs People about donating to food banks, and I'm really glad that people help out those worse off than ourselves. Hopefully after next year's political changes, we can see an end to the need for food banks. We decided to give money to charity instead of sending Christmas cards this year, and my son was keen that we support Orchid, a charity fighting male cancer, which has become dear to us since my brother has survived cancer twice in recent years. We have also got crafty this year, making our own crocheted Christmas wreaths (instructions available on the blog at ohwedo.blogspot.co.uk), as well as lots of decorations. We also put some decorations on the tree in town, which earned us some funny looks, but was joyous nonetheless. But most importantly, we've been spending lots of time with friends and family. We're thinking of those far away, and checking in with those nearby to make sure everything's OK. 

We are not stressing about meals, or getting everything perfect. One year we failed to defrost the turkey and ended up having fish fingers for Christmas dinner. It didn't matter a bit. What mattered was spending time with the people who matter to us (and also the ones that drive us a bit crazy). Let's bring on more of that.

Monday, 15 December 2014

making a crocheted Christmas wreath

I'm sorry, I don't think you're going to have enough time to make this before Christmas, but, you can make it in time for next Christmas, and if you really must have one this year, you can do the sneaky cheat which I've outlined at the bottom. Result!


I must start off by saying that this wreath was not my idea. I got inspired after seeing the glorious Autumn wreath created by Hannah Brewer of Muddling Along Mummy, which she shared on her Instagram feed, because folks, wreaths don't just have to be for Christmas.

Hannah was in turn inspired by Lucy, of Attic 24, whose blog post on her Christmas wreath is AMAZING (I would so highly recommend Lucy's blog if you're at all crafty), and it was her instructions to make it that I used as my starting point.

So here's how to make your own Christmas wreath:

First of all you need a wreath form, you can get those cheaply from craft shops. Then you need a few different colours of yarn. I used double knit acrylic in silver, white, lime green, forest green, and red. You'll also need a medium sized crochet hook.

You need to crochet basically a scarf type shape, with different width bands of colour for interest. This is going to wrap around the wreath core, so needs to be long enough to go all the way around it. Bear in mind that you'll need to stretch it a bit to get it to fit right, and you'll avoid it rucking up like mine has.


Here's my wreath form, with the start of my crocheting. If you don't like crocheting, you can knit, or even weave. The only important thing is avoiding showing the wreath form beneath.

I left long threads to sew up the back at the end, but there is no need to do this.

Basically, you crochet away until your work is big enough to go around the wreath form, and then you sew it together at the back to keep it on, thusly:


Then you have a rather pleasant looking colourful circle, ready to put a hanging device on the back (a keyring ring is ideal), and sew stuff on the front.

Now Lucy of Attic 24 made some fabulous things to put on to her wreath. Sadly, I do not have her skill or her patience, so I decided to put less things on, I also found a great little tutorial on YouTube for making easy flowers... one which I have sadly lost, so I'm very sorry whoever you were. But this is how you do it:

Chain 6, slipstitch to form a circle, chain 3, treble crochet to centre, chain 3, slipstitch to centre, repeat four times (giving five petals), then tie off. Easy.

My apologies if that was gobbledegook, but it is all easily done. Just ask someone in the know or check out a YouTube video.

I wasn't intending on having so many flowers. I fancied some holly, and luckily Lucy at Attic 24 had a tutorial (here), however, I found it rock hard to make the holly leaves, so decided to stick with the flowers, and provided some textural interest with the plastic poinsetta (from a wreath I got a few years ago), some of my daughter's beads, and a sparkly foam sticker. The holly is on there, but it may be hidden by the poinsetta.


I'm pretty pleased with it. But, when the girls told me they wanted one for their bedroom door, I was not pleased enough to make another one from scratch. Instead I cheated!  Here's how.

First I took another wreath form (well, I couldn't have bought just one, eh?), and a scarf that my Mum had knitted for one of the girls. The scarf is lovely, but the girls don't wear it a) because they hardly ever wear scarves, and b) because one of the colours is a bit itchy, but they do like the colours, so this way it's a win all 'round.


I used the middle bit of the scarf, and had to hem it at both ends, to avoid unravelling. Although it was too wide, I simply overlapped it to avoid having to hem the sides too. Unfortunately, I cut it slightly too short (stupidity can't be ruled out), but managed to hide the join using one of the scarf offcuts. This would be perfect for one of those Christmassy scarves which doesn't go with anything.


You'd think I'd done it on purpose! The girls didn't want anything else on it, so this is what their wreath looks like, although you could go mad sticking stuff to it if you fancied.

Before I go, if you like wreaths, and the idea of repurposing stuff, there is a gloriously fabulous wreath over on the Canadian blog, Northstory. It's made by Alex out of old embroidery hoops and socks. Check it out here.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

learning about iambic pentameter with Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

I go to a writing group, which I love to do, because it pushes me out of my comfort zone.

My comfort zone is a messy place, so it's best to get pushed out from time to time.

I am definitely not comfortable just now.

At our most recent writing group we had a great workshop on writing poems. 

I was really into writing poems as a child, and especially as a teenager, but I don't do it now. Although I am pretty pleased with my poem on Google+ which I did for the writing group last year. It's not that I don't like poetry, I just have so much other stuff that I want to read, and write, more.

However, we have been set a competition, and I think it's good for me to attempt to do it, so I've been looking at the poems we were given to provide inspiration, and I've chosen Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

It's not that I like it. I have heard it too many times, recited unloved, thrown into the pot of a wedding, maybe even our wedding. I don't remember. When I saw that this was one of the inspirations on offer, I groaned, but...

I'm taken by the edge of doom, and a vision of Kit Harington. It feels like a story, a great big, epic quest of a story, but I'm trying to fit it into 30 lines of poetry. Or maybe 14.

Because following an interesting discussion about maths and poetry, I am taken with the concept of fitting my poem into iambic pentameter.

For those of you, like me, who know that iambic pentameter is a thing, but have no idea what kind of thing it might be (other than something to do with Shakespeare), I have looked it up (mainly here), so you don't have to.

Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter. This means that every line has five two-syllable feet (think of them as da-dums), giving a total of 10 syllables.

It might surprise you to learn that Sonnet 116 is a sonnet, which is an Italian form of poem, 14 lines long. Shakespeare didn't follow the Italian rhyming scheme though, instead creating the English or Shakespearean sonnet, which follows the rhyme pattern ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG.

So far so do-able (ish), but then there is the 'volta' or turn, a great bit BUT which arrives between lines 8 and 9. Well, I like big BUTS and I cannot lie, so I reckon it could be fun to attempt to write a sonnet for Kit at the edge of doom.

It will probably suck though.

UPDATE: I have 14 lines of ten syllables. I fear I am a million miles from the rhyming schema!

celebrating achievement

Let us pause in life's concerns and count all our achievements. 

I'm not about to do a review of the year (yet), don't worry, but this is a great time of year to celebrate what we've done. 

At the kids' school, they have a weekly assembly, during which children are singled out from each class to celebrate their achievements that week. It could be that they've aced a spelling test, it could just be that they haven't lost any golden time that week. Also those that have achieved outside of school are also noted, and then the whole school sing everyone a song to congratulate them:
Well done, you did your best, Well done, we're so impressed, Well done, congratulations, You deserve the praises... 
It's not the greatest song, but it does teach the children that trying hard is worth the effort, and it also fosters a positive ethos. I'm a fan.


Practicing Christmas songs. It's the joy on their little
faces... lol
Talking of effort, my daughter's class are running a Christmas market this year, selling crafts they've been making, to raise money for the schools. They are all so proud of the work they've done, not just making stuff, but planning and marketing as well, and I am looking forward to seeing it. 

Kids in all the schools are putting lots of effort into their various Christmas shows and services at this time of year, and I promise I will cry at all of them. I cried at a school nativity already this week, and my children weren't even in it. I'm going to be a snivelling mess at the one they are in!

What am I crying for? The kids work so hard to get all this stuff to work, every single show is the result of hours of work from families, from teachers, and from the kids themselves. They're nervous to be standing up there, but they help each other out and they do it, and it's funny, and lovely, and wonderful. Each stage is full of potential and hope, and celebrating what they've achieved so far is the best way to encourage those little lights to shine.

Monday, 1 December 2014

mean about kids

Getting in the way at the service station.
Ballet practice really annoyed several people
who were doing very important things.
It seems that it is OK to say mean things about kids. What is that about?

This post is inspired by a friend who has been complaining about children on Facebook. He doesn't have any, but doesn't like them getting in his way when he's shopping.

I'm not going to get into what he said, although it was nasty, because what he said is just the straw that has broken my camel's back on this topic.

I have seen so many jokey grumpy comments about children and teenagers. People grumbling about babies crying, about children getting in their way, and about teenagers going into shops in herds at lunchtime (no doubt they'd rather they skipped school).

All of this stuff neglects the fact that children are people, and that this kind of divisiveness fosters hate, and kills understanding.

Children are people. They might act in ways that are annoying sometimes, they might get in the way sometimes, and they might need more help in life than you do, but it is not just children who fall into those categories.

What if people said this kind of thing about the elderly, or about disabled people?

But this view of children seems to be popular at the moment. My own MP (Katy Clark) is associated with the constant pushing of more and more 'childcare' in this pic from Red Labour on Facebook. All the parties seem to be pushing for more professional childcare, and none seem to be recognising the incredibly important fact that children do best when they're looked after by people who love them, all that providing more external childcare benefits is business, and even that is short sighted, because of the problems stored up for future generations if children are farmed out from the beginning. Children seem to be viewed as a burden, not as the valuable people they are.

You can't expect children to grow into loving, caring, adults, wishing to contribute to their community if you don't show them loving care.

And you can't expect children to have respect for others if they are shown none.

People who say they don't like 'children' (and let's ignore that this is as offensive a statement as saying you don't like gay people), don't have to have them, but might want to consider that it is the people who are children now who will be working to pay for their pension. People complain that they pay taxes which are spent on schools which their families aren't using, and I assume that they don't intend to benefit from the children's education when they're older and those children are providing their medical care.

We need to move away from this cultural acceptance of nasty ageism, and appreciate the humanity of all the members of our society.

excited about Christmas

A single, child-free friend of mine was observing moaning the other day that Christmas is all over the shops the TV, everywhere. He said it's just a money pit with rubbish TV, rubbish weather, and nothing to do, especially for the likes of him.

Now I want you to picture the video for Shakespeare's Sister's Stay (it's here, if you're too young to know what I'm talking about), with my friend playing the whiney Marcella Detroit, begging people to step away from the tinsel, while I, grinning like a loon, come down the stairs behind in a glittery catsuit (that may be taking it too far), crowned in tinsel and singing Jingle Bells.

Maybe it's because I've got children, but I LOVE Christmas. It's a totally magical time of year. I love the singing, the food, the gift giving, the tree, I love making stuff, the colour scheme, the uncomfortable pews, and all the shows and parties. It is just plain awesome.

I'm incredibly proud of how neatly I'm managing
to do this crocheting for the Christmas wreath,
inspired by the insanely good one from Attic 24.
You'll find that here
I do try to hold off until December though.

It's been hard this year. We've had to do some Christmas crafts early for the school, I'm already making a new Christmas wreath, and we've all been practicing songs for various things. But we have kept the house pretty tinsel free so far.

That all changes on 1st December with advent calendars and SPARKLE DAY at the school. The girls will be wearing sparkly frocks, and the boy has agreed on a Christmas jumper (he doesn't do sparkles, he's 9). I will be wearing my Christmas jumper too, and it's just as hideous as I remember it being.

After that we have a raft of events, including Kelburn Primary's Nativity play (they get that in early), Brisbane's nativity play (my daughter is a villager - so excited), Christmas lights, markets, carol concerts and craft fairs (I'm really looking forward to the one at Kelburn), a trip to the pantomime, and of course, shopping and wrapping, and donating to those people whom Santa might not get to this year. 

Christmas jumpers - Yay!
I've got family coming to visit between Christmas and New Year, and I can't wait to see them, to enjoy all the fun family films, board games, and jigsaw puzzles, and spending time together.

A wee sprinkling of snow would be much appreciated. Just enough to sledge on, for two days when nobody has to go anywhere. My thanks, weather gods.

As for my miserable friend, I do feel for him, re-watching family films at Christmas is no fun without others, especially the joy of introducing them to people you love. I would invite him to ours, but I suspect he'd rather have a long lie, some good vodka, and a good tall pew to hold onto at the midnight service.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

seeking quality over quantity

Important things in life: time outside, exercise, time
with the kids, and more...
At the start of the month I thought that the way out of the worries I had about the blog was quantity. The more I wrote, I thought, the more useful stuff I'd have.

Done is better than good, I thought.

There's truth in that. Nobody writes good work all the time, and everything has potential, but producing lots of fluff is, I've concluded, not what I want to be doing (not on purpose anyway), so having had a little mental health break just now, I've decided that taking this forward I'm going to be blogging less and focusing on the other important things in my life. 

When I do blog it will hopefully be more useful one way or another.

When I don't, I'll have more time for making stuff, for exercise, and having fun with my kids. I'll also have more time for other writing, which immediately makes me think I should be doing more on the book, but that will come.

A friend once noted, while I was worrying that my housework wasn't up to snuff, that I was unlikely to say on my death bed that I'd not done enough housework. She was right. I also cannot imagine saying that I wish I'd blogged more. So, I'm focusing on the important things, to try to ensure I get to that death bed later, with few regrets.

This is the last day of November, and the last No[edit]vember post. But there will be more posts. Just you wait and see.